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Week 13 power rankings

Packers Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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AFC playoff picture: Division, conference records helping Miami

Jeff Cumberland, Jelani Jenkins AP

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

So how did the Dolphins pull that off?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE BIG SIX

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

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

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

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

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

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

JUST MISSING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

marvinlewis AP

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

Lewis threw the red challenge flag.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are my other thoughts on Sunday’s action:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NFC playoff picture: Fading Panthers can still make an impact

Everson Griffen, Cam Newton AP

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE BIG SIX

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

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

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

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

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

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

JUST MISSING

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

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

THE REST OF THE NFC SOUTH

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

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

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Week 13 early inactives

Denver Broncos v Oakland Raiders Getty Images

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

Chargers at Ravens

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

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

Browns at Bills

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

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

Titans at Texans

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

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

Redskins at Colts

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

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

Giants at Jaguars

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

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

Panthers at Vikings

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

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

Saints at Steelers

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

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

Raiders at Rams

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

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

Bengals at Buccaneers

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

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

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Memo from Jeff Pash to owners regarding Ray Rice ruling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Week 13 injury report roundup

San Francisco 49ers v Arizona Cardinals Getty Images

Over the course of the week, there are a lot of posts about the most prominent injured players but we know that you might not see all of them and that some others may fall through the cracks. As a result, we’ll comb through all the injury reports every Friday afternoon so that there’s one stop for all the news from every team playing on Sunday. So, without further delay, the injury report roundup for Week 13 of the 2014 season.

Chargers at Ravens

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

Browns at Bills

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

Titans at Texans

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

Redskins at Colts

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

Giants at Jaguars

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

Panthers at Vikings

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

Saints at Steelers

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

Raiders at Rams

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

Bengals at Buccaneers

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

Cardinals at Falcons

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

Patriots at Packers

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

Broncos at Chiefs

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

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Statement from lawyer Peter Ginsberg regarding Ray Rice ruling

Peter Ginsberg, Billy Martin, Joel Segal AP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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PFT’s Week 13 picks

Peyton AP

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

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

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

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

Bears at Lions

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

MDS’s pick: Lions 14, Bears 10.

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

Florio’s pick:  Lions 31, Bears 20.

Eagles at Cowboys

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

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 24, Eagles 21.

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

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 34, Eagles 27.

Seahawks at 49ers

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

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 20, 49ers 13.

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

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

Washington at Colts

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

MDS’s pick: Colts 31, Washington 10.

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

Florio’s pick:  Colts 34, Washington 20.

Titans at Texans

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

MDS’s pick: Texans 31, Titans 17.

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

Florio’s pick:  Texans 27, Titans 13.

Browns at Bills

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

MDS’s pick: Bills 23, Browns 20.

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

Florio’s pick:  Bills 24, Browns 20.

Chargers at Ravens

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

MDS’s pick: Ravens 28, Chargers 17.

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

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 27, Chargers 20.

Giants at Jaguars

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

MDS’s pick: Giants 15, Jaguars 7.

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

Florio’s pick:  Giants 24, Jaguars 17.

Bengals at Buccaneers

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

MDS’s pick: Bengals 27, Buccaneers 7.

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

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 27, Buccaneers 17.

Raiders at Rams

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

MDS’s pick: Rams 28, Raiders 14.

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

Florio’s pick:  Rams 27, Raiders 14.

Saints at Steelers

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

MDS’s pick: Steelers 27, Saints 17.

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

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 24, Saints 20.

Panthers at Vikings

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

MDS’s pick: Vikings 16, Panthers 10.

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

Florio’s pick:  Vikings 20, Panthers 16.

Cardinals at Falcons

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

MDS’s pick: Cardinals 24, Falcons 10.

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

Florio’s pick:   Cardinals 23, Falcons 13.

Patriots at Packers

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

MDS’s pick: Patriots 31, Packers 28.

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

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 27, Packers 24.

Broncos at Chiefs

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

MDS’s pick: Broncos 34, Chiefs 20.

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

Florio’s pick:   Chiefs 27, Broncos 24.

Dolphins at Jets

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

MDS’s pick: Dolphins 34, Jets 17.

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

Florio’s pick:  Dolphins 27, Jets 13.

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Week 12 power rankings

Brady AP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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AFC playoff picture: Ravens can chart their own path

Baltimore Ravens v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

THE BIG SIX

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

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

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

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

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

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

JUST MISSING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corey Peters AP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NFL morning after: Brady and Belichick seeking their fourth ring

brady AP

The Patriots are the best team in the NFL, and Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are 10 weeks away from earning their fourth Super Bowl rings.

That’s what I was thinking as I watched the 34-9 beatdown the Patriots put up on a previously pretty good Lions team on Sunday. This New England team has the best offense in the NFL, an offense that, for the last seven games, hasn’t been far off from the insanely great offense of the 16-0 Patriots team in 2007.

Seven games. That’s how many the Patriots have played since that ugly meltdown against the Chiefs, the 41-14 loss in Kansas City that had people claiming Tom Brady was washed up and the New England dynasty was done. Here’s all the Patriots have done in the seven games since then:

— For starters, they’ve won seven straight games. That alone is remarkable in this NFL season, when it seems like every other week the team that we’re sure is on top of the league gets knocked off its perch. No other team is currently on a win streak of more than three games. Seven in a row in today’s NFL is extraordinarily hard to do.

— And they’re not just winning. They’re dominating. Six of the Patriots’ seven wins during their current streak are by margins of 15 points or more. The Patriots have outscored their opponents by a total score of 277-137. That’s an average score of 40-20. A three-touchdown victory is the norm.

— Tom Brady has multiple touchdown passes in each of the last seven games. He’s thrown 22 scores and only four interceptions during this winning streak.

Rob Gronkowski has gotten back to being Gronk, which means he’s emerged as a matchup nightmare, just like he always is when he’s actually healthy enough to play like himself. But perhaps more importantly, Brady has been spreading the ball around to a whole lot of different receivers. Those 22 touchdown passes in the last seven games include six to Gronk, six to Timothy Wright, four to Brandon LaFell, three to Shane Vereen, one to Danny Amendola, one to Brian Tyms and one to Julian Edelman.

— The Patriots can run the ball any way they want. LeGarrette Blount was signed last week, had a couple days of practice, and carried 12 times for 78 yards and two touchdowns against the Lions yesterday. That came a week after newcomer Jonas Gray ran for 201 yards and four touchdowns in a win over the Colts. When the Patriots started this streak, it was Stevan Ridley who had 113 rushing yards in a win over the Bengals. Shane Vereen has also taken a couple turns as the Patriots’ top rusher.

The Patriots’ defense isn’t great, but it’s good enough, and I wouldn’t bet against Belichick having his defense playing its best football in January. Belichick is just so good at what he does. If he wins his fourth Super Bowl ring, there will be a case that he’s the best coach in NFL history. And in turning this team around like he has over the last seven weeks, Belichick may be doing his best coaching job yet.

New England was the best team in the NFL on Sunday. Here are my other thoughts:

Here’s why people love Bruce Arians. ESPN aired a segment Sunday morning called “My Best Day,” in which NFL players and coaches talked about the best day of their lives. Arians chose the day that he was able to relinquish his job as the Colts’ interim head coach because his boss, Chuck Pagano, had recovered from cancer treatments and was ready to take over again. That’s the kind of man Arians is: He was in the midst of a very successful year in which he finally got to live his dream as an NFL head coach, and the day that he stepped aside to give the head-coaching job back to Pagano is the day he chose as the best of his life, because he cares so deeply about Pagano as a person that Pagano’s health means far more to him than his own personal achievements. I watched that segment and I wanted to run through a brick wall for Arians. I can’t imagine what it’s like to play for him. The Cardinals lost on Sunday, but Arians remains the leading candidate for the coach of the year.

Jim Caldwell needs to get more aggressive. As the Lions fell behind the Patriots early on Sunday, Caldwell sent the punt or field goal teams onto the field on a fourth-and-6, a fourth-and-goal from the 2, a fourth-and-3 and a fourth-and-1. Later, Caldwell wasted a timeout on fourth-and-14 because he couldn’t make a decision about whether to go for it or kick a field goal. (The Lions kicked after the timeout.) I don’t know how many opportunities Caldwell thought he was going to get, but if you want to win at New England, you’re going to need to take some chances. Caldwell wouldn’t, and his team paid for it.

Teddy’s not ready. Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater may one day become a very good NFL quarterback, but he’s not there yet. Sunday’s loss to the Packers showed why Bridgewater would still be on the sideline if Matt Cassel hadn’t suffered a season-ending injury. Bridgewater’s stats don’t look terrible — he completed 21 of 37 passes for 210 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception — but he missed open receivers several times early in the game, and that cost the Vikings the game. On a day when Minnesota’s defense played well enough to win, Bridgewater couldn’t deliver.

Welcome back, Josh Gordon. In his first game of the season after serving a substance-abuse suspension, Gordon was the Browns’ best player on Sunday. Gordon, who led the NFL with an average of 117.6 receiving yards per game last year, caught eight passes for 120 yards to lead Cleveland to a win at Atlanta. Gordon is picking up right where he left off, and the Browns have a good chance to make the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

Your weekly reminder that the NFC South is terrible. The Falcons are 4-7, and they’ll be in first place if the Ravens beat the Saints tonight. The Falcons still haven’t beaten a single team from outside their division: They’re 4-0 against their fellow NFC South teams and they’re 0-7 against the rest of the NFL after yesterday’s loss to the Browns. It’s entirely possible that a five-win team could win the NFC South.

Think Mark Sanchez likes playing for Chip Kelly? Sanchez completed 30 of 43 passes for 307 yards in the Eagles’ 43-24 win over the Titans on Sunday. Sanchez never even had two straight 300-yard games in his 68 career starts with the Jets, but he now has three straight 300-yard games after his first three starts with the Eagles.

What Dominic Raiola did was bush league. Raiola, the Lions’ center, admitted that he took a shot at the knees of Patriots defensive tackle Zach Moore because he didn’t like the Patriots running up the score. The NFL should discipline Raiola and send a message that such cheap shots are unacceptable. The Patriots are running it up on everyone because they’re better than everyone. They shouldn’t have to take cheap shots just because they’re winning big.

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Week 12 early inactives

Indianapolis Colts v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

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

Browns at Falcons

Browns: TE Jordan Cameron, WR Marlon Moore, LB Karlos Dansby, WR Rodney Smith, CB Pierre Desir, DB Robert Nelson, OL Vinston Painter

Falcons: CB Robert Alford, T Jonathan Scott, QB Sean Renfree, LB Tyler Starr, T Cameron Bradfield, LB James Anderson, DT Cliff Matthews

Buccaneers at Bears

Buccaneers: LB Lavonte David, WR Robert Herron, RB Mike James, CB Crezdon Butler CB C.J. Wilson, T Kevin Pamphile, DE Da’Quan Bowers

Bears: DE Trevor Scott, WR Chris Williams, LB Darryl Sharpton, CB Terrance Mitchell, LB Khaseem Greene, OL Eben Britton, T Jordan Mills

Bengals at Texans

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

Texans: CB Kareem Jackson, RB Arian Foster, QB Tom Savage, WR DeVier Posey, LB Max Bullough, T Jeff Adams, DB Josh Aubrey

Jaguars at Colts

Jaguars: DE Andre Branch, LB Jeremiah George, WR Mike Brown, CB Teddy Williams, RB Storm Johnson, G Tyler Shatley, OT Sam Young

Colts: TE Dwayne Allen, T Gosder Cherilus, CB Greg Toler, OL Lance Louis, C Khaled Holmes, DT Kelcy Quarles, DT Zach Kerr

Packers at Vikings

Packers: TE Brandon Bostick, QB Scott Tolzien, CB Jarrett Bush, LB Nick Perry, LB Carl Bradford, C Garth Gerhart, WR Jeff Janis

Vikings: RB Matt Asiata, DT Sharrif Floyd, FB Zach Line, LB Mike Mauti, LB Brandon Watts, G David Yankey, G Austin Wentworth

Lions at Patriots

Lions: DT Nick Fairley, G Larry Warford, QB Kellen Moore, DE Larry Webster, RB Reggie Bush, TE Kellen Davis, WR Ryan Broyles

Patriots: DE Chandler Jones, T Cameron Fleming, RB James White, WR Aaron Dobson, CB Malcolm Butler, DL Dominique Easley, OL Jordan Devey

Titans at Eagles

Titans: QB Charlie Whitehurst, WR Kris Durham, CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, DB Marqueston Huff, T Will Svitek, TE Richard Gordon, DE Ropati Pitoitua

Eagles: QB Nick Foles, CB Roc Carmichael, DB Jaylen Watkins, OL Julian Vandervelde, OL Dennis Kelly, WR Jeff Maehl, DL Taylor Hart

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Week 12 “Three and Out”

Romo AP

With only six Sundays left in the season, things are getting more and more interesting for the teams in contention.  And, for some of the teams not in contention, more and more dysfunctional.

Speaking of dysfunctional, PFT continues to produce every Saturday a three-questions-per-game look at every contest to be played on every Sunday.  There’s one less Sunday game this week, with Jets-Bills moved to Monday.  But with only two teams on byes, there will be plenty of stuff going on in the twelfth Sunday of 2014.

To get up to speed on all of the action, perform the action that requires precious little effort — scroll down.

Browns at Falcons

1.  How much will Josh Gordon be used?

Plenty.  Heavily.  Extensively.

Officially, the Browns plan to ease Gordon, who missed 10 games under his latest drug suspension, back into the game plan.  The Falcons aren’t buying it.  Neither is anyone else.

Gordon remains one of the best receivers in the NFL.  He potentially opens up the rest of the offense.  He’ll be on the field, and he’ll be a key contributor.

2.  What kind of chemistry do Gordon and Brian Hoyer have?

Given that they have played in only three games together, this isn’t quite Montana and Rice.  But in their very first career game together last year, it was.

Hoyer and Gordon connected 10 times for 146 yards and a touchdown against the Vikings.  It was the last time the Browns played in a dome.

On Sunday, Gordon and Hoyer are together again.  In a dome again.  So, yeah, things could get interesting.

3.  Do the Falcons wash their hands enough?

Apparently not.  Three offensive starters have missed time this week with the flu.

Receiver Julio Jones, running back Steven Jackson, and fullback Patrick DiMarco headline the victims of the virus.  Coach Mike Smith has said Jones will play, and he’s listed a probable (as are Jackson and DiMarco).  But will Jones be ready?

It’s been kind of difficult,” Roddy White said this week regarding the absence of Julio Jones. “Going through plays and stuff, we’ve got people moving around.  He’s just got to get healthy.  He’s going through the flu bug so we’ve just got to get him right and get him ready on Sunday.”

Buccaneers at Bears

1.  What kind of reception will Lovie Smith get?

The over/under on signs that say “Lovie Come Home” or something similar at Soldier Field should be 52.5.  Smith, whom linebacker Lance Briggs has said should be regarded among the best coaches in franchise history with George Halas and Mike Dikta, remains beloved in Chicago.  Smith is likely even more beloved now that the team is struggling under Marc Trestman.

Those cheers could quickly subside if/when Smith and his 2-8 Bucs upend the Bears, who continue to struggle even though they managed to outscore the Vikings a week ago.  Or maybe Bears fans will convert to Tampa fans.  After all, the Buccaneers are a lot closer to playoff contention in the NFC South than the Bears are in the NFC North.

2.  Can Mike Evans keep it going?

There’s no reason to think he can’t.  The rookie told PFT Live earlier this week that the pro game already has slowed down for him.  His performances the past three weeks underscore that reality.

In each of the last three games, Smith has seven catches.  In each of the last three games, he generated at least 124 passing yards.  In each of the last three games, he scored at least one touchdown.

Last Sunday, Evans became the youngest player in league history to surpass 200 receiving yards in one game, securing the NFC offensive player of the week award with seven catches for 209 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

With size, speed, and uncanny ball skills, Evans quickly is becoming one of the best receivers in the NFL.  Soon, he could simply be one of the best receivers in the NFL, regardless of age.

3.  Will the clocks at Soldier Field work any better this week?

They can’t work much worse.  Last week, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer wasn’t happy with a malfunction that forced quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to play a soccer-style guessing game regarding the amount of time remaining.  This week, the situation apparently has been remedied.

“That was a first, and we’d like to say a last,” a Soldier Field spokesman said this week.  “But the [clocks] are ready for Sunday.”

The one thing we know for sure is that, given Lovie Smith’s more laid-back style, it’s unlikely he’ll describe the clocks the same way Zimmer did.

Bengals at Texans

1.  Which Andy Dalton will show up?

Good question.  Two weeks ago, it was Andy Dalton 2.0.  Last Sunday, it was Andy Dalton 2.0.

Having a healthy and productive receiver A.J. Green helped; Green generated 127 receiving yards against the Saints.  Rookie running back Jeremy Hill added 152 on the ground.  Now, running back Gio Bernard has recovered from a hip injury.  So Dalton has weapons.

Of course, the Texans have a fairly potent weapon in defensive end J.J. Watt.  If he can make Dalton uncomfortable, we may see more of the guy who failed in Cleveland two weeks ago — and less of the guy who beat the Saints in their own building.

2.  Are the Texans a legitimate contender?

Only one game behind the Colts, Houston has a pair of encounters remaining against Jacksonville and a visit from the Titans.  That should get Houston to eight wins.  Standing between eight and 11 are the Bengals, Colts, and Ravens.

The test starts Sunday.  Beat the Bengals, and nine games should be a sure thing — 10 games will be a strong possibility.

3.  With Gio Bernard healthy, how much will we see Jeremy Hill?

With Bernard injured, Hill gained more than 360 yards in three games.  Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson says that has resulted in Hill earning more time once Bernard returns on Sunday.

While the Hill-Bernard rotation could drive fantasy owners crazy down the stretch, it could help the Bengals hold off the other three teams in the AFC North.

Jaguars at Colts

1.  What will the Colts do without Ahmad Bradshaw?

Trent Richardson gets yet another chance to justify Indy’s decision to send a first-round pick for the guy on whom the Browns burned the No. 3 overall selection.  Richardson currently has an average of 3.4 yards per carry; Bradshaw, who is out for the year with a broken bone in his leg, was gaining 4.7 yards per attempt.

If Richardson can’t get it done, look for Boom Herron to get more chances.

One guy who won’t be helping the cause is Ben Tate.  While the Colts made a waivers claim on the former Browns tailback, the Vikings had priority.  Surprisingly, the Colts showed no interest in LeGarrette Blount, who gained 166 yards and scored four touchdowns against Indy in the 2013 playoffs.

2.  Could Coby Fleener have a big game?

With tight end Dwayne Allen ruled out due to an ankle injury, Fleener will get a chance to build on his Week 11 performance, which resulted in 144 receiving yards.

I think he’s playing better than I’ve ever seen him,” receiver (former, as of Saturday afternoon) Griff Whalen said this week of his Stanford and Colts teammate. “His demeanor on the field is more physical and more aggressive. After the catch, he’s not shying away from contact. He’s embracing it.”

It’s not bad for a guy who nearly quit football in high school, but who stuck with it because a scholarship was the only path to college.

3.  Does Jags coach Gus Bradley like a little scuffling in practice?

Absolutely.  It happened on Thursday, and Bradley approved.

“We had some guys getting together and had to break them up a little bit but through competition going on,” Bradley said.  “It was a very spirited practice. . . .  It wasn’t like a like a big fight. It was just a scuffle.”

But it shows that the Jaguars still have a little fight in them, despite having only one win on the year.

Packers at Vikings

1.  Will Teddy Bridgewater’s presence make a difference?

Probably not.  While the rookie definitely represents a step up over Christian Ponder, who played poorly when Bridgewater was injured in Week Five, Bridgewater has yet to play like he did in his debut as a starter against the Falcons.

And the Falcons are a far cry from the Packers, who have been rolling over every team in their path.  To outscore Green Bay, Bridgewater must be able to go toe-to-toe with Aaron Rodgers.  Few quarterbacks in the NFL currently can pull that off.

2.  How much will Ben Tate play?

Tate was cut by the Browns in part because he didn’t like his role.  In Minnesota, he doesn’t care what his role will be.

He could have a fairly significant one, given that Matt Asiata won’t play this week with a concussion.

Of course, none of the team’s running backs will have much of a role if the Packers run away with the game the way they ran away with the first round last month in Green Bay.

3.  Will Clay Matthews be used outside or inside?

For now, it looks like he’ll primarily stay inside.  Even with outside linebacker Nick Perry questionable due to a shoulder injury, the Packers may opt not to slide Matthews, who is probable with a groin injury, from the inside.

“I think it’s more of a next man up type of mentality around here,” Matthews said this week. “I’m sure [Jayrone] Eliott will have more opportunities as well as Mike [Neal] and [Julius Peppers]. As we have seen in weeks prior, I rush off the edge and play in the middle, so wherever they need me, I will be there.”​

Lions at Patriots

1.  Will the Patriots double-team Ndamukong Suh?

Not constantly.  Coach Bill Belichick is leery about devoting too many resources to stifling Suh.

“As much as you try to double anybody, say Suh, sometimes you can’t because the guy you would have doubling him has to block a blitzer in pass protection,” Belichick said this week. “They create some single matchups like that.”

Still, Belichick knows he needs to find a way to stop Suh.

He changes everything,” Belichick said later in the week.

2.  How much of LeGarrette Blount will we see?

We could see plenty.  Coach Bill Belichick says Blount’s role will be up to him.  It also may be up to Jonas Gray’s ability to show up on time.

With Gray being sent home after being late on Friday due a cell-phone battery snafu, Blount already has a leg up.

Blount used his legs in January, gaining 166 yards and scoring four touchdowns against the Colts.  Gray duplicated the four touchdowns and added 35 yards last Sunday against Indy.  Either guy could give the running game a boost as the weather turns and the wind starts to whip.

3.  How will the Lions deal with tight end Rob Gronkowski?

It sure sounds like they’d like to knock Gronk out of the game.

“Obviously, when we get him in situations where he’s having to block, our defensive ends, we’ve got to rough him up,” Lions safety Glover Quin said this week.  “When we get him in situations where he catches the ball, we’ve got to make sure we’re hitting him.”

Gronk has a history of getting injured, and he plays with reckless abandon. If you hit him hard and hit him often, there’s a chance he gets injured and exits the game.

Before 2012, it was a given that teams should aspire to put the opponent’s best players on the sidelines.  The bounty scandal forced that talk to become muted.  But the incentive remains.  For the Lions, rendering Gronkowski unable to play could be the difference between winning and losing.

Titans at Eagles

1.  How is Mark Sanchez doing?

It depends on who you ask.  Sanchez thinks he’s not doing well enough.  Coach Chip Kelly seems to think he’s doing OK.

The numbers suggest Sanchez is struggling.  But the Eagles currently have no viable alternative to Sanchez.  They need to simply hold it together while Nick Foles‘ collarbone heals.

With seven good teams jockeying for five playoff berths in the NFC, it may not heal in time to salvage Philly’s seat at the postseason table.

2.  How is Zach Mettenberger doing?

He had a solid showing on Monday night, averaging 11 yards per throw and racking up a passer rating of 110.2.  But the rookie has yet to earn a victory for the Titans, who have lost four in a row.

Still, his teammates believe in him.

I think Zach has been doing outstanding,” veteran receiver Nate Washington said this week.  “He brings a lot to the table, a big strong arm. He’s smart behind the center, knows what is going.  We were playing the Pittsburgh Steelers, and as a rookie he gave his all.  He is progressing every week, and I think Zach has a huge, bright future in this league and I am excited to watch him grow.”

“He throws a pick-six on the first play of the game and it takes a lot of maturity and a lot of consistency and love for the game to not just throw it in from there,” tackle Taylor Lewan said. “That kind of stuff will get you, and he just bounced right back and started slinging the ball.  That’s the kind of guy he is.  I think he somewhat made a name for himself.”

He would have made more of a name for himself if the Titans had beaten the Steelers.  He has another chance to do it against the other team from Pennsylvania.

3.  Is LeSean McCoy the same player he was in 2013?

He says he is.

“Man, listen: I don’t care what’s out there,” McCoy said this week.  “I’m not going to address, ‘Am I the same player?’  For what?  What are we talking about, am I the same player?  That’s for you all to figure out.  Are you crazy?  Am I the same player?  I am the same player.”
The evidence suggests otherwise.

72.9 yards per game on average.  3.7 yards per carry on average.

He has only one 100-yard game, and three with fewer than 25.  Injuries along the offensive line surely are a factor.  But it’s possible McCoy has indeed slipped, which could make it harder for coach Chip Kelly, who is willing to assess every player relative to skills, salary, and cap number, to justify bringing him back in 2015.

Rams at Chargers

1.  Is Philip Rivers injured?

Yes, but that isn’t slowing him down.

“I can honestly say that there’s nothing going on that’s hindering me in any way,” Rivers said this week. “Shoot, there’s a lot of guys in that locker room that are playing that are a lot sorer than I am.”

It’s not in Rivers’ DNA to cry uncle when it comes to injuries.

“Growing up around it, my dad always said, ‘Shoot, unless you can’t walk, you find a way to play, or find a way to get off the field,'” Rivers said.  “That was the main thing.  Don’t lay out there on the field.  I found my way off a few times last Sunday.”

The Chargers finally put Rivers on the injury report, three days after tight end Antonio Gates said the quarterback has a “very severe rib injury.”  But Rivers says he’ll play on Sunday, and that he’ll be “fresh.”

2.  Is Rivers’ center injured, again?

Yes.  And it could mean that the team’s fourth different starting center will play on Sunday.

Rich Ohrnberger is questionable; if he can’t play, rookie Chris Watt gets the nod.

Watt has 64 snaps at center so far, and he has been playing some guard.

“The old adage is, he’s no longer a rookie,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said this week. “He’s proven himself.”

3.  When will Chris Long be back?

Possibly soon.  He suffered an ankle injury in Week One, and he remains on injured reserve with designation for return, even though he could have returned to the active roster three weeks ago.

“He’s getting better each day,” coach Jeff Fisher said this week. “We’ll just wait and see how he is [Friday].  If that’s the case [and Long is ready], then obviously we have to make a roster move, so we’ll see how he is.”

Whether or not the roster move is made late Saturday, the roster move could be coming sooner.

Cardinals at Seahawks

1.  What’s wrong with Seattle’s passing game?

The easy answer is that receiver Golden Tate left for free agency, that receiver Percy Harvin was traded, and that tight end Zach Miller has landed on IR.  And that the offensive line has been banged up all year.

The tougher answer is the question of whether quarterback Russell Wilson has plateaued as a passer.  Heading into the season, it appeared he had found the proverbial next level.  Now, not.

Since a Monday night performance at Washington that launched an MVP campaign for the third-year quarterback, Wilson has lost a lot of his touch.

In the four games including the win at Washington, Wilson threw eight touchdown passes and one interception.  In the six games since then, five touchdown passes and four picks.  He also is missing open receivers and relying much more on his legs.

Whether it’s by the air or by the ground, the Seahawks need Wilson to come through on Sunday against Arizona, or the chances of repeating as NFC West champions will be slim and none even before a Thanksgiving night showdown against the 49ers.

2.  How much should be expected from Larry Fitzgerald?

It’s hard to say.  He has a Grade 2 MCL sprain, and as former NFL athletic trainer Mike Ryan explained earlier this week on PFT on NBCSN, that usually means the player will miss at least a week.

But Fitzgerald played a full half with the knee injury, and he remains optimistic that he’ll be able to go on Sunday.

Officially a game-time decision, Fitz has had a big game in every other game since the bye week.  This week, he’s due for another big game.  With the Cardinals unexpectedly soaring and one win away from delivering a regular-season knockout punch to the Seahawks, don’t count him out.

3.  How has Drew Stanton discovered his current level of performance?

In part, by revising his diet.  An offseason consultation with an allergist resulted in a determination that Stanton is allergic to milk.  In addition to dairy products, he also was advised to ditch pork, turkey, bananas, and cucumbers.

(Cucumbers?  If I couldn’t eat cucumbers I would no longer want to live.)

Stanton dropped 15 pounds, and he feels better than ever.

“I recover faster, feel light and still have my strength,” Stanton said this week. “I just feel a lot better at this weight.”

The way he’s playing, he’d feel good at any weight.

Dolphins at Broncos

1.  Why is Peyton Manning getting impatient?

Because he knows the window is closing on his team’s ability to force the road to Arizona through Denver.  And if the Broncos eventually have to return to Foxboro in January, it’s probably not going to end any better than it did three weeks ago.

Your sense of urgency has to increase,” Manning said this week.  “Realizing there aren’t many games left and we better get on it, better get going.  Need to play better, I need to play better, . . . You can say all you want, you can talk about doing it, but you’ve got to go and do it.”

It starts, in many respects, with the offensive line.  The Dolphins have the horses to swarm Manning like the Rams did last week, and like the Seahawks did in the Super Bowl.  That’s a lingering problem that needs to be fixed or the Broncos won’t be able to get back to the NFL championship game.  And if they do, they may get roughed up yet again.

2.  Is Bill Lazor worried about reports of griping from players?

Nope.

He says that any actual or perceived friction with players reflects that which is normal for NFL teams.

“You’ve been at practice, nothing is different,” Lazor said this week. “You’ve been at training camp where you could be at the whole practices.  I would like to think that, if the players were asked, that they would say I’ve been professional.

“I’d say there would probably be very, very few times that a curse word has come out of my mouth, but that I’m demanding from them.  The greatest feedback I’ve gotten from our players in one-on-one settings is when they’ve told me how much they appreciate the expectations I have for the offense.”

Those expectations, for the most part, haven’t been met.  So the truth is that the players, not the coaches, are the more likely source of any friction.

3.  Will the Broncos sign Richie Incognito?

Denver hasn’t given him a job yet; if he’d been on the team for Sunday’s visit from Miami, the story lines (and punchlines) would have written themselves.  It remains unclear whether Denver will give him a shot.

No real updates,” coach John Fox said this week. “It’s kind of a personnel matter and we did have him in for a workout. I think that was well-documented. . . .  We work out a lot of people throughout the season. We’re always looking to improve our football team any way possible and I’ll leave it at that.”

So what does Incognito’s former head coach think of the possibility of Incognito getting a job with the Broncos?

“I think Denver has a great front office and a great personnel staff, and they have to certainly make decisions that are best for their football team,” coach Joe Philbin said.  “I’ll leave it at that.”

So they’ll both leave it at that.  For now, the NFL has continued to leave Incognito on his couch.

Washington at 49ers

1.  What should be expected from Aldon Smith in his second game of the year?

Plenty.  In his first game after a nine-game suspension, Smith participated in 54 of 68 defensive snaps.  His mere presence helped make it easier for his teammates to create pressure on Eli Manning, by diluting the available protection.

This week, the protection for Washington could be diluted from the get-go, if left tackle Trent Williams (knee, ankle) can’t play.  Williams’ absence would thrust rookie Morgan Moses into the fray, and he’d be facing Smith.

In other words, quarterback Robert Griffin III had better be ready to run.

2.  Is Robert Griffin III in trouble?

Yes, if the head coach has any say in Griffin’s future.  On Monday, Jay Gruden called out the quarterback both for calling out teammates and for not playing very well.  Gruden later said he went too far — and then he went even farther, calling Griffin “coddled” and making it clear that the “clock’s ticking” on the second overall pick in the 2012 draft.

Gruden specifically mentioned that Colt McCoy has generated a 2-0 record during games played while Griffin was injured.  McCoy could end up playing while Griffin is not injured.

After the year, Washington could be moving on from Griffin — if Gruden gets to make the call on the future of the quarterback position.

3.  Is Jay Gruden in trouble?

Yes, if the owner still remains fully committed to the guy for whom the team gave up three first-round picks and a second-round pick less than three years ago.

While Daniel Snyder and president/G.M. Bruce Allen have remained silent about this week’s string of regrettable remarks from quarterback and coach, they surely have an opinion.  If the opinion is that the first-year head coach has unfairly undermined the franchise quarterback, the franchise may not give the coach a second year.

Cowboys at Giants

1.  Will Cowboys limit DeMarco Murray’s touches?

They claim they won’t, but they should.  The Giants have the worst run defense in the entire league, and the Cowboys have to play again on Thursday, against the Eagles.

This would be a great opportunity to get Murray a little rest, give Joseph Randle some reps, and have Murray ready to roll on a short week made even shorter by playing on Sunday night and again on Thursday afternoon.

2.  How healthy is Tony Romo?

He apparently has recovered from the fractured transverse processes in his back, but he still doesn’t practice on Wednesdays due to the broader concerns about the condition of his spine.  With a game on Thursday, that’s more than a little concerning.

The best move for the Cowboys would be to build a big lead on Sunday night and then get Romo out of the game, so that he’ll have maximum time to rest before facing Philly with the division lead on the line.

3.  Is Eli Manning on the hot seat?

We’d have a more clear picture if his coach were Jay Gruden.  And while no one with the Giants is saying anything bad about Eli (indeed, co-owner John Mara has praised him), the seat has heat as it relates to a contract that expires after the 2015 season.

With a salary of $17 million and a cap number of $19.5 million next year, it could become very difficult to apply the right value to Eli for 2016 and beyond.  Impasse on that point could be the thing that ultimately forces the Giants to move on, because they surely won’t be inclined to apply the franchise tag to Manning in 2016, when based on his 2015 cap number he’d be owed a guaranteed salary of $23.4 million.

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