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Team Notes week 19 2022
NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS AND OTHER GOOD STUFF
Directly from the desk of FlashUpdate Editor Bob Harris. The good; the bad; and yes. ... Even the Bears. There is no better way to jump start your weekend than browsing these always educational -- often irreverent -- team-by-team, Fantasy-specific offerings. ...
Access specific teams by clicking on a team name in the schedule appearing directly to your left or by clicking on a helmet below; return to the helmets by hitting the link labeled "Menu" following each teams notes. ...
Baltimore RavensCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 January 2023
As Baltimore Banner's Jonas Shaffer framed it, "The NFL's strangest dress rehearsal played out here Sunday without anyone knowing for certain that, yes, this would indeed be a preview of Paycor Stadium's coming attractions. There were missing stars and underplayed scenes and dramatic moments throughout, the tension in the Cincinnati Bengals' 27-16 win over the Ravens only building through the final whistle."
Shaffer went on to suggest it was a loss the Ravens could feel good about, all things considered.
But there were a lot of thorny things to consider as the regular season turned into the postseason and a third round of football between these AFC North rivals beckoned.
Without quarterback Lamar Jackson and a handful of starters on offense, the Ravens (10-7) had outgained the Bengals (12-4) by over 100 yards. Without cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Brandon Stephens, they'd kept in check an explosive Cincinnati offense.
Without a great shot at improved playoff seeding, they'd competed from start to finish against maybe the AFC's hottest team, ticking off a couple Bengals players along the way.
The Ravens did not play their best ball Sunday. They also did not play their best players. Head coach John Harbaugh on Friday called the Ravens' regular-season finale part of a "two-game operation," which on Sunday meant going without the team's best receiver (tight end Mark Andrews), best running back (J.K. Dobbins), best interior lineman (right guard Kevin Zeitler) and best ball hawk (Peters), all starters with recent injury histories who were undoubtedly helped by the day off.
No absences were more consequential than those at quarterback, though.
Jackson, who'd led the Ravens to a Week 5 win over the Bengals in Baltimore, missed his fifth straight start with a knee injury. Backup Tyler Huntley, limited all week in practice by tendinitis in his right (throwing) shoulder, was inactive as well, perhaps a tacit acknowledgement that his services could be more urgently needed in the playoffs.
Undrafted rookie Anthony Brown, making his first career start, went 19-for-44 for 286 yards, threw two interceptions that led to two Cincinnati touchdowns and lost a fumble in the end zone that the Bengals pounced on for another score.
But in finishing with one touchdown or less for their sixth straight game, the Ravens might've revealed more about their potential with Jackson than their limitations without him. Against a stingy Bengals defense, the Ravens finished with 386 yards of total offense, led by rookie tight end Isaiah Likely (eight catches for a career-high 103 yards) and a solid running game (110 yards, 4.1 per carry).
Expect the Ravens to lean on their tight ends a lot this week.
"Those guys will be out there together plenty, for sure," Harbaugh said. "We have a lot of options with the tight ends, and we plan on using them."
With Jackson at the controls, it would not have been hard to imagine more open running lanes, fewer dropped passes, more points, fewer third-and-long headaches. The trouble remains getting Jackson onto the field.
Ravens teammates pleaded ignorance afterward when asked how close the 2019 NFL Most Valuable Player might be to returning. They were more forthcoming about how important his return could be.
"Obviously, we want him back, but as far as defense, we've been like, 'Whoever plays,'" cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. "I know 'Snoop' [Huntley] is a good quarterback. A.B. is a good quarterback. Obviously, Lamar Jackson is one of one. So if you can have him back, that'd be great. If not, we'll go with who we've got."
Said right tackle Morgan Moses: "I try not to worry about it. Obviously, [Jackson's] a hell of a player, and obviously, he's a game-changer, but no matter what … we have 100 percent faith in that guy [at quarterback], and it's our job as the offensive line to block for him and open up holes on Sunday or Monday or whatever day we play."
On Saturday, ESPN's Adam Schefter cited a source that said Jackson has a "strong chance" of returning in the playoffs. However, Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio reports that Jackson's status remains uncertain.
Florio's report echoed the words of Harbaugh on Friday, who gave an opening statement following practice to say Jackson is working hard to return but the team currently doesn't have an update on his status.
For the last few weeks, Harbaugh has essentially delivered a non-update update on Jackson every Monday.
He did the same this week.
"Well, like I've been saying, I don't really have an update right now to share with you," Harbaugh said in his Monday press conference. "We'll have an injury report out on Wednesday -- because I won't have a chance to talk to you between now and then -- that's kind of where we're at."
Later in the media session, Harbaugh was asked how Jackson has been doing since the media hasn't been able to speak with him since the quarterback suffered the knee injury on Dec. 4.
"Lamar's been in great spirits. He has been. He's been working super hard," Harbaugh said. "He's out there again today. I mean, I don't watch the workouts -- he's with the trainers and hopefully has progressed to the point where he can practice sometime soon. I mean, that's what we're all hoping for, for sure. When we have something to report on that, we will. That's just the truth of it.
"But, he's been great. He's always in good spirits. He wants to play -- there's no doubt. That's my feeling. You know I love Lamar. I love Lamar. I love everything about Lamar -- always have, always will. He's working hard and he's in good spirits."
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport said Monday on the "Pat McAfee Show" that Jackson has "told people he thinks he'll be back."
Harbaugh did not indicate if Jackson would be on the field Wednesday when practice resumes.
"Like I've been saying, I don't really have an update right now to share with you," Harbaugh said. "We'll have an injury report out on Wednesday."
If the Ravens are forced to start Huntley or Brown, it will be hard to have much hope in the passing game. Brown went 19 of 44 for 286 yards with two interceptions against Cincinnati.
Huntley hasn't thrown for more than 138 yards in any of his four starts this season -- and those were all against teams that didn't make the playoffs.
However the biggest question of these NFL playoffs resolves itself, the Ravens will head back to Cincinnati with some swagger in their step. For a second straight meeting, their defense kept Burrow from performing his usual magic, holding the MVP contender to 5.1 yards per attempt three months after he managed only 6.2 yards per attempt.
Ravens players couldn't recall ever having to face the same team twice in two weeks, nor could they say how much either team was holding back strategically. Smith, who joined the Ravens via trade after their first meeting with Cincinnati, said the Bengals "did a lot of things they've done all season." Bengals coach Zac Taylor, who had his full arsenal of offensive talent available, said afterward: "You don't want to put it all out there."
As Shaffer put it, "Such is the nature of a dress rehearsal."
Sunday was about getting ready for this weekend, when the playoff curtains would be drawn and the teams would have to hit their marks and prove they had the star power to put on a show worthy of the stage.
"It doesn't matter what my feelings are or how I gauge it," Harbaugh said when asked about playing the Bengals again. "What matters is how we come out and prepare for the playoff wild-card round. Our guys have earned that opportunity, and we're looking forward to it."
Now the Ravens will hope that the extra rest for players like Dobbins and tight end Mark Andrews will help the team turn the tables on Cincinnati this coming weekend. But if Baltimore has to start Huntley or Brown, its seems clear that the offense will be limited.
Beyond that, because there was still a home playoff game hanging in the balance, the Ravens got a good look at Cincinnati's top offensive players. Quarterback Joe Burrow attempted 42 passes, and the Baltimore defense held him to 215 yards through the air. Sunday was only the second time the Ravens allowed more than 16 points since the start of November, but the Bengals were aided by four Baltimore turnovers.
Defensively, the Ravens played well enough to give the team some confidence this weekend.
"It's a division opponent that we know very well. They know us very well," defensive lineman Calais Campbell said. "There's a lot of just passion behind the ballgame. That's what it's all about. It's win or go home."
Beyond the quarterbacks on the injury front. ... The Ravens held Dobbins out of the game, only to have Gus Edwards -- their top running back who did play -- exit after four carries and enter concussion protocol.
I'll have more on Jackson and the QB situation as well as Edwards in the News and Views section in coming days. ...
Kenyan Drake stepped into the void, taking 51 snaps and rushing for 60 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries this past Sunday, but Dobbins' return would almost certainly change that this time around.
Finally. ... The Ravens will be keeping linebacker Roquan Smith around for a while.
Per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, Smith and Baltimore have agreed to a five-year contract extension worth $100 million.
The deal includes $45 million guaranteed and $60 million in total guarantees.
The Ravens acquired Smith from the Bears at the end of October in exchange for a second-round pick, a fifth-round pick, and linebacker A.J. Klein. Smith had made it clear that he did not plan to sign an extension with Chicago, cutting off contract negotiations with the club before the season.
Smith immediately became a key piece to Baltimore's defense, recording 86 tackles, seven tackles for loss, an interception, 2.0 sacks, and three passes defensed in his nine games.
With the Ravens signing Smith to an extension, they'll now have the franchise tag to use on Jackson to prevent him from hitting free agency in March.
You can access complete stats for the Ravens Week 18 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Lamar Jackson, Tyler Huntley, Josh Johnson
RBs: Gus Edwards, Keaton Mitchell, Justice Hill, J.K. Dobbins
WRs: Zay Flowers, Odell Beckham, Rashod Bateman, Nelson Agholor, Tylan Wallace
TEs: Isaiah Likely, Charlie Kolar, Mark Andrews
Buffalo BillsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 January 2023
The echoes of "Let's Go Buffalo!" pregame chants were still reverberating through an emotionally charged Bills stadium celebrating injured safety Damar Hamlin, when another roar suddenly erupted as Nyheim Hines returned the opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown.
Some three hours later, and after Hines returned another kickoff 101 yards for a go-ahead score in a 35-23 win over the New England Patriots, the fans were on their feet chanting "Hamlin! Hamlin! Hamlin!" and Bills players holding up three fingers in honor of the injured safety's No. 3 jersey.
Whatever questions the Bills faced regarding being capable of playing six days after being left stunned and saddened as they watched Hamlin being resuscitated on the field in Cincinnati were answered before the game was 14 seconds old.
"I can't remember a play that touched me like that I don't think in my life. It's probably No. 1," quarterback Josh Allen said. "It's just spiritual. ... You can't draw that one up or write that one up any better."
"OMFG!!!!!!" Hamlin posted on his Twitter account from his hospital bed at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he has spent the week progressively recovering.
"HINES FREE" he tweeted again after Hines' second score.
Head coach Sean McDermott said the team reached Hamlin by phone and had him count down the team's final huddle in the locker room.
Acquired by Buffalo in a trade with Indianapolis two months ago, Hines became the NFL's 11th player to return two kickoffs for scores in a game, and first since Seattle's Leon Washington in 2010.
"We as a community, I feel like we needed this win," Hines said before recalling the message Hamlin's father, Mario, delivered to the team on Wednesday in urging them to play. "He said, that's what Damar wanted, he would want us to push forward, and to win against New England."
While Hines sparked the win, much of the Bills focus remained on the 24-year-old Hamlin, who addressed the team by videoconference on Friday, in which he told them: "Love you boys."
Receiver John Brown, who scored on a 42-yard touchdown, honored assistant trainer Denny Kellington by handing him the ball. It was Kellington who is credited for his quick on-field response in performing CPR to get Hamlin's heart beating again.
In the past year filled with adversity striking Buffalo, from a deadly snowstorm over Christmas to a fatal mass-shooting at a supermarket in May, the Bills showed their resilience by uplifting their community. Overcoming the sudden shock and mental distress of Hamlin collapsing on the field, the win secured Buffalo (13-3) the AFC's No. 2 seed.
And leave it to receiver Stefon Diggs, who made a point to visit Hamlin in the University of Cincinnati Medical Center immediately following the game in Cincinnati was suspended, to seal the victory with a 49-yard touchdown catch from Allen to put Buffalo ahead 35-23 with 8:51 remaining.
The sold-out crowd -- many of them wearing No. 3 Hamlin shirts and jerseys, and holding up red hearts in the player's honor -- erupted as one as Allen walked off the field with his hands raised.
On the ensuing kickoff, which went for a touchback, Bills special teams players all raced into the end zone and motioned to the crowd. The fans, as one, stood up and let out a massive roar.
Allen finished 19 of 31 for 254 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.
Allen hadn't recorded a touchdown pass longer than 25 yards since Week 8 against the Packers. In Sunday's regular season finale, Allen accomplished that twice in the span of two quarters with the aforementioned 42-yarder to Brown and a 49-yard scoring strike to Diggs.
Diggs was Allen's favorite target from the get go, hauling in 7 catches for 104 yards and a score. It marked Diggs' first 100-yard game since Week 10 vs. the Vikings (7th 100-yard game of the year) and his 11th TD of the season, establishing a new career-high for a single season.
So all was good in the win over the Patriots.
And the team received the latest in a series of encouraging updates on Monday when they were told Hamlin had been discharged from a Cincinnati hospital and flown to Buffalo, where he will continue his recovery in a hospital closer to home.
"What a blessing, just incredible progress that he's made and incredible care that he's been under, both in Cincinnati and now here. So we're just very thankful for that," McDermott said. "Just thankful that Damar is back and resting in Buffalo here."
McDermott briefly saw Hamlin when he touched down in Buffalo earlier in the day and shared an update as to how he's doing.
"(Hamlin's) just very tired but he seems happy and happy to be back in Buffalo and around a familiar area to him," he said.
Along those lines, as Associated Press sports writer John Wawrow suggests, it's difficult to gauge how much farther this resilient group of players and coaches can ride on adrenaline without taking time to sort out their emotions.
Buffalo missed out on its chance to earn a much-needed break because its game against Cincinnati was canceled. That meant the Bills finished one-half game behind the AFC-leading Chiefs even though they won at Kansas City and finished with the same number of losses (three).
The Chiefs (14-3) earned a first-round playoff bye when they beat Las Vegas on Saturday.
By beating New England, the Bills (13-3) secured the No. 2 seed in the AFC and home-field advantage for at least their first two playoff games. Should the Bills play the Chiefs for the AFC championship, the game will be played at a neutral site under a rule change approved by NFL owners because of Buffalo's unusual circumstances.
There's consolation in that, given Buffalo's past two playoff runs ended in Kansas City.
Next up, the Bills host the Dolphins after the division rivals split their season series.
The Dolphins beat Buffalo 21-19 in the sweltering South Florida heat in September. The Bills beat Miami 32-29 in wintry western New York conditions on Dec. 17.
Other notes of interest. ... Dawson Knox scored Buffalo's first touchdown on a red-zone throw from Allen, extending his touchdown streak to four games.
As NBCSportEdge.com notes, the 26-year-old tight end failed to build on his 2021 breakout but was able to close the year on a high note. Knox played through multiple injuries during the regular season but only missed one game. When considering DFS options at the position this weekend, it's hard to dismiss Knox's momentum, high-end offense and quarterback.
Gabe Davis caught three of 10 targets for 39 yards against the Patriots.
As CBSSports.com pointed out, Davis tied Diggs for the team lead in targets but didn't make much of the volume.
Big things were expected from Davis in his third NFL season after he broke out last postseason, but Buffalo's No. 2 wide receiver struggled to find consistency en route to 48 catches for 836 yards and seven touchdowns on 93 targets. Davis had at least 88 yards and a touchdown on three different occasions, but he also produced fewer than 40 yards in eight of 15 appearances.
Fantasy managers have come to grips with his boom-bust nature and there are times when a Davis as a home-run swing makes sense.
Devin Singletary rushed seven times for 29 yards, caught his only target for three yards Sunday.
Singletary split carries with James Cook, which is likely to remain the case against the Dolphins. The veteran didn't help his chances of an increased workload with a third-quarter fumble, which set the Patriots up with an instant red-zone opportunity in a tie game.
Singletary wraps up his fourth NFL regular season with 819 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 177 attempts, as well as 38 catches for 280 yards and one touchdown on 52 targets.
You can access complete stats for the Bills Week 18 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Josh Allen
RBs: James Cook, Latavius Murray, Ty Johnson
WRs: Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis, Khalil Shakir, Trent Sherfield, Deonte Harty
TEs: Dalton Kincaid, Quintin Morris, Dawson Knox
Cincinnati BengalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 January 2023
According to Associated Press sports writer Mitch Stacy, in the locker room after the Bengals beat the Ravens, Joe Burrow handed out cigars to his teammates to celebrate a 12-4 season that included winning a second consecutive AFC North title for the first time in franchise history.
Like many games for Cincinnati this season, Sunday's 27-16 win over a Baltimore team that rested many key players was at times beautiful and at times unsightly for the home team.
The Bengals have more than minor concerns heading into the first round of the playoffs next Sunday night on the same field against the same team.
But that didn't stop Burrow from urging his teammates to recognize their accomplishments before they move on. And they did. Loudly. The quarterback said winning the division is the "standard now" for a team that reached the Super Bowl a year ago.
"We're going to celebrate it every single time we do it," he said. "We're going to smoke our cigars and wear our T-shirts and hats, but we expect that every year."
The Bengals' eighth straight win came at the end of week full of emotional ups and downs and concern for Damar Hamlin, the Buffalo Bills safety who went into cardiac arrest on the same Paycor Stadium turf and had to be revived early in a Jan. 2 game that was suspended and ultimately canceled. Hamlin continues to recover at a Cincinnati hospital.
"It was a long week," Burrow said. "I think guys started feeling better at the end of the week when we started getting some good updates. At the beginning of the week, it was tough."
Without much on the line Sunday, the Ravens rested many of their best players. Star quarterback Lamar Jackson missed his fifth straight game with a knee injury. His backup, Tyler Huntley, has also been banged up and got the day off. Running back J.K. Dobbins was a healthy scratch. So were tight end Mark Andrews, guard Kevin Zeitler and cornerback Marcus Peters.
The Bengals can count on seeing a different, more formidable Ravens team Sunday night, even if Jackson is still sidelined.
"There's no easy path into the NFL, into the playoffs and to the Super Bowl," Burrow said. "The harder it is, the better it will feel."
The defense took full advantage of mistakes by Baltimore's rookie quarterback, Anthony Brown, who was starting his first NFL game. Interceptions by safety Jessie Bates and cornerback Mike Hilton both turned into short-field touchdowns for the offense. Brown fumbled the ball away in his own end zone during one of the four times he was sacked.
That was the good news.
The less good news?
After jumping out to a 24-7 lead at halftime, the Bengals' offense fell flat. Burrow acknowledged that he "missed throws I usually make." The run game went nowhere. In the second half, Cincinnati punted five times and turned the ball over on downs and via a Burrow fumble. The Bengals' only points came from a 26-yard field goal by Evan McPherson.
Joe Mixon gained 27 yards on 11 carries as the Bengals all but abandoned the ineffective run game.
"It's just not enough consistency," head coach Zac Taylor said. "We had some three-and-outs and some third-and-1s, fourth-and-1s. Tough situation there and just not enough. (We) didn't put our guys in a good enough position, didn't execute well enough in some instances as well. Not our sharpest game that we've had."
Whether Jackson makes it back on the field or not, the Bengals have to ready for a team that will have better players on the field and be way more motivated for the opening round of the playoffs Sunday night. Considering the number of skirmishes and postgame grousing about cheap shots, this third meeting between the division rivals this season could get chippy.
Other notes of interest. ... Ja'Marr Chase recorded eight receptions on 13 targets for 86 yards and a touchdown in this one.
Chase earned double-digit targets for the fourth consecutive game, and he nearly doubled up Tyler Boyd, who finished second on the team with seven looks. As CBSSports.com notes, Chase displayed some big-play ability, highlighted by a 26-yard touchdown catch as well as big gains of 20 and 17 yards. He also served as a check-down option for Burrow, tallying short gains of 10 and nine yards.
Despite having his season cut short by four games due to a hip injury, Chase surpassed 1,000 receiving yards and managed nine touchdowns. He'll be a key to the Bengals' postseason run.
Tee Higgins caught 1-of-7 targets for seven yards. According to NBCSportsEdge.com, Burrow just missed Higgins on an end zone target early in the game, but the Bengals' No. 2 receiver was shut down all afternoon by Baltimore's secondary. ...
On the injury front. ... The Bengals are expecting to lose another starting offensive lineman as they prepare for Sunday's playoff game against the Ravens.
Starting right guard Alex Cappa didn't return after suffering a left ankle injury in the third quarter of Cincinnati's Week 18 victory over Baltimore. Head Coach Zac Taylor didn't offer an update following the game, but Cappa's teammates sounded like the injury was serious.
"It was heartbreaking," left guard Cordell Volson said via cleveland.com. "He's been so influential in my life here in my short time being around. To see that happen, it's tough. We all know Cap is going to come back better than ever. It definitely hurts. We just wish him the best."
Right tackle La'el Collins (knee) went out for the season in December, so the Bengals will likely open the playoffs down two starters on the right side. Hakeem Adeniji has replaced Collins, while Max Scharping is expected to replace Cappa.
Losing Cappa and Collins could impact Cincinnati's running attack, as well as the pass protection for Burrow, who was sacked twice in Week 18 and escaped pressure numerous times. However, Burrow said he had faith that Scharping would step up.
You can access complete stats for the Bengals Week 18 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Jake Browning, Joe Burrow
RBs: Joe Mixon, Trayveon Williams, Chris Evans, Chase Brown
WRs: Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, Trenton Irwin, Andrei Iosivas, Charlie Jones
TEs: Irv Smith Jr., Tanner Hudson, Drew Sample, Mitchell Wilcox
Dallas CowboysCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 January 2023
The Dallas Cowboys entered Sunday with hopes of a second straight division title and the chance to move up to one of the top two seeds in the NFC if things went their way.
They left FedEx Field with their worst loss of the year, 26-6, to the Washington Commanders, throwing more questions into the mix regarding what the season can be with a wild-card game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next week.
"We get to suck on that all week," owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. "If that doesn't make you want to get ready to go in about six, seven days, nothing else will. That was as thorough a butt-kicking as we've had this year and we're going to find out if that'll get you ready or not. It should with what these guys are made of."
The Cowboys' previous worst loss of the season was a 19-3 defeat in Week 1 against the Buccaneers. The Cowboys will have to do something they have never done in order to advance in the playoffs: beat Tom Brady.
He owns a 7-0 record against Dallas, including wins the last two seasons with Tampa Bay.
"There's no doubt in my mind that as a team, not just individually, but as a team we can come back and take this nightmare -- whatever you want to call it -- and turn it into a plus," Jones said. "I'm thrilled that we've got the opportunity and I'm thrilled that we didn't have to look over there at the Philadelphia game and the San Francisco game and say, 'Boy, did we mess up.'"
Had the Eagles and 49ers lost, the Cowboys would have clinched the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a win over Washington. But they had a performance against the Commanders that was downright awful.
The special teams contributed two turnovers in the first quarter on Dallas' side of the field. Even with Washington quarterback Sam Howell making the first start of his career, the Dallas defense was average, allowing 151 yards rushing on 41 attempts and coming up with just one interception.
But the offense was particularly miserable.
Dak Prescott completed a career-worst 37.8 percent of his passes (14-of-37) and was intercepted for the 15th time in 12 games. Prescott's 15 interceptions tied Houston's Davis Mills for the most in the NFL, despite the fact Prescott missed five games following thumb surgery. He also had an interception returned for a touchdown for the third time in the last four games.
There was some solid play from Prescott in each of the first two games where one of his interceptions was returned for a touchdown.
There was very little of that against the Commanders.
"For me, I mean, s---ty," Prescott said. "Not to use the language, but simple as that."
Prescott finished with a season-worst passer rating of 45.8.
"Just completely not who we are," said Prescott.
Head coach Mike McCarthy was a little more forgiving.
"There was a lot more going on around really," McCarthy said. "This is not about one guy. You can't look at our offensive performance and blame it all on one guy. Plenty to go around."
The Cowboys managed just 182 yards and converted 4 of 18 third-down opportunities, both season lows. The second-worst showings came in the loss to the Buccaneers to start the season (244 yards, 3-of-15 on third down).
"No, this one won't linger," Prescott said. "Yeah, I mean, it's easy to go back and look at our body of work and what we've done, especially with this not anywhere in those past 16 games. So when you have a performance like this, whatever it was, whatever the reason may be, we've got to individually look at it, take accountability, learn from it and then understand when the plane touches down we're on to Tampa.
"We know who they are. Played them twice these last two years, and it's going to be a good one."
According to Associated Press sports writer Schuyler Dixon, the only consolation for Dallas is that momentum didn't help last season.
The Cowboys blew out Philadelphia 51-26 going into the playoffs even though the outcome didn't matter. Then the offense went back to sputtering in a 23-17 wild-card loss to San Francisco at home.
"You have to reboot anyways. It's playoff time," coach Mike McCarthy said. "I have great confidence in the locker room. I think we have exceptional leadership."
Still, the Cowboys secured playoff berths in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2006-07, which means most of the players remember the sting of the loss to the 49ers.
The best solution for ending a stretch of more than a quarter-century without multiple playoff victories in the same season is getting repeat chances. Before this season, Dallas had done it just twice since 1996.
In addition, a road playoff game might be a good thing for the Cowboys after the way the loss to the 49ers on their home field ended when they ran out of time for a final play on a designed Prescott run with no timeouts.
Still, the reality is Dallas has an eight-game road losing streak in the playoffs. The last victory on the opposing team's field in the postseason was a 30-20 win at San Francisco for the 1992 NFC championship, which triggered a run of three Super Bowl titles in four years.
The last time the Cowboys opened the postseason on the road was the 2006 season, when quarterback Tony Romo was also the holder and infamously flubbed the snap on a potential winning field goal in the final two minutes of a 21-20 wild-card loss at Seattle.
Brady's career record against the Cowboys is 7-0. The 45-year-old, seven-time Super Bowl champ has beat Dallas twice with the Buccaneers -- in the openers last season and this season -- after going 5-0 in his time with New England.
If the Cowboys beat the Bucs, there will be plenty of talk about them repeating the postseason feat of Tampa Bay from its Super Bowl-winning season of 2020.
Brady's bunch won at Washington, New Orleans and Green Bay before dominating Kansas City for the title. Dallas needs multiple upsets to get a home playoff game.
On the injury front. ... Rookie CB DaRon Bland left the Washington game in the first half with a chest injury. He didn't return, but it wasn't known if that was precautionary. The Cowboys already have lost starting cornerbacks Jourdan Lewis and Anthony Brown to season-ending injuries. ... LB Leighton Vander Esch could return after missing the final three games of the regular season with a neck injury. He practiced some last week. ...
The Cowboys might be developing a trust problem with kick returner KaVontae Turpin, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie. He muffed punts in two of the last five games in the regular season, the latter setting up a Washington touchdown for the first points in the finale. ...
A few final items. ... A year ago, after the Cowboys were bounced in the playoffs by the 49ers, Jones didn't immediately address questions regarding the coaching staff, particularly McCarthy.
While there were no major changes on the staff then, the topic of job status never seems to go away here with the Cowboys.
On Tuesday, Jones might have at least ended the conversation for now.
When asked on 105.3 "The Fan" during his regular radio segment, Jones scoffed when approached about McCarthy needing to win this game against the Bucs to save his job.
"No, I don't even want to. ... No. That's it," Jones said. "I don't need to go into all the positives or minuses. I've got a lot more to evaluate Mike McCarthy on than this playoff game."
McCarthy has led the Cowboys to consecutive 12-win seasons, the first coach to do that since Barry Switzer (1994, 1995) and just the fourth coach in franchise history.
But Switzer, Jimmy Johnson and Tom Landry also managed to have postseason success, something that has eluded McCarthy in his first two seasons.
Will this year be different?
We're all about to find out. ...
Last. ... For the second year in a row, the Cowboys finished the regular season with the most takeaways from its defense.
And for the second year in a row, the mastermind of this defense is getting attention from other teams to be its next head coach.
Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is reportedly on the radar for the Denver Broncos yet again this year. Quinn interviewed for the job last season but the Broncos hired Nathaniel Hackett, who was fired before the end of his first season.
So naturally, Quinn is being mentioned again as the Broncos have reportedly asked for permission to speak with him, which is per NFL rules considering the Cowboys are still in the playoffs.
When asked about the situation with the Broncos and potentially other teams, Quinn was rather vague on his response.
"Anybody asks you, you're flattered," said Quinn, who didn't address the matter further, turning his focus to Monday's game in Tampa.
Quinn said he's preparing to have "a kick-ass week" as the Cowboys seek to beat Brady for the first-time ever. For the Cowboys to finally knock off Brady, which would be the team's first road playoff win since the 1992 NFC Championship Game, it's going to take another defensive gem by a defense that forced 33 takeaways.
Back in Week 1, Micah Parsons sacked Brady twice and safety Donovan Wilson got an interception. But the problem in that game was a stagnant Cowboys offense that only produced a field goal. ...
You can access complete stats for the Cowboys Week 18 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Trey Lance
RBs: Tony Pollard, Rico Dowdle, Deuce Vaughn, Hunter Luepke
WRs: CeeDee Lamb, Brandin Cooks, Michael Gallup, Jalen Tolbert, KaVontae Turpin, Jalen Brooks
TEs: Jake Ferguson, Luke Schoonmaker, Peyton Hendershot
Jacksonville JaguarsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 January 2023
As Associated Press sports writer Mark Long reminded readers, "The Jacksonville Jaguars usually mess it up. ..."
Long went on to recount, they fired Tom Coughlin too soon. They kept Jack Del Rio, Gus Bradley and Doug Marrone too long. They gambled on Urban Meyer, Nick Foles, David Garrard and countless others and almost always got burned.
Whether it was draft picks, free agents, coaches or general managers, it's been one mistake after another for years -- decades, really.
Even when it looked as if the floundering franchise was headed in the right direction in 2007 and 2017, Jacksonville followed successful seasons with head-scratching moves: trading four picks to select Derrick Harvey; re-signing Blake Bortles.
But now, as the Jaguars (9-8) bask in their second AFC South championship and prepare to host the Los Angeles Chargers (10-7) in a wild-card game few could have reasonably expected following a five-game skid in October, it's clear they finally got it right.
Here's a look at some key decisions that sparked a turnaround in which Jacksonville has more than doubled its win total from the previous two years:
"We've come so far," Pederson said. "Just think about back in April and May, when we first got together, you're trying to teach a winning culture. You're trying to flip a script, so to speak. You just are not sure until you start playing games just how that's going to look.
"Listen, these guys, they trust in me; I trust in them. They never wavered. ... To win nine games in our first year together is pretty impressive for the guys in the locker room."
Worth noting, the Jaguars have delivered three consecutive defensive gems, although they came against quarterbacks Joshua Dobbs, Davis Mills, Jeff Driskel, Zach Wilson and Chris Streveler.
Justin Herbert should provide a much tougher test for a unit that's allowed just 22 points in its past three outings.
Slow starts have been a season-long trend, although Jacksonville has won three home games this season -- against Tennessee, Dallas and Las Vegas -- in which it trailed by double digits.
Meanwhile, the Jaguars turned the ball over on a failed trick play -- Lawrence's pitch to Jamal Agnew was high -- and that was the team's 13th lost fumble of the season, which is tied with the Indianapolis Colts for the most in the NFL.
Lawrence was tagged with his NFL-leading ninth lost fumble of the season.
"Obviously we'll make an emphasis of it," Pederson said this week about turnovers. "We've got to protect the football. Just like each week you try to create takeaways, but you've got to keep the football as well. We all understand the magnitude of what turnovers can do in games like this."
In addition, Lawrence missed two potential touchdowns with an overthrow and an underthrow.
He'll need to get back on point -- and he's been that for the most part this season -- in time for Saturday night's game in Jacksonville.
A fifth consecutive home victory would be Jacksonville's longest streak since winning seven in a row at TIAA Bank Field in 2017.
Still, this offense has been pretty impressive.
The Jaguars finished the 2022 regular season ninth in the NFL in total yards offense (357.3) and 10th in scoring offense (23.7) after finishing 27th (305.3) and 32nd (14.8) in the categories last season.
As for the overall defensive numbers: Jacksonville finished 24th in the NFL in total yards defense (353.3) and 12th in scoring defense (20.5) after finishing 20th (353.1) and 28th (26.8) last season.
They finished seventh in the NFL with a plus-five turnover margin after finishing last at minus-20 last season. They produced 27 takeaways (tied for fourth in the NFL) after producing nine in 2021.
They committed 22 turnovers this season (tied for 17th most in the NFL) after committing 29 last season (tied for second most).
It should also be noted that back in Week 3, the Jaguars traveled to the West Coast and dismantled the Chargers 38-10 at SoFi Stadium.
That made the Jaguars 2-1 and they looked like a team on the rise.
Then they lost five games in a row to fall to 2-6 and that victory over L.A. looked like a fluke.
But now the two teams will meet again in the postseason on Saturday night, this time in Jacksonville. Pederson acknowledged on Monday that the previous matchup was "a long time ago."
"There's some new faces on their side," Pederson said in his press conference. "There's some new faces on our side. Schematically, probably both the same with us and with them. Again, we've talked about it a lot, you're not going to trick anybody. It just comes down to execution, both sides, them and us.
"I'm looking forward to it, watching our guys on this type of stage. We haven't been there, this team, and obviously, it'll be a great atmosphere, home game for us and really looking forward to watching our guys perform."
Pederson said he'll study the tape of that first game to recognize how both teams went after one another in all three phases.
"Then you kind of look at the whole body of work since, and if there's anything that's changed and why it's changed, and then you put your game plan together that way and according to that," Pederson said. "It's a good football team. They've got a great young quarterback as well, and I know they'll be ready to go. They're looking forward to this opportunity just like we are. ..."
On the injury front. ... The Jaguars have issued their first injury report of the week for this week's game on Tuesday. Their quarterback appears on the report -- as he has for weeks. But there may also be a significant concern at kicker.
Lawrence was once again listed as limited with his toe injury. He's been at least limited in practice early in the week since suffering the toe injury but has not missed any playing time because of it.
Kicker Riley Patterson did not practice on Tuesday with a knee injury. Patterson made a pair of field goals and two extra points in Jacksonville's victory over Tennessee to win the AFC South on Saturday night. The Jags do have James McCourt on their practice squad at kicker.
Offensive lineman Brandon Scherff (abdomen) and Agnew (shoulder) were also limited on Tuesday.
Long snapper Ross Mastick (back) did not participate.
I'll follow up on the pertinent players in coming days; watch the News and Views section for more. ...
Finally. ... As ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco notes, Agnew had a big day, with 125 yards on four kickoff returns and 33 yards on two punt returns. He jump-started a stagnant Jaguars offense with a 54-yard return that set up the Jaguars at midfield. That turned into the Jaguars' only offensive touchdown.
That makes up for the fumble earlier in the game. Agnew has been close to breaking several returns for touchdowns in the last month, and now he'll have at least one more week to try and get one.
You can access complete stats for the Jaguars Week 18 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Trevor Lawrence, C.J. Beathard, Nathan Rourke
RBs: Travis Etienne Jr., Tank Bigsby, D'Ernest Johnson
WRs: Calvin Ridley, Zay Jones, Parker Washington, Tim Jones, Jamal Agnew, Christian Kirk
TEs: Evan Engram, Brenton Strange, Luke Farrell, Elijah Cooks
Kansas City ChiefsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 January 2023
The Chiefs clinched the AFC's No. 1 seed with a clean victory over the Raiders on Saturday, finishing the season 14-3.
As Profootballtalk.com's Myles Simmons notes, Kansas City has won at least 12 games in every season since Patrick Mahomes became the team's starting quarterback and this year finished No. 1 in points and total yards.
In fact, Associated Press sports writer Dave Skretta pointed out the Chiefs don't believe in simply wrapping up the AFC's top seed. They want to have fun doing it.
Late in the first half Saturday against the Las Vegas Raiders, the Chiefs huddled and spun in a circle, broke out into the shotgun with running back Jerick McKinnon taking a direct snap. He faked a handoff to Kadarius Toney and pitched to Mahomes, who then threw to Toney for a 9-yard touchdown.
But, it didn't count. A holding penalty brought back the play. The Chiefs then scored anyway to take full control of what became a 31-13 victory.
The play is called the Snow Globe or Arctic Circle, depending on who is asked. But, even if it didn't count, it underscored the Chiefs' creativity and willingness to have fun, even while playing for playoff positioning and a week off.
"We talked about it on the side, 'Let's see if we can get some confusion going and throw something back.'" Mahomes said. "It worked. We just had the holding penalty. We got some good things going for the playoffs, and whatever we run has to work."
That, head coach Andy Reid said, was the bottom line.
"You do (want to make it fun), but you want to score, too," Reid said. "It's not fun when you're not doing that."
Almost lost was the NFL record for total yards in a season that Mahomes set. He passed for 202 yards and rushed for 29 against the Raiders, giving him 5,608 total yards this season. That surpassed the record of 5,562 yards set by Drew Brees in 2011 with the New Orleans Saints.
All this after trading Tyreek Hill and integrating several new receivers.
"Pat was on fire," Reid said. "He's throwing these (statistics) out there like they're nothing."
More than setting the mark, Mahomes helped ensure the top seed for the Chiefs and a bye in the first round of the playoffs, which begin this weekend. After Saturday's game, Mahomes said clinching the conference's top seed and its only bye week starts with the culture set by the organization and coaches.
"It was started before I was even here. And so, you get a lot of guys in here that learn how we do things," Mahomes said in his press conference. "We have a lot of veterans on our team, and when you bring in new guys you just show them by the way you act. Luckily for us, [G.M.] Brett Veach and coach [Andy] Reid brought in a lot of guys that were ready to work and wanted to get out there as quickly as possible. And I think you've seen as the seasons gone on, those rookies are getting better and then the veterans are starting to hit the right moment going into the playoffs."
The prevailing thought in the 2022 offseason was that the AFC West was going to be the league's best division, based on the personnel moves of the three other teams. But Kansas City was still 6-0 in the division, and is now 27-3 against AFC West opponents since Mahomes took over as the starter in 2018.
Mahomes said divisional games "for sure" mean more to him.
"That was something that was instilled with me right when I got here. We were going to focus on AFC West opponents," Mahomes said. "We believe we have one of the best divisions, if not the best division, in football. And so, we know if we can handle business and AFC West, it's going to put us in the position to be where we want to be at the end of the year.
"Like I've said a lot, our first goal is win the AFC West. Second goal is to get home field advantage, which we're in a weird spot there, but now we're going to get this bye now and get back to the playoffs. Get a home game at Arrowhead and try to handle business there against what will be another great football team. If you look at the AFC in general, every single team one through eight or nine can make a run to the Super Bowl. We know we are going to get a good test no matter who it is."
The Chiefs will face the lowest-remaining seed in the AFC in the divisional round, which will be the No. 4 Jaguars, No. 5 Chargers, No. 6 Ravens, or No. 7 Dolphins.
Kansas City, however, is not assured of home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
Because Monday night's Buffalo-Cincinnati game was canceled, the Chiefs could wind up playing the Bills or Bengals in the AFC championship on a neutral field.
Also of interest. ... The Chiefs matched their franchise record for regular-season victories, set in 2020, and they set a team mark with their 17th consecutive game of at least 300 yards of offense.
Chiefs linebacker Nick Bolton made 16 tackles, giving him 180 for the season and breaking the team record of 179 set by Derrick Johnson in 2011.
McKinnon has caught a touchdown pass in six consecutive games. He has nine TDs total over that span. Tight end Travis Kelce caught six passes for 38 yards, giving him 110 receptions this season, just one off the Chiefs' mark set by Hill last season. ...
On the injury front. ... The bye will give a pair of injured Chiefs players more of an opportunity to get healthy according to Reid.
Reid first gave an update on Frank Clark, who left Week 18's tilt with the Las Vegas Raiders with a groin strain.
"I don't have any (new) injuries," Reid told reporters on Monday. "We came out pretty clean on it. It looks like Frank (Clark), after his MRI, the groin looks like it's more of a mild one. He should be (able to) return after a little rest that we have here. We'll give the guys a few days off and then reconvene here later."
Clark's injury being a minor one will give him a better chance to return and play during the divisional round of the playoffs. Soft tissue injuries are fickle, so it'll be important to monitor his practice status throughout the week leading up to the game.
As for receiver Mecole Hardman, who Reid thought would play in Week 18, he's progressing in his return from an abdomen injury. It's possible that he's healthy and ready to go for the divisional round, but Reid emphasized the importance of the practice week for Hardman.
"Yeah, so I thought he might be able to go this past week," Reid said. "That's a hiccup on my end. He's trying. He's trying to get this thing right. It's just a matter of time. He's really day-to-day. Although, he feels better today than he did on Saturday. So, we'll just see how it goes during practice."
Overall, it'll be good for everyone to get the week off. It'll allow some of the bumps and bruises from the season to improve as the players head into the most important stretch of the year.
One last note here. ... The Chiefs signed receiver John Ross to a reserve/future deal. The former No. 9 overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft will enter the offseason as a member of the Chiefs.
Ross missed all of 2022 after spending 2021 with the Giants, where he caught 11 passes for 224 yards and a touchdown. Ross has played in just 21 regular season games since 2019 and has never gone for more than 506 yards in any individual season. It's obviously not a lock that he'll make the final roster next year.
You can access complete stats for the Cheifs Week 18 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Blaine Gabbert
RBs: Isiah Pacheco, Jerick McKinnon, Clyde Edwards-Helaire
WRs: Rashee Rice, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Justin Watson, Skyy Moore, Kadarius Toney, Richie James, Justyn Ross, Mecole Hardman
TEs: Travis Kelce, Noah Gray, Blake Bell, Jody Fortson
Los Angeles ChargersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 January 2023
As Associated Press sports writer Joe Reedy framed it, "Not even the sight of his leading receiver being carted off the field with an injured back could alter Brandon Staley's plan. ..."
The Los Angeles Chargers coach kept playing the starters Sunday and acting as though his team had something to play for, even though by the time the game began, it was clear it meant nothing.
Even after Mike Williams left with an injured back in the second quarter, most of Los Angeles' stars -- Justin Herbert, Austin Ekeler, Keenan Allen and Derwin James Jr., among them -- stayed in the lineup.
Not until the fourth quarter of what turned out to be a 31-28 loss to the Denver Broncos did Staley have all of them on the bench to eliminate the risk of another key injury for a team that was locked in to play the wild-card round in Jacksonville before its game began.
The Chargers will play the Jaguars on Saturday night.
Staley offered no apology.
"These aren't easy decisions," Staley said after the game. "They're not easy decisions and hindsight is perfect for everybody on the outside, but these games are not easy to manage. They're not, because you don't have that many players and we did it to the best of our ability."
Williams suffered a back injury in the second quarter, was assisted off the field by the athletic training staff and taken into the locker room on a cart, a situation that tight end Gerald Everett described after the game as "demoralizing."
According to The Athletic's Daniel Popper, Staley said on Monday Williams' MRI showed no fracture or muscle injury in his back.
He has a contusion, Staley said.
Staley on Tuesday added that Williams is day-to-day and the wideout is expected to return to practice at some point this week.
Edge rusher Joey Bosa did not return to the game Sunday after an awkward play in the second quarter, and linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr. also exited in the second quarter.
Bosa was removed from the game in keeping with a plan to phase players out, and Murray suffered a stinger, Staley said.
The Bolts entered Sunday on a four-game win streak and appearing to peak at the perfect time after securing in Week 16 their first playoff berth since 2018. They finish the regular season 10-7, achieving double-digit wins for only the second time in 13 seasons.
They officially secured the 5-seed in the AFC just ahead of kickoff, when the Baltimore Ravens fell 27-16 to the Cincinnati Bengals, an outcome Staley said had no bearing on their game plan.
"We were trying to compete in the game and we only have 48 guys on the team that are active for the game," Staley said. "So we wanted to make sure that they went a good ways in this football game and competed at a high level and then when we felt like it was right for them to get out of the game, then that's what we were going to do, slowly phase them out so that we could get ready for next week."
Several players said they agreed with Staley's decision to play starters despite having their postseason path already determined.
"Yes. Why not?" defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day said emphatically when asked if he agreed with Staley's decision to play starters. "It's all about momentum. At least in my previous employment, we used this bottom half to win out and propel us."
Joseph-Day won an NFC championship and made two Super Bowl appearances with the Los Angeles Rams, winning a title last season.
"We signed up for 17 games," said Allen, who caught eight passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns as he played into the fourth quarter. "This is definitely -- I mean I only played what, six or seven games this whole year? So it was good for me to keep playing."
Backup quarterback Chase Daniel replaced Herbert after the third quarter. Herbert finished 25 of 37 for 273 yards and two touchdowns.
"I think everyone on this team wanted to go out and compete today, wanted to battle," Herbert said. "We believe in the front office, the coaching staff, and whatever they decided, we're behind them 100 percent."
Herbert has 14,091 career passing yards, an NFL record for a player through his first three seasons, and his 94 career passing touchdowns are the second most in a player's first three seasons. Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino had 98.
The Chargers finish the regular season with just 260 plays (23 percent) where Herbert, Allen and Williams were on the field together, with Allen and Williams playing only four games (Weeks 14-17) together start-to-finish. Allen missed significant time because of a hamstring strain and Williams due to a high ankle sprain.
Ultimately, if Williams returns unscathed for the Jaguars game, as expected, Staley might get a break.
In a best-case scenario, he might be able to argue that a deep run into the playoffs came in part because he kept his best players sharp in an otherwise meaningless game against the Broncos.
On Sunday, though, he was getting second-guessed on social media, then later, was forced to answer questions about his playing-time decisions in the postgame news conference.
"I believe Justin played the right amount," Staley said. "I think when you look across the league, at the other teams who were playing in the playoffs and what they did this last week, I think you'll see a lot of high-level players playing in their football games. I think that's fair to say.
"I think you'll see all the big-time quarterbacks, big-time players, were out there for the football teams. Because they have to be."
A reminder: Jacksonville routed the Chargers, 38-10, in Week 3 at SoFi Stadium, a game in which Bosa (groin), wide receiver Jalen Guyton (knee) and left tackle Rashawn Slater (biceps) suffered significant injuries. Bosa is back, but Guyton and Slater have not returned -- yet.
"Struggled running the ball," Ekeler recalled of that game. "I think I had 15 total yards that day. That was definitely a struggle that day. That's what I remember most. You want to learn from it, right? I will go back and see what they've been doing and adjust. Defenses change. Injuries. Schemes.
"It'll be fun."
In fact, Ekeler rushed for only 5 yards on four carries and the Chargers totaled only 26 yards on 12 carries. Ekeler led the Chargers with eight catches for 48 yards as Herbert, dealing with fractured rib cartilage suffered one week earlier, completed 25 of 45 for 297 yards.
Much, if not all, of the postgame conversation centered on Herbert's health and whether he should have continued in a game that was all but lost by the end of the third quarter. Herbert later said he wanted to play and so Chargers coach Staley kept him in a one-sided game.
Allen and tight end Donald Parham Jr. didn't play in the Jacksonville game because of hamstring injuries. Center Corey Linsley also didn't play because of an injury.
So, the Chargers on Sept. 25 did not look like the Chargers who are set to face the Jaguars on Saturday night.
Also worth noting, Jacksonville quarterback Trevor Lawrence torched the Chargers for 262 yards and three touchdowns on 28-for-39 passing in that game. Lawrence threw two of his touchdowns in the second half, when the Jaguars turned a 16-7 halftime lead into a 28-point blowout victory over the stunned Chargers.
So it's fortuitous that the Los Angeles defense is picking up the pace in recent weeks. ...
Also, as noted above. ... Slater will have his 21-day practice window opened, Staley told reporters Tuesday.
Staley added that Slater is progressing nicely but will not play Saturday during Super Wild Card Weekend.
Given that Slater was initially expected to miss the remainder of the season, any chance of him returning should the Chargers advance is a welcome one.
Beyond that, I'll have more on Williams, who was an estimated nonparticipant in Tuesday's non-practice, and any other injury issues in the News and Views section of the site in coming days. ...
You can access complete stats for the Chargers Week 18 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Justin Herbert, Easton Stick
RBs: Austin Ekeler, Joshua Kelley, Isaiah Spiller, Elijah Dotson
WRs: Keenan Allen, Quentin Johnston, Jalen Guyton, Derius Davis, Josh Palmer, Mike Williams
TEs: Gerald Everett, Donald Parham, Stone Smartt
Miami DolphinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 January 2023
Moments after the Dolphins' playoff-clinching win over the Jets, coach Mike McDaniel went over to embrace the man who brought him to Miami, owner Stephen Ross.
"I know how many other teams were interviewing me, so the answer is zero," McDaniel said, "and he felt in his gut that that didn't matter, that this was the right fit for everything that we're trying to do here, and I'll forever be loyal to that."
As Associated Press sports writer Alanis Thames reminded readers, McDaniel made a strong impression in his first year by designing an explosive offense around quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and leading the Dolphins to an 8-3 start. Miami followed that with a five-game skid while dealing with major injuries.
But the banged-up Dolphins (9-8), with rookie third-stringer Skylar Thompson at quarterback, did enough to beat the New York Jets 11-6 on Sunday and make the playoffs as the AFC's No. 7 seed. Miami will face AFC East rival Buffalo in the wild-card round on Sunday.
They've hardly looked like world-beaters lately, but the Dolphins are still playing.
"For myself, and what I tell the guys in our room, we just have to look beyond that," wide receiver Tyreek Hill said. "We have to find ways to look at our losses, take accountability and get better from it. That's what we've been doing this whole season."
Hill had 23 yards receiving Sunday as he dealt with an ankle injury. He's one of many Dolphins players hoping to get healthy ahead of the Buffalo game.
Running back Raheem Mostert broke his thumb Sunday after rushing for 71 yards on 11 carries, and McDaniel said he expects Mostert will have surgery.
"He will not be engaging in any competitive games of thumb war because he broke his thumb," McDaniel told the media. "So what is that? That right now, it's a serious injury. It's hard to know if he'll be able to play this week. I never put anything past Raheem Mostert, I've learned that over time. But it was a significant break of his thumb and he'll be addressing that this week."
Mostert has rushed for 891 yards and three touchdowns in 16 games this season. He's also caught 31 passes for 202 yards with a pair of TDs.
More importantly, Mostert ran all over the Bills in Week 15.
Buffalo had no answer for Mostert as he carried the ball 17 times for 136 yards. Despite averaging 8.0 yards per carry, Miami went away from him in key moments which played a role in Buffalo walking away with a 32-29 win.
With plenty of uncertainty for Miami at quarterback, Sunday's Wild Card matchup against the Bills seemed like a game where Mostert could be in line for plenty of work. That plan, however, is likely out the window for Miami after the back suffered a broken thumb against the New York Jets in the regular season finale.
Jeff Wilson Jr. had 72 yards on 16 carries and would figure to take the bulk of the reps with Mostert out.
The Dolphins have larger questions on offense, though, starting with who is going to play quarterback for the opening round of the playoffs.
McDaniel said all three of signal caller's on the active roster are dealing with injuries.
Tagovailoa remains in the concussion protocol and hasn't yet been cleared to return to football activities. Teddy Bridgewater dislocated a pinky finger in Week 17 at New England. And Thompson, making his second start of the season, appeared to have his leg twisted up on a hit in the second half against the Jets and limped off the field. He briefly went to the Dolphins' medical tent but did not miss any snaps.
McDaniel called Thompson's injury "bumps and bruises" and said he's hoping to have more clarity on the health of his quarterbacks later this week.
He added that Bridgewater was active against the Jets and could have entered the game in an emergency.
"There will be some question marks," McDaniel said, "but fortunately this team has proven not to blink in any sort of question marks either way. We have guys that we really believe in, and we'll go with the healthiest group up to Buffalo and play a very good football team."
Thompson didn't turn the ball over against the Jets and moved the Dolphins into range for a last-minute, go-ahead field goal. He said afterward he wasn't thinking about whether he'll be the starter at Buffalo.
"That will be something for a couple days from now," Thompson said. "I'm enjoying this. It's important to celebrate stuff like this for the time being and soak it all in, and that's what I'm going to do."
Miami's defense couldn't deliver game-saving plays or key stops during the five-game skid. But the Dolphins didn't allow a touchdown against and the Jets and got the stops they needed in the fourth quarter. It'll be much tougher to stop Josh Allen and the Bills' high-powered offense, but Miami at least has a strong performance to build on.
Miami's offensive line, playing without veteran left tackle Terron Armstead, only gave up one sack.
Miami's passing game clearly isn't the same without Tagovailoa, but Hill and Jaylen Waddle should have been much more involved Sunday. The receivers had just five targets each against the Jets.
For the record, Miami and Buffalo will meet for the third time this season. They split the regular-season series, with the home team winning both times.
Buffalo remains one of the best teams in the league on both sides of the ball, ranking second in total yards and third in points per game while also ranking second in points allowed per game. It's easy to see why they have been Super Bowl favorites since the start of the season.
Buffalo only beat Miami by a field goal in Week 15, but that was with a healthy Tagovailoa under center. Meanwhile, the Bills haven't scored fewer than 20 points over their last eight games, so running up the scoreboard against a team that only scored 11 points in their season-finale may not be an issue either.
On the injury front. ... Beyond the QB issues and Mostert's broken thumb, Hill briefly left in the first half with his ankle injury.
I'll follow up on Mostert, Hill and the quarterback situation in coming days; watch the News and Views section of the site for more. ...
One last note here. ... Jason Sanders was 1 for 6 on field goals of 50-plus yards before his 50-yarder with 18 seconds left against the Jets that extended Miami's season.
You can access complete stats for the Dolphins Week 18 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Tua Tagovailoa, Mike White, Skylar Thompson
RBs: Raheem Mostert, De'Von Achane, Jeff Wilson, Salvon Ahmed, Christopher Brooks
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, Braxton Berrios, Cedrick Wilson, Chase Claypool, River Cracraft
TEs: Durham Smythe, Julian Hill, Tyler Kroft
Minnesota VikingsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 January 2023
The Minnesota Vikings wanted nothing more than to wash away the bitter taste from a blowout loss and head into the postseason on a sweeter note.
This was more like it.
Kirk Cousins threw for 225 yards and a touchdown in the first half and watched the rest of the way as the NFC North champion Vikings tuned up for the playoffs by beating the Chicago Bears 29-13 on Sunday.
Cousins led three scoring drives as the Vikings (13-4), who'll host the New York Giants Sunday, grabbed a 16-6 halftime lead. They remained in control the rest of the way after getting blown out at Green Bay the previous week. It was the first time since Week 1 that Minnesota won by more than one score, and the team finished the year outscored by opponents 427-424.
"You don't feel good all week and you're disappointed and it kind of carries with you," Cousins said. "And to be able to come back out on the field and compete and play a cleaner game and be sharp, I think it does help. But I don't think you ever forget what happened last Sunday or what happened in Week 2 against the Eagles."
Cousins bounced back from a rough outing, completing 17 of 20 passes while posting a sparkling 130.2 rating. He hit K.J. Osborn for a 66-yard completion on Minnesota's first possession, setting up a 4-yard touchdown to Adam Thielen, and led two more scoring drives.
Meanwhile, Justin Jefferson did indeed make his mark on NFL history this season.
It just wasn't the record that he was most hoping for.
As ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert notes, the receiver became the youngest player to lead the league in catches and receiving yards, according to ESPN Stats and Information research. At 23, Jefferson is 136 days younger than Green Bay Packers receiver Don Hutson was when he led the league in both categories in 1936.
A late-season surge also helped Jefferson break the team record for catches and receiving yards in a season by Week 16 and put him in range to challenge Johnson. But the Packers limited him to one catch for 15 yards in a Week 17 loss at Lambeau Field, meaning Jefferson needed 194 yards Sunday.
He caught four passes for 38 yards Sunday against the Bears, setting his league-high totals at 128 receptions for 1,809 yards in 17 games. It was the sixth-most receiving yards for a season in NFL history, and was perhaps the most critical factor in the Vikings' 13 victories, but it fell short of Calvin Johnson's record of 1,964 yards set over 16 games in 2012.
"It's tough," Jefferson said, "but I feel like I reached my main goal. My main goal was 1,800, coming off 1,600 last year. Of course I wanted to exceed that goal and get to 2,000. But it's just another opportunity for next year, something to strive for. But as long as we're in the playoffs, as long as we keep fighting and having extra games, it doesn't really matter. I feel like I did a lot for this team this season, doing whatever I needed to do when the ball was in the air and touched my hands. It's disappointing individually, but there's so much more to fight for than this record."
Because the Vikings had already clinched the NFC North, and their NFC playoff seeding was guaranteed to be no lower than No. 3, head coach Kevin O'Connell pulled Jefferson and most other starters from Sunday's game at halftime.
"I felt like it was going to be a long shot getting it," Jefferson said. "But you never really know what happens. I just knew I had a limited amount of opportunities in this game, knowing that I was not going to play in the second half."
O'Connell was the Los Angeles Rams' offensive coordinator in 2021 when receiver Cooper Kupp made his own challenge to Johnson's record. Kupp fell 17 yards short, and upon arriving in Minnesota after the season, O'Connell challenged Jefferson to fill that role in the Vikings' version of the Rams' scheme.
Cousins targeted Jefferson on 181 passes, tied for the 11th most for a single season since at least 2000. He suffered no significant injuries and dropped only one pass, according to ESPN Stats and Information research.
Speaking after Sunday's game, Cousins marveled at how Jefferson improved in each of his three seasons. He totaled 1,400 receiving yards as a rookie in 2020 and progressed to 1,616 in 2021 before making a run at Johnson's record this season.
"He is only in Year 3," Cousins said. "It's very difficult to run it back and do it again. But that will always be my message to him. To just run it back and do it again. If you can, you start to put yourself in rare air. And so far, three years in, he's not only run it back, but he's done it better.
"Eventually he will run up against a ceiling, probably, but I'm excited to see what he can do moving forward and then in playoff football, when the lights get even brighter, allowing him to shine there too. Excited for that and the big games he has up ahead in his career. So, so grateful that we drafted him, that we have him, and that I get to play with him and get to throw the football to him."
Nick Mullens came on in the third quarter and was 11 of 13 for 116 yards and an interception. Osborn had 117 yards on five catches.
Alexander Mattison ran for a career-high two touchdowns, scoring from the 1 in both the second and third quarters.
"Offensively, I thought we stacked good plays," O'Connell said. "Even when there were some exotic kind of (defensive back) pressures to try to stop some of our run game, we were able to overcome those things."
Meanwhile, in case you missed it, the last time the Vikings played a home game, they benefited from a franchise-record, 61-yard field goal by Greg Joseph to edge the Giants 27-24 in Week 16.
The two teams didn't have to wait very long for a rematch. O'Connell said he expects another tightly contested battle.
"[We] needed everything we had to win that one, and [there's] no reason in the world that the expectation won't be the same. We're going to have to play really good against this team," O'Connell said Monday to Twin Cities reporters. "All three phases will need to show up and play well. We'll be working really hard this week to make sure we do that, but being back at U.S. Bank [Stadium] will be huge for our team, knowing what our home crowd has meant to us this year. The environment there, [I'm] expecting it to be super energized on Sunday."
In the first meeting, the Vikings allowed 445 yards of total offense, which was a season-high for the Giants.
Quarterback Daniel Jones threw for 334 yards on 30-of-42 passing and a touchdown and added 34 yards on the ground on four carries. Running back Saquon Barkley ran 14 times for 84 yards, with 27 of those coming on a late touchdown before the Giants got a 2-point conversion to tie the game at 24 with 2:01 remaining.
O'Connell said shoring up the defensive mistakes will be a point of emphasis this week.
"There were some missed tackles in there. Every time we had a chance to get momentum and keep it, they were able to put a drive together and get points," O'Connell said. "Defense turned the ball over a couple of times with some timely interceptions, but you'd like to limit some of those explosive plays. First- and second-down explosive plays that tend to sometimes stack together a little bit and give offenses momentum.
"We want to get people to third down and see if we can activate a rush and tie the coverage into it. Whether we're sending pressure or not, it's a matter of wanting to get to those downs, and I thought we could've done a better job of last time we played them of doing that," O'Connell continued. "With how they run the ball and Daniel being a factor in the run game, they can be a real challenge to defend."
Offensively, Minnesota has struggled with slow starts and lulls in the middle quarters throughout the season.
The Vikings ranked 12th in first-quarter points per game (4.6), but 19th in second quarters (6.5) and 24th in third quarters (3.6). Minnesota, however, ranked first in points scored in fourth quarters (9.9).
In a major shift this season, O'Connell has trusted Cousins to throw as many passes per game as he ever has (37.9) in his seven seasons as a full-time starter. Cousins finished, however, with some of his worst numbers, including a career-high 14 interceptions and a career-low 49.9 total quarterback rating.
But Cousins excelled late in games, engineering eight fourth-quarter comebacks and a total of 11 one-score wins (an NFL record), which fueled this playoff appearance. At O'Connell's urging, Cousins targeted Jefferson at a level that yielded one of the most productive seasons ever for a receiver.
According to Associated Press sports writer Dave Campbell, with the excellence of Jefferson, the play-calling by O'Connell and the precision from Cousins, the Vikings have a passing attack that's as dangerous, diverse and healthy as any team in the league.
Four players had 60-plus receptions this season, and six players had 25 catches or more. Osborn has particularly stood out down the stretch.
But O'Connell said it will be important to finish drives with touchdowns during the playoffs and we'll get our first look at how the team responds to the challenge this weekend.
The Vikings rank eighth in the NFL in touchdown rate inside the 20, but they're only 20th in the league in reaching the end zone from goal-to-go situations.
We'll see if they can improve on that starting this weekend. ...
On the injury front. ... O'Connell said LB Za'Darius Smith (personal matter) and S Harrison Smith (sore knee) to be available next week. Za'Darius Smith traveled separately from the team to Chicago. O'Connell wasn't sure if Garrett Bradbury (back) would be. ... CB Chandon Sullivan (knee contusion) and RB Dalvin Cook (cleat to the leg) got banged up, but should be ready for next week.
You can access complete stats for the Vikings Week 18 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Josh Dobbs, Nick Mullens, Jaren Hall, Kirk Cousins
RBs: Alexander Mattison, Ty Chandler, C.J. Ham, Kene Nwangwu, Cam Akers
WRs: Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, K.J. Osborn, Brandon Powell, Jalen Nailor
TEs: T.J. Hockenson, Josh Oliver, Johnny Mundt, Nick Muse
New York GiantsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 January 2023
As ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan reminded readers, the Giants have only one player on their 53-man roster who has won a Super Bowl. Many of their top players are making their first career postseason appearance this week against the Minnesota Vikings.
None of this seems to bother coach Brian Daboll.
"Really the experience is probably overrated, to be honest with you," Daboll said. "It's how you prepare, how you practice and, ultimately, how you play the game and coach the game on whatever day it is."
It's late Sunday afternoon when players such as quarterback Daniel Jones, running back Saquon Barkley, left tackle Andrew Thomas, safeties Xavier McKinney and Julian Love, defensive linemen Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams, long snapper Casey Kreiter and core special teams contributor Cam Brown will all be making their playoff debut.
That is nine of the Giants' 10 captains having never experienced a postseason game. Only kicker Graham Gano has been to the playoffs and Super Bowl from his time with the Carolina Panthers.
The only Giant on the active roster who has ever won a Super Bowl is reserve wide receiver Marcus Johnson, who was a member of the Philadelphia Eagles when they won it all during the 2017 season.
New York hasn't made the postseason since 2016. Only Landon Collins and Sterling Shepard remain from that team.
The Giants ended a five-year playoff drought in Daboll's first season as coach. They clinched their spot in the postseason with a Week 17 rout of the Indianapolis Colts. Now they have a rematch with the third-seeded Vikings, who beat the Giants last month on a 61-yard field goal as time expired.
Daboll said he doesn't believe his team's lack of experience will be a factor in Sunday's rematch. He has seen players excel in their first foray into the postseason.
"I don't know. I've been in so many different situations," Daboll said. "First year that I was part of a Super Bowl, the quarterback didn't have any playoff experience there at New England. Some of the guys did, some didn't."
The player Daboll was referencing just happened to be Tom Brady. He was in his second season in the NFL and first year as a starter when the Patriots beat the St. Louis Rams and the Greatest Show on Turf in Super Bowl XXXVI. All Brady has done is won another six Super Bowls since and is considered by many the greatest quarterback of all time.
Daboll was a defensive assistant on that Patriots team. He also brought up former New England cornerback Malcolm Butler making the game-clinching interception in Super Bowl XLIX in his first playoff appearance. Daboll was the tight ends coach for that Patriots team.
Daboll has been part of coaching staffs for five Super Bowl winners and a national championship team at Alabama.
"I've been on a lot of different teams that had varying levels of experience," he said. "Some a lot, some a little. I know someone mentioned Malcolm Butler. I think really what matters is taking advantage of your opportunities when they come. And playing a good football game. Coaching a good football game."
He added: "No, really, I think [experience is] an overrated thing."
If true, that would serve the Giants well. Barkley and many of his teammates have been waiting for this opportunity. Barkley had never been on a team with a winning record at the professional level until this season. Now, he gets a crack at showing what he can do in the playoffs.
It's different in that there are no re-dos. It's win or go home this time of the year.
"We're excited because this is the stuff you dream about as a kid in the National Football League," Barkley said. "Not many people on this team had an opportunity to play in the playoffs. It has been a tough couple years here and we finally have our shot. We feel we have a balanced team that complements each other really well. It's a one-week season now."
As Associated Press sports writer Tom Canavan suggested, whether the Giants (9-7-1) have the talent to turn it into more at point in their rebuild from five straight losing seasons remains to be seen.
"It's what we do this week and ultimately how we go out there and play in the game, because what wins in Week 1 wins in the playoffs," Daboll said Monday. "And what loses in Week 1 loses in the playoffs."
Like the Vikings, the Giants have been one of the NFL's biggest surprises.
Their 7-2 start had them alongside the Vikings as one of the best teams in the NFC and with a fresh, offensive-minded coach, many expected the Giants to be a contender in a wide-open conference.
That's where things started to go south.
The Giants went 2-5-1 over their final eight games and slid down the standings. The losses included a white-knuckle ride in Minneapolis but also a 48-22 beating at MetLife Stadium to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Mix in home losses to non-playoff teams Detroit and Washington and this doesn't look like a team headed in the right direction.
The offense needs to hit more home runs. For the season, the Giants had 28 passes of 20 yards or more. Only 10 of those went for at least 30 yards, and that has kept the scoring down.
They also need to score more points.
New York was held under 30 points in 16 of its 17 games and scored more than 25 twice.
Barkley is a crucial piece for the Giants, and there is no doubt they'll need him to be at his absolute best if they want to go deep in the playoffs or even compete in the Super Bowl.
The 25-year-old had a Pro Bowl season in New York after being limited by injuries in the previous two years, recording a career-high 295 rush attempts for another personal best of 1312 yards. While he was unable to make a receiving touchdown this 2022, he had 10 scores on the ground.
With that said, the Giants are expected to rely on Barkley again to carry a lot of the workload on the offense to get the team going against the Vikings. Minnesota is one of the better teams in the NFL, and the franchise has the advantage of playing at home where it went 8-1 on the season.
If Barkley can replicate or improve on his performance from the aforementioned previous meeting -- in Week 16 where the Giants lost 27-24 on a 61-yard field goal by Minnesota's Greg Joseph -- then they definitely have a shot at revenge. ...
They Giants' schedule for this week is unchanged for a Sunday game. The players came in for treatment and some weightlifting on Monday. They will have Tuesday off, practice the next three day, have a walk-through on Saturday and travel to Minnesota.
Even though they are familiar with how loud U.S. Bank Stadium can be, Daboll intends to pump up the sound at practice this week. He does it for every road game.
"We believe in what we do. We believe in how we do it, and then we have to go out there and execute and call a good game and make good decisions," said the rookie head coach.
Also of interest. ... The Giants worked out free agent receiver James Washington, according to the NFL's personnel notice.
The Cowboys waived him last Wednesday.
He played 15 offensive snaps and 13 on special teams in two games after returning from injured reserve Dec. 10, and he dropped the only pass thrown his way.
The Cowboys signed Washington to a one-year, $1.035 million deal in March as a bridge receiver after they traded Amari Cooper to the Browns and were waiting for Michael Gallup to work his way back from an ACL tear. The move did not work out for them.
Washington injured a foot during the offseason program and eventually required surgery.
The Cowboys replaced him with the free agent signing of T.Y. Hilton.
Washington spent his first four seasons in Pittsburgh after the Steelers made him a second-round choice in 2018. He has 114 receptions for 1,629 yards and 11 touchdowns in his career.
The Giants also worked out free agent receiver Adam Humphries and quarterback Nathan Rourke.
On the injury front. ... There didn't appear to be any significant injuries Sunday. The question mark will be whether No. 1 cornerback Adoree Jackson is ready to play. He has missed the last seven games with a knee injury. Defensive lineman Leonard Williams (neck) and outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari (ankle) were inactive Sunday and hope to be ready.
You can access complete stats for the Giants Week 18 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Tommy DeVito, Tyrod Taylor, Daniel Jones
RBs: Saquon Barkley, Matt Breida, Gary Brightwell, Eric Gray
WRs: Darius Slayton, Wan'Dale Robinson, Jalin Hyatt, Parris Campbell, Isaiah Hodgins, Sterling Shepard
TEs: Daniel Bellinger, Lawrence Cager, Chris Myarick, Darren Waller
Philadelphia EaglesCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 January 2023
As Associated Press sports writer Dan Gelston reported, with a division title clinched, a bye week ahead, head coach Nick Sirianni essentially called for a snow day: Everyone stay home on Monday. Players and coaches, rest up. There's a potentially lengthy postseason grind ahead.
No thanks, Jalen Hurts said.
The Pro Bowl QB asked Sirianni right after the Eagles wrapped up a 14-win season if they could get back to work.
"Let's go watch some tape," Sirianni said Hurts told him.
So Sirianni said Monday morning on his weekly radio spot on WIP-FM that he was headed to the team's complex later in the day to get in some film work with Hurts and a couple of assistants. Hurts can't let the game go, especially after he missed the previous two with a sprained right shoulder.
Hurts' postgame celebration for all that the Eagles accomplished didn't last long.
"I can't say that I'll smile until the job is finished," he said.
Hurts, who carried a questionable designation on the injury report this past week, ended the day 20-of-35 passing for 229 yards with an interception and added nine carries for 13 yards.
"We didn't feel like there was more risk [of further injury] but I know he was hurting, and he was hurting bad," Sirianni said. "But that's the kind of competitor he is, that's the kind of person he is, and kind of teammate and leader he is that he was able to go out there and tough through it."
Hurts' first pass was a 35-yard completion to good friend A.J. Brown. With that play, Hurts became the second Eagles player in franchise history with 3,500 passing yards and 500 rushing yards in a season, joining Randall Cunningham. Brown, meanwhile, broke the team's single-season receiving yards record previously held by Mike Quick (1,409).
As ESPN.com's Tim McManus noted, the coaching staff largely stayed away from designed quarterback runs with Hurts coming off an injury, and he did his best to avoid contact, mostly successfully. The offense wasn't as explosive with that dynamic missing, but it was good enough against a Giants team playing mostly backups with its playoff seeding already secured.
"I feel like coming into this game, I've been really pushing myself beyond measures to try and be available," Hurts said. "The risk-reward of playing [Sunday], whatever that was, we did what we had to do. We're the No. 1 seed and we're NFC East champs and that's the goal we set out to do. Now I can continue to recover and be ready for the playoffs."
The Eagles don't know which team they will face or which day they will play the weekend following next.
But this much is certain: It will be played at Lincoln Financial Field versus the lowest-remaining seed out of Tampa Bay, Dallas, New York or Seattle in the divisional round.
They should have a much more healthy Hurts when they return. Also, a healthy Hurts is very good.
"There's no doubt in my mind he should be the MVP of this league," Sirianni said on WIP.
The Eagles went 14-1 with Hurts as the starter. They were 0-2 without him.
For what it's worth, Sirianni said he does not know whether Hurts will have lingering pain in his shoulder throughout the playoffs.
"I'm not sure I can answer that question," Sirianni said, via video from the team. "We are fortunate that we have two weeks until the next time we play. So, we're fortunate there. He's going to be a little bit more healthy than when he was obviously the other day.
By the way. .. The NFC East has now gone 18 straight seasons without a repeat champion (the most recent being the Eagles, when they won four straight from 2001 to 2004). It is the longest such streak for any division in NFL history and also the longest active streak for any division without a repeat champion in the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL, according to Elias Sports Bureau research.
The bye week won't just benefit Hurts.
With right tackle Lane Johnson (abdominal tear), cornerback Avonte Maddox (toe) and other key players dealing with various injuries, the extra time off will be welcomed.
"It's been tough, but I don't really want to make it about me. We just accomplished a great goal of ours," Hurts said of the last two weeks. "My whole thing moving forward is, let's prepare to play our best ball. It's been a great ride this year but the job isn't finished. ..."
Also of interest. ... Gelston contends Brown and DeVonta Smith have to be considered the best wideout duo in franchise history. Brown set a single-season franchise record with 1,496 yards receiving yards, eclipsing the record set by Mike Quick in 1983 (1,409). Smith finished his second NFL season with 95 catches, which are the most by a wide receiver in team history (Irving Fryar had 88 catches in 1996). Smith's 95 receptions trailed only Zach Ertz's 116 in 2018 for most in a season.
"He has been great. I feel that we are still getting started," Brown said. "We are going to be here together for a while."
(And yes, it's worth noting these records were set in a 17-game season).
Jake Elliott has pretty much been an afterthought this season with the Eagles treating the red zone as their personal TD playground. Elliott was 15 of 18 on field-goal attempts this season and had three games where he didn't attempt any. He kicked 13 extra points in those three games.
The Eagles weren't relying on Hurts to rush on short-yardage situations on Sunday, so Elliott got the call -- and delivered five field goals.
Think of how often playoff games are decided by a kick. Keeping Elliott sharp can only help in the postseason. Consider, Elliott made all seven field goals in the playoffs during the Eagles' Super Bowl-winning season.
You can access complete stats for the Eagles Week 18 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Jalen Hurts, Marcus Mariota, Tanner McKee
RBs: D'Andre Swift, Kenneth Gainwell, Boston Scott, Rashaad Penny
WRs: A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Julio Jones, Olamide Zaccheaus, Quez Watkins
TEs: Dallas Goedert, Jack Stoll, Grant Calcaterra, Albert Okwuegbunam
San Francisco 49ersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 January 2023
As Associated Press sports writer Josh Dubow suggested, Brock Purdy and the San Francisco 49ers are peaking at just the right time and now know they won't have to go on the road for at least a few more weeks.
Purdy threw three touchdown passes for his sixth straight game with multiple TDs and the 49ers clinched the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs with a 38-13 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.
Purdy overcame two sacks by J.J. Watt in the final game of the star defensive end's stellar career and connected with George Kittle twice and Christian McCaffrey once on TD passes to lead the Niners (13-4) to their 10th straight win to end the regular season.
"I feel great. I feel like everyone else is feeling great," Purdy said. "When you're on a roll, you're on a win streak, you feel like the groove and how we're playing together, it feels really good when we're on it. I think a lot of us are real with ourselves, too, and feel like we still haven't played to our full potential yet."
San Francisco beat out Minnesota on a tiebreaker for the second seed, assuring the 49ers won't have to go on the road before the NFC title game. The Niners weren't able to secure a first-round bye because Philadelphia beat the New York Giants.
San Francisco hosts Seattle on Saturday looking to go 3-0 against an opponent in a season for the first time.
The Niners had a chance to do it last year against the Rams but lost in the NFC title game.
"I felt real good about our team when we won the division there about a month ago," coach Kyle Shanahan said. "I feel better about them now because we've gotten better since that point. We'll be ready to go."
The play of Purdy is a big reason why as he has become the second rookie QB in NFL history with at least six straight games with multiple TD passes and the Niners have scored at least 33 points in five of six games since he replaced an injured Jimmy Garoppolo in Week 13.
"That's awesome," Kittle said. "It's fun. More touchdowns for everybody. It's been really fun. It has to do with our run (game) has been great. It opens up our pass game. But Brock's been fantastic in the passing game."
Of course, as 49ersWebzone.com's Sasha D. Robinson suggested, a healthy 49ers will be the most dangerous team in the NFL Playoffs.
The 49ers leading rusher last season, Elijah Mitchell, had been on injured reserve since December 3. He played in the final game against the Arizona Cardinals and can add a lot to the expected one-two punch of he and All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey.
In his first season with the 49ers, Mitchell played in 11 games and led the team with 963 rushing yards. He finished this season with 279 rushing yards through five games.
In his 11 games with the 49ers, McCaffrey has 1,210 scrimmage yards and 10 total touchdowns, adding another dimension to Shanahan's offense.
With a healthy Mitchell returning for the playoffs, he can spell McCaffrey, who has been playing with a sprained ankle, and be an extra spark for the 49ers offense. In the 38-13 victory, Mitchell had 55 rushing yards and two touchdowns on five carries.
The 49ers have not been a prolific passing team since the 1998 season, but they have the weapons on the outside to make life miserable for their opponents' secondaries.
Since Deebo Samuel suffered an MCL sprain in a Week 14 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk have helped lead the way for the 49ers' passing game, while players like Ray-Ray McCloud and Jauan Jennings have made meaningful contributions as well.
Samuel caught two passes for 20 yards in the 38-13 victory against the Cardinals.
Purdy finished 15 for 20 for 178 yards. ...
While everyone is quick to point out the fantastic job that Purdy has done during his rookie campaign, everyone inside the 49ers locker room has forgotten he is a first-year player.
"Yeah, we stopped thinking about it that way five weeks ago," tackle Mike McGlinchey said. "As soon as he got into the game, he was our guy, and no matter what you are as a rookie, five-year vet, 1-year vet, it doesn't matter. If you're the starting quarterback, you have to do the starting quarterback's job, and that's what he's done to an unbelievable degree."
Purdy finished the regular season with a 67.1 completion percentage, passing for 1,374 yards, 13 touchdowns, and four interceptions. With the help of a top-ranked defense and playmakers all around him on offense, he is in a position to help guide the 49ers far into the playoffs, maybe even to Glendale, Arizona. ...
Meanwhile, the 49ers aren't looking at this weekend's game as having to beat the Seahawks for a third time. They only have to beat them once more -- on Saturday. Just as the team never looked beyond its next opponent during the regular season, it isn't harping on the past either.
"Everything that's behind us doesn't matter, and it's a one-game season right now," Shanahan said. "So we've got to beat them this week, one time, and that will allow us to move to next week."
What's different now compared to December 15, when the 49ers and Seahawks last clashed?
"Their defense over the last month, I think they're the seventh-ranked defense over the last four games, so they've been keeping people out of the end zone," Shanahan said. "I think they're sixth on third down, so they've been getting off the field too. Their offense has been running the ball better here in this last month. I think they're ranked sixth in running the ball over this four-game stretch.
"So they're playing pretty good right now, as good as they have been all year, and turning on the tape, they're a better team than they were four weeks ago, and it's not a surprise to me that they're in this position."
Defensive end Nick Bosa added, "They're good players. They're going to be really good for them. But we've just kind of have to start fast and not give them hope. ..."
Also of interest. ... When news broke that the team had traded for McCaffrey, Aiyuk's phone exploded with incoming texts of the news as the receiver sat at home, playing video games.
The trade for such a high-profile player sent shockwaves across the NFL. Some wonder if the move sparked the 49ers' 10-game win streak. Would the team be in the position it is now without the trade?
In October, Aiyuk had heard the rumors linking McCaffrey to his team. He wasn't buying them, though.
"You just have a feeling when it seems realistic to get a player or not," Aiyuk said. "It just didn't seem that way. So when we got him, it was a big shock."
What kind of message did the McCaffrey trade send to his new teammates?
"That we weren't playing around," Aiyuk responded. "That this is the season. If not now, then when?"
Meanwhile, Shanahan jumped on a conference call with reporters on Monday and discussed Samuel and Mitchell. Sunday was the first action for both since their injuries occurred.
"They came out great," Shanahan said. "First, they came out healthy, which is very important. With them being able to come out healthy, I thought it was great that they both got to play some and get back in there, and I think it will help them going into this week."
With Mitchell back healthy, Jordan Mason's role will be diminished. He carved out a spot as the second-half closer to complement McCaffrey but now might not be needed as much if Mitchell can share the load.
Meanwhile, the only players on the Niners active roster who didn't practice Tuesday were DE Nick Bosa (rest), Garoppolo (foot) and backup CB Ambry Thomas (ankle). ... G Aaron Banks (ankle, knee), LB Dre Greenlaw (back), DT Arik Armstead (foot, ankle), DT Javon Kinlaw (knee), McCaffrey (knee) and LB Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles (neck) were all limited. ... DL Kevin Givens (knee) was a full participant and is expected to play this week for the first time since getting hurt in Week 14. ...
The Niners will not activate rookie DT Kalia Davis after he practiced for three weeks in his return from an ACL injury in college. Davis is expected to be fully recovered for the offseason program.
I'll have more on McCaffrey as the week progresses; watch the News and Views section of the site for more.
You can access complete stats for the 49ers Week 18 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Brock Purdy, Sam Darnold, Brandon Allen
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Elijah Mitchell, Jordan Mason, Kyle Juszczyk
WRs: Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, Jauan Jennings, Ray-Ray McCloud, Ronnie Bell, Danny Gray
TEs: George Kittle, Charlie Woerner, Brayden Willis, Ross Dwelley, Cameron Latu
Seattle SeahawksCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 January 2023
Within minutes of the Seattle Seahawks winning to maintain their playoff hopes, the video boards inside Lumen Field flashed a message:
For the Seahawks, that became "thank you Lions" several hours later after Detroit helped send Seattle back to the postseason.
Seattle will be the No. 7 seed in the NFC playoffs after beating the Los Angeles Rams 19-16 in overtime on Sunday and getting the help it needed with Detroit beating Green Bay later Sunday night in the final game of the NFL regular season.
"As the game went on, you could just feel Detroit was playing really well and they had a legitimate chance. You could just tell," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said after learning he'd be in the playoffs for the 10th time in 13 seasons in Seattle. "It was so much fun for everybody. I was hoping there could be a party tonight."
The Seahawks will face division foe San Francisco on Saturday in the wild-card round of the playoffs, but only after several hours of stress that started with their own nail bitter against the Rams.
Jason Myers kicked a 32-yard field goal midway through overtime to give Seattle (9-8) the victory after he hit the upright from 46 yards on the final play of regulation.
But given another shot in overtime, the Pro Bowler connected on his fourth field goal of the game and the Seahawks' playoff chances stayed alive long enough for Detroit to help.
"You just do your part. That's what I've been preaching to the guys the last couple of weeks," Seattle safety Quandre Diggs said. "We do our part and let the rest handle itself. ... If we're in or we're not, I think we can hold our head up high and understand we did some great work and we did what a lot of people didn't expect us to do."
As Associated Press sports writer Tim Booth noted, Seattle (9-8) concluded an overachieving regular season with two straight victories and a winning record, defying preseason prognosticators who thought the Seahawks could be among the worst teams in the league.
Carroll had a different perspective immediately after the win. In his view, the Seahawks should not have been in the position of needing help to make the postseason.
"Where you all thought we did all these cool things and all these things, I didn't feel like that. I feel like we missed our chance," Carroll said. "We had five, six games there that could have gone one way or another and then we wouldn't be here talking about what's going on with Detroit right now."
Geno Smith had a shaky performance, throwing two interceptions to Jalen Ramsey. But he threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Lockett early in the third quarter and made several key lays late to put Seattle in position to win.
Smith finished 19 of 31 for 214 yards and rookie Kenneth Walker III rushed for 114 yards on a season-high 29 carries in the win over the Rams.
Walker closed the regular season with three straight 100-yard games after more than a month where he struggled to gain traction in the run game and was slowed by an ankle injury.
Walker became the second rookie 1,000-yard rusher in franchise history and finished the regular season with 1,050 yards and nine TDs. He needs a bigger day than the 12 carries for 47 yards he had in the previous meeting with the 49ers if the Seahawks are to pull the upset.
Smith set single-season franchise records for attempts (572), completions (399), yards (4,282) and completion percentage (69.8 percent).
For all the accolades that Smith has deserved this season, his play toward the end of the season had some lapses that can't happen if the Seahawks are going to have a chance of knocking off the 49ers.
The finale against the Rams was a good example.
Smith was intercepted on the first play of the game by Jalen Ramsey. He was picked off again by Ramsey in the second half, forcing a throw while being hit. And he had a few other dangerous passes that could have become turnovers.
While Smith threw the above-mentioned pinpoint TD pass to Lockett and made several key plays both with his arm and feet in the fourth quarter and overtime to help earn Seattle the victory, his performance must be more like it was in the middle of the season and not toward the end.
"Obviously started the game bad, but we found a way, and it took everybody," Smith said. "I was just happy to see that happen."
The Seahawks need to find a spark in the passing game and specifically getting DK Metcalf more involved.
In the past two games, Metcalf had a combined four receptions for 43 yards and he didn't find the end zone in the final four games of the regular season. Metcalf was hounded by some pretty good cornerbacks the final two weeks facing the Jets and the Rams, but it's vital the Seahawks find ways for Metcalf to get the ball in his hands against the 49ers.
But they shouldn't forget Lockett, who became the second player in Seahawks history with four consecutive seasons of at least 1,000 yards receiving, joining Hall of Famer Steve Largent. Lockett topped the 1,000-yard mark on his TD catch early in the second half.
All that said, Sunday night's Lions win was a lucrative one for Smith.
The veteran signal caller's contract included a number of incentive clauses, including one that doubled his playing time incentives if the team made the playoffs. Field Yates of ESPN notes that Smith picked up $1 million in playing time incentives by taking every offensive snap and the Lions win gave him another $1 million because it made the Seahawks the No. 7 seed in the NFC.
Hitting 4,000 passing yards and making the Pro Bowl while throwing 20 touchdowns added another $1.5 million to Smith's bag for the season, so the bet on making Smith the starter this season paid off very well for both the team and the player. ...
On the injury front. ... The Seahawks held a walkthrough Tuesday on their first practice day of the week heading into Saturday's game against the 49ers.
The team estimated safety Ryan Neal (knee) as a limited participant, his first practice since Dec. 9.
Neal went on the practice report with his knee injury in Week 14. He played Week 14 and Week 15 but missed the past three games with his injury.
He has 66 tackles, an interception, eight pass breakups and a forced fumble in an All-Pro caliber season.
Offensive guard Phil Haynes (ankle), running back DeeJay Dallas (ankle/quad), tight end Noah Fant (knee), cornerback Xavier Crawford (hamstring) and defensive end Shelby Harris (knee) were listed as non-participants.
Linebacker Bruce Irvin (pectoral) and nose tackle Al Woods (Achilles) joined Neal as limited.
Lockett (shin), offensive tackle Abraham Lucas (knee), offensive guard Damien Lewis (ankle), Walker (ankle) and cornerback Tariq Woolen (ankle) were estimated as full participants.
I'll have more on the team's injured skill players as developments warrant; watch the News and Views section of the site for more. ...
Finally. ... The Seahawks are designating receiver D'Wayne Eskridge to return from injured reserve, Carroll announced Tuesday. That opens Eskridge's 21-day practice window.
Eskridge broke a bone in his right hand during a kickoff return against the Bucs in the Nov. 13 game in Germany. The Seahawks placed him on injured reserve Nov. 26.
The Seahawks replaced Eskridge by signing Laquon Treadwell, who played 138 offensive snaps and 41 on special teams in six games.
Eskridge played 168 offensive snaps and 16 on special teams in 10-regular season games. He has nine touches for 68 yards this season.
You can access complete stats for the Seahawks Week 18 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Geno Smith, Drew Lock
RBs: Kenneth Walker III, Zach Charbonnet, DeeJay Dallas, Kenny McIntosh
WRs: DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Jake Bobo, Cody Thompson, Dareke Young
TEs: Noah Fant, Will Dissly, Colby Parkinson
Tampa Bay BuccaneersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 January 2023
As Associated Press sports writer Fred Goodall notes, Tom Brady doesn't waste a lot of time dwelling on the past.
Just as he understands winning the Super Bowl a record seven times doesn't guarantee future success, the 45-year-old quarterback says entering the playoffs with a losing record shouldn't be a hindrance for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"I was part of teams that were really good and didn't make it very far. I was part of teams that were fighting really hard and made it a long way, so everything will be determined by what we do from here going forward," Brady said.
The Bucs (8-9) won the NFC South title despite finishing with the only losing record Brady has compiled in 22 seasons as a starting quarterback. Brady had winning records in 21 consecutive regular seasons with the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay before this season.
Tampa Bay hosts the Cowboys next Monday night.
The Bucs are 0-2 all-time vs. Dallas in the postseason, though the teams haven't met in the playoffs since January 1983.
"We've learned a lot over what's happened over the course of the season and now we have to put our best foot forward offensively, defensively and special teams. We've got to get a lot of guys healthy and put our best group out there and see if we can go," Brady said.
"You don't think about winning anything more than one game," he added. "The team that wins is the team that plays the best that day, not the team that had the best record or the home field. The team that plays the best that day is the one that advances."
Brady played little less than two quarters on Sunday, when Tampa Bay was outscored 20-0 in the second half of a 30-17 regular season-ending loss at Atlanta.
Nevertheless, head coach Todd Bowles felt his regulars played well enough before exiting the finale to maintain momentum generated by a division-clinching victory over the Carolina Panthers the previous week.
"We got in some good work in the first half. ... I think if you rest them and don't play them at all, then you lose momentum," Bowles said. "We still had that competitiveness and that eager-to-go once the game starts. I think we started fast on both sides of the football, so that's still there, and that was important."
Now the challenge is to regroup for a fresh start against the Cowboys, who have lost to Tampa Bay in each of the past two regular-season openers.
Brady and the Bucs -- two years removed from winning the quarterback's seventh Super Bowl title -- are 5-1 over the past two postseasons.
Bowles noted the team has a "clean slate" entering the playoffs.
Linebacker Devin White knows some people are counting the Bucs out because of their record.
"We didn't play the way we wanted (most of the season). ... But we got in," White said. "We found a way to get in, and we showed resilience. We like being doubted and counted out because the only thing that matters is the people in this room."
Meanwhile, Brady broke the NFL single-season completion record -- his own record -- of 485 set last season, finishing the regular season at 490 and enters the playoffs on a high note after throwing for a season-best 432 yards and three touchdowns against Carolina, then getting the Bucs into the end zone on a game-opening drive for only the third time all season against Atlanta.
According to ESPN.com's Jenna Lane, the significance of Brady breaking yet another NFL record in his 23rd season at the age of 45 can't be overstated.
"He continues to defy time. Father Time is having a heck of a time with Brady," head coach Todd Bowles joked. "He works hard. He loves to play the game. He's like a little kid out there. He loves to compete. Everything else has already been said."
In addition to his first losing season, Sunday also was his first loss to the Falcons, although when he had left the game, the score was 10-10. He had been 11-0 in his career against Atlanta, including the Patriots' 34-28 win over the Falcons in Super Bowl LI. Led by Brady, the Patriots rallied from a 28-3 deficit.
Does entering the playoffs with a losing record matter to him considering his entire career has been defined by winning?
The Bucs are just the fourth team in NFL history to win their division with a losing record, joining the 2010 Seattle Seahawks (7-9), 2014 Carolina Panthers (7-8-1) and 2020 then-Washington Football Team (7-9).
But what comes next matters to him even more. He already touched perfection in the regular season in 2007 when the Patriots went a perfect 16-0 but lost to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII.
"We've been battle-tested. We had some tough games. Some we came back from, some we haven't. Close won't be good enough going forward for anybody," Brady said.
"I was part of teams that were really good that didn't make it very far and with teams that were fighting really hard and made it a long way," Brady said. "So everything we do will be determined by what we do here going forward.
"You don't really think about winning anything more than one game. You can only win one game a week. The team that wins is the one that plays the best that day, not the team with the best record or the home field -- the team that plays the best that day is the team that advances."
Brady finished the season with 4,694 passing yards -- sixth most in his career -- and 25 touchdowns as he gears up for his 14th consecutive postseason after leading the Buccaneers to their first back-to-back division titles.
Other records Brady broke this season, after retiring for 40 days in the offseason, include most game-winning touchdown drives, which he did against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 9 with his 55th. In Week 10, he became the first quarterback in NFL history to win a game in three different countries outside the United States. He also broke the NFL record for most fourth-quarter comebacks (44) after leading the Buccaneers back from a 13-point deficit against the New Orleans Saints in Week 13.
"These are all team records, in my opinion," Brady said. "I've always said that. I don't catch one ball. I think I caught one or two in my career. [In Seattle] ... that one stunk. I've had a few of those that didn't go well at all. And maybe one or two that went OK. Those are hard to come by."
With six catches for 55 yards at Atlanta, receiver Chris Godwin joined Keyshawn Johnson as the only players in Bucs history to finish with more than 100 receptions in a season. Godwin had a career-best 104 catches for 1,023 yards. Johnson set the franchise record with 106 catches in 2001. ...
Worth noting. ... The defense showed against the Falcons that it can be vulnerable to the run, yielding 174 yards rushing on 35 carries at Atlanta. Sure, the starters didn't play the entire game; however, the Bucs have allowed over 150 on the ground seven times this season.
After only forcing four turnovers during a 10-game stretch from Oct. 9-Dec. 18, Tampa Bay's defense has seven takeaways over the past three weeks. ...
On the injury front. ... The Bucs are waiting to see how centers Robert Hainsey and Ryan Jensen are, but they were able to rest a number of players in Week 18 and Brady said on his Let's Go podcast that he expects health to be an advantage for the team come Monday.
"We have seven days to prepare, we've got kind of the whole week," Brady said, via PewterReport.com. "I'm sure everyone's a little bit day-to-day right now. I'm hoping we're pretty healthy. I believe we're going to be as healthy as we've been all year, which is kind of exciting to get some guys back that haven't been in there and then see if we can go play our best football. I even said after the game, it sucks being 8-9. You're playing against teams that have way better records, 12-5, whatever it is. But you know what? The only thing that matters is who wins that day."
Bowles said he did not have an update Monday on C Robert Hainsey, who left Sunday's game with a sore hamstring. LT Donovan Smith (foot), RT Tristan Wirfs (ankle), NT Vita Vea (calf), WR Julio Jones (knee), S Mike Edwards (hamstring/hip), CB Carlton Davis (shoulder), LB Carl Nassib (pectoral) and S Logan Ryan (knee) all sat out against the Falcons due to injuries that will be evaluated as the week progresses.
You can access complete stats for the Buccaneers Week 18 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Baker Mayfield, Kyle Trask
RBs: Rachaad White, Chase Edmonds, Sean Tucker, Ke'Shawn Vaughn
WRs: Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Trey Palmer, Kaylon Geiger, Deven Thompkins, Rakim Jarrett, Russell Gage
TEs: Cade Otton, Ko Kieft, Payne Durham