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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.]

QUARTERBACKS (6)
Tom Brady, New England
Cam Newton, Carolina
Carson Palmer, Arizona
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh
Russell Wilson, Seattle

RUNNING BACKS (6)
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota
* Devonta Freeman, Atlanta
* Jonathan Stewart, Carolina
* Todd Gurley, St. Louis
Doug Martin, Tampa Bay
LeSean McCoy, Buffalo

FULLBACKS (2)
Marcel Reece, Oakland
Mike Tolbert, Carolina

TIGHT ENDS (4)
* Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati
Rob Gronkowski, New England
* Travis Kelce, Kansas City
Greg Olsen, Carolina

WIDE RECEIVERS (8)
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

TACKLES (6)
Tyron Smith, Dallas
Joe Staley, San Francisco
Joe Thomas, Cleveland
Andrew Whitworth, Cincinnati
Trent Williams, Washington
Jason Peters, Philadelphia

GUARDS (6)
* David DeCastro, Pittsburgh
Mike Iupati, Arizona
Josh Sitton, Green Bay
* Trai Turner, Carolina
Marshal Yanda, Baltimore
Zack Martin, Dallas

CENTERS (4)
Travis Frederick, Dallas
Ryan Kalil, Carolina
Mike Pouncey, Miami
Alex Mack, Cleveland

DEFENSIVE ENDS (6)
* Ezekiel Ansah, Detroit
* Michael Bennett, Seattle
* Chandler Jones, New England
* Khalil Mack, Oakland
J.J. Watt, Houston
* Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Jets

INTERIOR LINEMEN (6)
Geno Atkins, Cincinnati
Calais Campbell, Arizona
* Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia
Aaron Donald, St. Louis
Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay
* Kawann Short, Carolina

INSIDE/MIDDLE LINEBACKERS (4)
Navorro Bowman, San Francisco
Luke Kuechly, Carolina
Clay Matthews, Green Bay
Bobby Wagner, Seattle

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (6)
* Jamie Collins, New England
* Thomas Davis, Carolina
Tamba Hali, Kansas City
Justin Houston, Kansas City
Von Miller, Denver
DeMarcus Ware, Denver

CORNERBACKS (8)
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

FREE SAFETIES (3)
* Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona
* Reggie Nelson, Cincinnati
Earl Thomas, Seattle

STRONG SAFETIES (3)
Eric Berry, Kansas City
Kam Chancellor, Seattle
Charles Woodson, Oakland

PUNTERS (2)
* Sam Koch, Baltimore
Johnny Hekker, St. Louis

RETURN SPECIALISTS (2)
* Tyler Lockett, Seattle
Darren Sproles, Philadelphia

PLACEKICKERS (2)
* Dan Bailey, Dallas
Stephen Gostkowski, New England

SPECIAL TEAMERS (2)
Justin Bethel, Arizona
Matthew Slater, New England

* First-time Pro Bowler

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PFT’s Week 16 Power Rankings

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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.

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[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:

AFC
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.

NFC
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. SUSPENDED ONE GAME FOR VIOLATIONS OF PLAYER SAFETY RULES

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:

LEADERS
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.

OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
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.

OTHER NFC EAST CONTENDERS

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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Week 15 early inactives

Miami Dolphins v New England Patriots Getty Images

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.

Chiefs at Ravens

Chiefs: LB Justin Houston, S Husain Abdullah, WR De’Anthony Thomas, G Jeff Allen, QB Aaron Murray, DL David King, DL Rakeem Nunez-Roches.

Ravens: TE Crockett Gilmore, QB Ryan Mallett WR Marlon Brown, CB Kyle Arrington, LB Albert McClellan, TE Richard Gordon, DE Kapron Lewis-Moore

Texans at Colts

Texans: QB Brian Hoyer, DT Christian Covington, S Rahim Moore, CB Darryl Morris, LB Justin Tuggle, OL Oday Aboushi, TE Garrett Graham

Colts: QB Andrew Luck, S Colt Anderson, CB D’Joun Smith, CB Greg Toler, LB Sio Moore, G Lance Louis, LB Bjoern Werner

Falcons at Jaguars

Falcons: LB Paul Worrilow,  CB Akeem King, RB Terron Ward, G Ben Garland, T Bryce Harris, DT Joey Mbu, DE Malliciah Goodman

Jaguars: RB T.J. Yeldon, CB Dwayne Gratz, LB Joplu Bartu, WR Bryan Walters, OL Luke Bowanko, TE Nic Jacobs, DE Ryan Davis

Bears at Vikings

Bears: CB Bryce Callahan, CB Jacoby Glenn, RB Antone Smith, LB Christian Jones, OL Nick Becton, T Tayo Fabuluje, WR Cameron Meredith.

Vikings: S Harrison Smith, LB Anthony Barr, WR Charles Johnson, DT Linval Joseph, QB Taylor Heinicke, C Nick Easton, OL Jeremiah Sirles

Titans at Patriots

Titans: DT Mike Morgan, WR Kendall Wright, S Da’Norris Searcy, WR Damaris Johnson, CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, T Jamon Meredit, DE Ropati Pitoitua

Patriots: WR Julian Edelman, LB Jonathan Freeny, S Devin McCourty, OL LaAdrian Waddle, TE Scott Chandler, C Bryan Stork, DL Ishmaa’ily Kitchen

Panthers at Giants

Panthers: RB Jonathan Stewart, LB David Mayo, WR Brenton Bersin, RB Brandon Wegher, S Colin Jones, WR Kevin Norwood, DE Ryan Delaire

Giants: LB Devon Kennard, DT Markus Kuhn, DE George Selvie, WR Geremy Davis, CB Jayron Hosley, OL Adam Gettis, OL Emmett Cleary

Bills at Redskins

Bills: T Seantrel Henderson, CB Ron Brooks, TE Charles Clay, LB Nigel Bradham, QB Josh Johnson, LB Max Valles, DL LaVar Edwards

Redskins: WR Andre Roberts, LB Perry Riley, S Jeron Johnson, QB Robert Griffin III, RB Chris Thompson, OL Arie Kouandjio, TE Je’Ron Hamm

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Week 15 injury report roundup

TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 26: Outside linebacker Anthony Barr #55 of the Minnesota Vikings celebrates his winning TD return with free safety Harrison Smith #22 of the Minnesota Vikings in overtime at Raymond James Stadium on October 26, 2014 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Cliff McBride/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 14 of the 2015 season.

Jets at Cowboys (Saturday night)

The Jets placed wide receiver Devin Smith (torn ACL) on injured reserve Friday, but everyone else on the active roster is probable and expected to play in Dallas. The Cowboys won’t have linebacker Rolando McClain (concussion) and cornerback Morris Claiborne (hamstring) is unlikely to play after being listed as doubtful.

Chiefs at Ravens

Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston (knee) remains out for a third straight week. Safety Husain Abdullah (concussion) and wide receiver De’Anthony Thomas (concussion) will also miss the game. Guard Jeff Allen (ankle) and running back Spencer Ware (rib) drew questionable tags. The Ravens ruled out tight end Crockett Gillmore (back) and listed cornerback Kyle Arrington (back), wide receiver Marlon Brown (back) and linebacker Albert McClellan (ankle) as doubtful. Quarterback Matt Schaub (chest) is probable after sitting out last week.

Texans at Colts

Quarterback Brian Hoyer (concussion) will sit and T.J. Yates will start for the Texans. Defensive end J.J. Watt (hand), linebacker Jadeveon Clowney (hamstring) and linebacker Brian Cushing (hip) are all listed as probable after missing practice time this week. The Colts remain without quarterback Andrew Luck (kidney/abdomen), but Matt Hasselbeck (back, ribs) is probable after some early doubt about his status. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo (knee) is probable to return to the lineup, but wide receiver Donte Moncrief (toe) and cornerback Greg Toler (knee, hamstring) are questionable to play.

Falcons at Jaguars

Linebacker Paul Worrilow (knee) won’t play for the Falcons, but the team is otherwise healthier than their recent record as they make the short hop to Jacksonville. The Jaguars listed defensive end Ryan Davis (knee) and running back T.J. Yeldon (knee) as doubtful, leaving them unlikely to play this weekend. Safety Sergio Brown (thumb), cornerback Dwayne Gratz (hamstring), tight end Nic Jacobs (hamstring) and wide receiver Bryan Walters (back) are all questionable. Linebacker Paul Posluszny (hand) is expected back after missing last week.

Bears at Vikings

There’s a good-sized group of questionable Bears this week. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (calf, illness), cornerback Sherrick McManis (concussion), linebacker Pernell McPhee (knee), tight end Zach Miller (ribs), cornerback Tracy Porter (ankle) and defensive end Will Sutton (knee) all drew the tag. Cornerback Bryce Callahan (quad) is doubtful. The Vikings will play without safety Harrison Smith (knee) and linebacker Anthony Barr (groin) for the second straight week. They hope to have defensive tackle Linval Joseph (foot) and defensive end Everson Griffen (shoulder) after listing them as questionable.

Titans at Patriots

Defensive tackle Mike Martin (knee), safety Da’Norris Searcy (hamstring) and wide receiver Kendall Wright (ribs) will be out of the Titans lineup. Tight end Phillip Supernaw (foot) is questionable. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (illness) missed practice Friday and is listed as questionable, although word around the team is that he will play. Linebackers Jonathan Freeny (hand) and Eric Martin (illness) have been ruled out and it looks like another week without wide receiver Julian Edelman (foot, doubtful). Tight end Scott Chandler (knee), safety Patrick Chung (foot), linebacker Dont’a Hightower (knee), guard Josh Kline (shoulder), safety Devin McCourty (ankle) and wide receiver Matt Slater (stinger) are listed as questionable along with Brady.

Panthers at Giants

The Panthers head to New Jersey without running back Jonathan Stewart (foot) or linebacker David Mayo (hamstring) in the lineup, but cornerback Charles Tillman (knee) and tight end Greg Olsen (knee) are both probable to play after questions about their availability earlier in the week. Three Giants defenders — linebacker Devon Kennard (foot, hamstring), defensive tackle Markus Kuhn (knee) and defensive end George Selvie (concussion) — have been ruled out, while left tackle Ereck Flowers (ankle) and wide receiver Dwayne Harris (shoulder) are questionable.

Bills at Redskins

Bills linebacker Nigel Bradham (ankle), cornerback Ron Brooks (concussion, neck), tight end Charles Clay (back) and tackle Seantrel Henderson (illness) have been ruled out. The team left the door open for safety Bacarri Rambo (knee), running back Karlos Williams (shoulder) and defensive end Mario Williams (illness) by listing them as questionable. The Redskins will play without linebacker Perry Riley (foot) and wide receiver Andre Roberts (knee). Defensive end Jason Hatcher (neck, knee), safety Jeron Johnson (hamstring), linebacker Keenan Robinson (shoulder) and running back Chris Thompson (shoulder) all drew questionable tags. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson (knee) and left tackle Trent Williams (foot) are probable.

Packers at Raiders

The Packers won’t have cornerback Sam Shields (concussion) or wide receiver Ty Montgomery (ankle). Wide receiver Davante Adams (foot), defensive tackle Mike Daniels (hamstring), guard T.J. Lang (shoulder, ankle) and center Corey Linsley (ankle) are all questionable. The Raiders ruled out safety Nate Allen (knee) or tackle Austin Howard (knee), listed cornerback Neiko Thorpe (neck) as questionable and expect to have wide receiver Amari Cooper (foot) in the lineup.

Browns at Seahawks

Wide receiver Andrew Hawkins (concussion) and running back Glenn Winston (concussion) are out for the Browns. Kicker Travis Coons (right groin) is questionable, leading the Browns to work out kickers and talk up quarterback Austin Davis’s kicking ability. Cornerback Justin Gilbert (concussion), wide receiver Marlon Moore (ribs) and cornerback K’Waun Williams (shoulder) are also questionable while left tackle Joe Thomas (knee) is probable. The Seahawks ruled out defensive tackle Jordan Hill (toe), running back Marshawn Lynch (abdomen) and tight end Anthony McCoy (knee, ankle). Safety Kam Chancellor (pelvis) and cornerback Deshawn Shead (ankle) are questionable with coach Pete Carroll saying he expects Shead to play.

Broncos at Steelers 

The Broncos remain without safety Omar Bolden (hamstring), quarterback Peyton Manning (foot) and safety T.J. Ward (ankle) with linebacker Lerentee McCray (hamstring) joining them on the sideline this Sunday. Running back C.J. Anderson (ankle), wide receiver Andre Caldwell (quadricep), linebacker Todd Davis (shoulder), wide receiver Bennie Fowler (ankle), guard Evan Mathis (ankle) and safety Darian Stewart (hamstring) are all questionable and 12 other Broncos are probable. The Steelers have nine probables of their own, although that makes up their entire injury report.

Dolphins at Chargers

Right tackle Ja’Wuan James (toe) and defensive tackle Earl Mitchell (calf) are out for the Dolphins. Linebacker Jelani Jenkins (ankle) is on track to join them after being listed as doubtful and wide receiver Rishard Matthews (ribs) and cornerback Bobby McCain (concussion) are questionable. Chargers left tackle King Dunlap (ankle) won’t play and wide receiver Stevie Johnson (groin) is doubtful to make it back into the lineup. Tight end Ladarius Green (ankle), defensive tackle Sean Lissemore (shoulder) and cornerback Steve Williams (hip) are listed as questionable.

Bengals at 49ers

We’ve known for a while that Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (right thumb) won’t play on Sunday. The Bengals added tight end Tyler Eifert (concussion), tackle Jake Fisher (concussion) and safety George Iloka (groin) to the will not play list on Friday. Cornerbacks Adam Jones (foot) and Leon Hall (back) are expected to play. 49ers guard Alex Boone (knee) and linebacker Michael Wilhoite (ankle) won’t play and linebacker Aaron Lynch (concussion) and wide receiver Torrey Smith (back, toe) are both questionable. Eighteen others are listed as probable.

Cardinals at Eagles

The Cardinals may get running back Andre Ellington (toe) back after he drew a questionable tag on Friday. Tight end Jermaine Gresham (knee), safety Rashad Johnson (ankle), cornerback Patrick Peterson (ankle), cornerback Jerraud Powers (calf), defensive tackle Frostee Rucker (ankle, illness) and center Lyle Sendlein (knee) have the same designation. The Eagles have no one listed as out, doubtful or questionable this week.

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PFT’s Week 15 picks

139622943-e13354562464031 Getty Images

Last week, I managed to claw a chunk out of the three-game lead MDS developed the prior weekend. This week, there’s no way I can gain ground.

In picking the outcomes of the 16 games coming up in Week 15, MDS and I agree on each and every game.

Yes, I was tempted to change a couple of my picks while loading them in. But it’s critical to maintain the integrity of and public confidence in this contest. Given our performance this year, it’s pretty much all we have going for us.

For the week, I was 11-5 and MDS was 10-6. For the year, he’s 132-76 (63.4 percent), and I’m at 130-78 (62.5 percent).

Buccaneers at Rams

MDS’s take: Both of these teams have some good young players who have shown flashes of promise this season. On Thursday night, I think the best young players on the field will be Aaron Donald and Todd Gurley, both of the Rams, and St. Louis will win a close, low-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Rams 17, Buccaneers 14.

Florio’s take: It could be the last game ever played in St. Louis, at least until the next time they pilfer a team from another city. The uniforms look like ketchup and mustard; the outcome could be be something that no one relishes. (Try the veal. With relish.)

Florio’s pick: Rams 24, Buccaneers 20.

Jets at Cowboys

MDS’s take: The Jets’ pass defense is good. The Cowboys’ pass offense is not. Dallas will be shut down offensively.

MDS’s pick: Jets 20, Cowboys 6.

Florio’s take: When the schedule came out, it seemed likely that this late-season prime-time game would have postseason implications for one of the two teams involved. We just thought it would be the other team.

Florio’s pick: Jets 23, Cowboys 13.

Chiefs at Ravens

MDS’s take: The Chiefs are playing some of the best football in the league right now, and the Ravens are playing some of the worst. Kansas City should win this one easily.

MDS’s pick: Chiefs 35, Ravens 14.

Florio’s take: For a trap game to be a trap game, the trap has to be sufficiently potent to operate as a trap. The Ravens are missing the spring, and the cheese has gone rancid.

Florio’s pick: Chiefs 30, Ravens 13.

Texans at Colts

MDS’s take: Neither of these teams is any good, but someone has to win the AFC South, and I think it’s going to be Houston.

MDS’s pick: Texans 21, Colts 20.

Florio’s take: The Texans have never won in Indianapolis. Ever. Then again, the Texans have never played the Colts on their home field after Indy gave up 96 points in back-to-back games. Even with T.J. Yates at quarterback, it’s time for the Texans to do what they’ve never done before.

Florio’s pick: Texans 20, Colts 17.

Falcons at Jaguars

MDS’s take: The Falcons are cratering, and the Jaguars are improving. This would have seemed crazy a couple months ago, but the Jaguars are the better team right now and should win at home.

MDS’s pick: Jaguars 24, Falcons 17.

Florio’s take: It’s battle of former Seahawks defensive coordinators, and essentially a playoff elimination game. With the Jaguars winning by 35 and the Falcons losing by 38, how can I pick Atlanta? (And now Atlanta will win.)

Florio’s pick: Jaguars 30, Falcons 23.

Bears at Vikings

MDS’s take: If the Vikings win out, they win the NFC North. I’m not sure if they’re going to do that, but they’re at least going to stay in contention with a win over the Bears.

MDS’s pick: Vikings 24, Bears 23.

Florio’s take: Not a great opponent? Check. Not a prime-time game? Check. It’s looking like 150 yards or more for Adrian Peterson, a ninth win, and a big step closer to the No. 6 seed.

Florio’s pick: Vikings 27, Bears 20.

Titans at Patriots

MDS’s take: The easiest game on the board to pick. Even with the Patriots struggling through several injuries, they shouldn’t have any trouble with an overmatched Titans team.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 31, Titans 20.

Florio’s take: In 2009, the Patriots beat the Titans 59-0. Could this be worse? Maybe, but I’ll play it a little more safely.

Florio’s pick: Patriots 45, Titans 10.

Panthers at Giants

MDS’s take: The Giants desperately need this win. The Giants have a history of beating undefeated teams in big games. Could they do it? Well, they could . . . but I don’t think they will. The Panthers will survive in a close game.

MDS’s pick: Panthers 20, Giants 17.

Florio’s take: The Giants could beat the Panthers, and it wouldn’t be a shock. But Carolina seems to be firing on all cylinders, the Giants are too inconsistent, and the Panthers likely will be able to take New York’s best shot, if the Giants are able to apply it.

Florio’s pick: Panthers 34, Giants 20.

Bills at Washington

MDS’s take: Does anyone want to win the NFC East? Someone has to, but I have a feeling that there will be a three-way tie for first at 6-8 after Washington loses on Sunday.

MDS’s pick: Bills 21, Washington 20.

Florio’s take: They have the same record, but the Bills are the better team on both sides of the ball. If they uncharacteristically play with discipline, they should be able to pull back to .500.

Florio’s pick: Bills 23, Washington 20.

Packers at Raiders

MDS’s take: The Raiders turned in an impressive second-half comeback win over the Broncos on Sunday, but I don’t think they can do it two weeks in a row. The Packers’ offense is going to be too much for the Raiders’ defense.

MDS’s pick: Packers 28, Raiders 21.

Florio’s take: Oakland stole one last week despite having a pathetic offensive output in the first half. The Packers, fully emerged from their November slumber, should be able to avoid letting the Raiders steal one like they did in Denver.

Florio’s pick: Packers 27, Raiders 16.

Browns at Seahawks

MDS’s take: The Seahawks may be playing the best football of any team in the NFL right now. They’re going to destroy the Browns.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 41, Browns 10.

Florio’s take: Yes, Johnny Manziel has played in more hostile environments. But not with a talent gap like this one.

Florio’s pick: Seahawks 44, Browns 20.

Broncos at Steelers

MDS’s take: Brock Osweiler got more credit than he deserved when Denver won a few games after he took over for Peyton Manning. The Broncos will lose their second straight game on Sunday, and we’ll start hearing calls for Manning to return.

MDS’s pick: Steelers 28, Broncos 17.

Florio’s take: Brock Osweiler or Peyton Manning, it doesn’t matter. The Steelers offense has found its groove, making it good enough to outscore a Denver team that relies on its defense to support a so-so offense.

Florio’s pick: Steelers 34, Broncos 21.

Dolphins at Chargers

MDS’s take: There’s very little reason for anyone to care about this game, but I figure Philip Rivers will play pretty well and San Diego will win.

MDS’s pick: Chargers 23, Dolphins 20.

Florio’s take: If the Chargers can’t find a way to make it work for what could be the last game they ever play in San Diego, maybe they should fold, not move.

Florio’s pick: Chargers 27, Dolphins 21.

Bengals at 49ers

MDS’s take: If Andy Dalton were healthy, I’d say Cincinnati wins this one easily. With Dalton injured, however, I think Cincinnati will struggle for four quarters before pulling out a late, close win.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 20, 49ers 17.

Florio’s take:  A week after losing a trap game to the Browns, the 49ers are reminded that they are the trap game. The Bengals are good enough, even with A.J. McCarron, to avoid stepping in it.

Florio’s pick: Bengals 20, 49ers 13.

Cardinals at Eagles

MDS’s take: The Eagles have played much better on defense and special teams the last couple weeks, but their offense remains problematic. I don’t think they can score enough to keep up with the excellent Cardinals offense.

MDS’s pick: Cardinals 31, Eagles 21.

Florio’s take: The Cardinals are the new America’s Team, with five prime-time games this year. They’re 4-0 so far. Make it five.

Florio’s pick: Cardinals 30, Eagles 26.

Lions at Saints

MDS’s take: The NFL schedule makers probably thought this would be a Monday night matchup of two teams fighting for NFC playoff spots, but they thought wrong. It’s a game that there isn’t much reason to watch, but one the Saints should win.

MDS’s pick: Saints 28, Lions 24.

Florio’s take: Tanks fer nuttin’, April schedule release.

Florio’s pick: Saints 24, Lions 17.

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Five more teams can clinch playoff berths this week

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 already know that the Panthers, Cardinals and Patriots will make the playoffs. By Sunday night, we may know the identity of five more playoff teams, as the Bengals, Broncos, Packers, Seahawks and Vikings all have playoff-clinching scenarios for Week 15.

Here are all of this week’s playoff scenarios:

Patriots: New England has already clinched the AFC East and can clinch a first-round bye with a win and either a Broncos loss or a Bengals loss.

Bengals: Cincinnati clinches the AFC North with a Steelers loss. Cincinnati also clinches a playoff spot with a win, or a Jets loss, or a Chiefs loss.

Broncos: Denver clinches the AFC West with a win and a Chiefs loss. Denver also clinches a playoff berth with a win, or with a Jets loss.

Panthers: Carolina has already clinched a first-round bye and will clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a win and a Cardinals loss.

Cardinals: Arizona clinches the NFC west with a win or a Seahawks loss. There’s also a scenario in which Arizona clinches the NFC West even if the Cardinals lose and the Seahawks win, which would require the Bengals and Saints to win while the Cowboys and Steelers lose. The Cardinals clinch a first-round bye if they win and the Packers lose.

Packers: Green Bay clinches a playoff berth with a win. Green Bay can also clinch a playoff berth with a loss, if the Buccaneers lose and either Washington or the Giants lose.

Seahawks: Seattle clinches a playoff spot with a win and a Buccaneers loss, plus either a Giants loss or a Washington loss, or a Falcons loss and a Vikings loss and a Packers loss.

Vikings: Minnesota clinches a playoff spot with a win and a Buccaneers loss, plus a loss by either Washington or the Giants, and a loss by either the Falcons or Seahawks.

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PFT’s Week 15 Power Rankings

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1. Panthers (13-0; last week No. 1): The only way Cam Newton isn’t the NFL’s MVP if is they change the meaning of the acronym to something like “Mint Veal Pancreas.”

2. Cardinals (11-2; No. 4): The new America’s Team is 4-0 in prime time, with another date on Sunday Night Football looming.

3. Patriots (11-2; No. 5): Every time Tom Brady runs with the ball, I expect to hear John Facendas voice. Then I realize it’s not actually slow motion.

4. Packers (9-4; No. 6): If Mike McCarthy is a genius for taking back play-calling duties, was he an idiot for giving them up?

5. Seahawks (8-5; No. 7): Cam Newton will be the MVP — and Russell Wilson could be the Super Bowl MVP.

6. Broncos (10-3; No. 2): It would be a good idea for the receivers and tight ends to stop dropping passes before Uncle Peyton starts throwing them again.

7. Steelers (8-5; No. 9): The most dangerous team in the AFC could still be watching the playoffs from home.

8. Chiefs (8-5; No. 8): Apparently, they were the best 1-5 team in NFL history.

9. Bengals (10-3; No. 3): Andy Dalton will finally prove his value to the Bengals through his inability to play.

10. Jets (8-5; No. 10): IK Enemkpali should be named team MVP.

11. Vikings (8-5; No. 11): Well, at least there’s now a chance they won’t get embarrassed in their one-and-out playoff appearance.

12. Raiders (6-7; No. 16): With Khalil Mack and Derek Carr, the future’s so bright that the logo will need a sunglass monocle.

13. Eagles (6-7; No. 18): Chip Kelly may not have called LeSean McCoy last week. Chip definitely should give him a call this week.

14. Washington (6-7; No. 19): Just when they stop winning at home, they figure out how to start winning on the road.

15. Giants (6-7; No. 20): Monday night’s game wasn’t a playoff game, but Eli Manning performed like it was.

16. Bills (6-7; No. 12): Doug Marrone got seven losses without LeSean McCoy or Tyrod Taylor.

17. Texans (6-7; No. 14): To have a chance at winning the division, they simply need to win in a city where they have never, ever won.

18. Buccaneers (6-7; No. 15): The Bucs are a lot better, but they’re still not good enough.

19. Bears (5-8; No. 17): Don’t worry, Robbie Gould. You’ll have a chance to miss key field goals with another team next year.

20. Colts (6-7; No. 13): Chuck Pagano says the team hasn’t quit. Imagine how ugly that 51-16 loss to the Jaguars would have looked if the team had.

21. Jaguars (5-8; No. 28): Hanging 51 points on the Colts could be the dam-breaking win the Jaguars needed.

22. Falcons (6-7; No. 21): If a vote of confidence is bad, is a vote of “complete confidence“worse?

23. Dolphins (5-8; No. 22): The uniform of the team from the ’70s looked good on Monday night. Players who play like those teams would look even better.

24. Rams (5-8; No. 27): And now it’s time for the late-season surge that will persuade ownership to stick with the status quo.

25. Saints (5-8; No. 29): Ending Carolina’s unbeaten streak would have been nice. Putting a fork in Tampa Bay’s playoff chances will be the consolation.

26. Lions (4-9; No. 23): At least ownership won’t have a tough decision to make about Jim Caldwell.

27. Cowboys (4-9; No. 25): Maybe the Cowboys should have signed the quarterback they’ll see on Saturday night, when the Jets come to town.

28. Ravens (4-9; No. 26): All the Ravens wanted for Christmas was to not have to play the Steelers at home on a Sunday night.

29. Browns (3-10; No. 32): The Factory of Sadness had an uncharacteristic holiday-season shutdown.

30. 49ers (4-9; No. 24): The 49ers fell victim to a trap game? The 49ers are the trap game.

31. Chargers (3-10; No. 31): How bad would this team be without Philip Rivers?

32. Titans (3-10; No. 30): Remember the Titans II: Forget the Titans.

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NFC playoff picture: Three-way tie in the East

Bashaud Breeland, DeMarco Murray AP

The NFC East stinks, but that’s a good thing for football fans: If that weren’t the case, the NFC playoff race would be boring.

We basically know all the playoff teams other than the NFC East winner: The Panthers and Cardinals are already in, the Packers are all but in, and the Seahawks and Vikings have a two-game lead over the rest of the wild card field with three games to play.

So as we review the NFC playoff picture, the one big question mark is which team will win the East:

LEADERS
1. Panthers (13-0): They’ve already clinched a first-round bye and could clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs as soon as Sunday.

2. Cardinals (11-2): Arizona would win a tiebreaker with Carolina, but that would require Carolina to lose two games, which is exceedingly unlikely.

3. Packers (9-4): Green Bay has a one-game lead over Minnesota in the NFC North.

4. Washington (6-7): They own the tiebreaker over both the Giants and Eagles, based on a head-to-head win against the Eagles and a better division record than the Giants.

5. Seahawks (8-5): Seattle is playing as well as anyone right now, but the Seahawks will likely have to win three straight road games in January to get back to the Super Bowl.

6. Vikings (8-5): If Minnesota wins out, it wins the NFC North, thanks to a Week 17 date with Green Bay.

LONG-SHOT WILD CARD CONTENDERS
7. Buccaneers (6-7): Tampa Bay is now an extreme long shot to make the playoffs.

8. Falcons (6-7): Atlanta has cratered since starting 5-0.

NFC EAST CONTENDERS
9. Eagles (6-7): Philadelphia controls its destiny, needing only to win out with a Week 16 game against Washington.

10. Giants (6-7): New York has a tough road ahead, finishing with Carolina, Minnesota and Philadelphia. The Giants are a long shot.

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AFC playoff picture: Patriots in, five good teams vie for four spots

Rob Gronkowski, Sylvester Williams AP

Here are the three things you need to know about the AFC playoff race: The Patriots are in. Five good teams are vying for four other playoff spots. And someone has to win the AFC South.

This is the way the playoff race shapes up through Week 13:

LEADERS
1. Patriots (11-2): New England has clinched a playoff berth and has the inside track for home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

2. Bengals (10-3): For now Cincinnati has the tiebreaker over Denver, but that will be decided when the teams meet in Week 16.

3. Broncos (10-3): If Denver wins out it gets a first-round bye.

4. Colts (6-7): Someone has to win the AFC South, and right now that “someone” looks like the Colts — potentially with third-stringer Charlie Whitehurst at quarterback.

5. Chiefs (8-5): Kansas City owns the conference record tiebreaker over the Jets and Steelers

6. Jets (8-5): New York currently owns the AFC record tiebreaker over Pittsburgh.

OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
7. Steelers (8-5): If Pittsburgh wins out it’s in the playoffs, even if the Jets and Chiefs win out, too.

AFC SOUTH CONTENDERS
Texans (6-7): Houston can move into first place with a win in Indianapolis on Sunday.

Jaguars (5-8): Jacksonville is a long shot, but if the Jaguars can get to 8-8, that may be enough to win their terrible division.

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NFL morning after: League should crack down on fake injuries

Von Miller AP

During Sunday’s Raiders-Broncos game, an Oakland pass along the sideline was ruled a completion, but Denver thought the receiver failed to get both feet inbounds. The Broncos wanted to have time to check the replay and throw the challenge flag as the Raiders were lining up to run the next play, so Broncos linebacker Von Miller did the one thing a player can always do to get the officials to halt the game: He said he was injured.

Specifically, Miller flopped onto the ground, holding his leg. It was a bad acting job that Dan Fouts, calling the game on CBS, immediately called out as a fake injury. But it had its desired effect: The officials stopped the game for Miller’s “injury,” and the Broncos successfully challenged the play.

Some people laugh that stuff off as gamesmanship, but the fact is that it’s cheating. And it’s a particularly insidious kind of cheating because it exploits the NFL’s player safety rules, which say that a game must be stopped when a player is hurt.

What can the NFL do about it? For starters, it can fine both Miller and the Broncos. The league has taken that step once before, when the Steelers were fined $35,000 and Emmanuel Sanders was fined $15,000 in 2012 because Sanders pretended to be hurt to give the Steelers’ offense time to change a play without a delay of game penalty. Those fines are a good first step toward cracking down on fake injuries, but they’re insufficient. That’s just not enough money to discourage an NFL team or player from faking an injury. Steeper fines and the loss of draft picks would go a long way toward sending the message that fake injuries won’t be tolerated.

The NFL could also change the rules on how injured players are handled. Currently, the rule is that if the clock stops to give a player medical attention on the field, that player must sit out one play. A rule requiring the player to sit out the rest of that possession would make players a lot less likely to fake an injury, and would have the added benefit of ensuring that team medical personnel have enough time to diagnose and treat injured players on the sideline.

What the NFL can’t do is have referees throw penalty flags on injury fakers. There’s just no way for a ref to know for sure, in the heat of the moment, that a player is faking. A 15-yard penalty would be the easiest way to stop fake injuries, but that’s just not going to happen.

So what the NFL will have to start doing is handling fake injuries through the league’s disciplinary process. The Broncos and Miller should be hearing from the league this week.

Here are my other thoughts from Sunday:

Calvin Johnson is the NFL’s most expensive decoy. The Lions are paying Megatron $20 million a year, by far the most that any NFL receiver gets paid. And yet they’re barely using him in their offense: Yesterday he caught one pass. There’s simply no excuse for allocating that much cap space to a player you don’t even use. The new G.M. in Detroit next year will have a tough decision to make about whether the Lions can continue to justify Johnson’s enormous contract.

The Colts are terrible, and could still make the playoffs. The Colts have lost their last two games by a combined score of 96-26. Yesterday they were obliterated, 51-16, by a bad Jaguars team. And yet it’s still entirely possible that Indianapolis will win the AFC South. This is an absolutely awful division.

Todd Gurley remains incredible. Gurley had 16 carries for 140 yards and two touchdowns in yesterday’s win over the Lions, and his 49-yard run was his fifth run of 40 or more yards this season, the most in the NFL. There was some talk in recent weeks that he had hit a rookie wall, but Gurley is still the best rookie in the NFL.

Marcus Mariota had one big play in defeat. Last Sunday, Mariota was brilliant. Yesterday, Mariota struggled through much of the Titans’ 30-8 loss to the Jets. But Mariota did catch a 41-yard touchdown pass on a trick play. That makes him the only player in the NFL this year who has a touchdown run, a touchdown pass and a touchdown catch.

The AFC wild card race is heating up. The Chiefs, Jets and Steelers all won yesterday to improve to 8-5, and they’re going to have a very interesting three-way race for the two AFC wild card spots. The Chiefs appear to have the best chance because their remaining three games are against three bad teams, the Ravens, Browns and Raiders. The Jets still have to play the Patriots (as well as the Cowboys and Bills), while the Steelers still have to play the Broncos (as well as the Ravens and Browns). A pretty good team is going to get left out.

An awful injury for Thomas Rawls. Rawls, the Seahawks’ undrafted rookie running back who burst out of nowhere as a replacement for and even an improvement on Marshawn Lynch, suffered a season-ending broken ankle yesterday. Rawls’s rookie season ended with 147 carries for 830 yards, a 5.65-yard average that is the second best in NFL history for a rookie running back who had at least 140 carries. Only Maurice Jones-Drew, who averaged 5.67 yards a carry as a rookie in 2006, had a higher average as a rookie.

Andy Dalton’s injury changes everything. The Bengals had a real shot at the Super Bowl and Dalton was playing at a very high level, but Dalton’s likely season-ending broken thumb is devastating for Cincinnati. It was a terrible Sunday on the injury front, both the real kind and the fake kind.

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