Colts’ offensive advantage gives them lead vs. Texans

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Sometimes, a playmaking defense can carry a club.

Usually, though, it’s not quite enough.

And so we come to the case of the Texans, who trail 14-7 at Indianapolis as the third quarter begins. Houston’s defense has scored the club’s only touchdown, a 27-yard interception return by Kendrick Lewis. Star defensive lineman J.J. Watt has been outstanding per usual, notching two sacks and drawing a holding penalty that took a Colts touchdown off the board.

However, to knock off the Colts, the Texans’ offense will likely have to come through, and that could be challenging with rookie quarterback Tom Savage forced into action with Ryan Fitzpatrick ruled for the game with a leg injury. Savage was 2-of-5 passing for 44 yards in the first half and lost a fumble on a handoff.

Meanwhile, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck had a solid first half aside from the pick, connecting on 16-of-26 passes for 164 yards with TD passes to wideout Hakeem Nicks (26 yards) and tight end Dwayne Allen (three yards).

The Colts seem likely to load the box and dare Savage to beat them. Can the Texans find a way to make Indianapolis pay? It will be fascinating to watch as Houston (7-6) tries to stay in the AFC South race.

Ryan Fitzpatrick carted off with left leg injury

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Texans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick departed Sunday’s game at Indianapolis after suffering a left leg injury in the second quarter.

Fitzpatrick sustained the injury when he was tripped up by Colts outside linebacker Jonathan Newsome, with the quarterback running into the defender’s extended leg. Fitzpatrick got up initially, then sat down, and he was carted off.

According to CBS, an air cast has been put on Fitzpatrick’s leg.

Rookie Tom Savage relieved Fitzpatrick, who returned to the lineup when Ryan Mallett suffered a season-ending injury.

Friday morning one-liners

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The Bills hope Marcus Thigpen is the answer to sparking their kick return game.

It didn’t get the attention of Odell Beckham’s catch, but Dolphins CB Brent Grimes had an athletic interception last week.

Patriots S Devin McCourty isn’t expecting too many takeaways this week.

S Jaiquawn Jarrett has been responsible for highs and lows this Jets season.

Ravens DE Chris Canty, the team’s union rep, is saddened by continued discord between the NFL and NFLPA.

Going on the road has paid off for the Bengals.

Browns LT Joe Thomas thinks this year’s team is better than the last Cleveland team to finish with a winning record.

Setting the stage for the final five weeks of the Steelers season.

Tom Savage will be the backup quarterback for the Texans this week.

Colts LB Shaun Phillips has no bad feelings about his time with the Titans.

DE Andre Branch is expected back for the Jaguars.

The Titans may be awfully shorthanded on the offensive line this weekend.

The Broncos haven’t won a road game this season when their opponent gets on the board first.

The Chiefs are holding a blood drive this week.

Spreading Thanksgiving cheer was part of the Raiders’ plan for the week.

The Chargers’ hurry-up offense showed improvement last weekend.

Cowboys WR Dwayne Harris took issue with a personal foul call against him.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin will face the team that gave him his first chance as an NFL head coach in his 300th game in the job.

It’s now a 6-0 record on Thanksgiving for the Eagles.

The Redskins won’t look outside the organization for immediate help at cornerback.

Another loss leads to more questions about the Bears.

The Lions secondary found its footing after a rough start to Thursday’s game.

It looks like Mike Neal and Jayrone Elliott will be at outside linebacker in place of Nick Perry for the Packers this weekend.

T Mike Harris is excited about his opportunity in the Vikings starting lineup.

The thoughts of Falcons G Jon Asamoah and CB Javier Arenas are with their former Chiefs teammate Eric Berry.

Panthers WR Kelvin Benjamin isn’t worried about hitting a rookie wall.

Some suggestions for an improved mental approach for the Saints.

Buccaneers LB Mason Foster feels he’s back on form after a shoulder injury.

Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson is looking forward to tangling with Falcons WR Julio Jones.

Rams G Rodger Saffold is preparing to face a Raiders team it looked like he’d be joining this offseason.

Said 49ers WR Michael Crabtree, “Everybody’s a football player. We’ve been here. We’ve been the best team the past three years and we lost Super Bowls and lost big playoff games. We’ve been here before. We got to do better. That’s it. That’s it, man.”

What did we learn about the Seahawks during Thursday night’s win?

Texans send Mallett to IR, officially add Thad Lewis

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On Monday, tight-lipped Texans coach Bill O’Brien didn’t have much to saw about reports that quarterback Ryan Mallett would miss the rest of the season.

On Wednesday, the team said plenty, parking Mallett on season-ending injured reserve.  He was replaced on the roster by quarterback Thad Lewis.

Mallett sustained a torn pectoral on Sunday, reportedly during pregame warmups.  The development leaves the Texans with limited evidence to decide whether to re-sign him for 2015, or whether to let him exit via free agency.

The Texans also may want to determine at some point over the next five games what they may have in rookie Tom Savage.  With the Texans surely hoping to make some long-term decisions about the quarterback position, they need to know what they have in who they have.

Ryan Fitzpatrick has less beard, but does get old job back

Ryan Fitzpatrick has his old job back.

But he looks like a new man.

With Ryan Mallett out for the season, the Texans are expected to turn back to Fitzpatrick, who started the first nine games of the season for them. But when he walked into the team facility today, there was little notice.

We hate to break this news to you so close to a holiday, but Fitzpatrick has trimmed his glorious beard.

“We had to chop it down piece by piece. It was definitely a significant amount of time to take it off,” Fitzpatrick said, via Brian Smith of the Houston Chronicle.

It was more me just getting tired of having to pick corn out of it,” he added. “When I eat pancakes in the morning with the syrup and stuff, that’ll be there for days. My wife will ask me, ‘Did you have pancakes this morning?’ And I’ll say, ‘No, it was four days ago.’ ”

While his wife might like it, others weren’t so impressed.

“I can’t even look at him anymore,” rookie backup Tom Savage said. “His lips look small.”

Hopefully Fitzpatrick listens to his teammates, and grows back one of the very best things about the NFL.

Texans bring Thad Lewis in to fill in at quarterback

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Texans coach Bill O’Brien didn’t say much about the status of quarterback Ryan Mallett, but the fact they’ve signed a replacement should tell you what you need to know.

According to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, the Texans are adding former Bills quarterback Thaddeus Lewis to the mix.

With Mallett out for the year with a torn pectoral muscle, the Texans needed someone to back up Ryan Fitzpatrick and rookie Tom Savage.

O’Brien coached Lewis at Duke in 2006, and he’s gone onto journeyman status since. He’s done time with the Rams, Browns, Lions and Bills, starting five games in Buffalo last year.

Ryan Mallett’s pectoral injury a season-ender

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Ryan Mallett waited nearly four years for a chance to start in the NFL, and that chance ended after two weeks.

According to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, the pectoral injury suffered by the Texans quarterback yesterday against the Bengals was season-ending.

The Texans will now have to turn back to Ryan Fitzpatrick, though it’s possible they’ll take a look at fourth-round rookie Tom Savage if they decide they’re in tire-kicking mode again.

The Texans gave up a sixth-round pick in exchange for the former Patriots backup, who will now go into the free agent market as damaged goods.

Week 12 early inactives

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

Browns at Falcons

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

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

Buccaneers at Bears

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

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

Bengals at Texans

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

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

Jaguars at Colts

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

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

Packers at Vikings

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

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

Lions at Patriots

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

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

Titans at Eagles

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

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

Sunday morning one-liners

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The Bills offensive line will need to be at its best on Sunday.

DL Jared Odrick stands out of the crowd on the Dolphins defense.

Patriots LB Akeem Ayers took a quick trip up the standings after his trade from Tennessee.

A weak Jets cornerback corps will have to contend with Steelers WR Antonio Brown.

The Ravens are looking for secondary help wherever they can find it.

Numbers aren’t kind to the job done by the Bengals defense this year.

The Browns remain pleased with what QB Brian Hoyer has done this season.

LB James Harrison and DE Brett Keisel’s longevity impresses their Steelers teammates.

What’s the plan for Texans rookie QB Tom Savage for the rest of the season?

The Colts have one of the best receiver trios in the league.

Jaguars RB Toby Gerhart feels no more limitations because of injury.

Titans T Michael Oher will have to contend with strong Ravens pass rushers on Sunday.

Broncos WR Isaiah Burse thought he would wind up with the Raiders.

What edges do the Chiefs have on the Bills?

The Raiders want to see more takeaways from their secondary.

How do the Chargers linebackers look after the first nine weeks of the season?

The Cowboys received a warm welcome in London.

Could Giants S Antrel Rolle’s complaints about the team come back to haunt him?

Looking way ahead to the 2015 Eagles draft.

Said Redskins LB Adam Heyward of coach Jay Gruden, “I love it because you know what you’re getting. A coach like that, you know what he wants, what he expects. If you don’t give it, he’s going to let you know. He’s not going to beat around the bush and sugar-coat things and be like, ‘Well, this was good and that was…’ No. If it sucked, it’s: ‘It sucked. We need to get better, or we all won’t be here.”

Bears coach Marc Trestman returns from the bye week under increasing scrutiny.

Lions LB Ashlee Palmer and CB Cassius Vaughn will see college teammate Mike Wallace on Sunday.

Can the Packers defend the run well enough to go deep into the playoffs?

A look at the work Vikings G.M. Rick Spielman did heading into the season.

Checking in with Falcons rookie S Dezmen Southward.

Questioning the leadership on the Panthers offense.

Saints coach Sean Payton’s matchup with 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh is a leading storyline this weekend.

The Buccaneers are trying to restore some pride in their rematch with the Falcons.

Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles has been calling the right shots for the Cardinals.

Are the Rams going to be consistent winners or remain teases?

49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio knew what he wanted to do with his life from a young age.

Catching up with members of last year’s Super Bowl champs who are no longer with the Seahawks.

Saturday one-liners

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Don Shula on Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin: “You can tell the players want to play for him and respect him.”

A list of ways the AFC’s top-seeded Patriots could encounter trouble after the bye.

With a win Sunday, the Bills will equal their win total of each of the last three seasons.

Former Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith’s grit and work ethic had a big impact on Jets right guard Willie Colon.

Terrell Suggs didn’t receive the biggest fine given to a Ravens player in the aftermath of Baltimore’s Week Nine loss to Pittsburgh.

Like the Ravens, the Steelers have had to rework their secondary.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis believes sticking with the run is key for Cincinnati.

Mike Pettine says the Browns’ RB rotation is a “week-to-week” issue.

Texans quarterback Tom Savage is learning his craft.

Nate Washington could be in the stretch run of his Titans career.

Will Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton be a head coach next season?

Jaguars owner Shad Khan is encouraged by downtown Jacksonville’s economic development.

Broncos tailback Montee Ball is practicing well, but he’s no sure thing to play Sunday at Oakland.

Tony Sparano says “it’s been a real honor to coach” Raiders safety Charles Woodson.

The rugby-style punt has been useful for the Chiefs’ Dustin Colquitt.

Chargers wide receiver Seyi Ajirotutu garnered a hefty fine for making contact with an official.

The Giants have 11 double-digit losses since the beginning of 2013.

A closer look at Washington’s pass coverage strategy vs. Minnesota.

Eagles first-round pick Marcus Smith continues to work at inside linebacker.

The Cowboys have a nice following in Great Britain, too, it appears.

Can the Bears’ ground game again give the Packers fits?

Lions coach Jim Caldwell on wide receiver Corey Fuller: “He hasn’t even scratched the surface where he’s going to be.”

Four of the Vikings’ final seven games are against NFC North foes.

With a win Sunday, the Packers will be within two games of evening the all-time series with Chicago.

Falcons rookie safety Dezmen Southward has garnered a role on special teams.

Saints outside linebacker Junior Galette believes his team was on its way to winning a Super Bowl when it lost to San Francisco in the 2011 divisional round.

The Buccaneers need to stop getting left at the gate.

Panthers wide receiver Jason Avant recalled how the Eagles were able to “open up their heart for forgiveness” for Riley Cooper.

Rams defensive end Robert Quinn on the St. Louis defense: “Things are finally clicking as a defense the way we expected it to.”

Two key Seahawks offensive line starters will re-enter the lineup on Sunday.

Fox announcer Ronde Barber on Cardinals coach Bruce Arians: “He’s not worried about the repercussions of being an aggressive coach and taking chances.”

A study of the eight sacks allowed by the 49ers against St. Louis in Week Nine.

Week Nine early inactives


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

Jaguars at Bengals

Jaguars: CB Will Blackmon, DE Andre Branch, LB Dekoda Watson, RB Storm Johnson, G Tyler Shatley, WR Mike Brown, T Sam Young

Bengals: RB Giovani Bernard, LB Vontaze Burfict, WR Dane Sanzenbacher, DB Darqueze Dennard, LB Rey Maualuga, OL Kevin Zeitler, DE Will Clarke

Buccaneers at Browns

Buccaneers: RB Doug Martin, RB Charles Sims, T Anthony Collins, LB Brandon Magee, CB Brandon Dixon, G Kadeem Edwards

Browns: TE Jordan Cameron, DE Phil Taylor, DB Pierre Desir, OL Vinston Painter, DB Robert Nelson, RB Glenn Winston, WR Rodney Smith

Cardinals at Cowboys

Cardinals: RB Stepfan Taylor, QB Logan Thomas, LB Thomas Keiser, LB Glenn Carson, NT Alameda Ta’amu, G Earl Watford, TE Darren Fells

Cowboys: QB Tony Romo, T Doug Free, S Jakar Hamilton, LB Tim Dobbins, DE Jack Crawford, DL Davon Coleman, G Ron Leary

Eagles at Texans

Eagles: QB Matt Barkley, WR Brad Smith, S Nate Allen, C Julian Vandevelde, OL Dennis Kelly, LB Marcus Smith, DE Taylor Hart.

Texans: LB Jeff Tarpinian, LB Jadeveon Clowney, LB Brian Cushing, QB Tom Savage, WR DeVier Posey, CB Darryl Morris, T Jeff Adams,

Jets at Chiefs

Jets: CB Darrin Walls, QB Geno Smith, G Dakota Dozier, DL T.J. Barnes, LB IK Enemkpali, WR Walter Powell, OL Wesley Johnson

Chiefs: WR Donnie Avery, CB Christopher Owens, CB Jamell Fleming, LB Josh Martin, OL Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, OL Eric Kush, QB Aaron Murray

Chargers at Dolphins

Chargers: RB Ryan Mathews, LB Manti Te’o, CB Jason Verrett, LB Jeremiah Attaochu, S Jahleel Addae, DT Ryan Carrethers, CB Richard Crawford

Dolphins: TE Dion Sims, CB Lowell Rose, LB Chris McCain, G Daryn Colledge, T Jason Fox, DT Anthony Johnson, G Billy Turner

Redskins at Vikings

Redskins: Due to their bus accident on the way to the stadium, the Redskins were granted an extra 30 minutes to determine inactive players. QB Kirk Cousins, WR Aldrick Robinson, RB Silas Redd, CB Greg Ducre, LB Jackson Jeffcoat, G Spencer Long and T Tyler Polumbus make up the inactive list.

Vikings: TE Kyle Rudolph, S Antone Exum, CB Jabari Price, FB Zach Line, LB Brandon Watts, G David Yankey, T Austin Wentworth

Week Eight early inactives

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Every week we’ll bring you all the inactives from the early games in one post, constantly updated with the latest information. Thanks to the early kickoff in London, this week is a little different, but check back often to see the full list of sidelined players from the traditional early starts as it becomes available.

Seahawks at Panthers

Seahawks: LB Bobby Wagner, C Max Unger, CB Byron Maxwell, DT Jordan Hill, TE Zach Miller, WR Bryan Walters, OL Andrew McDonald

Panthers: CB Bene’ Benwikere, RB DeAngelo Williams, G Trai Turner, G Amini Silatolu, LB Chase Blackburn, RB Fozzy Whittaker, WR Corey Brown

Bills at Jets

Bills: RB Fred Jackson, LB Ty Powell, CB Ross Cockrell, RB Phillip Tanner, T Cyrus Kouandjio, WR Marcus Easley, WR Marquise Goodwin

Jets: WR Greg Salas, LB Trevor Reilly, G Dakota Dozier, DL T.J. Barnes, LB IK Enemkpali, WR Walter Powell, OL Wesley Johnson

Ravens at Bengals

Ravens: DE Chris Canty, TE Owen Daniels, CB Chyke Brown, RB Bernard Pierce, LB Arthur Brown, G/C Gino Gradkowski, G/T Jah Reid,

Bengals: WR A.J. Green, LB Rey Maualuga, RB Rex Burkhead, CB Chris Lewis-Harris, T Tanner Hawkinson, DE Will Clarke, DT Brandon Thompson

Dolphins at Jaguars

Dolphins: DB Jimmy Wilson, LB Koa Misi, G Shelley Smith, T Jason Fox, DT Anthony Johnson, G Billy Turner, TE Gator Hoskins

Jaguars: DB Alan Ball, DE Andre Branch, G Tyler Shatley, CB Mike Brown, CB Payton Thompson, RB Storm Johnson, OL Sam Young

Rams at Chiefs

Rams: C Tim Barnes, CB Janoris Jenkins, CB Trumaine Johnson, QB Case Keenum, TE Alex Bayer, DE Ethan Westbrooks, S Maurice Alexander

Chiefs: CB Chris Owens, WR Donnie Avery, S Eric Berry, QB Aaron Murray, C Eric Kush, OL Laurent Duvernat-Tardif, DL Damion Square

Bears at Patriots

Bears: S Danny McCray, T Jordan Mills, LB Jon Bostic, LB Lance Briggs, CB Terrance Mitchell, S Ahmad Dixon, OT Charles Leno

Patriots: DE Chandler Jones, CB Alfonzo Dennard, OL Jordan Devey, T Cameron Fleming, S Nate Ebner, WR Aaron Dobson, OL Chris Barker

Vikings at Buccaneers

Vikings: FB Zach Line, LB Gerald Hodges, LB Brandon Watts, G Vlad Ducasse, G David Yankey, TE Kyle Rudolph, DE Scott Crichton

Buccaneers: LB Brandon Magee, LB Jonathan Casillas, CB Brandon Dixon, G Kadeem Edwards, QB Mike Kafka, T Kevin Pamphile, S Keith Tandy

Texans at Titans

Texans: CB Darryl Morris, LB Jeff Tarpinian, LB Brian Cushing, QB Tom Savage, WR DeVier Posey, S Josh Aubrey, OL Jeff Adams

Titans: QB Charlie Whitehurst, WR Kris Durham, DL DaQuan Jones, T Will Svitek, CB Coty Sensabaugh, TE Taylor Thompson, RB Antonio Andrews

Week Eight “Three and Out”


The dilemma has been resolved.  For now.

The “Three and Out” series will continue, with three questions and answers for each of the Sunday games, every Sunday until no more Sundays remain in the 2014 regular season.

Then, the dilemma will resurface in 2015.  Assuming I — and you — don’t completely forget about this feature by then.

Lions at Falcons

1.  Why are they playing this one so early?

That’s the question ESPN and CBS will be asking, as the audiences for their pregame shows, already diluted by the Internet, become even more undermined by an actual game.  But there are only so many places on the pizzas into which cheese can be crammed, and the NFL is hoping to fill up the crust of your morning with football.

On a day that usually features a large cluster of games from 1:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. ET, the shifting of a game to 9:30 a.m. ET lets everyone focus on one game before a bunch of them get started.  And it showcases the London game, giving it a spot by itself on the Wembley Stadium stage.

Of course, Lions and Falcons fans living in California may not appreciate it.  If enough people in every time zone tune in, look for more early-morning London games in the future.

2.  Do the Lions really need Calvin Johnson?

Not at a cap number in excess of $20 million for next year; that reality continues to hover over the franchise.  The bloated Ndamukong Suh contract will result in the second overall pick in the 2010 draft leaving in free agency.  Johnson’s big-dollar deal could still prompt the Lions to cut him as early as next year.

The more they win without him and the longer his ankle injury lingers, the more likely the Lions will be to devote those cap dollars to other positions on the roster.

G.M. Martin Mayhew declined to comment on Johnson’s future this week. Mayhew also opted not to declare Johnson will retire as a Lion. At this point, it would be a surprise if he does.

3.  Is there hope for the Falcons?

Technically, yes. Despite being 2-5, the Falcons are only one win behind the first-place Panthers. And the Falcons still play Carolina twice.

But something’s wrong. The Falcons haven’t won in more than a month, a rollicking 56-14 Thursday night trouncing of the Buccaneers. Injuries on the offensive line and a subpar defense have left the Falcons searching desperately for answers — and even more desperately for a win. Against the 5-2 Lions on Sunday, that may not happen.

At least they won’t have to use the silent count in front of their “home” fans in London.

Seahawks at Panthers

1.  Are the Seahawks divided?

They’re apparently divided on the question of whether there’s a divide.  Quarterback Russell Wilson insists all is well, but what else is going to say?  Coach Pete Carroll and company managed to hide some serious dysfunction during receiver Percy Harvin’s time with the team.  Folks who know the truth continue to be programmed to say nothing, with Carroll having a Belichickian degree of influence over current and former players who won’t break ranks for fear of incurring the Wrath of Pete.

Something clearly isn’t right, or Harvin would still be there.  While Harvin reportedly was far from a model citizen, there’s no smoking gun that points a major incident that became the last straw.  Otherwise, players wouldn’t have been so shocked by the news that Harvin had been dumped onto the Jets.

While there’s cause for concern if, as it appears, some players resent Wilson, this team found a way to easily win the Super Bowl despite whatever was happening in 2013.  It shouldn’t be an issue this year, unless the losses continue to pile up.

Pile up they may.  Through six games, Seattle already has lost as many as it lost in 19 games a season ago.

2.  How much do the Panthers miss Greg Hardy?

A lot.  Ranked 27th in yardage allowed and 29th in scoring, the Panthers aren’t close to what they were defensively in 2013.  They’ve still mustered 15 sacks through seven games, but that’s a far cry from the 60-sack mark of a year ago.

As Hardy heads toward a trial date next month on domestic violence charges, an acquittal should result in immediate reinstatement, which will be very good news for a Panthers team that somehow finds itself in first place despite a sluggish 3-3-1 record.

3.  Should Russell Wilson have his head on a swivel?

With all the talk about internal strife, the Seahawks quarterback needs to be concerned about external forces that intend him harm.  The Panthers definitely do, if Wilson decides to tuck the ball and run.

“He’s pretty much like a running back back there with the way he can scramble. So we’ve just got to plaster him and, in some cases, take a shot,” Carolina defensive end Wes Horton said this week.

It’s easy to say.  It’s not easy to do.  Fast, agile, and elusive, Wilson has a knack for running away from and around guys, protecting himself by getting out of bounds or sliding or instinctively positioning himself in a way to absorb a hit without it being the kind of big hit that could cause an injury.

Ravens at Bengals

1.  What’s wrong with the Bengals?

From three straight wins to three straight games without one, the easy explanation is that the Bengals miss receiver A.J. Green, who has missed the last two with a toe injury and who was fully neutralized by Pats cornerback Darrelle Revis in Week Five.  Apart from his production, the threat of Green getting behind a defense opens up the rest of the offense.  Without that potential for a big play, it’s a lot harder to find an opening underneath.

The defense under new coordinator Paul Guenther also has been exposed.  Over the last three weeks, Cincinnati has allowed 43, 37, and 27.  That’s an average of 35.6 points allowed per game.

A loss to Baltimore will equalize the head-to-head tiebreaker (which only matters if Baltimore plays someone to a tie this year, given Cincinnati’s tie with the Panthers).  Far more importantly, it will put the Bengals two-and-a-half games behind the Ravens.

2.  Is Andy Dalton earning his contract?

The media and the fans tend to adopt narratives early in the season and then forget about them.  For the Bengals’ freshly-minted almost-franchise quarterback, conventional wisdom supported the notion that Dalton was indeed justifying the team’s investment in him.  Averaging 8.6 yards per attempt, Dalton was on his way to becoming one of the best young-ish quarterbacks in the league.

In the last three games, Dalton’s average-per-attempt has plunged to 6.2, with a paltry 3.3 yards per attempt during a shutout loss to the Colts.  While the absence of A.J. Green surely is a factor, true franchise quarterbacks generate yards and points and wins regardless of who the receivers are.  Dalton has shown that he’s still not ready for that title.

3.  Why are the Ravens more productive on offense this year?

It partially comes from an emphasis on generating points early in games.  It’s one of the specific situations on which the Ravens focus in practice each week.

“That has been something we’ve done through training camp, and we do it usually about once a week,” coach John Harbaugh said this week. “We have a first drive of the game. It’s nothing elaborate. It’s just a drill.”

The drill is working.  Quarterback Joe Flacco has six first-quarter touchdown passes in 2014.  Last season, he had a total of four.

Dolphins at Jaguars

1.  Is Peyton Manning a Dolphins fan?

At least for this week, he should be.  With 10 interceptions in five games and with nine to play, Blake Bortles is on pace to tie Peyton Manning’s rookie interception record of 28.

Manning, who is keenly aware of pretty much everything (including scoreboard operation), knows about the record — he mentioned it during a preseason visit to PFT on NBCSN.  If Bortles keeps throwing at least two per game, Manning won’t have to mention it any longer.

2.  Will Denard Robinson ever do more than be a tailback?

Quite possibly.  Appearing on Thursday’s PFT Live, Robinson said that he’s currently focusing on getting more comfortable at the running back position.  Once he does, he could be doing more in the offense, including playing a little quarterback.

Robinson is getting closer to reaching the right comfort level at running back.  He carried the ball 22 times for 127 yards on Sunday against the Browns.  In all of 2013, Robinson had a total of 20 carries.

Maybe, in time, he’ll be throwing a periodic pass or two along with it.

3.  How has Ryan Tannehill improved so quickly?

When Bill Lazor arrived as offensive coordinator, the thinking was that Tannehill would have to adapt to the new offense.  Lazor eventually decided to adapt the offense to Tannehill.

Deep throws, for example, aren’t one of Tannehill’s strengths.  So the Dolphins only dial up a pass of 20 or more yards once in ever 12 snaps.

With a 2-1 record since coach Joe Philbin bizarrely answered a different question when asked if Tannehill is still the starter, Tannehill has shown that he’s the right guy for the job — at least for now.

Rams at Chiefs

1.  What have they done with Zac Stacy?

Stacy started the year as the starting running back in St. Louis.  But with Benny Cunningham performing well and rookie Tre Mason making a bit of a splash, Stacy participated in only one play during last Sunday’s win over the Seahawks.  And he didn’t touch the ball at all.

It was just a weird situation,” Stacy said this week. “Right now, we’re doing a rotation with me, Tre, and Benny — and we’re going with the hot hand.  I’m just staying positive, I’ll keep working, and whenever my opportunity is called just take advantage of it.”

For the year, Stacy remains the leading rusher, with 240 yards.  Cunningham has 136 and Mason has 125.  But Mason had 85 against the Seahawks, which qualifies him as having the hottest hand, as of right now.

2.  Is Austin Davis the next Tom Brady or Kurt Warner?

Brady?  No.  Warner?  Probably no.

The comparison came from Brett Favre, who emerges via satellite from Mississippi with the frequency of Punxsutawney Phil to spout off a wide variety of opinions about a sport that he doesn’t follow very closely.  His point was that Davis, who became “the guy” in St. Louis after the first “the guy” looked awful in Week One while trying to replace “the guy” with the torn ACL.  The biggest comparison to Warner is that Shaun Hill was supposed to be Warner, 15 years after a preseason ACL tear for Trent Green opened the door for the former Arena League grocery-bagger.

Davis doesn’t have the same compelling back story as Warner.  Sure, Davis was a walk-on at Southern Miss and became the starter as a redshirt freshman and set 15 school game and single-season records (breaking some of Favre’s records) and eventually broke most if not all of Favre’s school records and went undrafted in 2012 and bounced around the league a little before returning to St. Louis for good (for now) when Sam Bradford tore his ACL for the first time last October.

It’s an intriguing tale, but the Rams are still 2-4.  They’ll need more than multiple special-teams tricks and gimmicks to get into the playoff hunt, and Davis has a long way to go until he’s lighting things up the way Brady and Warner did en route to Super Bowl titles in seasons they found themselves unexpectedly under center.

3.  Is Alex Smith reflecting much on his most recent game against the Rams?

He says he’s not.  But how can’t he be?  It was a concussion in November 2012 against St. Louis that opened the door for Colin Kaepernick and closed the book on Smith’s career in San Francisco.

I haven’t given it that much thought,” Smith said this week. “Certainly I recognize when we go over the personnel, some of these guys. I remember the game. I remember it well. But I haven’t really thought about the what-ifs.”

There’s no way of knowing whether Smith would still be the starter in San Francisco but for that concussion.  The 49ers presumably didn’t trade up in the second round of the 2011 draft for a guy they planned to park on the bench for four years.  Still, that Rams game from nearly two years ago provided the impetus for change, and Smith’s new surroundings have him facing the Rams for the first time with his new team.

Bears at Patriots

1.  Who will Darrelle Revis cover?

The obvious candidate is receiver Brandon Marshall.  But receiver Alshon Jeffery can be just as problematic, and tight end Martellus Bennett needs to be accounted for.  Without a clear-cut dominant option, Revis could move around and other confuse quarterback Jay Cutler and/or coach Marc Trestman, who fears the NFL has begun to catch up with his offense.  Which doesn’t bode well against a head coach who already has detected all the tendencies and trends — and who will keep the Bears from doing whatever it is that they do best.

Which as of right now isn’t all that much.

2.  Who’s the leader in Chicago?

No one, at least for now.  And the Bears desperately need someone to emerge.

They’ve got plenty of guys who lead by example; they need someone who can lead by words.

Quarterback Jay Cutler can’t or won’t or doesn’t care enough to even consider it.  Receiver Brandon Marshall has tried, but it’s unclear whether anyone will follow him.  Coach Marc Trestman possibly lacks the personality to command a locker room, which is one of the most important traits of any NFL head coach.

Adversity possibly will cause a vocal leader to emerge.  If it doesn’t, the Bears are destined to continue to float through their schedule, underachieving and unable to change it.

3.  Will Brandon Marshall continue to sound off?

Probably.  First, because that’s his way.  Second, because Trestman has given Marshall and everyone else a license to pop off after games.  Trestman says he needs to be “accepting” and “non-judgmental” when players speak in the heat of the moment.

Wonder if he’ll feel that way when someone says, “Our coach stinks and he should go back to Canada”?

Bills at Jets

1.  What will Percy Harvin’s role be?

It won’t be extensive; coach Rex Ryan says it’s unrealistic to think Harvin will be ready to participate in 50 snaps.  But even though it will be difficult for him to absorb the Jets’ version of the West Coast offense on the fly, it will be easy for the Jets to find ways to get the ball in Harvin’s hands and allow his skills to take over.

From kickoff returns to fly/jet sweeps to bubble screens to maybe even a periodic “go” route, Harvin can tilt the field in his new team’s direction without spending much time traversing the learning curve.

2.  Who in the hell is Chris Hogan?

If you don’t know, you should.  The former Penn State lacrosse player opted to give football a try on a lark, attempted to go to Syracuse and play for current Bills coach Doug Marrone as a graduate student, and ended up at Monmouth due to NCAA transfer rules.  Hogan now plays for Marrone, and Hogan has played his way into the No. 3 receiver role in the Buffalo offense.

Hogan, you may recall, was dubbed 7-11 by Reggie Bush during Hard Knocks in 2012, when Hogan and Bush played for the Dolphins.  After landing in Buffalo last year as a special-teams contributor, Hogan has earned his playing time.

“I always tell the players that you’ve got to put yourself in a position where the coaches have to play you because that’s how well you’re playing,” Marrone said this week. “I think Chris has done that.”

He made an even stronger case for more playing time with a leaping 28-yard grab that put the ball on the Minnesota two, one play before the game-winning touchdown pass from Kyle Orton to Sammy Watkins.

3.  Can the Jets’ offensive line handle the Buffalo defensive front?

Maybe not, which will make it harder for Harvin or anyone else on the New York offense to do anything.

“The two [defensive tackles] we’re going against are the best two in the league, next to [Ndamukong] Suh and [Nick] Fairley, hands down,” Jets guard Willie Colon said this week. “They’re game-wreckers, especially Kyle Williams. He’s been doing it so long. He’s definitely a guy you’ve got to scout for.  The other guy inside [Marcel Dareus] is doing a great job. Both of them are explosive, they’re making plays. They definitely give you a little bit of nightmares at night.”

The Jets’ blockers may have some nightmares at day, too.  From about 1:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m. ET on Sunday.  Whether the Jets can do anything positive with the ball on a consistent basis will hinge on whether the line can slow down the defensive tackles — and defensive ends — who make up perhaps the best overall defensive line in the league.

Vikings at Buccaneers

1.  Will the 1-6 Bucs have a fire sale?

Coach Lovie Smith insists they won’t.  At one level, it makes sense.  With no one seeming to want to win the NFC South, the Bucs are still alive to make it to the postseason.

But Smith needs players who fit his defense, and stockpiling some picks would make plenty of sense.  The decision to unload cornerback Darrelle Revis in the offseason shows that no one is safe.  The question is whether Smith and G.M. Jason Licht are comfortable giving up players who can help them win now in return for assets that can help them win later.

2.  How’s Teddy Bridgewater doing?

Offensive coordinator Norv Turner sees some good and some bad in the rookie.

He’s a lot like our offense,” Turner said. “He’s a work in progress, and there’s going to be things we like, things where we see he’s growing, and there’s going to be things where you shake your head a little bit.”

Bridgewater showed plenty of progress in his first start against the Falcons, but Bridgewater has lost two in a row since returning from an ankle injury.  He has plenty of time to develop, but the Vikings will want to see a lot more progress before the end of the season.

3.  Is Everson Griffen earning his money?

When the Vikings decided to let Jared Allen leave via free agency and to sign youngster Everson Griffen to a $42 million contract, plenty of league insiders and observers were shocked.  But the Vikings were steadfast in their belief that the investment would generate a significant return.  So far, so good.

Griffin is second in the league with seven sacks, thanks to three against the Bills in Week Seven.

I’m all about proving people wrong,” Griffen said. “No matter what, you’re always going to have haters. … What you want to do is prove them wrong and show them you can be the guy that they gave a huge contract to and you can live up to everything.”

He’s also living up to his billing as a pass-rush specialist with his own “Sack Daddy” dance: “I slide to the left, I slide to the right, and I do a couple of swirls of my arms and I flex.”

Texans at Titans

1.  What’s wrong with Brian Cushing?

The tape from Monday night’s loss to the Steelers shows a guy who can’t run.  And he can’t run because his surgically-repaired knee is still bothering him. So he’ll take at least a game off, maybe more.

Sure, coach Bill O’Brien denies that Cushing needs rest and lists him as questionable in order to keep the Titans guessing.

But no guesswork is needed; given Cushing’s ability to run on that balky knee, no benefit is derived from making the Titans think they may be facing him.

2.  Why switch to Zach Mettenberger now?

The Titans need to know what they have in the rookie sixth-rounder, so that they’ll know whether to look for a new quarterback in 2015.  Destined to have a top 10 (or maybe a top five) pick in the draft, the Titans could try to find a franchise quarterback in Round One, if they don’t think Mettenberger will be the answer.

With Tennessee as a practical matter out of the running for a playoff berth, it makes sense to start the process of evaluating Mettenberger now.  Waiting until December could result in only a partial look at Mettenberger’s abilities.  The Titans need to see what he does not only in those first few games when the opposing defenses don’t have much film but also after enough tape has been generated to give defensive coordinators more insight into what the rookie does well, what he doesn’t do well, and how he reacts when the things he does well are taken away.

3.  Why hasn’t Ryan Fitzpatrick been benched?

Fitzpatrick actually isn’t playing all that poorly.  He’s averaging a career-high 8.0 yards per attempt, which means he’s moving the ball well when he throws it.  But Fitzpatrick also has eight turnovers in the last five games, which makes it hard to parlayn the ability to move the ball into a movement of the scoreboard.

It’s too early to throw in the towel on the Texans’ season, and it’s also too early to assume Ryan Mallett or rookie Tom Savage are ready.  At some point, though, the Texans need to know what they have in Mallett (who’ll be a free agent after the season) and Savage.  Especially if the wheels continue the process of coming off, and if the Texans earn another position high in the draft.

Eagles at Cardinals

1.  Are the Cardinals relying too much on Andre Ellington?

Possibly.  A year ago, they handled him with care.  Now, he’s becoming the workhorse, with coach Bruce Arians believing Ellington can withstand 30 touches per game.

He’s very unique,” quarterback Carson Palmer said this week. “There isn’t another guy in the league like him. He’s got that ability in the pass game and the run game, the ability to go the distance, the ability to run between the tackles. He does a lot for us and he can do it all.”

Last week, Ellington had 30 touches, with 24 rushing attempts and six receptions.  For the year, he’s averaging 21.6 per game.

Look for that average to keep going up, as long as Ellington can stay healthy.

2.  Does the bye week help the Eagles’ chances?

Typically, having extra time to rest up and prepare for a game doesn’t hurt.  Eagles coach Chip Kelly traditionally has parlayed in-season bye weeks into victory.  Undefeated at Oregon after a regular-season bye and 1-0 at the NFL level (the Eagles but the Cardinals after a bye in 2013), the Eagles have a very real edge when it comes to self-scouting and game-planning.

3.  How will Larry Fitzgerald’s “champagne problem” resolve itself?

The veteran receiver applied that label to his relative lack of targets and catches as he further downplays the idea that he’s being phased out of the Arizona offense.  But the decreased production points directly to a looming divorce; with a cap number of $23.8 million in 2015 and an additional shell-game restructuring likely not practical, Fitzgerald will have to take less to stay.

Which means Fitzgerald likely will be cut.  Which gives him a chance to join Tom Brady in New England or Peyton Manning in Denver or to go home to Minnesota.

Raiders at Browns

1.  Is Brian Hoyer on a short leash?

It’s not yet short, but it’s definitely shorter than it would have been if the Browns hadn’t lost to the Jaguars last Sunday.  Hoyer looked sluggish and inaccurate.  Ultimately, he was ineffective, prompting coach Mike Petting to admit that he’d considered using Johnny Manziel at one point.

The Browns eventually have to decide who their starter will be in 2015.  If Hoyer performs against the Raiders the way he played against the Jaguars, the decision for next year gets a lot easier.

And the chances of the decision being implemented in 2014 become a lot greater.

2.  How big of a deal would it be to lose to the Raiders?

It would be a pretty big deal.  If the Browns follow last week’s 24-6 loss to the previously 0-6 Jaguars with a loss to the currently 0-6 Raiders, Cleveland will become the first to lose to winless teams on consecutive weekends in Week Seven or later.

And that would likely result in the donning of a Ryan Pontbriand jersey and the direction of strong words at the building that presumably had shed its prior moniker.

3.  Could the Raiders go 0-16?

The schedule gets no softer any time soon.  The only team in the final 10 currently under .500 is the Rams, who could be a lot better by the time the Raiders visit St. Louis on November 30.

After Sunday’s trip to the 3-3 Browns, it’s time to face the 3-3 Seahawks, the 6-1 Broncos, the 5-3 Chargers, the 3-3 Chiefs, the Rams, the 4-3 49ers, the Chiefs again, the 4-3 Bills, and the Broncos again.

And, yes, seven of the remaining 10 games come against teams that made it to the playoffs in 2013.

So, yes, 0-16 is more than a remote possibility.

Colts at Steelers

1.  Who steps up for Reggie Wayne?

With the veteran out due to an elbow injury, Hakeem Nicks becomes the obvious candidate to get more work.  A former first-round pick who’s in his  Second Annual Contract Year, Nicks has a very high opinion of himself.  It’s now his chance to persuade everyone else to share that view.

But Nicks has only 17 catches in seven games, generating a mere 141 yards.  As a result, he could be pushed by rookie Donte Moncrief, who actually was on the field for more snaps last week than Nicks.

2.  Are the Steelers getting any healthier?

Yes, gradually.  The best news comes from linebacker Ryan Shazier’s looming return after a Week Three knee injury.  He’s listed as probable for Sunday’s game, which means it’s virtually certain he’ll play.

While cornerback Ike Taylor isn’t ready to play, he practiced this week after suffering a broken forearm in that same game.  The Steelers need all the help they can get as they try to avoid sliding back under .500 and losing a second home game in their last three.

3.  Can the Colts’ defense pitch another shutout?

Probably not.  Although it’s tempting to assume that a team’s most recent performances will continue indefinitely, that 27-0 victory over the Bengals in Indy doesn’t mean the ’85 Bears will be rolling into Pittsburgh.  The Steelers average 28 points per game at home.  Even though their offense has been maligned by the likes of Snoop Dogg and Joe Banner, they know how to score points at home, and score points they will.

The only question is whether they’ll score enough.

Packers at Saints

1.  Will this finally be a good Sunday night game?

Hopefully.  The last two games between the Packers and Saints have entailed high scoring and excitement.  The Packers won 28-27 in 2012, and the 2011 season began with an excellent 42-34 game at Lambeau Field, which the Packers won by stuffing then-rookie Mark Ingram at the goal line.

The Saints haven’t lost at home under coach Sean Payton since 2011, and they’ve won 13 straight home prime-time games.  So this one has the potential to be a good one — regardless of whether the Saints ultimately can continue their run of success at home.

2.  Are the Saints still alive in the NFC South?

Absolutely.  Despite being only 2-4, the Saints have six home games left, and they’re only one game behind the Panthers in the loss column.  Holding serve at home coupled with a road win or two would easily win the division no one seems to want to.  And the guaranteed home game that goes with winning the division could allow the Saints to do what the 7-9 Seahawks did to the Saints in the 2010 postseason.

3.  Should Aaron Rodgers be considered for a second MVP award?

Without question.  He has led the Packers to four straight wins, and he’s thrown 18 touchdown passes against only one interception.  While his final numbers may not be as good as 2011 (the year he won the MVP award), he’s performing at a high level once again — and most importantly the Packers are having yet another special season in a year that started off looking like anything but.

Jadeveon Clowney inactive vs. Steelers


The Texans are still waiting for No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney to get healthy.

Clowney, the pass rusher who has been sidelined since a Week One knee injury, is inactive for tonight’s game against the Steelers. The Texans had listed Clowney as questionable, and he went onto the field for pregame warmups, but he apparently still isn’t at full speed.

That’s disappointing news: When Clowney had arthroscopic knee surgery, the Texans said he’d be out 4-6 weeks. That surgery was exactly six weeks ago, and he’s still out. So the injury appears to be more serious than the Texans originally believed.

The Texans’ other inactives are OT Jeff Adams, S Josh Aubrey, CB Darryl Morris, CB Jumal Rolle, WR DeVier Posey and QB Tom Savage.

The Steelers’ inactives are QB Landry Jones, WR Justin Brown, CB Ike Taylor, SS Shamarko Thomas, ILB Ryan Shazier, G Chris Hubbard and NT Steve McLendon.

Andre Johnson good to go tonight

Getty Images

Texans receiver Andre Johnson is ready to play tonight.

Johnson, who was listed as questionable after sitting out practice this week with an ankle injury, is active for tonight’s game against the Colts.

The Texans’ inactives are QB Tom Savage, WR DeVier Posey, DB Jumal Rolle, DB Darryl Morris, DB Josh Aubrey, G Brandon Brooks and LB Jadeveon Clowney.

The Colts are thin in the middle of the offensive line, with center Khaled Holmes, guard Hugh Thornton and guard Jack Mewhort among the inactives. The other inactives for Indianapolis are S Darius Butler, LB Victor Butler, DT Kelcy Quarles and DT Arthur Jones.