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Walkie-talkie scandal further undermines #DeflateGate outcome

The Giants unwittingly, and ironically, have done plenty in the past two Sundays to exonerate the Patriots for #DeflateGate. Yes, Giants co-owner John Mara is believed to have lobbied (along with others) for unreasonably stiff punishment of the Patriots. And, yes, the conduct of the team Mara owns in consecutive games has helped the punishment seem even more unreasonable than it was.

As to #DeflateGate II, the Giants forced the NFL into a clumsy, awkward spot by complaining about Pittsburgh footballs under circumstances that could have been easily explained by natural deflation on a cold day. The NFL couldn’t say that without indirectly clearing the Patriots, so the NFL initially circled the wagons — and then eventually veered off script with a comment that later had to be described as the product of a misstatement.

As to the walkie-talkie scandal, the looming decision to give the Giants a relative slap on the wrist for a blatant and brazen violation of a known rule shows how bizarre it was to hammer the Patriots for a rule that was, essentially, the exact opposite.

Regarding the Giants, coach Ben McAdoo broke a rule that is clear and known and obvious. Every year, all 32 teams are reminded of it. There is no ambiguity or confusion or lack of clarity. The walkie-talkie is present on the sideline, it can be used only by the backup quarterback, it can be used only for listening not speaking, and the coach can never, ever touch it.

Badly breaking this bright-line rule clearly undermines the integrity of the game; if not, all 32 teams wouldn’t get a reminder of the rule every single year. The violation gives the coach a chance to talk to the quarterback under circumstances that would permit the communications to occur beyond the cutoff when the play clock hits 15 seconds.

As to #DeflateGate, there was nothing clear or known or obvious. The rule book contains a permitted range of inflation (12.5 PSI to 13.5 PSI) because it always has. It’s been in the rule book for so long that no one really knows where it came from or how it got there.

Before January 2015, the NFL never paid any attention to the question of whether teams intentionally or accidentally were using footballs that deviated from the acceptable range. Former NFL official and supervisor of officials Jim Daopoulos explained in the early days of #DeflateGate on PFT Live that football inflation had never before been an issue or a consideration. The use during the AFC championship game of two gauges that varied by 0.4 PSI underscored the fact that football air pressure was regarded as anything but a laboratory science.

Speaking of science, the fact that the NFL didn’t know that air pressure drops in footballs on cold days further highlights the reality that the entire subject resided in one of the league’s various blind spots, with no specific procedures or warnings or memoranda or anything else aimed at sealing off an avenue for chicanery and clearly and plainly explaining to teams what is and isn’t permitted on a regular basis.

Coupled with the fact that the evidence of tampering with the footballs was inconclusive at best, the decision to hammer the Patriots while not hammering the Giants becomes even more glaring and more obviously the result not of a genuine desire to protect and promote the integrity of the league but to find a way to justify punishing a team that has consistently excelled, that is repeatedly suspected of cheating (because how else can other coaches explain to their owners the dominance of the Patriots?), and that has a coach who lacks the people skills to make others inclined to give him a break or the benefit of the doubt.

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Week 15 early inactives

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Every week we bring you all the inactives from the early games in one post, constantly updated with the latest information. Check back to see the full list as it becomes available a little more than an hour ahead of the 1 p.m. ET kickoffs.

Eagles at Ravens

Eagles: RB Darren Sproles, T Halapoulivaati Vaitai, WR Paul Turner, CB Dwayne Gratz, DE Steven Means, OL Allen Barbre, DT Taylor Hart

Ravens: CB Jimmy Smith, RB Buck Allen, LB Lamar Louis, OL Ryan Jensen, OL Alex Lewis, TE Crockett Gillmore, LB Za’Darius Smith

Browns at Bills

Browns: QB Josh McCown, QB Kevin Hogan, RB Darius Jackson, DB Trae Elston, OL Gabe Ikard, DL Tyrone Holmes, DL Xavier Cooper

Bills: LB Lerentee McCray, T Cordy Glenn, QB Cardale Jones, RB Reggie Bush, WR Dez Lewis, TE Logan Thomas, TE Gerald Christian

Packers at Bears

Packers: RB James Starks, LB Nick Perry, WR Trevor Davis, C J.C. Tretter, T Kyle Murphy, LB Jordan Tripp, CB Josh Hawkins

Bears: WR Eddie Royal, CB Bryce Callahan, DT Eddie Goldman, CB Johnthan Banks, S DeAndre Houston-Carson, OL Matt McCants, TE MyCole Pruitt

Steelers at Bengals

Steelers: WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, S Shamarko Thomas, WR Demarcus Ayers, QB Zach Mettenberger, RB DeAngelo Williams, RB Daryl Richardson, T Brian Mihalik

Bengals: WR A.J. Green, QB Jeff Driskel, S Derron Smith, LS Tyler Ott, OL Christian Westerman, TE C.J. Uzomah, DE Wallace Gilberry

Jaguars at Texans

Jaguars: WR Allen Hurns, RB Denard Robinson, G Chris Reed, C Luke Bowanko, DE Chris Smith, QB Brandon Allen, CB Josh Johnson

Texans: G Jeff Allen, LB John Simon, LB Whitney Mercilus, S Don Jones, TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, QB Brandon Weeden, CB Johnathan Joseph

Titans at Chiefs

Titans: LB Sean Spence, WR Tre McBride, DB Curtis Riley, LB David Bass, G Sebastian Tretola, TE Jace Amaro, DE Angelo Blackson

Chiefs: CB Phillip Gaines, QB Tyler Bray, DB Kenneth Acker, RB Knile Davis, OL Mike Person, TE Ross Travis, DL Kendall Reyes

Colts at Vikings

Colts: G Denzelle Good, OL Joe Reitz, WR Donte Moncrief, DT Arthur Jones

Vikings: G Brandon Fusco, S Harrison Smith, CB Trae Waynes, WR Laquon Treadwell, QB Taylor Heinicke, G Willie Beavers, DE Stephen Weatherly

Lions at Giants

Lions: C Travis Swanson, RB Theo Riddick, WR T.J. Jones, QB Jake Rudock, OL Cornelius Lucas, DE Corey Lemonier, DL Stefan Charles

Giants: DE Jason Pierre-Paul, QB Ryan Nassib, WR Tavarres King, S Nat Berhe, LB Deontae Skinner, T Will Beatty, DT Robert Thomas

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Week 15 injury report roundup

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Week 15 kicked off on Thursday with a Seahawks win and it continues with 14 more games on Saturday and Sunday, which means that the 28 teams in those games submitted their final injury reports of the week on Friday.

Questionable players are uncertain to play, doubtful players are unlikely to play and out should be self-explanatory. Players who are on active rosters and don’t appear below should be considered in the lineup barring any announcements on Saturday. The teams playing on Monday night won’t release their injury reports until Saturday and are not listed here.

With that housekeeping out of the way, here are all the injury reports for Sunday.

Dolphins at Jets (Saturday night)

QB Ryan Tannehill is the only Dolphins player ruled out for Saturday night. S Isa Abdul-Quddus (neck), T Branden Albert (wrist), LB Kiko Alonso (hamstring, hand), T Jermon Bushrod (shoulder), LB Jelani Jenkins (knee, hand), CB Bobby McCain (hand), LB Spencer Paysinger (thigh), G Anthony Steen (toe) and DE Mario Williams (ankle) are all listed as questionable.

The Jets ruled out LB Mike Catapano (knee), LB Lorenzo Mauldin (ankle), DT Steve McLendon (hamstring) and CB Buster Skrine (concussion). RB Khiry Robinson (leg) and T Brent Qvale (hamstring) are listed as doubtful while TE Brandon Bostick (ankle), WR Quincy Enunwa (ribs), RB Matt Forte (knee), WR Brandon Marshall (knee, foot, back) and DE Muhammad Wilkerson (ankle) drew questionable tags.

Eagles at Ravens

Eagles RB Darren Sproles (concussion) and T Halapoulivaati Vaitai (knee) will miss Week 15. OL Allen Barbre (hamstring), TE Brent Celek (stinger), WR Dorial Green-Beckham (abdomen), LB Kamu Grugier-Hill (illness) and WR Jordan Matthews (ankle) are listed as questionable.

CB Jimmy Smith (ankle) is the lone Ravens player ruled out ahead of Sunday. TE Crockett Gillmore (thigh), LB Anthony Levine (toe), T Alex Lewis (ankle) and CB Jerraud Powers (concussion) drew questionable tags.

Browns at Bills

LB Dominique Alexander (abdomen, groin) is the only Browns player with an injury designation and he’s listed as questionable.

Bills LB Lerentee McCray (concussion) is out and T Cordy Glenn (back) will likely miss the game as well after being listed as doubtful. LB Zach Brown (ankle), TE Charles Clay (knee), WR Sammy Watkins (foot) and DT Kyle Williams (back) are listed as questionable.

Packers at Bears

The Packers listed LB Nick Perry (hand) and RB James Starks (concussion) as doubtful. WR Randall Cobb (ankle), LB Kyler Fackrell (hamstring), LB Blake Martinez (knee), RB Christine Michael (illness), CB Damarious Randall (groin), RB Aaron Ripkowski (back), QB Aaron Rodgers (calf) and C J.C. Tretter (knee) are likelier to play after drawing questionable tags.

Wide receivers Eddie Royal (toe) and Marquess Wilson (groin, foot) are out for the Bears. CB Johnthan Banks (ankle), CB Bryce Callahan (knee) and DT Eddie Goldman (ankle) are listed as questionable.

Steelers at Bengals

There are only two Steelers with injury designations and both WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (foot) and S Shamarko Thomas (concussion) have been ruled out.

Bengals DE Wallace Gilberry (calf) and WR A.J. Green (hamstring) are listed as doubtful, so it would be a surprise if either plays this weekend. LS Clark Harris (groin), S Derron Smith (thigh), TE C.J. Uzomah (calf) and WR James Wright (knee) are listed as questionable.

Jaguars at Texans

The Jaguars ruled out WR Allen Hurns (hamstring), G Chris Reed (toe) and RB Denard Robinson (ankle) for Sunday’s game. WR Shane Wynn (hamstring) is the only player listed as questionable.

The Texans will continue their push for the AFC South title without G Jeff Allen (concussion), TE C.J. Fiedorowicz (concussion), S Don Jones (illness) and LB John Simon (chest). RB Tyler Ervin (ribs), CB Johnathan Joseph (ribs) and LB Whitney Mercilus (back) are listed as questionable.

Titans at Chiefs

Titans LB Sean Spence (ankle) has been ruled out. LB David Bass (groin), DT Jurrell Casey (foot) and DT Karl Klug (achilles) are listed as questionable.

The Chiefs ruled out CB Phillip Gaines (knee) and LB Derrick Johnson (Achilles). LB Justin Houston (illness, knee) and DE Kendall Reyes (wrist) drew questionable designations on Friday.

Colts at Vikings

The Colts will play without T Denzelle Good (concussion), DT Arthur Jones (groin), WR Donte Moncrief (hamstring) and T Joe Reitz (back) in Minnesota. Questionable tags mean we’ll wait to find out about TE Dwayne Allen (hip), WR Phillip Dorsett (groin), S T.J. Green (ankle) and DT Zach Kerr (concussion).

Brandon Fusco (concussion), S Harrison Smith (ankle), WR Laquon Treadwell (ankle) and CB Trae Waynes (concussion) have been ruled out by the Vikings. CB Mackensie Alexander (abdomen), RB Matt Asiata (ankle) and C Joe Berger (concussion) are listed as questionable.

Lions at Giants

Thanks to a doubtful tag, it looks like the Lions will be without RB Theo Riddick (wrist) again this week. DE Ziggy Ansah (shoulder), TE Eric Ebron (knee), LB DeAndre Levy (knee), CB Darius Slay (hamstring) and RB Zach Zenner (concussion) are all questionable while C Travis Swanson (concussion) is out.

S Nat Berhe (concussion), LB Keenan Robinson (shoulder) and RB Shane Vereen (concussion) are questionable for the Giants. DE Jason Pierre-Paul (core muscle) remains out after having surgery.

Saints at Cardinals

The Saints ruled out LB Stephone Anthony (knee) and CB Delvin Breaux (shoulder). S Shiloh Keo (hamstring), RB Daniel Lasco (hamstring, knee), LB Craig Robertson (shoulder) and C Max Unger (foot) are listed as questionable.

D.J. Humphries (concussion) will not play for the Cardinals. The team also listed WR John Brown (illness), CB Marcus Cooper (back) and TE Jermaine Gresham (knee) as questionable.

49ers at Falcons

49ers WR Torrey Smith (concussion) is out and T Joe Staley (hamstring) is likely to miss a second straight game after drawing a doubtful tag.

DE Adrian Clayborn (knee), CB Jalen Collins (knee), WR Julio Jones (toe), S Robenson Therezie (ankle) and WR Nick Williams (concussion) will miss the game for the Falcons.

Patriots at Broncos

WR Danny Amendola (ankle) remains out for the Patriots. TE Martellus Bennett (ankle, shoulder), CB Malcolm Butler (hip), LB Dont’a Hightower (knee), S Jordan Richards (knee), LB Elandon Roberts (hamstring), CB Eric Rowe (hamstring) and WR Matt Slater (foot) got questionable tags.

LB Brandon Marshall (hamstring) is out for the Broncos while LB Todd Davis (rib cage) is questionable.

Raiders at Chargers

The Raiders won’t have LB Shilique Calhoun (knee), S Karl Joseph (toe) or DT Stacy McGee (ankle) in San Diego. WR Amari Cooper (shoulder), WR Michael Crabtree (finger), DE Darius Latham (ankle), G Kelechi Osemele (knee), LB Perry Riley (hamstring) and LB Malcolm Smith (hamstring) are listed as questionable.

RB Melvin Gordon (hip, knee) was ruled out and the Chargers don’t expect to have CB Craig Mager (shoulder) after listing him as doubtful. WR Jeremy Butler (ankle) and G Orlando Franklin (rib) are listed as questionable.

Buccaneers at Cowboys

LB Lavonte David (hamstring) and DT Gerald McCoy (foot) are a pair of key Buccaneers defenders listed as questionable. S Chris Conte (chest), DT Sealver Siliga (calf) and TE Luke Stocker (ankle) drew the same tag while T Demar Dotson (concussion) has been ruled out.

WR Dez Bryant (back) and LB Sean Lee (knee) headline a long list of questionable Cowboys. S Barry Church (forearm), DE Jack Crawford (foot), LS L.P. Ladouceur (knee), G Ronald Leary (back), CB Orlando Scandrick (foot, not injury related), T Tyron Smith (back, knee), DT Cedric Thornton (ankle) and S J.J. Wilcox (thigh) got the same designation. CB Morris Claiborne (groin), T Chaz Green (back) and DE Demarcus Lawrence (back) are out.

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Giants raised PSI concerns during, not after, Steelers game

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The NFL initially addressed DeflateGate II with a perfunctory statement that seemed on the surface to dispute the notion that the Giants raised concerns about the air pressure in Steelers footballs when the two teams met in Pittsburgh on December 4. The NFL perhaps should have rested its case on the Giants filing “no formal complaint.”

On Wednesday, Commissioner Roger Goodell said just enough about the situation to make it clear that: (1) the Giants definitely raised a concern with the league about air pressure in the Pittsburgh footballs; and (2) the NFL definitely did nothing about it.

Before Goodell responded to media questions on the issue at the press conference held in connection with the Dallas ownership meetings, it was believed based on the initial report from FOX that the Giants had expressed their concerns after the game. Obviously, there’s nothing the NFL can do to investigate PSI suspicions after a game, because there’s no way to know what the pressure in all Steelers footballs was after the game.

As it turns out, the Giants made their concerns known before the game ended.

“The Giants had asked us about it during the game,” Goodell told reporters. “We went back. We checked that. They were properly followed. All of the league protocols were being properly followed and there’s no further follow up on that. The teams didn’t follow up and we didn’t follow up any further because we were comfortable that the protocols were followed.”

In January 2015, the Colts had similar concerns about footballs used by the Patriots. At that point, the league office mobilized on the spot to check the air pressure in each of the New England footballs and, supposedly given the constraints of halftime, only some of the Indianapolis footballs. In the Giants-Steelers situation, the league did nothing to check the air pressure in the footballs, despite the Giants’ beliefs that the balls were underinflated.

So why not take possession of the footballs used by both teams and test them immediately after the game ended? The official position as explained by the Commissioner is that there was no need to do anything because the pre-game protocols were followed.

“What you do is you test the balls before the game, and the officials always maintain of those footballs from that point on,” Goodell said. “We went back and we checked with the officials to make sure they checked the proper inflation. They did that. The balls were retained in their control from that point on. So the protocols were followed all the way.

If that’s a sufficient explanation, why then does the NFL conduct halftime PSI spot checks? If the pre-game protocols are followed and if the chain of custody is undisturbed based on changes made by the league after DeflateGate I, there’s no reason to ever check football PSI after the start of a given game.

Of course, in this case, it’s now clear that the Giants tested the PSI levels of two Pittsburgh footballs. It’s clear because Goodell necessarily admitted that the Giants tested the PSI levels when explaining why the measurements taken by the Giants weren’t taken seriously.

“That’s why you don’t rely on somebody else testing them,” Goodell said. “They are using a different device. Somebody else is testing them. They have to be tested by the officials who use the same device to make sure there is accuracy in that.”

And that, friends, is called a smoking gun.

The gun is emitting white puffs because DeflateGate I proceeded even though two different gauges were used by the officials before the game — and those gauges varied by roughly 0.4 PSI. To make matters worse, the experts with a reputation for massaging science to meet the needs of their clients discarded the best recollection of referee Walt Anderson regarding the use of the varying gauges, arguably in order to make the evidence fit neatly inside the “someone deflated the footballs” box.

As I’ve said many times in the past, Ted Wells should have concluded based on the varying gauges and the rest of the proof that the evidence was inconclusive as to whether anyone tampered with the footballs. Goodell’s comments regarding the unreliability of the Giants’ PSI gauge supports that view, conclusively.

The league apparently is willing to assume the risk that Patriots fans and agitators will once again wave the “Free Brady” flag in the aftermath of DeflateGate II. After all, the rants of people like me and Ben Affleck are predictable and relatively easy to ignore.

Besides, circling the wagons and denigrating the doubters presents a much better alternative to gathering up the footballs used by both teams in the Giants-Steelers game after the final gun sounded, measuring the air pressure in every football, and realizing given the Ideal Gas Law that ALL OF THE FOOTBALLS would have been under 12.5 PSI — and possibly in the exact same range as the footballs used by the Patriots in the 2014 AFC championship game.

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PFT’s Week 15 picks

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With three weeks left, MDS has taken the lead.

By correctly picking the Panthers to beat the Chargers, he finished 12-4. I picked the Chargers, which has left me at 11-5 and one game back with 48 more games to pick.

This week, we disagree on two of the prime-time games, including the biggest game of the weekend. Every pick for Week 16 appears below.

Rams at Seahawks

MDS’s take: The Jeff Fisher era is over, but the losing is not. The Seahawks aren’t playing their best football right now, but they’re playing well enough that they should easily dispatch a Rams team that’s been through a rough week.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 24, Rams 10.

Florio’s take: Jeff Fisher’s non-excuse for losing this one would be that the Rams fired their head coach only three days before the game.

Florio’s pick: Seahawks 35, Rams 13.

Dolphins at Jets

MDS’s take: Despite losing Ryan Tannehill, the Dolphins will remain in the playoff hunt thanks to their easy schedule. They shouldn’t need Tannehill to beat the Jets.

MDS’s pick: Dolphins 20, Jets 10.

Florio’s take: Matt Moore was the team MVP in 2011, and he has the experience to get it done with limited time to prepare. The Jets got an unlikely win in San Francisco; they can take another night off, like they did against the Colts.

Florio’s pick: Dolphins 27, Jets 17.

Packers at Bears

MDS’s take: The Bears are playing better than anyone could have expected given that three quarterback injuries have left them with Matt Barkley, who wasn’t even on the roster four months ago. Still, they’re not playing well enough to beat the Packers.

MDS’s pick: Packers 21, Bears 17.

Florio’s take: The Bears would surely love to play spoiler for their biggest rivals, but the Packers are firing on all cylinders. And a one-legged Aaron Rodgers would still run rings around a fully-functioning Matt Barkley.

Florio’s pick: Packers 31, Bears 17.

Jaguars at Texans

MDS’s take: The Texans aren’t a particularly good team, but they keep finding ways to beat their divisional opponents, and that should be enough to win the AFC South.

MDS’s pick: Texans 24, Jaguars 14.

Florio’s take: The Texans are making a push for another short stint in the playoffs. The Jaguars had a short stint with relevance in 2016.

Florio’s pick: Texans 27, Jaguars 13.

Browns at Bills

MDS’s take: If Rex Ryan wants to avoid Jeff Fisher’s fate, beating the Browns is a must. He’ll have his players ready to play.

MDS’s pick: Bills 27, Browns 10.

Florio’s take: It would be fitting for the suddenly dysfunctional Bills to become the first team to lose to the Browns in more than a full year. And if this one were being played in Cleveland, the Browns would be the pick. The Bills will find a way to win this one, despite their best efforts to find ways to lose it.

Florio’s pick: Bills 23, Browns 16.

Eagles at Ravens

MDS’s take: The Ravens are still fighting for a playoff spot, while the Eagles appear to be pretty much out of fight. I like Baltimore to win this one handily.

MDS’s pick: Ravens 30, Eagles 13.

Florio’s take: Baltimore knows that stakes: Run the table, get to the playoffs. They’ll have an easier time against the team from the eastern side of Pennsylvania.

Florio’s pick: Ravens 23, Eagles 10.

Titans at Chiefs

MDS’s take: In a game with AFC playoff implications for both teams, I like the Chiefs to maintain first place in the AFC West with a solid victory.

MDS’s pick: Chiefs 27, Titans 17.

Florio’s take: It’ll be 11 degrees on Sunday in Kansas City. For a young quarterback who grew up in Hawaii, that’s probably too much for an overachieveing team to handle.

Florio’s pick: Chiefs 20, Titans 10.

Lions at Giants

MDS’s take: This may be the most intriguing game on the schedule. Both the Lions and the Giants still have an outside shot of earning home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. But both teams are still at risk of missing the playoffs entirely as well. I’ll pick the Giants to win a close game at home.

MDS’s pick: Giants 24, Lions 23.

Florio’s take: A pair of 9-4 teams get together with plenty at stake. The Lions will keep it close, but home-field advantage plus the confidence that comes from sweeping the Cowboys is the difference for the Giants.

Florio’s pick: Giants 24, Lions 20.

Colts at Vikings

MDS’s take: The Colts threw away their best chance to win the AFC South last week. This week I think the Vikings will finish them off, while keeping their own playoff hopes alive.

MDS’s pick: Vikings 17, Colts 13.

Florio’s take: A pair of underachieving teams meet in a de facto elimination game. Both eventually will be eliminated. The Colts get eliminated a little sooner.

Florio’s pick: Vikings 31, Colts 17.

Steelers at Bengals

MDS’s take: The Steelers are closing in on the AFC North title, and they should take care of business in Cincinnati.

MDS’s pick: Steelers 37, Bengals 21.

Florio’s take: The Bengals have improved in recent weeks, but the Steelers are hitting their stride and the Bengals are simply playing out the string. This time around, the Steelers won’t need a pair of 15-yard penalties to snatch a season-extending win.

Florio’s pick: Steelers 30, Bengals 20.

Saints at Cardinals

MDS’s take: Both of these teams have had disappointing seasons: When the schedule came out, few thought this would be a meaningless game in the NFC playoff race. I think the Cardinals are playing a little harder down the stretch, however, and will pull out this game at home.

MDS’s pick: Cardinals 21, Saints 14.

Florio’s take: Pride is on the line, but not much more, as a pair of potential contenders punch another stop on their way to getting the season over with. David Johnson is the difference.

Florio’s pick: Cardinals 27, Saints 24.

49ers at Falcons

MDS’s take: This is the easiest game on the board to pick, as the Falcons are fighting for the NFC South title and the 49ers are a mess.

MDS’s pick: Falcons 38, 49ers 14.

Florio’s take: An old-school NFC West rivalry isn’t nearly as compelling as it once was, with the 49ers losing 12 in a row. The Falcons can’t afford a hiccup, given the unlikely ascension of the Buccaneers.

Florio’s pick: Falcons 27, 49ers 17.

Patriots at Broncos

MDS’s take: The Broncos’ excellent pass defense should hold Tom Brady in check, but the Patriots’ defense won’t yield many points, and New England will win a close, low-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 16, Broncos 13.

Florio’s take: The Bill Belichick/Tom Brady Patriots have struggled in Denver, but Trevor Siemian falls closer to the Danny Kannell/Tim Tebow category than Jake Plummer/Peyton Manning/pre-Texans Brock Osweiler.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 27, Broncos 20.

Raiders at Chargers

MDS’s take: I’m tempted to pick the Chargers in the upset, as I think they’re better than their record suggests, while the Raiders aren’t quite as good as their record suggests. But with the Raiders playing for the playoffs and the Chargers playing for nothing, I’ll say Oakland makes a big play in the fourth quarter to turn the game.

MDS’s pick: Raiders 24, Chargers 21.

Florio’s take: In their final visit to San Diego, the Raiders give the locals another reason to not be upset about the team’s looming relocation.

Florio’s pick: Raiders 27, Chargers 17.

Buccaneers at Cowboys

MDS’s take: The Bucs are one of the hottest teams in football right now, but I think Dak Prescott is going to bounce back from a rough game last week and turn in a big game this week.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 31, Buccaneers 24.

Florio’s take: The Buccaneers have made far more accomplished quarterbacks look like rookies this year. What will they do to a rookie? We’ll know it when we see it.

Florio’s pick: Buccaneers 24, Cowboys 23.

Panthers at Washington

MDS’s take: Carolina is long since out of it, while Washington remains in the thick of the playoff race. Washington will be motivated to turn in a big performance in a must-win game.

MDS’s pick: Washington 28, Panthers 20.

Florio’s take: With their own playoff hopes dashed, the Panthers would love to do the same to Josh Norman’s.

Florio’s pick: Panthers 30, Washington 24.

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Week 15 playoff scenarios

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The Cowboys are the only team that has officially booked a spot in the postseason, but more than half the field could be filled by the time Week 15 comes to an end.

Six other teams are in position to lock down playoff spots while the Cowboys will take a second shot at wrapping up the NFC East. Last Sunday’s loss to the Giants means that a win alone won’t be enough to maket that happen, however.

The Cowboys will need to win while the Giants lose or tie to wrap up the division. They could also wind up with the No. 1 seed in the NFC if they beat the Buccaneers on Sunday night, but only if the Giants and Lions tie earlier in the day.

The Lions can lock up the NFC North with a win and a Green Bay loss or tie in their game against the Bears. The Lions would also win the division if they tie while the Packers lose and the Vikings lose or tie against the Colts. The Lions can’t clinch a playoff spot without clinching the division, although beating the Giants would put them close to doing so.

If the Giants beat the Lions while the Redskins lose to Carolina, the Vikings lose or tie and the Packers lose or tie, they will clinch a playoff spot.

The Seahawks have a straightforward playoff outlook this week. If they beat or tie the Rams, they win the NFC West. They’d also win the division if the Cardinals lose or tie their home game against the Saints.

The Patriots are also in the straightforward category. If they beat or tie the Broncos, they will be both the AFC East champs and a first-round bye. They’d also win the division if the Dolphins lose or tie and a Dolphins loss or tie mixed with either a Steelers loss or tie or a Chiefs win would also give them the bye.

A Chiefs win would confirm their spot in the playoffs and that’s also true for the Raiders, but neither team can lay claim to the AFC West crown this weekend. There are four other scenarios that end with the Chiefs in the playoffs and eight alternative routes for the Raiders to take to the postseason, although the front door would certainly be the easiest path for both teams.

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Week 15 Power Rankings

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1. Patriots (11-2; last week No. 3): Bill Belichick was as happy after the win over Baltimore as he ever is. And he still came off as miserable.

2. Chiefs (10-3; No. 4): There’s still a big gap from No. 2 to No. 1.

3. Cowboys (11-2; No. 1): Once is an accident, twice is a trend, three times is Tony Romo time.

4. Giants (9-4; No. 6): No matter what the Cowboys accomplish this year, their story can’t be told without the phrase “swept by the Giants.”

5. Raiders (10-3; No. 2): Derek Carr’s pinkie could make it hard for the Raiders to give the rest of the league the middle finger.

6. Lions (9-4; No. 8): Matthew Stafford’s middle finger could make it hard for the Lions to give the Packers the middle finger.

7. Buccaneers (8-5; No. 9): It’s the biggest game in years for a Buccaneers team that could leave Dallas with the confidence needed to win in January.

8. Seahawks (8-4-1; No. 5): Russell Wilson played better when he was hurt.

9. Broncos (8-5; No. 7): Lose to the Patriots on Sunday, and the Broncos may not get the chance to lose to the Patriots in the playoffs.

10. Falcons (8-5; No. 10): The schedule is softening, and the playoffs are beckoning.

11. Steelers (8-5; No. 12): Le’Veon Bell is making a big push for the big contract it didn’t seem he’d ever get.

12. Dolphins (8-5; No. 13): If the Dolphins make the playoffs with Matt Moore, Adam Gase isn’t the coach of the year; he’s the coach of the decade.

13. Packers (7-6; No. 14): The path is still in place to a division title — as long as Aaron Rodgers is able to walk on it.

14. Washington (7-5-1; No. 15): If they don’t make the playoffs, at least they’ll have extra time to figure out what to do about Kirk Cousins.

15. Ravens (7-6; No. 11): The playoffs start in Pittsburgh on Christmas Day.

16. Texans (7-6; No. 18): What’s better? Not making the playoffs at all or losing by 30 at home?

17. Titans (7-6; No. 19): The best team in the AFC South still has a decent chance to win the division.

18. Vikings (7-6; No. 20): They need to win out and get some help to get to the playoffs. And if they get to the playoffs, they’ll need a lot of help.

19. Bills (6-7; No. 16): Rex Ryan had better fill up on those wings while he still can.

20. Colts (6-7; No. 17): Chuck Pagano says there are no trophies for second place. So what do they give you for third place?

21. Bengals (5-7-1; No. 21): The Bengals get a chance to screw things up for both the Steelers and the Ravens, which is better than losing in the playoffs for a sixth straight year.

22. Cardinals (5-7-1; No. 22): Tony Romo would look pretty good with a mildly perturbed bird on the side of his helmet.

23. Eagles (5-8; No. 23): Well, at least they won’t have to worry about Jim Schwartz being snatched up as a head coach elsewhere.

24. Panthers (5-8; No. 26): Not quitting on 2016 is a good sign for 2017.

25. Chargers (5-8; No. 24): Has any other franchise with a true franchise quarterback ever struggled so much to succeed?

26. Saints (5-8; No. 25): Apparently, yes. (Except for 2009.)

27. Jets (4-9; No. 29): Winning late in a lost season and getting lower draft position is the ultimate Jets move.

28. Rams (4-9; No. 27): Please let me know if I ever piss off Eric Dickerson.

29. Bears (3-10; No. 28): Ten years since their last Super Bowl appearance, the Bears feel more than 10 years away from their next one.

30. Jaguars (2-11; No. 30): They’re in every game. Which makes their inability to win any games even more confounding.

31. 49ers (1-12; No. 31): What’s worse, losing 12 in a row or being the only team that has lost to the Browns in their last 24 games?

32. Browns (0-13; No. 32): The holidays bring about feelings of nostalgia. For Browns fans, the years 1996 through 1998 conjure some of the best memories.

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AFC playoff picture: Patriots remain on top

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With Monday night’s win over the Ravens, the Patriots have strengthened their hold on the top spot in the AFC. If New England wins out, the road to the Super Bowl goes through New England.

The Ravens, on the other hand, have fallen a game behind the Steelers in the AFC North and a game behind in the wild card race as well. They now have an uphill climb to the postseason.

Here’s how the playoff race looks with three weeks to go:

LEADERS
1. Patriots (11-2): As is so often the case, New England looks like the class of the AFC.

2. Chiefs (10-3): Kansas City owns the tiebreaker over the Raiders in the AFC West.

3. Steelers (8-5): Pittsburgh owns a one-game lead over Baltimore, with the Ravens coming to town on Christmas Day.

4. Texans (7-6): The Texans own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Titans in the AFC South.

5. Raiders (10-3): Oakland has to hope Kansas City stumbles, or else getting to the Super Bowl will require three road wins in January.

6. Broncos (8-5): Denver owns the tiebreaker over Miami, thanks to a better record in common games.

OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
7. Dolphins (8-5): With games remaining against the Jets and Bills, and then the Patriots potentially resting their starters in Week 17, the Dolphins still have a good chance of winning out, even without Ryan Tannehill.

8. Ravens (7-6): Now a game behind the Steelers, Baltimore may need to win out to make the playoffs.

9. Titans (7-6): Tennessee still has a Week 17 meeting with Houston that may decide the AFC South.

10. Colts (6-7): Sunday’s loss to the Texans probably ended the Colts’ playoff hopes.

11. Bills (6-7): Buffalo will miss the playoffs for the 17th consecutive season.

12. Bengals (5-7-1): Marvin Lewis doesn’t have to worry about a wild-card round exit this year.

13. Chargers (5-8): Last place in a good division is still last place.

14. Jets (4-9): Beating the 49ers in overtime isn’t much of an accomplishment.

15. Jaguars (2-11): Already clinched last place in the AFC South.

16. Browns (0-13): Already clinched last place in the AFC North.

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NFC playoff picture: Lions move up to No. 2

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With three games to go, the Lions are now in the driver’s seat to earn a first-round playoff bye. The question is whether they can stay there.

Detroit won and Seattle lost on Sunday, putting the Lions a half-game ahead of the Seahawks. However, the Lions’ three remaining games are against three teams with winning records, while the Seahawks’ three remaining games are against three teams with losing records. So there’s still a good chance that Seattle will move ahead of Detroit.

Here’s what the NFC playoff picture looks like through 13 games:

LEADERS
1. Cowboys (11-2): Despite losing on Sunday night, Dallas still controls the conference.

2. Lions (9-4): With the Giants, Cowboys and Packers remaining, the schedule gets tougher.

3. Seahawks (8-4-1): With the Rams, Cardinals and 49ers remaining, the schedule gets easier.

4. Falcons (8-5): Atlanta owns the tiebreaker over Tampa Bay because of a better winning percentage against common opponents.

5. Giants (9-4): Still alive in the NFC East race.

6. Buccaneers (8-5): Ahead in the wild card race by half a game.

OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
7. Washington (7-5-1): Half a game out, thanks to a tie in London.

8. Vikings (7-6): Minnesota currently owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Green Bay, but they’ve got another meeting coming.

9. Packers (7-6): The way Green Bay is playing now, the rest of the NFC has to hope the Packers don’t make the playoffs.

10. Cardinals (5-7-1): Sunday’s loss ended any hope they had.

11. Saints (5-8): Owns the tiebreakers over the Panthers and Eagles, for whatever that’s worth.

12. Panthers (5-8): The reigning NFC champs are just playing out the string at this point.

13. Eagles (5-8): Looked great early in the season, not so much anymore.

14. Rams (4-9): Have to win out just to get some 7-9 BS.

15. Bears (3-10): Nearly played spoiler in Detroit on Sunday, could still do it with games against Green Bay, Washington and Minnesota ahead.

16. 49ers (1-12): Rooting for the Browns, for draft purposes.

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NFL morning after: The sad decline of Robert Griffin III

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Plenty of once-great quarterbacks reached a stage in their careers when they simply couldn’t do it anymore. Brett Favre had a terrible final season in Minnesota. Joe Namath had a lousy final season in Los Angeles. Johnny Unitas had an ugly final season in San Diego.

But those once-great quarterbacks had a long and sustained period of greatness before it reached that point. What made me sad as I watched Robert Griffin III flounder in Cleveland yesterday is that his greatness was so short-lived, that he’ll be remembered primarily for his subsequent failures.

With the way Griffin has played for the Browns this year (even worse than Cody Kessler and Josh McCown, the other quarterbacks who have helped Cleveland reach 0-13), and the way Griffin didn’t play at all last year, and struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness for two years before that, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Griffin is done as an NFL starter. At age 26.

In the last few years, as Griffin has gone from star to dud, I’ve heard people suggest that Griffin was never any good in the first place and was overhyped as a rookie. Sorry, but that’s preposterous. Griffin was great as a rookie. The Griffin who led Washington to the playoffs as a rookie was as fine a rookie quarterback as the NFL has ever seen. He was the fastest runner ever to play the position, before wrecking his knee in the playoffs at the end of his rookie year, but he was an outstanding passer as well: He threw for 20 touchdown passes and only five interceptions and set an NFL rookie record with a 102.4 passer rating. As a rookie, Griffin was marvelous.

But that knee injury he suffered in a playoff loss to the Seahawks seemed to sap him of his incredible ability to make things happen with his legs, and having lost that ability, he looks clueless as a passer as well. In two games this season, Griffin has completed just 44.4 percent of his passes. That’s a Tim Tebow level of incomptence. He simply doesn’t throw the ball well enough to be an NFL quarterback.

And that’s a sad thing. Griffin had the potential to change the way we view the quarterback position. He had the potential to be a perennial All-Pro, a quarterback who leads a team to a championship, a Hall of Famer. That’s the level of natural talent he had.

But since that knee injury, we haven’t seen anything remotely close to that verion of Griffin. The Griffin playing for the Browns this year is a shell of his former self. It’s sad to see this once-great quarterback getting to enjoy only one season of greatness before washing out with a winless team.

Here are my other thoughts from Sunday:

It’s time to eject players for cheap shots. I would have loved to see the officials eject Washington’s Deshazor Everett for his brutal cheap shot on Eagles punt returner Darren Sproles on Sunday. Ditto for Titans receiver Harry Douglas who took Broncos cornerback Chris Harris out at the knee. Yes, I know that the Douglas low block was technically legal, and I don’t much care. I want the NFL to give officials the authority to eject players for clearly intending to injure an opponent, which is what Douglas did when he went straight for Harris’s knee. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said that he couldn’t define pornography, but, “I know it when I see it.” I feel the same way about cheap shots. Officials know a cheap shot when they see it, and when they see it they ought to kick a player out of a game for it.

Mike Nugent may have the worst extra point season ever. Nugent, the Bengals’ kicker, is 23-for-29 on extra points after missing his sixth of the season on Sunday. That puts him at 79.3 percent for the season. The lowest extra point rate in NFL history in a season with 35 or more attempts is 81.8 percent, meaning Nugent is on pace for the worst extra point season ever. Obviously, that’s largely a function of the NFL’s new rule moving extra points back by 13 yards, although it’s also worth noting that Nugent is performing even worse than NFL kickers did back in the days when kickers were expected to play other positions as well. He’s having a simply awful season.

Matt Barkley is showing he belongs. I don’t know that Barkley will ever be a regular starter in the NFL, but as the Bears’ starter the last few weeks he has definitively shown that he’s better than people thought when he dropped in the draft following a disappointing senior season at USC and then bounced around the league with the Eagles and Cardinals. Now that he’s on the Bears, Barkley is playing in an offense without much talent around him, but he made several good passes, including two in the final minute on Sunday that would have put the Bears into game-tying field goal range if they hadn’t been called back by holding penalties. Barkley is at least a solid No. 2 quarterback, and he might have earned himself the opportunity to compete for a starting job in 2017. In a lousy season like the Bears are having, it’s good to see a guy make the most of his opportunities.

Jadeveon Clowney is incredible. Injuries have severely limited Clowney since he was selected first overall in the 2014 NFL draft. But when he’s healthy and on the field, he’s every bit the player we all thought he was during his college days at South Carolina. With first place in the AFC South on the line yesterday in Indianapolis, Clowney was the best player on the field, leading a Texans defense that frustrated Andrew Luck and the Colts’ offense all day. Clowney had a sack and hit Luck three times, and he has emerged as the leader of a defense that doesn’t miss J.J. Watt as much as we all thought it would.

Lorenzo Alexander is one of the best stories in the NFL. Alexander had an interception, a quarterback hit, two knocked down passes and three solo tackles yesterday for the Bills against the Steelers. That continues a great season in which he also has 10 sacks and deserves All-Pro consideration. What’s amazing about Alexander’s season is that he’s 33 years old, has been in the NFL for a decade, and until this year was just a backup who bounced around from city to city trying to make an NFL roster. It’s great to see a player who was previously so overlooked finally get an opportunity to be a starter, and thrive. Alexander is kind of the anti-RGIII, a player who started slowly but is now having his best season as he ages.

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Week 14 early inactives

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Every week we bring you all the inactives from the early games in one post, constantly updated with the latest information. Check back to see the full list as it becomes available a little more than an hour ahead of the 1 p.m. ET kickoffs.

Steelers at Bills

Steelers: WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, S Shamarko Thomas, QB Zach Mettenberger, G Ramon Foster, RB DeAngelo Williams, DT Javon Hargrave, RB Daryl Richardson

Bills: LB Lerentee McCray, DT Kyle Williams, QB Cardale Jones, TE Logan Thomas, TE Gerald Christian, RB Jonathan Williams, WR Dez Lewis

Chargers at Panthers

Chargers: CB Brandon Flowers, RB Ronnie Hillman, NT Ryan Carrethers, TE Asante Cleveland, C Max Tuerk, T Tyreek Burwell, WR Geremy Davis

Panthers: LB Luke Kuechly, LB David Mayo, DE Charles Johnson, T Tyler Williams, DT Kyle Love, TE Chris Manhertz, RB Cameron Artis-Payne

Bengals at Browns

Bengals: WR A.J. Green, DE Wallace Gilberry, TE C.J. Uzomah, G Christian Westerman, LS Clark Harris, S Derron Smith, WR James Wright

Browns: QB Kevin Hogan, QB Josh McCown, OL Gabe Ikard, OL Shon Coleman, DL Tyrone Holmes, DB Trae Elston

Bears at Lions

Bears: WR Marquess Wilson, WR Eddie Royal, DB De’Vante Bausby, DB Johnthan Banks, DB DeAndre Houston-Carson, DL CJ Wilson, T Mike Adams

Lions: RB Theo Riddick, WR T.J. Jones, QB Jake Rudock, LB Thurston Armbrister, C Travis Swanson, OL Cornelius Lucas, DL Khyri Thornton

Texans at Colts

Texans: CB Johnathan Joseph, QB Tom Savage, LB John Simon, RB Tyler Ervin, WR Braxton Miller, OL Josh Walker, DL Ufomba Kamalu

Colts: CB Patrick Robinson, S Clayton Geathers, OL Austin Blythe, OL Denzelle Good, DL Zach Kerr, LB LaVar Edwards, LB Robert Mathis

Vikings at Jaguars

Vikings: S Harrison Smith, C Joe Berger, DT Sharrif Floyd, CB Marcus Sherels, LB Edmond Robinson, QB Taylor Heinicke, T Rashod Hill

Jaguars: RB Chris Ivory, C Brandon Linder, WR Allen Hurns, RB Denard Robinson, S Peyton Thompson, OL Jeremiah Poutasi, QB Brandon Allen

Cardinals at Dolphins

Cardinals: WR Marquis Bundy, S Tyrann Mathieu, CB Tharold Simon, G Cole Toner, DT Olsen Pierre, DT Robert Nkemdiche, DT Ed Stinson

Dolphins: CB Xavien Howard, LB Kiko Alonso, DE Mario Williams, C Mike Pouncey, LB Jelani Jenkins, TE Thomas Duarte, WR Rashawn Scott

Eagles at Redskins

Eagles: G Brandon Brooks, WR Dorial Green-Beckham, RB Kenjon Barner, LB Kamu Grugier-Hill, OL Dillon Gordon, T Halapoulivaati Vaitai, DL Taylor Hart

Redskins: QB Nate Sudfeld, WR Rashad Ross, RB Matt Jones, S Will Blackmon, G Spencer Long, DL Anthony Lanier, G Shawn Lauvao

Broncos at Titans

Broncos: QB Austin Davis, WR Jordan Norwood, DB Lorenzo Doss, LS Casey Kreiter, LB Brandon Marshall, OL Connor McGovern, G Billy Turner

Titans: WR Kendall Wright, DT Jurrell Casey, TE Jace Amaro, G Sebastian Tretola, DB Curtis Riley, LB Justin Staples, RB David Fluellen

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Week 14 injury report roundup

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Week 14 kicked off on Thursday with a Chiefs win and it continues with 14 more games on Sunday, which means that the 28 teams in those games submitted their final injury reports of the week on Friday.

Questionable players are uncertain to play, doubtful players are unlikely to play and out should be self-explanatory. Players who are on active rosters and don’t appear below should be considered in the lineup barring any announcements on Saturday. The teams playing on Monday night won’t release their injury reports until Saturday and are not listed here.

With that housekeeping out of the way, here are all the injury reports for Sunday.

Steelers at Bills

Steelers WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (foot) and S Shamarko Thomas (concussion) have been ruled out. DT Javon Hargrave (concussion) is unlikely to play after being listed as doubtful. K Chris Boswell (abdomen), G Ramon Foster (chest) and RB DeAngelo Williams (knee) are listed as questionable.

Bills TE Charles Clay (knee), T Cordy Glenn (back), WR Sammy Watkins (foot), DT Kyle Williams (back) and WR Robert Woods (knee) drew questionable tags. Coach Rex Ryan said Watkins and Woods will play, but Williams was a Friday addition to the injury report after his back locked up on Thursday night. LB Lerentee McCray (concussion) will not play.

Chargers at Panthers

The Chargers ruled out CB Brandon Flowers (concussion). They listed LB Jatavis Brown (knee) and G Orlando Franklin (knee) as questionable.

Panthers LB Luke Kuechly, S Kurt Coleman and CB Daryl Worley are all questionable due to concussions, although all three progressed through the protocol enough to practice this week. DE Mario Addison (foot) is also questionable while DE Charles Johnson (hamstring), LB David Mayo (concussion) and T Daryl Williams (ankle) have been ruled out.

Bengals at Browns

DE Wallace Gilberry (calf), WR A.J. Green (hamstring), S Derron Smith (thigh), TE C.J. Uzomah (calf) and WR James Wright (knee) will all sit out for the Bengals. LS Clark Harris (groin) is listed as questionable.

The Browns return from their bye week without any players listed with injury designations.

Bears at Lions

The Bears don’t expect to have T Mike Adams (back) or WR Eddie Royal (toe) after listing them as doubtful. LB Jonathan Anderson (hamstring), CB Johnthan Banks (ankle), WR Josh Bellamy (shoulder) and WR Marquess Wilson (groin) received questionable tags.

It looks like LB DeAndre Levy (knee) may play for the first time since Week One. He’s officially listed as questionable along with DE Ziggy Ansah (ankle), S Don Carey (hamstring), TE Eric Ebron (knee), WR Marvin Jones (quadricep), RB Theo Riddick (wrist), RB Dwayne Washington (ankle) and LB Tahir Whitehead (knee). C Travis Swanson (concussion) will not play.

Texans at Colts

DE Jadeveon Clowney (elbow, wrist) and LB Brian Cushing (back, ankle) are listed as questionable, but the Texans expect to have both in the lineup. Coach Bill O’Brien said there’s a “remote” possibility CB Johnathan Joseph (ribs) plays, although he’s also listed as questionable rather than doubtful. RB Tyler Ervin (ribs), WR Braxton Miller (shoulder), QB Tom Savage (right elbow), LB John Simon (chest) and WR Jaelen Strong (ankle) have been ruled out.

The Colts ruled out S Clayton Geathers (neck), T Denzelle Good (concussion), DT Zach Kerr (concussion), LB Robert Mathis (bicep) and CB Patrick Robinson (groin). LB Curt Maggitt (concussion) is listed as questionable.

Vikings at Jaguars

The Vikings won’t have C Joe Berger (concussion), DT Sharrif Floyd (knee) or S Harrison Smith (ankle) in the lineup this week. LB Edmond Robinson (hamstring) and CB Marcus Sherels (rib) drew questionable designations.

WR Allen Hurns (hamstring), DE Jared Odrick (shoulder), RB Denard Robinson (ankle), TE Julius Thomas (back) and S Peyton Thompson (ankle) will not play for the Jaguars on Sunday. The team listed RB Chris Ivory (hamstring), G Brandon Linder (ankle) and LB Dan Skuta (elbow) as questionable.

Cardinals at Dolphins

S Tyrann Mathieu (shoulder) will miss another game for the Cardinals. WR John Brown (illness), LB Markus Golden (hamstring), DT Robert Nkemdiche (elbow) and CB Tharold Simon (ankle) have all been listed as questionable, although coach Bruce Arians said Friday that he expects them to play.

The Dolphins listed LB Kiko Alonso (hand, hamstring), LB Jelani Jenkins (knee, hand) and DE Mario Williams (ankle) as doubtful to be in the lineup Sunday. S Isa Abdul-Quddus (neck), T Branden Albert (wrist), RB Kenyan Drake (knee), CB Xavien Howard (knee), DT Earl Mitchell (back), QB Matt Moore (right shoulder), WR DeVante Parker (back), LB Spencer Paysinger (ankle), G Anthony Steen (shoulder, foot) and C Kraig Urbik (knee) make up a long list of players deemed questionable.

Redskins at Eagles

TE Jordan Reed (shoulder) headlines a list of Redskins players listed as questionable that also includes DE Chris Baker (ankle), TE Derek Carrier (knee), LB Will Compton (hip), DE Ricky Jean Francois (foot, knee), G Shawn Lauvao (groin), T Ty Nsekhe (ankle), G Brandon Scherff (ankle) and LB Preston Smith (groin). S Will Blackmon (concussion, thumb), DE Anthony Lanier (shin) and C Spencer Long (concussion, stinger) have been ruled out.

WR Dorial Green-Beckham (abdomen), RB Ryan Mathews (knee) and WR Jordan Matthews (ankle) drew questionable tags from the Eagles. T Halapoulivaati Vaitai (knee) will miss another game.

Broncos at Titans

The Broncos say they’ll make a call on QB Trevor Siemian (foot) on Saturday after listing him as questionable.WR Bennie Fowler (knee) is also listed as questionable and Denver ruled out LS Casey Kreiter (calf) and LB Brandon Marshall (hamstring).

DT Jurrell Casey (foot) is the only Titans player with an injury designation. He’s listed as questionable.

Jets at 49ers

Antonio Allen (concussion), T Breno Giacomini (back, calf, shoulder), WR Jalin Marshall (concussion), LB Lorenzo Mauldin (ankle), DT Steve McLendon (hamstring) and RB Khiry Robinson (lower leg) make up a long list of Jets that have been ruled out of Sunday’s proceedings. DE Muhammad Wilkerson (ankle) is listed as questionable.

49ers T Joe Staley (hamstring) is in line to miss his first game since the 2010 season after being listed as doubtful. DT Quinton Dial (elbow) and LB Aaron Lynch (ankle) each drew questionable tags.

Seahawks at Packers

The Seahawks ruled out LB Brock Coyle (foot), DE Damontre Moore (foot), RB C.J. Prosise (shoulder) and RB Will Tukuafu (concussion). LB Michael Morgan (hip) is listed as questionable.

Packers linebackers Kyler Fackrell (hamstring) and Nick Perry (hand) won’t play on Sunday. CB Ladarius Gunter (illness), G T.J. Lang (foot), LB Blake Martinez (knee), LB Clay Matthews (shoulder), CB Damarious Randall (groin, illness) and C J.C. Tretter (knee) will have their statuses determined over the weekend after being listed as questionable.

Falcons at Rams

WR Julio Jones (toe) is questionable for the Falcons while DE Adrian Clayborn (knee) and WR Mohamed Sanu (groin) have been ruled out. T Jake Matthews (knee) and S Robenson Therezie (ankle) are also listed as questionable.

The Rams listed RB Benny Cunningham (neck) as doubtful. CB E.J. Gaines (thigh) and DE Robert Quinn (concussion) are listed as questionable.

Saints at Buccaneers

The Saints listed T Terron Armstead (quadricep, knee), RB Mark Ingram (toe, knee), G Senio Kelemete (hip), S Shiloh Keo (hamstring), RB Daniel Lasco (hamstring), LB Craig Robertson (shoulder), WR Michael Thomas (foot) and C Max Unger (foot) as questionable.

Buccaneers DT Gerald McCoy (foot) is listed as questionable, just as he was before playing last weekend. S Chris Conte (chest), T Demar Dotson (concussion), WR Adam Humphries (concussion) and TE Luke Stocker (ankle) have been ruled out while C Evan Smith (knee) is also questionable.

Cowboys at Giants

Cowboys S Barry Church (forearm), DE Jack Crawford (foot), LB Justin Durant (hamstring), DE Demarcus Lawrence (back), CB Orlando Scandrick (foot, not injury related) and T Tyron Smith (back) are listed as questionable for the NFC East matchup. CB Morris Claiborne (groin), T Chaz Green (back) and S J.J. Wilcox (thigh) have been ruled out.

DE Jason Pierre-Paul (core muscle) will be a big absence for the Giants on Sunday night. S Nat Berhe (concussion) and LB Mark Herzlich (concussion) have also been ruled out. DT Johnathan Hankins (quadricep), WR Dwayne Harris (ankle), DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa (knee), G Justin Pugh (knee) and CB Coty Sensabaugh (ribs) are listed as questionable.

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PFT’s Week 14 picks

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Tie, apparently, is the operative word this week in the NFL. As in Cam Newton didn’t have one. And as in the PFT picks competition does.

With MDS prevailing 4-3 in a whopping seven disagreements, it’s all knotted up with four weeks left.

For the week, MDS generated an 11-4 record, and I was 10-5.

This week, the tie will be broken based on the outcome of the game involving the guy who didn’t wear a tie. For all takes and predictions, scroll baby scroll.

Raiders at Chiefs

MDS’s take: This is one of the best Thursday night games we’ve ever had, as the winner will have the inside track in the AFC West and perhaps even home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. I think the Raiders will just freeze, baby, on a cold night in Kansas City, and the Chiefs will win a defensive struggle.

MDS’s pick: Chiefs 17, Raiders 13.

Florio’s take: It’s tempting to look at Oakland’s record and assume that 10-2 will become 11-2, especially since the Raiders play so well away from home and have become an NFL darling with their best year by far since 2002. But the Chiefs have an opportunity to swipe the division, given their 26-10 win over the Raiders from October. It will be cold and it will be loud and the Chiefs have an opportunity to position themselves to make a Super Bowl run.

Florio’s pick: Chiefs 24, Raiders 21.

Steelers at Bills

MDS’s take: The Bills’ running attack gives them the chance to play a ball-control offense and beat the Steelers on the ground. But I see the Steelers getting a couple big plays from Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown and winning a close one.

MDS’s pick: Steelers 24, Bills 23.

Florio’s take: The Steelers are surging and the Bills are shell-shocked after last Sunday’s 24-9 lead quickly became a 38-24 loss. The only question now is who’ll stay and who’ll go after the Bills once again fail to make it to the playoffs.

Florio’s pick: Steelers 30, Bills 20.

Broncos at Titans

MDS’s take: The Titans’ surprisingly good offense against the Broncos’ unsurprisingly great defense will be a lot of fun to see. I think the Broncos’ offense will struggle and Marcus Mariota will do just enough with his arm and his legs to win a close game.

MDS’s pick: Titans 14, Broncos 13.

Florio’s take: If the Titans only could handle the teams in their division, they’d be a lock for the postseason. As it stands, they’ll need another signature win to even have a shot at the postseason. With an extra week to get ready and with the Broncos struggling (relative to 2015), give the home team the edge.

Florio’s pick: Titans 24, Broncos 17.

Washington at Eagles

MDS’s take: The Eagles are cratering down the stretch after showing a lot of promise early on. Washington needs a win here, and will get one.

MDS’s pick: Washington 27, Eagles 20.

Florio’s take: Seasons of promise for both teams have disintegrated, but Washington still has hope. And more talent. And a chance to still make it to the playoffs.

Florio’s pick: Washington 27, Eagles 23.

Cardinals at Dolphins

MDS’s take: A week ago I would have said the Dolphins were the much better team here, but the Cardinals turned in a good performance last week while the Dolphins turned in a miserable game. Still, I think the Dolphins have more to play for and should bounce back.

MDS’s pick: Dolphins 24, Cardinals 20.

Florio’s take: It may not be easy for the Dolphins to forget what happened in Baltimore. But the Cardinals just don’t have the horses this year, and the Dolphins continue to have an unlikely window of opportunity to get to the postseason.

Florio’s pick: Dolphins 27, Cardinals 23.

Chargers at Panthers

MDS’s take: The Panthers looked terrible on Sunday night and I’m tempted to declare that they’ve written off the season. But I have a feeling Ron Rivera will have his team focused for a much better game this week, and they’ll pull out a win at home.

MDS’s pick: Panthers 28, Chargers 21.

Florio’s take: Philip Rivers returns to North Carolina, the state where he played college football. (Hopefully, he’ll pick his bolo tie.) That reality coupled with pride and a desire to save Mike McCoy’s job could be the difference in this one, especially with the Panthers simply playing out the string in the hopes of a reset to 0-0.

Florio’s pick: Chargers 27, Panthers 20.

Bengals at Browns

MDS’s take: With each passing week it gets harder to justify picking the Browns to win. They appear to be holding a one-way ticket to 0-16.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 30, Browns 17.

Florio’s take: If the Browns don’t win this one, they may not win at all this season. The Bengals bounced back against the Eagles, and the Bengals realize the stakes involved: The last thing they want to do is to be the first team to lose to the Browns since the 49ers nearly one year ago to the day.

Florio’s pick: Bengals 26, Browns 17.

Bears at Lions

MDS’s take: This is one of those games where a Lions choke isn’t out of the question: It’s a game they should win, but the Lions aren’t a team with a great track record of winning the games they should win. And yet I have a feeling that they’ll manage to pull this game out, even if I also have a feeling it’s going to be closer than expected.

MDS’s pick: Lions 20, Bears 17.

Florio’s take: The biggest mystery about this game is how did the Bears beat the Lions when they met the first time?

Florio’s pick:  Lions 30, Bears 20.

Texans at Colts

MDS’s take: After falling behind the Texans early in the season, the Colts now look like the team that should win the AFC South. They’ll take a big step in that direction on Sunday.

MDS’s pick: Colts 31, Texans 21.

Florio’s take: The Texans historically don’t play well in Indianapolis. More recently, the Texans haven’t been playing well anywhere. In the quest to lose at home in the wild-card round or get blown out in the divisional round, the Colts have the edge. Hooray?

Florio’s pick: Colts 24, Texans 20.

Vikings at Jaguars

MDS’s take: The Vikings have struggled mightily after getting off to a hot start, but playing the Jaguars should cure what ails them.

MDS’s pick: Vikings 20, Jaguars 10.

Florio’s take: If the Vikings can’t beat the Jaguars, the Vikings have no business being in the playoffs. Then again, the Vikings arguably already have no business being in the playoffs.

Florio’s pick: Vikings 27, Jaguars 17.

Jets at 49ers

MDS’s take: This might be the ugliest game of the year. Both teams looked terrible last week, but the 49ers at least still seem to be trying to win, while the Jets are openly talking about planning for next year. That gives the 49ers the advantage this week.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 24, Jets 10.

Florio’s take: The only important question regarding this one is whether there will be more people on and around the field than there are in the stands.

Florio’s pick: 49ers 13, Jets 9.

Saints at Buccaneers

MDS’s take: The Saints were still in the NFC South race until they laid an egg against the Lions last week. The Buccaneers are now fighting for a playoff spot, and they’ll get a big win on Sunday.

MDS’s pick: Buccaneers 24, Saints 17.

Florio’s take: At a time when the Raiders are the best they’ve been since making it to the Super Bowl in 2002, the Buccaneers are the best they’ve been since they won the Super Bowl in 2002.

Florio’s pick: Buccaneers 31, Saints 27.

Falcons at Rams

MDS’s take: The Falcons’ defense isn’t very good, and it could cost them the division. But the Jared Goff-led Rams offense won’t be able to take advantage.

MDS’s pick: Falcons 24, Rams 14.

Florio’s take: “We don’t make excuses, [insert latest excuse].”

Florio’s pick: Falcons 28, Rams 17.

Seahawks at Packers

MDS’s take: This is the most intriguing game of the week to me. Is Aaron Rodgers all the way back and ready to attack a Seahawks secondary that’s missing Earl Thomas? Can the Packers’ defense slow down Thomas Rawls and a good Seahawks running game? I think this will be a higher-scoring game than most expect, with the Seahawks coming out on top.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 34, Packers 31.

Florio’s take: Green Bay’s last two wins were, in hindsight, not very impressive. The Eagles have slumped to 2-7, and the Packers didn’t exactly steamroll an overmatched Texans team. The Seahawks have the pass rush to overcome the absence of safety Earl Thomas, and the offense to take pressure away from the defense.

Florio’s pick: Seahawks 24, Packers 20.

Cowboys at Giants

MDS’s take: The injury to Jason Pierre-Paul will hit the Giants hard, and the Cowboys’ offense should have a big night as they march toward clinching home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 30, Giants 20.

Florio’s take: Yes, the Giants beat the Cowboys in Week One. But the Cowboys have gotten a lot better since then, and they realize the importance of not giving the Giants an opening to swipe the division.

Florio’s pick: Cowboys 20, Giants 17.

Ravens at Patriots

MDS’s take: The Patriots’ offense will slip without Rob Gronkowski, but I see New England’s defense doing a good job against Joe Flacco in a hard-fought and close game.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 20, Ravens 17.

Florio’s take: The Ravens give the Patriots fits in New England in the postseason. During the regular season, the Pats know how to take care of their rivals from Baltimore.

Florio’s pick: Patriots 24, Ravens 21.

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Rams’ Johnny Hekker having the greatest punting season ever

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Rams coach Jeff Fisher took some criticism yesterday when he said, “We’re on a record-setting pace with our punt team.” For the coach of one of the worst teams in the league to boast about punting doesn’t sit well with some football fans.

But here’s the thing: Rams punter Johnny Hekker really is having a great season. He’s having perhaps the greatest season of any punter in NFL history.

Net punting average is the single most important stat to use to evaluate a punter, and by that measure Hekker is having the best season ever, and it’s not even close. Hekker is already the only punter in NFL history to finish a season with a net average of over 44 yards, setting the league record for net punting average at 44.2 yards in 2013,. But this year Hekker isn’t just over 44 yards, he’s over 45 yards: If he stays at his current pace of 45.8 yards, he’ll obliterate his own record.

And Hekker is consistently putting opposing teams in bad field position: He already has 40 punts inside the 20-yard line this season, by far the most in the league and within striking distance of the NFL record of 46. At his current pace, Hekker will finish the season with 53 punts inside the 20-yard line.

Perhaps most amazingly, Hekker is nailing all those punts inside the 20 without kicking any too far: He has just one touchback this season. A ratio of 40 punts inside the 20 to one touchback is preposterous.

So laugh if you must at Fisher propping up his punting team. But know this: Fisher’s punter is having the best punting season ever.

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AFC playoff picture: Divisional races remain tight outside of the East

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Barring an epic flop, the Patriots are going to win the AFC East for the 14th time in the last 16 seasons.

There isn’t anything close to that much clarity in any of the other divisions in the AFC. The Raiders currently hold the top seed in the conference, but they are just a game up on the Chiefs with a Thursday matchup at Arrowhead Stadium looming as a major factor in deciding the AFC West.

Neither of the other divisions have a team with even that slim a lead heading into the final four weeks of the season. The Ravens and Steelers are both 7-5 with a Christmas Day game on the schedule while the Texans’ three-game losing streak leaves them with a 6-6 record. The Titans have the same mark and the Colts made it a three-way dance by beating the Jets on Monday night.

In other words, there’s a lot to sort out in the AFC.

LEADERS
1. Raiders (10-2): More late heroics have Oakland on top, but it will be fleeting if they can’t win in Kansas City.

2. Patriots (10-2): The Patriots could end Week 14 with both a division title and a first-round bye.

3. Ravens (7-5): Four home wins in the last five weeks have righted the ship in Baltimore, but they’re closing out the year by going on the road three of the next four weeks.

4. Texans (6-6): Houston will be hosting the Super Bowl, but the Texans need to find themselves in a hurry if they’re going to have any shot of playing in it.

5. Chiefs (9-3): A win on Thursday gives them a big tiebreaker advantage with a season sweep of the Raiders.

6. Broncos (8-4): They survived in Jacksonville and will be in the playoffs if they win out, although that’s a big if with the Titans, Patriots, Raiders and Chiefs left on the schedule.

OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
7. Dolphins (7-5): Their winning streak and their time in playoff position ended in Baltimore, so Miami will need some help from others to climb the ladder again.

8. Steelers (7-5): Three straight double-digit wins have the arrow pointed up for Pittsburgh.

9. Colts (6-6): After beating the Jets, they’re in position to make a run at the division crown.

10. Titans (6-6): A bye week offered some rest for Tennessee ahead of their final playoff push.

11. Bills (6-6): Blowing a 15-point lead in the final 24 minutes might have been the last gasp for Buffalo’s playoff aspirations.

12. Chargers (5-7): It was a long shot before they lost a home game to the Bucs.

13. Bengals (4-7-1): They looked better on Sunday than they have in weeks, but that has more to do with draft positioning than the playoff race at this point.

14. Jets (3-9): They were mathematically eliminated on Monday night.

15: Jaguars (2-10): When your quarterback calls the year “the biggest nightmare possible,” there’s not much left to say.

16: Browns (0-12): Four chances left to avoid a winless season in Cleveland.

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