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Clay Matthews ruled out for wild card round game with 49ers

Clay Matthews AP

If the Green Bay Packers hope to get Clay Matthews back on the field this season, they need to have their season extend beyond this weekend’s game with the San Francisco 49ers.

According to Jason Wilde of ESPNWisconsin.com, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said Monday that Matthews will not be available for the Packers this week in their playoff opener.

“I really don’t have a feel for Clay as far as where he is. I really haven’t even seen him to talk to him,” McCarthy said. “You’re always cautious with players after surgery.

“Right now he’s out for this week and that’s really what we’re focused on.”

Matthews injured his right thumb on a sack of Ben Roethlisberger in Green Bay’s Week 16 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. McCarthy called it “a repeat injury” of the injury suffered by Matthews against the Detroit Lions on Oct. 6. That injury forced Matthews to miss four games for the Packers. Matthews did not play against the Chicago Bears on Sunday.

Matthews has posted 7.5 sacks with 41 tackles and three forced fumbles for the Packers this season.

Matthews did play for the Packers in their season opening 34-28 loss to the 49ers in San Francisco. Colin Kaepernick threw for a career-high 412 yards and three touchdowns against the Packers that day. It was the only 300-yard game of the season for Kaepernick before Sunday’s season finale against the Arizona Cardinals.

With Kaepernick’s dominant performance against the Packers last year in the playoffs as well, Green Bay will need to find someway to slow the 49ers’ offensive attack and do so without Matthews in the lineup.

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Packers teammates tried to not pin hopes to Rodgers

Aaron Rodgers AP

Don’t get them wrong, the Packers are glad to have Aaron Rodgers back this week.

But they had learned over the last month not to get their hopes up.

Packers guard T.J. Lang said he had insulated himself against the possibility of bad news when he was driving to work Thursday, only to find out when he got there that Rodgers was scheduled to play against the Bears in the regular season finale.

I honestly didn’t think he was going to play,” Lang said, via Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune. “The last three or four weeks, when he was close, I learned not to get my hopes up. To hear that news on those Fridays that he was not playing, it was tough. . . .

“Everybody just kind of smiled. It’s one of those things where you’re like, ‘Finally, man.’ It was almost a sigh of relief. The news gives you a little spark.”

Getting Rodgers back will be a huge lift for the Packers, who went 2-4-1 in his absence from a broken collarbone, yet remain able to clinch a playoff berth if they beat the Bears.

Now, they almost have to worry about overconfidence, something which was not a problem as they cycled through Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn.

“Just because Aaron is the quarterback doesn’t mean we’re going to be able to go down there, have him walk out of the tunnel first and we get a win,” wide receiver Jordy Nelson said. “Everyone is going to have to do their job. Going into Chicago to beat Chicago isn’t going to be easy.”

Of course, having Rodgers makes it much more possible.

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Cardinals don’t think Crabtree is back to full speed

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As the Cardinals prepare to face the 49ers on Sunday, they’re watching film of San Francisco receiver Michael Crabtree and seeing a receiver who isn’t all the way back from the Achilles injury that sidelined him for most of the season.

Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson says he can tell by watching Crabtree that he’s not where he would be if he had been playing all season.

“He’s slowly getting back into the groove, like he’s trying to get back in game shape, get back moving the way he used to,” Peterson said, via the Sacramento Bee. “You can tell he doesn’t look as comfortable as he did when he was healthy. That’s going to come with time.”

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Crabtree seems to be improving each week but isn’t as good as he was last year.

“I do not see the same guy,” he said of Crabtree. “But he’s getting really close.”

Crabtree may not be all the way back, but after his 102-yard game on Monday night, he seems to be close. After averaging 69 receiving yards a game last season, Crabtree is averaging 64 receiving yards a game this season. Perhaps reading the comments from Peterson and Arians will motivate Crabtree to show them on Sunday that he’s just as capable of a big game against the Cardinals this year as he was last year, when he totaled 13 catches for 244 yards and four touchdowns in two games against Arizona.

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Troy Polamalu on Steelers future: Chips will land wherever they may

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The Steelers are hoping for a chaotic final Sunday so that they can wind up advancing to the playoffs out of a five-way scrum of 8-8 teams, but that’s not the likeliest outcome.

It’s more likely that the Steelers’ season will come to an end whether Pittsburgh wins or loses and that the team will start their offseason on Monday. That offseason will feature another round of decisions on veteran members of the roster as the Steelers try to get under the cap while also trying to restock the roster with talent that can help them make it back to the postseason.

One player who will be part of those decisions is safety Troy Polamalu. Polamalu, who turns 33 in April, and will have a salary cap charge of almost $10.9 million in the final year of his contract with the team. While he expects to return next season, Polamalu has seen many teammates leave Pittsburgh over the years and knows that the business side can sometimes drive decisions. That means Polamalu is leaving everyting on the table, including the possibility of retirement.

“I don’t know,” Polamalu said, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I really don’t know. … The chips will land wherever they may after this game, and we’ll see. I want to play this game as long and as good as I can play it. Whenever that [retirement] time comes, it will come. I’m not sure when it will come, though.”

Assuming the Steelers want him around, an extension that adds a year or more to Polamalu’s tenure could help bring his cap number to a more manageable level. That seems a more likely outcome than retirement or release, but, like Polamalu, we’ll see where the chips land once the Steelers season officially ends.

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Jerry Jones: Jason Garrett isn’t coaching for his job

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Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was on the radio Tuesday morning, but he didn’t have much to add from Monday’s assessment of quarterback Tony Romo’s status.

Jones reiterated that Romo has not been ruled out of Sunday’s game and that he’s going through treatment in hopes of being cleared by doctors in time to face the Eagles. Jones wouldn’t discuss more about Romo’s medical condition, citing HIPAA regulations, choosing to leave his status a “question mark” as the week unfolds.

Jones was willing to say a bit more about coach Jason Garrett, however. Jones, who said he wouldn’t give repeated votes of confidence in the coach, said that Garrett is not coaching for his job this weekend.

“He has a bright future with the Cowboys,” Jones said on 105.3 The Fan, via Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

There’s no timeframe on that future, of course, and Jones has the right and the ability to change his mind at any moment. For now, though, the Cowboys have remained steadfast when it comes to Garrett remaining on the job whether or not they beat the Eagles this weekend.

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Whether “nicked” or “tweaked,” Cam Newton seems to be fine

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers Reuters

Last week’s toe problem was “not that big a deal,” and the Panthers seem just as nonchalant about the ankle problem quarterback Cam Newton developed.

After Sunday’s win over the Saints, Newton said his ankle was “nicked,” and coach Ron Rivera used equally non-medical language to describe it.

“It was tweaked, and he feels pretty good today,” Rivera said Monday, via Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer. “He came in and got some pretty good treatment today. He rolled it and he’s out here walking around.”

Newton had his ankle re-taped during the Saints game, and may have been a bit limited in his mobility, rushing just four times for 6 yards. He was also off in the passing game, at least until his last-minute, game-winning drive.

“You got to be smart and judicious and make sure the situation calls for it, and [offensive coordinator] Mike [Shula] was very smart about it, very careful about it and unfortunately we missed some things is probably the biggest thing,” Rivera said. “We missed some throws. He had some guys open and he knew it and he threw them a little high but again as I said yesterday, when we ended him to come through he did.”

Keeping Newton well has been a challenge this year, as the right side of the Panthers offensive line has been a persistent liability. But the combination of Newton’s own size and strength, and Shula’s ability to call a game to keep him out of peril, they’ve gotten him through this far.

Getting him well and earning a bye (which they can do with a win Sunday at Atlanta or a Saints loss) will help that much more.

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Saints win and in, Cardinals need a win and Saints loss

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The 49ers became the third NFC team to clinch a playoff berth on Monday night, joining the Seahawks and Panthers. Three playoff spots remain.

One of those three will go to the winner of Sunday’s Eagles-Cowboys game and another will go to the winner of Sunday’s Packers-Bears game. The final playoff spot will go to either the Saints or the Cardinals.

The Saints have the much easier path to the playoffs: If they win at home against the Buccaneers on Sunday, the Saints are in the playoffs. Even if the Saints lose to the Buccaneers, they’ll go to the playoffs if the Cardinals lose to the 49ers.

The Cardinals’ playoff hopes come down to beating the 49ers and hoping the Bucs can upset the Saints. The Cardinals and Saints are both 10-5, and the Saints own the head-to-head tiebreaker from beating the Cardinals in Week Three, so the Cardinals only make the playoffs if they finish with a better record than the Saints.

Arizona has had a surprisingly strong season and may finish at 11-5, far better than almost anyone predicted. But that probably won’t be good enough to make the playoffs.

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Shanahan “sure” his situation will be resolved quickly

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As the Redskins close in on a season that could still secure the first overall pick . . . for the Rams . . . the head coach expects to know sooner than later whether he’ll still be the head coach.

Asked by reporters on Monday whether his job status will be resolved quickly after the season ends, coach Mike Shanahan said, “I’m sure it will, but you’ll have to ask Dan [Snyder] to make sure.  I can’t answer that.”

Well, he did answer that.  And his answer suggests that the answer will be Shanahan gets paid $7 million to not coach the Redskins in 2014.

Then again, there’s a chance (in theory) that Snyder quickly will tell Shanahan that the owner wants to sign Shanahan to an extension.  Because Snyder hasn’t said anything since the situation plunged into dysfunction 16 days ago, there’s no way to know for sure what Snyder wants.

Shanahan wants to stay.  Supposedly.

“I’ve told you from day one, I love these guys,” Shanahan said.  “We’ve been working extremely hard to put this thing together.  We’ve had a couple of bumps, which we all know, with the salary cap, but I’m looking forward to building this football team.  But like I said, it’s a situation that I’ll get the chance to sit down with Dan at the end of the season and we’ll go from there.”

With Shanahan entering the final year of his contract, the fact that he’s gotten no indication from Snyder that Snyder wants to keep Shanahan isn’t a good sign, if he truly wants to stay.  The fact that there have been no leaks regarding the next must-have coach for Snyder nevertheless raises the possibility that he could offer Shanahan a new deal — if for no reason other than to call Shanahan’s possible bluff.

Either way, Shanahan likely will find out where he stands fairly fairly soon after the season.  And then the rest of us will.

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Antoine Winfield isn’t coming back to Seahawks

Antoine Winfield AP

When Walter Thurmond was suspended for four games last month, there was word that the Seahawks had reached out to cornerback Antoine Winfield to gauge his interest in returning to the game.

Winfield was with the Seahawks in training camp and retired before the start of the season in what might have been a twist on quitting before you get fired. He was reportedly open to returning in the right situation, which might have sparked another try now that Brandon Browner’s officially been suspended.

According to Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports, that’s not going to happen. Winfield has decided to stay retired rather than try to fire things up at this point in the season and the Seahawks really wouldn’t need him as anything more than an insurance policy at this point.

Thurmond’s suspension is up after this week’s game against the Cardinals while Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane have done a good job while both Thurmond and Browner have been out of the lineup. That should make Browner’s absence much easier to swallow and leave the Seahawks in the same strong position heading into the playoffs that they were before the suspension was put in place.

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Flacco practiced on Wednesday, in limited fashion

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It’s been a strange week for Joe Flacco, and for those trying to keep up with his status.

It started on Monday night, when Flacco took a helmet from Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy to the lower leg.  After the game, Flacco said his knee felt “strong.”  (Or possibly “quite strong.”)

Then, ESPN reported that he wouldn’t need an MRI.  Then, we reported that Flacco would take it easy for a few days.

Then, the team announced that Flacco had been fitted with a knee brace, and that he’d be limited in practice.  Then, the team said on its online injury report that Flacco didn’t practice.  Then, ESPN reported that Flacco had an MRI after all, and that he has a mild MCL sprain.

The Ravens advise PFT that Flacco did indeed practice on Wednesday, on a limited basis.  According to the team, its website inadvertently listed Flacco as not practicing.

More importantly, there’s no reason to believe Flacco won’t play.  He’ll apparently play with a brace, and he should consider himself lucky to not have a more serious knee injury.  But Flacco most likely will play against the Patriots, which will help the Ravens as they attempt to extend their current winning streak to five after a 4-6 start.

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Stevie Johnson not expected to play this week

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Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson found out last Saturday that his mother died unexpectedly, but he stayed with his team in Jacksonville and played in their victory over the Jaguars on Sunday.

It doesn’t look like the team is going to have him on hand for this week’s game against the Dolphins, though. Johnson has gone to California to be with family and coach Doug Marrone said Wednesday that the team is not expecting him to be in the lineup when they try to spoil the Dolphins’ playoff dreams.

“I don’t believe that he will be available for our game on Sunday and I think it’s important we realize this tragedy, and our thoughts and our prayers are with Stevie and his family,” Marrone said, via the Buffalo News.

The Bills have played without Johnson two other times this season, going 1-1 in his absence. The loss came with Thad Lewis making his first start of the season in place of an injured E.J. Manuel, something Lewis will be doing for the fourth time against the Dolphins this weekend.

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Wes Welker remains out at Broncos practice

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The chances of wide receiver Wes Welker missing a second straight game for the Broncos because of a concussion appear to be good after Welker missed another practice on Wednesday.

Welker has not been cleared to return to work after suffering a concussion against the Titans in Week 14 and would still need to pass a series of tests between now and Sunday before he’d be given the green light to play against the Texans.

Welker has suffered a pair of concussions in a short period of time, which has led some to wonder if the Broncos might shut Welker down for the remainder of the regular season and focus on getting him healthy for the playoffs. The Broncos still have some work to do to clinch the AFC West and the first seed in the conference, but they may not need Welker to get that work done as the schedule brings them the Texans and Raiders in the next two weeks.

Joan Niesen of the Denver Post reports that the only other Broncos to miss practice were cornerback Kayvon Webster, who has a broken thumb, and defensive end Derek Wolfe, who has been out since suffering seizure-like symptoms late last month.

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Texans place Ben Tate on injured reserve

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We’ve reached that point in the season when it no longer makes sense for teams that are out of the playoffs to wait around for injured players or expose them to further injury in hopes of squeezing out another win.

The Texans are such a team and they made the call to shut down running back Ben Tate on Wednesday. The team announced that he has been placed on injured reserve because of a rib injury that’s bothered him for several weeks. Tate cracked four ribs in Week Eight and has since cracked a fifth, which led to the decision to sit him for the rest of the year.

Tate has 771 yards on 181 carries and has scored four touchdowns this year. He’s set to become a free agent after the season, so last Sunday’s game against the Colts may turn out to be his final game as a member of the Texans.

Dennis Johnson will likely get the start against the Broncos this week with Deji Karim in reserve.

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E.J. Manuel out this week, Thad Lewis to start against Dolphins

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Well, that escalated quickly.

Bills quarterback E.J. Manuel was thought to be fine after spraining his knee last week, but won’t play this week because of the injury.

Bills coach Doug Marrone said that backup quarterback Thad Lewis would start this week agains the Dolphins, and that Manuel might return to the lineup next week.

Marrone said Monday that Manuel “should be OK,” but in the two days since, the condition apparently became problematic.

Marrone told reporters that Manuel was limited in practice and could throw from the pocket, but wasn’t able to move around well enough to put him out there. While Marrone said Manuel would not play this week, he expressed confidence in his ability to return for the regular season finale.

You’d think that would be a huge boost for the Dolphins’ playoff chances, but Lewis did beat them there in October.

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Victor Cruz may be done for the season

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Although the Giants have made no official decisions about the status of wide receiver Victor Cruz, it’s looking like he may be done for the 2013 season.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin said that Cruz “has a knee that will probably prevent him from doing anything” today, and he also has concussion.

There’s already talk in New York that the decision to call up receiver Julian Talley may signal the end for Cruz, and playing it safe with Cruz would make a lot of sense for the Giants. Considering that just five months ago the Giants guaranteed Cruz a total of $15.6 million this year and next, it’s hard to imagine that they would put him on the field for a couple of meaningless games if he’s anything less than 100 percent. It would make a lot more sense for the Giants to get Cruz healthy for next year.

So as bad as the Giants’ passing game has been this season, it may be even worse as they close out the year against Detroit and Washington.

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