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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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NFL morning after: Bruce Arians, coach of the year (again)

brucearians AP

Here’s everything you need to know about Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians: In his first season as a head coach, in 2012, he was named the NFL coach of the year. In his second season as a head coach, in 2013, he got some coach of the year votes and would have been a very good choice. And now in his third season as a head coach, he’s the overwhelming favorite to win coach of the year again.

With Sunday’s win over the Cowboys, the Cardinals have the best record in the NFL, and Arians is the clear choice for the best head coach in the first half of this NFL season. He was also the best head coach in the NFL in 2012, when he led the Colts to the playoffs after he was abruptly forced into taking over the team when Chuck Pagano had to be hospitalized for cancer treatment. And in 2013, Arians took over a Cardinals team that had gone 5-11 the year before and led them to a 10-6 record despite a brutally tough schedule.

How does Arians do it? The first answer is that he’s got a great personality and can inspire the passion of his players. He can fly into a rage, like most good football coaches can, when he feels his team has been wronged in some way. (He went a little overboard when he called a low block by Broncos tight end Julius Thomas that injured Arizona’s Calais Campbell the dirtiest play he’s ever seen, but don’t you think players want a coach who will go overboard to stand up for them?) But Arians can also be jovial and funny, both with his players and the public. When asked what Cardinals fans needed if they wanted to look like him when dressing up for Halloween, Arians answered, “Attitude. And a cocktail.”

But while Arians certainly has a likable personality, it shouldn’t be overlooked that he’s also a great Xs and Os coach. Arians was a very well-regarded offensive coordinator during his years in Pittsburgh. Before finally getting a shot as a head coach as a 60-year-old in 2012, he had a long and impressive career that included being Peyton Manning’s first quarterbacks coach in Indianapolis and a stint at Alabama as an assistant under Bear Bryant.

Coaches are ultimately judged by what their teams do in the playoffs, and so far Arians hasn’t coached a playoff game. (In 2012 Pagano returned from cancer treatment in time to coach the playoffs, and in 2013 the Cardinals fell just short of the playoffs.) But it looks like Arians has a playoff team on his hands this year. And no one should bet against Arians having his players ready to play their best football in January.

Here are my other thoughts from Sunday:

Do people realize how good Calais Campbell is? I think football fans know that Campbell is a good defensive lineman for the Cardinals, but he’s actually quite a bit better than just “good.” Even against Dallas’s offensive line — the best offensive line in football — on Sunday, Campbell stood out. He made a phenomenal move to penetrate into the backfield and then grab DeMarco Murray to bring him down behind the line of scrimmage on Dallas’s first drive, and as I watched him do that I wondered if there was a single other defensive lineman in the league who would’ve made that play. Maybe J.J. Watt. That’s about it.

A first in Minnesota. Matt Asiata, the Vikings’ running back, became the first player in NFL history to run for three touchdowns and a two-point conversion in one game on Sunday. Granted, two-point conversions have only existed since 1994, so maybe by saying “NFL history” I’m making this sound like a bigger deal than it is, but it’s still a fairly impressive feat. And it was a good 29-26 win for the Vikings over Washington on Sunday. This Minnesota team isn’t going to make the playoffs, but the Vikings are playing hard for first-year coach Mike Zimmer and have some good young players. I liked what I saw of the Vikings on Sunday.

What’s gotten into Roethlisberger? In his last two games, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is 65-for-86 for 862 yards, with 12 touchdowns and no interceptions. Roethlisberger has never led the league in any major statistical category, but he has a chance this year, as he’s second in passing yards and second in passing touchdowns. He’s playing his best football.

The Patriots are dominant. Five weeks ago, people thought New England was dead and Tom Brady was washed up. Now the Patriots are on a five-game winning streak and Brady is the favorite to win league MVP. After Sunday’s win over the Broncos, the Patriots have outscored their opponents by a total of 83 points on the season, the best of any team in the NFL.

The Rams’ pass rush is suddenly great. In their first five games, the Rams’ defense had a grand total of one sack. In their last three games, the Rams’ defense has 13 sacks, including eight of Colin Kaepernick on Sunday in an upset win over the 49ers. I think the biggest difference is putting rookie defensive tackle Aaron Donald in the starting lineup. He’s become a force in the middle.

The 49ers aren’t a playoff team. Sorry, San Francisco, but your path to the playoffs is just too steep. With both the Cardinals and Seahawks in front of the 49ers in the NFC West, and the Lions, Packers, Cowboys and Eagles set to make the wild card race crowded, San Francisco isn’t going to get there.

The Jets are a mess, but Percy Harvin is good. Harvin had 225 all-purpose yards (129 receiving, 88 on kickoff returns, eight rushing) in the Jets’ loss to the Chiefs on Sunday. The Vikings and Seahawks both decided that Harvin’s attitude made him more trouble than he’s worth, and maybe he’ll wear out his welcome in New York, too. But right now he’s just about the only guy on the Jets’ offense who looks like a competent professional football player.

Brandon Weeden is terrible. Not that this is exactly breaking news, but Weeden just has no business playing quarterback in the NFL. He was awful for the Browns after they wasted a first-round draft pick on him, and he was awful yesterday for the Cowboys in place of the injured Tony Romo. But while Weeden deserves a lot of blame for the Cowboys’ loss to the Cardinals, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan deserve plenty of blame for their play calling. It’s absolutely crazy that Weeden dropped back to pass 36 times and only handed off to DeMarco Murray 19 times. When you’ve got an MVP candidate at running back and a deadbeat like Weeden at quarterback, you should be running at least twice as often as you pass. Garrett got badly out-coached by Arians on Sunday.

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Week Nine early inactives

Jordan Cameron 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.

Jaguars at Bengals

Jaguars: CB Will Blackmon, DE Andre Branch, LB Dekoda Watson, RB Storm Johnson, G Tyler Shatley, WR Mike Brown, T Sam Young

Bengals: RB Giovani Bernard, LB Vontaze Burfict, WR Dane Sanzenbacher, DB Darqueze Dennard, LB Rey Maualuga, OL Kevin Zeitler, DE Will Clarke

Buccaneers at Browns

Buccaneers: RB Doug Martin, RB Charles Sims, T Anthony Collins, LB Brandon Magee, CB Brandon Dixon, G Kadeem Edwards

Browns: TE Jordan Cameron, DE Phil Taylor, DB Pierre Desir, OL Vinston Painter, DB Robert Nelson, RB Glenn Winston, WR Rodney Smith

Cardinals at Cowboys

Cardinals: RB Stepfan Taylor, QB Logan Thomas, LB Thomas Keiser, LB Glenn Carson, NT Alameda Ta’amu, G Earl Watford, TE Darren Fells

Cowboys: QB Tony Romo, T Doug Free, S Jakar Hamilton, LB Tim Dobbins, DE Jack Crawford, DL Davon Coleman, G Ron Leary

Eagles at Texans

Eagles: QB Matt Barkley, WR Brad Smith, S Nate Allen, C Julian Vandevelde, OL Dennis Kelly, LB Marcus Smith, DE Taylor Hart.

Texans: LB Jeff Tarpinian, LB Jadeveon Clowney, LB Brian Cushing, QB Tom Savage, WR DeVier Posey, CB Darryl Morris, T Jeff Adams,

Jets at Chiefs

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

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

Chargers at Dolphins

Chargers: RB Ryan Mathews, LB Manti Te’o, CB Jason Verrett, LB Jeremiah Attaochu, S Jahleel Addae, DT Ryan Carrethers, CB Richard Crawford

Dolphins: TE Dion Sims, CB Lowell Rose, LB Chris McCain, G Daryn Colledge, T Jason Fox, DT Anthony Johnson, G Billy Turner

Redskins at Vikings

Redskins: Due to their bus accident on the way to the stadium, the Redskins were granted an extra 30 minutes to determine inactive players. QB Kirk Cousins, WR Aldrick Robinson, RB Silas Redd, CB Greg Ducre, LB Jackson Jeffcoat, G Spencer Long and T Tyler Polumbus make up the inactive list.

Vikings: TE Kyle Rudolph, S Antone Exum, CB Jabari Price, FB Zach Line, LB Brandon Watts, G David Yankey, T Austin Wentworth

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Week Nine “Three and Out”

Belichick Getty Images

It’s the 13th anniversary of PFT.  What better way to celebrate than to bang out three questions and answers for each of the 11 games to be played on Sunday?

OK, there are probably better ways to celebrate.  If West Virginia beats TCU today, the celebration may or may not include the deliberate ignition of an elongated piece of stuffed rec room furniture.

So before I’m charged with arson, I should probably publish what could be the last “Three and Out” feature for 3-5 years.

Jaguars at Bengals

1.  How much will A.J. Green play?

The smart play would be to take it easy.  For starters, the Bengals are playing the Jaguars, a team with one win.  Also, Mohamed Sanu continues to develop nicely, becoming much more than a complement to Green.  Then there’s the fact that the Bengals face the Browns on a short week.  Cincinnati will need Green to be ready to play the whole game on Thursday night.

But Green isn’t wired to hold himself back.  If he’s able to go, he’s going to go, fully and completely.

Regardless, don’t expect Green to be as dominant as he’s been in past years.  He has said he won’t be 100 percent all year long, due to the sprained toe that caused him to miss three games.

2.  What happened to Toby Gerhart?

He started the first five games of the season, averaging 2.3, 1.1, 3.6, 3.2, and 2.3 yards per carry.  An injury knocked Gerhart out for two weeks, which first gave Storm Johnson and then gave Denard Robinson a chance to take over the job.

Robinson made a very strong case in Week Seven.  But then, with Gerhart healthy and the Jaguars supposedly planning to split reps between Robinson and Gerhart, Gerhart got only four carries for 10 yards.  Robinson gained more than 100 again.

To date, Gerhart has 52 carries for 133 yards, which averages out to 2.6 yards per carry.  In contrast, Robinson has 88 carries for 395 yards, an average of 4.5 yards per attempt.

3.  Can Cincy afford to keep their weapons?

Eventually, probably not.  Green remains eligible for a new contract, and he’ll make $10.176 million in 2015.  After next season, Green, Sanu, and Marvin Jones will each become free agents.  Also in the pipeline will be tight end Tyler Eifert (a first-round pick in 2013) and running back Gio Bernard (a second-round pick in 2013).

The Bengals will have some tough decisions to make — and former Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden may be in position to lure one or more of those guys to Washington.

Buccaneers at Browns

1.  Are Manziel’s frustrations hurting the team?

If he’s freelancing on the scout team and not running the plays that the defense will be facing, that potentially hurts the Browns.  The goal of the scout team is to help prepare the defense for the coming week’s offense; unless the opposing quarterback plays like Manziel, Manziel isn’t helping the cause by playing like Manziel when he should be playing like the next quarterback the defense will face.

2.  Why have the Bucs dumped half of the secondary?

Coach Lovie Smith wants personnel who will run his defense the way he wants it to be run.  Darrelle Revis plays cover corner; Smith’s defense needs corners who’ll play a lot of zone — and who’ll provide support when it comes to stopping the run.  Mark Barron prefers to play more aggressively; the Tampa Two defense requires safeties who’ll keep things in front of them, forcing defenses to methodically move down the field without making mistakes or otherwise stalling.

So both had to go.  And both will eventually be replaced with guys who better fit the system, through free agency or the draft.

3.  Can Ben Tate turn things around?

He believes he can.  However, Tate doesn’t remember having back-to-back bad games since he was eight years old.  Against the Jaguars, Tate had 36 yards on 16 carries.  Facing the Raiders, it was 10 fewer yards on only one fewer try.

The struggles come in large part from the lack of running lanes, due to a determination by opposing defenses to take away the rushing attack.  Tate thinks that can be overcome.

It’s all in how we play,” Tate said this week. “Teams can come in with the mindset of stopping the run and you can still run for 200 yards on them. It’s Xs and Os but it still comes down to beating that man in front of you. That’s just what I believe.”

Cardinals at Cowboys

1.  What can DeMarco Murray do about his fumbling?

For starters, he can — as Emmitt Smith says — know when the journey is over.  Fighting for that extra yard exposes the player to another defender who will inevitably try to extricate the ball from the running back’s grasp.  So it’s not about being lucky; it’s about being smart enough to know when to hit the deck.

Over the years, plenty of players with fumbling issues have learned how to cure them.  Murray needs to realize that it’s fixable, and then he needs to fix it.  Until he does, he’ll be even more of a target.

2.  Should Cowboys fans panic if Brandon Weeden starts?

Probably, but not as much as they think.  Tony Romo hasn’t practiced on any Wednesday this season, and he had a pitch count in training camp and the preseason.  That meant extra work for Weeden, who’ll be better prepared than he otherwise would have been if Romo had been 100 percent all year.

It’s not clear how much that will matters once the Cardinals begin to swarm around a first-round pick who washed out of Cleveland in only two seasons, but it definitely puts Weeden in a better position than he would have been in if Romo had been getting as much work as he did in past years.

Regardless, the signs currently point to Romo not playing.  So regardless of whether Weeden is ready, he’ll likely be the guy who goes on Sunday.

3.  Does Fitzgerald’s big play mean he’s staying next year?

Um, no.  While Fitzgerald’s long catch and run against the Eagles conjured memories of his performance in Super Bowl XLIII, that $23.8 million cap number for 2015 remains, and it won’t be shrinking unless Fitzgerald takes less money.  If he won’t, he’ll be elsewhere next year.  Regardless of what he does for the rest of this one.

Eagles at Texans

1.  Will Todd Herremans play with a torn biceps?

Apparently, yes.  He’s listed as probable, which means it’s a virtual certainty he’ll play.

For some, a torn biceps becomes a season-ending situation, because without fairly prompt surgery the muscle may never get back to where it was.  For others, it’s another bit of adversity that needs to be overcome during an NFL season full of challenges and obstacles.

With Herremans intent on trying to play and center Jason Kelce ready to return from a sports hernia, the Eagles’ offensive line could be in great position to provide the kind of blocking they’ll need to keep J.J. Watt and company away from Nick Foles.

2.  Will it be a homecoming for an Eagles defensive player?

No.  It’ll be a homecoming for two of them.  Linebacker DeMeco Ryans and linebacker Connor Barwin previously played in Houston, and it’ll be their first game against their former team.

“I don’t know exactly what it means but I’m excited to go back and play against a lot of my former teammates, see a lot of my good friends in that organization,” Barwin said this week.

Ryans knows it means a challenge for the offense, given the presence of J.J. Watt.

“It hasn’t surprised me the career J.J. is having now because when he first came in as a rookie I could just tell from his work ethic and some of the things that he did at practice — like you just step back and are like, wow, this guy is really special,” Ryan said. “It hasn’t surprised me the way he’s played.”

3.  Which former Texans player is Arian Foster looking forward to facing?

Definitely DeMeco Ryans.

“Meco, man, he was one of my first welcome-to-the-NFL hits,” Foster said this week. “He smacked me. He smacked me in pregame warmups, too. Maybe I get to pay him back.”

Ryans will have his hands full with Foster.  Though he’s not getting the same kind of national buzz as his Texas counterpart, Foster ranks second in the league in rushing, with 766 yards.  He’s also averaging 5.2 yards per carry.

Not bad for a guy who missed a game and who didn’t do much in one other game.  If Ryans and the Eagles can’t slow him down, the Eagles could see that 5-1 start disintegrate to 5-3.

Jets at Chiefs

1.  Is G.M. John Idzik on the hot seat?

Only owner Woody Johnson knows for sure, but Idzik’s Hail-Mary play for Percy Harvin, coupled with surprisingly strong support for coach Rex Ryan and agreement with the decision to bench Geno Smith for Mike Vick suggest that Idzik knows he needs to win a few more games to avoid being run out the door.

With only one victory with through eight games, a final record of 2-14 or 3-13 could get Idzik fired without the opportunity to hire his own head coach.  All because Johnson fired G.M. Mike Tannenbaum and didn’t fire Rex Ryan.

This time, Johnson’s best play could be a clean sweep and a fresh start.  Some Jets fans would suggest that the clean sweep include a new owner.

2.  Can the pupils beat their teacher?

Doubtful.  When Jets quarterback Mike Vick and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg square off against Chiefs coach Andy Reid, it’ll be a reunion of three guys who had a decent amount of success together in Philly.  But the edge clearly goes to Reid, in large part because he has the better talent — and because he’s smart enough to know what will work in response to plays called by Mornhinweg and run by Vick.

3.  Will Brad Childress and Percy Harvin hug it out?

Highly unlikely.  Childress and Harvin repeatedly were at odds in Minnesota, with the two reportedly having to be separated in 2010 after Childress suggested Harvin was embellishing an ankle injury to avoid practicing.  While it was Childress who took a chance on Harvin in the first round of the 2009 draft, Harvin’s talent ultimately was outweighed by his temperament.  If Childress hadn’t been fired late in the 2010 season, Harvin surely wouldn’t have lasted in Minnesota.

So when they’re in the same building on Sunday, don’t expect any interactions involving anything but middle fingers and/or four-letter words.

Chargers at Dolphins

1.  Why is Mike Wallace upset?

Last week, the Dolphins beat the Jaguars fairly easily.  But receiver Mike Wallace wasn’t happy, claiming that “our offense was [expletive].”

The problem is that he wants to catch more deep balls — and that quarterback Ryan Tannehill isn’t comfortable throwing them.  It was, for example, a big deal when Tannehill threw long passes on consecutive plays at Jacksonville, one of which was completed to Wallace for a 50-yard gain.

It’s become a common theme for Wallace, who seems to be more concerned about his own numbers than winning games.  If that doesn’t change, the team eventually will need to find a new No. 1 receiver.

2.  Is Dan Marino making a difference?

The Hall of Fame quarterback’s first stint in the team’s front office didn’t go well, with Marino clearly not suited for or interested in grinding away like a scout.  His return better fits his skill set, because in part he’s helping tutor the team’s quarterbacks.

Dan has been great,” starter Ryan Tannehill said this week.  “He’s been around a lot as of recent. Watched tape with him. He’s been in the QB room.  He’s a great resource to have around, just his knowledge of the game [and] obviously the success that he had during his career.”

Hopefully, his influence will rub off on the current team.  Perennial contenders during Marino’s time in Miami, the Dolphins have missed the playoffs in 11 of the last 12 seasons.

3.  Will Donald Brown finally return to action?

Most likely.  Barring a return of concussion symptoms, the free-agent acquisition who suffered a head injury four weeks ago will play.  He contends it was his first concussion; if so, it was a doozy.

Given the position he plays, concerns regarding another will be enhanced.  But the running back rotation will benefit from Brown’s return to action, especially since the Broncos may have exposed undrafted rookie Branden Oliver a bit in Week Eight.

Washington at Vikings

1.  Who has the edge in this Bengals assistants reunion?

When former Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer faces former Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jay Gruden on Sunday as the coaches in Minnesota and Washington, respectively, the edge arguably goes to Zimmer.  Older and more experienced, Zimmer also did more with less overall talent with the Bengals.

Zimmer also seems to have more talent on his current defense than Gruden has on his current offense, especially with Robert Griffin III coming back from a dislocated ankle rusty and still learning Gruden’s attack.  Ultimately, it may have been better for Griffin to wait until after the bye.

Colt McCoy probably is in better position to win this one, given the confidence boost he carried away from Dallas on Monday night.  Of course, the added confidence from beating Minnesota could make it even harder for Griffin to re-establish himself as the starter after the bye.

2.  Does Anthony Barr feel the rookie wall coming?

Nope.  He told PFT Live earlier this week that he feels great after eight starts.  Of course, that may change after a few more.  But the converted running back and defensive end said that the NFL hasn’t seemed much faster than the college level, so the transition has gone very smoothly.  As the total games played match and exceed anything he experienced at the college level, maybe it will go just as smoothly for one of the top rookies on a team that has experienced plenty of bumps and bruises.

3.  Why is it important to play Robert Griffin III?

Washington has made a huge investment in Griffin, giving up three first-round picks and a second-round pick to get him in 2012.  They need to know what they have before his third NFL season ends, since he becomes eligible for a new contract in 2015.

Even if Washington decides to wait on a new deal, a decision must be made on his $15 million-plus fifth-year option.  While it would be a surprise if they pass, Griffin playing in as many games as possible this year gives Washington the greatest amount of information before the May 3 deadline rolls around.

Rams at 49ers

1.  When could we finally see Marcus Lattimore?

Possibly soon.  Lattimore has been activated to practice, two years removed from a torn ACL in college that knocked him out of the first round of the draft.  The Niners took a flier on Lattimore, and offensive coordinator Greg Roman recently praised him.

The 49ers are now in the 21-day up-or-out window for putting Lattimore on the roster.  With Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde struggling to churn up yards on the ground, the Niners could use the help.

2.  Is Vernon Davis‘ stock falling, literally?

Yes, literally.  His shares through Fantex, which opened at $10 each, have plummeted to $6.60.

Ankle and back issues have hampered his effectiveness this year, which in turn will make it harder to get that new contract Vernon Davis covets.

But there’s hope as the Niners emerge from the bye week.  Davis is healthy and ready to have the kind of impact he has had in the past.

“He’s gutted his way through it,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “I think he’s got a very focused glare when it comes to what he wants to accomplish from here on out.”

Folks who bought his stock at $10 per share probably have a glare right now, too.

3.  How will Mark Barron be used by the Rams?

His new coach knows, but he’s not saying.

“I’m not going to speculate the roles and things like that,” Fisher said. “We got a good player. I’m gonna spend some time with him, and talk about where and how he fits at some other point.”

So strong or free, no one will know until the Rams line up against the 49ers on Sunday.

Broncos at Patriots

1.  Is this really about Brady vs. Manning?

No, it’s not.  It’s about Peyton Manning vs. Bill Belichick.  The best ever combination of quarterback and on-field coach facing one of the great defensive masterminds in the history of the game.

Playing in New England, Belichick has won seven of nine of these full-contact chess matches against Manning.  Even though Manning once again has the better team on paper, only one stat matters on Sunday:  Points scored versus points allowed.

Last year at Gillette Stadium, Belichick found a way to outscore Peyton.  It won’t be a surprise if it happens again.

2.  Are Belichick and Welker still mad, bro?

They claim they’re not, but how can there not be lingering ill will after Belichick’s harsh, unsolicited criticism of Welker for applying a hit to former New England (now Denver) cornerback Aqib Talib that wasn’t dirty or illegal?

Whether it came from residual hostility toward Welker for leaving the Patriots or an effort to curry favor with Talib, who was approaching free agency, Belichick went over the line in insisting that Welker went over the line.  Both are presumably treading lightly with their words; that probably will change when it’s time to play.

3.  Who’ll cover all of the Denver weapons?

Now that the Pats have committed to putting Darrelle Revis on the opponent’s best receiver, who precisely will that be?  Receiver Demaryius Thomas, tight end Julius Thomas, receiver Emmannuel Sanders?

Each is dangerous.  Revis can take only one of them away.  One of the other two can be doubled.  The third will face single coverage.

The best approach for Belichick would be to mix it up and confuse Peyton with pre-snap looks that conceal the manner in which the play will develop.  For Manning, inducing the defensive backs to begin to move toward their post-snap position with hard counts and Omahas could be the key to cracking the code, one play at a time.

Raiders at Seahawks

1. Should the Seahawks be concerned about Derek Carr?

Based on what he did to their first-string defense in the preseason, probably.

“He hit everything,” coach Pete Carroll told reporters this week.  “He tore us up, came in boldly and they didn’t just kind of dink it around; they showed that they had some belief that he could be a down the field guy.  They certainly have gone that way.  Their receivers have been on fire. We saw him move, we saw him throw the deep ball, we saw him throw some timing.  Quick stuff underneath, and he just show a lot of poise. He’s demonstrated that now.  He’s got good numbers right now.”

Cornerback Richard Sherman, who throws compliments even more reluctantly than Ryan Tannehill throws long passes, has called Carr a “gunslinger.”

Safety Kam Chancellor wasn’t as effusive.  Asked what he remembered about the preseason game against the Raiders and Carr, Chancellor said, “I remember it was preseason.”

2. Didn’t Pete Carroll learn from the Earl Thomas Punt Return Experiment?

Nope.  With regular punt returner Bryan Walters injured last week, Carroll tabbed Richard Sherman over Doug Baldwin.  Carroll has said that Sherman may end up doing it again.

The good news for those concerned about Sherman being exposed unnecessarily to injury?  Walters (concussion) is probable for Sunday’s visit from the Raiders.

3.  How well is Khalil Mack doing as a rookie?

Pretty well.  While the sacks aren’t yet piling up, he has 8.5 tackles for loss this season.

Regardless of any stats, he’s making an impact.

He jumps off the film,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said this week. “Every one of our coaches, when they break up and start looking at the Raiders and taking seriously what they’re doing well, everybody comes back talking about him. He’s almost unblockable and he’s got a great motor. He’s fast, he’s tough, he’s instinctive. We think he’s an obvious factor.”

The coach of the team the Raiders most recently played agrees.

“Khalil Mack, I think, is a special player,” Browns coach Mike Pettine said. “We knew that in the draft process, and he’s shown that he was very deserving of being picked when he was picked. You’re just looking for the respect you don’t have to take it from me. Just ask our guys that went against him.  I think he’s a future star in this league, if not one right now.”

So, basically, that black cloud threatening to deliver an 0-16 storm in Oakland has at least one thin silver lining.

Ravens at Steelers

1.  Could this one end up being a shootout?

Possibly.  Despite the 13-10s and the 19-16s and the 13-10s of recent years, an explosion could be coming.  For starters, the Steelers Offense has embarked on a Snoop Dogg-approved run of success, with 522 passing yards and 51 points last week.  And with the Steelers giving up more than 400 yards against the Colts a week ago, there’s a chance Sunday night’s game will be something other than a black-and-blue, clock-draining, low-scoring encounter.

2.  How is Martavis Bryant progressing?

Very well, which means that Ben Roethlisberger finally has that tall receiver for which he’s been lobbying.  (To the chagrin of Hines Ward.)

Inactive for the first six games of the season, Bryant exploded with a pair of touchdowns last week against the Colts. He added another one in his Week Seven debut against the Texans.

With Antonio Brown getting so much attention, the big receiver has an opening to continue to pile up big numbers.

3.  What will the Ravens do on defense without Jimmy Smith?

On the surface, the absence of Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith (foot) should make it easier to attack the Ravens Defense.  The problem for the Steelers is that, without Smith available, it’s not clear how they’ll defend the Pittsburgh passing attack.

We don’t know what they’re going to do, whether [Smith being out] means more zones, more pressures, more man-to-man [coverage],” Ben Roethlisberger said this week.

The best advice for the Ravens?  Don’t do whatever the Colts did.

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Week Nine injury report roundup

New Orleans Saints v St. Louis Rams 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 Nine of the 2014 season.

Jaguars at Bengals

The Jaguars ruled out cornerback Will Blackmon (finger) and defensive end Andre Branch (groin) and linebacker Dekoda Watson (hamstring) is questionable. Cincinnati expects to have wide receiver A.J. Green (toe, questionable) back in the lineup, but they won’t have running back Giovani Bernard (hip) or linebacker Vontaze Burfict (knee). Cornerback Darqueze Dennard (hamstring), linebacker Rey Maualuga (hamstring) and guard Kevin Zeitler (calf) all drew the doubtful tag, which is actually a step forward for Maualuga after he missed multiple games.

Buccaneers at Browns

The Buccaneers don’t expect to have tackle Anthony Collins (foot, doubtful) and running back Doug Martin (ankle, doubtful). They definitely won’t have kick returner Trindon Holliday (hamstring) or linebacker Brandon Magee (knee), but it could go either way with defensive end Michael Johnson (hand, questionable). The Browns ruled out tight end Jordan Cameron (concussion) and defensive end Phil Taylor (knee) will miss another game. Wide receiver Rodney Smith (hamstring) is questionable.

Cardinals at Cowboys

Safety Tony Jefferson (concussion) is questionable for the Cardinals, while cornerback Patrick Peterson (concussion) is probable. Running back Stepfan Taylor (calf) has been ruled out and tight end Troy Niklas (ankle) is questionable. The Cowboys will let us know if quarterback Tony Romo (back, questionable) is playing on Sunday behind an offensive line that could be without guard Ronald Leary (groin, questionable). Tackle Doug Free (foot) will miss another week.

Eagles at Texans

The Eagles expect center Jason Kelce (sports hernia surgery, probable), running back Darren Sproles (knee, probable) and guard Todd Herremans (biceps, probable) to be in the lineup. Safety Nate Allen (hamstring, questionable) will wait to have his fate determined over the weekend. The Texans listed linebacker Jadeveon Clowney (illness) as questionable, although coach Bill O’Brien’s tone was doubtful while discussing Clowney’s availability. Linebacker Brian Cushing (knee) is also questionable after missing last week’s game.

Jets at Chiefs

The already skeletal Jets cornerback corps should be without Darrin Walls (calf, knee) after the team listed him as doubtful. Quarterback Geno Smith (shoulder) is questionable on the injury report, but the team has moved on to Michael Vick either way. Chiefs coach Andy Reid said safety Eric Berry (ankle, probable) will play for the first time since Week Two. So will quarterback Alex Smith (shoulder, probable), but wide receiver Donnie Avery (groin), cornerback Jamell Fleming (hamstring), linebacker Josh Martin (hamstring, knee) and cornerback Christopher Owens (knee) are all out.

Chargers at Dolphins

Linebacker Manti Te’o (foot), cornerback Jason Verrett (shoulder) and running back Ryan Mathews (knee) are all out, although Mathews did practice on Friday. Safety Jahleel Addae (concussion) is doubtful and linebacker Jerry Attaochu (hamstring) is questionable after missing the last two games. The Dolphins are holding out hope for guard Daryn Colledge (illness, back) and linebacker Koa Misi (ankle) after listing each of them as questionable, but tight end Dion Sims (toe) won’t play.

Redskins at Vikings

As you’ve likely heard, Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III (ankle, probable) is expected to return to the starting lineup. Cornerback Bashaud Breeland (knee) is questionable after getting hurt at Friday’s practice. Tight end Kyle Rudolph (sports hernia surgery) remains out for the Vikings, cornerback Jabari Price (hamstring) is questionable and everyone else on the 53-man roster is healthy enough to play.

Rams at 49ers

The Rams won’t be taking defensive tackle Aaron Donald (shoulder), linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar (toe), cornerback Janoris Jenkins (knee) or safety Rodney McLeod (knee) with them to St. Louis. Cornerback Trumaine Johnson (knee, probable) is expected to play for the first time this year. Toe injuries have left 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis and cornerback Tramaine Brock questionable to play in the NFC West matchup.

Broncos at Patriots

Safety Quinton Carter (hamstring), tight end Virgil Green (calf) and linebacker Steven Johnson (ankle) are all questionable for the Broncos, who will play without running back Montee Ball (groin) again this week. Running back Ronnie Hillman (shoulder, probable) looks good to go, however. Defensive end Chandler Jones (hip) is out for New England. Defensive lineman Dominique Easley (knee), safety Nate Ebner (finger), tackle Cameron Fleming (finger) and wide receiver Matt Slater (shoulder) have been listed as questionable.

Raiders at Seahawks

The Raiders don’t expect cornerback Carlos Rogers (knee, doubtful) to play. If he doesn’t, he’ll join tight end David Ausberry (foot), wide receiver Vincent Brown (hamstring), cornerback Chimdi Chekwa (hamstring) and cornerback Keith McGill (groin) on the sideline. The Seahawks ruled out defensive tackle Jordan Hill (ankle), safety Jeron Johnson (concussion), cornerback Byron Maxwell (calf), tight end Zach Miller (ankle), linebacker Malcolm Smith (groin) and linebacker Bobby Wagner (toe). Questionable tags were placed on safety Kam Chancellor (groin), tackle Russell Okung (calf), center Stephen Schilling (knee) and center Max Unger (foot), which could make for a lot of street clothes if game-time calls go the wrong way.

Ravens at Steelers

Baltimore will roll into Pittsburgh without wide receiver Michael Campanaro (thigh) and cornerback Jimmy Smith (foot). They’ll hold off on decisions about defensive end Chris Canty (wrist), tight end Owen Daniels (knee) and guard Marshal Yanda (knee) after listing them as questionable. Cornerback Ike Taylor (forearm) and safety Ross Ventrone (hamstring) were ruled out by the Steelers, whose injury report is otherwise comprised of probable players.

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PFT’s Week Nine picks

Brady AP

Last week was a good week.  For me.  Not for MDS.

We disagreed on two games, and my faith in the Steelers and Saints finally paid off.

So that five-game lead MDS enjoyed has shrinked/shrunk/shrunken/whatever to three.  And we disagree on three games this week.  They also happen to be the biggest three games of the week.

Last week, I went 10-5 and MDS finished 8-7.  For the year, he’s now at 78-43 (64.4 percent) and I’m at 75-46 (61.9 percent).

Saints at Panthers

MDS’s take: Someone has to win the NFC South, and it will probably be this game’s winners, who will be the only team in the division with a .500 record. I think the Saints’ offense will move the ball well in Carolina and make a big statement that New Orleans is the team to beat in the South.

MDS’s pick: Saints 31, Panthers 17.

Florio’s take:  The Saints can’t lose at home, can’t win on the road.  This could be the moment where the latter trend ends (at least for now), with New Orleans chasing a big win over the Packers with a trip to face a so-so team with an offensive line rattled by injuries.

Florio’s pick:  Saints 27, Panthers 23.

Jaguars at Bengals

MDS’s take: Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles just makes far too many mistakes. He’s not ready, and the Jaguars’ coaches know he’s not ready, but they felt they had no choice but to play him because Chad Henne got off to such a bad start this year. Look for Bortles to continue to struggle and the Jaguars to continue to lose.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 30, Jaguars 10.

Florio’s takeA.J. Green is back, a week after the Bengals found a way to win without him.  It will be even easier against a team with only one win.

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 27, Jaguars 10.

Buccaneers at Browns

MDS’s take: The Browns may not be as good as their 4-3 record suggests, but the Bucs are every bit as bad as their 1-6 record suggests. Cleveland will get to five wins at the halfway point, which represents major progress considering the mess new coach Mike Pettine inherited.

MDS’s pick: Browns 22, Buccaneers 17.

Florio’s take:  The Browns avoided a second-straight loss to a winless team.  They now have to guard against a loss to a one-win team.  It won’t be easy, but the Browns are starting to learn how to win the games they’re supposed to.

Florio’s pick:  Browns 24, Buccaneers 16.

Cardinals at Cowboys

MDS’s take: I wish I knew for sure when picking this game whether or not Tony Romo will play, but even if Romo can’t play I lean toward the Cowboys controlling things offensively thanks to their great offensive line and MVP candidate DeMarco Murray.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 21, Cardinals 20.

Florio’s take:  The Cardinals haven’t gotten nearly the respect they deserve.  That ends here.  Despite the injuries, the suspension, the defections, and the Super Bowl hosting jinx, the Cardinals keep winning.  With or without Tony Romo, the Cardinals will be ready to do something they haven’t done since the 1998 playoffs — outscore the Cowboys in Dallas.

Florio’s pick:  Cardinals 21, Cowboys 17.

Eagles at Texans

MDS’s take: Interceptions are piling up for Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, which is a major concern in Philadelphia considering that the Texans have a strong pass defense. But I’m not sold on the Texans’ offense putting many points on the board, and I’ll pick the Eagles to win a close, low-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Eagles 14, Texans 13.

Florio’s take:  The Philly offensive line is getting a little healthier, just in time for J.J. Watt and company.  After nearly toppling the Cardinals in Arizona, the Eagles go to Houston and drag the Texans under .500, where based on the overall talent of the team they belong.

Florio’s pick:  Eagles 27, Texans 17.

Jets at Chiefs

MDS’s take: At this point I’m not sure that it much matters whether Michael Vick or Geno Smith is the Jets’ starter. The Jets aren’t going to win with either quarterback, especially on the road against a solid team like the Chiefs.

MDS’s pick: Chiefs 31, Jets 20.

Florio’s take:  How did the Chiefs lose the Titans in Week One?  Eventually, we also may be asking how the Jets beat the Raiders that same day.

Florio’s pick:  Chiefs 30, Jets 13.

Chargers at Dolphins

MDS’s take: The Dolphins’ defense is a lot better than most people realize, but I still like Philip Rivers to play well enough to earn a hard-fought road win in a game that will have significant implications for the AFC wild card race.

MDS’s pick: Chargers 21, Dolphins 20.

Florio’s take:  The Chargers are due to win.  The Dolphins are due to lose.  Sometimes, it’s just that easy.

Florio’s pick:  Chargers 28, Dolphins 21.

Washington at Vikings

MDS’s take: Neither of these teams is very good, but both of them are coming off overtime wins and will be motivated to show that they’re not dead yet in the NFC playoff race. I’m going with the Vikings, who are starting to play defense the way Mike Zimmer wants to see.

MDS’s pick: Vikings 17, Washington 7.

Florio’s take:  RGIII returns, but is that a good thing?  He looked mediocre before dislocating his ankle, and now he’s rusty.  He’ll also be pressing to make fans forget about a couple of critical wins from Colt McCoy.  Meanwhile, the Vikings have some winnable games down the stretch; if they can get to 4-5, things can get interesting in December.

Florio’s pick:  Vikings 20, Washington 17.

Rams at 49ers

MDS’s take: Looking ahead at the 49ers’ schedule, their path to the playoffs is not an easy one. These are the games the 49ers need to win if they’re going to be a playoff team. They’ll win this one.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 24, Rams 20.

Florio’s take:  The 49ers are rested and motivated to keep up with the Cardinals, who are close to running away with the NFC West.  The Rams won’t be pushovers, but San Fran needs this one too badly to blow it.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 27, Rams 20.

Broncos at Patriots

MDS’s take: The Patriots have really turned things around recently and are probably the second-best team in the AFC right now. Unfortunately, the best team in the AFC is coming to town. Denver’s offense will put up big numbers and win more easily than most people are expecting.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 34, Patriots 20.

Florio’s take:  In fifteen prior Brady-Manning contests, the home team is 10-5.  The Broncos would win easily in Denver.  The Pats find a way to prevail in Foxboro.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 27, Broncos 24.

Raiders at Seahawks

MDS’s take: I still think there are some questions about the Seahawks on both sides of the ball, but they’ll cruise to an easy win at home over the worst team in the league.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 33, Raiders 20.

Florio’s take:  Nothing helps a dysfunctional team get back on track than facing a way more dysfunctional opponent.

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 34, Raiders 13.

Ravens at Steelers

MDS’s take: This game will be closer than their Week Two meeting, but the Ravens will complete the season sweep of the Steelers.

MDS’s pick: Ravens 24, Steelers 17.

Florio’s take:  The Steelers cap a three-game home stand with a win that keeps them very much alive for the division title.  A loss would put them, as a practical matter, three games behind the Ravens with seven to play.

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 13, Ravens 10.

Colts at Giants

MDS’s take: Ahmad Bradshaw returns to face his old team and should have a big game against a Giants run defense that hasn’t been particularly good this year. The Colts will bounce back from last week’s ugly loss.

MDS’s pick: Colts 30, Giants 20.

Florio’s take:  The Giants fully intend to make a run.  It’ll have to wait at least a week.  After giving up 51 in Pittsburgh, the Colts will be ready to go back to New York (sort of) 56 years after the greatest game ever played and edge the Giants, again.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 23, Giants 17.

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Week Eight power rankings

Patriots Big Test Football AP

1. Denver Broncos (Last week No. 2; 6-1):  Good news — they can handle the best the NFC has to offer.  Bad news — they may not be able to handle the Patriots.

2. Arizona Cardinals (No. 3; 6-1):  How good would this team be if it had Dansby, Dockett, and Darryl Washington?

3.  Dallas Cowboys (No. 1; 6-2):  Tony Romo says he’s fine.  Which means that the announcement of season-ending surgery should be coming any minute now.

4. Philadelphia Eagles (No. 4; 5-2):  Last year, Nick Foles carried the Eagles.  This year, he could be holding them back.

5. New England Patriots (No. 9; 6-2):  To get a full measure of revenge against the Bears for Super Bowl XX, the Pats should have let Vince Wilfork score a touchdown.

6. Detroit Lions (No. 10; 6-2):  In a year with plenty of viable candidates for coach of the year, Jim Caldwell deserves serious consideration.

7. San Diego Chargers (No. 5; 5-3):  Philip Rivers is an MVP candidate, but the Chargers may not have enough other VPs to get them where they want to be.

8. Green Bay Packers (No. 6; 5-3):  Aaron Rodgers will spend the next two weeks telling his hamstring to R-E-L-A-X.

9. Indianapolis Colts (No. 7; 5-3):  As they prepare for the latest installment of the Greatest Game Ever Played, maybe the surviving members of the ’58 Colts would do a better job of playing defense.

10. Baltimore Ravens (No. 8; 5-3):  Another game against the Bengals, another late lapse in pass defense.

11. Seattle Seahawks (No. 11; 4-3):  We’d believe that all was well in Seattle if players and coaches didn’t spend so much time trying to convince us of it.

12. Cincinnati Bengals (No. 12; 4-2-1):  Andy Dalton finally proves he can win without A.J. Green, thanks to Mohamed Sanu.

13. San Francisco 49ers (No. 13; 4-3):  The over/under of owners plotting for a run at Jim Harbaugh is currently 5.5.

14. Buffalo Bills (No. 14; 5-3):  Sammy Watkins‘ premature celebration could end up being a metaphor for his team’s 2014 season.

15. Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 18; 5-3):  It’s a good thing they didn’t listen to Snoop Dogg.  (That’s a sentence that probably has never been inaccurate.)

16. Kansas City Chiefs (No. 16; 4-3):  Maybe they should rename the battle of Missouri the Governor’s Cupcake.

17. Cleveland Browns (No. 17; 4-3):  If they’re still hovering around .500 in three weeks, it’ll be interesting to see what Josh Gordon can do for the stretch run.

18. New Orleans Saints (No. 20; 3-4):  Rob Ryan is suddenly doing a little better than Rex.

19. Miami Dolphins (No. 19; 4-3):  The next four games (Chargers, Lions, Bills, Broncos) will go a long way toward shaping the fate of the team and its coach.

20. Carolina Panthers (No. 15; 3-4-1):  And yet they somehow still have a good chance of getting to the playoffs.

21. Houston Texans (No. 22; 4-4):  Selfies are “high school.”  Letterman jackets and post-game attire exposing half of a guy’s muscle mass aren’t.

21. Chicago Bears (No. 21; 3-5):  Giving up 51 points is way more unacceptable than being 3-4.

23. New York Giants (No. 23; 3-4):  G.M. Jerry Reese thinks Eli Manning needs to be more aggressive.  Eli probably felt the same way about Reese back in March.

24. Washington (No. 27; 3-5):  See, I told you they could get a first-round pick for Colt McCoy.

25. Minnesota Vikings (No. 29; 3-5):  The combined record of the three teams they’ve beaten is 5-17.

26. St. Louis Rams (No. 24; 2-5):  The All-IR team would be dominated by Rams.

27. Atlanta Falcons (No. 25; 2-6):  If that “home” game had actually been played at home, that 21-0 lead likely wouldn’t have been blown.

28. Tennessee Titans (No. 28; 2-6):  Somewhere, Mike Munchak is cackling.

29. Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 30; 1-7):  Somewhere, Mike Mularkey is cackling.

30. New York Jets (No. 26; 1-7):  Somewhere, Rich Kotite is cackling.

31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 31; 1-6):  Somewhere, Greg Schiano is cackling.

32. Oakland Raiders (No. 32; 0-7):  Somewhere, Dennis Allen, Hue Jackson, Tom Cable, Lane Kiffin, Art Shell, Norv Turner, and Bill Callahan are cackling.

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Full content of John Idzik’s opening remarks from Monday

Idzik AP

[Editor’s note:  Jets G.M. John Idzik conducted a midseason press conference on Monday.  Before taking questions, he engaged in an extended monologue regarding the team’s 1-7 start.  His comments appear below, directly from the transcript provided by the Jets.]

Good afternoon and thank you for coming. I’m here to recap at the midpoint of our season what has transpired so far and our outlook going forward. Needless to say, we’re extremely disappointed in our 1-7 start. I search for words to describe how we feel, what we’re going through, knowing what we put into it and the results that we’ve achieved. It’s a struggle. I don’t know words to describe it. It’s gut-wrenching. It’s brutal. You feel like you’ve been punched in the face. It’s painful. It’s painful. It’s particularly painful for our fans because we’re in a business where our actions affect so many. Our actions affect, in our case, Jets nation. And I’ve said it before, we have generational fans. You go to the games, you go through the player walk, you see jerseys like (Joe) Namath, (Wayne) Chrebet, (Chad) Pennington, (Joe) Klecko, (Marty) Lyons, (Sheldon) Richardson (and Muhammad) Wilkerson. They span decades. We go out to camp and we invite people in here and we meet fans and I’m meeting fans from a little one wearing a green jersey, five, six years old, through their granddad or grandmom that’s 70 years their senior and everything in between. It goes back to my years here with the Jets alongside my father with the Jets. Somebody not too long ago in the media just as an aside said, “You know what, don’t take things personally.” This is very personal. This is very personal for me. The Jets are my team. The Jets are our team. By our team, I say it’s Jets Nation, and us in this building, and me, it’s very personal with us. Everything we do is very personal. So when you start out 1-7, you start out in front of our home crowd 1-4 at MetLife (and) you start out losing seven consecutive games. That’s very personal. It is. When someone you care deeply about hurts, it hurts you two-fold. I’m sure you’ve experienced that in some way. We experience that right now. It hurts us to be 1-7. But more importantly, it hurts our fan base, the people that mean so much to us. And we vow to give them what they deserve. They don’t deserve this. They don’t deserve 1-7. We vow to deliver to them.

When you talk about responsibility and where it lies, I’m the general manager of the New York Jets. I am responsible for the football operations of the New York Jets. Ultimately, I’m responsible for the performance of our team, the product that we put on the field. That lies with me. The buck stops here. I’ve been around this league a long time. I’ve grown up in this league. I know this league. The harsh reality of the National Football League is you are what your record says you are. There’s no such things as, “You know, we’ve had five single-possession games. We’ve had possession of the ball with the chance to win or tie.” In the end, did you win or did you lose? That’s what it’s about. That’s the ultimate measure in the National Football League. That’s what makes it so competitive. That’s what makes it so difficult to win. That responsibility lies with me. A 1-7 start? We own it as the Jets. I own it as our general manager. There are no excuses. My performance to date is unsatisfactory. It’s a direct reflection of our record.

With tough times, I can guarantee comes a lot of introspection. I tend to do that anyway. (There have) come a lot of days and nights when you spend every waking moment thinking and re-evaluating what you’re doing. How can you do better? What can you do to improve this team? I can assure everyone that’s been done by yours truly. And I can assure everyone that that sentiment is shared in our building for sure.

That’s another reason that our 1-7 start is disappointing, so disappointing. Because I know of the quality of people that we have in this organization and it starts right at the top. It starts with our owner, Mr. Woody Johnson. He cares deeply about the Jets. He cares deeply about our fan base. He cares deeply about our community. He knows what responsibility we have as the New York Jets. He affords us every resource that we need in order to be successful. We’re sitting in one right now. We enjoy a fantastic stadium that we experienced yesterday. And it’s not only the physical resources, it’s the human resources too, the people in this building and their commitment to the Jets. It extends to our president, Neil Glat, and the business operations side. I see what they do (and) how diligently they work in trying to bring us closer to our fan base and our fan base closer to us as a team. I see what they do for the gameday experience. I see how hard they work to make it right for our Jets Nation. It certainly extends to my side of the house in football operations. Once again, I’ve been around a lot of football teams. I’ve been involved in various aspects of football operations and I would say our football operations staff here, they’re second to none. Ask our players. They want for nothing. We have it here. The player programs, our medical and training staffs, our strength staff, our equipment staff, our security staff, we have it right here. There’s a reason for that – to elevate our players.

Certainly, our commitment certainly extends to Rex Ryan and our coaching staff. Frankly, I spend more time with Rex than I do with my wife and my family. I’ve gotten to know Rex very, very well these last 20 months or so. And the last time I checked, all the traits that make Rex Ryan our leader, our head coach, are still intact. He’s an excellent football mind. He’s a teacher. He’s a coach. He’s a motivator. He’s a mentor. He’s able to adapt. He sees both short- and long-term vision. He’s a competitor to his soul and he will never quit. It comes as no surprise that our players want to play so hard for Rex Ryan and his staff. (It is) no surprise to me. I support Rex. I continue to support Rex and our coaching staff. Our commitment extends to our players. We have a very resilient, committed (and) unbelievable group of guys. They’re very unified. You go through tough times, there are forces that want to pull you apart. That has not happened in the Jets locker room. We’re a very confident bunch. All that said, we’ve got each other’s backs. That’s easy to say, but we witness it every day. I wish our fans could see what I see every day. I wish our fans could see how Eric Decker tries to prepare himself to practice so he’s ready for the game. I wish our fans, they see on a hot day out in San Diego and we’re getting shut out 31-0, they see Damon Harrison go back in on a sprained ankle (and) play the last series like it’s the first. But do they see Sheldon Richardson taking IV’s? He’s cramping up and he plays the last as though it’s the first. David Harris takes a shot to the shoulder that would have labeled a lot of players down for a week or two. David Harris hasn’t missed a beat. Those are your Jets.

I see the commitment. I see the resolve. I see the toughness. We witness that every day. I believe in our locker room. I believe in our players. I believe in their ability. All that said, we are 1-7. We own it. I own it. We work hard. We prepare. I’ve got news for you, Kansas City is working hard and they are preparing too. It is not enough to work hard and prepare. It is essential, but it is not enough. What we do during the week, what we do in the offseason, what we do in preseason training camp must apply on game days and it must apply on a consistent basis. I believe that is what we are experiencing right now as a club. It is not a lack of ability. We have proven capable to sustain long-scoring drives. I think we may be among the league leaders in 10-plus play drives. We have proven the ability to start fast against capable opponents, scoring three touchdowns on our first three drives in Green Bay, scoring on our first five drives against New England. Two pretty good opponents. We have proven our ability to do it. We don’t do it on a consistent basis. There have been times that we can’t convert a third down with great field position and an opportunity to change the game. We don’t do it consistently. We have proven the ability to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. That is Jets football, control the line of scrimmage. We have proven to be able to run the ball. An adjunct to that is time of possession. When you control the line of scrimmage and you can run the ball, you control the clock, to the tune of 41 minutes to 19 up in New England last Thursday. We have proven the ability to do that. We don’t do it on a consistent basis. Defensively, we have proven that we can stop the run. We’re physical, and again, we will we command the line of scrimmage. We have proven that we can pressure passers. We have proven to do that. We don’t do it on a consistent basis.

The other aspect, if I can sum up two things that we need to work on, I wish it was as simple as two facets or two things, but to sum it up I think it is that lack of consistency, that we do it, but we don’t do it all the time. And our inability to finish, finish drives, our red zone efficiency, finish stops, red zone efficiency both offensively and defensively, we must improve. I am not big on stats (to) explain things. I think sometimes it can come off as excuses and we aren’t about excuses. But there is one telling stat that we all know holds true in our league and it governs or significantly effects the be-all, end-all stat and that is the score. That is turnovers, we are dead last in the league in turnover ratio. We stress it. We preach it. We study it. We practice it. We need must apply it. It is no more evident than yesterday, turning the ball over six times. We turned the ball over four times and we still got it within a score. Not good enough. We know it, we need to do it now. I guess what I am saying is, we have done these things in spurts. It is not enough to do them in spurts in the National Football League. You need to do it continuously. That is habitual. That is something that you learn on Monday, you apply it on Wednesday and (you) take it right into Sunday.

I know our guys are unified. I don’t ever doubt the desire, the effort, the competitiveness of our players. I don’t doubt that for a second. But we need to consistently finish games. As I believe in our staff and our players, I also believe in our underlying plan. I have been a part of this plan. I have experienced this plan. I know it works. I know it works. Our plan is not only to win now, it is to win into the future. Easy to say, harder to do. Those are not two mutually exclusive time periods. Now and the future are the same when it comes to our decision making. When we make decisions, we make decisions that are going to benefit the Jets now and into the future. We will draft and develop players. Developing players takes a lot of effort, it does. Sometimes you have to run through some rough patches to get to the other side. That is what it takes. We will acquire players in any manner possible. By all means, we will acquire players, draft and develop players who fit what we believe to be a Jet. By that, we will be able to mold them into a cohesive unit. Again, sounds pretty simple, sounds pretty textbook, but harder to put into place. That is what we will do.

We have been asked about our salary cap room this year, quizzed about our salary cap room and how it impacted 2014. I look at room as a plus. I look at room as our ability to be flexible and maneuver, not only in free agency, but throughout the year. Our room is really a byproduct of us being relatively young. We have young players at impact positions on their first NFL contract. It stands to reason that we will have room. We won’t always enjoy this type of room, so that room to me is not savings. Room again is a tool. It can be used now, and it can be used in the future. We can flip room if we need to. We will use our room wisely. Now, spending in this league doesn’t translate to winning, wise spending in this league translates into winning, now and in the future.

We have also been asked about particular positions, most notably (cornerback), and how we have addressed it and how it impacted 2014. I can tell you that every decision that has been made along the way has been geared to succeeding in 2014 and going forward. When we entertain players in free agency, when we entertain doing an extension, it is being done now and for the future. It must fit for us. That way we believe, I believe, that it maximizes chances for the club and the player to be successful, now and into the future. 1-7, it stings. 1-7 is disappointing to our fans, it is disappointing to us. We are disappointed, yes. We are not discouraged. We are not disheartened. There is a lot of heart in our locker room. There is a lot of heart in our locker room. There is a lot of resolve. There is a lot of confidence. You are going to see that. We have eight games to play here. We have half the season in front of us. You’re going to see that starting this week. Our focus is on Kansas City and how to beat the Chiefs. That is who we are. I believe in our people, I believe in our plan.

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