Le’Veon Bell makes rare decision to sit out the season

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The unlikely has now become reality. An NFL player will choose to sit out the entire season, in lieu of accepting the terms offered to him by the team that controls his rights.

That’s ultimately what the franchise tag is. It’s not an honor, as some have tried to describe it in the past. It’s an artificial restriction applied to a player who otherwise would be able to shop his services to the highest bidder. The Steelers twice exercised their right under the Collective Bargaining Agreement to restrict Bell in this way. And Bell has twice exercised his right in response to being subjected to the franchise tag.

Last year, he stayed away until Labor Day, skipping the offseason program, training camp, and the preseason and cashing every check on his way to $12.1 million. This year, he skipped everything, including the full football season. Now, when next year comes, he’ll finally get a chance to shop his services to the highest bidder.

Bell will be blamed for this outcome. By fans, by teammates, by executives, by the media. But Bell is simply making a business decision, no different than the decision to enter the draft, to not enter the draft, to sign with a team, to not sign with a team, to keep playing, to retire. The fact that it’s an unconventional business decision doesn’t change the fact that it is fundamentally a business decision.

And, when it comes to football, everyone seems to be allowed to make business decisions except the men who play football. Because we want them to entertain us. When they choose not to entertain us, we become confused. We feel betrayed. We lose the privilege of witnessing the special things a football player can do on a football field, as it relates to our fan loyalties, our viewing enjoyment, our fantasy-football lineups, our wagering interests.

Bell will be accused of “abandoning his teammates,” an outdated narrative as phony as “football is family.” Football, at the professional level, is only family when characterizing it that way is good for business. Because football, at the professional and college level, is strictly a business.

Everyone else connected to the sport will make, from time to time, business decisions. But the only ones who are widely vilified for any decision (short of an owner relocating a team, which nevertheless seems to be understood in all markets but the one the team leaves) are players who make the business decision to not play.

In Bell’s case, the Steelers opted to prevent him from getting maximum compensation for his services by squatting on his rights beyond the expiration of his contract. Twice. So he did what he had to do in an effort to get the most he could for his skills, abilities, risks, and sacrifices.

Regardless of whether future events make it a good decision or a bad decision, it’s his business decision. And how he handles it is nobody else’s business.

NFC playoff picture: Rams running away with the NFC West

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The Rams’ win over the Seahawks on Sunday just about wrapped up the NFC West.

Although Los Angeles hasn’t actually clinched the division, the Rams now have a 4.5-game lead and the head-to-head tiebreaker. There’s no realistic path to the division title for the Seahawks.

However, the Rams actually don’t control their own destiny for home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. The Saints are half a game behind the Rams but would own the head-to-head tiebreaker if they both finish 15-1.

But that’s a long way off. Here’s how the playoff picture looks after Week 10:

LEADERS
1. L.A. Rams (9-1): A half-game lead over the Saints, for now.

2. New Orleans (8-1): The good news for the Saints is they just have to keep winning.

3. Chicago (6-3): Owns the tiebreaker with Washington based on better record in NFC games.

4. Washington (6-3): The clear leader in a weak NFC East.

5. Carolina (6-3): Has the wild card lead, but catching the Saints for the division lead is a long shot.

6. Minnesota (5-3-1): Sunday night’s game in Chicago is huge in the NFC North.

OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
7. Green Bay (4-4-1): Catching both the Vikings and the Bears will be tough.

8. Atlanta (4-5): The Falcons are first in a four-team tiebreaker, thanks to a better NFC record than the Seahawks and Cowboys, and thanks to the Cowboys having the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Eagles..

9. Seattle (4-5): Owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Dallas.

10. Dallas (4-5): Owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Philadelphia.

11. Philadelphia (4-5): Losing that head-to-head game against the Cowboys was a major blow to the Eagles’ chances of repeating.

12. Tampa Bay (3-6): Owns the tiebreaker with Detroit based on NFC record.

13. Detroit (3-6): Jim Caldwell was fired after back-to-back 9-7 seasons. Matt Patricia looks unlikely to do better.

14. Arizona (2-7): At least they’re not in last place in the NFC West, thanks to their head-to-head sweep over the 49ers.

15. San Francisco (2-7): They’re in last place in the NFC West.

16. N.Y. Giants (1-7): Eli Manning is guiding them toward having the first overall pick to draft his replacement.

AFC playoff picture: Patriots take a step back

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We’re so accustomed to the Patriots having a bye week in the AFC playoffs that it’s a little shocking to look at the standings right now and realize that this year, it might not happen.

Although New England is still the overwhelming favorite to win the AFC East, the results of this week’s games show that the Patriots are no lock to earn a bye week this time around. The Patriots might have to win a couple road games in January to get to another Super Bowl.

Here’s how the AFC playoff picture looks through Week 10:

LEADERS
1. Kansas City (9-1): At this point the Chiefs’ biggest concern has to be the Chargers in the AFC West, and not the Steelers or Patriots for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

2. Pittsburgh (6-2-1): They’re as hot as anyone right now.

3. New England (7-3): The Week 15 date with the Steelers may be for a bye week.

4. Houston (6-3): The Texans are threatening to run away with the AFC South.

5. L.A. Chargers (7-2): They’ll need to win at Arrowhead Stadium to have any chance of winning the division.

6. Cincinnati (5-4): Despite an ugly showing on Sunday, the Bengals would make the playoffs today, thanks to a better AFC record than the Titans.

OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
7. Tennessee (5-4): : They made a big statement by beating the Patriots.

8. Miami (5-5): They look like they’re fading.

9. Baltimore (4-5): John Harbaugh may need a winning streak and a playoff berth to save his job. They currently own a tiebreaker over the Colts based on a better AFC record.

10. Indianapolis (4-5): The Colts look like they could go on a run over the second half of the season, but will it be enough to catch the Texans?

11. Cleveland (3-6-1): The Browns suddenly look like they’re trending upward.

12. Jacksonville (3-6): The Jaguars aren’t getting back to the playoffs, after getting so close to the Super Bowl last year.

13. Denver (3-6): Two straight losing seasons could cost Vance Joseph his job.

14. Buffalo (3-7): Quarterback No. 4, Matt Barkley, may not be the long-term answer. But he looked pretty good on Sunday.

15. N.Y. Jets (3-7): This team looks like it has to tear everything down this offseason.

16. Oakland (1-8): Jon Gruden has his team deep in the AFC basement.

FMIA Week 10: Rams Manage Win After Fire-Filled Week of ‘Horror’

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The Rams won Sunday, a footnote in an extraordinary week for the franchise and the community it calls home. Peter King kicks off his Football Morning in America Week 10 column with how the Rams navigated a fire-filled week of horror, plus so much more, including:

• Reporting from the field at Arrowhead, how the Chiefs overcame a relatively lackluster performance to beat the hapless Cardinals.

• Why Bill Belichick can’t seem to beat his proteges, as evidenced by Mike Vrabel’s Titans laying it on the Patriots in Nashville.

• What exactly Le’Veon Bell has missed out on financially by sitting out the 2018 season.

• More thoughts, notes and opinions on the Saints’ eighth straight win; the stunning Buffalo-Barkley performance; Pittsburgh’s loud statement win; MVP Watch; Week 10 awards.

• Plus 10 things, factoids, coffeenerdness, a Monday night prediction and a thorough list of the top 20 offensive and defensive rookies in football. [more]

Week 10 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 90 minutes ahead of the 1 p.m. ET kickoffs.

Bills at Jets

Bills: QB Josh Allen, QB Derek Anderson, TE Charles Clay, DE Trent Murphy, RB Chris Ivory, T Conor McDermott, G Ike Boettger

Jets: QB Sam Darnold, WR Robby Anderson, C Spencer Long, WR Deontay Burnett, CB Rashard Robinson, CB Derrick Jones, DL Foley Fatukasi

Cardinals at Chiefs

Cardinals: DT Robert Nkemdiche, WR Chad Williams, WR Kendall Wright, S Eddie Pleasant, OL Zack Golditch, G Mike Iupati, OL Coby Gossett

Chiefs: C Mitch Morse, S Eric Berry, OL Kahlil McKenzie, DL Justin Hamilton, WR Sammy Watkins, DB Josh Shaw, LB Frank Zombo

Falcons at Browns

Falcons: K Matt Bryant, FB Ricky Ortiz, CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, DB Keith Tandy, DE Steven Means, T Rees Odhiambo, T Matt Gono

Browns: QB Drew Stanton, WR Da’Mari Scott, DB Juston Burris, OL Desmond Harrison, TE Pharaoh Brown, DL Chad Thomas, DL Carl Davis

Jaguars at Colts

Jaguars: CB A.J. Bouye, RB Dave Williams, CB Dee Delaney, CB Quenton Meeks, DT Eli Ankou, DE Lerentee McCray, OL Chris Reed

Colts: TE Ryan Hewitt, TE Erik Swoope, S Mike Mitchell, OL Denzelle Good, CB Nate Hairston, DT Hassan Ridgeway, DE Kemoko Turay

Lions at Bears

Lions: CB Darius Slay, G T.J. Lang, LB Eli Harold, LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin, TE Luke Willson, WR Bruce Ellington, T Andrew Donnal

Bears: TE Dion Sims, WR Kevin White, WR Javon Wims, LB Kylie Fitts, DL Nick Williams, CB Marcus Cooper, OL Rashaad Coward

Patriots at Titans

Patriots: G Shaq Mason, TE Rob Gronkowski, RB Kenjon Barner, DE Derek Rivers, S Obi Melifonwu, T Matt Tobin, CB Keion Crossen

Titans: T Jack Conklin, FB Jalston Fowler, WR Taywan Taylor, LB Derrick Morgan, S Dane Cruikshank, DL Matt Dickerson, OL Aaron Stinnie

Washington at Buccaneers

Washington: CB Quinton Dunbar, WR Jamison Crowder, LT Trent Williams, LB Zach Vigil, LB Pernell McPhee, DL Caleb Brantley, RB Chris Thompson

Buccaneers: QB Ryan Griffin, RB Ronald Jones, CB M.J. Stewart, DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches, OL Evan Smith, OL Alex Cappa, DE Vinny Curry

Saints at Bengals

Saints: DE Marcus Davenport, LB Manti Te'o, DB J.T. Gray, OL Will Clapp, OL Michael Ola, DL Mitchell Loewen, OL Chaz Green

Bengals: WR A.J. Green, WR Josh Malone, TE Tyler Kroft, CB Darqueze Dennard, LB Vontaze Burfict, LB Nick Vigil, G Alex Redmond

Week 10 injury report roundup

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Week 10 of the 2018 NFL season kicked off on Thursday with a Steelers win and it continues with 12 more games on Sunday, which means that the 24 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 healthy enough to play 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.

Saints at Bengals

Saints WR Dez Bryant is listed as questionable with an ankle injury, but it’s believed that he tore his Achilles in Friday’s practice. DE Marcus Davenport (toe) is out for a second straight game.

Bengals WR A.J. Green (toe), WR Josh Malone (hamstring), TE Tyler Kroft (foot), LB Vontaze Burfict (hip), LB Nick Vigil (knee) and CB Darqueze Dennard (sternoclavicular) have all been ruled out. G Alex Redmond (hamstring) is listed as doubtful while RB Giovani Bernard (knee) got a questionable tag.

Lions at Bears

G T.J. Lang (neck) and CB Darius Slay (knee) will not play for the Lions in Chicago. LB Eli Harold (shoulder) is set to miss the game after being listed as doubtful while RB Kerryon Johnson (ankle), DE Ziggy Ansah (shoulder), LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin (neck) and TE Luke Willson (shoulder) are listed as questionable.

The biggest news for the Bears is that they no longer have LB Khalil Mack and WR Allen Robinson on the injury report. TE Dion Sims (concussion) is out and DT Bilal Nichols (knee) is questionable.

Falcons at Browns

Giorgio Tavecchio will handle the kicking duties for the Falcons again with Matt Bryant (right hamstring) ruled out. DE Derrick Shelby (groin) is questionable and Bruce Irvin could see more time in his Atlanta debut if Shelby doesn’t play.

The Browns listed T Desmond Harrison (illness), TE David Njoku (knee, ribs), S Damarious Randall (groin), LB Joe Schobert (ankle), WR Da'Mari Scott (shoulder), C J.C. Tretter (ankle) and CB Denzel Ward (hip) as questionable. All were at least limited participants in Friday’s practice.

Patriots at Titans

TE Rob Gronkowski (ankle, back) is listed as questionable again this week. He did not play last Sunday night. Neither did G Shaq Mason (calf) and RB Sony Michel, who are listed as questionable alongside T Trent Brown (illness), LB Dont'a Hightower (knee) and TE Jacob Hollister (hamstring).

The Titans won’t have T Jack Conklin (concussion) on Sunday. S Dane Cruikshank (knee), DT Bennie Logan (knee), LB Derrick Morgan (shoulder), WR Tajae Sharpe (ankle) and WR Taywan Taylor (foot) are listed as questionable.

Jaguars at Colts

The Jaguars didn’t give RB Leonard Fournette (hamstring) an injury designation, but cornerbacks A.J. Bouye (calf) and Quenton Meeks (knee) are out. DT Eli Ankou (calf) is listed as doubtful while TE David Grinnage (knee), DE Lerentee McCray (hamstring), TE James O'Shaughnessy (hip) and LB Telvin Smith (shoulder) make up Jacksonville’s questionable contingent.

TE Ryan Hewitt (ankle), S Michael Mitchell (calf) and TE Erik Swoope (knee) are out for the Colts. T Denzelle Good (illness), WR Ryan Grant (ankle), CB Nate Hairston (ankle) and DE Kemoko Turay (neck) drew questionable tags.

Cardinals at Chiefs

The Cardinals will try to pull off the upset without DT Robert Nkemdiche (calf) and WR Chad Williams (ankle). They listed S Budda Baker (foot), S Tre Boston (chest), TE Jermaine Gresham (back), G Mike Iupati (back), DT Corey Peters (ankle), G Justin Pugh (hand) and G Jeremy Vujnovich (hamstring) as questionable.

C Mitch Morse (concussion) is out again for the Chiefs and S Eric Berry (heel) is listed as doubtful again. G Cameron Erving (illness), LB Anthony Hitchens (rib), LB Justin Houston (hamstring), S Daniel Sorensen (knee), WR Sammy Watkins (foot) and LB Frank Zombo (hamstring) are listed as questionable.

Bills at Jets

Bills QB Josh Allen (right elbow) is questionable after a week of limited practices, so he may make his first appearance since Week Six. QB Derek Anderson (concussion), TE Charles Clay (hamstring) and DE Trent Murphy (knee) will not play. LB Tremaine Edmunds (concussion), WR Andre Holmes (neck) and RB Chris Ivory (shoulder) are considered questionable.

The Jets haven’t ruled QB Sam Darnold (foot) out for Sunday, but he’s not starting and listed as doubtful. WR Robby Anderson (ankle) and C Spencer Long (finger, knee) drew the same listing. TE Neal Sterling (concussion) has been ruled out and DL Steve McLendon (ankle) is listed as questionable.

Washington at Buccaneers

RB Chris Thompson (rib) and T Trent Williams (thumb) won’t play for Washington. WR Jamison Crowder (ankle), CB Quinton Dunbar (shin) and T Morgan Moses (knee) are listed as questionable.

The Buccaneers ruled out DE Vinny Curry (ankle), RB Ronald Jones (hamstring), G Evan Smith (hip, wrist) and CB M.J. Stewart (foot), but didn’t issue any other injury designations.

Chargers at Raiders

The wait for DE Joey Bosa (foot) continues and the Chargers listed LB Kyle Emanuel (hip), DE Chris Landrum (hip), DT Darius Philon (ankle) and CB Trevor Williams (knee) as questionable to play in Oakland.

The Raiders have 99 problems this season, but injuries aren’t one of them this week. No player got an injury designation on Friday.

Dolphins at Packers

DE Charles Harris (calf) and QB Ryan Tannehill (right shoulder) were ruled out by the Dolphins and G Ted Larsen (neck) is considered doubtful. LB Kiko Alonso (ankle) popped up on the injury report Friday and joins TE A.J. Derby (foot), WR Jakeem Grant (achilles), T Ja'Wuan James (knee) and T Laremy Tunsil (knee, ankle) in the questionable group.

Packers CB Kevin King (hamstring) is out. T Bryan Bulaga (knee), WR Randall Cobb (hamstring) and LB Blake Martinez (ankle) are listed as questionable.

Seahawks at Rams

Most of the players on the Seahawks injury report — RB Chris Carson (hip), G D.J. Fluker (calf), DT Nazair Jones (illness), S Bradley McDougald (knee), G Jordan Simmons (calf), DT Shamar Stephen (foot), LB K.J. Wright (knee) — are listed as questionable. CB Neiko Thorpe (groin) is the exception and he’s listed as doubtful.

The Rams don’t have any players listed on Friday’s injury report.

Cowboys at Eagles

WR Tavon Austin (groin), DE Taco Charlton (shoulder), DL David Irving (ankle), LB Sean Lee (hamstring), LB Joe Thomas (foot) and G Connor Williams (knee) are out for the Cowboys this weekend. DE Randy Gregory (knee) and TE Geoff Swaim (knee) are both listed as questionable.

The Eagles have ruled out CB Sidney Jones (hamstring), CB Jalen Mills (foot) and RB Darren Sproles (hamstring) for their first meeting of the year with the Cowboys. T Lane Johnson (knee) and DE Josh Sweat (hip) are listed as questionable.

Le’Veon Bell shouldn’t show up

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Despite some curious and confusing accounts this week regarding who knew what and when and why the Steelers would tip their hands regarding a legal position that could allow them to franchise-tag and trade running back Le'Veon Bell next year, the various choices and consequences seemingly have come into focus, once and for all.

Bell can show up by Tuesday and make up to $6 million in base salary for the balance of the year and head to free agency in March, or he can not show up and head to free agency in March. Either way, he’ll be a free agent in March.

At this point, then, the smart move would be to stay away.

If, as the Steelers reportedly would concede, Bell’s franchise tender in 2019 would be the average of the five highest-paid quarterbacks even if he doesn’t play at all in 2018, Bell should treat the balance of his forfeited pay as insurance of sorts on the large payout he’ll undoubtedly receive on the open market in 2019. Even if the Steelers apply the transition tag on Bell (if he doesn’t show up, the transition tender would be $14.54 million), the Steelers most likely wouldn’t match any offer sheet he signs with another team, due both to the dollars that will be involved and the manner in which the deal is structured. The Steelers won’t fully guarantee money beyond the first year of a veteran contract, which means that a two-year or three-year full guarantee at signing would be enough to scare them away from matching. (Besides, the fact that they have James Conner under contract for two more years at bargain-basement rates makes Bell a luxury the Steelers don’t need to afford.)

So the Jets or the Buccaneers or the Browns or some other team with the cash and cap space would put together an offer that would dwarf the value of the deal that Bell rejected in Pittsburgh, and he’d have extreme financial security through 2020 and possibly 2021.

What about the $14.54 million he’s losing this year? He’ll never earn that back, right? Technically, yes. But as a practical matter Bell arguably has extended his career by a full year by taking a full year off, reducing the wear and tear and allowing him to tear it up another year deeper into his 30s. Think of it as an advance on his eventual retirement. If he still plays for as many seasons as he would have played if he’d played this year, he’ll ultimately be in a better place financially, because the deal he signs with a new team in March 2019 will be much better than the deal he could have signed with the Steelers in July 2018. (And, trust me, the deal he signs in March 2019 will be much better than the deal he could have signed with the Steelers in July 2018.)

If Bell shows up, he would expose himself to up to seven games of injury risk, capped by ultra-intense postseason games, which would pay him peanuts in comparison and put him in the awkward position of choosing between assuming enhanced injury risk or packing it up and walking out in January.

So with more than $8.5 million already gone, Bell should give up the other $6 million and prepare for the many millions he’ll be getting in March, if as we all now know (and barring a switcheroo from the Steelers) he will hit the open market next year even if he doesn’t show up this year.

That’s where we are. It doesn’t matter how we got here (unless the Steelers and the NFL do indeed intend to eventually argue that Bell isn’t eligible for a quarterback-based franchise tender in 2019 if he doesn’t show up in 2018). Faced with showing up and making $6 million or staying away and preserving the ability to cash in next year, the smart play is to cash in next year.

Some may say that other teams will view Bell differently if he doesn’t show up at all. To that I’d say, “Hogwash.” He already made a business decision to skip 10 weeks and give up $8.55 million. At this point, the best business decision is to skip seven more weeks, give up the balance of the franchise tender, and wait for one or more of 31 teams to offer him something along the lines of $18 million per year with upwards of $40 million fully guaranteed at signing.

Which will happen. Great players rarely get to the open market unfettered. When they do, they get paid. A lot. Regardless of whether they made any past business decisions aimed at preserving their current and future earnings.

PFT’s Week 10 picks

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It’s getting a little tighter.

With one disagreement last week, MDS cut the deficit through nine weeks to two games. His 9-4 performance, combined with my 8-5 showing, resulted in a season-to-date record for me of 85-49 (63.4 percent). MDS is 83-51 (61.9 percent).

MDS had a very good week in the picks against the spread, where he used having dibs over me to squat on all the games I liked. He went 3-0, I was 1-2. For the season, I’m 13-13-1. MDS is 11-14-2.

This week’s best bets appear in the attached video. For all picks (not against the spread), scroll away.

Panthers at Steelers

MDS’s take: The Steelers’ offense is humming along, and demonstrating that Le'Veon Bell wasn’t particularly important. They’ll keep humming along against the Panthers on Thursday night.

MDS’s pick: Steelers 28, Panthers 20.

Florio’s take: A sneaky great game, and the Panthers won’t be sneaking up on anyone after scoring 99 points in nine quarters. Advantage, home team.

Florio’s pick: Steelers 28, Panthers 24.


Saints at Bengals

MDS’s take: The Saints could be due for a letdown after their big win over the Rams, but I think they’ll pull it together and pull off a late victory in a close game.

MDS’s pick: Saints 28, Bengals 27.

Florio’s take: The Saints need to win games like this one, because for the most part the challenges will only be getting more daunting.

Florio’s pick: Saints 27, Bengals 21.


Falcons at Browns

MDS’s take: The Falcons look to me like they’re ready to go on a late-season run. The Browns look . . . otherwise.

MDS’s pick: Falcons 30, Browns 17.

Florio’s take: The Falcons have found their way, and the Browns are lost.

Florio’s pick: Falcons 30, Browns 17.


Lions at Bears

MDS’s take: The Lions couldn’t protect Matthew Stafford last week, and the Bears’ pass rush will make life miserable for Stafford again.

MDS’s pick: Bears 24, Lions 14.

Florio’s take: The Bears enter a challenging three-game stretch (Lions, Vikings, at Lions) with perhaps the only win they’ll get.

Florio’s pick: Bears 23, Lions 16.


Cardinals at Chiefs

MDS’s take: If the Chiefs want to pour it on, this could be the biggest blowout of the NFL season. But I suspect Kansas City will take its foot off the gas early.

MDS’s pick: Chiefs 30, Cardinals 21.

Florio’s take: The Cardinals are getting 17 points. And it still doesn’t feel like it’s enough.

Florio’s pick: Chiefs 41, Cardinals 17.


Patriots at Titans

MDS’s take: It’s student against teacher with Mike Vrabel coaching against Bill Belichick, and I’ll take the Patriots’ defense to shut down the Titans’ offense.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 24, Titans 13.

Florio’s take: The Titans are capable of beating anyone. The Patriots currently don’t seem to be susceptible to losing to anyone.

Florio’s pick: Patriots 27, Titans 17.


Washington at Buccaneers

MDS’s take: I can’t get much of a read on either of these teams, but I’ll pick Ryan Fitzpatrick to have a big game, and the injury-plagued Washington offense to struggle to keep up.

MDS’s pick: Buccaneers 27, Washington 17.

Florio’s take: Two teams whose seasons are in the midst of falling apart, one slowly and one more suddenly. Someone needs to win. Give it to the home team.

Florio’s pick: Buccaneers 27, Washington 13.


Bills at Jets

MDS’s take: The Jets may be without rookie quarterback Sam Darnold and going to Josh McCown, but at this point I wouldn’t pick the Bills to beat anyone.

MDS’s pick: Jets 20, Bills 10.

Florio’s take: Josh McCown may get a chance to earn his $10 million. Given that he’ll likely face Nathan Peterman or Derek Anderson, McCown will.

Florio’s pick: Jets 20, Bills 6.


Jaguars at Colts

MDS’s take: These two teams are going in different directions, and the Colts may give the Jaguars’ playoff hopes a death blow on Sunday.

MDS’s pick: Colts 24, Jaguars 20.

Florio’s take: The Jags return from the bye as underdogs against a Colts team that not long ago was regarded as woeful. The Colts are woeful no more.

Florio’s pick: Colts 27, Jaguars 20.


Chargers at Raiders

MDS’s take: The Chargers have quietly put together one of the NFL’s best rosters. The Raiders have . . . not.

MDS’s pick: Chargers 34, Raiders 14.

Florio’s take: The Raiders are winning by losing. So they win again on Sunday. And they lose.

Florio’s pick: Chargers 27, Raiders 10.


Seahawks at Rams

MDS’s take: The Rams can basically wrap up the NFC West with a win, and I think they’ll do exactly that against a Seahawks team that is playing hard but can’t quite compete with the best teams in the NFL.

MDS’s pick: Rams 28, Seahawks 17.

Florio’s take: It’s the last chance for the Seahawks to position themselves for a run at the division title. Come Monday they’ll be thinking about their last chance to position themselves for a run at a wild card.

Florio’s pick: Rams 31, Seahawks 21.


Dolphins at Packers

MDS’s take: This is a game the Packers need to win if they’re going to have any hope of keeping pace in the NFC North. I think they will, but the Dolphins will give them a closer game than most are expecting.

MDS’s pick: Packers 21, Dolphins 20.

Florio’s take: Aaron Rodgers goes from GOAT vs. GOAT to GOAT vs. literal goat.

Florio’s pick: Packers 34, Dolphins 17.


Cowboys at Eagles

MDS’s take: The NFC East remains a three-team race, but the Cowboys probably have to win this one to have a realistic chance of staying in that race. I like the Eagles to put a dagger in the Cowboys.

MDS’s pick: Eagles 28, Cowboys 20.

Florio’s take: Troy Aikman is right.

Florio’s pick: Eagles 30, Cowboys 13.


Giants at 49ers

MDS’s take: Eli Manning vs. Nick Mullens. The team with the better quarterback will win this one.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 24, Giants 17.

Florio’s take: 28 years after a classic Monday night game between the Giants and 49ers, it’s the exact opposite. 

Florio’s pick: 49ers 27, Giants 20.

NFC playoff picture: Rams are in first, despite a loss

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The Rams remain the top team in the NFC playoff race, even after losing to the Saints.

Although the Saints now own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Rams, L.A. is on top because it has played and won one more game than New Orleans has. So the Rams are the favorites to earn home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, just not the overwhelming favorites they would have been if they had beaten the Saints.

Here’s how the playoff picture looks heading into Week 10:

LEADERS
1. L.A. Rams (8-1): A loss in New Orleans doesn’t change the fact that the Rams are the class of the conference.

2. New Orleans (7-1): The good news for the Saints is they just have to keep winning.

3. Chicago (5-3): Owns the tiebreaker with Washington based on better record in NFC games.

4. Washington (5-3): The leader in a weak NFC East.

5. Carolina (6-2): Has the wild card lead heading into Week 10.

6. Minnesota (5-3-1): Half a game behind The Bears in the NFC North.

OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
7. Atlanta (4-4): Owns the three-way tiebreaker over Philadelphia and Seattle thanks to its 4-2 NFC record. Because it’s a three-way tie, Philadelphia’s head-to-head victory over Atlanta doesn’t come into play.

8. Seattle (4-4): Owns the tiebreaker over Philadelphia thanks to its 3-2 NFC record.

9. Philadelphia (4-4): The 2-3 conference record hurts in the tiebreaker calculations.

10. Green Bay (3-4-1): The Packers are still in the playoff race, but it’ll be an uphill climb from here.

11. Dallas (3-5): Owns the common games tiebreaker over Tampa Bay.

12. Tampa Bay (3-5): Owns the tiebreaker with Detroit based on NFC record.

13. Detroit (3-5): Jim Caldwell was fired after back-to-back 9-7 seasons. Matt Patricia looks unlikely to do better.

14. Arizona (2-6): At least they’re not in last place in the NFC West.

15. San Francisco (2-7): They’re in last place in the NFC West.

16. N.Y. Giants (1-7): Eli Manning is guiding them toward having the first overall pick to draft his replacement.

AFC playoff picture: Chiefs and Patriots have the lead

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As we head into Week 10 of the NFL season, we’re taking our first look at the playoff picture, and the top two teams have separated themselves from the pack.

The Chiefs are the top team in the conference, but the Patriots are only a game behind and have the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Chiefs also have the Chargers to contend with in the AFC West, so Kansas City can’t get complacent.

Here’s how the race looks before Week 10:

LEADERS
1. Kansas City (8-1): Owns a one-game lead in the conference and a 1.5-game lead in the division.

2. New England (7-2): The Patriots appear destined to get their usual bye week.

3. Pittsburgh (5-2-1): After a sluggish start, the Steelers now control the AFC North.

4. Houston (6-3): The Texans are threatening to run away with the AFC South.

5. L.A. Chargers (6-2): They’d be a dangerous wild card.

6. Cincinnati (5-3): Marvin Lewis is on pace to save his job by getting the Bengals back to the playoffs.

OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
7. Miami (5-4): They won’t catch the Patriots, but the Dolphins are very much alive in wild card contention.

8. Tennessee (4-4): : The Titans won a playoff game last season and fired Mike Mularkey anyway. Will they even get to the playoffs with Mike Vrabel?

9. Baltimore (4-5): John Harbaugh may need a winning streak and a playoff berth to save his job.

10. Jacksonville (3-5): The Jaguars currently own the tiebreaker over the Colts, based on having a better record in common games.

11. Indianapolis (3-5): The Colts look like they could go on a run over the second half of the season, but will it be enough to catch the Texans?

12. N.Y. Jets (3-6): The Jets have the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Broncos.

13. Denver (3-6): Two straight losing seasons could cost Vance Joseph his job.

14. Cleveland (2-6-1): The Browns are a little better. They need to get a lot better.

15. Buffalo (2-7): They keep losing no matter which of their three quarterbacks play.

16. Oakland (1-7): Jon Gruden won’t be making the playoffs in his first year back in Oakland.

Who’s on the hot seat, halfway through the season?

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Week Nine has ended, which means that all teams have played at least eight games. One of those teams already has fired its coach. History says at least several more will do the same.

So who’s in trouble with eight weeks left in the season?

In no particular order, here’s a list of the guys who currently could be learning in less than eight weeks that their services no longer will be needed.

Jason Garrett, Cowboys: There’s a growing belief in league circles that, if the Cowboys don’t make it to the playoffs, Garrett will be gone. The real question is whether owner Jerry Jones would hire an A-list, type-A replacement or another B-level coach who will gladly let Jones be the actual or perceived puppeteer.

Dirk Koetter, Buccaneers: The situation is becoming more dire for Dirk. And he surely knows it, as evidenced by the misguided, desperate, and clunky fake punt in the latest, loss to the Panthers.

Todd Bowles, Jets: After a 3-3 start, the Jets have lost three in a row, and CEO Christopher Johnson could be ready to find an offensive specialist who will get the most out of quarterback Sam Darnold.

John Harbaugh, Ravens: Though he’d be unemployed for hours not days, a failure by the Ravens to rectify a 1-4 free fall could bring the Harbaugh era to an end. Which could result in the Browns finally hiring a Harbaugh to coach the team.

Adam Gase, Dolphins: Currently 5-4, a disastrous finish could prompt owner Stephen Ross to forget about that unlikely 2016 playoff berth and make a change. If Gase stays, he may have no choice but to replace Ryan Tannehill at quarterback.

Vance Joseph, Broncos: Denver needs to finish 5-2 to avoid the first back-to-back losing seasons for the team since 1971-72. As a result, anything other than 5-2 will make Joseph’s termination more likely — unless G.M. John Elway opts for a third chance to prove that he made the right hire in 2017.

Mike McCarthy, Packers: With a new G.M. who seems to be intent on doing things differently and a direct-line reporting obligation to CEO Mark Murphy, a failure to make it to the playoffs despite having one of the best quarterbacks in league history could result in another coach finally getting a chance to get it done in Green Bay.

Pete Carroll, Seahawks: An unsettled ownership situation actually could help Carroll get another year, since it could be months before an answer emerges as to what will happen with the franchise. With Carroll under contract, it could make sense to stay the course until the next owner decides what he or she wants to do.

 

Week 10 power rankings

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1. Saints (7-1; last week No. 2): It may finally be time for an MVP award for Drew Brees.

2. Rams (8-1; No. 1): Defense wins championships. Which will make it harder for the Rams to win a championship.

3. Patriots (7-2; No. 3): They may not lose again, playoffs included.

4. Chiefs (8-1; No. 4): That 17-point spread against the Cardinals may not be big enough.

5. Chargers (6-2; No. 5): An all-L.A. Super Bowl isn’t out of the question.

6. Steelers (5-2-1; No. 6): FOX can bring the “now it’s a game” motto out of mothballs for Thursday night, when Pittsburgh hosts Carolina.

7. Panthers (6-2; No. 8): And the folks at WFNZ will still say they should be higher than this.

8. Vikings (5-3-1; No. 9): The Purple People Eaters Part III could be the thing that propels Minnesota to an Atlanta Super Bowl.

9. Eagles (4-4; No. 10): Philly’s best week arguably came while on a bye, given the implosion of both Washington and Dallas.

10. Texans (6-3; No. 11): Bill O’Brien didn’t say that thing that every Broncos fan was thinking.

11. Bears (5-3; No. 14): The record could/should be better, but 5-3 is better than anyone could have expected in August.

12. Bengals (5-3; No. 12): If A.J. Green misses extensive time, the Bengals won’t get a chance to extend their streak of playoff losses.

13. Washington (5-3; No. 7): Sunday went as badly as it could have for a team that is still in first place in the NFC East, somehow.

14. Packers (3-4-1; No. 13): Mike McCarthy’s ability to continue to be bailed out by Aaron Rodgers in 2019 hinges on whether Aaron Rodgers can bail out Mike McCarthy in 2018.

15. Falcons (4-4; No. 19): The team that will be hosting the Super Bowl still has a chance to play in it.

16. Seahawks (4-4; No. 15): The season may hinge on their ability to upset the Rams on Sunday.

17. Ravens (4-5; No. 16): Joe Flacco might look good in silver and black.

18. Dolphins (5-4; No. 18): Having Darnold-Osweiler as the undercard to Rodgers-Brady II was like pulling a couple of schmoes out of the crowd before Creed-Balboa II.

19. Titans (4-4; No. 25): With a win in the bank over the Texans, the Titans could still win the division.

20. Lions (3-5; No. 17): The window is quickly closing.

21. Buccaneers (3-5; No. 20): The window is quickly closing.

22. Cowboys (3-5; No. 21): The window is quickly closing.

23. Jaguars (3-5; No. 22): The window is quickly closing.

24. Browns (2-6-1; No. 23): The window is nailed shut.

25. Broncos (3-6; No. 24): The Broncos need to go 5-2 to avoid the franchise’s first back-to-back losing seasons since 1971-72. In other words, the Broncos will have their first back-to-back losing seasons since 1971-72.

26. Colts (3-5; No. 26): Captain Andrew Luck returns from R&R with three straight winnable battles at home.

27. Jets (3-6; No. 27): Todd Bowles is rocketing toward his next defensive coordinator gig.

28. Cardinals (2-6; No. 28): The Sam Bradford debacle could result in the reset button being pressed in Arizona.

29. 49ers (2-7; No. 30): When Nick Mullens is the best thing about the 2018 49ers, it’s been a long 2018 for the 49ers.

30. Bills (2-7; No. 29): Nathan Peterman isn’t snakebit; he’s snake-swallowed.

31. Giants (1-7; No. 32): With a one-spot bump during the bye, maybe the Giants should take more weekends off.

32. Raiders (1-7; No. 31): Las Vegas wants to know if it can have the Chargers instead.

FMIA Week 9: The Patriots Just Keep Winning and They Really Don’t Care

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The team everyone loves to hate just keeps on winning. From the field in Foxboro, Peter King kicks off his Football Morning in America Week 9 column with the star-studded scene from the Rodgers-Brady showdown and so much more, including:

• How Alex Cora, Rupert Murdoch and Mick Jagger are all involved with this latest chapter of the Patriots dynasty.

• The Saints stopped the Rams’ unbeaten run, but don’t go giving the NFC’s No. 1 playoff seed to New Orleans just yet.

• Why Paul Zimmerman’s legacy is complicated, and what The Flaming Redhead learned in her life alongside Dr. Z.

• The numbers are coming in on the impact of Le’Veon Bell’s bizarre holdout, and they are not pretty for the man who’s skipped $7 million in salary.

• More thoughts, notes and opinions on the commonality in recent Cleveland coach firings; the Adrian Peterson-Orleans Darkwa connection; the latest Sam Bradford development; MVP Watch; Week 9 awards.

• Plus 10 things, factoids, beernerdness, coffeenerdness, a Monday night prediction and Benjamin Watson’s plea for people to use their voices on Tuesday. [more]

Week Nine 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 90 minutes ahead of the 1 p.m. ET kickoffs.

Bears at Bills

Bears: LB Khalil Mack, WR Allen Robinson, WR Kevin White, CB Marcus Cooper,  OL Rashaad Coward, TE Ben Braunecker, DL Bilal Nichols

Bills: QB Josh Allen, QB Derek Anderson, WR Cam Phillips, T Conor McDermott, G Ike Boettger, DE Trent Murphy, LB Tremaine Edmunds

Buccaneers at Panthers

Buccaneers: RB Ronald Jones, CB M.J. Stewart, DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches, G Evan Smith, G Alex Cappa, DE Demone Harris, QB Ryan Griffin

Panthers: WR Torrey Smith, CB Josh Hawkins, RB Cameron Artis-Payne, LB Andre Smith, G Brendan Mahon, G Amini Silatolu, DE Marquis Haynes.

Chiefs at Browns

Chiefs: S Eric Berry, RB Darrel Williams, LB Justin Houston, LB Frank Zombo, C Mitch Morse, OL Kahlil McKenzie, DL Justin Hamilton

Browns: QB Drew Stanton, WR Da'Mari Scott, T Desmond Harrison, DB Damarious Randall, LB Joe Schobert, TE Pharaoh Brown, DL Chad Thomas

Falcons at Washington

Falcons: K Matt Bryant, CB Robert Alford, RB Brian Hill, DE Steven Means, G Austin Pasztor, G Rees Odhiambo, T Matt Gono

Washington: RB Chris Thompson, CB Adonis Alexander, S Kenny Ladler, C Casey Dunn, T Trent Williams, WR Jamison Crowder, WR Brian Quick

Jets at Dolphins

Jets: CB Trumaine Johnson, CB Derrick Jones, LB Kevin Pierre-Louis, OL Dakota Dozier, LB Frankie Luvu, TE Neal Sterling, DL Foley Fatukasi

Dolphins: QB Ryan Tannehill, LB Martrell Spaight, C Wesley Johnson, DE Jonathan Woodard, T Sam Young, TE A.J. Derby, DE Charles Harris

Lions at Vikings

Lions: LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin, DE Kerry Hyder, RB Ameer Abdullah, DE Eric Lee, G Joe Dahl, T Andrew Donnal, LB Kelvin Sheppard

Vikings: WR Stefon Diggs, S Andrew Sendejo, LB Anthony Barr, G Tom Compton, RB Roc Thomas, QB Kyle Sloter, DE Tashawn Bower

Steelers at Ravens

Steelers: QB Mason Rudolph, WR Justin Hunter, S Marcus Allen, CB Brian Allen, T Zach Banner, T Marcus Gilbert, DE L.T. Walton

Ravens: T Ronnie Stanley, T James Hurst, LB Tim Williams, WR Jordan Lasley, QB Robert Griffin III, TE Maxx Williams, RB Ty Montgomery

Week Nine injury report roundup

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Week Nine of the 2018 NFL season kicked off on Thursday with a 49ers win and it continues with 11 more games on Sunday, which means that the 22 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 healthy enough to play 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.

Bears at Bills

Bears LB Khalil Mack (ankle) and WR Allen Robinson (groin) are questionable for the third straight week. They missed last week after playing in Week Seven. DT Bilal Nichols (knee) is also listed as questionable while TE Ben Braunecker (concussion) and G Kyle Long (foot) have been ruled out.

QB Josh Allen (elbow) is out again, but did return to practice on Friday. The Bills are keeping the door open for QB Derek Anderson and LB Tremaine Edmunds to clear the concussion protocol after listing them as questionable. Nathan Peterman is set to start if Anderson is out. DE Trent Murphy (knee) has also been ruled out.

Buccaneers at Panthers

The Buccaneers will play their NFC South rivals without RB Ronald Jones (hamstring), G Evan Smith (hip) and CB M.J. Stewart (foot). DE Vinny Curry (ankle) and DT Gerald McCoy (calf, not injury related) are listed as questionable.

WR Torrey Smith (knee) is out and no one else on the Panthers got an injury designation.

Chiefs at Browns

The Chiefs ruled out C Mitch Morse (concussion) and LB Frank Zombo (hamstring). S Eric Berry (heel) is listed as doubtful for the ninth week in a row and has yet to play in a game. Linebackers Anthony Hitchens (rib) and Justin Houston (hamstring) are listed as questionable.

LB Joe Schobert (hamstring) won’t play in Gregg Williams’ debut as Browns head coach. WR Antonio Callaway (ankle), T Desmond Harrison (illness), WR Rashard Higgins (knee), S Damarious Randall (groin), WR Da'Mari Scott (shoulder), CB Tavierre Thomas (abdomen) and C J.C. Tretter (ankle) make up the questionable group in Cleveland.

Falcons at Washington

The Falcons have just two players with injury designations. CB Robert Alford (ankle) and K Matt Bryant (hamstring) are both out this weekend.

Washington will play without three key offensive players after ruling out WR Jamison Crowder (ankle), RB Chris Thompson (rib) and T Trent Williams (thumb, shoulder). LB Ryan Anderson (knee), RB Kapri Bibbs (shoulder), S Montae Nicholson (neck, hip) and WR Paul Richardson (shoulder, knee) were all listed as questionable.

Jets at Dolphins

Wide receivers Robby Anderson (ankle) and Quincy Enunwa (ankle) could return to action for the Jets after getting questionable tags. LB Frankie Luvu (neck), DT Steve McLendon (ankle) and WR Andre Roberts (back) are also listed as questionable while TE Neal Sterling (concussion) has been ruled out. CB Trumaine Johnson (quadricep) and LB Kevin Pierre-Louis (foot) will likely sit after being listed a doubtful.

DE Charles Harris (calf) and QB Ryan Tannehill (right shoulder) are out for the Dolphins. TE A.J. Derby (foot), CB Xavien Howard (ankle) and WR Kenny Stills (groin) will be Sunday calls as the owners of questionable tags.

Lions at Vikings

DE Ziggy Ansah (shoulder) hasn’t played since the opener and is listed as questionable once again for the Lions. G T.J. Lang (hip) and CB Darius Slay (knee) are also in that category while LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin (toe, neck) is considered doubtful.

Word on Friday is that Vikings RB Dalvin Cook (hamstring) is on track to play. He’s officially listed as questionable along with WR Stefon Diggs (rib), T Riley Reiff (foot), CB Xavier Rhodes (foot) and S Andrew Sendejo (groin). LB Anthony Barr (hamstring), G Tom Compton (knee) and RB Roc Thomas (hamstring) will all miss the NFC North clash.

Steelers at Ravens

Steelers T Marcus Gilbert (knee) is listed as doubtful for the AFC North matchup. Cornerbacks Artie Burns (ankle) and Coty Sensabaugh (toe) are listed as questionable.

The Ravens will be down both starting offensive tackles after ruling out James Hurst (back) and Ronnie Stanley (ankle). LB Tim Williams (ankle) has also been ruled out and the questionable group is made up of G Bradley Bozeman (calf), RB Alex Collins (foot), CB Marlon Humphrey (thigh), S Tony Jefferson (hamstring), WR Jordan Lasley (hamstring), G Alex Lewis (neck) and LB C.J. Mosley (thigh).

Chargers at Seahawks

DE Joey Bosa (foot), DE Chris Landrum (hip) and LB Kyzir White (knee) won’t play for the Chargers, who hope to get RB Melvin Gordon (hamstring) back after listing him as questionable.

G Jordan Simmons (calf) and CB Neiko Thorpe (groin) are listed as doubtful by the Seahawks. RB Chris Carson (hip), S Bradley McDougald (knee) and LB K.J. Wright (knee) are listed as questionable.

Texans at Broncos

LB Jadeveon Clowney (groin), CB Aaron Colvin (ankle), WR Keke Coutee (hamstring), S Andre Hal (shoulder) and CB Johnathan Joseph (ankle, knee) drew questionable tags for the Texans. LB Zach Cunningham (knee) is out.

The Broncos ruled out WR DaeSean Hamilton (knee), LB Brandon Marshall (knee), CB Bradley Roby (ankle) and S Darian Stewart (neck). RB Royce Freeman (ankle) is listed as questionable.

Rams at Saints

CB Sam Shields (illness) is listed as questionable and makes up the entire Rams injury report.

The Saints also have a one-man injury report. Unfortunately for them, DE Marcus Davenport (toe) has been ruled out.

Packers at Patriots

WR Geronimo Allison (hamstring, groin) played last week, but he’s doubtful for the Packers after adding a groin injury to his hamstring issue. WR Randall Cobb (hamstring), LB Nick Perry (ankle) and S Jermaine Whitehead (back) are listed as questionable.

Thirteen members of the Patriots are listed as questionable. T Trent Brown (ankle), T Marcus Cannon (concussion), LS Joe Cardona (shoulder), WR Julian Edelman (ankle), WR Josh Gordon (hamstring), LB Nicholas Grigsby (illness), DE Geneo Grissom (ankle), TE Rob Gronkowski (ankle, back), LB Dont'a Hightower (knee), TE Jacob Hollister (hamstring), RB Sony Michel (knee), WR Cordarrelle Patterson (neck) and DE John Simon (shoulder) make up that group. In more definitive news, G Shaq Mason (calf) and C Brian Schwenke (foot) have been ruled out.