Nine teams have playoff clinching scenarios in Week 16

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The Saints, Rams, Cowboys, Seahawks, Vikings, Chiefs, Texans, Patriots and Steelers can all clinch either playoff berths, divisions or seeds this week.

Those nine teams all have scenarios that would allow them to clinch something, be it home-field advantage, a first-round bye, a division or a playoff berth.

The Bears have already clinched their division, and the Chargers have already clinched a playoff berth, but they have no further clinching scenarios in Week 16.

Here are the Week 16 playoff scenarios, as distributed by the NFL:

NFC

CLINCHED:
Los Angeles Rams – NFC West division title
New Orleans Saints – NFC South division title
Chicago Bears – NFC North division title


NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (12-2) (vs. Pittsburgh (8-5-1), Sunday, 4:25 PM ET, CBS)

New Orleans clinches home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs with:

NO win OR
NO tie + LAR loss or tie OR
CHI loss or tie + LAR loss

New Orleans clinches a first-round bye with:

NO tie OR
CHI loss or tie OR
LAR loss


LOS ANGELES RAMS (11-3) (at Arizona (3-11), Sunday, 4:05 PM ET, FOX)

Los Angeles clinches a first-round bye with:

LAR win + CHI loss or tie OR
LAR tie + CHI loss


DALLAS COWBOYS (8-6) (vs. Tampa Bay (5-9), Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, FOX)

Dallas clinches NFC East division title with:

DAL win OR
DAL tie + PHI loss or tie + WAS loss or tie OR
PHI loss + WAS loss

Dallas clinches a playoff berth with:

DAL tie + MIN loss


SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (8-6) (vs. Kansas City (11-3), Sunday night, 8:20 PM ET, NBC)

Seattle clinches a playoff berth with:

SEA win + WAS loss or tie OR
SEA win or tie + MIN loss OR
SEA win + SEA clinches strength of victory tiebreaker over WAS OR
SEA win + MIN tie + SEA clinches strength of victory tiebreaker over MIN OR
SEA tie + WAS loss + PHI loss or tie


MINNESOTA VIKINGS (7-6-1) (at Detroit (5-9), Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, FOX)

Minnesota clinches a playoff berth with:

MIN win+ PHI loss or tie + WAS loss


AFC

CLINCHED:
Kansas City Chiefs – Playoff berth
Los Angeles Chargers – Playoff berth


KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (11-3) (at Seattle (8-6), Sunday night, 8:20 PM ET, NBC)

Kansas City clinches AFC West division title and a first-round bye with:

KC win + LAC loss

Kansas City clinches home-field advantage throughout AFC playoffs with:

KC win + LAC loss + HOU loss or tie OR
KC win + LAC loss + KC clinches strength of victory tiebreaker over HOU


HOUSTON TEXANS (10-4) (at Philadelphia (7-7), Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, CBS)

Houston clinches AFC South division title with:

HOU win or tie OR
IND loss or tie + TEN loss or tie

Houston clinches a first-round bye with:

HOU win + NE loss or tie OR
HOU tie + NE loss

Houston clinches a playoff berth with:

BAL loss or tie OR
PIT loss OR
TEN loss or tie + HOU clinches strength of victory tiebreaker over BAL


NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (9-5) (vs. Buffalo (5-9), Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, CBS)

New England clinches AFC East division title with:

NE win or tie OR
MIA loss or tie


PITTSBURGH STEELERS (8-5-1) (at New Orleans (12-2), Sunday, 4:25 PM ET, CBS)

Pittsburgh clinches AFC North division title with:

PIT win + BAL loss or tie OR
PIT tie + BAL loss

Pittsburgh clinches a playoff berth with:

PIT win + IND loss + TEN loss

Saints become fourth NFL team to forge a casino partnership

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The Saints will be doing business with one of the biggest residents of Sin City.

Joining with the New Orleans Pelicans, the NBA franchise owned by Saints owner Gayle Benson, the Saints have launched a casino partnership with Harrah’s New Orleans.

“We are proud to align ourselves with a brand such as Harrah’s New Orleans Casino that is an industry leader not only nationally but on a local level as well,” Saints and Pelicans president Dennis Lauscha said in a release. “Located in the heart of Downtown New Orleans, Harrah’s vision for development and commitment to the city mirror that of the Saints and Pelicans and we could not be happier about this partnership.”

The Cowboys, Raiders, and Jets also have started casino partnerships in the months since the U.S. Supreme Court opened the floodgates for legalized sports wagering, to be established on a state-by-state basis.

The multi-year partnership begins in 2019. That’s the same year during which Louisiana is expected to legalize wagering on sporting events.

Eight states have legalized wagering on sports, with seven joining Nevada in the seven months since the green light was given to this specific form of gambling.

Mike Williams is the AFC offensive player of the week

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The Chargers’ success as a team is resulting in plenty of recognition for the players who are contributing to it. A day after seven members of L.A.’s other team made it to the Pro Bowl, receiver Mike Williams became the AFC’s offensive player of the week.

It’s no surprise; Williams scored three touchdowns (two receiving, one rushing) during Thursday’s 29-28 win over the Chiefs. He also scored the decisive two-point conversion, thanks to an out route from bunch formation that sufficiently confused the Kansas City defense to result in no one covering him.

For the game, Williams caught severn passes for 76 yards. His touchdown run covered 19 yards.

The outcome thrust the Chargers into the discussion for the No. 1 seed in the AFC, which would in turn relegate the Chiefs to No. 5.

The 2017 top-10 pick, who had a disappointing, injury-plagued rookie season, has rebounded with 592 receiving yards and 10 total touchdowns. While that’s a far cry from becoming a top-five receiver, Thursday’s night performance was a huge step in the right direction.

Devin Bush will enter the 2019 NFL Draft

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Defensive lineman Rashan Gary isn’t the only Michigan defensive player giving up his remaining eligibility in order to enter the pool for the 2019 NFL Draft.

Linebacker Devin Bush announced on Wednesday that he will also be moving up to the professional ranks. Bush hurt his hip in the Wolverines’ loss to Ohio State last month and said in his announcement that he has not been cleared to practice or play in the Peach Bowl, so that game will go down as the final one of his college career.

Bush was named a first- or second-team All-American by a variety of outlets over the last two seasons and he was the Big Ten defensive player of the year in 2018. He had 18.5 tackles for loss, 10 sacks and an interception over the last two seasons in Ann Arbor.

Bush’s father, also named Devin, was a Falcons first-round pick in 1995 and played 116 NFL games. The younger Bush is generally viewed as a prospect who will be off the board in the first two days of the draft, although his recovery from the injury and performance in pre-draft workouts will determine exactly where he falls.

Lions put Kerryon Johnson on injured reserve

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Though it took them a bit to realize it, Kerryon Johnson became the lead back the Lions have been looking for.

They’ll know that going into 2019, because he’s done for this year.

Accoriding to Adam Schefter of ESPN, the Lions are shelving the running back for the rest of the season, putting him on injured reserve.

Johnson injured his knee in November against the Panthers, and there was some thought he might return this year. But with the playoffs no longer a possibility, shutting down the rookie was the prudent play.

The second-round pick was part of a job-share much longer than he should have been earlier this year, but he still leads the team with 641 rushing yards despite missing the last four games. He averaged 5.4 yards per attempt.

When they upset the Patriots in September, he became the first Lion to post a 100-yard game since Reggie Bush in 2013.

Robbie Gould is the NFC special teams player of the week

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The 49ers dealt their divisional rivals from Seattle an overtime loss last Sunday and kicker Robbie Gould had a big role in making that happen.

Gould made four field goals, including the game-winner, and two extra points as the 49ers beat the Seahawks 26-23. The win kept the Seahawks from clinching a playoff berth, which is a bright spot in a season short on them for the 49ers.

The six made kicks were enough to land Gould notice as the NFC special teams player of the week.

Last Sunday’s work leaves him 29-of-30 on field goals and 24-of-26 on extra points for the year and he’s now 68-of-71 on field goals since joining the 49ers before the 2017 season. He’s set for free agency this offseason and that kind of accuracy should lead to a nice deal whether he stays put or makes a move this offseason.

Giants activate wideout Cody Latimer from IR

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The Giants don’t need a single player to help make a playoff push, but they do have a need for a healthy wide receiver.

The team announced that wideout Cody Latimer was activated off injured reserve, and that defensive back Antonio Hamilton was placed on IR to make the roster spot.

Latimer went on IR in October with a hamstring issue. The former second-round pick of the Broncos was the Giants’ No. 3 receiver before that, catching six passes for 108 yards in the first four games.

They have issues now, and need some cover at the position for the final two. With Odell Beckham‘s status up in the air because of his quad injury, and Russell Shepard showing up in a boot earlier this week because of an ankle sprain, the Giants are a bit short there.

Grady Jarrett named NFC defensive player of the week

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It’s been a miserable season for the Falcons, but last Sunday was a welcome diversion from the usual results.

The Falcons routed the Cardinals 40-14 to end a five-game losing streak and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett played a leading role in the victory.

Jarrett had two of the team’s seven sacks and forced Cardinals quarterback Josh Rosen to fumble on one of them. Brian Poole recovered and the Falcons scored a touchdown a few plays later to extend their lead to 17-7 in the second quarter.

Jarrett was named the NFC defensive player of the year in recognition of that effort. The two sacks moved him up to six on the year, which represents a career high as Jarrett moves toward the end of his rookie deal and possible free agency this offseason.

Dalvin Cook wins NFC offensive player of week award

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Vikings coach Mike Zimmer wanted to run the ball more. And the Vikings did. And running back Dalvin Cook benefited from that.

Cook, who ran for a career-high 136 yards and added a career-best two touchdowns, is the NFC’s offensive player of the week.

A torn ACL in Week Four of 2017 derailed a promising rookie season. A hamstring injury wiped out six games in 2018. Now healthy and part of an offensive approach that values the run, Cook has had one big game, and he could have even more — if new offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski continues to dial up the run.

Overall, the Vikings ran for 220 yards (highest total in more than three years) against the Dolphins, fueling a season-high 41 points.

If the Vikings have any real hope of making it to the playoffs or advancing beyond the wild-card round when they get there, they’ll need to get the ball to Cook, and Cook will need to get the ball up the field.

Texans kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn named AFC special teams player of week

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The Texans got back to their winning ways last week, and their steady kicker was a big part of that.

Texans kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn was named AFC special teams player of the week, after a perfect day against the Jets.

Fairbairn hit all five field goals and both extra points in the win, which helped them get back into position for a playoff bye, after their nine-game win streak was snapped by the Colts the week before.

It was his second five-field goal game of the year, after doing the same against the Browns two weeks ago. He’s 34-of-39 on field goals this season.

Joe Haden named AFC defensive player of the week

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Joe Haden came to Pittsburgh for games like last week.

Then he changed one.

The Steelers cornerback was named AFC defensive player of the week, after his leaping interception helped seal a win over the Patriots.

Haden’s pick over the top of Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski snapped a streak of four games without an interception for the Steelers, and he also batted down Tom Brady‘s final fourth-down pass to seal the win.

Haden was a decorated corner for the Browns before they became interesting again, but escaping to Pittsburgh was done to be part of something bigger. And last week, he was a big part of a signature win.

Chiefs’ Anthony Sherman, Chris Jones show Pro Bowl positions are outdated

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Anthony Sherman is not a starter for the Chiefs. But he is a starter for the AFC Pro Bowl team. Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones is one of the best players in football this season. But he’s not a Pro Bowler.

Those two Chiefs represent a significant problem with the way the NFL assembles the Pro Bowl rosters: The positions used are outdated, and more in line with what football looked like in 1960 than what it looks like in 2018.

Let’s start with Sherman, who is the AFC’s starting fullback. The fullback position, once a staple of NFL offenses, is now so little-used that Sherman has played less than 10 percent of the Chiefs’ offensive snaps this season, even though he’s been healthy and available for all 14 games. There’s just no reason that there should be one starting fullback and two starting wide receivers, even though NFL teams use a third wide receiver far more often than they use a fullback. Designating three receivers as starters would make more sense.

If the NFL doesn’t want to take fullbacks out of the Pro Bowl running altogether, it would be wise to change the rosters to add a flex position where voters could choose to select a fullback, or a second tight end, or a third receiver. That’s what PFT said the Associated Press should do three years ago to update its All-Pro teams, and that’s what the AP then did.

But while Sherman didn’t belong on the Pro Bowl team, Jones did. Yet he didn’t make it, and that again shows a problem with the Pro Bowl rosters: Versatile defensive linemen who line up at both end and tackle, like Jones, are too easily overlooked. The Chiefs listed Jones as an end, where he was beaten out by J.J. Watt, Myles Garrett and Melvin Ingram, but he might have made it if he had been listed as an interior defensive lineman.

Again, however, the NFL might be better off allowing for more versatility in the Pro Bowl positions: Perhaps there should be at least two spots available for defensive ends, at least one for a defensive tackle, and then the other three defensive linemen could be either ends or tackles. A versatile player like Jones would have a better shot of making the roster in that scenario.

We can quibble about Pro Bowl “snubs” all day, and we can ask whether anyone even cares about the Pro Bowl enough for it to matter. But as long as the Pro Bowl still exists, the best players ought to get rewarded. And there’s something wrong with a system that leaves Anthony Sherman as a Pro Bowl starter, and Chris Jones off the team entirely.

Falcons rule out Devonta Freeman return

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Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said a couple of weeks ago that he was hopeful that running back Devonta Freeman would be able to return from injured reserve before the end of the season.

Quinn won’t see that hope realized. The coach said on 92.9 The Game that Freeman “won’t make it back” to the active roster before the year is out.

It was more surprising that the team was open to bringing Freeman back two weeks ago than it is to hear that he won’t be playing again. The Falcons have been out of the playoff race for a while and Freeman missed three games with knee trouble before the groin surgery that sent him to I.R.

The dual injuries mean Freeman, who is signed through 2022, only played in two games this season. He ran 14 times for 68 yards and caught five passes for 23 yards in those contests.

Philip Rivers: “Heck of a challenge” facing Eric Weddle, Ravens defense

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Philip Rivers and Eric Weddle faced off against each other many times on the practice field over the years, but Saturday will mark the first time they do it in a regular season game.

Weddle left the Chargers for the Ravens in 2016 and he’ll be at safety as the Ravens try to stop the Chargers quarterback from continuing his impressive season. Rivers said that Weddle and the Ravens present “a heck of a challenge” and discussed the possibility that Weddle will be able to pick up on any tells he gleaned over the years.

“I’ll find out” Rivers said, via NBC San Diego. “We’ll find out early on. We’ll find out early on how much of that will go on. I mean, that would go on about every day, multiple times a day on the practice field, you know? Of course, you could hear a little bit then, it’s just us on the practice field. I think, again, I don’t want to make too much of it. I don’t imagine he’s going to overanalyze everything he hears. He knows that I know that he knows, you know what I mean? And vice versa.”

The Chargers have already booked a playoff spot while the Ravens’ chances of doing the same will have a lot to do with whether they’re able to hold Rivers in check this weekend.

LeShaun Sims ready to step in for Logan Ryan in Tennessee

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The Titans lost a key piece of their defense in last Sunday’s 17-0 win over the Giants.

Cornerback Logan Ryan broke his leg and went on season-ending injured reserve this week as a result of the injury. His absence leaves the Titans defense without what safety Kevin Byard calls “a second coach” who was on the field for nearly 95 percent of the snaps through the first 14 games of the year.

Ryan’s absence opens the door for LeShaun Sims to play a big role on defense and Byard said the three-year vet has “held his own” when called on in the past. Sims said he plans to prepare the same way he has in the past and that he plans to lean on Ryan to help ensure the team doesn’t miss a beat as they push for a playoff spot.

“Lo’s still going to be in the building,” Sims said, via the Tennessean. “I mean I sit right next to him here, in the meeting room, so he’s still going to be helping us out and all that. … [He’s] a big influence because he’s pretty much like a coach in the classroom and on the field as well. So [to] sit next to him and pick his mind, it helps out a lot.”

Sims will get to break himself in against an underpowered Washington offense this Saturday before the Titans close the season with a more potent Colts side in a Week 17 game that may be for the AFC’s second Wild Card.