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Week Eight “Three and Out”

Hogan AP

The dilemma has been resolved.  For now.

The “Three and Out” series will continue, with three questions and answers for each of the Sunday games, every Sunday until no more Sundays remain in the 2014 regular season.

Then, the dilemma will resurface in 2015.  Assuming I — and you — don’t completely forget about this feature by then.

Lions at Falcons

1.  Why are they playing this one so early?

That’s the question ESPN and CBS will be asking, as the audiences for their pregame shows, already diluted by the Internet, become even more undermined by an actual game.  But there are only so many places on the pizzas into which cheese can be crammed, and the NFL is hoping to fill up the crust of your morning with football.

On a day that usually features a large cluster of games from 1:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. ET, the shifting of a game to 9:30 a.m. ET lets everyone focus on one game before a bunch of them get started.  And it showcases the London game, giving it a spot by itself on the Wembley Stadium stage.

Of course, Lions and Falcons fans living in California may not appreciate it.  If enough people in every time zone tune in, look for more early-morning London games in the future.

2.  Do the Lions really need Calvin Johnson?

Not at a cap number in excess of $20 million for next year; that reality continues to hover over the franchise.  The bloated Ndamukong Suh contract will result in the second overall pick in the 2010 draft leaving in free agency.  Johnson’s big-dollar deal could still prompt the Lions to cut him as early as next year.

The more they win without him and the longer his ankle injury lingers, the more likely the Lions will be to devote those cap dollars to other positions on the roster.

G.M. Martin Mayhew declined to comment on Johnson’s future this week. Mayhew also opted not to declare Johnson will retire as a Lion. At this point, it would be a surprise if he does.

3.  Is there hope for the Falcons?

Technically, yes. Despite being 2-5, the Falcons are only one win behind the first-place Panthers. And the Falcons still play Carolina twice.

But something’s wrong. The Falcons haven’t won in more than a month, a rollicking 56-14 Thursday night trouncing of the Buccaneers. Injuries on the offensive line and a subpar defense have left the Falcons searching desperately for answers — and even more desperately for a win. Against the 5-2 Lions on Sunday, that may not happen.

At least they won’t have to use the silent count in front of their “home” fans in London.

Seahawks at Panthers

1.  Are the Seahawks divided?

They’re apparently divided on the question of whether there’s a divide.  Quarterback Russell Wilson insists all is well, but what else is going to say?  Coach Pete Carroll and company managed to hide some serious dysfunction during receiver Percy Harvin’s time with the team.  Folks who know the truth continue to be programmed to say nothing, with Carroll having a Belichickian degree of influence over current and former players who won’t break ranks for fear of incurring the Wrath of Pete.

Something clearly isn’t right, or Harvin would still be there.  While Harvin reportedly was far from a model citizen, there’s no smoking gun that points a major incident that became the last straw.  Otherwise, players wouldn’t have been so shocked by the news that Harvin had been dumped onto the Jets.

While there’s cause for concern if, as it appears, some players resent Wilson, this team found a way to easily win the Super Bowl despite whatever was happening in 2013.  It shouldn’t be an issue this year, unless the losses continue to pile up.

Pile up they may.  Through six games, Seattle already has lost as many as it lost in 19 games a season ago.

2.  How much do the Panthers miss Greg Hardy?

A lot.  Ranked 27th in yardage allowed and 29th in scoring, the Panthers aren’t close to what they were defensively in 2013.  They’ve still mustered 15 sacks through seven games, but that’s a far cry from the 60-sack mark of a year ago.

As Hardy heads toward a trial date next month on domestic violence charges, an acquittal should result in immediate reinstatement, which will be very good news for a Panthers team that somehow finds itself in first place despite a sluggish 3-3-1 record.

3.  Should Russell Wilson have his head on a swivel?

With all the talk about internal strife, the Seahawks quarterback needs to be concerned about external forces that intend him harm.  The Panthers definitely do, if Wilson decides to tuck the ball and run.

“He’s pretty much like a running back back there with the way he can scramble. So we’ve just got to plaster him and, in some cases, take a shot,” Carolina defensive end Wes Horton said this week.

It’s easy to say.  It’s not easy to do.  Fast, agile, and elusive, Wilson has a knack for running away from and around guys, protecting himself by getting out of bounds or sliding or instinctively positioning himself in a way to absorb a hit without it being the kind of big hit that could cause an injury.

Ravens at Bengals

1.  What’s wrong with the Bengals?

From three straight wins to three straight games without one, the easy explanation is that the Bengals miss receiver A.J. Green, who has missed the last two with a toe injury and who was fully neutralized by Pats cornerback Darrelle Revis in Week Five.  Apart from his production, the threat of Green getting behind a defense opens up the rest of the offense.  Without that potential for a big play, it’s a lot harder to find an opening underneath.

The defense under new coordinator Paul Guenther also has been exposed.  Over the last three weeks, Cincinnati has allowed 43, 37, and 27.  That’s an average of 35.6 points allowed per game.

A loss to Baltimore will equalize the head-to-head tiebreaker (which only matters if Baltimore plays someone to a tie this year, given Cincinnati’s tie with the Panthers).  Far more importantly, it will put the Bengals two-and-a-half games behind the Ravens.

2.  Is Andy Dalton earning his contract?

The media and the fans tend to adopt narratives early in the season and then forget about them.  For the Bengals’ freshly-minted almost-franchise quarterback, conventional wisdom supported the notion that Dalton was indeed justifying the team’s investment in him.  Averaging 8.6 yards per attempt, Dalton was on his way to becoming one of the best young-ish quarterbacks in the league.

In the last three games, Dalton’s average-per-attempt has plunged to 6.2, with a paltry 3.3 yards per attempt during a shutout loss to the Colts.  While the absence of A.J. Green surely is a factor, true franchise quarterbacks generate yards and points and wins regardless of who the receivers are.  Dalton has shown that he’s still not ready for that title.

3.  Why are the Ravens more productive on offense this year?

It partially comes from an emphasis on generating points early in games.  It’s one of the specific situations on which the Ravens focus in practice each week.

“That has been something we’ve done through training camp, and we do it usually about once a week,” coach John Harbaugh said this week. “We have a first drive of the game. It’s nothing elaborate. It’s just a drill.”

The drill is working.  Quarterback Joe Flacco has six first-quarter touchdown passes in 2014.  Last season, he had a total of four.

Dolphins at Jaguars

1.  Is Peyton Manning a Dolphins fan?

At least for this week, he should be.  With 10 interceptions in five games and with nine to play, Blake Bortles is on pace to tie Peyton Manning’s rookie interception record of 28.

Manning, who is keenly aware of pretty much everything (including scoreboard operation), knows about the record — he mentioned it during a preseason visit to PFT on NBCSN.  If Bortles keeps throwing at least two per game, Manning won’t have to mention it any longer.

2.  Will Denard Robinson ever do more than be a tailback?

Quite possibly.  Appearing on Thursday’s PFT Live, Robinson said that he’s currently focusing on getting more comfortable at the running back position.  Once he does, he could be doing more in the offense, including playing a little quarterback.

Robinson is getting closer to reaching the right comfort level at running back.  He carried the ball 22 times for 127 yards on Sunday against the Browns.  In all of 2013, Robinson had a total of 20 carries.

Maybe, in time, he’ll be throwing a periodic pass or two along with it.

3.  How has Ryan Tannehill improved so quickly?

When Bill Lazor arrived as offensive coordinator, the thinking was that Tannehill would have to adapt to the new offense.  Lazor eventually decided to adapt the offense to Tannehill.

Deep throws, for example, aren’t one of Tannehill’s strengths.  So the Dolphins only dial up a pass of 20 or more yards once in ever 12 snaps.

With a 2-1 record since coach Joe Philbin bizarrely answered a different question when asked if Tannehill is still the starter, Tannehill has shown that he’s the right guy for the job — at least for now.

Rams at Chiefs

1.  What have they done with Zac Stacy?

Stacy started the year as the starting running back in St. Louis.  But with Benny Cunningham performing well and rookie Tre Mason making a bit of a splash, Stacy participated in only one play during last Sunday’s win over the Seahawks.  And he didn’t touch the ball at all.

It was just a weird situation,” Stacy said this week. “Right now, we’re doing a rotation with me, Tre, and Benny — and we’re going with the hot hand.  I’m just staying positive, I’ll keep working, and whenever my opportunity is called just take advantage of it.”

For the year, Stacy remains the leading rusher, with 240 yards.  Cunningham has 136 and Mason has 125.  But Mason had 85 against the Seahawks, which qualifies him as having the hottest hand, as of right now.

2.  Is Austin Davis the next Tom Brady or Kurt Warner?

Brady?  No.  Warner?  Probably no.

The comparison came from Brett Favre, who emerges via satellite from Mississippi with the frequency of Punxsutawney Phil to spout off a wide variety of opinions about a sport that he doesn’t follow very closely.  His point was that Davis, who became “the guy” in St. Louis after the first “the guy” looked awful in Week One while trying to replace “the guy” with the torn ACL.  The biggest comparison to Warner is that Shaun Hill was supposed to be Warner, 15 years after a preseason ACL tear for Trent Green opened the door for the former Arena League grocery-bagger.

Davis doesn’t have the same compelling back story as Warner.  Sure, Davis was a walk-on at Southern Miss and became the starter as a redshirt freshman and set 15 school game and single-season records (breaking some of Favre’s records) and eventually broke most if not all of Favre’s school records and went undrafted in 2012 and bounced around the league a little before returning to St. Louis for good (for now) when Sam Bradford tore his ACL for the first time last October.

It’s an intriguing tale, but the Rams are still 2-4.  They’ll need more than multiple special-teams tricks and gimmicks to get into the playoff hunt, and Davis has a long way to go until he’s lighting things up the way Brady and Warner did en route to Super Bowl titles in seasons they found themselves unexpectedly under center.

3.  Is Alex Smith reflecting much on his most recent game against the Rams?

He says he’s not.  But how can’t he be?  It was a concussion in November 2012 against St. Louis that opened the door for Colin Kaepernick and closed the book on Smith’s career in San Francisco.

I haven’t given it that much thought,” Smith said this week. “Certainly I recognize when we go over the personnel, some of these guys. I remember the game. I remember it well. But I haven’t really thought about the what-ifs.”

There’s no way of knowing whether Smith would still be the starter in San Francisco but for that concussion.  The 49ers presumably didn’t trade up in the second round of the 2011 draft for a guy they planned to park on the bench for four years.  Still, that Rams game from nearly two years ago provided the impetus for change, and Smith’s new surroundings have him facing the Rams for the first time with his new team.

Bears at Patriots

1.  Who will Darrelle Revis cover?

The obvious candidate is receiver Brandon Marshall.  But receiver Alshon Jeffery can be just as problematic, and tight end Martellus Bennett needs to be accounted for.  Without a clear-cut dominant option, Revis could move around and other confuse quarterback Jay Cutler and/or coach Marc Trestman, who fears the NFL has begun to catch up with his offense.  Which doesn’t bode well against a head coach who already has detected all the tendencies and trends — and who will keep the Bears from doing whatever it is that they do best.

Which as of right now isn’t all that much.

2.  Who’s the leader in Chicago?

No one, at least for now.  And the Bears desperately need someone to emerge.

They’ve got plenty of guys who lead by example; they need someone who can lead by words.

Quarterback Jay Cutler can’t or won’t or doesn’t care enough to even consider it.  Receiver Brandon Marshall has tried, but it’s unclear whether anyone will follow him.  Coach Marc Trestman possibly lacks the personality to command a locker room, which is one of the most important traits of any NFL head coach.

Adversity possibly will cause a vocal leader to emerge.  If it doesn’t, the Bears are destined to continue to float through their schedule, underachieving and unable to change it.

3.  Will Brandon Marshall continue to sound off?

Probably.  First, because that’s his way.  Second, because Trestman has given Marshall and everyone else a license to pop off after games.  Trestman says he needs to be “accepting” and “non-judgmental” when players speak in the heat of the moment.

Wonder if he’ll feel that way when someone says, “Our coach stinks and he should go back to Canada”?

Bills at Jets

1.  What will Percy Harvin’s role be?

It won’t be extensive; coach Rex Ryan says it’s unrealistic to think Harvin will be ready to participate in 50 snaps.  But even though it will be difficult for him to absorb the Jets’ version of the West Coast offense on the fly, it will be easy for the Jets to find ways to get the ball in Harvin’s hands and allow his skills to take over.

From kickoff returns to fly/jet sweeps to bubble screens to maybe even a periodic “go” route, Harvin can tilt the field in his new team’s direction without spending much time traversing the learning curve.

2.  Who in the hell is Chris Hogan?

If you don’t know, you should.  The former Penn State lacrosse player opted to give football a try on a lark, attempted to go to Syracuse and play for current Bills coach Doug Marrone as a graduate student, and ended up at Monmouth due to NCAA transfer rules.  Hogan now plays for Marrone, and Hogan has played his way into the No. 3 receiver role in the Buffalo offense.

Hogan, you may recall, was dubbed 7-11 by Reggie Bush during Hard Knocks in 2012, when Hogan and Bush played for the Dolphins.  After landing in Buffalo last year as a special-teams contributor, Hogan has earned his playing time.

“I always tell the players that you’ve got to put yourself in a position where the coaches have to play you because that’s how well you’re playing,” Marrone said this week. “I think Chris has done that.”

He made an even stronger case for more playing time with a leaping 28-yard grab that put the ball on the Minnesota two, one play before the game-winning touchdown pass from Kyle Orton to Sammy Watkins.

3.  Can the Jets’ offensive line handle the Buffalo defensive front?

Maybe not, which will make it harder for Harvin or anyone else on the New York offense to do anything.

“The two [defensive tackles] we’re going against are the best two in the league, next to [Ndamukong] Suh and [Nick] Fairley, hands down,” Jets guard Willie Colon said this week. “They’re game-wreckers, especially Kyle Williams. He’s been doing it so long. He’s definitely a guy you’ve got to scout for.  The other guy inside [Marcel Dareus] is doing a great job. Both of them are explosive, they’re making plays. They definitely give you a little bit of nightmares at night.”

The Jets’ blockers may have some nightmares at day, too.  From about 1:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m. ET on Sunday.  Whether the Jets can do anything positive with the ball on a consistent basis will hinge on whether the line can slow down the defensive tackles — and defensive ends — who make up perhaps the best overall defensive line in the league.

Vikings at Buccaneers

1.  Will the 1-6 Bucs have a fire sale?

Coach Lovie Smith insists they won’t.  At one level, it makes sense.  With no one seeming to want to win the NFC South, the Bucs are still alive to make it to the postseason.

But Smith needs players who fit his defense, and stockpiling some picks would make plenty of sense.  The decision to unload cornerback Darrelle Revis in the offseason shows that no one is safe.  The question is whether Smith and G.M. Jason Licht are comfortable giving up players who can help them win now in return for assets that can help them win later.

2.  How’s Teddy Bridgewater doing?

Offensive coordinator Norv Turner sees some good and some bad in the rookie.

He’s a lot like our offense,” Turner said. “He’s a work in progress, and there’s going to be things we like, things where we see he’s growing, and there’s going to be things where you shake your head a little bit.”

Bridgewater showed plenty of progress in his first start against the Falcons, but Bridgewater has lost two in a row since returning from an ankle injury.  He has plenty of time to develop, but the Vikings will want to see a lot more progress before the end of the season.

3.  Is Everson Griffen earning his money?

When the Vikings decided to let Jared Allen leave via free agency and to sign youngster Everson Griffen to a $42 million contract, plenty of league insiders and observers were shocked.  But the Vikings were steadfast in their belief that the investment would generate a significant return.  So far, so good.

Griffin is second in the league with seven sacks, thanks to three against the Bills in Week Seven.

I’m all about proving people wrong,” Griffen said. “No matter what, you’re always going to have haters. … What you want to do is prove them wrong and show them you can be the guy that they gave a huge contract to and you can live up to everything.”

He’s also living up to his billing as a pass-rush specialist with his own “Sack Daddy” dance: “I slide to the left, I slide to the right, and I do a couple of swirls of my arms and I flex.”

Texans at Titans

1.  What’s wrong with Brian Cushing?

The tape from Monday night’s loss to the Steelers shows a guy who can’t run.  And he can’t run because his surgically-repaired knee is still bothering him. So he’ll take at least a game off, maybe more.

Sure, coach Bill O’Brien denies that Cushing needs rest and lists him as questionable in order to keep the Titans guessing.

But no guesswork is needed; given Cushing’s ability to run on that balky knee, no benefit is derived from making the Titans think they may be facing him.

2.  Why switch to Zach Mettenberger now?

The Titans need to know what they have in the rookie sixth-rounder, so that they’ll know whether to look for a new quarterback in 2015.  Destined to have a top 10 (or maybe a top five) pick in the draft, the Titans could try to find a franchise quarterback in Round One, if they don’t think Mettenberger will be the answer.

With Tennessee as a practical matter out of the running for a playoff berth, it makes sense to start the process of evaluating Mettenberger now.  Waiting until December could result in only a partial look at Mettenberger’s abilities.  The Titans need to see what he does not only in those first few games when the opposing defenses don’t have much film but also after enough tape has been generated to give defensive coordinators more insight into what the rookie does well, what he doesn’t do well, and how he reacts when the things he does well are taken away.

3.  Why hasn’t Ryan Fitzpatrick been benched?

Fitzpatrick actually isn’t playing all that poorly.  He’s averaging a career-high 8.0 yards per attempt, which means he’s moving the ball well when he throws it.  But Fitzpatrick also has eight turnovers in the last five games, which makes it hard to parlayn the ability to move the ball into a movement of the scoreboard.

It’s too early to throw in the towel on the Texans’ season, and it’s also too early to assume Ryan Mallett or rookie Tom Savage are ready.  At some point, though, the Texans need to know what they have in Mallett (who’ll be a free agent after the season) and Savage.  Especially if the wheels continue the process of coming off, and if the Texans earn another position high in the draft.

Eagles at Cardinals

1.  Are the Cardinals relying too much on Andre Ellington?

Possibly.  A year ago, they handled him with care.  Now, he’s becoming the workhorse, with coach Bruce Arians believing Ellington can withstand 30 touches per game.

He’s very unique,” quarterback Carson Palmer said this week. “There isn’t another guy in the league like him. He’s got that ability in the pass game and the run game, the ability to go the distance, the ability to run between the tackles. He does a lot for us and he can do it all.”

Last week, Ellington had 30 touches, with 24 rushing attempts and six receptions.  For the year, he’s averaging 21.6 per game.

Look for that average to keep going up, as long as Ellington can stay healthy.

2.  Does the bye week help the Eagles’ chances?

Typically, having extra time to rest up and prepare for a game doesn’t hurt.  Eagles coach Chip Kelly traditionally has parlayed in-season bye weeks into victory.  Undefeated at Oregon after a regular-season bye and 1-0 at the NFL level (the Eagles but the Cardinals after a bye in 2013), the Eagles have a very real edge when it comes to self-scouting and game-planning.

3.  How will Larry Fitzgerald’s “champagne problem” resolve itself?

The veteran receiver applied that label to his relative lack of targets and catches as he further downplays the idea that he’s being phased out of the Arizona offense.  But the decreased production points directly to a looming divorce; with a cap number of $23.8 million in 2015 and an additional shell-game restructuring likely not practical, Fitzgerald will have to take less to stay.

Which means Fitzgerald likely will be cut.  Which gives him a chance to join Tom Brady in New England or Peyton Manning in Denver or to go home to Minnesota.

Raiders at Browns

1.  Is Brian Hoyer on a short leash?

It’s not yet short, but it’s definitely shorter than it would have been if the Browns hadn’t lost to the Jaguars last Sunday.  Hoyer looked sluggish and inaccurate.  Ultimately, he was ineffective, prompting coach Mike Petting to admit that he’d considered using Johnny Manziel at one point.

The Browns eventually have to decide who their starter will be in 2015.  If Hoyer performs against the Raiders the way he played against the Jaguars, the decision for next year gets a lot easier.

And the chances of the decision being implemented in 2014 become a lot greater.

2.  How big of a deal would it be to lose to the Raiders?

It would be a pretty big deal.  If the Browns follow last week’s 24-6 loss to the previously 0-6 Jaguars with a loss to the currently 0-6 Raiders, Cleveland will become the first to lose to winless teams on consecutive weekends in Week Seven or later.

And that would likely result in the donning of a Ryan Pontbriand jersey and the direction of strong words at the building that presumably had shed its prior moniker.

3.  Could the Raiders go 0-16?

The schedule gets no softer any time soon.  The only team in the final 10 currently under .500 is the Rams, who could be a lot better by the time the Raiders visit St. Louis on November 30.

After Sunday’s trip to the 3-3 Browns, it’s time to face the 3-3 Seahawks, the 6-1 Broncos, the 5-3 Chargers, the 3-3 Chiefs, the Rams, the 4-3 49ers, the Chiefs again, the 4-3 Bills, and the Broncos again.

And, yes, seven of the remaining 10 games come against teams that made it to the playoffs in 2013.

So, yes, 0-16 is more than a remote possibility.

Colts at Steelers

1.  Who steps up for Reggie Wayne?

With the veteran out due to an elbow injury, Hakeem Nicks becomes the obvious candidate to get more work.  A former first-round pick who’s in his  Second Annual Contract Year, Nicks has a very high opinion of himself.  It’s now his chance to persuade everyone else to share that view.

But Nicks has only 17 catches in seven games, generating a mere 141 yards.  As a result, he could be pushed by rookie Donte Moncrief, who actually was on the field for more snaps last week than Nicks.

2.  Are the Steelers getting any healthier?

Yes, gradually.  The best news comes from linebacker Ryan Shazier’s looming return after a Week Three knee injury.  He’s listed as probable for Sunday’s game, which means it’s virtually certain he’ll play.

While cornerback Ike Taylor isn’t ready to play, he practiced this week after suffering a broken forearm in that same game.  The Steelers need all the help they can get as they try to avoid sliding back under .500 and losing a second home game in their last three.

3.  Can the Colts’ defense pitch another shutout?

Probably not.  Although it’s tempting to assume that a team’s most recent performances will continue indefinitely, that 27-0 victory over the Bengals in Indy doesn’t mean the ’85 Bears will be rolling into Pittsburgh.  The Steelers average 28 points per game at home.  Even though their offense has been maligned by the likes of Snoop Dogg and Joe Banner, they know how to score points at home, and score points they will.

The only question is whether they’ll score enough.

Packers at Saints

1.  Will this finally be a good Sunday night game?

Hopefully.  The last two games between the Packers and Saints have entailed high scoring and excitement.  The Packers won 28-27 in 2012, and the 2011 season began with an excellent 42-34 game at Lambeau Field, which the Packers won by stuffing then-rookie Mark Ingram at the goal line.

The Saints haven’t lost at home under coach Sean Payton since 2011, and they’ve won 13 straight home prime-time games.  So this one has the potential to be a good one — regardless of whether the Saints ultimately can continue their run of success at home.

2.  Are the Saints still alive in the NFC South?

Absolutely.  Despite being only 2-4, the Saints have six home games left, and they’re only one game behind the Panthers in the loss column.  Holding serve at home coupled with a road win or two would easily win the division no one seems to want to.  And the guaranteed home game that goes with winning the division could allow the Saints to do what the 7-9 Seahawks did to the Saints in the 2010 postseason.

3.  Should Aaron Rodgers be considered for a second MVP award?

Without question.  He has led the Packers to four straight wins, and he’s thrown 18 touchdown passes against only one interception.  While his final numbers may not be as good as 2011 (the year he won the MVP award), he’s performing at a high level once again — and most importantly the Packers are having yet another special season in a year that started off looking like anything but.

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Week Eight injury report roundup

Cincinnati Bengals v Indianapolis Colts 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 Eight of the 2014 season.

Lions vs. Falcons (in London)

The Lions listed running back Reggie Bush (ankle) and tight end Brandon Pettigrew (foot) as doubtful, but there’s still a chance for wide receiver Calvin Johnson (ankle, questionable). No such chance remains for tight ends Eric Ebron (hamstring) or Joseph Fauria (ankle). The Falcons hope to get wide receiver Harry Douglas (foot, questionable) back in the lineup and also listed defensive tackle Jordan Babineaux (foot) as questionable.

Seahawks at Panthers

Seattle will cross the country without running back Derrick Coleman (foot), defensive tackle Jordan Hill (ankle), cornerback Byron Maxwell (calf), tight end Zach Miller (ankle), center Max Unger (foot), linebacker Bobby Wagner (toe) or wide receiver Bryan Walters (concussion). Everyone else on their injury report is probable. The Panthers raise the Seahawks one on the number of players ruled out. Cornerback Bene’ Benwikere (ankle), linebacker Chase Blackburn (knee), wide receiver Corey Brown (concussion), guard Amini Silatolu (calf), guard Trai Turner (knee), running back Fozzy Whittaker (thigh) and running back DeAngelo Williams (ankle) are all going to miss the game. Running back Chris Ogbonnaya (groin) and Jason Williams (hip) are both questionable.

Ravens at Bengals

Owen Daniels (knee) is out after having arthroscopic surgery, leaving the Ravens without their top two tight ends. Left tackle Eugene Monroe (knee) and left guard Kelechi Osemele (back) should return to the lineup after being listed as probable. Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (toe) is doubtful after missing practice all week and defensive tackle Brandon Thompson (knee) is questionable. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict (neck) is probable.

Dolphins at Jaguars

The Dolphins are waiting to see what linebacker Koa Misi (ankle, questionable) can do, but they don’t think defensive back Jimmy Wilson (hamstring, doubtful) will be able to play. The Jags have issues on defense with cornerback Alan Ball (biceps) and defensive end Andre Branch (groin) ruled out and cornerback Dwayne Gratz (hip, questionable). The offense should have running back Toby Gerhart (foot, probable) back.

Rams at Chiefs 

The Rams could be short at cornerback with Janoris Jenkins (knee) and Trumaine Johnson (knee) both questionable. Cornerback Brandon McGee (foot) has already been ruled out, as has center Tim Barnes (shoulder). The Chiefs hope to get safety Eric Berry (ankle, questionable) back in the lineup. Wide receiver Donnie Avery (groin) and cornerback Christopher Owens (knee) will both miss the game.

Bears at Patriots

The Bears are unlikely to have linebackers Jon Bostic (back, doubtful) and Lance Briggs (ribs, doubtful), but cornerback Kyle Fuller (hand/hip) is probable. Right tackle Jordan Mills (foot, questionable) trended in the wrong direction as the week played out. The Patriots won’t have defensive end Chandler Jones (hip) and they listed running back Shane Vereen (illness) questionable after he missed Friday’s practice. As always, several other Pats, including concussed offensive linemen Dan Connolly and Bryan Stork, are questionable.

Bills at Jets

Bills running back Fred Jackson (knee) was officially ruled out and wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (hamstring) is doubtful. The team hopes safety Aaron Williams (neck, questionable) can play and they have no worries about wide receiver Sammy Watkins (groin, probable). The Jets are 1-6, but they’re pretty healthy. Linebacker Trevor Reilly (knee) and wide receiver Greg Salas (ankle, wrist) are questionable and the only players on the injury report listed as anything but probable.

Vikings at Buccaneers

Vikings center John Sullivan (concussion) is probable, but the team will wait to make a call on guard Vlad Ducasse (knee). Linebacker Gerald Hodges (hamstring) is doubtful and tight end Kyle Rudolph (abdomen/groin) remains out. The Bucs return from their bye week with linebacker Jonathan Casillas (hamstring), tackle Anthony Collins (knee), safety Dashon Goldson (ankle), wide receiver Vincent Jackson (rib), quarterback Josh McCown (right thumb) and safety Keith Tandy (hamstring) questionable to play on Sunday.

Texans at Titans

Questionable linebackers are all the rage in Houston. Jadeveon Clowney (knee), Brian Cushing (knee), Brooks Reed (groin) and John Simon (ankle) all got that designation with Cushing looking the least likely to play come Sunday. Titans cornerback Coty Sensabaugh (knee) and tight end Taylor Thompson (knee) are doubtful and linebacker Quentin Groves (ankle) is questionable. Quarterback Jake Locker (thumb) is probable, but he’ll just be holding a clipboard if all goes well for Tennessee.

Eagles at Cardinals

Center Jason Kelce (hernia), linebacker Mychal Kendricks (calf) and running back Darren Sproles (knee) are all questionable. It’s a surprising positive for Kelce and a negative for Kendricks, who the team hoped would be returning this weekend. Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell (knee, questionable) has a chance to play, which is a bit of a positive surprise as well given the initial timeline for his injury.

Raiders at Browns 

The Raiders ruled out tight end David Ausberry (foot), wide receiver Vincent Brown (hamstring), cornerback Keith McGill (groin), defensive end LaMarr Woodley (biceps) and safety Usama Young (knee). Another four players — guard Khalif Barnes (quadricep), running back Marcel Reece (quadricep), cornerback Carlos Rogers (knee) and defensive end Justin Tuck (knee) — are questionable. It looks like the Browns should have defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin (ankle, probable) back in the lineup, but defensive end Phil Taylor (knee) remains out. Safety Jim Leonhard (ankle) and defensive end Billy Winn (quadricep) are both questionable.

Colts at Steelers

Wide receiver Reggie Wayne (elbow) is out for the Colts, while tight end Jack Doyle (knee) and running back Trent Richardson (hamstring) are questionable. Defensive tackle Steve McLendon (shoulder), cornerback Ike Taylor (forearm) and safety Shamarko Thomas (hamstring) are out for Pittsburgh, but it looks like linebacker Ryan Shazier (knee, probable) should return to the lineup. Tackle Marcus Gilbert (concussion) is questionable.

Packers at Saints

The Packers will be without defensive end Datone Jones (ankle) and cornerback Sam Shields (knee) is unlikely to play after being listed as doubtful. Safety Morgan Burnett (calf) is questionable and the Packers, who like to check every box) listed running back James Starks (ankle) as probable. Center Jonathan Goodwin (knee, ankle), linebacker Kyle Knox (ankle) and running backs Khiry Robinson (forearm) and Pierre Thomas (rib, shoulder) are all out for New Orleans. They have the same number of questionable players, with decisions pending on defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley (concussion), tight end Jimmy Graham (shoulder), linebacker Ramon Humber (ankle) and cornerback Keenan Lewis (knee, shoulder).

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PFT’s Week Eight picks

Brees Getty Images

Last week, as the Saints built a supposedly insurmountable lead over the Lions, I taunted MDS with a link of Homer Simpson singing When the Saints Go Over There.  And I scoffed when he suggested I was celebrating prematurely.  Which of course cemented the looming jinx.

Back came the Lions and down went the Saints and MDS prevailed in the one game of 15 on which we disagreed.

For the week, MDS was 11-4 and I was 10-5.  For the season, he’s now at 70-36 (66 percent) and I’m at 65-41 (61.3 percent).

We disagree on two games this week.  And there will be no premature celebrating from me this week.  Or ever again.

Chargers at Broncos

MDS’s take: The battle for first place in the AFC West will feature two MVP candidates at quarterback, but the difference in my view is that the Broncos’ defense is playing almost as well as their offense. This will be a lower-scoring game than most people think, and that favors Denver.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 21, Chargers 10.

Florio’s take:  Last year, the Chargers caught the Broncos napping on a Thursday night in December.  This year, the Broncos are bracing for their rivals, and the midseason stakes are considerably higher.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 38, Chargers 20.

Lions at Falcons

MDS’s take: What does an offense with good skill-position players and a terrible line look like? Like the 2014 Falcons, whose injuries up front have been devastating. The Lions’ defensive front will take advantage of the injury-riddled Atlanta line and improve to 6-2 with a win in London.

MDS’s pick: Lions 24, Falcons 13.

Florio’s take:  At least the Falcons won’t have to use a silent snap count for this home game, since it won’t be played in the Georgia Dome.  It won’t matter; Detroit’s defense is too good and Atlanta’s offensive line is too banged up.

Florio’s pick:  Lions 27, Falcons 17.

Seahawks at Panthers

MDS’s take: The Seahawks haven’t been playing their best football lately, but they’ve been playing better than the Panthers, whose defense has fallen apart. Seattle will get things turned around.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 28, Panthers 20.

Florio’s take:  Last year, the Panthers took the Seahawks to the limit in Week One, an outcome that became more impressive for Carolina as the season unfolded.  This year, Carolina’s defense is coming apart at the seams, and the Seahawks’ performance have been spotty enough to trigger the kind of external criticism that could put a much-needed chip back on their shoulders.

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 30, Panthers 20.

Ravens at Bengals

MDS’s take: Cincinnati dominated when these two teams met in Week One, but Baltimore has looked like the much better team recently. The Ravens are playing so well in all three phases of the game that I just can’t pick against them right now.

MDS’s pick: Ravens 21, Bengals 20.

Florio’s take:  The Bengals won in Baltimore to start the season.  But the Bengals are struggling without a deep threat to stretch the field (assuming A.J. Green remains out), and the Ravens have found their groove.

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 24, Bengals 17.

Dolphins at Jaguars

MDS’s take: The Jaguars got their first win on Sunday. Can they make it two in a row? Not against the Dolphins, who are a much better team than most people realize. Miami will win this one easily.

MDS’s pick: Dolphins 30, Jaguars 14.

Florio’s take:  This is exactly the kind of game the Dolphins could lose, a week after a thrilling road win in Chicago.  The upset is tempting, but the Dolphins presumably won’t take the Jags lightly a week after the Browns did.

Florio’s pick:  Dolphins 24, Jaguars 13.

Rams at Chiefs

MDS’s take: The two Missouri teams pulled off two surprising upsets last week, but I see the Rams’ win as more of a fluke, while the Chiefs’ win was a sign that they’ve got a good chance to go on a run in the AFC. I like Kansas City to win this one easily.

MDS’s pick: Chiefs 31, Rams 10.

Florio’s take:  More than bragging rights will be on the line in the latest edition of the Battle for Missouri.  Both teams have a chance to make a run at the postseason after being blown out at home in Week One.  The Chiefs have too much talent for the Rams, especially when the Kansas City offense faces the St. Louis defense.

Florio’s pick:  Chiefs 24, Rams 17.

Bears at Patriots

MDS’s take: The Bears are coming apart at the seams, just as the Patriots are coming together and playing their best football. This should be a big win for New England.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 27, Bears 17.

Florio’s take:  The Patriots have found the gas pedal, and the Bears are clumsily mashing their feet against the floorboard in search of it.  Yes, the Patriots are banged up defensively, but the extra time to prepare and the apparent inability of coach Marc Trestman to adjust to defenses that have a full season of offensive film gives the edge to one of the great tactical masterminds in NFL history.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 30, Bears 21.

Bills at Jets

MDS’s take: I’ve felt all year that the Jets are a better team than they’re showing on the field, and I think we’re finally going to see them turn in a complete game on Sunday. The Bills’ offense will struggle with the Jets’ defense and the Jets will win a low-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Jets 17, Bills 13.

Florio’s take:  The Jets surely won’t finish 1-15.  What better way to get a win than against a Bills team that is rattled at the tailback position and generally not a good as its 4-3 record suggests?  While Percy Harvin isn’t good enough to turn around a lost season in New York, he’s good enough to make a difference in this one.

Florio’s pick:  Jets 24, Bills 20.

Vikings at Buccaneers

MDS’s take: In a battle of two of the worst teams in the NFL, I’ll take the home team. That’s about all I’ve got to say about this one.

MDS’s pick: Buccaneers 9, Vikings 6.

Florio’s take:  Somehow, the Bucs are still alive in the NFC South.  While a run at the division is unlikely, they’ve extra week to prepare gives them the edge in the latest reunion of a longtime NFC Central rivalry.

Florio’s pick:  Buccaneers 27, Vikings 24.

Texans at Titans

MDS’s take: The Texans have lost three straight, but all against good teams. Against a bad team with a rookie making his first start at quarterback, I like Houston to take care of business.

MDS’s pick: Texans 17, Titans 14.

Florio’s take:  The fading Texans get just what they needed — a crack at a Titans team that somehow has two wins.  It’ll stay at two wins on Sunday, with Ryan Fitzpatrick (who’s averaging a career-high 8.0 yards per attempt) getting a chance to beat his most recent former team.

Florio’s pick:  Texans 27, Titans 13.

Eagles at Cardinals

MDS’s take: Coming off a bye week that followed their most impressive win of the season, I think the Eagles should be playing their best football right now. Arizona is playing excellent football, but the Eagles will upset the Cardinals in the desert.

MDS’s pick: Eagles 21, Cardinals 17.

Florio’s take:  So much for the Cardinals wanting to rejoin the NFC East.  They face the 5-1 Eagles and 6-1 Cowboys in consecutive weeks, and it could be time for the Super Bowl jinx to begin to kick in.  Especially with Chip Kelly having two weeks to get ready for this one.

Florio’s pick:  Eagles 27, Cardinals 20.

Raiders at Browns

MDS’s take: Could the Browns make it two straight losses to previously winless opponents? I don’t see it. Cleveland’s offense should have no trouble moving the ball against Oakland.

MDS’s pick: Browns 28, Raiders 14.

Florio’s take:  Trap Game No. 2 for the Browns.  And its against a team that delivered one of the most bitter defeats in franchise postseason history.  If the Browns lose to a winless team for the second straight week, they won’t have to worry about a bitter playoff defeat this year.

Florio’s pick:  Browns 27, Raiders 17.

Colts at Steelers

MDS’s take: Andrew Luck should have a big game against a suspect Steelers secondary, and the Colts should put up plenty of points in Pittsburgh.

MDS’s pick: Colts 35, Steelers 27.

Florio’s take:  Yea, the Colts shut out the Bengals last week.  But that happened at home, not in Pittsburgh.  In Pittsburgh, the Steelers average 28 points per game.  And just when folks write off the Steelers, they find a way to win games they’re supposed to lose.

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 28, Colts 23.

Packers at Saints

MDS’s take: The Saints’ defense is a complete mess, and Aaron Rodgers is playing at a very high level. Even if the Saints get a great game from their offense, they simply won’t be able to keep up in a high-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Packers 30, Saints 20.

Florio’s take:  The Saints are still undefeated at home, and they play even better in the Superdome when America is watching.  By the way, the NFC South remains ripe for the plucking.

Florio’s pick:  Saints 34, Packers 31.

Washington at Cowboys

MDS’s take: Is Colt McCoy the answer? Of course not. Stop asking stupid questions. The Cowboys will roll.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 31, Washington 13.

Florio’s takeKirk Cousins, Colt McCoy, it doesn’t matter.  The Cowboys may cool off by the time it really counts, but they’re the hottest team in football for now.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 31, Washington 16.

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A Week Eight look at the state of the playoff race

Indianapolis Colts v Denver Broncos Getty Images

Is Week Eight too early to talk about the NFL playoff race? Probably. But we’ll do it anyway.

AFC West: First place in the division is on the line Thursday night, when the 5-2 Chargers visit the 5-1 Broncos. The Broncos are currently the favorites in the division, but the Chargers could change that with a road win. Denver also owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Indianapolis, which may turn out to make a difference in home-field advantage in the playoffs.

AFC South: The 5-2 Colts already have a two-game lead and a head-to-head tiebreaker edge over the second-place 3-4 Texans. It will be a big surprise if Indianapolis doesn’t win this division.

AFC East: The 5-2 Patriots have a one-game lead over the second-place Bills, and have beaten the Bills head to head. New England will likely win this division for the 12th time in the 14 seasons since Tom Brady took over for Drew Bledsoe in 2001.

AFC North: The 5-2 Ravens lead the 3-2-1 Bengals and 4-3 Steelers in a division that could turn out to be a three-way race. (Any thoughts that the 3-3 Browns could make it a four-way race probably went out the window with Sunday’s loss to the Jaguars.)

AFC wild card: The second-place teams in the AFC West and AFC North (currently the Chargers and Bengals) would appear to be the most likely wild-card contenders, and the third-place teams in those divisions (Chiefs and Steelers) may be contenders as well. The Bills and Dolphins are also in the mix, while the Texans may be contenders solely because they still get four games against their terrible division rivals, the Titans and Jaguars.

Best guess seeds: 1. Denver, 2. Indianapolis, 3. Patriots, 4. Ravens, 5. Chargers, 6. Bengals.

NFC West: The 5-1 Cardinals have a game and a half lead over the 4-3 49ers and a two-game lead over the 3-3 Seahawks, and the Cardinals are also the only team in the division that hasn’t lost a game within the division yet. It sounds crazy to say, but the Cardinals may now be the division favorites.

NFC East: At 6-1, the Cowboys have the best record in the NFL. Dallas meets 5-1 Philadelphia twice late in the season (on Thanksgiving in Dallas and December 14 in Philadelphia), and those look like the games that will decide the NFC East, with the team that doesn’t win the division having a good chance at a wild card.

NFC North: The 5-2 Lions and 5-2 Packers are tied atop the division, with the Lions currently owning the head-to-head tiebreaker thanks to a win at Ford Field. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see the Week 17 rematch in Green Bay decide the division winner, with the second-place team having a good chance at a wild card.

NFC South: Well, someone has to win this division. It might turn out to be a team with a losing record, maybe the Panthers at 7-8-1 or the Saints at 7-9, but someone will win it.

NFC wild card: You’d think that if the Cardinals end up winning the West that the Seahawks and 49ers would be wild card favorites, but the schedules for the NFC North second-place team and the NFC East second-place team may turn out to be more favorable. It wouldn’t be surprising to see both of last year’s NFC Championship Game participants on the outside looking in come playoff time.

Best guess seeds: 1. Dallas, 2. Arizona, 3. Green Bay, 4. Carolina, 5. Philadelphia, 6. Detroit.

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Week Seven power rankings

Jerry Getty Images

1. Dallas Cowboys (No. 2 last week; 6-1):  “Glory days, well they’ll pass you by.”  Maybe sooner than later.  But not yet.

2. Denver Broncos (No. 3; 5-1):  The Broncos are proving that they can play with the best the NFC West has to offer during the regular season, which bodes well for their ability to face the best the NFC has to offer come February.

3. Arizona Cardinals (No. 4; 5-1):  The next five games (Eagles, Cowboys, Rams, Lions, Seahawks) will tell us plenty about whether the Cardinals are viable Super Bowl contenders.

4. Philadelphia Eagles (No. 5; 5-1):  Philly returns to Arizona for perhaps the biggest game there since the Cardinals beat the Eagles in the 2008 NFC title game.

5. San Diego Chargers (No. 1; 5-2):  Well, at least Peyton Manning won’t set the passing touchdown record against them.

6. Green Bay Packers (No. 7; 5-2):  Either defenses still aren’t taking Jordy Nelson seriously, or they are and it doesn’t matter.

7. Indianapolis Colts (No. 8; 5-2):  Nineteen years after they nearly secured a Super Bowl berth in Pittsburgh, the Colts return with a chance to prove that they’re legitimate Super bowl contenders.

8. Baltimore Ravens (No. 10; 5-2):  It’ll be four more years until the next Flacco vs. Ryan debate.  Hopefully.

9. New England Patriots (No. 12; 5-2):  As Jason Taylor noted on last night’s PFT on NBCSN, Tom Brady apparently honed his flopping skills while attending World Cup matches in Brazil.  (Or maybe while playing Madden.)

10. Detroit Lions (No. 14; 5-2):  On that long touchdown play, Golden Tate was running like Percy Harvin was chasing him.

11. Seattle Seahawks (No. 6; 3-3):  In the same week the Vikings were faced with the 25th anniversary of the Herschel Walker trade, the Seahawks admitted that they were on the wrong end of its modern-day equivalent.

12. Cincinnati Bengals (No. 9; 3-2-1):  With three home games in 11 days, plenty of people won’t be witnessing whether the Bengals can turn things around.

13. San Francisco 49ers (No. 11; 4-3):  Good news, Colin Kaepernick outplayed Denver’s quarterback.  Bad news, the one he outplayed was Brock Osweiler.

14. Buffalo Bills (No. 16; 4-3):  The Bills will face Percy Harvin at the worst possible time — when he’s on his best behavior and without any idea how he’ll be used.

15. Carolina Panthers (No. 13; 3-3-1):  They’re up, they’re down, and somehow they’re still in first place in the NFC South.

16. Kansas City Chiefs (No. 20; 3-3):  In 16 games after the bye week, Andy Reid has broken down the wall 14 times.

17. Cleveland Browns (No. 15; 3-3):  The Browns hobble with one less appendage toward Trap Game No. 2.

18. Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 19; 4-3):  There’s nothing like three straight home games to commence the process of turning around a struggling Steelers team.

19. Miami Dolphins (No. 23; 3-3):  Here’s what really unacceptable — The Bears made Ryan Tannehill look like a combination of Dan Marino and Larry Csonka.

20. New Orleans Saints (No. 17; 2-4):  How do “decoy” snaps get characterized for the purposes of the franchise tag?

21. Chicago Bears (No. 18; 3-4):  Apparently, Brandon Marshall going berserk in the locker room after a home loss to the Dolphins isn’t unacceptable to the head coach.

22. Houston Texans (No. 21; 3-4):  Can Jadeveon Clowney play quarterback?

23. New York Giants (No. 22; 3-4):  Two straight losses, three straight wins, two straight losses . . . three straight wins?  With the Colts, Seahawks, and 49ers up next, bet the under.

24. St. Louis Rams (No. 28; 2-4):  All those empty seats at the Edward Jones Dome will have a great story to tell their grandkids about the day the Rams beat the defending champs.

25. Atlanta Falcons (No. 24; 2-5):  Maybe Matt Ryan won’t have to use the silent count for their “home” game in London.

26. New York Jets (No. 25; 1-6):  Percy Harvin wasn’t traded.  He was exiled.

27. Washington (No. 30; 2-5):  Maybe they can get a first-round pick for Colt McCoy.

28. Tennessee Titans (No. 26; 2-5):  Charlie Whitehurst’s passer rating is in the 90s.  Which finally has convinced me of the worthlessness of that statistic.

29. Minnesota Vikings (No. 27; 2-5):  Isn’t it better to just get blown out than to lose a winnable game late?

30. Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 31; 1-6):  Could this be the best 1-6 team in NFL history?

31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 29; 1-5):  If the Bucs can win a couple of games, they could still become contenders in a watered-down NFC South.

32.  Oakland Raiders (No. 32; 0-6):  Raiders fans no longer need to check the newspaper to see the team’s won-loss record.  Just ask Darnell Dockett.

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NFL morning after: Teams win and lose, quarterbacks don’t

coltmccoy AP

Colt McCoy is a winner. And so is Blake Bortles. Kyle Orton and Ryan Tannehill, too. And don’t forget Austin Davis, who made a loser of Russell Wilson. Drew Brees? Like Wilson, a loser. Philip Rivers is a loser, and so is Eli Manning. Cam Newton is a big loser.

That’s one way to look at yesterday’s NFL action. It’s an all too common way to look at the NFL. It’s a ridiculous way to look at the NFL.

There’s a tendency to say that a quarterback “won” a game or “lost” a game, and to diminish a great performance by a quarterback in a losing effort, or prop up a bad performance by a quarterback whose team won, by saying that all that matters is the scoreboard. That tendency should stop. Teams win and lose. Quarterbacks do not.

Colt McCoy played well yesterday in relief of Kirk Cousins as Washington beat Tennessee, but that doesn’t make McCoy a “winner.” It makes him a backup quarterback who did his job well. Blake Bortles played badly, with just 159 passing yards and three interceptions, but the rest of his team played well enough that Jacksonville beat Cleveland. We shouldn’t call Bortles a “winner” based on that performance.

There was a stat making the rounds earlier this season about how Russell Wilson was undefeated against Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. And it’s true. It’s also largely irrelevant to a question of who’s the best quarterback among that group. The quarterback who wins the most is usually the quarterback with the best teammates. Wilson is a good quarterback, but he has a Super Bowl ring more because he played for a team with a great defense last year than because of his own abilities.

And if you think Wilson’s record against Manning, Brady, Brees and Rodgers makes him better than those four quarterbacks, I’d love to know what you thought about Wilson “losing” to Austin Davis yesterday.

Andrew Luck, one of the winning quarterbacks yesterday, said it well after his Colts beat the Bengals: “It’s the greatest team game in the world because you rely on different phases of the game,” Luck said. “I’m just like a fan — I might as well be a fan when our defense is out there. I don’t know what the calls are or anything, but they do a heck of a job and they certainly gave us a great lift today, and I’m glad they got that shutout.”

Luck played well, and the Colts’ defense played well, and Indianapolis won 27-0. But if Luck had played well, the Colts’ defense played badly, and Indianapolis lost 35-27, would that change how good a player Luck is? Of course not.

Tony Romo has taken plenty of heat when his team loses, and now he’s getting lots of credit because the Cowboys are winning, but the reality is Romo is the same quarterback he always was. The Cowboys’ offensive line is better than ever, DeMarco Murray is playing lights out and the Cowboys’ defense is much improved, and so the perennially .500 Cowboys are 6-1. Romo, who got too much blame when the Cowboys were 8-8, will get too much credit if the Cowboys keep winning.

For 55 minutes yesterday, Drew Brees played better against a good Lions defense than Matthew Stafford did against a bad Saints defense. Does the fact that the Saints’ lousy defense finally got exposed in the last five minutes, and Stafford’s Lions beat Brees’s Saints 24-23, make Brees a “loser” and Stafford a “winner”? Of course not.

The quarterback is the most important player on the field, but he is not the singular reason a team wins or loses. The quarterback is on the field for less than half of the game and is one of 11 players on his team when he is playing. Pretending he’s even half of the reason his team wins or loses is silly. A good quarterback might cost 10 percent of his team’s salary cap, so maybe a highly paid quarterback should get 10 percent of the credit when his team wins or 10 percent of the blame when his team loses. The bulk of the reason a team wins or loses is reflected in the 90 percent or more of the salary cap that the team spends on the other players on the roster.

A free safety isn’t judged by winning and losing, and neither is a guard or a linebacker or a tight end. A quarterback shouldn’t be judged by winning and losing, either. He should be judged by the quality of his own play. If that contributes to his team winning, great. If he plays great and his team loses anyway, he’s not a loser.

Here are my other thoughts on Sunday’s action:

Hurry it up, refs. Few things are more aggravating while watching a game than waiting forever to hear the ref announce the result of a replay review. There was an absurdly long review in Dallas on Sunday to check the spot on a play that was initially ruled a first down but later overturned on replay. There’s just no good reason for the refs to delay the game any longer than the standard time it takes for a commercial break. Make the call and move the game along.

What ever happened to Michael Sam? Remember when Sam was supposed to be the dreaded “distraction” in Dallas? Now he’s totally disappeared. He’s just another anonymous guy on the practice squad, no different than any other practice squad player. I didn’t hear anyone mention him during the Giants-Cowboys game. I haven’t heard anyone mention him in weeks. It’s amazing how quickly something that’s supposed to be a big deal becomes ordinary.

DeMarco Murray could make history. The season Murray is having for the Cowboys is unbelievable. In Sunday’s win over the Giants he topped 100 yards, just as he’s done in every game this year, making him the first player in NFL history to rush for 100 yards in each of the first seven games of a season. Murray is on pace to finish this season with 2,087 yards, putting him within shouting distance of Eric Dickerson’s all-time record of 2,105 yards in a season.

Ahmad Bradshaw could make history, too. No running back in NFL history has ever had 10 receiving touchdowns in a season. Even great pass-catching running backs like Marshall Faulk and Roger Craig never did it. But Bradshaw, who caught his sixth touchdown pass of the season in Sunday’s win over the Bengals, has a real shot at it. The Colts’ passing game is excellent, and Bradshaw gets a lot of red zone targets, and I like his chances of scoring four more touchdowns in the next nine games, giving him the all-time receiving touchdown record for a running back.

Seattle’s far from done, but not in great shape either. At 3-3 after yesterday’s loss to the Rams, the Seahawks still have plenty of time to turn their season around. But this is two straight weeks in which Seattle has lost and looked bad doing it. It also hurts that the Seahawks are in a tough division (third place in the NFC West, behind both the Cardinals and the 49ers), and a conference in which the wild card race will be competitive (two good teams in the NFC North and two good teams in the NFC East). Seattle is certainly good enough to make the playoffs and to repeat as champions. But things need to get turned around soon.

One thing that can be said for the Seahawks is that Russell Wilson is playing outstanding football: On Sunday he became the first player in NFL history to rush for 100 yards and pass for 300 yards in the same game. Wilson is playing better football this year than he did last year. That’s clear to anyone who can see that assessing a quarterback is about more than just wins and losses.

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Week Seven early inactives

Alshon Jeffery, Sam Shields

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

Falcons at Ravens

Falcons: WR Harry Douglas, QB Sean Renfree, CB Javier Arenas, LB Tyler Starr, T Cameron Bradfield, G Harland Gunn, DT Cliff Matthews

Ravens: DE Chris Canty, WR Marlon Brown, CB Chykie Brown, LB Arthur Brown, T Eugene Monroe, G Kelechi Osemele, TE Ryan Taylor

Vikings at Bills

Vikings: TE Kyle Rudolph, LB Gerald Hodges, DE Corey Wootton

Bills: WR Marcus Easley, WR Marquise Goodwin, LB Ty Powell, CB Ross Cockrell, S Kenny Ladler, RB Bryce Brown, T Cyrus Kouandjio

Dolphins at Bears

Dolphins: WR Brandon Gibson, CB Jimmy Wilson, G Shelley Smith, T Jason Fox, DT Anthony Johnson, G Billy Turner, TE Gator Hoskins

Bears: LB Lance Briggs, S Chris Conte, LB Jon Bostic, CB Terrence Mitchell, S Ahmad Dixon, OL Charles Leno, DE Trevor Scott

Saints at Lions

Saints: LB Ramon Humber, LB Kyle Knox, WR Joe Morgan, WR Nick Toon, CB Patrick Robinson, FB Erik Lorig, DT Brandon Deaderick

Lions: TE Joseph Fauria, WR Calvin Johnson, TE Eric Ebron, RB Theo Riddick, QB Kellen Moore, DE Larry Webster, T Garrett Reynolds

Panthers at Packers

Panthers: RB DeAngelo Williams, QB Joe Webb, CB Josh Norman, CB Bene Benwikere, RB Fozzy Whittaker, G Amini Silatolu, LB Chase Blackburn

Packers: CB Sam Shields, DE Datone Jones, WR Jeff Janis, C Garth Gerhart, LB Carl Bradford, CB Demetri Goodson, QB Scott Tolzien

Bengals at Colts

Bengals: LB Rey Maualuga, WR A.J. Green, CB Chris Lewis-Harris, LB Emmanuel Lamur, OT Tanner Hawkinson, DE Will Clarke, DT Brandon Thompson

Colts: CB Darius Butler, DT Arthur Jones, G Lance Louis, C Khaled Holmes, OL Jamon Meredith, DT Kelcy Quarles, LB Victor Butler

Browns at Jaguars

Browns: WR Rodney Smith, CB K’Waun Williams, DE Billy Winn, DE Phil Taylor, DL Ahtyba Rubin, RB Glenn Winston, DB Pierre Desir

Jaguars: RB Toby Gerhart, WR Mike Brown, CB Brandon Harris, LB Jeremiah George, G Tyler Shatley, T Sam Young, WR Tavarres King

Seahawks at Rams

Seahawks: LB Bobby Wagner, C Max Unger, CB Byron Maxwell, DT Jordan Hill, TE Zach Miller, OL Andrew McDonald, TE Luke Willson

Rams: QB Case Keenum, S Maurice Alexander, CB Trumaine Johnson, CB Brandon McGee, C Tim Barnes, WR Austin Pettis, DL Ethan Westbrooks

Titans at Redskins

Titans: QB Jake Locker, RB Shonn Greene, CB Coty Sensabaugh, LB Akeem Ayers, T Will Svitek, TE Taylor Thompson, DE Ropati Pitoitua.

Redskins: QB Robert Griffin III, CB Tracy Porter, LB Perry Riley, T Morgan Moses, DE Clifton Geathers, WR Aldrick Robinson, G Spencer Long

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Week Seven “Three and Out”

Peyton Getty Images

Well, I guess I’ve got no choice but to keep doing it.  More of you are reading this new feature (which is nice), and hardly anyone is complaining (which is even nicer — and incredibly rare).

And so here’s the Week Seven “Three and Out,” a contrived set of three questions and answers for each of the Sunday games.

“Where’s the Monday game?” someone invariably will ask in the comments.  It’s not there; this covers Sunday games only.

This week features another 13 Sunday games.  Which means 39 questions and answers for me to write and you to read.  I’ve taken care of my end of the bargain.  You’re up.

Falcons at Ravens

1.  How are the Falcons getting ready to face Gary Kubiak’s offense?

Glad you asked.  Kubiak coached the Texans, and Falcons backup T.J. Yates led Houston to its first ever postseason win as a rookie.  So Yates has served as the scout-team quarterback, helping the Atlanta defense prepare for an offense heavy on zone blocking, one-cut runs, and roll out passes.

Given the recent struggles of the Atlanta defense, any extra edge helps.

2.  How often are the Falcons running the ball?

Not often enough.  At 36.4 percent, only the Jaguars and Raiders have run the ball less often.

“I think any time you can be a more balanced offense [it can] get us out of a rut and put us where we feel we don’t have our backs against the wall and we are not one-dimensional,” running back Steven Jackson said this week. “Any time you can be more balanced it helps everyone out from Matt [Ryan] all the way down offensively.”

With 56 more yards, Jackson becomes the 19th player in NFL history to rush for 11,000 in his career.  With the Falcons throwing so frequently, that may take a while.

3.  Is Arthur Blank getting upset?

Yes, which could be bad news for everyone currently working for the Falcons’ coaching staff and front office.

The coaches should be more concerned, since Blank believes the Falcons have the talent to be better than 2-4.  Which likely means that he believes the coaches aren’t getting enough out of the players.  Which could result in Mike Smith getting out of Atlanta.

Bills at Vikings

1.  Are the Bills getting ready to trade C.J. Spiller?

Apparently.  The Bills aren’t using the former top-10 pick, who’s in a contract year.  Which has generated speculation that he’ll be dealt to a new team on or before the October 28 trading deadline.

The Bills perhaps would want someone in return who could help Buffalo become a postseason contender, but that could make it harder to find a suitor.  Making it easier would be the typical compensation for current players — one or more draft picks.  For G.M. Doug Whaley, it makes more sense to get a 2015 pick by trading Spiller than waiting for a potential compensatory pick in 2016, if he signs elsewhere in March.  There’s no guarantee the new owners will keep Whaley into 2016.  (Then again, there’s no guarantee they’ll keep Whaley into 2015.)

Potential destinations (speculation alert) include the Ravens, Browns, Colts, Chargers, Broncos, Giants, Eagles, Panthers, Cardinals, and maybe even the Harvin-free Seahawks, who once acquired a running back from Buffalo who has had a pretty big impact in Seattle.

2.  What’s going on with Mike Williams?

No one really knows.  Williams, who once quit on a Syracuse team coached by Bills coach Doug Marrone, was a healthy scratch on Sunday against the Patriots.  Then, G.M. Doug Whaley said Williams has asked to be traded.  The, Marrone said Williams hasn’t asked for a trade.  Then, Williams said his agent has pushed for a trade.

Then, ESPN.com reported that Williams got no practice reps on Wednesday.  Then, Marrone disputed that, sort of.

So add Williams to the list of guys who are potentially available before October 28.

3.  Who’s emerging as the top running back in Minnesota?

For now, it’s rookie Jerick McKinnon, who carried 11 times against the Lions.  Matt Asiata, the prior top option in the wake of the Adrian Peterson rabbit-out-of-the-rump paid suspension, had only one rushing attempt vs. Detroit.

Coach Mike Zimmer wants to increase Asiata’s numbers and decrease McKinnon’s on Sunday against the Bills.  Regardless, neither guy will be confused with Adrian Peterson, whose absence has in many ways derailed what could have been a promising season in Minnesota.

Dolphins at Bears

1.  How will the Dolphins replace Knowshon Moreno for the rest of the year?

They’ll largely do what they did when Moreno, who has a torn ACL, was out with a dislocated elbow.  Lamar Miller will become the starter, with Daniel Thomas and Damien Williams pitching in.

The Dolphins also have LaMichael James and Orleans Dawka on the practice squad.  Either or both eventually could be bounced up to the active roster, depending on the ability of Miller, Thomas, and Williams to stay healthy.

2.  How long until Ryan Tannehill isn’t the quarterback of the Dolphins?

Possibly not very.  The eighth overall pick has struggled more often than not.  Next May, the Dolphins have to decide whether to pick up the fifth-year option on Tannehill’s contract, pushing his 2016 salary into the $15 million range, guaranteed for injury.

Look for the Dolphins to keep him around for 2015, since his salary for next year fully guaranteed.  Then again, because Miami held firm to get offset language in his contract, they’d make some of that money back if he’s cut and ends up playing elsewhere.

Congratulations?

3.  Will the Bears demote their top linebackers?

Probably not, but they’re likely tempted.  In a 27-13 win over the Falcons, Khaseem Greene played well in place of Lance Briggs. Darryl Sharpton was more than competent while subbing for D.J. Williams.   Christian Jones got the job done while replacing Shea McClellin.  For now, these backups will remain backups.  But the Bears now have six proven commodities at linebacker — seven if we include Jon Bostic, who also was injured last week.

Saints at Lions

1.  Will Jimmy Graham play?

It’s not as clear that he won’t as previously believed.  Over the weekend of the team’s bye week, reports emerged that Graham, who suffered a sprained shoulder in Week Five, could miss a couple of games.  But the Saints have held out hope for Graham to play this weekend against the Lions, listing him as limited in practice on Thursday and Friday, and as questionable for Sunday’s game.

It could be a ruse aimed at making the Lions think they’ll see Graham, forcing them to spend time planning for his presence.  Which could make the Lions’ defense less prepared to face the offensive players not named Jimmy Graham.

2.  When will Calvin Johnson play?

Coach Jim Caldwell has said it will take a miracle for Johnson to play this week.  And that’s not a surprise; Johnson has made it clear that he will rest his sprained ankle until he can perform like he always has when healthy.

It’s smart for Johnson to resist playing at less than 100 percent.  If Megatron never makes an appearance this season, the Lions will be less inclined to carry a $20 million-plus cap number into 2015, and other teams would be reluctant to pay him anything close to it.

3.  How fired up is Reggie Bush to face the Saints?

Far more fired up than he’d admit.  Sure, the Saints made Bush the second overall pick in the 2006 draft, paid him a ton of money, and eventually got him a Super Bowl ring.  But the Saints never really let Bush develop the way he wanted as a running back, using a platoon that limited Bush’s touches and created the perception that he’s not able to carry the load on a regular basis.

Eventually, the Saints traded a 2012 first-round pick to select Mark Ingram in the bottom of round one, Bush tweeted out a farewell, and he later was traded to the Dolphins.

Bush will be a captain on Sunday, an external sign of the strong feelings he’ll surely keep to himself but that will nevertheless motivate all he does.  And he won’t be alone when it comes for former Saints now with the Lions.  As listed by Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, running backs Joique Bell and Jed Collins, defensive backs Danny Gorrer and Isa Abdul-Quddus, special-teams coordinator John Bonamego, and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi also have spent time with the Saints.

Lombardi was there the longest, and Lombardi has been warned not to be too cozy with his former players.

“The quarterbacks told me that I get fined for every hug, so I’m going to try to keep those to a minimum,” Lombardi said this week.  “Just try to wave and shake hands.”

Panthers at Packers

1.  Will Cam Newton keep running as much as he did?

No one knows.  Including offensive coordinator Mike Shula.

“I feel like I ran him too much, and yet I didn’t run him enough,” Shula said in the aftermath of Sunday’s game at Cincinnati, in which Newton ran 17 times for 107 yards.

The good news for the Panthers (and bad news for their opponents) is that Newton may only get better.

“He’s talented and he’s still not 100 percent,” Shula said. “I think he made it through OK so I hopefully he’ll keep getting better.”

2.  Can Clay Matthews improve his sluggish sack total?

Perhaps not this week.  Matthews’ one-sack performance to date possibly results from the number of zone-read offenses the Packers have faced.

“You’re playing so much into this zone-read offense that you’re always reading the quarterback and the running back and seeing what they’re throwing,” Matthews said this week.

He’ll be doing that again against Newton and the Panthers on Sunday.  Which could mean that his season-to-date sack total will remain at 1.0.

3.  Will Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams ever play at the same time again?

Possibly not.  But with Williams still nursing a high ankle sprain, Stewart is ready to return after missing three games.

For the season, Stewart has only 88 yards rushing in three games.  Williams has 106 in two games.  Their quarterback got more than either of them in the team’s most recent game.

Bengals at Colts

1. When will A.J. Green play again?

No one seems to know. Questionable for Week Six with a sprained toe, Green is doubtful for Sunday’s game at Indianapolis — a downgrade in status even though he hasn’t practiced or played.

On Friday, coach Marvin Lewis said that the “time is up in the air” regarding a potential return from the injury.

Maybe it’s just me, but these toes injuries seem to linger longer than they used to. It’s probably the media.

2. Should Vontaze Burfict have his head on a swivel?

Probably. As NFLPA president Eric Winston said on Friday’s PFT Live, opponents will be keeping their eyes on the Bengals linebacker after he decided to treat pro football like pro wrestling twice against the Panthers.  Winston was candid regarding his reaction to Burfict trying to twist the ankles of his teammates; Winston said he would have gone after Burfict.

Players from other teams could try to do it preemptively, hoping to put Burfict on the sidelines before Burfict can do it to a player from the other team.

3. Will Colts keep trying onside kicks?

After successfully recovering three of them this year, yes they will.

Coach Chuck Pagano said in the wake of the most recent recovery — a soccer dribble onto which the man who kicked it fell after 10 yards — that the Colts won’t stop taking advantage of opportunities to keep possession.

“Based on how they lineup and how they adjust, it’s kind of just we’re going to take whatever they give us,” Pagano said. “They’ve got to make a decision on how they adjust. We’ll keep playing with it and try to find a way to steal a play here and there.”

Browns at Jaguars

1. What will the Browns do without Alex Mack?

It’s a question they’d never had to ask until Sunday. Mack had participated in every offensive snap of his career until breaking a leg against the Steelers.

With Mack now on injured reserve, the job falls to John Greco, a former third-round pick of the Rams. He was traded to Cleveland after three seasons.

“I don’t think we ended on bad terms,” Greco said this week of his time in St. Louis.  “It wasn’t like, ‘Hey, this guy was a freaking bust.’ Maybe I was. I don’t know. Obviously, I was or I’d still be playing there.”

If he plays center well for the balance of the season in Cleveland, it won’t matter.

2. Are Jacksonville’s receivers finally healthy?

Amazingly, yes. Actually, the Jags had a full complement of healthy receivers last Sunday in Nashville, with Cecil Shorts, Marqise Lee, Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, and Ace Sanders available together for the first time.

Robins saw the most action, with 70 of 77 snaps. Shorts had 61, Hurns had 49. Lee was on the field for 16, and Sanders had only five.

For now, it’s unclear how much those numbers will change in Week Seven against Cleveland.

3. Can the Browns avoid a letdown?

It’s impossible to know, because the Browns haven’t been in this position in years.  A win would put them at 4-2 for the first time since 2001.

After years of being the trap in a trap game, the Browns now try to avoid a trap in Jacksonville.  Losing to the winless Jags would reverse the perception of the Browns, dramatically.  With the Raiders and Bucs coming to Cleveland for the next two games, now isn’t the time for the team to play down to the level of competition with a combined record of 1-16.

Seahawks at Rams

1. How do the Seahawks replace Percy Harvin?

It’s not a big problem because they never really saw much of him.  He played eight games since arriving in March 2013, and he contributed only 225 yards from scrimmage this year.

Against the Cowboys, Harvin had three catches and three rushing attempts for a total of minus-one yard.

Last year, the Seahawks thrived without Harvin.  While he had a major impact on the offense in the Super Bowl, most of the success came from the defense and other aspects of the offense.

Whether it’s addition by subtraction or simply a non-issue, the Seahawks must not be concerned about life without Harvin, since they embraced the opportunity to get rid of him.

2. Didn’t you used to be Chris Givens?

For years, the Rams have been trying to find a solid stable of receivers.  While they were trying to improve, Chris Givens was putting in the work, leading the team in receiving in 2012 and finishing second in 2013.  But with Brian Quick emerging and Kenny Britt in the fold and Stedman Bailey stepping up and Tavon Austin healthy, Givens has been a healthy scratch for two straight games.

“Yeah, I was surprised,” Givens recently said. “It’s a business — these things happen. It was tough to deal with. Definitely it was a humbling experience.  At the same time, it’s bigger than me.”

But not much bigger.  With Givens doing less, the Rams are still worse.

3. Is Jeff Fisher on the hot seat?

Only one person truly knows, and he never says anything. Owner Stan Kroenke keeps his cards close, doing things when he chooses to do them without much advance warning.

The Rams were respectable in Fisher’s first two years, going 7-8-1 and 7-9 in the NFL’s toughest division.  This year has been a free fall, however, with the Rams at 1-4.

Still, Fisher likely will stay, for a couple of reasons. First, he’s only in the third season of a five-year, $35 million contract.  That makes for a pricey buyout.  Second, with the team potentially moving to L.A. as soon as 2015 (another topic on which Kroenke will say nothing), who better to preside over the transition than the man who coached the Houston Oilers through their move to Tennessee a generation ago?

Titans at Washington

1.  Could there be a Colt McCoy sighting this weekend?

Defenses quickly figured out Kirk Cousins, and he hasn’t been able to adjust.  He also hasn’t been able to stop making huge mistakes.  And it eventually could result in Cousins taking a seat before starter Robert Griffin III is ready to return.

Coach Jay Gruden hasn’t ruled out benching Cousins, if the blunders continue.

“Obviously if things continue in this downward spiral, there is always a chance to see Colt,” Gruden said this week.

That’s not enough to add Colt McCoy to your fantasy team.  Apart from the fact that it’s still Colt McCoy.

2.  Did Washington blow it by using the franchise tag on Brian Orakpo?

Yes they did.  Orakpo earns $11.455 million in guaranteed money this season.  So far, he has generated 0.5 sacks, no interceptions, and no forced fumbles.

Jason Reid of the Washington Post recently argued that the blame for this mistake should land on the desk of team president/G.M. Bruce Allen.  It’s hard not to wonder, given the overall state of the franchise, how much more time Allen’s link to the late George Allen will keep him on the job.

3.  Good guys — and bad teams — wear white?

The Titans are so blah and boring that the only question I could come up with relates to their choice in uniform color.  They’ve donned white every game this season, and they’ll presumably do so again on Sunday at Washington, where a home team that once always wore white at home has gone with burgundy in recent years.

“It’s an ownership decision, and those things are put in way ahead of time,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said this week. “I know if you can catch a team in a dark jersey when it’s 90 degrees, it’s an advantage. But to be honest with you, that is one of the things that really doesn’t matter to me. Whatever we wear, we wear.”

Chiefs at Chargers

1.  Should the Chargers be concerned about facing the Chiefs after a bye?

Absolutely.  Coach Andy Reid has a record of 13-2 after a bye week, which means he knows how to make the most out of that extra time.  Jon Ritchie, who played for Reid in Philly, said this week on NBCSN’s Pro Football Talk that Reid devotes the extra time to self-scouting, spotting his own trends and tendencies and shaking things up.

A win at San Diego would definitely shake things up in the AFC West.

2.  Should the Chargers exhale at 5-1?

No way.  While the schedule to date hasn’t been crammed with cupcakes, the combined record of their last three opponents is 1-17.

Moving forward, it won’t be that easy.

It picks up,” quarterback Philip Rivers recently said.

Still looming are two games against the Broncos, a visit from the Patriots, and a Harbaugh Brothers Road Trip, with visits to Baltimore and San Francisco.  If the Chargers are going to make a run at the top of the conference this year, they definitely will have earned it.

3.  How close is Jamaal Charles to history?

Surprisingly close.  Charles need only 53 yards on the ground to become the Chiefs’ all-time rushing leader.  (Priest Holmes holds the mark currently, with 6,070 yards.)

“I don’t want to jinx myself,” Charles recently said, pointing out that linebacker Derrick Johnson blew out an Achilles tendon only 15 tackles from 1,000.  “I just want to go out and play football, and let it happen itself.”

Giants at Cowboys

1.  Can DeMarco Murray stay healthy?

That’s perhaps the biggest question facing the Cowboys.  He missed three games as a rookie, six in 2012, and two last year.  In 2014, he’s averaging 30 total touches per game.  For his career before this season, he averaged 17.7.

So he’s touching the ball nearly twice as often as he ever has.  If he stays healthy, it’ll be an upset far bigger than the victory in Seattle that rattled the Seahawks badly enough to dump Percy Harvin.

2.  How important is the offensive line to the Cowboys’ success?

Far more important than the offensive line gets credit for.  Then again, they’re finally getting some credit; left tackle Tyron Smith became the first lineman to win an offensive player of the week award in a decade.

They could get even more credit if/when injuries start to erode the unit.  Right tackle Doug Free will miss some time with a foot injury.  Smith has an ankle problem that won’t keep him out of action, for now.  If/when the offensive line begins to crumble, it’ll be just a matter of time before Murray and quarterback Tony Romo end up getting crushed.

3.  How will the Giants replace Victor Cruz?

Maybe Kevin Ogletree, if they can get him up to speed quickly.  Playing for the Cowboys in Week One of the 2012 season, Ogletree had a career night at MetLife Stadium, catching eight passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns in an upset win on the night the Giants raised their most recent title banner.  With Cruz done for the year, Ogletree joined the Giants this week.

His ability to make an impact hinges on his ability to learn the offense.  Until then, look for Preston Parker to play the slot position that Cruz had mastered.

Cardinals at Raiders

1. What happened to the Super Bowl jinx?

So far, it has yet to kick in for the Cardinals.  Oh, the jinx has tried to activate, with injuries and suspensions and a dead nerve in Carson Palmer’s shoulder threatening to scuttle the season.  But the Cardinals have recovered — and they’re keenly aware that they have an opportunity to become the first team to host a Super Bowl in its home stadium.

“That’s something that was spoke upon early in the season,” Rashad told PFT Live this week.  “The goal was to be at home, sitting in our home locker room, right here at our home facility, warming up, just making like a normal week.  So we definitely talked about it early in the year and we definitely know the Super Bowl is here and that’s definitely a goal of ours.  To be able to play in it, you know, as the home team and go out and compete and win the thing.”

For now, they’re in pretty good position, with a single loss and sole possession of first place in the NFC West.

2.  How’s Patrick Peterson doing now that he has been paid?

Unlike Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, a 2011 first-round pick who seemed to get even better after cashing in, Peterson has taken a step back.  And he knows it.

“I do believe I’m not playing to the best of my ability right now,” Peterson said this week, “but that’s definitely going to change.”

That lack of ability included getting burned by receiver DeSean Jackson.

3.  Are there any bright spots for the Raiders?

There’s at least one.  Running back Darren McFadden, who signed a bargain-basement deal after his bloated rookie contract expired, has emerged as the leading rusher.  More importantly, he has remained healthy.

“It may not show in the stats, but this is the best I’ve felt five games into the season,” McFadden said this week. “I don’t have any nagging injuries, nicks or anything slowing me down. I feel like I can go out there and let it loose 100 percent.”

That may not be enough to salvage a lost season for the Raiders, but it could help McFadden get slightly more money from someone in 2015.

49ers at Broncos

1.  How close did Peyton Manning come to playing for the 49ers?

Closer than anyone ever would admit.  Including coach Jim Harbaugh.

Harbaugh insisted he was merely “evaluating” Manning, obviously in order to keep Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick from realizing how close they’d come to stop being the object of Harbaugh’s affection.

It’s probably good that Manning didn’t pick the 49ers.  He and Harbaugh are too much alike; Manning needed a defensive head coach who’d let Peyton run the offense.  In San Francisco, Harbaugh and Manning would have banged heads even worse than Harbaugh and G.M. Trent Baalke do.

2.  How much will it cost for the Broncos to keep their free agents?

Plenty.  Receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas are both having great contract years, and the Broncos have only one franchise tag to use.

Throw in cornerback Chris Harris, who also is playing well as he moves toward the open market, and the Broncos won’t have the cash to spend on new additions.  It’ll be all they can do to keep their current guys.

3.  Where’s the San Fran running attack?

With a mobile quarterback in Colin Kaepernick, some yards will always be gained on the ground even if every play called was intended initially to be a pass.  Beyond Kaepernick and his 242 yards in six games, the 49ers haven’t gotten much production on the ground.

Frank Gore leads the way, as he always does.  But he’s got only 403 yards, an average of 67.6 per game.  Rookie Carlos Hyde, who was supposed to commence the process of supplanting Gore, has 146 yards and an average of 3.2 yards per carry.

Committing to the run and realizing some success from it could help the 49ers tremendously this week.  The more they control the ball, the less time Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning will have to generate yards, points, and the three touchdown passes he needs to surpass Brett Favre’s career mark of 508.  Surely, Harbaugh (the quarterback in Indy before Peyton became the first overall pick in the draft) doesn’t want to be the coach against whom Manning threw No. 509.

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Week Seven injury report roundup

Calvin Johnson AP

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

Falcons at Ravens

The Falcons have a pretty healthy active roster heading into the weekend outside of wide receiver Harry Douglas (foot), who will miss another game. It doesn’t look like tackle Eugene Monroe (knee, doubtful) or guard Kelechi Osemele (knee, doubtful) will return this week and the Ravens will also wait for defensive end Chris Canty (wrist, out) to get healthy.

Vikings at Bills

Minnesota hopes to have defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (elbow, ankle) and linebacker Chad Greenway (hand, rib) after listing them as questionable. Tight end Kyle Rudolph (abdomen, groin) is out again for the Vikings. The Bills have ruled out wide receiver Marcus Easley (knee), wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (hamstring) and linebacker Ty Powell (ankle), but are without other injury issues heading into the weekend.

Dolphins at Bears

The Dolphins will need to shuffle their line again if center Samson Satele (hamstring, questionable) can’t play. Cornerback Jimmy Wilson (hamstring) is doubtful. Linebacker Lance Briggs (ribs) and safety Chris Conte (shoulder) are both out for the home team and linebacker Jon Bostic (back) is questionable.

Saints at Lions

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (shoulder) and Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson (ankle) highlight their team’s respective injury reports and both are listed as questionable. Saints linebackers Ramon Humber (ankle) and Kyle Knox (ankle) are both out while cornerback Patrick Robinson (hamstring) is questionable. The Lions are doubtful that either tight end Eric Ebron (hamstring) or running back Theo Riddick (hamstring) will be able to play.

Panthers at Packers

The Panthers didn’t rule anyone out, but cornerback Bene’ Benwikere (ankle), linebacker Chase Blackburn (knee), guard Amini Silatolu (calf), running back Fozzy Whittaker (thigh) and running back DeAngelo Williams (ankle) are all doubtful. Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin is questionable pending clearance through the concussion protocol. The Packers won’t have defensive end Datone Jones (ankle) or cornerback Sam Shields (knee) and may also be without cornerback Tramon Williams (ankle, questionable) on Sunday.

Bengals at Colts

Linebacker Rey Maualuga (hamstring) is out for the Bengals and it looks like wide receiver A.J. Green (toe, doubtful), linebacker Emmanuel Lamur (shoulder, doubtful) and defensive tackle Brandon Thompson (knee, doubtful) will join him on the sideline. Cornerback Darius Butler (ankle) won’t play, but the Colts could get defensive tackle Arthur Jones (ankle, questionable) back. Tackle Gosder Cherilus (knee), guard Jack Mewhort (ankle) and guard Hugh Thornton (back) are all probable.

Browns at Jaguars

Cleveland heads to Jacksonville without wide receiver Rodney Smith (hamstring), defensive end Phil Taylor (knee), cornerback K’Waun Williams (concussion) and defensive end Billy Winn (quadricep), with safety Tashaun Gipson (thigh) and defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin (ankle) listed as questionable. Running back Toby Gerhart (foot) is out for the otherwise healthy Jaguars.

Seahawks at Rams

Seattle ruled out a number of players because of injury — defensive tackle Jordan Hill (ankle), defensive end Cassius Marsh (foot), cornerback Byron Maxwell (calf), tight end Zach Miller (ankle), center Max Unger (foot), linebacker Bobby Wagner (toe) — and wide receiver Percy Harvin because they didn’t want him anymore. Tight end Luke Willson (groin, questionable) will be a weekend decision. Center Tim Barnes (shoulder) is doubtful for St. Louis, while linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar (thigh), cornerback Trumaine Johnson (knee), cornerback Brandon McGee (foot) and defensive end Ethan Westbrooks (hand) are all questionable.

Titans at Redskins

Tight end Craig Stevens (quad) is out for the Titans and they don’t expect to have running back Shonn Greene (hamstring), cornerback Coty Sensabaugh (knee) or tight end Taylor Thompson (knee) after listing them as doubtful. Redskins cornerback David Amerson (concussion, questionable), safety Ryan Clark (ankle, questionable) and linebacker Perry Riley (knee, questionable) will all have their status determined over the weakend.

Chiefs at Chargers 

The Chiefs have ruled out wide receiver Donnie Avery (groin), safety Eric Berry (ankle) and cornerback Christopher Owens (knee). Running back Cyrus Gray (hand) and cornerback Sean Smith (groin) are both questionable. The Chargers will roll without running back Donald Brown (concussion), linebacker Manti Te’o (foot) and running back Ryan Mathews (knee) again this week while linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu (hamstring) is doubtful to play. They’ll wait until the weekend to decide about cornerback Brandon Flowers (groin), linebacker Dwight Freeney (knee), linebacker Cordarro Law (ankle) and cornerback Jason Verrett (shoulder) after listing them as questionable.

Giants at Cowboys

The Giants won’t have running back Rashad Jennings (knee), but remain hopeful for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (back, hamstring, questionable). The Cowboys ruled out linebacker Bruce Carter (thigh) and tackle Doug Free (foot) and don’t expect to have defensive end Jack Crawford (calf, doubtful) in the lineup. Tackle Tyron Smith is probable after a mid-week ankle scare, however.

Cardinals at Raiders

Defensive end Calais Campbell (knee) is out again for the Cardinals. Tight end Troy Niklas (ankle) is also out and tight end John Carlson (knee), linebacker Glenn Carson (ankle), defensive lineman Frostee Rucker (calf) and defensive lineman Alameda Ta’amu (illness) are all questionable. Raiders wide receiver Vincent Brown (hamstring) and cornerback Keith McGill (groin) are both out. Defensive end Justin Tuck (knee), guard Khalif Barnes (quadricep) and running back Marcel Reece (quadricep) are questionable.

49ers at Broncos

49ers linebacker Patrick Willis (toe) and guard Mike Iupati (concussion) will miss the contest, while cornerback Tramaine Brock (toe), cornerback Chris Culliver (shoulder), tackle Anthony Davis (knee, ankle) and safety Jimmie Ward (quadricep) are all questionable. Running back Montee Ball (groin) is out for Denver, who will go into Sunday night with an otherwise healthy 53-man roster.

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PFT’s Week Seven picks

Stafford Getty Images

Well, he swept me last week.  MDS and I differed on three games.  He was right (and I was wrong) on each of them.

This week, we disagree on only one game.  It involves a team on which we’ve disagreed four prior times this year.  He’s been right each time, and I’ve been wrong.

Coincidentally (or not), he now leads the season-to-date contest by four games.

For the week, MDS was 12-3 and I was 9-6.  For the year, he’s at 59-32 and I’m at 55-36.

Jets at Patriots

MDS’s take: I still don’t think the Jets are quite as bad as their record suggests, and one of these weeks I think the Jets are going to win a game when no one sees it coming. But this won’t be the week. Tom Brady has turned things around recently and is playing very well, and the Jets simply don’t have the manpower in the secondary to keep up.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 27, Jets 17.

Florio’s take:  It’s the second annual last trip by Rex Ryan to Foxborough.  And likely the final one.  Bill Belichick and company send Rex packing with a butt-kicking.  Maybe Rex ends up working for Bill in 2015?

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 34, Jets 10.

Falcons at Ravens

MDS’s take: The Ravens are playing good football in all three phases of the game, while the Falcons are playing well on offense and special teams but struggling mightily on defense. That will be the difference, as Joe Flacco will put up big numbers against a weak Atlanta secondary.

MDS’s pick: Ravens 31, Falcons 21.

Florio’s take:  Winless on the road and suddenly unable to win at home, the Falcons are still looking for their next victory after that 56-14 thrashing of the Buccaneers.  And the Falcons will keep looking beyond their trip to Baltimore.

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 31, Falcons 20.

Titans at Washington

MDS’s take: Kirk Cousins has been terrible the last few weeks, but this week he gets to play a bad Titans defense. Look for DeSean Jackson to make a couple of big plays in the passing game and those big plays to be the difference.

MDS’s pick: Washington 20, Titans 14.

Florio’s take:   The one-win Washington team gets a rare chance to pick up a second.  There may not be many/any more after it.

Florio’s pick:  Washington 20, Titans 14.

Seahawks at Rams

MDS’s take: The Seahawks’ schedule got off to a brutal start, as four of their first five opponents were likely playoff teams. Now the Seahawks are entering the easier stretch of their schedule, and they should make quick work of the Rams.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 28, Rams 14.

Florio’s take:  The suddenly shaky Seahawks look to re-establish themselves against the regularly-shaky Rams.  St. Louis could put up a fight  early (like they did at home against the 49ers on Monday night) and then fade late (like they did at home against the 49ers on Monday night).  Either way, no one will be thinking the Seahawks are in danger after Sunday.  Even if they are.

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 30, Rams 17.

Browns at Jaguars

MDS’s take: The Browns are surprisingly good. The Jaguars are even worse than anyone could have imagined. I expect the Browns to go on a run and establish themselves as AFC playoff contenders.

MDS’s pick: Browns 31, Jaguars 13.

Florio’s take:  It’s a trap game for a team that is used to being the trap team.  But the Browns will be favored for the next three weeks.  Can they win the games they’re supposed to win?  Survey says, “Probably.”

Florio’s pick:  Browns 27, Jaguars 16.

Bengals at Colts

MDS’s take: This was the toughest game on the board for me to pick. The Bengals are a better team overall, but they’re without their best player in A.J. Green, they’re coming off a hard-fought overtime loss, and they’re heading to Indianapolis to play a Colts team that’s on extra rest after a Thursday night game. Add it all up and it looks to me like a close win for Indianapolis.

MDS’s pick: Colts 21, Bengals 20.

Florio’s take:  The Colts have had a little extra rest to get ready for a Bengals team that could use a little more after playing five full quarters at home.  Indy is rolling; the Bengals find themselves in the middle of an unexpected four-team scrum.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 30, Bengals 21.

Vikings at Bills

MDS’s take: Teddy Bridgewater is a talented young quarterback, but he struggled mightily when the Lions brought inside pressure on Sunday, and the Bills have the personnel to get the same kind of inside pressure against the Vikings. Bridgewater is going to have another tough game in another Vikings loss.

MDS’s pick: Bills 20, Vikings 10.

Florio’s take:  It took a week longer than the new owners had hoped, but the Bills get the first win of the Pegula era against the Purple Paste Eaters.

Florio’s pick:  Bills 24, Vikings 10.

Dolphins at Bears

MDS’s take: The Bears’ defense is much improved from last year, with free agent addition Willie Young making a huge difference and leading the league with 7.0 sacks. I like Young to get a lot of pressure on Ryan Tannehill as the Bears win.

MDS’s pick: Bears 24, Dolphins 20.

Florio’s take:  The Bears have not yet won at Soldier Field this year.  That streak ends on Sunday against a Dolphins team that blew a prime opportunity to upend the Packers.

Florio’s pick:  Bears 27, Dolphins 17.

Saints at Lions

MDS’s take: The Saints’ offense is good and their defense is bad. The Lions’ defense is good and their offense is bad. I’ll break the tie by going with home-field advantage, and that means the Lions.

MDS’s pick: Lions 23, Saints 20.

Florio’s take:  The Lions have a great defense, but they haven’t faced an offense quite like the one the Saints have.  Sure, Reggie Bush will want some revenge.  But he can only do so much to match what the Saints will muster, with two weeks to rest and to prepare for a showdown with the team New Orleans manhandled less than three years ago in the playoffs.

Florio’s pick:  Saints 34, Lions 27.

Panthers at Packers

MDS’s take: Cam Newton looks like he’s getting healthier and playing better, so the Panthers should be able to put plenty of points on the board in Green Bay. Unfortunately for the Panthers, their defense is struggling and Aaron Rodgers is at the top of his game, which means Green Bay wins a high-scoring contest.

MDS’s pick: Packers 34, Panthers 27.

Florio’s take:  The Packers have found the gas pedal since losing in ugly fashion to the Lions.  The Panthers, as up-and-down as any team this season, keep finding the pedal then losing it.  But after giving up 37 points to the Bengals in Cincinnati, the Carolina defense could get shredded in the land o’ cheddar.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 34, Panthers 23.

Chiefs at Chargers

MDS’s take: Philip Rivers is playing the best football of his career right now, and the Chiefs’ defense is not playing particularly well. I expect Rivers to have a big game.

MDS’s pick: Chargers 30, Chiefs 20.

Florio’s take:  Before getting a chance to take their best shot at the Broncos in Denver, the Chargers have to withstand the best the Chiefs have to offer, with two weeks to get ready for it.  If the Chargers weren’t in the midst of a special season, that would be a real concern.

Florio’s pick:  Chargers 27, Chiefs 20.

Cardinals at Raiders

MDS’s take: Give Tony Sparano credit for this — the Raiders looked like they were playing harder for him on Sunday against the Chargers than they had played previously this season for Dennis Allen. Having said that, the Raiders simply aren’t a very talented football team, and the Cardinals should beat them decisively.

MDS’s pick: Cardinals 34, Raiders 17.

Florio’s take:  Another trap game for a team that not long ago was a trap team.  Throw in Carson Palmer’s desire for some warped sense of revenge against the second of two teams on which he quit, and the Cardinals likely won’t be caught napping.

Florio’s pick:  Cardinals 27, Raiders 23.

Giants at Cowboys

MDS’s take: The Cowboys’ defense is far from great, but it’s much improved from last year, and it should be able to shut down the Giants, whose offense is struggling. DeMarco Murray will have another big game as the Cowboys play ball control in the second half.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 20, Giants 10.

Florio’s take:  The Giants are 4-1 at Jerryworld.  The Cowboys are 5-1.  But these aren’t the same old Cowboys who have dropped four of five at home against their rivals from New York.  And these Giants aren’t the team that recently won three in a row, especially with Victor Cruz done for the year and Rashad Jennings gone for now.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 27, Giants 17.

49ers at Broncos

MDS’s take: Can Peyton Manning throw for three touchdown passes against a good 49ers defense and break Brett Favre’s NFL record? I think he can, and the Broncos will win an entertaining and close game.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 28, 49ers 24.

Florio’s take:  49ers coach Jim Harbaugh reportedly “evaluated” Peyton Manning in 2012.  Harbaugh gets a chance to evaluate Manning a lot more closely on Sunday night.  And Harbaugh won’t like what he sees.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 31, 49ers 20.

Texans at Steelers

MDS’s take: The Steelers’ defense was shredded by the Browns on Sunday, but Houston’s offense isn’t as good as Cleveland’s. I think Pittsburgh will win a low-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Steelers 13, Texans 10.

Florio’s take:  On the rare occasions when the Steelers are backed against the wall, they come out swinging.  Facing in prime-time audience at home on Monday night after getting blown out by the Browns, the Steelers will come out swinging.

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 24, Texans 13.

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Week Six power rankings

Rivers Getty Images

1. San Diego Chargers (No. 3 last week; 5-1):  The Chargers are 1-0 whenever Eric Weddle unsuccessfully audibles to a fake on a fourth-and-35 punt.  Hopefully, there won’t be an effort to push that mark to 2-0.

2. Dallas Cowboys (No. 9; 5-1):  Jimmy Johnson eventually will try to find a way to claim I/me credit for this, too.

3. Denver Broncos (No. 2; 4-1):  A sluggish, uninspiring 14-point win is still a 14-point win.

4. Arizona Cardinals (No. 4; 4-1):  A sluggish, uninspiring 10-point win is still a 10-point win.

5. Philadelphia Eagles (No. 5; 5-1):  So much for the sluggish, uninspiring wins.

6. Seattle Seahawks (No. 1; 3-2):  So much for the February coronation.

7. Green Bay Packers (No. 7; 4-2):  So much for the South Florida heat.

8. Indianapolis Colts (No. 8; 4-2):  So much for the Colts being done at 0-2.

9. Cincinnati Bengals (No. 6; 3-1-1):  So much for field goals of shorter than 40 yards being automatic.

10. Baltimore Ravens (No. 10; 4-2):  So much for the North Florida heat.

11. San Francisco 49ers (No. 11; 4-2):  So much for the Rams being any good.

12. New England Patriots (No. 12; 4-2):  So much for Tom Brady’s ankle being injured.

13. Carolina Panthers (No. 13; 3-2-1):  So much for Riverboat Ron choosing to roll the dice on a win in overtime.

14. Detroit Lions (No. 16; 4-2):  So much for a crappy kicker keeping the team from winning.

15. Cleveland Browns (No. 21; 3-2):  So much for the Browns not being competitive.

16. Buffalo Bills (No. 14; 3-3):  So much for the Bills being competitive.

17. New Orleans Saints (No. 17; 2-3):  So much for the Saints falling behind the pack in the NFC South, which went 0-2-1 during the New Orleans bye.

18. Chicago Bears (No. 23; 3-3):  So much for other teams figuring out Marc Trestman’s offense.

19. Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 15; 3-3):  So much for the Steelers being competitive.

20. Kansas City Chiefs (No. 20; 2-3):  Take down the Chargers in San Diego, and suddenly the AFC West becomes a three-team race.

21. Houston Texans (No. 18; 3-3):  On Monday night, J.J. Watt gets a chance to remind Pittsburgh of what a dominant defensive player looks like.

22. New York Giants (No. 19; 3-3):  From 2004 through 2012, the Giants started each season at 5-2 or better.  For the second straight year, they won’t.

23. Miami Dolphins (No. 24; 2-3):  After a close loss to the Packers, the glass is half full or the glass is half empty or the glass is shattered.

24. Atlanta Falcons (No. 22; 2-4):  That Georgia dome should be renamed Soldier Field South.

25. New York Jets (No. 25; 1-5):  In an effort to get fired sooner than later, maybe Rex should drive around the parking lot, dragging the team’s Super Bowl trophies from the bumper of his car.  Oh, wait.

26. Tennessee Titans (No. 30; 2-4):  After Sunday’s win, a Titans player encourage his teammates to not get satisfied.  Given that they barely beat the Jaguars, that’s not possible.

27. Minnesota Vikings (No. 26; 2-4):  How much tape did it take to figure out Teddy Bridgewater?  Not much.

28. St. Louis Rams (No. 27; 1-4):  The reunited Greatest Show on Turf team may have had a better shot at winning last night than the current Rams.

29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 28; 1-5):  For most Bucs fans, 1-5 and Lovie Smith is still way better than last year.

30. Washington (No. 29; 1-5):  When is it time to give up on a season?  When the calls are coming for Colt McCoy to start.  (We also would have accepted “when the head coach starts wearing T-shirts during games.”)

31. Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 31; 0-6):  It’s unfair to expect the Jaguars to make good decisions with a game on the line in the final seconds; they don’t have much recent experience at that.

32.  Oakland Raiders (No. 32; 0-5):  Eventually, Oakland fans will be throwing eggs at the Raiders’ bus.

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NFL morning after: Let’s get rid of ties

mikenugent AP

If you watched the end of Sunday’s 37-37 tie between the Panthers and Bengals, I hope you kept watching long enough to catch the looks on the players’ and coaches faces as they walked off the field. They didn’t know what to think. Neither did I.

Win an NFL game and you’re jubilant. Lose and you’re devastated. But a tie? Well, a tie just feels like something that makes you shrug. (Especially if you’re Donovan McNabb.)

Soccer still has ties, and so do plenty of sports popular in other countries like rugby and field hockey, and a boxing match or a mixed martial arts fight can end in a draw if the judges say so. But when it comes to American team sports, the NFL is pretty much alone in still having ties. The NHL adopted the shootout to get rid of the tie, and college football has instituted its endless overtimes to make ties a thing of the past. The NFL is in a lonely position. The tie is an anachronism. It needs to go the way of the leather helmet and the flying wedge.

The NFL changed its overtime rules in 2012 so that a field goal on the first possession of overtime wouldn’t win the game, and as a result ties are more common now: There had only been two ties in the previous 14 seasons before the NFL adopted that rule change, but now we’re averaging a tie per season, with one tie in 2012, one in 2013 and our first tie of 2014 on Sunday.

I don’t like that trend. The whole point of playing is to declare a winner. You watch a tie and you feel like you watched a four-hour contest that accomplished nothing.

The NFL’s playoff overtime rule is the same as that of the regular season, except that you keep playing even if you’re tied after 15 minutes of overtime, until someone wins. That should be the rule in the regular season as well. Let’s get rid of ties in the NFL.

Here are my other thoughts from Sunday:

Lovie Smith’s players aren’t playing for him. As the head coach of the Bears, Lovie Smith was known for being beloved by his players, but in Tampa he looks like he doesn’t have the attention of his team. The Bucs just come out looking too flat, too often. If you watched their pathetic Thursday night loss to the Falcons you’d think a team couldn’t look any worse — unless you saw the way the Bucs played on Sunday against Baltimore. The Ravens went into Tampa and took a 28-0 lead in the first quarter and a 38-0 lead midway through the second quarter. The Bucs didn’t even look like they were trying.

The Lions’ kicking problems are stunning. Detroit is now down to its third kicker of the season, and the field goal problems still haven’t been fixed. Matt Prater, signed by the Lions last week, went just 1-for-3 in his debut for the Lions on Sunday. As a team, the Lions are now 2-for-12 on field goals longer than 30 yards this season. There are high school teams that kick better than the Lions.

Teddy Bridgewater showed why the Vikings didn’t want to play him this early. Taking on a good Detroit defense on Sunday, Bridgewater got rattled. The Vikings never wanted to start their first-round rookie quarterback this early in the season exactly because they didn’t want him to go through a game like he went through Sunday, when he was sacked eight times and threw three interceptions. Unfortunately, when Matt Cassel got hurt the Vikings had no choice but to start Bridgewater or — shudder — turn to Christian Ponder. Playing Ponder would have been essentially giving up on the season, so the Vikings are soldiering on with Bridgewater, even though he’s going to go through some rough outings like he did on Sunday. Bridgewater is a talented young quarterback who’s going to have to struggle through a tough rookie year. The Vikings just hope he doesn’t keep struggling as much as he did on Sunday.

Adam Jones is a really, really talented football player. It’s too bad that the career of “Pacman” has been overshadowed by his frequent off-field trouble, because that guy is an amazing football player. Just when it looked like the Bengals were toast on Sunday, when they’d fallen behind the Panthers 31-24 late in the fourth quarter, Jones ripped off a 97-yard kickoff return to set up a game-tying touchdown. Jones has always been an incredibly fearless return man: When returning punts, he always wants to make a play and never fair catches — he hasn’t fair caught a punt since 2006, despite returning 70 punts since then. He’s also been a good starting cornerback for much of his career, although at age 31 he’s not quite the contributor he used to be on defense. That 97-yard return was the first time this season that the Bengals had Jones return a kickoff, and that was a smart time to use him. They should use him on kickoff returns more frequently. It’s nice to have a reason to talk about Jones on the field.

Peyton Manning makes the extraordinary seem ordinary. I hardly heard anyone talking about Manning on Sunday, and yet all he did was complete 22 of 33 passes for 237 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions, while leading the Broncos to a 31-17 win over the Jets. That’s just become what we expect of Manning at this point. Those three touchdowns gave Manning 506 for his career, which puts him just two behind Brett Favre’s all-time NFL record. I have a feeling we’ll hear plenty about Manning next week, when he’ll break Favre’s record.

DeSean Jackson is something special. Whatever issues were going on with Jackson and Chip Kelly in Philadelphia, the result was that Washington got itself an outstanding football player. Jackson is dynamite with the ball in his hands, as he showed Sunday against Arizona when he scored a 64-yard touchdown and also caught a 42-yard pass. Jackson has a league-high five catches of 40 or more yards. Just think what he could do if he were in a better passing game than Washington’s.

I still don’t know what constitutes an illegal helmet-to-helmet hit. On Sunday in Atlanta, Chicago safety Ryan Mundy lowered his helmet and hit Falcons receiver Roddy White in the side of the head while White was trying to make a catch. It looked to me like a clear case of an illegal hit on a defenseless receiver, so I wasn’t surprised when an official threw a flag. But I was surprised when the referee turned on his microphone and said that there actually was no flag because Mundy led with his shoulder, not his head. That’s not how it looked to me, and apparently not how it looked to the official who threw the flag. At a time when even the league’s own officials can’t keep straight which hits are legal and which are penalties, how are the players supposed to know? The NFL needs to get this rule straightened out. And after that, maybe do something about ties.

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Week Six early inactives

Sam Shields, Calvin Johnson 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.

Patriots at Bills

Patriots: CB Brandon Browner, S Nate Ebner, T Cameron Fleming, C Bryan Stork, DT Dominique Easley, LB Dont’a Hightower, RB James White

Bills: WR Marcus Easley, WR Mike Williams, S Aaron Williams, CB Ross Cockrell, RB Bryce Brown, LB Randell Johnson, T Cyrus Kouandjio

Panthers at Bengals

Panthers: RB DeAngelo Williams, CB Bene Benwikere, CB Josh Norman, RB Jonathan Stewart, QB Joe Webb, LB D.J. Smith, OL Andrew Norwell

Bengals: WR A.J. Green, CB Chris Lewis-Harris, LB Khairi Fortt, OL Kevin Zeitler, DT Brandon Thompson, WR Marvin Jones, DE Will Clarke

Steelers at Browns

Steelers: CB Ike Taylor, LB Ryan Shazier, S Shamarko Thomas, WR Martavis Bryant, QB Landry Jones, NT Daniel McCullers, G Chris Hubbard

Browns: DL Ahtyba Rubin, RB Terrance West, DL Phil Taylor, DL Billy Winn, TE Gerrell Robinson, CB Pierre Desir, WR Rodney Smith

Packers at Dolphins

Packers: WR Jarrett Boykin, QB Scott Tolzien, CB Demetri Goodson, LB Carl Bradford, LB Sam Barrington, C Garth Gerhart, DE Datone Jones

Dolphins: WR Brandon Gibson, RB Daniel Thomas, DT Deandre Coleman, G Shelley Smith, T Jason Fox, G Billy Turner, TE Gator Hoskins

Lions at Vikings

Lions: WR Calvin Johnson, RB Reggie Bush, TE Joseph Fauria, LB Travis Lewis, QB Kellen Moore, DE Larry Webster, OL Garrett Reynolds

Vikings: TE Kyle Rudolph, FB Zach Line, LB Chad Greenway, DL Scott Crichton, LB Brandon Watts, OL Austin Wentworth, OL David Yankey

Broncos at Jets

Broncos: RB Montee Ball, WR Cody Latimer, DB Tony Carter, LB Lerentee McCray, OL Ben Garland, OL Michael Schofield, DL Mitch Unrein

Jets: WR Chris Owusu, WR David Nelson, T Ben Ijalana, LB IK Enemkpali, G Dakota Dozier, S Josh Bush, DL TJ Barnes

Ravens at Buccaneers

Ravens: DE Chris Canty, DT Timmy Jernigan, T Eugene Monroe, G Kelechi Osemele, WR Marlon Brown, LB Arthur Brown, TE Ryan Taylor

Buccaneers: S Dashon Goldson, LB Jonathan Casillas, QB Josh McCown, CB Johnthan Banks, DE Larry English, OL Kevin Pamphile, G Kadeem Edwards

Jaguars at Titans

Jaguars: RB Toby Gerhart, WR Mike Brown, LB Jeremiah George, CB Jeremy Harris, G Tyler Shatley, OT Sam Young, WR Tavarres King

Titans: TE Craig Stevens, QB Jake Locker, RB Shonn Greene, CB Coty Sensabaugh, CB Brandon Ghee, LB Akeem Ayers, TE Taylor Thompson

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Week Six “Three and Out”

Johnny Getty Images

I like a good dilemma.  Especially when someone else is confronting it.

My current dilemma (well, one of them) is whether to keep doing a weekly “Three and Out” feature, which raises and answers three (imagine that) questions for each of the Sunday games.  While not necessarily well read, it’s been well received.  But in a job that rarely entails work, this requires a decent amount of it.

For now, I’ve resolved the dilemma by deciding to do it for at least one more week.  As to my other dilemmas, well, who the hell knows what I’ll do?

Patriots at Bills

1.  Will Darrelle Revis match up against Sammy Watkins?

After a few weeks of Darrelle Revis doing something other than covering the opponents’ best receiver, Revis spent all of Sunday night blanketing Bengals wideout A.J. Green.  This week, Bills rookie Sammy Watkins believes that Revis will be shadowing the fourth overall pick in the draft — and Watkins claims to have some sort of inside information to that effect.

It’s unclear why Watkins knows (or perhaps thinks he knows) that Revis will be assigned to try to contain him.  Regardless, it’ll be an interesting game within a game that will generate plenty of interest.  At least until it starts.

2.  Where has C.J. Spiller gone?

The 2010 first-round pick started his contract year by winning AFC special-teams player of the week honors.  His performance on offense has been anything but special.

Spiller has 215 rushing yards in five games, and average of 43 per game; 47 of those yards came on one carry.  He’s  also averaging a mere 3.5 yards per run, with 10 attempts for only eight yards against the Lions on Sunday.

Not long ago, Spiller was a rising star.  Now, he’s on pace to be scratching and clawing for a veteran tailback contract that pays at or about the money given to punters and kickers.  Here’s hoping that, for both the Bills and Spiller, he gets back to the form that he displayed in 2012, when he averaged 6.0 yards per carry and gained 1,244 for the year.

3.  Are the Patriots back?

Maybe.  With a 43-17 prime-time win following a 41-14 prime-time embarrassment, the truth about these Patriots likely lands somewhere in the middle.  They’ll have to continue to get the most they can out of the largely mediocre roster they have.  Yet another AFC East title is possible.  To get there, a win over the 3-2 Bills in their own building becomes crucial.

Panthers at Bengals

1.  Who steps up for A.J. Green?

Green aggravated a toe ligament this week, and it’s highly unlikely he’ll play on Sunday.  (Officially, he’s listed as questionable.)  Receiver Marvin Jones has been injured all year, and tight end Tyler Eifert hasn’t played since suffering a football injury in Week One.

So with Green out, Mohamed Sanu becomes the primary receiver.  And Brandon Tate will have increased opportunities.  And catchless-for-now rookie James Wright impressed offensive coordinator Hue Jackson on Sunday night at New England.

Tight end Jermaine Gresham and running back Giovani Bernard will also get more play.  Bernard has only three fewer catches on the year (14) than Green.

2.  Could Antoine Cason be the comeback player of the year?

So far, yes.  The first-round pick of the Chargers in 2008 has surged in Carolina this year, with an interception and three forced fumbles in five games.

Earlier this week, Cason told PFT Live that he learned how to punch balls out by spending time with Bears cornerback Charles Tillman during the 2011 lockout.  Cason used those skills to knock the ball away from Bears running back Matt Forte in crunch time last week, which sparked the game-winning points.

Not bad for a guy who didn’t start a single game in Arizona last season.

3.  Why did Cam Newton have his wisdom teeth out last week?

That’s perhaps the best question of the week.  (The second best question is whether Newton was under the influence of laughing gas when he explained the situation to the media after Sunday’s game.)  Having wisdom teeth removed is a painful, disruptive exercise.  Unless he was in constant discomfort or real danger of a wisdom-teeth-related malady, it’s something that should have waited until the bye week at the earliest, after the season ideally.

Coupled with Newton’s recent explanation that he didn’t realize the severity of his ankle surgery until after it had happened, it invites questions regarding whether Newton is getting good medical/dental advice, or whether he’s paying any attention to the advice he’s getting.

Steelers at Browns

1.  Where’s Johnny?

After not playing (despite being expected to make a cameo) during a Week One loss to the Steelers, Johnny Manziel/Football/Cleveland/Vegas saw limited action against the Saints in Week Two and the Ravens in Week Three.  So with a bye week to prepare for the first trip Jimmy Haslam’s team made making to Haslam’s home state of Tennessee, the Browns opted to leave Manziel in the garage again.

The last time the Steelers faced the Browns, they were prepared for Manziel and didn’t see him.  This time, maybe they’ll expect him not to play — and then maybe he’ll play.

Meanwhile, a guy with far less sizzle attached to his name is doing things at quarterback that would make Manziel the most talked-about athlete in America, if he were the one doing them and not Brian Hoyer.

2.  Why are the Browns favored to win?

The easy answer is that the Browns giving Pittsburgh one point ensures equal betting on both teams.  Which is what the bookies always hope for.  The tougher answer is why anyone would think the Browns will reverse a 1-18 history against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

The Browns are trying to ignore the black and gold and the Big and Ben.

“You get to the point where you use the cliché, ‘Hey, treat these guys like they are nameless and faceless,’” coach Mike Pettine said this week.  “And we’re more competing against our standards than we are against anyone else particular.”

Those standards have raised to the point where the betting public believes the Browns can beat the Steelers.  Now, the Browns have to believe it.

3.  Where’s James Harrison?

Unlike Johnny Manziel, Harrison has been playing.  But not as much as he’d like.  Since ending his retirement last month, Harrison participated in 29 snaps against the Buccaneers and 21 against Jacksonville.

“I’m not where I want to be right now but week-in, week-out it gets a little better,” Harrison said this week. “We’ll see how far, how fast I progress.”

The Browns surely hope he doesn’t progress too quickly.  A pair of his biggest hits have come against the Browns, with a knockout blow four years ago to former Browns receiver Mohamed Massaquoi and a crushing hit two years ago on former Browns quarterback Colt McCoy.

Packers at Dolphins

1.  Why would Mike Pouncey play guard?

One of the most intriguing nuggets in an otherwise boring (but for the arrest of Derrick Shelby) bye week came from center Mike Pouncey.  Who possibly will be guard Mike Pouncey when he returns from offseason hip surgery.

The reasoning is simple.  The goal is to put the best five offensive linemen on the field.  Having Pouncey at guard and Samson Satele at center is better than having Pouncey at center and someone else at guard.  Besides, Pouncey played guard at Florida while his brother Maurkice played center there.  So it won’t be new territory for Pouncey.

2.  Does Joe Philbin’s experience with the Packers help?

Possibly, but not really.  Much of the offensive talent has changed since Philbin left after the 2011 season.  Of course, Aaron Rodgers remains in position as the quarterback, and Philbin surely knows plenty about Rodgers’ tactics and tendencies and what he does well and what he doesn’t do well.

But it’s one thing to know what Rodgers will or won’t do.  It’s quite another to actually keep him from doing it.  The Dolphins may not have the personnel to make that happen.

3.  Have the Packers adopted a 50-50 split at tailback?

Apparently, yes.  Last Thursday night against the Vikings, Eddie Lacy and James Starks participated in 27 snaps each.  The expectation this week against the Dolphins is that they’ll do the same.

Which is bad news for Lacy on the surface.  But he can only blame himself; the time-share arises directly from his failure to become what the team expected him to be in 2014, a year after winning the NFL offensive rookie of the year award.

Lions at Vikings

1.  How long until Calvin Johnson is healthy?

At least not for a week, given that he’s been listed as doubtful.  But coach Jim Caldwell insists it’s not a long-term injury for Johnson, who battled a chronic knee problem throughout 2013 and now is dealing with a chronic ankle sprain.  Caldwell also disputed the idea that Johnson was serving as a decoy for the team’s past two games.  Which makes sense; admitting that a decoy was a decoy makes it harder to use decoys in the future.

2.  Will the Vikings ever use Cordarelle Patterson?

They say they will.  But they continue not to.  Patterson recently said (he was joking, presumably) that he may have to be a “drama queen” in order to get the ball more.

Ever since generating 128 yards from scrimmage in Week One against the Rams (102 rushing, 26 receiving), Patterson has become more and more of an afterthought.  He has run the ball only once in four games since the opener.  Last week against the Packers, he caught two passes for eight yards.

It could be that he’s a healthy decoy for the Vikings, opening up the rest of the offense.  At some point, the decoy needs to get the ball or teams will start ignoring the decoy.

3.  Is Matt Prater the answer at kicker for Detroit?

He can’t be any worse than their recent options.  Actually, he could be a lot better.  While not kicking at Mile High altitude, Prater will spend at least half his time kicking under a roof.

The challenge for the Lions will be to keep Prater clean.  He’s been sober for six weeks, but he’ll be facing a constant battle to resist consuming alcohol.  He definitely has the incentive to avoid it.  His next violation likely would trigger a 10-game suspension under the new substance-abuse policy.

Broncos at Jets

1.  Will Geno Smith be benched again?

It probably depends on how far out of hand the game gets.  And on whether backup Mike Vick, who admitted he wasn’t as prepared as he should have been, can be trusted to make a difference.

Regardless of whether it’s Smith or Vick, anything other than a fifth straight loss by the Jets would be a surprise.  And anything other than coach Rex Ryan being fired after the season would be a shock.

2.  Who steps in for Montee Ball?

The Broncos’ supposed workhorse has a groin injury, which means that Denver will utilize the three-headed platoon of Ronnie Hillman, C.J. Anderson, and Juwan Thompson.  Offensive coordinator Adam Gase has expressed confidence in all three.  But Gase and the Broncos haven’t shown much confidence in Hillman in the past; he quickly became a forgotten man last year behind Knowshon Moreno and Ball.  On Sunday, Hillman likely will get his first career start.

3.  Will the Broncos be haunted by their last trip to MetLife Stadium?

Probably not, since the Jets are a far cry from the Seahawks team that thumped Denver in February, 43-8.  But the Broncos don’t want a Groundhog Day experience after failed February 2 visit to New Jersey.  They’ll be staying in a different hotel this time around.  The Broncos chose the place where the Seahawks stayed during Super Bowl week.

Ravens at Buccaneers

1.  How’s rookie linebacker C.J. Mosley playing?

Incredibly well.  So well that he’s drawing comparisons to the Ravens’ last great inside linebacker.

Yes, after only five regular-season games, folks are comparing Mosley to Ray Lewis.  Future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis.  Guy who got a statue despite a serious off-field legal entanglement Ray Lewis.

There’s a long way to go until Mosley becomes the next Ray Lewis with the Ravens.  (In the good way.  And, technically, in the bad way.)  But Mosley is off to a great start, and that’s great news for Baltimore.

2.  Does Mike Glennon have mobility?

With body by Ichabod Crane and head by Napoleon Dynamite, no one would confuse the Buccaneers’ quarterback with the man Glennon replaced three years ago at North Carolina State.  But Glennon has more in common with Russell Wilson than Glennon’s gangly physique would suggest.

Glennon is mobile.  When needed, he effectively uses his legs to extend passing plays.  But if he ever decides to go north and south, he’ll likely add to his 56 rushing yards in 16 career games.

3.  How is the Ravens’ offensive line doing?

Baltimore’s wall of blockers had a rough day last weekend at Indianapolis.  Quarterback Joe Flacco absorbed four sacks and six other hits against the Colts.

Part of the problem is the use of an undrafted rookie at left tackle.  Against Indy, James Hurst had a rough day — and he admitted it.

Flacco continues to say the right things, but he could have a long day in the heat of Tampa, especially if the Bucs dial up more blitzes.  When they do, they’ve placed plenty of pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Jaguars at Titans

1.  Why would anyone watch this game?

As George Costanza would say, “Because it’s on TV.”

As Russell Dalrymple would counter, “Not yet.”

As the folks at CBS will decree, “In as few markets as possible.”

With combined records of 1-9 and neither team having any serious prospects to contend in 2014, this is a game that should have been played in Week One, when fans so desperate for football would find anything intriguing.

2.  When will the Zach Mettenberger era begin?

The sooner the better.  Jake Locker is always hurt.  Charlie Whitehurst is, well, Charlie Whitehurst.

At some point, the Titans need to see what they have in the rookie from LSU who but for a torn ACL would have been drafted a lot higher than round six.  What else have they got to lose?

Definitely not more games than they’re losing without him.

3.  Who runs the ball for the Jaguars this week?

Not Toby Gerhart.  The veteran free-agent acquisition has been a disappointment so far, gaining 123 yards in five starts and averaging 2.6 yards per carry.

He’s out this week, which means more Denard Robinson.  But it also could mean more Storm Johnson.

Johnson, a seventh-round draft pick in 2014, found a way to rumble for 20 yards behind a suspect offensive line.  Johnson could end up getting more opportunities to show that he belongs in the backfield with his former college teammate, Blake Bortles.

Chargers at Raiders

1.  Will burying a ball help the Raiders?

No. Next question.

2.  How have the Chargers finally found a running game?

Enough guys were injured to give Branden Oliver a chance.  The man who conjures memories of Darren Sproles because of the relatively uncommon choice of 43 as a jersey number and similar stature, Oliver averaged six yards per carry last week (114 total) and added 68 yards receiving.  He added two touchdowns.

Not bad for an offense that averaged 2.4 yards per carry through the first four games of the season.  And not good for the likes of Ryan Mathews and Donald Brown, who likely will learn upon returning from injury that they’ll be behind the undrafted rookie from Miami on the depth chart.

3.  How many centers will the Chargers use this year?

At the current rate, maybe 12.  Nick Hardwick landed on IR with a neck injury.  Rich Ohrnberger has missed two weeks and counting with a back injury.  Doug Legursky suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Jets.  So now the next man up (and inevitably next man down) will be Chris Watt, who’ll start if Ohrnberger (who’s listed as questionable) can’t play.

Washington at Cardinals

1.  Who plays quarterback for the Cardinals?

It apparently will be Drew Stanton, who managed to get quick clearance after suffering a concussion at Denver.  Carson Palmer continues to struggle with narcoleptic nerve in his throwing shoulder.  If it doesn’t finally stay awake, Stanton will get his fourth start — and Logan Thomas will be in line to play, if Stanton gets injured again.

2.  How will Arizona replace Calais Campbell?

Rookie Kareem Martin is expected to be the primary replacement.  The third-round pick from North Carolina had a rough time last week after Campbell suffered a sprained MCL following a chop block from Broncos tight end Julius Thomas, with six mental errors on running plays.

3.  Does Washington have a leadership problem?

Coach Jay Gruden apparently believes his team does.  Otherwise, he wouldn’t have made safety Ryan Clark a captain this week.

It was Clark who spoke up in defense of teammates who were perceived to be a little too happy (or perhaps not unhappy enough) after losing to the Seahawks on Monday night.  Gruden surely hopes Clark will be speaking up more in the locker room, especially when it comes to the importance of avoiding situations that can create unwanted perceptions.

Bears at Falcons

1.  Is Brandon Marshall healthy?

He says his ankle, injured in Week One against the Bills, has finally healed.  It was so bad that Marshall claims doctors had ruled him out of Week Two and Week Three games against the 49ers and Jets, respectively.

Now that he’s at or close to 100 percent, it’s time for the production to increase.  Last week, Marshall had only three catches for 44 yards against the Panthers.  For the year, Marshall has a mere 19 grabs for 188 yards — less than 10 yards per reception.

2.  Does Mike Smith trust his defense?

Maybe not.  If Smith did, he wouldn’t have rolled the dice on fourth and one from his own 29 with three time outs and more than four minutes on the clock in a seven-point game against the Giants.

Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan senses it, based on his passive-aggressive comments when asked about the situation on Tuesday.

“{I]t really needs to be the head coach to answer it,” Nolan said.  “All I would do is divide.  I don’t want to. . . there’s s no good answer for me on that one, all right?”

But Nolan’s answer was a lot more than no answer.  And the best answer would have been something like, “I completely support the coach’s decision, in that situation and in every situation.”

3.  What’s wrong with Chicago’ offense?

Short answer:  It stinks.  Longer answer:  They apparently didn’t do enough self-scouting in the offseason.

“This year it’s a little bit harder because we got 16 games on tape, so defenses have a better idea of what we’re trying to accomplish,” coach Marc Trestman said this week.  “That’s not a cop out, that we shouldn’t improve.  We should.  It’s just the reality of the situation.”

It may not be a cop out, but it’s equally lame.  Any team that has any success on either side of the ball must do what every other team will spend the offseason doing — probe the film to find weaknesses, tendencies, and trends.  That’s what the “quality control” positions originally were designed for.

“What are we doing well, and what will the opposition do to counter it.  And how can we stay a step ahead of them?”

Trestman’s excuse is in actuality an indictment of his overall system.  The best coaches know how they’re going to be attacked, and they use that to set traps for those who think they know what’s coming.

Cowboys at Seahawks

1.  Will the Cowboys go at Richard Sherman?

Owner/G.M./team doctor/gloryhole prospector/offensive coordinator Jerry Jones says they will.  But it could be a bluff.  A wink-nod get-ready-’cause-it’s-comin’ ploy aimed at making the Seahawks think the ball will be flying in the direction of The Best Ever.

It shouldn’t be.  The Cowboys shouldn’t shy away from Sherman.  They should put Dez Bryant on him, and they should force Sherman to try to keep up with him.

In overtime last week, Bryant made a key catch despite being blanketed by Johnathan Jospeh of the Texans.  Sherman can’t cover Bryant any better than that.  No one can.

2.  Will the Cowboys reduce DeMarco Murray’s workload?

They keep saying it.  Just like they used to keep saying that they’ll run the ball more.

Eventually, they did run the ball some more.  And, eventually, they’ll work Lance Dunbar and Joseph Randle into the mix some more.  For now, though, the owner who wants to win with glitz and glamor surely wants to ride a hot hand that is a pair of 100-yard games in the next two weeks away from making history.

Sure, Murray could get injured.  But when the dice are hot, it’s hard to walk away from the table.

3.  What’s wrong with Russell Okung?

The left tackle is banged up.  While he tries to downplay it, Okung hasn’t been playing at his usual high level.  This week, offensive line coach Tom Cable admitted that Okung is playing at 80 percent.

With center Max Under doubtful for Sunday’s game, that could make it harder for the Seahawks to open holes and create solid pockets.  While could mean more scrambling from quarterback Russell Wilson — and in turn more yards gained on the ground.

Giants at Eagles

1.  Do the Giants trust Andre Williams?

They have no choice.  With starter Rashad Jennings out, the fourth-round rookie steps into the starting lineup.  Which means he’ll have to be able to pass block and, from time to time, catch passes.

Last year at Boston College, Williams caught a grand total of none.  Last week, after Jennings was injured, Williams caught two.

He’ll need to catch a lot more than two to fully fill Jennings’ shoes.

2.  Do the Eagles miss DeSean Jackson?

They’ll never admit it, but there’s nothing like a true deep threat to open up an offense.  Apart from Jackson’s numbers (and they were career highs in 2013), his presence commands extra attention.  Which strains the available resources when it comes to shutting down the rest of the offense.

So as we try to figure out why the Eagles seem far more sluggish on offense this year, it’s easy to blame it on injuries.  But quarterback Nick Foles would have a lot easier time finding receivers if one of the targets had the kind of explosiveness that tilts the entire defense his way.

3.  What will the Eagles do at inside linebacker?

Possibly, hope for the best.  With Mychal Kendricks (calf) out again and Demeco Ryans (groin) questions, it’ll be up to Emmanuel Acho, Casey Matthews, and temporarily converted pass rusher Marcus Smith to handle the two key spots in the 3-4 attack.

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Week Six injury report roundup

New England Patriots Practice 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 Six of the 2014 season.

Patriots at Bills

Quarterback Tom Brady (ankle) was listed as questionable after a limited practice on Friday, which made for a late and eye-catching addition to the injury report. Cornerback Brandon Browner (ankle), linebacker Jamie Collins (thigh), defensive lineman Dominique Easley (shoulder/knee), linebacker Dont’a Hightower (knee), wide receiver Matthew Slater (shoulder), and center Bryan Stork (concussion) are also concussion, with Browner and Stork joining Brady as in-week additions to the list.  Linebacker Nigel Bradham (knee) and defensive tackle Kyle Williams (knee) are questionable after missing last week’s Bills victory. Running back Fred Jackson (ankle) cornerback Ron Brooks (neck), safety Da’Norris Searcy (knee), linebacker Brandon Spikes (ribs) and safety Aaron Williams (wrist) are also questionable, although one imagines Spikes will be itching to play against his former team.

Panthers at Bengals

Carolina ruled out running back DeAngelo Williams (quad) for the second straight week. Cornerbacks Bene Benwikere (ankle) and Josh Norman (concussion) are out as well and running back Jonathan Stewart (knee) is questionable. Defensive end Charles Johnson (hip) and tight end Greg Olsen (ankle) are also questionable. The A.J. Green (toe) watch will stretch into the weekend after the Bengals listed him as questionable. Wide receiver Marvin Jones (ankle) has the same tag after missing practice all week. Guard Kevin Zeitler (calf) is doubtful, but it looks good for the return of linebacker Vontaze Burfict (concussion, probable).

Steelers at Browns

The Steelers have ruled out linebacker Ryan Shazier (knee) and cornerback Ike Taylor (forearm) again this week and safety Shamarko Thomas (hamstring) will join them in street clothes. The Browns will be waiting to make their decisions on cornerback Joe Haden (hip), defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin (ankle) and linebacker Paul Kruger (back). Defensive ends Phil Taylor (knee surgery) and Billy Winn (quad) are out.

Packers at Dolphins

Wide receiver Jarrett Boykin (groin) will miss another game for Green Bay, while linebacker Sam Barrington (hamstring) and defensive end Datone Jones (ankle) both are questionable. The Dolphins look like they’ll get running back Knowshon Moreno (elbow, probable), defensive tackle Randy Starks (back, probable), linebacker Koa Misi (ankle, probable) and center Mike Pouncey (hip, although he wasn’t on the injury report at all this week) back in the lineup. Wide receiver Brandon Gibson (hamstring) is doubtful and the Dolphins listed cornerback Cortland Finnegan (neck) and guard Shelley Smith (knee) as questionable.

Lions at Vikings

It looks like the Lions will sit wide receiver Calvin Johnson (ankle, doubtful) down this week and could be without running back Reggie Bush (ankle, questionable) as well. Running backs Joique Bell (concussion, probable) and Theo Riddick (hamstring, probable) both look good to go, however. Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (ankle, probable) is set to return, although it looks like at least one more week for linebacker Chad Greenway (hand/rib, doubtful). Safety Harrison Smith (ankle) is questionable.

Broncos at Jets

The Broncos have known for a while that they won’t have running back Montee Ball (groin). The remainder of Denver’s injury report is made up of probable players. Jets wide receivers Eric Decker (hamstring) and David Nelson (ankle) are both questionable for an offense that needs all the help it can get. Linebacker David Harris (shoulder) and cornerback Darrin Walls (knee) are both questionable for a defense that will be trying to keep Peyton Manning from throwing the six touchdown passes he needs to become the NFL’s all-time leader.

Ravens at Buccaneers

The Ravens are without defensive end Chris Canty (wrist), tackle Eugene Monroe (knee) and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (knee) again this week. Guard Kelechi Osemele (knee) is questionable after missing practice this week. Linebacker Jonathan Casillas (knee) and safety Dashon Goldson (ankle) won’t play for the Buccaneers. Wide receivers Mike Evans (groin) and Vincent Jackson (rib) are both questionable.

Jaguars at Titans

Jaguars running back Toby Gerhart (foot) has seen his playing time diminish the last couple of weeks and he’ll be out on Sunday. Everyone else on the Jacksonville injury report is probable, including wide receivers Marqise Lee (hamstring) and Cecil Shorts (hamstring). Quarterback Jake Locker (thumb, questionable) will be a game-time decision, but reports out of Nashville point toward Locker landing on the bench. Tight end Craig Stevens (thigh) is out for Tennessee, running back Shonn Greene (hamstring) is doubtful and cornerback Coty Sensabaugh (knee) is questionable.

Chargers at Raiders

Running back Donald Brown (concussion) joins Chargers running back Ryan Mathews (knee), linebacker Manti Te’o (foot) and cornerback Shareece Wright (knee) as non-participants this week. Tackle D.J. Fluker (ankle) is questionable after returning to practice on Friday and wide receiver Malcom Floyd (calf), linebacker Jarret Johnson (back/ankle) and offensive lineman Rich Ohrnberger (back) have the same designation. The Raiders listed quarterback Derek Carr (knee/ankle) as questionable, so we won’t know his status until the weekend. Reports from Oakland point toward him playing, though. Wide receiver Vincent Brown (hamstring), linebacker Sio Moore (ankle) and running back Marcel Reece (quadricep) are also questionable.

Redskins at Cardinals

The short week wasn’t enough time for Washington to make final determinations on safety Ryan Clark (ankle), linebacker Brian Orakpo (ankle), tight end Jordan Reed (hamstring), linebacker Perry Riley (knee) and tackle Trent Williams (knee) and listed them all as questionable. Cornerback Tracy Porter (hamstring) won’t play. Arizona ruled out defensive end Calais Campbell (knee), linebacker Glenn Carson (ankle) and tight end Troy Niklas (ankle), but made no call about their quarterback. Carson Palmer (shoulder) and Drew Stanton (concussion) are both questionable. Guard Paul Fanaika (ankle, calf) is also questionable and Jonathan Cooper would likely start if he can’t go.

Bears at Falcons

Chicago won’t have center Taylor Boggs (hamstring), linebacker Lance Briggs (ribs), tackle Jermon Bushrod (knee, ankle), safety Ahmad Dixon (hamstring) or linebacker Shea McClellin (hand) available this weekend. Jon Bostic (back, questionable) could leave them very short-handed at linebacker. Wide receiver Harry Douglas (foot) will miss another game, but they’ll wait to make final calls on guard Justin Blalock (hamstring) and wide receiver Devin Hester (hamstring).

Cowboys at Seahawks

Linebackers Cameron Lawrence (thigh) and Rolando McClain (groin), tackle Jermey Parnell (chest) and defensive end Jack Crawford (calf) are questionable for the Cowboys, who have ruled out linebacker Bruce Carter (thigh) again this week. Wide receiver Percy Harvin (thigh, probable) should play for the Seahawks, but center Max Unger (foot, doubtful) probably won’t. Safety Kam Chancellor (hip, questionable) is somewhere in the middle.

Giants at Eagles

The Giants hope to have defensive end Robert Ayers (neck, questionable) and linebacker Jon Beason (foot/toe, questionable) in the lineup, but they won’t have running back Rashad Jennings (knee) or linebacker Spencer Paysinger (hamstring). Linebacker Mychal Kendricks (calf) is out again for the Eagles, who will also be without running back Chris Polk (hamstring) and wide receiver Brad Smith (core muscle surgery). Linebacker DeMeco Ryans (groin) is questionable.

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