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AFC playoff picture: Broncos are in, with plenty to play for

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 28:  Tight end Owen Daniels #81 of the Denver Broncos dives forward after a reception as cornerback Shawn Williams #36 and outside linebacker Vincent Rey #57 of the Cincinnati Bengals cover the play at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on December 28, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Broncos are in the playoffs after Monday night’s win over the Bengals. But they still have a lot to play for with one more game to go.

Denver can earn home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a Week 17 win and a Patriots loss, but Denver can also lose the division and have to go on the road as a wild card with a loss and a Chiefs win.

Here’s how the AFC playoff race shapes up heading into Week 17:

1. Patriots (12-3): New England will earn home-field advantage with a win over Miami next week, or a Broncos loss.

2. Broncos (11-4): Denver owns the head-to-head tiebreaker with New England, so if the Broncos win and the Patriots lose next week, the Broncos will be the AFC No. 1 seed. But if the Broncos lose and the Chiefs win, the Chiefs will win the AFC West and the Broncos will be a wild card.

3. Bengals (11-4): Cincinnati has clinched the AFC North but would lose the tiebreaker to both Denver and New England, so Cincinnati needs to win and Denver needs to lose next week for the Bengals to earn a bye.

4. Texans (8-7): The AFC South race has technically not yet been clinched, although the Texans will clinch with a win and will almost certainly win the division even with a loss.

5. Chiefs (10-5): The Chiefs have clinched a playoff spot and can still win the AFC West if they win next week and the Broncos lose.

6. Jets (10-5): The Jets are in the playoffs if they beat the Bills next week. They’d also make it if they lose and the Steelers also lose.

7. Steelers (9-6): To make the playoffs, the Steelers have to beat the Browns next week, and the Jets have to lose to the Bills.

Colts (7-8): The Colts need to win next week, have the Texans lose next week, and hope other games break their way so that they earn the strength of victory tiebreaker over the Texans. That’s a tall order.

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NFL morning after: The ’72 Dolphins deserve to celebrate

<> on August 20, 2013 in Washington, DC. Getty Images

If the 1972 Dolphins celebrated yesterday following the Panthers’ loss to the Falcons, I say good for them.

Members of the ’72 Dolphins contend that their celebrations have been overstated, and they don’t really get together for champagne every year when the NFL’s last remaining undefeated team loses. But what we saw yesterday when the Panthers fell from 14-0 to 14-1 with a loss to the Falcons is a good reminder of just how special a team the ’72 Dolphins were.

It’s really, really hard to finish an NFL season undefeated. The Panthers looked like they were the team with the best chance to do it since the Patriots came thisclose in 2007, but yesterday they simply had an off day while the Falcons had a good day, and Atlanta won 20-13. That’s the thing about life in the NFL: You’re going to have some off days, and your opponents are going to have good days. The gap between a very good team like Carolina and a mediocre team like Atlanta is really not that great, which means that if you’re not playing your best every single week, you’re going to lose at some point.

Unless you’re the ’72 Dolphins.

The ’72 Dolphins weren’t the only undefeated, untied champions in the history of the NFL because they never had a day like the Panthers had yesterday. The ’72 Dolphins were the only undefeated, untied champions in the history of the NFL because even when they had bad games like the Panthers had yesterday, they found a way to win. They were an incredible football team that always found a way to win. In Week 3 of the 1972 season, the Dolphins trailed 14-6 in the fourth quarter at Minnesota. They won 16-14. In Week 6, the Dolphins trailed the Bills 13-7 at halftime. They won 24-23. In Week 10, the Dolphins trailed the Jets 24-21 in the fourth quarter. They won 28-24. In the playoffs, the Dolphins trailed the Browns 14-13 in the fourth quarter. They won 20-14.

You can argue that the ’72 Dolphins weren’t the best team in NFL history precisely because they were involved in a lot of close games. The ’72 Dolphins weren’t a dominant team like the ’85 Bears, a wrecking crew that crushed the opposition, but the ’72 Dolphins were the only team in NFL history that found a way to win, every single week.

That’s a special thing, and a hard thing to do, as the Panthers found out yesterday. If the ’72 Dolphins want to celebrate their status as a unique team in the history of football, let them celebrate.

Here are my other thoughts from Sunday:

Johnny Football can run, but can he play quarterback? Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel had 108 rushing yards yesterday, the second-highest total for a quarterback in the NFL so far this year. But we’ve always known Manziel is a good athlete. The question is whether he’s a good quarterback, and that question remains unanswered. Manziel completed just 13 of 32 passes for 136 yards, with no touchdowns and one interception. That’s just not good enough. I like Manziel because he’s an exciting player to watch, but I’m just not convinced he has what it takes to be an NFL passer.

The rest of the season just got a lot more interesting. I thought heading into yesterday that we might be in store for a boring end of the season, but the results of yesterday changed all that: The Patriots lost, which means they don’t have home-field advantage wrapped up yet. The Jets won and the Steelers lost, which makes the AFC wild card race more competitive. The Chiefs won, which means the Broncos don’t have the AFC West wrapped up yet. We’ve got a good game tonight when the Broncos play the Bengals, and we’re in for a good Week 17.

Brandon Marshall has had a heck of a career. Marshall helped the Jets beat the Patriots yesterday and in the process recorded the sixth 100-catch season of his career. He’s the only player in NFL history with six 100-catch seasons, and he’s done it for three different teams, the Jets, Bears and Broncos. No one else has even had 100 catches with two different teams. Marshall has also had a 1,200-yard season with four different teams and is the only player to do so; only Terrell Owens has even managed 1,200 yards with three different teams. Marshall hasn’t always been the best presence in the locker room (which is why he’s been on so many different teams) but from all indications he’s been a good teammate as a Jet. He’s a special player.

Two big trades for the Jets. The Jets traded a fifth-round pick for Marshall and a sixth-round pick for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick this offseason, and those two have been arguably the two most important players on a Jets team that’s now one win from the playoffs. It’s remarkable how much the Jets improved themselves by trading two late-round picks.

We should have a measured conversation about human growth hormone. Peyton Manning is strongly denying a report that he took HGH, which is banned by the NFL. If he’s telling the truth, it’s terrible that his reputation is being smeared. If he’s lying, it’s going to catch up to him eventually, as lies about PEDs caught up to Lance Armstrong, Mark McGwire, and hundreds of other PED cheats in sports history. But I wish we could have a discussion about HGH that isn’t about Manning so much as it’s about what HGH does and whether it should be banned. There’s very little evidence that HGH actually enhances performance for a quarterback like Manning: Researchers studying the effects of HGH say the only athletes it seemed to help were sprinters, and if there’s one thing we can say about Manning over the last few years it’s that he doesn’t seem to have done anything that boosted his speed. Some people think HGH can help an athlete recover from an injury, but if that’s what it does, why should it be banned? We don’t ban vitamin supplements or cortisone shots.

The Lions can no longer justify Calvin Johnson’s salary. Johnson had 77 yards for the Lions in yesterday’s win over the 49ers, which is one of his best recent games. But that’s just the problem: Johnson has reached a point in his career where 77 yards is one of his best games. And yet at $20.6 million, Johnson’s cap hit is by far the biggest for any wide receiver in the NFL. That cap hit rises to more than $24 million next year, and there’s simply no way to justify paying a declining player anything close to that kind of money. There’s no way any other team would trade for a contract like Johnson’s, so unless Johnson is willing to take a massive pay cut next year, the Lions are going to have to cut him in the offseason. It sounds crazy to say Detroit would cut the great Megatron, but that’s life in the NFL.

Cam Newton runs like no other quarterback, ever. Newton scored the 41st rushing touchdown of his career yesterday, taking him one step closer to the NFL record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback. The current record of 43, by Steve Young, will surely fall to Newton, likely some time early next season. This despite the fact that Newton has only played 77 games in his career, while Young played 169 games. Newton is a unique player in NFL history, even though he’s disappointed today that his team failed to accomplish something unique in NFL history.

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NFC playoff picture: Panthers, Cardinals vie for top seed

Wild Card Playoffs - Arizona Cardinals v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

Washington is the No. 4 seed. That’s the one thing we know for sure in the NFC playoff picture.

The rest of the NFC still has much to be determined: The Panthers will win the No. 1 seed if they win or the Cardinals lose next week, but the Cardinals can still take the top seed with a win and a Panthers loss. Next week’s Vikings-Packers winner will be the NFC North champion and the 3 seed. The Seahawks will be a wild card, as will the Vikings-Packers loser.

Here’s how it all works out:

1. Panthers (14-1): Carolina wins home-field advantage with a win in Week 17.

2. Cardinals (13-2): Arizona would win a tiebreaker with Carolina.

3. Packers (10-5): Green Bay would win the NFC North and the 3 seed with a Week 17 win. The Packers will be a wild card if they lose next week.

4. Washington (8-7): Locked into the 4 seed.

5. Vikings (10-5): Minnesota wins the NFC North and the 3 seed with a Week 17 win and clinched a playoff spot with a win over the Giants.

6. Seahawks (9-6): Seattle has clinched a wild card.

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Tom Benson’s statement in response to Times-Picayune article urging him to sell


[Editor’s note: Sunday’s New Orleans Times-Picayune included a front-page column from Jeff Duncan arguing that Tom Benson should sell the NFL’s Saints and NBA’s Pelicans. Benson, who told Duncan in connection with the story that there will be no sale, issued a separate statement on Sunday night in response to the column. The full text appears below.]

I rarely respond to preposterous media reports as I understand them to be part of our business. Many are rarely based in fact, as is the case with the open letter to me from the Times Picayune imploring me to sell our teams for the benefit of the city. The letter is fraught with inaccuracies especially as they pertain to our partnership with the State of Louisiana or the structure of our organization. To be clear, the State of Louisiana has not paid the New Orleans Saints a nickel in inducement payments since 2009 and never since I purchased the then Hornets in 2012. In fact, I have most recently committed $25 million in upgrades towards the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and millions more towards the Smoothie King Center.

However, I respond tonight only for the benefit of our fans. We have the most passionate fans in both the NFL and NBA, and they deserve better than to read this scurrilous story, which the editors of the TP decided to blast on the front page of Sunday’s edition.

I will repeat today as I did yesterday to the reporter. I am not selling either team. That is not in my makeup. I am not retiring or stepping aside, while I do appreciate all of the sincere concern for my health. The legacy of both these teams are still yet to be written and my legacy can be discussed when I am long gone, which by the way is not that important to me right now. What is important to me is getting both our teams back to winning and challenging for championships. That is what our fans want most, and no one is more keenly aware of the urgency of that objective than me. We have had tremendous success both on and off the field and remain model franchises in both leagues, something I am very proud of. Another important part of our legacy is continuing to rebuild our city, our hospitals and our schools to make them leading institutions in this country. My wife Gayle and I do not take this for granted and cherish our ability to participate and contribute annually.

But what strikes me the most is the pure irony of the Times Picayune imploring me to sell for the benefit of the city. I recall in May 2012, reaching out to the Newhouse family imploring them to sell to me or other local ownership as they threatened to become and then became a part-time newspaper. Since then the newspaper has done nothing but layoff staff and move operations out of town.

I take great pride in promoting New Orleans as a big league city — securing a record number of Super Bowls, getting naming rights deals for both the Superdome and Arena, and infusing millions of tax revenue into our state’s general fund. This is on top of the large investments I have made in this city, and I will soon announce more major projects that will showcase our great city.

Our fans must know that both of our organizations are tasked with seeing that we field a winning product both on and off the field. Something that they will be proud of. Despite the misstatements in today’s article, I have always been and continue to be in complete control of our teams, and that is not in dispute. Furthermore, my plan to transfer complete control to Gayle is unassailable and designed to provide the long term stability and resources that all franchises need to produce consistently winning teams. It is our determined objective that our fans, our City, our State, and our entire region will continue to join in and benefit from our success. Selling these teams is not part of a solution, rather it is detrimental to those goals.

Gayle and I wish everyone a Happy, Healthy and Safe New Year.

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Week 16 early inactives

Marcus Mariota, Olivier Vernon AP

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

Patriots at Jets

Patriots: WR Danny Amendola, S Devin McCourty, WR Julian Edelman, S Patrick Chung, LB Jonathan Freeny, CB Troy Hill, G Josh Kline

Jets: CB Dee Milliner, QB Bryce Petty, S Dion Bailey, LB Taiwan Jones, G Dakota Dozier, T Ben Ijalana, LB Josh Martin

Panthers at Falcons

Panthers: LB David Mayo, RB Jonathan Stewart, WR Brenton Bersin, S Dean Marlowe, RB Brandon Wegher, WR Kevin Norwood, DT Kyle Love

Falcons: RB Tevin Coleman, DT Grady Jarrett, CB Akeem King, LB Tyler Starr, G Ben Garland, T Bryce Harris, NT Joey Mbu

Steelers at Ravens

Steelers: QB Mike Vick, KR Jacoby Jones, WR Sammie Coates, RB Jordan Todman, LB Anthony Chickillo, T Byron Stingily, DE Leterrius Walton

Ravens: WR Marlon Brown, QB Jimmy Clausen, RB Terrence Magee, CB Jumal Rolle, CB Jermaine Whitehead, LB Albert McClellan, DE Kapron Lewis-Moore

Cowboys at Bills

Cowboys: WR Dez Bryant, G Ronald Leary, OL Chaz Green, CB Morris Claiborne, QB Jameill Showers, LB Mark Nzeocha, DE Jeremy Mincey

Bills: LB Nigel Bradham, RB LeSean McCoy, TE Charles Clay, CB Ronald Darby, LB Max Valles, DE LaVar Edwards, QB Josh Johnson

49ers at Lions

49ers: RB Shaun Draughn, LB Michael Wilhoite, C Marcus Martin, WR Jerome Simpson, CB Chris Davis, G Brandon Thoms, LB Corey Lemonier

Lions: WR Corey Fuller, CB Bill Bentley, C Gabe Ikard, T Corey Robinson, DT Jermelle Cudjo, DT Gabe Wright, RB George Winn

Browns at Chiefs

Browns: RB Glenn Winston, WR Terrelle Pryor, CB Justin Gilbert, RB Daryl Richardson, LB Jayson DiManche, WR Rannell Hall, LB Armonty Bryant

Chiefs: LB Justin Houston, S Husain Abdullah, LB Tamba Hali, QB Aaron Murray, WR De’Anthony Thomas, DE David King, DE Rakeem Nunez-Roches

Colts at Dolphins

Colts: QB Andrew Luck, S Winston Guy, G Lance Louis, DT Kelcy Quarles, LB Josh McNary, DB Tay Glover-Wright, S Colt Anderson

Dolphins: QB Logan Thomas, T Ja’Wuan James, C Mike Pouncey, WR Rishard Matthews, CB Jamar Taylor, OL Shelley Smith, DT Earl Mitchell

Bears at Buccaneers

Bears: WR Alshon Jeffery, LB Shea McClellin, DB Bryce Callahan, OL Nick Becton, DB Jacoby Glenn, OL Tayo Fabuluje, DE Bruce Gaston

Buccaneers: WR Vincent Jackson, QB Ryan Griffin, S Chris Conte, RB Mike James, DE Kourtnei Brown, TE Brandon Myers, WR Evan Spencer

Texans at Titans

Texans: S Rahim Moore, WR Cecil Shorts, QB Brian Hoyer, TE Garrett Graham, G Oday Aboushi, CB Darryl Morris, LB Justin Tuggle

Titans: QB Marcus Mariota, WR Damaris Johnson, CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, S Josh Aubrey, OL Jeremiah Poutasi, WR Andrew Turzilli, DE Ropati Pitoitua

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Plenty of G.M. jobs could open up after the season, too


It’s a given that plenty of coaching jobs will become available within the next two weeks. It’s also likely that several G.M. vacancies will arise.

Already, the Lions have an opening, and they’ll surely move quickly to fill it — especially if the new G.M. will be determining as his first order of business whether to keep coach Jim Caldwell. If Caldwell will be replaced, the Lions need to enter the coaching market before all of the best candidates are claimed.

Here’s a look at the other potential hot spots where General Managers may get the specific news that their services are no longer needed.

Buffalo: A disconnect has lingered throughout the season between G.M. Doug Whaley and coach Rex Ryan. Since Ryan has the bigger buyout, he becomes more likely to survive any potential face off. While Ryan likely hasn’t done enough to secure final say with a G.M.-in-name-only to do Rex’s bidding, the Bills need someone who can identify players who will mesh with the systems Ryan wants to use. The situation becomes problematic for Rex if ownership decides to hire a G.M. who will supervise (and potentially hope to replace) the head coach.

Miami: Dennis Hickey has become a forgotten man with the Dolphins, and the thinking is that he has lost all of his power to Mike Tannenbaum. Look for Tannenbaum to replace Hickey — possibly by pulling an Elway and becoming the G.M. himself.

Cleveland: At a time when many think owner Jimmy Haslam plans to hit the reset button, there’s a chance Ray Farmer survives. Some believe Haslam could hire an executive to oversee the football operations, which would make Farmer that person’s puppet instead of what Farmer possibly has been the last two years: Haslam’s puppet.

Indianapolis: It’s becoming more and more likely that coach Chuck Pagano will be gone. Some think G.M. Ryan Grigson definitely will join Pagano as former Colts employees, but others believe Grigson has sufficiently ingratiated himself to the Irsay family that he’ll stay. The final answer could depend on the next head coach; if Jim Irsay goes after a big-name coach, that big-name coach may not want Grigson getting in the way of the big-name coach’s desire to control the football operation.

Houston: When the team was struggled, G.M. Rick Smith was catching plenty of flak for it. Now that a playoff berth is within grasp, he’s most likely safe. Still, owner Bob McNair should give final say over the roster to Smith or coach Bill O’Brien.

Tennessee: With a coaching vacancy already in existence, the Titans could clear out G.M. Ruston Webster for the same reasons the Colts may fire Ryan Grigson. To attract the kind of coach who could turn the team around, the Titans may need to clear the decks and let the coach rebuild the front office from scratch.

San Diego: G.M. Tom Telesco quietly received a contract extension before the season started. Which suggests that he’s safe.

Philadelphia: Chip Kelly the head coach has struggled this season due in large part to the misadventures of Chip Kelly the de facto G.M. Would owner Jeffrey Lurie install someone to handle the personnel side of the business for Chip? Would Chip welcome that? Could the Eagles find someone who would work with Chip, given last year’s early-offseason wrestling match with Howie Roseman?

New York Giants: With the Giants now out of the playoffs, ownership can begin to decide on whether to changes the coach and/or the General Manager. The roster currently isn’t in very good shape, and that falls on the G.M. more than the coach.

Atlanta: Last year’s uncertainty surrounding G.M. Thomas Dimitroff has created speculation that he could be in trouble, if/when the Falcons fail to get back to the postseason. But owner Arthur Blank seems to be very fond of Dimitroff — and owner Dan Quinn has said publicly (and presumably privately) that he wants to keep working with Dimitroff.

New Orleans: G.M. Mickey Loomis is sufficiently entrenched in the basketball team owned by Tom Benson to be inherently safe. The question becomes whether Loomis elevates to a higher level in the organization, with a new G.M. hired beneath Loomis.

St. Louis: Coach Jeff Fisher is reportedly safe. Is that same statement true for G.M. Les Snead? Some think that the team will need to do something to address another season of failed expectations. Still, Fisher has shown no indication to move on from Snead.

San Francisco: The news that G.M. Trent Baalke has been coaching defensive backs prompted speculation that coach Jim Tomsula is in trouble. It also could be a sign that Baalke is feeling the heat, and that he’s doing whatever he has to do to improve the team. Regardless, the surprise decision to demote Paraag Marathe has created a sense that anything can happen once the season ends. Something needs to happen, given the suddenly sparse attendance in Santa Clara.

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Week 16 injury report roundup

LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 20: Running back LeSean McCoy #25 of the Buffalo Bills in action against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on December 20, 2015 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) 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 Saturday night and Sunday. So, without further delay, the injury report roundup for Week 16 of the 2015 season.

Redskins at Eagles (Saturday night)

Linebacker Perry Riley (foot) is out for the Redskins, who will be making decisions before kickoff about safety Dashon Goldson (rib, knee, shoulder), wide receiver Ryan Grant (abdomen), running back Matt Jones (hip), center Josh LeRibeus (ankle) and tackle Morgan Moses (ankle). Wide receiver DeSean Jackson (foot, knee) is probable. Eagles cornerback Eric Rowe (knee) is probable while wide receiver Seyi Ajirotutu (ankle), defensive tackle Bennie Logan (calf) and cornerback Byron Maxwell (shoulder) are all questionable.

Panthers at Falcons

The Panthers ruled out running back Jonathan Stewart (foot) for the second straight week. Linebacker David Mayo (hamstring) is also out and defensive tackle Kyle Love (concussion) is questionable. Falcons running back Tevin Coleman (concussion) is out after slipping in the shower this week. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (shoulder) is also out and defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman (knee) is questionable.

Steelers at Ravens

Everyone on the 53-man roster is probable or not listed on the injury report for the Steelers. The Ravens ruled out wide receiver Marlon Brown (back) and listed linebacker Albert McClellan (ankle) as doubtful.

Cowboys at Bills

Wide receiver Dez Bryant (ankle, foot) is doubtful to be in the Cowboys lineup. Wide receiver Cole Beasley (knee, illness), cornerback Morris Claiborne (hamstring) and linebacker Kyle Wilber (shoulder) are all listed as questionable. The Bills won’t have linebacker Nigel Bradham (ankle), tight end Charles Clay (back) or running back LeSean McCoy (knee). Cornerback Ronald Darby (groin) is questionable to play.

49ers at Lions

The 49ers will hit the field in Detroit without guard Alex Boone (knee), running back Shaun Draughn (knee), center Marcus Martin (concussion) and linebacker Michael Wilhoite (ankle). The Lions didn’t rule anyone out and listed cornerback Bill Bentley (illness), linebacker Josh Bynes (foot), wide receiver Calvin Johnson (ankle), defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (neck), tackle Michael Ola (knee), safety Glover Quin (concussion), defensive tackle Caraun Reid (ankle) and guard Larry Warford (quadricep) as questionable to play.

Browns at Chiefs 

The Browns didn’t practice on Christmas, which may explain why they held off on more definitive calls on guard Cameron Erving (ankle), running back Duke Johnson (hamstring), center Alex Mack (calf), wide receiver Marlon Moore (ribs), tackle Joe Thomas (knee) and cornerback K’Waun Williams (shoulder). All are questionable, as is Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali (knee, thumb). Linebacker Justin Houston (knee) remains out for Kansas City.

Colts at Dolphins

It is another week without quarterback Andrew Luck (kidney, abdomen) for the Colts, who listed wide receiver Donte Moncrief (toe) as questionable. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (back, rib) is probable to start. Linebacker Jelani Jenkins (ankle), wide receiver Rishard Matthews (ribs) and center Mike Pouncey (foot, ankle) are questionable to be in the Dolphins lineup. Tackle Ja’Wuan James (toe) is doubtful to play.

Patriots at Jets

The Patriots listed wide receiver Julian Edelman (foot) as doubtful, so his return will likely come another week. Wide receiver Danny Amendola (knee), tight end Scott Chandler (knee), safety Patrick Chung (foot), safety Nate Ebner (ankle), linebacker Dont’a Hightower (knee), guard Josh Kline (shoulder), wide receiver Brandon LaFell (foot) and safety Devin McCourty (ankle) all drew questionable tags. Jets wide receiver Quincy Enunwa (neck) is questionable, but the Jets are otherwise in good health as they try to improve their playoff chances.

Bears at Buccaneers

Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (hamstring) and linebacker Shea McClellin (concussion) are unlikely to play after drawing doubtful tags. Safety Adrian Amos (shoulder), cornerback Bryce Callahan (quadricep), linebacker Pernell McPhee (knee), cornerback Tracy Porter (ankle) and wide receiver Eddie Royal (knee) were all listed as questionable. The Buccaneers will go without wide receiver Vincent Jackson (knee) and defensive tackle Akeem Spence (ankle) again this week. Defensive end Kourtnei Brown (groin) and safety Chris Conte (knee) are doubtful to be in Tampa’s lineup and guard Logan Mankins (knee) is questionable.

Jaguars at Saints

Two Jaguars — linebacker Telvin Smith (shoulder, finger) and running back T.J. Yeldon (knee) — are listed as doubtful and probable players make up the rest of the Jacksonville injury report. Saints quarterback Drew Brees (foot) is questionable, but said he plans to play. Tackle Terron Armstead (knee), wide receiver Marques Colston (chest), tackle Zach Strief (elbow) and tight end Benjamin Watson (knee) are also listed as questionable while linebacker Dannel Ellerbe (hip) has been ruled out.

Texans at Titans 

Quarterback Brian Hoyer (concussion, ankle) is questionable, leaving the call about who starts on Sunday to be made this weekend. Defensive end Jared Crick (back) is also questionable and wide receiver Cecil Shorts (hamstring) is out. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (knee) was ruled out early in the week, but the Titans are otherwise healthy on their active roster.

Packers at Cardinals

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said the team would decide on Saturday whether cornerback Sam Shields (concussion) and tackle David Bakhtiari (knee) will play. Bakhtiari is questionable while Shields drew a doubtful listing. Defensive tackle Letroy Guion (foot) is also questionable. The Cardinals hung questionable tags on running back Andre Ellington (toe), safety Rashad Johnson (ankle), defensive tackle Cory Redding (ankle) and defensive tackle Frostee Rucker (ankle).

Rams at Seahawks

Rams tackle Andrew Donnal (knee) won’t play and cornerback Lamarcus Joyner (back), wide receiver Bradley Marquez (knee) and cornerback Eric Patterson (ankle) are questionable. Wide receiver Doug Baldwin (hamstring), defensive end Michael Bennett (toe), safety Kam Chancellor (pelvis) and tackle Russell Okung (calf) are all questionable for the Seahawks. Bennett is the only one that practiced on Wednesday and Thursday. Defensive tackle Jordan Hill (toe) and tight end Anthony McCoy (knee, ankle) are doubtful and running back Marshawn Lynch (abdomen) remains out.

Giants at Vikings

Wide receiver/kick returner Dwayne Harris (shoulder) is questionable for the Giants, who won’t have linebacker Devon Kennard (calf) or safety Cooper Taylor (concussion). Everyone on the Vikings’ injury report is probable, including running back Adrian Peterson (ankle, shoulder), linebacker Anthony Barr (knee), safety Harrison Smith (knee, hamstring) and defensive tackle Linval Joseph (foot).

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PFT’s Week 16 picks


For the second straight week, MDS and I agree on all 16 games. Which means that, for the second straight week, it’ll be impossible for me to close the two-game gap in the season-long competition.

Last week, we both got 13 of 16 games correct.

For the year, MDS is 145-79 (64.7 percent), and I’m at 143-81 (63.8 percent).

For all Week 16 picks, scroll.

Chargers at Raiders

MDS’s take: Charles Woodson’s last appearance in Oakland is the most interesting reason to watch this Christmas Eve game between two teams that are out of playoff contention. I think Woodson will go out a winner.

MDS’s pick: Raiders 24, Chargers 17.

Florio’s take: It could be the last NFL game in Oakland. It’s definitely the last home game for Charles Woodson. Advantage Raiders, which actually is an advantage for the Chargers, since a loss will help them land higher on the draft order.

Florio’s pick: Raiders 27, Chargers 20.

Washington at Eagles

MDS’s take: Washington can clinch the NFC East with a win, but I think the Eagles, with their backs against the wall, will come out with a surprisingly good game and keep the division competitive into Week 17.

MDS’s pick: Eagles 21, Washington 20.

Florio’s take: I apparently helped give Jay Gruden ammunition for motivation before the season by putting his team at No. 32. Here’s a little more motivation for Gruden’s gang.

Florio’s pick: Eagles 24, Washington 17.

Panthers at Falcons

MDS’s take: The Panthers should cruise to 15-0 and clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a big win over a Falcons team that looks like it doesn’t have much gas left in the tank.

MDS’s pick: Panthers 24, Falcons 20.

Florio’s take: Carolina has outscored the Falcons 72-3 in the last two games between the two teams. Analysis: That’s not good.

Florio’s pick: Panthers 30, Falcons 13.

Cowboys at Bills

MDS’s take: Rex Ryan’s defense has been one of the biggest disappointments in the NFL this season, but with Kellen Moore making the first start of his young career, I figure the Bills should be able to bring enough pressure to shut the Cowboys down.

MDS’s pick: Bills 30, Cowboys 10.

Florio’s take: A Super Bowl rematch involving a pair of teams that have fallen on hard times, and that could benefit from losing now in order to win in April. Advantage Cowboys.

Florio’s pick: Bills 24, Cowboys 21.

49ers at Lions

MDS’s take: The Lions have been disappointing this season, but the 49ers have been disastrous. Neither team has anything to play for, but Detroit is playing at a higher level and should win comfortably.

MDS’s pick: Lions 28, 49ers 17.

Florio’s take: Four years ago, Jim Schwartz and Jim Harbaugh nearly came to blows after a game between these teams. Current coaches Jim Tomsula and Jim Caldwell aren’t quite as intense. Which could have something to do with the current status of both franchises.

Florio’s pick: Lions 27, 49ers 17.

Browns at Chiefs

MDS’s take: The Chiefs are playing some of the best football in the NFL right now and are going to be a tough team to beat in January. They won’t have any problem with the Browns.

MDS’s pick: Chiefs 35, Browns 14.

Florio’s take: The Chiefs have won eight in a row. The Browns have managed to win at least eight games in a season only once since 2002.

Florio’s pick: Chiefs 30, Browns 17.

Colts at Dolphins

MDS’s take: Both of these teams looked pretty awful last week, but I have a feeling the Dolphins’ defense will play a little better this week against a beaten-up Colts offense, and Miami will win at home.

MDS’s pick: Dolphins 17, Colts 14.

Florio’s take: Chuck Pagano has been linked to the Dolphins’ coaching vacancy. After Sunday, maybe he won’t be.

Florio’s pick: Dolphins 23, Colts 13.

Giants at Vikings

MDS’s take: Depending on how the Philadelphia-Washington game goes, the Giants might not have anything to play for by kickoff on Sunday night. The Vikings, however, are still fighting for the NFC North title, and I think they’ll turn in a good game on both sides of the ball.

MDS’s pick: Vikings 31, Giants 17.

Florio’s take: The Giants have two great players and 51 who are average at best. And one of the great players has been suspended. And that pretty much sums this one up.

Florio’s pick: Vikings 27, Giants 17.

Jaguars at Saints

MDS’s take: Blake Bortles has showed some promise recently, and the Saints’ pass defense is terrible. I like Bortles to have a big game and the Jaguars to win in New Orleans.

MDS’s pick: Jaguars 28, Saints 24.

Florio’s take: The up-and-down Jaguars face the up-and-down Saints in a game that is relevant only to moving up and down in the draft order. Given the struggles the Saints are experiencing when trying to win with Drew Brees, it’s hard to imagine them winning without him.

Florio’s pick: Jaguars 27, Saints 20.

Patriots at Jets

MDS’s take: If the Jets can pull the upset, it turns the whole AFC playoff race on its ear. But I think the Patriots will win, and take a lot of the drama out of the playoff picture.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 21, Jets 17.

Florio’s take: To ensure they won’t have to risk a repeat of the 2010 divisional round in the 2015 postseason, the Patriots should do all they can to knock the Jets out of the playoffs now.

Florio’s pick: Patriots 34, Jets 20.

Bears at Buccaneers

MDS’s take: The Buccaneers have taken a step backward in the last couple of weeks, but I think Jameis Winston can put together a big game against the Bears’ defense, and the Bucs should win this one comfortably.

MDS’s pick: Buccanners 28, Bears 14.

Florio’s take: Lovie Smith gets a shot at his old team. More importantly, he continues to lay the foundation for future playoff runs in Tampa.

Florio’s pick: Buccaneers 20, Bears 10.

Texans at Titans

MDS’s take: Brandon Weeden vs. Zach Mettenberger isn’t exactly the kind of quarterback matchup the NFL wants to showcase, but the Texans are fighting for the AFC South crown and should win in Tennessee.

MDS’s pick: Texans 24, Titans 21.

Florio’s take: The Texans are trying to win the division. The Titans are hoping to secure the No. 1 pick in the draft.

Florio’s pick: Texans 20, Titans 9.

Packers at Cardinals

MDS’s take: This looks at first glance like the best game of the weekend, although the reality is that it probably won’t affect either team’s playoff position: The Cardinals will likely be the No. 2 seed win or lose, and the Packers’ seed will likely come down to next week’s game against the Vikings. I like the Cardinals simply because they’ve been a better team all season.

MDS’s pick: Cardinals 34, Packers 20.

Florio’s take: The Cardinals will have a hard time replacing Tyrann Mathieu. But they’re still good enough to outscore a Packers team that has been winning despite a spotty offense in recent weeks.

Florio’s pick: Cardinals 30, Packers 24.

Rams at Seahawks

MDS’s take: The Seahawks don’t have a lot to play for in the final two weeks of the season, as they’re locked into a wild-card berth. But they’re playing some of the best football in the league right now, and they should beat the Rams comfortably.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 24, Rams 21.

Florio’s take: Both teams have changed a lot since Week One, when the Rams upset Seattle. It would be a major upset if the Rams complete the sweep.

Florio’s pick: Seahawks 34, Rams 20.

Steelers at Ravens

MDS’s take: This rivalry always seems to involve close games, but I can’t see this depleted Ravens team keeping up with the Steelers. Pittsburgh should win big.

MDS’s pick: Steelers 35, Ravens 13.

Florio’s take: If Ryan Mallett beats the Steelers . . . his alarm clock eventually will go off and he’ll wake up from that dream.

Florio’s pick: Steelers 33, Ravens 13.

Bengals at Broncos

MDS’s take: After a lot of lousy Monday night games, we get a great one to end the season, with a first-round bye likely at stake. I see the Broncos winning a close, low-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 20, Bengals 17.

Florio’s take: A.J. McCarron is about to realize the difference between the San Francisco defense and the Denver defense.

Florio’s pick: Broncos 23, Bengals 20.

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2016 Pro Bowlers

Cam Newton AP

[Editor’s note: The NFL announced today that the following players have been chosen for the 2016 Pro Bowl.]

Tom Brady, New England
Cam Newton, Carolina
Carson Palmer, Arizona
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh
Russell Wilson, Seattle

Adrian Peterson, Minnesota
* Devonta Freeman, Atlanta
* Jonathan Stewart, Carolina
* Todd Gurley, St. Louis
Doug Martin, Tampa Bay
LeSean McCoy, Buffalo

Marcel Reece, Oakland
Mike Tolbert, Carolina

* Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati
Rob Gronkowski, New England
* Travis Kelce, Kansas City
Greg Olsen, Carolina

Odell Beckham, Jr., New York Giants
Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh
Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona
A.J. Green, Cincinnati
* DeAndre Hopkins, Houston
Calvin Johnson, Detroit
Julio Jones, Atlanta
Brandon Marshall, New York Jets

Tyron Smith, Dallas
Joe Staley, San Francisco
Joe Thomas, Cleveland
Andrew Whitworth, Cincinnati
Trent Williams, Washington
Jason Peters, Philadelphia

* David DeCastro, Pittsburgh
Mike Iupati, Arizona
Josh Sitton, Green Bay
* Trai Turner, Carolina
Marshal Yanda, Baltimore
Zack Martin, Dallas

Travis Frederick, Dallas
Ryan Kalil, Carolina
Mike Pouncey, Miami
Alex Mack, Cleveland

* Ezekiel Ansah, Detroit
* Michael Bennett, Seattle
* Chandler Jones, New England
* Khalil Mack, Oakland
J.J. Watt, Houston
* Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Jets

Geno Atkins, Cincinnati
Calais Campbell, Arizona
* Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia
Aaron Donald, St. Louis
Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay
* Kawann Short, Carolina

Navorro Bowman, San Francisco
Luke Kuechly, Carolina
Clay Matthews, Green Bay
Bobby Wagner, Seattle

* Jamie Collins, New England
* Thomas Davis, Carolina
Tamba Hali, Kansas City
Justin Houston, Kansas City
Von Miller, Denver
DeMarcus Ware, Denver

Chris Harris, Jr., Denver
* Josh Norman, Carolina
* Marcus Peters, Kansas City
Patrick Peterson, Arizona
Darrelle Revis, New York Jets
Richard Sherman, Seattle
Aqib Talib, Denver
* Malcolm Butler, New England

* Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona
* Reggie Nelson, Cincinnati
Earl Thomas, Seattle

Eric Berry, Kansas City
Kam Chancellor, Seattle
Charles Woodson, Oakland

* Sam Koch, Baltimore
Johnny Hekker, St. Louis

* Tyler Lockett, Seattle
Darren Sproles, Philadelphia

* Dan Bailey, Dallas
Stephen Gostkowski, New England

Justin Bethel, Arizona
Matthew Slater, New England

* First-time Pro Bowler

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PFT’s Week 16 Power Rankings


1. Panthers (14-0; last week No. 1): The Panthers apparently broke Odell Beckham’s brain.

2. Cardinals (12-2; No. 2): Losing Tyrann Mathieu will make it a lot harder to get past Seattle and Carolina.

3. Patriots (12-2; No. 3): With the stroke of a pen, Steven Jackson is guaranteed to finish the season on a winning team for the first time in his career.

4. Packers (10-4; No. 4): They’re just good enough to lose in the divisional round.

5. Seahawks (9-5; No. 5): Mike Pettine is as good at ranking quarterbacks as his team is at winning games.

6. Steelers (9-5; No. 7): The only way to beat this team is to figure out how to outscore its offense.

7. Chiefs (9-5; No. 8): Suddenly, a division title isn’t out of the question.

8. Bengals (11-3; No. 9): A.J. McCarron did enough to beat the 49ers, which will be slightly different from what he’ll have to do to beat the Broncos.

9. Broncos (10-4; No. 6): “Bullsh-t and insulting” is also the best way to summarize the team’s second-half offense.

10. Jets (9-5; No. 10): In a season that could have a couple of eight-win teams in the playoffs, the Jets could be a double-digit winner that gets shut out.

11. Vikings (9-5; No. 11): When Teddy Bridgewater can play like that against a great team, the Vikings will be in great shape.

12. Washington (7-7; No. 14): Kirk Cousins is getting better and better, and few are willing to admit it.

13. Texans (7-7; No. 17): Who would have ever thought they’d miss Matt Schaub?

14. Raiders (6-8; No. 12): Charles Woodson leaving the Raiders hurts almost as much as the Raiders possibly leaving Oakland.

15. Eagles (6-8; No. 13): DeMarco Murray is trying to figure out who he can complain to about the owner.

16. Giants (6-8; No. 15): “Excuses are made for the stars, examples are made of the scrubs.”

17. Bills (6-8; No. 16): When Rex Ryan guaranteed a return to the playoffs, he technically didn’t specify a year.

18. Buccaneers (6-8; No. 18): Trying to prevent the Panthers from getting to 16-0 is the only thing they have left to play for.

19. Falcons (7-7; No. 22): If the Panthers take the Falcons lightly, the Panthers may only win by single digits.

20. Rams (6-8; No. 24): With two more wins, Bruce Arians will be right again.

21. Bears (5-9; No. 19): The bear that mauls Leonardo DiCaprio was way scarier.

22. Colts (6-8; No. 20): Not even the 2-14 Colts of 2011 lost to the Texans at home.

23. Lions (5-9; No. 26): Jim Caldwell keeps doing almost just enough to justify keeping him.

24. Jaguars (5-9; No. 21): They should have saved a few of those 51 points from last week.

25. Dolphins (5-9; No. 23): In roughly two weeks, they’ll offer the head-coaching job to the top candidate on their list, who will respectfully decline.

26. Saints (5-9; No. 25): There’s a funk enveloping this franchise, and no one knows how it’s going to be resolved.

27. Chargers (4-10; No. 31): If the Chargers played more often like they did during what could have been their last game in San Diego, maybe they’d have a stadium there by now.

28. Cowboys (4-10; No. 27): Intentional grounding that results in an interception is the perfect metaphor for the 2015 Cowboys.

29. Ravens (4-10; No. 28): Those mustard-colored pants need a little more brown in them to properly reflect what this season has been for the Ravens.

30. Browns (3-11; No. 29): The Factory of Sadness has filled and shipped all Christmas orders.

31. 49ers (4-10; No. 30): They’ll likely find a way to screw up a sure-fire top-five pick.

32. Titans (3-11; No. 32): For the last two games, the Titans would be wise to become the Tankers.

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The NFL’s letter to Odell Beckham, Jr.


[Editor’s note: On Monday, the NFL informed Giants receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. that he’ll be suspended one game for his conduct on Sunday against the Panthers. The full text of the letter to Beckham from NFL V.P. of football operations Merton Hanks appears below.]

Player safety and sportsmanship are of paramount concern to the National Football League, and illegal acts that jeopardize the safety of players or expose them to unnecessary risk will not be tolerated. At numerous times during yesterday’s game against the Carolina Panthers, your actions placed a fellow player at unnecessary risk, reflected poorly on both yourself and the National Football League, and clearly did not represent the high standards of sportsmanship expected of an NFL player. Accordingly, and by notice of this letter, you are suspended without pay for next Sunday’s December 27 game against the Minnesota Vikings.

The most egregious of your actions occurred with 3:16 remaining in the third quarter when you took a ten-yard running start and delivered a blindside block to your opponent’s head and jaw area. Your actions on that play were not only “unnecessary roughness” they also constituted “unnecessary contact against a player who is in a defenseless position” in violation of Rule 12, Section 2, Article 7. Your opponent was considered in a “defenseless position” because the path of your block was “toward or parallel to [your] own end line” and you approached your opponent from “behind or from the side.” Moreover, your contact was prohibited because you (1) left your feet prior to contact to spring forward and upward into your opponent (2) lowered your helmet and initiated forcible contact with the crown or hairline parts of the helmet; and (3) forcibly struck the defenseless player’s head.

Your actions drew an unnecessary roughness penalty — your third such penalty of the day — and occurred just three plays after your second such penalty. Further, you took a swing at your opponent with your right hand as you ran down the field on the very same play, which was itself prohibited conduct per Rule 12, Section 2 Article 12 which prohibits “”striking, swinging at, or clubbing the head, neck or face of an opponent.”
The three plays for which you were penalized were not your only unacceptable actions in yesterday’s game. For example, with 11:26 remaining in the first quarter you used your helmet to head butt your opponent and then swung at your opponent with your right hand. With 5:33 remaining in the first quarter and then with 3:36 remaining in the first quarter you swung at your opponent, both times again with your right hand. Each of those actions were violations of Rule 12, Section 2 Article 12 of the NFL Playing Rules that were not penalized.

Your actions adversely reflected on the NFL and have no place in the game because incidents like this erode public confidence in the orderly conduct of our game as well as the good character of our participants. You are responsible to avoid such illegal and dangerous acts. The League Policies for Players states that “a player may be subject to suspension even on a first offense” depending on the facts and circumstances surrounding each case. In your case, a suspension for one game is warranted. This takes into account that your “blindside block” penalty was particularly flagrant, that it followed previous penalties, and that you had prior prohibited conduct directed at your opponent during the game. The “blindside block” was particularly flagrant because you had an unobstructed path to your opponent; the position of your opponent was not materially affected by any other player; and your contact with his head was avoidable.

Your suspension begins immediately and you may not practice with the team or otherwise participate in any football activities for the Giants during your suspension. Your suspension will conclude following the upcoming game. Needless to say, any further violations to playing rules will subject you to potentially more significant discipline. You may, if you wish, appeal this suspension by logging on to the League office’s secure website [omitted]. When the login screen appears, enter the following information in the designated fields: (1) this fine number [omitted]; (2) your last name [Beckham]; and (3) this pin number [omitted]. Once logged in, you will be able to submit an appeal notice and view the video of the play referenced above. Please be advised that your appeal notification must be received by Commissioner Goodell within 3 business days of notification of the fine. Please email [omitted] if you experience any problems getting onto the website or viewing the video footage.

If you file a timely written appeal pursuant to Article 46 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, a hearing will be conducted by the hearing officer upon receipt of your notice of appeal. Because the discipline here involves a suspension, you may request that your appeal be heard on an expedited basis. The hearing officer may consider any relevant evidence, whether by testimony, video or otherwise. This may include evidence not available when the suspension was imposed, as well as any evidence that you and your representative present. To schedule a hearing, please log on to the website [omitted] using the same login information referenced in the paragraph above. You will be able to access the web calendar as soon as your appeal notice has been submitted to the Commissioner. You must select a date and time for your appeal hearing on the web calendar.

League rules prohibiting hits on defenseless players and unnecessary roughness are a point of emphasis. They exist to protect both you and your colleagues from unnecessary risk. Your passion for the game and competitiveness should be celebrated, but going forward, you must demonstrate respect for the game, your opponents, the game officials, and the fans.

Upon your return from your suspension, I encourage you strongly to conform your play to the rules so that there will be no need to consider any further disciplinary action up to and including further suspension.

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All 12 playoff spots could be clinched in Week 16

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - NOVEMBER 23:   Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers greets Teddy Bridgewater #5 of the Minnesota Vikings on the field after defeating the Minnesota Vikings 21-24 on November 23, 2014 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images) Getty Images

We could know the identity of all 12 playoff teams by the end of Week 16.

We wouldn’t know exactly how all 12 of those teams would be seeded — that can’t be determined until Week 17 — but the NFL’s clinching scenarios for this week make it possible for every playoff spot to be filled up by the end of the week:

Patriots have clinched a first-round bye, Bengals have clinched a playoff berth.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (at New York Jets, Sunday)
New England clinches home-field advantage throughout AFC playoffs with a win.

CINCINNATI BENGALS (at Denver, Monday)
Cincinnati clinches the AFC North with a win or a Steelers loss. Cincinnati clinches a first-round bye with a win.

DENVER BRONCOS (vs. Cincinnati, Monday)
Denver clinches the AFC West with a win and a Chiefs loss. Denver clinches a playoff spot with a win and either a Jets loss or a Steelers loss.

HOUSTON TEXANS (at Tennessee, Sunday)
Houston clinches the AFC South with a win and a Colts loss. Houston can also clinch the AFC South with a win even if the Colts win, as long as enough other games break the right way for Houston to clinch the strength of victory tiebreaker over Indianapolis.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (vs. Cleveland, Sunday)
Kansas City clinches a playoff spot with a win and either a Jets loss or a Steelers loss.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS (at Baltimore, Sunday)
Pittsburgh clinches a playoff spot with a win and a Jets loss.

Panthers have clinched a first-round bye, Cardinals have clinched the NFC West, Packers have clinched a playoff berth, Seahawks have clinched a wild card.

CAROLINA PANTHERS (at Atlanta, Sunday)
Carolina clinches home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs with a win or a Cardinals loss.

ARIZONA CARDINALS (vs. Green Bay, Sunday)
Arizona clinches a first-round bye with a win.

GREEN BAY PACKERS (at Arizona, Sunday)
Green Bay clinches the NFC North with a win and a Vikings loss.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS (vs. New York Giants, Sunday night)
Minnesota clinches a playoff spot with a win, or a Falcons loss, or a Seahawks win.

WASHINGTON (at Philadelphia, Saturday)
Washington clinches the NFC East with a win.

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NFL statement: Odell Beckham Jr. suspended for multiple violations of player safety rules

[Editor’s note: The NFL issued the following statement on Monday, December 21, 2015.]


ODELL BECKHAM JR. of the New York Giants has been suspended without pay for next Sunday night’s game against the Minnesota Vikings for multiple violations of safety-related playing rules in yesterday’s game against the Carolina Panthers.

Beckham was penalized three times for unnecessary roughness, including a late helmet-to-helmet hit against a defenseless player in which Beckham left his feet prior to contact to spring forward and upward into his opponent, lowered his helmet and initiated forcible contact with his helmet, and forcibly struck the defenseless player’s head. This “blindside block” was particularly flagrant because Beckham, with a 10-yard running start, had an unobstructed path to his opponent, the position of the opponent was not impacted by any other player, and the contact with the head/neck was avoidable.

The suspension was imposed by NFL Vice President of Football Operations MERTON HANKS. Hanks ruled that Beckham’s actions placed his opponents at unnecessary risk of injury and should have been avoided.

In a letter to Beckham, Hanks noted, “At numerous times during yesterday’s game against the Carolina Panthers, your actions placed a fellow player at unnecessary risk…and clearly did not represent the high standards of sportsmanship expected.”

Beckham will not be permitted this week to attend team meetings and functions; attend or watch practices; appear at the club’s facilities for any reason; attend press conferences; appear at the team’s December 27 game; or have contact with any club personnel except to arrange off-site medical treatment or rehabilitation. Beckham will be reinstated on Monday, December 28.

Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the suspension may be appealed within three business days. Appeals are heard and decided by either DERRICK BROOKS or JAMES THRASH, the officers jointly appointed and compensated by the NFL and NFLPA to decide appeals of on-field player discipline.

The conduct of other players in the Panthers-Giants game is being reviewed for potential discipline in the form of fines.

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NFC playoff picture: East, North still to be decided

Ryan Kerrigan, Sam Bradford, Trent Murphy AP

Two NFC divisions have been wrapped up and two are still in contention with two weeks left in the season.

The Panthers have already clinched the NFC East and the Cardinals have already clinched the NFC West. The NFC East and NFC North are still to be determined, with a big game on Saturday between Philadelphia and Washington and a big game in Week 17 between Green Bay and Minnesota.

Here’s how the playoff picture looks:

1. Panthers (14-0): Need one more win or a Cardinals loss to clinch home-field advantage.

2. (Cardinals (12-2): Need one more win or a Packers loss to clinch a first-round bye.

3. Packers (10-4): If they win out, they win the division.

4. Washington (7-7): A big game looms on Saturday against Philadelphia.

5. Seahawks (9-5): Seattle is locked into a wild card and doesn’t have much to play for in the last two weeks.

6. Vikings (9-5): Minnesota still has a Week 17 game against Green Bay, so if the Vikings win out, they win the NFC North. The only way the Vikings can miss the playoffs is in the extremely unlikely even that they finish in a three-way tie with the Seahawks and Falcons at 9-7.

7. Falcons (7-7): Atlanta technically hasn’t been eliminated but would need to win out and have both the Vikings and Seahawks lose out.


Eagles (6-8): If Philadelphia wins out, it wins the NFC East.

Giants (6-8): The Giants need to win their last two while Washington loses its last two. If that happens, the Giants win the NFC East.

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NFL morning after: Cam Newton’s signature performance

during their game at MetLife Stadium on December 20, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Getty Images

In 2030 or so, when Cam Newton’s bust has been sculpted and NFL Films is putting together the highlight package to show at his induction in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, yesterday’s game will be featured prominently.

On a day when the Panthers were in a desperate fight to remain undefeated, Newton delivered his best game yet, and after a furious Giants rally tied the score 35-35, Newton marched his team down the field into field goal range for the 38-35 win. That was the signature performance not just of Newton’s MVP season, but of his career. Newton passed for 340 yards, with five touchdowns and no interceptions, and added 100 yards rushing. Loyal readers will remember that I’m always a fan of players who record double triples, but Newton did a lot more than just that.

Newton is the first player in NFL history to rush for 100 yards while throwing five touchdowns. In fact, no one else had ever even run for 50 yards while throwing five touchdowns. Until Newton’s performance yesterday, you know what the record was for the most rushing yards on a five-touchdown pass day? It was 49 yards, by Cam Newton two weeks ago against the Saints.

Yesterday was Newton’s third five-touchdown game of the season. No other quarterback has three five-touchdown games this year, and only Russell Wilson has two.

Newton now has five seasons with 3,000 pass yards and 500 rush yards. No one else in NFL history has four such seasons, and only Randall Cunningham even has three.

Simply put, Newton is playing the quarterback position in a way no other player has ever played it before. He’s not the best runner ever to play the position and he’s not the best passer ever, but he combines the two skills in a way no other quarterback has.

I should admit here that I was late to the party on Newton’s MVP candidacy. He went through a stretch this season when he wasn’t playing all that well, and the Panthers were winning thanks to their defense: From Week Six to Week Nine, Newton had seven touchdowns and seven interceptions, and I said at the time that he really wasn’t playing at an MVP level. But since Week 10, Newton has 19 touchdowns and one interception. There’s no question that he’s the MVP now.

The Panthers are two wins away from 16-0, and five wins away from the first 19-0 season in NFL history. That won’t be easy to accomplish, but at this point, it’s hard to bet against Cam Newton.

Here are my other thoughts from Sunday:

A special day for the Texans. Yesterday was the first time the Texans have ever won at Indianapolis. That’s amazing, considering that they’ve played there every year since 2002. It’s hard to believe that a Brandon Weeden-led team appears headed to the playoffs, but despite all their quarterback problems this season, the Texans now are in control of the AFC South.

DeSean Jackson continues to amaze. With his 77-yard touchdown in Washington’s win over Buffalo, Jackson now has 20 career touchdowns of 60 or more yards. The NFL record is 23, by Jerry Rice. But Rice scored those 23 touchdowns of 60 or more yards in 303 career games. Jackson has 20 touchdowns of 60 or more yards in just 110 career games. Jackson is one of the greatest big-play threats in NFL history.

Teddy Bridgewater had the best game of his career. Prior to the Vikings’ win over the Bears yesterday, Bridgewater never had more than two total touchdowns in a game. Yesterday Bridgewater had five total touchdowns, four passing and one rushing. That’s a very good sign for the Vikings that Bridgewater is trending in the right direction heading toward the playoffs.

Prayer shouldn’t be an exception to the NFL’s rules. Panthers receiver Ted Ginn was penalized for excessive celebration yesterday for going to the ground after a touchdown. But don’t NFL players frequently kneel on the ground in prayer after touchdowns? Yes, they do. As former head of officiating Mike Pereira explained it, the NFL has a special exception to the celebration rules that allows players to go to the ground if it’s in prayer. That rule should change. It’s not the NFL’s place to say that religious celebrations are allowed but secular celebrations are not. Texans running back Arian Foster, who is currently recovering from a torn Achilles tendon, may want to kneel on the ground in a moment of quiet reflection if he returns to the field and scores a touchdown next year. Foster, however, has said that he doesn’t believe in God. So because he’s not religious, his kneeling on the ground after a touchdown would be a penalty, whereas a religious player’s kneeling on the ground is not. That’s a ridiculous rule. The NFL should let players celebrate a touchdown however they want, as long as they’re not taunting an opponent or carrying on so long that they delay the extra point. A religious exception to the rules is a bad idea.

The NFL should suspend Odell Beckham Jr. I love Beckham. He’s maybe my favorite player to watch. But his actions yesterday were totally inexcusable. He and Josh Norman were jawing back and forth, pushing and shoving, and taking cheap shots at each other for much of the game. Although Norman deserves league discipline as well, Beckham was the clear instigator and committed the worst infraction of all, a blatant, intentional helmet-to-helmet hit that could have seriously injured Norman. The NFL has only suspended one player for an on-field infraction this season (Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib, for an eye poke), but now it’s time to do it again. In a Panthers-Giants game in which Newton showed he’s the class of the NFL, Beckham was classless.

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