Team Notes week 17 2020

By Bob Harris
Bob Harris<

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. ...

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Arizona Cardinals

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2020

As ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss noted, all the Cardinals had to do was beat the San Francisco 49ers -- the injury-ravaged, five-win 49ers -- and the they would have been a game away from going to the playoffs for the first time since 2015. But that idea went by the wayside Saturday afternoon when the Cardinals lost 20-12 in what was one of the franchise's most important games in recent memory and, simultaneously, one of its most embarrassing this season.

And Arizona has only itself to blame.

The Cardinals let a third-string quarterback in C.J. Beathard throw for three touchdowns and allowed running back Jeff Wilson Jr. to get a career-high 183 yards on the ground.

Arizona failed to take advantage of breaks and decent field position.

It was 4-for-16 on third down.

Kenyan Drake ran for 45 yards.

DeAndre Hopkins had 48 yards receiving.

Yet, again, Kyler Murray had to carry the Cardinals, running for two first downs on fourth downs, finishing with 75 rushing yards on eight carries. He threw for 234 yards with an interception on 29-for-45 passing. Murray had a career-high 27 attempts in the first half.

But Murray wasn't able to do it himself.

As Weinfuss summed up, in a game the Cardinals should have won -- especially after how they played last week against the Philadelphia Eagles, and especially against a team that has been devastated by injuries on both sides of the ball -- Arizona showed it's not in a position as a franchise to win the games it needs to.

Saturday's loss left the Cardinals rooting for Seattle on Sunday.

And when the Seahawks knocked off the Los Angeles Rams, 20-9, the Cardinals got back what they gave away during their loss to the 49ers on Saturday -- a chance to control their own destiny in reaching the postseason.

The Cardinals (8-7) know they are in the postseason if they go to L.A. this week and beat the Rams (9-6). It is not an easy task, not with the Rams having beaten the Cards relatively easily for seven straight meetings. But it is under the Cards' control. The Rams beat the Cardinals, 38-28, earlier this season.

If the Cardinals lose, their season will be over.

The Cardinals did not play well in their Saturday loss to the 49ers, but the Rams have not played well for two straight games, both losses. They lost, 23-20, to the Jets last week before falling to the Seahawks. ...

Worth noting. ... Murray sustained a leg injury in the final seconds on Saturday.

Murray was hurt on a hit by 49ers defensive lineman Alex Barrett after throwing a pass that fell incomplete to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins on fourth-and-6 with 20 seconds left in the game.

A source told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport Murray should be okay going forward.

"He got leg-whipped at the end of the game and is getting checked out," Rapoport added. "But at first glance, it doesn't seem serious."

Kliff Kingsbury addressed Murray's leg injury on Monday, and the coach wasn't exactly definitive with his outlook.

"We'll see how he feels this week," Kingsbury said Monday. "We're not going to put him out there if he can't play at a high level and doesn't feel safe to play. But we'll just have to see how he progresses."

Earlier Monday on 98.7 Arizona Sports Station, Kingsbury called untested Chris Streveler "definitely" the backup to Murray. But he stopped short of committing to Streveler starting over the more experienced Brett Hundley if Murray can't play.

"We'll cross that bridge if that comes up," Kingsbury said. "We'll see, organizationally, who would be a better fit at that time."

Streveler played 35 games the past two seasons in the CFL for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, passing for 2,698 yards with 19 touchdowns and 19 interceptions.

I'll obviously be following up on his status -- and that of Chase Edmonds, who went into the game with knee and ankle injuries only to be sidelined by a hip issue -- via Late-Breaking Update as the week plays out. ...

By the way, if he can play and help the Cardinals defeat the Rams, Murray would become the first Cardinals QB drafted by the team to lead them to a playoff berth since Jake Plummer in 1998, per NFL Research. ...

Also of interest. ... Hopkins has 111 catches this season after the eight he hauled in Saturday, giving him a franchise record with one game left.

He has been the epitome of a great trade haul.

But it was the one he couldn't quite bring in Saturday that stuck out, not because Hopkins made a bad play -- indeed, it would've been a carbon copy of the amazing touchdown catch he made to beat the Eagles last week -- but in part because everyone expects those freak hands to hold on to such a catch. And because Hopkins was down for a moment, making everyone just a little scared (just like Murray's final injury in the game.)

And because it kind of exemplified what the Cardinals weren't quite able to do in a crushing loss to the 49ers.

As ArizonaCardinals.com's Darren Urban noted, Edmonds being out of the game didn't help. But after the Cards piled up over 500 yards against the Eagles, you thought the offense might've found a groove.

Hopkins' longest catch went for nine yards. Still, Hopkins' record is impressive (topping the 109 catches Larry Fitzgerald has had twice in his career.)

"It's expected," wide receiver Christian Kirk said. "Not surprised by it. The plays he's made all season, the caliber of play he puts on every single Sunday, the guy just shows up and he's an elite, impact player. He shows every week why he's the best receiver in the league."

Fitzgerald had six catches (but for only 28 yards), pushing him to 54 this season and making him a perfect 17-for-17 for 50-reception seasons. The 17 straight years of 50 catches ties Jerry Rice for the most consecutive 50-reception seasons in NFL history.

Kirk's 38-yard catch on the first possession of the game gave him more receiving yards than he had had in any of the previous four games. But twice he and Murray couldn't connect in the end zone on two shots (one resulting in Murray's interception) and those missed opportunities were costly.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Kyler Murray, Colt McCoy, Chris Streveler
RBs: Chase Edmonds, James Conner, Jonathan Ward, Eno Benjamin
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Christian Kirk, Rondale Moore, Andy Isabella, Antoine Wesley
TEs: Maxx Williams, Darrell Daniels

Atlanta Falcons

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2020

The one thing the Atlanta Falcons could count on all season was Younghoe Koo.

As Associated Press sports writer Dave Skretta reminded readers, there had been games their offense let them down. Or their defense blew a lead.

Yet their kicker had been just about perfect, making every field-goal attempt but one while earning an unlikely but unquestionably deserved Pro Bowl nod.

So when interim coach Raheem Morris watched Koo push a 39-yard attempt wide right Sunday that would have sent their game against the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs to overtime -- well, that's pretty much how the season has gone for a team that was instead left to dwell on its seventh loss in a one-possession game.

"The biggest takeaway is that we can play with anybody," Morris said after the 17-14 defeat at Arrowhead Stadium. "Most of the year we haven't been able to win these games that come down to the wire. We have to win these games."

After struggling most of the way, Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense twice gave them a chance.

The first came when Ryan hit Laquon Treadwell for the go-ahead score with 4:33 left in the game.

"It's just making a play here or there," Ryan said. "It's not much more than that."

The second chance came after Ryan completed three quick passes to Russell Gage and Calvin Ridley, who finished with five catches for 130 yards, and Todd Gurley picked up a first down with a hard third-down run.

But when gifted first-and-5 at the Kansas City 21 because of a penalty with 27 seconds left, Ryan promptly threw three consecutive incomplete passes, forcing Morris to send the field-goal unit onto the field for a shot at overtime.

"At that moment, I just have to come through when my name is called," said Koo, who had made 27 straight field-goal attempts. "It is what it is. I'll learn from it and I'll definitely work harder from that and then next time I'll make it."

Ryan was quick to point out the loss fell on the team, rather than just one player.

The truth is, Atlanta's offense couldn't quite hold up their end of the bargain to come out of Kansas City with an upset. Outside of a 54-yard reception from Ridley, it was much of the same inconsistent offense for the Falcons. Ryan completed 27 of 35 passes for 300 yards and two touchdowns.

Positives? The Falcons didn't hurt their draft stock for a fourth consecutive week. As ESPN.com's Harry Lyles Jr. stressed, nothing the Falcons have shown has indicated that they are trying to lose. They had one of the best defensive performances any team has put together against the Chiefs' daunting offense.

At this point in the season given everything the Falcons have shown, you take that with one week left to go in the season and a chance to improve your football team in the offseason.

That will include a new head coach and general manager.

Until then, it's fair to wonder if Julio Jones, who missed another game due to a lingering hamstring issue, will return for the final against Buccaneers in Tampa Bay this weekend.

I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as needed.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Matt Ryan, Josh Rosen, Feleipe Franks
RBs: Mike Davis, Cordarrelle Patterson, Wayne Gallman
WRs: Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage, Christian Blake, Olamide Zaccheaus, Frank Darby, Chris Rowland
TEs: Kyle Pitts, Hayden Hurst, Jaeden Graham

Baltimore Ravens

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2020

As ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley reports, the Baltimore Ravens are in control of their playoff fate as everything fell into place for them on a perfect Sunday afternoon.

The Ravens soundly ran over the New York Giants 27-13, and then needed either the Cleveland Browns or the Indianapolis Colts to lose. In the end, Baltimore got help from both as the Colts collapsed in Pittsburgh and the Browns got upset by the New York Jets.

All the Ravens (10-5) need to do is win at the Cincinnati Bengals next Sunday and they will clinch a postseason berth for the third straight season.

"It feels great, but we still have Cincinnati in our way," said quarterback Lamar Jackson, who threw for two touchdowns and ran for 80 yards. "We have to get ready for them, because those guys are going to come to play. We're going to Cincinnati, so we just have to be ready and focus on those guys."

The Ravens are currently the No. 6 seed in the seven-team AFC playoff field. Baltimore's chances of reaching the postseason is 92%, according to ESPN's Football Power Index.

In winning their fourth straight game, Jackson and the Ravens didn't look like a team needing losses elsewhere to get into the playoffs. Baltimore looked like a team playing its best football at the right time.

Jackson, the reigning NFL MVP, completed 17 of 26 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 80 yards as part of a rushing attack that eclipsed 100 yards for the 38th consecutive game.

Gus Edwards rushed for 85 yards and rookie J.K. Dobbins gained 77 yards on the ground before leaving with a chest injury.

The Ravens opened the game with an 82-yard drive that consumed more than eight minutes and ended with a 6-yard touchdown pass from Jackson to Marquise Brown.

"It was important," head coach John Harbaugh said. "I know they've got a good defense. For us to take the ball down the field was very good execution. Lamar was really on point and different guys made plays."

The Ravens scored on all four of their first-half drives and hammered out 249 yards rushing against the league's No. 6 run defense.

It marked the third time in four games the NFL's top ground attack has totaled over 200 yards rushing.

"You try not to look too far elsewhere, but we control our own fate, and that's a great feeling," tight end Mark Andrews said. "We've got to go play a really, really good [Cincinnati] Bengals team this next week and try to get better and reach the playoffs. And that's all we can focus on -- is the next game -- not focus on the playoffs. We're just trying to get better and win this game, and the cards will fall how they fall."

The Ravens have won two of their past three at Paul Brown Stadium, including a 49-13 win last season. In that game, Jackson delivered his spectacular spin move on a 47-yard touchdown run.

Worth noting. ... Jackson doesn't let up against lesser opponents, and the Giants found that out Sunday. Jackson is 9-0 in his career against teams that are at least three games below .500, according to ESPN Stats and Information. In those games, Baltimore has been dominant, winning by a total of 141 points, an average margin of 17.2 points per game.

On Sunday, the Ravens gained over 100 yards rushing by the second quarter and continued their march in the NFL record books in doing so. With its 38th straight game of 100 yards rushing, Baltimore tied the second-longest streak in league history. Only the 1974-77 Pittsburgh Steelers have a longer streak at 43 consecutive games.

The Ravens lead the NFL in rushing, but the ground attack has really caught fire in December. In the first six games of the season, the Ravens rushed for over 200 yards just once. But over the last four games, the Ravens have averaged 233.3 yards on the ground, better than last year's record-setting clip of 206.0 yards per game.

The running game is clicking at a perfect time. The Giants entered the game ranked sixth in the NFL in rushing defense (101.8 yards per game) and expected to offer more resistance. But the Ravens set the bar high for their running game, and they have loved the results.

"It's what's expected every time we're out there," Edwards said. "Big ups to our O-line. Great push, they worked hard all week. Communication was key. They kept coming back to us, giving us input on what they were doing out there. A lot of credit to them. They kept us going the whole game."

By the way. ... Jackson needs 92 rushing yards to reach 1,000 for the second straight season.

And finally, as BaltimoreRavens.com's John Eisenberg notes, the Giants sort of forgot to cover Dez Bryant on his second touchdown catch in two weeks, which is interesting considered how many years he faced them in the NFC East.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Lamar Jackson, Trace McSorley, Tyler Huntley
RBs: Ty'Son Williams, Latavius Murray, Devonta Freeman, Gus Edwards
WRs: Marquise Brown, Sammy Watkins, Devin Duvernay, Tylan Wallace, Miles Boykin, James Proche, Rashod Bateman
TEs: Mark Andrews, Josh Oliver, Eric Tomlinson, Nick Boyle

Buffalo Bills

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2020

According to ESPN.com's Marcel Louis-Jacques, you've got to learn to read between the lines when it comes to the Buffalo Bills.

Their public lauding of the New England Patriots was par for the course throughout the week; head coach Sean McDermott isn't keen on inflammatory remarks to the media. But every compliment of the Patriots and every reminder that New England had dominated the division for the past 20 years was essentially code for one thing -- the Bills were ready to make another late-season statement on Monday Night Football.

Buffalo delivered that statement with a rout of the Patriots, securing its first win in Foxboro, Massachusetts, since 2016 and its first sweep of the Patriots since 1999. It marked the Bills' largest margin of victory against New England since winning 31-0 on Sep. 7, 2003.

Beyond officially handing New England its first losing season since Bill Belichick's first season as coach in 2000, the Bills hung on to the No. 2 seed in the AFC. They can secure the 2-seed with a win against Miami in Week 17.

Beating the Patriots was one of the Bills' top goals entering the season -- general manager Brandon Beane said as much in September. But even against a limping New England team that's already out of the playoff picture, Buffalo wanted to leave no doubt as to who the AFC East belongs to now.

Mission accomplished.

According to NFL.com's Nick Shook, Monday night wasn't quite an official changing of the guard, but it certainly was a statement to the entire NFL.

A product of a multi-year rebuild under Beane and head coach Sean McDermott, Buffalo's turnaround reached a new level after the acquisition of receiver Stefon Diggs, who shredded New England on Monday, catching nine passes for 145 yards and three straight touchdowns to take the contest from a 17-9 score to a 38-9 blowout.

"He's a playmaker, he comes back to the ball better than any receiver in the league," said Patriots corner J.C. Jackson, who has the second-most interceptions in the NFL but struggled to contain Diggs on Monday. "He's got great hands. You've got to almost be perfect when you're guarding somebody like that. You've got to almost have perfect coverage in man-to-man."

No one has been perfect against Diggs this season. The receiver has been held under nine yards per reception just three times this season, and Buffalo still won two of those games by eight points or more.

Diggs leads the NFL in receptions with 120, breaking Buffalo's all-time single-season record (previously held by Eric Moulds with 100), and is No. 1 in the league in receiving yards (1,459), also a Bills single-season record. He also broke Brandon Marshall's record for most receptions in a player's first season with a new team, and can break Marshall's receiving yards mark with 50 in Week 17.

These Bills are hotter than ever, scoring 24-plus points in eight straight games -- yes, that's half of a season -- tying the Packers for the longest active streak in the NFL and setting the longest streak in Bills history. Since Week 8, Buffalo has lost just once (going 7-1), is scoring nearly 34 points per game and ranks second in total yards per game (406.4), third in passing yards per game (285.6) and fourth in passer rating (110).

Josh Allen now owns Buffalo franchise records in completion percentage, passing and rushing yards combined (4,738), passing and rushing touchdowns combined (42), and passer rating (106.4). He also took a revered total for his own Monday: passing touchdowns in a season (34), a mark owned by legendary Bills quarterback Jim Kelly since 1991.

There's no question Diggs' involvement has a whole lot to do with this, with Buffalo's first sweep of the Patriots in 21 years, and with the Bills running out to their best winning percentage since 1991. If it wasn't for a miracle finish in Arizona in Week 10, the Bills would be on a nine-game winning streak, and would own an even better winning percentage that, if history serves correct, would put them on a path to a Super Bowl appearance.

Shook went on to suggest, There might never be a trade that works out better for both parties than the deal that sent Diggs to Buffalo for a first-round pick that ended up being Diggs' replacement, Justin Jefferson. Both earned their first Pro Bowl honors, but only one is on a team speeding toward a potentially deep playoff run.

"You can't help but be excited," Diggs said. "Who would have thought we'd be here six months ago?"

Diggs, who was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday, thinks there are even greater heights that the unit can reach, however.

"We're still scratching the surface on the potential we have," Diggs said, via Sal Maiorana of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. "I feel like Josh is still a young quarterback but he's playing some elite ball, throwing for 300-plus, making great decisions, he's not turning the ball over, he's running. I don't know the past, I just know Josh right now and he's playing great football. As a receiver, I just want to give it all I've got for him, make the plays for him."

Allen said "the results kind of speak for themselves" when asked about his connection with Diggs, but agreed that there are things they can improve as they move forward. That's not great news for the teams that will be trying to stop the Bills in the weeks to come.

Although the Bills lost out on their small chance to be the top seed in the AFC, Monday night's win at New England kept them in the driver's seat to land the No. 2 seed in the conference.

To clinch it, they'll need a win in against Miami this weekend or a loss by the Steelers.

Because the Chiefs have already clinched the AFC's No. 1 seed, head coach Andy Reid said Monday he plans to rest some starters in his team's Week 17 contest against the Chargers.

Having won the AFC North, Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin made a similar declaration on Tuesday, announcing Mason Rudolph will start at quarterback against Cleveland.

But in Buffalo, McDermott is holding his cards close to the vest.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday afternoon, McDermott indicated he knows what he's going to do for Sunday's game against the Dolphins. But he's not saying.

"I'm going to keep that plan internal because I think that's what's best for us," McDermott said, via Chris Brown of the Bills' official website.

The Bills are currently the AFC's No. 2 seed, though they could fall to No. 3 if the Steelers beat the Browns and Buffalo loses to Miami. But because there's no longer a second playoff bye, the Bills' outcome for wild card weekend won't change much based on Sunday's results -- they're slated to host a playoff game either way.

One player all but certain to sit is Cole Beasley.

McDermott said at his Tuesday press conference that Beasley is week-to-week with a leg injury suffered against the Patriots on Monday.

Beasley went out for a pass in the fourth quarter and pulled up toward the end of his route. The wide receiver was still in the game after quarterback Matt Barkley came in to relieve Allen in the blowout.

Beasley is second on the Bills in yards receiving this year with 82 receptions and 967 yards -- a new career high in each category.

McDermott said Tuesday that he's not revealing whether or not Buffalo's starters will play in Week 17, but it stands to reason Beasley won't be on the field to have a better chance at playing in the wild card round.

John Brown could return if the starters do play; Brown was activated off injured reserve prior to Monday's game only to go on the reserve/COVID-19 list as a close contact of T.J. Yeldon, who tested positive.

I'll have more on all involved as developments warrant via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

In what may be a related note. ... Former Texans and Dolphins WR Kenny Stills is visiting the Bills, a source tells ESPN's Adam Schefter. Stills needs to pass through protocols, but there is optimism the deal gets done.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Josh Allen, Mitchell Trubisky
RBs: Devin Singletary, Zack Moss, Matt Breida, Taiwan Jones
WRs: Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, Gabriel Davis, Isaiah McKenzie, Emmanuel Sanders, Jake Kumerow
TEs: Dawson Knox, Tommy Sweeney

Carolina Panthers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2020

When asked earlier in the week about needs for next season, head coach Matt Rhule didn't hesitate, almost defiantly saying he wasn't looking past finding a way to beat Washington and the coach he replaced.

And that's exactly what his team did on Sunday, putting Washington's playoff hopes on hold with a 20-13 victory over former Panthers coach Ron Rivera.

If Rhule were thinking about next year, he would have found a way to throw the game and move Carolina (5-10) a step closer to the third pick of the NFL draft after the Cincinnati Bengals (4-10-1) won earlier in the day.

But Rhule isn't concerned about the draft or where the Panthers pick in April.

As ESPN.com's David Newton noted, Rhule is trying to build a winning culture, and there's only one way to do that -- win, even if it's a meaningless December game in terms of the playoff picture.

Rhule opened his zoom call Monday going in great detail on why it was more important to win against Washington than to get a higher draft pick.

He reminded that since the Super Bowl year in 2015 the team had gone 5-14 in December and January, and that winning in those months is most important for building a winning culture.

He talked to the team about it as well. "I just want them to understand this is a learned skill," Rhule said.

Indeed, Washington could have clinched the NFC East title with a victory over Rivera's former team.

Instead, it appeared the Panthers were the team that had everything to play for, and that's something Rhule can build around.

Wins have been few and far between for Rhule during this rebuilding process. In fact, the Panthers entered Sunday with three consecutive losses and eight in their past nine games.

They had become adept at finding ways to lose, not win. And thanks to a defense that is beginning to play at a winning level, Rhule has something to look forward to in 2021 besides a top-10 draft pick.

Sunday's effort seemed to be a carryover from the second half of a 24-16 loss last week against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.

Rodgers passed for only 44 yards in the second half, and the Packers had just 49 total yards the final two quarters, but Carolina just couldn't complete the comeback.

No comeback was needed at Washington, with the Panthers' defense forcing three first-half turnovers and special teams scoring on a muffed punt to give Carolina a 20-3 lead.

It was a style reminiscent of the play of Rivera's Carolina teams the past nine seasons.

By the way, Rhule respects what Rivera did. The organization showed love and respect for Rivera during pregame warm-ups, wearing "Rivera Strong" sweatshirts with a pink cancer ribbon replacing the "i" in the Washington coach's name.

As for this week?

Newton reported on Monday that Rhule seems genuinely excited to know Sunday's finale against New Orleans is important for the Saints in terms of playoff seedings. He wants his team to understand a playoff atmosphere and this is as close as he can get to it.

"I want to play our best game. For the Saints, they're playing for a 1 seed. This is like a playoff game for them, so we're going to get their absolute best."

Of most interest to fantasy managers still chasing titles in season-long play, the Panthers have gotten used to playing without Christian McCaffrey this season and it looks like they’ll be able to try playing without Mike Davis this weekend as well.

Rhule said on Wednesday that McCaffrey has been ruled out of Sunday’s game against the Saints. McCaffrey is currently dealing with a quad injury that has joined ankle and shoulder injuries in keeping McCaffrey out for 13 of the team’s 16 games this season.

Davis has started in his place, but has an ankle injury and Rhule says he does not expect to have the back in action in Week 17.

Rodney Smith, Trenton Cannon, and Myles Hartsfield are the backs the Saints will have to contend with this weekend.

As we head into the offseason, McCaffrey will have played only three games this year after becoming just the third player in league history to record 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season in 2019. McCaffrey missed six games with a high-ankle sprain, three games with a shoulder injury, and the last three with a thigh injury.

Last week, Rhule said McCaffrey was "dying to play," but wasn't at the point where he could.

Accounting for 374 yards from scrimmage in 2020, McCaffrey is still second on the Panthers with six total touchdowns. Davis topped 1,000 yards from scrimmage in the win.

Against Washington, wide receiver Curtis Samuel was actually the Panthers' leading rusher, thanks to his 45-yard burst on one play.

But Davis tacked on 14 carries for 28 yards, giving him 642 rushing yards for the season. Along with 59 receptions for 373 yards, he continues to push his career-best numbers in yards from scrimmage.

His previous high for a season was 728 for the Seahawks in 2018, when he ran for 514 and added 214 receiving yards. ...

For what it's worth, Samuel played only 56 percent of the snaps but set career highs with 52 rushing yards on seven carries and 106 receiving yards on five catches.

It marked the fourth-most rushing yards by an NFL wide receiver in a game this season, and that 45-yard rush in the first half was Carolina's longest this season.

With Samuel, D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson all averaging over 63 percent of the offensive snaps for the season, this could mark the first year since 2012 that Carolina had three wide receivers play more than 63 percent of the offensive snaps.

Moore had 37 receiving yards to bring his career total to 3,055. He now ranks ninth in NFL history (Super Bowl era) for most receiving yards at age 23 or younger.

Wide receiver Brandon Zylstra scored his first career touchdown on a muffed punt by Washington. It marked Carolina's first score on special teams since 2018 when Colin Jones did the same on a muffed punt by the Giants in Week 4.

Meanwhile, Newton notes this wasn't Teddy Bridgewater's best performance, but the defense played so well all he had to do was manage the game and not lose it. In terms of making a statement for him being the long-term starter, he still hasn't made it. ...

And finally. ... Joey Slye with a miscue on Sunday has now missed seven extra points over two seasons. Rhule didn't show confidence in Slye to attempt a 52-yard field goal early in this contest, which likely spells the end of his tenure at Carolina, even though Rhule is committed to Slye through the final game.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Sam Darnold, Phillip Walker
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Chuba Hubbard, Royce Freeman
WRs: D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, Terrace Marshall Jr., Brandon Zylstra, Shi Smith
TEs: Dan Arnold, Ian Thomas, Colin Thompson, Tommy Tremble

Chicago Bears

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2020

With a 41-17 win, the Chicago Bears (8-7) put Jacksonville (1-14) out of its misery on Sunday and kept control of their playoff destiny with one game left to play.

Chicago can clinch the seventh NFC playoff spot with a victory over Green Bay in Week 17 or a loss by the Cardinals to the Los Angeles Rams.

As ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson noted, far be it for the Bears -- losers of six straight at one point of the year -- to walk into a game overconfident, but the Jaguars had every motivation to lose, and they started Mike Glennon at quarterback. The same Mike Glennon to whom the Bears all but gifted generational wealth ($18.5 million) for what amounted to four starts in 2017.

In addition, Jacksonville's promising rookie running back James Robinson was held out with an ankle injury.

The Bears were expected to win -- and by a lot. Mission accomplished. The Bears scored 30-plus points for the fourth straight game for the first time since 1965, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

The Bears have feasted on the league's defensive bottom-feeders -- Detroit (31st in total defense), Houston (30th), Minnesota (27th) and Jacksonville (32nd) -- during their recent renaissance.

The Bears have assured themselves of finishing no worse than .500 in each of head coach Matt Nagy's three seasons. Reaching the playoffs for the second time in three years would all but assure that most of the organization will return in 2021. Indeed, ESPN's Jeremy Fowler reported prior to Sunday's win that multiple people around NFL believe the Bears will retain Nagy for 2021.

Meanwhile, Mitchell Trubisky completed 24 of 35 passes for 265 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and one rushing touchdown.

For the most part, Trubisky played fine. But Dickerson pointed out the 26-year-old quarterback made a couple of egregious errors -- a terrible interception in the end zone, a near interception that a Jaguars defender dropped, overthrowing a wide-open receiver for what would have been a sure touchdown, etc. Against better teams, that probably would hurt the team's chances of winning.

Whatever happens next year with Trubisky happens. He's playing really well against really bad teams. Take it for what it's worth.

Also according to Dickerson, the Bears still get too cute on offense sometimes.

On first-and-goal from the Jaguars' 1-yard line in the second quarter, the Bears called for an end-around handoff to tight end Cole Kmet -- instead of just feeding the ball to workhorse tailback David Montgomery. The handoff to Kmet predictably went for a three-yard loss. The Bears eventually had to settle for a field goal when a touchdown had seemed all but assured before Chicago called for Kmet's number on first down.

The Bears can get away with mistakes like that against inferior teams, but this week against Green Bay, or in the playoffs, the consequences could be dire. ...

Remember, Montgomery is on a tear.

The former third-round pick carried the ball 23 times for 95 yards and a touchdown. Montgomery has scored a touchdown in five straight games, the longest streak by a Bears running back since Neal Anderson in 1991. After driving fantasy football managers crazy for close to a season and a half, Montgomery has scored seven total touchdowns since the Bears' bye week (Nov. 22).

According to ESPN.com's Tristan Cockroft, that production has led to five consecutive weeks of 20-plus points in PPR formats. ...

Allen Robinson played four memorable years for the Jaguars, highlighted by Robinson's 80-catch, 1,400-yard, 14-touchdown season in 2015.

Robinson did not disappoint in his first game back in Jacksonville since he joined the Bears in the spring of 2018. Robinson's game-high 10 catches for 103 yards put him at 100 receptions for the season -- the first time Robinson has reached the 100-catch milestone. The last Bears wide receiver to catch 100 passes in a season was Brandon Marshall in 2013. ...

Critics universally panned the free-agent contract ($9 million guaranteed and a no-trade clause) that tight end Jimmy Graham signed with the Bears, but the 34-year-old veteran caught his seventh and eighth touchdown passes of the season on Sunday, which ranks second among all NFC tight ends behind only Green Bay's Robert Tonyan (10).

To put that into perspective, Graham had only five combined touchdown receptions in the previous two seasons in Green Bay.

Graham also hauled in a season-long 30-yard catch in Chicago's victory. Graham now has 17 multiple-touchdown games over the course of his illustrious career.

And finally. ... Veteran kicker Cairo Santos keeps plugging along. Santos, who has not missed a field goal since Week 3, went 2-for-2 on Sunday and is now tied with Robbie Gould (2006) for the franchise record for consecutive makes (24) in a season. Remember when the Bears used to have a kicker crisis? The Bears have still not signed Santos to an extension, but it feels like a foregone conclusion.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Justin Fields, Nick Foles, Andy Dalton
RBs: David Montgomery, Damien Williams, Khalil Herbert, Tarik Cohen
WRs: Allen Robinson, Darnell Mooney, Damiere Byrd, Marquise Goodwin, Breshad Perriman
TEs: Cole Kmet, Jimmy Graham, Jesse James, J.P. Holtz, Jesper Horsted

Cincinnati Bengals

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2020

The Bengals waited until the very end of 2020 to finally go on a winning streak.

Six days after surprising the Pittsburgh Steelers at home on "Monday Night Football," the Bengals outlasted the Houston Texans 37-31 on Sunday. It was their first road win since Week 4 of the 2018 season and the first of head coach Zac Taylor's two years in charge.

Despite missing several key starters to injuries, including Joe Burrow, Joe Mixon and Tyler Boyd, the Bengals gained 540 yards and scored a season-high 37 points.

"Man, it's crazy to even think about," wide receiver Alex Erickson said of ending the road drought. "This league's tough and it's hard to win on the road. To go two years, though, man, a long time coming. It's just a testament to sticking to the process and believing. I know it's hard sometimes when you lose that many road games in a row you never think it's going to happen and you just keep believing.

"And I think on Monday night the energy was great and guys really believed, and now you see the momentum picking up. We're playing the right way and we're starting to get some momentum that we've earned, and so it feels really good to come down here and get a victory."

Ending a long losing streak to the rival Steelers gave the Bengals some confidence going into the game against the Texans.

"I think winning, it's contagious, right? You get on a roll, you feel that momentum and guys start believing. And it's just a testament to staying with it," Erickson said.

Despite another last-place finish, Taylor was pleased with the effort in the penultimate game of the season.

"And like I told them, we practiced in 10-degree weather on Christmas Day to come down and play a game in Houston," Taylor said. "And not one guy, I didn't hear one guy complain about it; they all knew that we had to get some work done before we were going to come down and win this big game, and just couldn't be prouder of the work that they put in here in Week 16. We're out of the playoff hunt. It's easy for guys to check out right now and we haven't had a single player do it."

As Associated Press sports writer Simmi Buttar noted, for a team that couldn't find a way to win a handful of close games early in the season, the past week has been a welcome change.

"There have been a few games where we're literally one play away from being a win," quarterback Brandon Allen said. "Those are tough, but you have to be able to move on and approach the next week like you're going to win it again. I think you can just see in these last two weeks that this team knows how close it can be, and we've finally been able to have two real close games and we put them together to get wins, and we can just take that momentum and move it forward."

In both victories, the defense got key stops in the final minutes.

"They played really well in the first half and then obviously the third quarter and early fourth quarter didn't go the way they wanted," Taylor said of the defense which gave up 488 yards overall and 324 yards passing and three touchdowns to Watson.

"But we just needed them to make one stop there. And they did a great job. Sam got to the quarterback and I think Margus recovered that ball. That was a huge moment in the game for us."

Plenty of losing teams pick up wins at the end of the season. Usually it doesn't carry over to the next year. The Bengals (4-10-1) hope to build on their recent success.

"I think that when you finish the season strong and you do things the right way, you've got that leadership and that culture established, you've just got to take it and build on it and just run with it," Hubbard said.

The Bengals will try to do that as they close out the regular season at home against Baltimore on Sunday. The Ravens are in contention for a wild-card berth. ...

Meanwhile, as ESPN.com's Ben Baby noted, when Burrow suffered a season-ending injury in November, the Bengals were about to find out if they had a quality backup option on the roster.

Sunday's win showed that Allen could be the answer in that role when Burrow returns in 2021. The veteran had the best game in his career and helped the Bengals go on their first winning streak in two seasons.

Allen was 29-of-37 passing for 371 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Allen showed why he regained the starting job after missing the team's Week 15 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers with a knee injury.

But more importantly, Allen made the case to be No. 2 on the depth chart next season. With each passing week, Allen has looked more comfortable under center. The former Broncos quarterback was able to stretch the defense vertically, which is something the Bengals struggled to do even when Burrow was on the field.

Beyond that. ... Rookie wide receiver Tee Higgins continues to show why Cincinnati opted to keep their draft slot back in April to draft the former Clemson standout. Higgins had six catches for 99 yards and one touchdown. Higgins' ability to haul in a 20-yard scoring pass in the third quarter while also keeping his feet in bounds was another flash of a strong rookie year.

If Higgins has a strong game in the season finale against the Ravens, he could join A.J. Green and Cris Collinsworth as Bengals with 1,000 or more receiving yards during their rookie season. ...

Samaje Perine picked a great time to produce the team's biggest rushing play of the season.

On the Bengals' opening drive of the second half against the Houston Texans, Perine broke a couple of tackles and rumbled down the left sideline for a 46-yard touchdown to give the Bengals a 17-10 lead. It was a big response for a Cincinnati team that wasted scoring opportunities in the first half and was tied with the Texans at halftime.

Perine's carry was not only the longest of his career, but it was Cincinnati's longest rush of 2020. The previous long was a 39-yard run by safety Shawn Williams on a fake punt.

Starter Giovani Bernard rushed 16 times for 65 yards and caught 7-of-8 targets for 66 yards against the Texans.

As Rotoworld.com noted, this was another high-volume game for Bernard, but he was outshined by Perine. Bernard's snaps were scaled back in the second half with Perine running hot. The Texans defense is among the worst in the league, but Bernard's role is secure as one of the featured players in an offense that's missing Mixon and Boyd.

In a related note. ... There really wasn't much question about it, but if there was the Bengals cleared it up Monday, when Taylor announced that Mixon will not come off of injured reserve to face the Ravens in Week 17.

Mixon last played in Week 6 and there's never been much of a sign that he was on track to get back on the field. Mixon ran 119 times for 428 yards and three touchdowns before his injury. He also caught 21 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown.

Mixon signed a four-year, $48 million extension with the team this year, so he'll be back for offseason work if all is well with his foot.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Joe Burrow, Brandon Allen
RBs: Joe Mixon, Samaje Perine, Chris Evans
WRs: Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, Auden Tate, Stanley Morgan Jr., Mike Thomas
TEs: C.J. Uzomah, Drew Sample

Cleveland Browns

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2020

Following Sunday's loss to the New York Jets, which prevented the Cleveland Browns from clinching a playoff berth, quarterback Baker Mayfield said he "failed the team" after fumbling three times.

"Plain and simple, I have to hold on to the damn ball," said Mayfield, who fumbled on Cleveland's final two drives, allowing the Jets to hold on for the 23-16 victory at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. "We had exactly what we needed to win this game. And I didn't do good enough. That's it."

Because of contact tracing from a player testing positive for COVID-19 on Saturday, the Browns had to play without their top four wide receivers. In their place, Cleveland instead had to rely on practice squad call-ups Ja'Marcus Bradley and Derrick Willies, along with Marvin Hall, who was claimed off waivers earlier this month.

Without their regular receivers, including Jarvis Landry, and starting linemen Jedrick Wills Jr. (illness) and Wyatt Teller (ankle), the Browns struggled offensively throughout the day.

Facing a stacked box as a result, running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt averaged only 0.3 yards before contact, according to ESPN Stats and Information research, and combined to finish with just 39 yards rushing. Unable to establish the run or facilitate play-action, the Browns instead had to air it out with Mayfield, who ended with a career-high 53 passing attempts.

Thirty-six of those passes went to tight ends or running backs, tied for the most by a quarterback over the past 20 seasons, according to ESPN Stats and Info research.

Still, Mayfield refused to use those key absences, especially at receiver, as an excuse, and he shouldered the blame for the loss.

"Put it on me," Mayfield said, "for not doing my job, for not playing at a high level like I should have, for not getting these guys going and finishing out this game."

Mayfield took only one question in his postgame video call, but he also spoke for almost two minutes.

Before walking off, he acknowledged that the Browns can still advance to the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and finally end the NFL's longest postseason drought by defeating Pittsburgh next weekend.

"This one is going to sting for a day or two, but we have the Steelers to win and get in," he said. "So, I'm going to roll with these punches. Backs against the wall and we have to win to get in. You know what, this group fought today, but I didn't do enough. I didn't play well enough for us to win. And that's it."

On Monday, Hunt declared his faith in the young quarterback.

"It's definitely not all on him. There's a lot of things a lot of people could've done better. It's some things that got us into that situation," Hunt said, via video from Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. "So honestly, he'll have my back no matter what, so I'll have his too. I believe in him to bounce back and I believe we all will because that's not just on him, it's on the whole team. It's on everybody."

That said, it was a bad beat. As ESPN.com's Jake Trotter characterized the game, it was a "Total debacle."

All the Browns had to do to clinch their first playoff berth since 2002 was defeat the 1-13 Jets, and even with so many starters out, this constitutes as a massive missed opportunity.

Meanwhile, head coach Kevin Stefanski expects some of the players who missed Sunday's loss because of COVID-19 protocols to return to practice Thursday as Cleveland gets ready to face Pittsburgh with a playoff spot riding on the outcome.

They'll be able to return this week as long as they text negative.

Landry was ruled ineligible along with receivers Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and KhaDarel Hodge after they had come in close contact with starting linebacker B.J. Goodson, who tested positive for the virus and will also miss the Pittsburgh game.

Wills was kept out Sunday because he was showing COVID symptoms. He had been placed on the COVID list last week after close contact with someone outside the organization and then activated on Saturday.

Also, rookie linebacker Jacob Phillips was ruled out after having close contact with Goodson.

Stefanski said none of the six has tested positive.

The players had spent time together in the recovery pool area inside the team's facility, which wasn't a violation. However, it was deemed as high-risk close contact by the league and necessitated them being held out of Cleveland's biggest game to date this season.

Stefanski wouldn't say if the players had skirted team safety guidelines, but said he addressed the situation with the offending players.

"We have to learn from this," he said.

Stefanski is also hopeful Teller will practice on Wednesday. He's missed the past two games with a sprained ankle, and the Browns missed him Sunday when they only rushed for 45 yards. Rookie Nick Harris made his first career start in Teller's spot.

Harris injured his knee against the Jets and is day to day along with linebackers Sione Takitaki and Tae Davis.

I'll be following up on all involved via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...

A few final items. ... Bradley and Hall got extensive playing time. Bradley played 77 of a possible 81 snaps while Hall played 74. The Browns' third WR, Willies, played three snaps.

The Browns used their TEs at a relatively high level, as Harrison Bryant played 67 snaps, Austin Hooper played 59 and David Njoku was on the field for 31.

Chubb was on the field for 48 snaps, one of his highest totals of the year. Hunt played 35.

Chubb needs 41 yards against the Steelers to hit 1,000 for the season after rushing for 28 on Sunday. ...

Kicker Cody Parkey has been on a cold streak of late.

As Profootballtalk.com notes, Parkey doinked an extra point attempt off the upright in Sunday's loss and he has now missed one extra point in each of the last three games. He's also missed a field goal over that span, but Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski showed no sign that the team is considering other options.

"As it pertains to Cody, he knows what is expected of him. We are counting on him, and I have a ton of confidence in him," Stefanski said, via Cleveland.com.

Parkey is 21-of-24 on field goals and 40-of-44 on extra points over the entire season, so he'd been pretty reliable before this recent stretch. With the playoffs on the line in Week 17, the Browns are counting on him getting back to that point. ...

On Tuesday, the Browns placed Bryant and S Andrew Sendejo on reserve/COVID-19 list. On Wednesday, they closed their facility due to positive COVID-19 tests for the second time in less than a week.

A statement on Wednesday morning announced that the team’s headquarters were closed after a player and a staff member tested positive for COVID-19. They also closed the facility and delayed their trip to New Jersey after a player tested positive last Saturday.

Contact tracing is underway to determine other players who may need to remain away from the team.

Stefanski suggested at the time of the announcement it was possible the team could still practice Wednesday.

More on that via Late-Breaking Update as I follow up on the others. ...

And finally. ... The Browns have signed WR Alexander Hollins to their active roster from the Minnesota Vikings' practice squad.

The Browns will receive a roster exemption for Hollins that will expire once he's permitted to join the team in accordance with testing protocols. He won't count against the Active Roster Limit until that time.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Baker Mayfield, Case Keenum
RBs: Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, Demetric Felton, D'Ernest Johnson
WRs: Odell Beckham, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Anthony Schwartz, Rashard Higgins, Jarvis Landry
TEs: Austin Hooper, David Njoku, Harrison Bryant

Dallas Cowboys

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2020

As Associated Press sports writer Schuyler Dixon recounted it, "From the gruesome ankle injury that ended their star quarterback's season to the sudden death of their conditioning coach, the Dallas Cowboys faced difficulties few NFL teams could match in this pandemic-altered year.

"They still have a chance going into Week 17."

Andy Dalton threw for 377 yards and three touchdowns, two to Michael Gallup, and the Cowboys stayed alive in the playoff race with a 37-17 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.

The Cowboys (6-9) won their third consecutive game and can finish alone in first place in the NFC East thanks to Washington's 20-13 loss to Carolina, which guaranteed the NFL's worst division won't have a team with a winning record. Dallas can overtake Washington (6-9) with a win at the New York Giants and a Washington loss to the Eagles on the final weekend of the regular season.

The Giants (5-10) can get in by beating the Cowboys if Washington loses.

"If you gave up five, six weeks ago, we wouldn't even want you on our side," said running back Ezekiel Elliott, who returned after missing a game because of injury for the first time in his career and finished with 105 yards.

"We're competitors. The whole team is. We weren't out of it. Gotta win next week and need a little help from the guys we just played."

And they realize the postseason is a fresh start

"It's not always the team with the best record in the regular season. It's the hottest team," said Dalton, who is 4-4 as Prescott's replacement. "You've just got to get a chance. Once you make it to the playoffs, that's when you have your opportunity to make a run."

A month ago, the Cowboys were blown out by Washington on Thanksgiving two days after conditioning coach Markus Paul collapsed in the team's weight room. Paul died the day before the game.

Prescott's injury is the biggest for an offense that has endured plenty, particularly on the offensive line. Now, head coach Mike McCarthy still has something on the line not long after his Dallas debut looked like a lost and wrecked season.

"Coach just told us that in the locker room, he was like, 'You guys have strained for this, you've worked for this through all the ups and downs that we've had this season,'" said Gallup, whose touchdowns were from 21 and 7 yards. "Just to have it happen like it's happening, just a great feeling."

Amari Cooper and Gallup had 121 yards receiving apiece, and CeeDee Lamb helped finish off the Eagles by drawing a 34-yard pass interference penalty on third down to set up his 19-yard scoring run in the final two minutes.

As ESPN.com's Todd Archer notes, Dalton has clearly found a rhythm in the Cowboys' offense.

His 377 yards passing was the fifth most he has had in a game in his pro career. He had the 26th three-touchdown pass game of his career and second with the Cowboys. His lone mistake in the passing game was forcing a throw down the seam to Lamb that Darius Slay intercepted in the third quarter.

Dalton entered the game averaging 6.1 yards per attempt. In the first half, he averaged 11.2 yards per attempt. Dalton showed he can still make plays if the Cowboys protect well.

As for ball distribution, Rotoworld.com notes, Dalton has targeted the Cowboys' top-three receivers almost evenly this season.

Cooper has the slight target edge with Dalton under center, drawing 56 targets. Gallup, meanwhile, has 53 targets, and Lamb has 54. Rotoworld went on to note that Dalton's adjusted yards per attempt when targeting Cooper and Gallup has been almost identical. Dalton has provided a major fantasy boost for Gallup, who was the odd man out when Prescott was lighting the league aflame in the season's first six weeks.

Gallup leads the team in targets over the past four weeks.

And finally. ... Elliott has had the worst season of his five NFL seasons. He has played through hamstring and calf injuries and last week missed the first game of his career for injury.

But the Cowboys running back had his best game of the season when they needed him most.

In addition for the above-mentioned, season-high 105 yards on 19 carries, he caught four passes for 34 yards. His 139 yards from scrimmage also was a season best.

"I think just the biggest for me is just that I felt, I feel healthy," Elliott said. "I've been feeling a little dinged up in past weeks and this week I feel healthy, and uh, I felt like myself."

Elliott led the league in rushing in two of his first three seasons. But he entered Sunday's game averaging a career-worst 3.9 yards per carry and 64.0 yards per game and leading non-quarterbacks in fumbles. His long run this season before Sunday was 26 yards.

But with 3:54 remaining, Elliott went for 31 yards to set up Lamb's 19-yard touchdown run. That iced the victory that kept their NFC East hopes alive.

"Man, it felt great, you know?" Elliott said. "It felt great to come out and lean on those guys a little bit. We knew it was going to be tough sledding at first, but, you know, we had to grind them out and we knew the big ones were going to come toward the end of the game."

With Zeke rolling, Tony Pollard rushed nine times for 12 yards, adding an eight-yard reception. Expect similar usage this week with Elliott back at something close to full speed.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Will Grier
RBs: Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Corey Clement
WRs: Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Cedrick Wilson, Noah Brown, Simi Fehoko, Michael Gallup
TEs: Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz

Denver Broncos

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2020

As Associated Press sports writer Dan Greenspan pointed out, the quarterback-receiver tandem of Drew Lock and Jerry Jeudy is supposed to be the centerpiece of the Denver Broncos' offense for years to come. But when the youngsters had a chance to engineer another comeback against the Los Angeles Chargers, they showed just how far they still have to go.

Lock's red-zone interception, dropped passes by Jeudy and other mistakes proved costly in the Broncos' 19-16 loss to the Chargers on Sunday.

The Broncos (5-10) trailed by 13 points in the fourth quarter before tying the game on a field goal by Brandon McManus with 2:52 remaining.

"I think that reflects well on the team, their effort, their toughness, their resiliency," head coach Vic Fangio said. "But we got to start making the plays and not do the things that cause you to lose a game like that."

The Chargers (6-9) regained the lead on a field goal with 41 seconds to play. Lock got the Broncos to midfield on the final drive, where his Hail Mary was picked off at the goal line by Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams as time expired.

Four plays earlier, Jeudy dropped a deep ball that hit the rookie in the hands. With Jeudy running in stride in Chargers territory, it would have -- at worst -- set up McManus, who had already connected from 50 and 52 yards, for a tying field goal. It was the fifth drop for Jeudy, the No. 15 overall pick in the draft.

"The ball definitely came to me," said Jeudy, who had six receptions for 61 yards on 15 targets. "Like I said, I just got to make plays. Ain't nobody stopping me, I'm open. I just got to finish. I beat myself today."

Lock did his best to support Jeudy and help him maintain a positive mindset during and after the game, but the second-year quarterback had his own gaffe that loomed large. In the first quarter, Lock rolled to his left and winged an off-balance pass that hit DaeSean Hamilton in the hands. It bounced to cornerback Casey Hayward in the end zone, costing the Broncos at least three points.

"It's a play I just got to throw away," Lock said.

Lock was 24 of 47 for 264 yards and two interceptions. Though he did rush for the Broncos' only touchdown on a quarterback sneak with 6:31 to play, Fangio described Lock's performance as a fair summation of an erratic season.

"There's a lot of good, and there's something that's got to get cleaned up and disappear," Fangio said.

The same can be said of the Broncos' offense as a whole. Denver has scored at least 20 points just six times this season. With a 4-2 record in those games, there have been signs Denver can compete if that side of the ball can produce. But the lack of consistency despite the investment of draft capital in Lock and Jeudy reflects how much work remains.

Lock thinks he is close to taking the next step.

"I am starting to see this speed, these defenses, and know this offense well enough to be able to go and feel really confident going in there to make the throws I need, see the defense, and put the ball where it needs to go," Lock said. "It's something I feel a lot better that I did, I would say, beginning of the season with just how many reps we've gotten this year in games. But it is about me finding the steady tempo of a game."

As for Jeudy, Fangio wants to see how he responds to adversity.

"Could be a defining moment in his career, that he's got to come back, have a great week of practice, catch a bunch of balls and then show up on Sunday when the ball's thrown to him and catch 'em," Fangio said.

"Sometimes, drops happen," Jeudy told Sean Keeler of the Denver Post. "I'm watching the ball come in. I just dropped it. And I've just got to focus on the next play. It just happened too many times. That's unacceptable."

According to ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold, Jeudy is fiery and talented, and was the best wide receiver on the 2020 NFL draft board. He's also battling himself at the moment. Jeudy has been targeted plenty this season -- 13 more than any other Broncos player heading into Sunday's game -- and he was the leader in targets again against the Chargers. But he hasn't turned those targets into the kind of production that was expected -- and production he could have easily had if he and Lock could find even a bit more consistency together.

Jeudy will be a high-impact player for the Broncos, but his rookie ride has been a bumpy one.

And to a degree, his future will depend on his triggerman.

As Legwold put it, "Quarterbacks who go on to carve out a career with playoff games in it eventually have to make plays on the move with the game on the line. But Lock continues to try to eat the dessert before he has cooked the meal."

And if the Broncos (5-10) bring in more competition for Lock or Lock eventually plays his way out of the job, he'll need only to look at the turnovers to see why. ...

A few final notes here. ... The early turnover and a 13-0 deficit at halftime put the Broncos, who spent much of the second half in comeback mode, in a position to put the running game on the back burner once again.

Melvin Gordon, who has been one of the most consistent players in the offense for more than a month, hasn't had more than 16 carries in a game since Oct. 25. The Broncos' ability to throw the ball, especially down the field, has been enhanced this season whenever play-action is an option.

With Phillip Lindsay (hip) on injured reserve, Gordon and Royce Freeman will remain the primary backs for the final against the Raiders.

And last. ... K.J. Hamler exited Sunday's game against the Chargers due to a concussion.

Prior to leaving the game, Hamler didn't catch a pass, but he did rush once for three yards.

I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as needed.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Teddy Bridgewater, Drew Lock
RBs: Javonte Williams, Melvin Gordon, Mike Boone
WRs: Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, K.J. Hamler, Diontae Spencer, Jerry Jeudy
TEs: Noah Fant, Albert Okwuegbunam, Andrew Beck, Eric Saubert

Detroit Lions

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2020

The Detroit Lions were already down their coach, defensive coordinator and three position coaches due to COVID-19 close contact quarantine. Then their quarterback, Matthew Stafford, played a series before suffering an ankle injury, ending his day.

The combination of that, along with a season already lost, led to what ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein to characterize as this: "One of the worst losses in franchise history."

The Lions lost 47-7 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Saturday, the team's worst home defeat in the Super Bowl era and fourth-worst home loss of all time. It's the ninth time in the team's history the Lions lost by 40 or more points.

"The issue was on offense we couldn't stay on the field," Lions receivers coach/acting head coach Robert Prince said. "And on defense we couldn't get off the field."

Prior to Saturday, the team's worst loss at home in the Super Bowl era was a 55-17 blowout by San Francisco on Dec. 19, 1993. That Lions team ended up winning the division -- Detroit's last divisional title -- and going 10-6. This Lions team had already been eliminated from the playoffs and clinched their third straight losing season.

Saturday marked the team's worst loss since Stafford's rookie season, 2009, when the Lions lost 48-3 at Baltimore.

It's also the first time Detroit has allowed 588 yards of offense or more since Nov. 4, 1990, when the Lions gave up 676 yards to Washington.

"We got our butts kicked today," backup quarterback Chase Daniel said. "And it's no fun."

The Lions' defense was run by Evan Rothstein, the team's head coach assistant/research and analysis, after defensive coordinator Cory Undlin and the team's three primary defensive position coaches were all ruled out due to COVID-19 close contact protocols.

But it got out of hand Saturday, in large part, because of Stafford's absence.

Stafford, who had already been battling rib and right thumb injuries, hurt his right ankle on his first series when he collided with Tampa Bay linebacker Devin White.

Trainers surrounded Stafford on the sideline after he left the field. After a retaping, Stafford stood up and tried to put weight on the ankle. He sat back down and moments later popped back up and hopped about 30 yards to the entrance to the Detroit locker room.

Stafford was ruled out of the game during halftime. He completed 2 of 3 passes for 17 yards before leaving the game and spent the second half on the sideline in sweats, watching Daniel and David Blough finish.

The Lions, with Daniel at quarterback, trailed Tampa Bay 34-0 at half.

"We feel on offense like we need to go out and we need to score every drive," Daniel said. "That's always been the case, every offense I've ever been on, right? So when you don't, you put your defense in a bad spot, and especially against Tom Brady and that offense.

"And then we're just trying to still run our offense out there, trying to protect the football, trying not to turn the ball over, sustain drives, and then the biggest thing today was not sustaining drives."

The Lions were 1 of 10 on third down and put up just 186 yards of offense in quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan's debut as a play caller. "Us as an offense," Daniel said. "We didn't help him out at all."

For the record, Stafford was diagnosed with a sprain, a source NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. While it doesn't appear too serious, given where Detroit is in the season, sitting Stafford the final game would make some sense.

On Monday, though, Stafford said that he hopes to find a way to get on the field in Week 17.

"If I'm good, I want to be out there, I want to play," Stafford said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.

Stafford said that he does not believe he will need to have surgery on his thumb at this point and that's just one of the questions about his future that will remain open as the Lions move toward a reboot with a new coach and general manager this offseason.

On Wednesday, interim coach Darrell Bevell opened his daily video conference noting Stafford and Kenny Golladay (hip) won't be practicing (and almost certainly won't be playing after missing the previous seven games). I'll be following up as needed via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jared Goff, David Blough
RBs: D'Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams, Jermar Jefferson
WRs: Quintez Cephus, Kalif Raymond, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Trinity Benson, KhaDarel Hodge, Tyrell Williams
TEs: T.J. Hockenson, Darren Fells

Green Bay Packers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2020

Aaron Rodgers might have locked up the MVP, but the Green Bay Packers still have the most important prize on the line heading into next Sunday's regular-season finale at the Chicago Bears.

They have work to do to earn the NFC's No. 1 seed in the playoffs.

As ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky reported, Rodgers shined again in prime time, and really, what else is new?

He improved to 6-0 in prime-time games this season with Sunday's 40-14 win over the Tennessee Titans. It looked all the more glorious in a snow-covered Lambeau Field.

In perhaps pulling ahead of Patrick Mahomes for MVP, Rodgers threw four touchdowns and was 21-of-25 for 231 yards. He went over 4,000 yards for the season and has 44 touchdown passes (one short of his career high). His only blemish Sunday night was a rare interception -- just his fifth of the season -- on a throw across the field in the fourth quarter.

If Rodgers is the MVP, then perhaps Davante Adams should get strong consideration for Offensive Player of the Year. He caught 11 passes for 142 yards and three touchdowns. He ran his league lead in touchdown catches to 17, which tied Don Hutson for the second most in a season in team history. One more and he'll match Sterling Sharpe's franchise record.

No matter what Rodgers or anyone else in green and gold did on Sunday night, the Packers knew before kickoff that they couldn't clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

So this game was more of a measuring stick than a monumental occasion. The Packers (12-3) haven't been a No. 1 seed since their 15-1 year in 2011, and they've never hosted an NFC Championship Game in Rodgers' time as the starter.

To get the top seed, they will have to beat the Bears, who are playing for a wild-card berth. A loss to the Bears, and the Packers would need help: a Seahawks loss at the 49ers. Both games will be in the late afternoon window. ...

For what it's worth, Rodgers had very high praise for Adams after Sunday night's win over the Titans.

Rodgers said that he has always considered Hall of Fame cornerback Charles Woodson the best teammate he's ever had, but Rodgers now has to consider Adams along with Woodson.

"I wrote him a real long message and just let him know how important he is to me, just how much I value his friendship and I appreciate the way he inspires me and our team," Rodgers said, via the Washington Post. "I can't say enough great things about the kind of person that he is. And then when you have the talent and ability to go out there and dominate the way he has -- I've said for so long that Charles [Woodson] was the best player that I played with. ... It's probably time to start putting Davante in that conversation because he is that type of player. He's a special player."

Rodgers won his first Super Bowl ring with Woodson as his teammate, and now he'll hope to win another one with Adams.

Running back Aaron Jones loves December, and it looks as though fellow RB A.J. Dillon does, too.

Dillon rushed 21 times for 124 yards -- his first career 100-yard game -- and two touchdowns, while Jones narrowly missed his sixth career December 100-yard game with 94 yards on 10 carries.

Jones also surpassed 1,000 yards rushing on the possession -- but not without a little controversy.

Jones ripped off a 59-yard run in the third quarter, although Tennessee should have challenged it because Jones appeared to step out of bounds midway through that run, which set up Adams' third touchdown catch.

Jones has now rushed for 1,000 in each of his last two seasons.

One last note here. ... According to Demovsky, the only thing that marred Dillon's showing Sunday night were his two feeble attempts at the Packers' patented touchdown celebration.

After his first touchdown, a 30-yard run in the third quarter on a fourth-and-1 play with the help of a block by Allen Lazard, Dillon slipped on his way up the snow-covered wall. On his second attempt, after his 7-yard score in the fourth quarter, Lazard assisted again -- that time at boosting him all the way up to the empty Lambeau Field stands.

It's safe to say Dillon will have plenty of opportunities to practice that maneuver in coming seasons.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Aaron Rodgers, Jordan Love
RBs: Aaron Jones, A.J. Dillon, Kylin Hill
WRs: Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Amari Rodgers, Malik Taylor
TEs: Robert Tonyan, Marcedes Lewis, Josiah Deguara

Houston Texans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2020

Deshaun Watson has lost wide receivers to trade, injuries, waivers and suspension.

But as ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop notes, through it all, Watson has found a consistent target in Brandin Cooks.

The wide receiver, acquired from the Los Angeles Rams in April, is on the cusp of another 1,000-yard season, with seven catches for 141 yards and a touchdown in Houston's 37-31 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

In his first six NFL seasons, Cooks had a 1,000-yard receiving season with the Saints, Patriots and Rams. The only player in NFL history to post 1,000 receiving yards in a season with four teams is Brandon Marshall, according to ESPN Stats and Information research.

The Texans have a decision to make on Cooks this offseason, who has 70 catches for 984 yards in 15 games. He is currently owed $12 million next season and has shown that he can be a No. 1 receiver. It is a key decision that awaits whoever the Texans hire as their next general manager after the season, but Houston could sign Cooks to an extension that gives him guaranteed money and lowers his cap hit, creating a win-win for both parties.

Yes, Watson has shown this season that he can put up big numbers with a revolving group of receivers, but keeping Cooks will give the Texans' franchise quarterback some stability at the position.

More immediately, Watson received trainer assistance after his arm got hit when he was strip sacked late in Sunday's loss to Cincinnati.

The initial diagnosis on Watson is that it isn't a serious injury, according to a league source not authorized to speak publicly, Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle reports.

This was similar to what happened to Watson in a loss to the Chicago Bears when his elbow collided with linebacker Roquan Smith's helmet and he missed one play.

"They were just checking it out, just being precautious," Watson said. "But I'm pretty fine now."

Watson also emphasized that he intends to play Sunday during the 4-11 Texans' season-finale against the Titans.

"Yeah, I will," he said. "I'll play."

On Monday, interim head coach Romeo Crennel echoed that stance.

"I haven't talked to medical people yet. If he's OK, I think we should play him," Crennel said, via Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. "Every time you're on a football field, there's a chance you could get hurt."

Crennel reiterated that the initial diagnosis for Watson was not serious.

As Profootballtalk.com notes, the sack on which he was injured was the 45th that Watson has taken this year and the 151st he's taken over the last three seasons. Whatever happens in Week 17, Watson and the Texans need to figure out ways to get that number down in the years to come.

Of course, the team has issues beyond that.

The Texans have lost four straight for a second time this season. Houston fired head coach and general manager Bill O'Brien after their Week 4 loss, and Crennel was named interim head coach for the remainder of the season.

It is the team's worst mark through 16 weeks since 2017, when Watson tore his ACL in November.

The Texans' defense allowed 540 total net yards against the Bengals on Sunday, with Cincinnati quarterback Brandon Allen completing 29 of 37 passes for 371 yards and two touchdowns. The Texans have forced an NFL-low eight turnovers this season. ...

Also of interest. ... Watson spread the ball around, targeting nine different pass-catchers against the Bengals. He completed 24 of 33 passes for 324 yards and three touchdowns in Sunday's loss and has thrown just one interception in his last 10 games. Watson's third touchdown of the game was his 30th of the season, which set a franchise record.

In addition, Watson became the fifth-fastest player to 100 passing touchdowns in NFL history (53 games). Watson joins Patrick Mahomes, Dan Marino, Kurt Warner and Johnny Unitas as the only players to reach 100 passing touchdowns in 53 games or fewer.

Beyond that, Barshop notes that running back David Johnson has had two good games in a row -- in the passing game in Week 15 and on the ground in Week 16 against the Bengals -- but it isn't likely enough to change the organization's perception of his 2020 season.

In his first season in Houston, Johnson has been inconsistent and missed time due to injury and a week spent on the COVID-19 list. Johnson is owed $9 million next season and although Houston doesn't have a high draft pick to replace him with, they will be able to find a cheaper option for 2021.

Chad Hansen was held to 8 yards on three targets during Sunday's loss to the Bengals.

According to ESPN's Mike Clay, Hansen played 96 percent of the offensive snaps (49 of 51), which matched Cooks for most among the team's wide receivers and worked well ahead of both Keke Coutee (33 snaps) and Steven Mitchell Jr. (two).

Hansen had been a fantasy surprise in recent weeks with 5-101-0, 7-56-0 and 2-55-1 receiving lines, but the first red flag that he would plummet to earth was the fact that he only saw three targets against the Colts in Week 15.

After seeing five again against the Bengals, Clay contends Hansen is no longer a worthwhile flex dart throw and shouldn't be in lineups against the Titans. ...

And finally. ... The Texans signed receiver Damion Ratley from their practice squad Monday. They made room for Ratley by cutting running back C.J. Prosise.

Prosise rushed for 19 yards on 10 carries and caught five passes for 18 yards and a touchdown in 10 games this season. He last played in Week 14.

The Giants released Ratley on Oct. 14, and he signed to the Texans' practice squad six days later.

Ratley, 25, has 29 career catches for 407 yards and a touchdown.

The Browns made him a sixth-round choice in 2018 out of Texas AandM. Cleveland waived him Sept. 5, and the Giants claimed him.

He played five games for the Giants this season.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Davis Mills, Jeff Driskel, Deshaun Watson, Tyrod Taylor
RBs: Mark Ingram, Phillip Lindsay, David Johnson, Rex Burkhead, Scottie Phillips
WRs: Brandin Cooks, Chris Conley, Anthony Miller, Danny Amendola, Nico Collins, Andre Roberts
TEs: Jordan Akins, Pharaoh Brown, Brevin Jordan

Indianapolis Colts

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2020

The Colts were cruising toward plum playoff positioning. Then Frank Reich's club got chased down from behind as the Pittsburgh Steelers zoomed bye to clinch their AFC North title.

"Difficult loss -- tough loss on the road," Reich said following the 28-24 defeat, via the team's official website. "Tough to swallow. When you come out in the first half and you play the way we did, good in all three phases except for the turnover -- played a dominant half of football in the first half, and went out to a nice lead ... and then in the second half we just didn't have any answers."

The Colts led 21-7 at halftime, with the Steelers' only score coming after Indy gifted them the ball at the 3-yard-line following a Philip Rivers fumble.

Indy extended their margin to 24-7 with a field goal out of halftime.

"If you could've been in the stadium, there was a feel of complete domination in the first half -- all three phases," Rivers said. "Just like, 'Y'all don't have an answer, and we're not going to give you an answer.'"

Then, as NFL.com's Kevin Patra noted, Indy hit a brick wall on offense and began giving up chunk plays on defense. The contest flipped in a hurry.

The offense punted three straight times, including two 3-and-outs, and the Steelers dive-bombed Indy with three straight touchdowns to wipe out the deficit. A Rivers INT and a turnover on downs sealed the Colts' fate.

Indy's inability to gain traction on offense and the defense struggling to slow a previously anemic Pittsburgh offense were compounded by a bevy of penalties that went against the Colts.

"We got in a rut on offense in the second half, to say the least," Reich said. "Defensively, in the second half, just too many big plays. (Didn't) make them go the long route; they got big plays, and obviously big penalties. Their big plays just weren't all completions, but a couple penalties in there."

The collapse now has the Colts needing help to make the postseason tournament.

Even at 10-5, Indy currently sits out of the AFC playoff picture behind fellow 10-win clubs Tennessee, Miami, Baltimore and Cleveland.

Reich's squad must now beat 1-win Jacksonville and hope someone ahead of them loses, or the Colts will be sitting at home with 11 wins watching the playoffs. Basically, the Colts need one of three things to happen before their game in order to be in position to make the playoffs for just the second time since 2014.

Baltimore loses to Cincinnati. Miami loses to Buffalo. Cleveland loses to Pittsburgh.

If any of those things happens, the Colts will simply need to beat the Jaguars to lock in a playoff spot.

As a bonus, the Colts could be in position to win the AFC South if Tennessee loses at Houston. That, of course, is if Indianapolis beats the Jaguars.

Because the Titans-Texans game kicks off at the same time as Jaguars-Colts, the Colts will still have something to play for at kickoff. But Sunday will be their last game of the season if the Ravens, Dolphins, Browns and Titans all win. ...

For what it's worth, ESPN.com's Mike Wells notes the Colts knew they were going to have their hands full with a Pittsburgh defense that went into Sunday leading the NFL in sacks (47) without starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo (ankle) and right tackle Braden Smith (COVID-19 list).

That turned into giving up a season-high five sacks against the Steelers. Not all the problems were because of right tackle Chaz Green and left tackle Will Holden. The Steelers brought pressure on the edge and up the middle against Rivers. Steelers pass-rusher T.J. Watt even stripped the ball from Rivers in the first quarter to give Pittsburgh the ball in the Colts' red zone.

The Colts took another hit along the line when Holden left the game early in the fourth quarter. They were forced to use J'Marcus Webb, who was just brought up off the practice squad, at left tackle.

Meanwhile, rookie running back Jonathan Taylor's late-season surge continued when he scored two touchdowns to bring his total to nine. According to Wells, what has been even more impressive is that Taylor has scored a touchdown in four straight games.

That ties the longest streak by a Colts rookie in the past 40 seasons. The longest streak (seven games) was set by Curtis Dickey in 1980 when the team was still in Baltimore. ...

On the injury front. ... Reich told reporters on Monday that receiver Michael Pittman Jr. is in the concussion protocol; I'll follow up on his progress via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

And finally. ... Rivers completed 22 of 35 passes for 270 yards with a touchdown and an interception. The 42-yard touchdown pass to Zach Pascal was the 420th of Rivers' career, tying Dan Marino for fifth in NFL history. Brett Favre is fourth with 508.

Tom Brady holds the record with 577 and counting, nine more than Drew Brees.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Carson Wentz, Jacob Eason, Sam Ehlinger
RBs: Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines, Marlon Mack, Jordan Wilkins
WRs: Michael Pittman Jr., Zach Pascal, Parris Campbell, Ashton Dulin, Mike Strachan, T.Y. Hilton
TEs: Jack Doyle, Mo Alie-Cox, Kylen Granson

Jacksonville Jaguars

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2020

For the first time in franchise history, the Jacksonville Jaguars will own the top pick on draft day.

After losing to the Bears by 24 on Sunday, the Jaguars (1-14) clinched the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, snapping their tie with the Jets (2-13) who stunned the Browns, 23-16, inside MetLife Stadium.

The Jets, who were winless prior to Week 15, are now locked into the No. 2 spot.

It may not have been the ultimate goal of a playoff berth, but having this clinching scenario work in its favor as the season nears its end still represents a positive turn of events for Jacksonville.

Sitting atop the draft board gives the franchise a chance to address a position of need and take the best quarterback available.

Although he has yet to announce his 2021 intentions, Clemson's Trevor Lawrence, widely considered the top QB prospect in college football, would certainly be among Jacksonville's top targets.

Not surprisingly, general manager and potential head-coaching candidates are paying close attention, league sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Since the New York Jets' Week 15 upset victory over the Los Angeles Rams catapulted the Jaguars into the slot for the No. 1 pick, Jacksonville's GM and head-coaching jobs have become much more attractive to candidates, who have talked about what an opportunity it would be to work with Lawrence.

The Jaguars have been searching for a new GM since firing Dave Caldwell last month. Former Texans GM Rick Smith and ESPN Monday Night Football analyst Louis Riddick both interviewed with Jacksonville this past week. Former Giants GM Jerry Reese has also interviewed with the Jaguars.

Current head coach Doug Marrone, who has one season remaining on his contract after this year, said this past week that Jacksonville would try to win its final two games -- even if it meant missing the opportunity to draft Lawrence. They have one more chance to get a win, but the pick will remain theirs.

Jacksonville is 12-35 under Marrone since the start of the 2018 season.

The Jaguars have lost 14 consecutive games, setting a new franchise record. But the possibility of landing Lawrence has been a topic among the locals.

Even Jacksonville mayor Lenny Curry put out a pair of tweets last Sunday night, the second of which read: "Tis the season and Santa smiled on Jax today. ..."

Meanwhile, Mike Glennon starting at quarterback for the Jaguars Sunday marked the team's fourth quarterback change of the season, with Gardner Minshew starting the first seven games, rookie Jake Luton starting the next three, Glennon starting three after that and Minshew starting one before Glennon returned to the lineup Sunday.

Glennon completed 24 of 37 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns Sunday and his 20-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver D.J. Chark Jr. tied the game 10-10 with 8:21 remaining in the first half. But Bears linebacker Roquan Smith intercepted Glennon at the end of the first half and in the third quarter, with those interceptions leading directly to 10 points and keying a run of 31 consecutive Chicago points.

"Was there a point where I'm like, 'Hey, should I put Gardner in there?'" Marrone said. "I was thinking about it, but there weren't enough possessions [remaining to rally].' I didn't want to put him in there in that type of situation."

Marrone after Sunday's game lauded the play of running back Dare Ogunbowale, who rushed for 71 yards on 14 carries in his first NFL start. Ogunbowale started because rookie running back James Robinson missed the game with ankle injury sustained in a loss to the Baltimore Ravens last week.

"I thought he did a nice job; I really did," Marrone said of Ogunbowale. "He averaged about five yards a carry and had a nice 25-yard run. He was running hard. It would have been nice to see if the game was close and now all of a sudden he's at 20 or 25 [carries] -- how he would have done there. I thought he did a nice job going in there."

We'll seem more of Glennon and Ogunbowale this week.

Glennon will remain the Jaguars starting quarterback for their season finale against the Colts on Sunday. It will be Glennon’s fifth start of the season and his second in a row over quarterback Gardner Minshew.

Marrone conceded Wednesday that no decision on the quarterback was “going to move the needle one way or another,” via Eugene Frenette of the Florida Times-Union.

As for Robinson, his ankle injury will keep him sidelined to end the season.

“I think it’s safe to say he’ll be out,” Marrone said, via Michael DiRocco of ESPN.

In his first season out of Illinois State, Robinson became just the third undrafted player to rush for 1,000 yards as a rookie. He’ll end 2020 with 1,070 yards rushing with seven touchdowns, plus 49 receptions for 344 yards and three touchdowns. Robinson is one of five players who have reached 1,000 yards rushing this year.

Also worth noting. ... A Pro Bowl selection following the 2019 season, Chark has been frustrated at times this season. An unsettled quarterback situation can do that. But as Jaguars.com's John Oehser notes, Chark is still the Jaguars' best receiver -- and a very capable big-play player. He showed that yet again Sunday, catching four passes for 62 yards -- including a remarkable 20-yard touchdown grab.

Chark was held out of Wednesday's practice with a shin issue. I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant. ...

Wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. has flashed at times this season, and he has shown recent progress after being hampered by various injuries. Shenault caught five passes for 48 yards Sunday, and his 34-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter was a big-time display of athleticism and potential.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Trevor Lawrence, C.J. Beathard
RBs: James Robinson, Carlos Hyde, Dare Ogunbowale
WRs: D.J. Chark, Marvin Jones, Laviska Shenault, Tyron Johnson, Jamal Agnew
TEs: Chris Manhertz, Jacob Hollister, Luke Farrell, James O'Shaughnessy

Kansas City Chiefs

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2020

As ESPN.com's Adam Teicher notes, earning the No. 1 seed in the AFC hasn't resulted in Super Bowl success for the Kansas City Chiefs in the past, but they hope it puts them on the path to a championship this time around.

The Chiefs clinched the AFC's top seed Sunday by beating the Atlanta Falcons 17-14 at Arrowhead Stadium. The 14-1 Chiefs, who have won 10 straight games, will receive the AFC's only first-round playoff bye and will play their divisional-round game at Arrowhead.

"It's one of your goals when you go into the season," said quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Demarcus Robinson with 1:55 left to rally the Chiefs to a surprisingly difficult win over the 4-11 Falcons. "If you look at the history of that bye week, usually it's a good thing for teams trying to make a championship run."

In the victory, Travis Kelce became the first tight end to have two 100-catch seasons. Kelce caught seven passes, giving him 105.

Kelce also set the single-season yardage record for a tight end. He had 98 yards, giving him 1,467. The San Francisco 49ers' George Kittle held the previous record with 1,377 yards, set in 2018.

"To get a week of preparation, a week of really locking in and getting the body right that late in the season is so key, and it's much needed if you want to make that playoff push," Kelce said. "That's what you work your tail off for all season. I'm just proud to be a part of this team and be able to do it again this year."

The AFC's No. 1 seed hasn't represented the conference in the Super Bowl in either of the past two seasons.

The Chiefs have been the AFC's top playoff seed three times but failed to reach the Super Bowl in any of those seasons. In 1995 and 1997, they lost their divisional-round playoff game at home. In 2018, they lost the AFC Championship Game at home in overtime to the New England Patriots.

The Chiefs were the No. 2 seed last year on their way to a Super Bowl LIV championship.

The Chiefs finish the regular season Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers at Arrowhead. Since the game will be meaningless with regard to the standings and their playoff seed, they are likely to rest some of their top players, including Mahomes and Kelce.

"There's certain guys that will have an opportunity to rest," head coach Andy Reid said Monday. "I've done that in the past. I've rested players, yes."

That became clearer on Wednesday, when Reid announced that Mahomes will not play against the Chargers in Week 17 and the team’s practice report on Wednesday might provide some hints about who else might get a day off before the playoffs.

Nate Taylor of The Athletic reports that wide receiver Tyreek Hill was among the players who sat out of practice. Hill is dealing with a right hamstring injury, which also kept him out last Wednesday.

Hill practiced the rest of the week and played Sunday, but the Chiefs were still trying to nail down the top seed in the AFC at that point. With the top seed assured, we’ll see if the Chiefs play things differently this week.

Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (left ankle) and wide receiver Sammy Watkins (calf) did not practice and neither is expected to play this weekend. Running back Le'Veon Bell (right knee) and right tackle Mike Remmers (back) were also out of practice for the Chiefs.

Per Herbie Teope of the Kansas City Star, Reid emphasized that the Chiefs are a veteran group that won't forget the plays.

Plus, many of them could use the break after experiencing the wear and tear of the season.

Reid's history with resting players dates back a long time, but when he did it in 2017, Mahomes got his first start against the Broncos. That was before everyone knew just how good Mahomes would be and Kansas City won that game 27-24.

Though Reid didn't specify exactly who is slated to rest, he did say Chad Henne would be the club's quarterback if Mahomes doesn't play.

I'll be follow up on the those who are injured, the remaining skill players and possible usage along with anything else of interest via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

And finally. ... As noted above, Kelce set the single-season receiving yardage record at his position on Sunday. Asked about his achievements by Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio after Sunday's win over the Falcons, Kelce initially downplayed personal accomplishments.

"I'm kind of caught in the middle of playing football, man," Kelce said. "Those kind of accolades, the individual accolades are something that you can hang our hat on when it's all said and done. If you're lucky enough to be mentioned with guys getting gold jackets, but right now I'm just playing football. I'm more excited about being a part of a 14-1 Kansas City Chiefs team, the best record that the Chiefs have ever had. I'm trying to finish this thing off right and make it the best season that the Chiefs have ever had. Just very fortunate to be in this situation."

He eventually found an opening to discuss the potential impact of becoming the first tight end to generate more receiving yardage than any other player in league history (Kelce currently leads all receivers in yardage, regardless of position).

"I think it's great for the position," Kelce said. "It's a position that doesn't get enough love in every offense. There are so many guys that could be doing a lot more in terms of receiving for their teams that just haven't gotten the trust or haven't been able to work that magic with their quarterback. I'm just very thankful to be in this situation."

Of course, as Florio suggested, if more teams had players like Kelce -- who now has five straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons -- they would use the tight end more often. But to the extent that Kelce makes other teams prioritize the position and/or other quarterbacks more willing to throw the ball a tight end's way, it really is good for tight ends, and for offenses generally.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne
RBs: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Darrel Williams, Jerick McKinnon
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson, Byron Pringle, Daurice Fountain, Marcus Kemp
TEs: Travis Kelce, Noah Gray, Blake Bell

Las Vegas Raiders

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2020

The Colts were cruising toward plum playoff positioning. Then Frank Reich's club got chased down from behind as the Pittsburgh Steelers zoomed bye to clinch their AFC North title.

"Difficult loss -- tough loss on the road," Reich said following the 28-24 defeat, via the team's official website. "Tough to swallow. When you come out in the first half and you play the way we did, good in all three phases except for the turnover -- played a dominant half of football in the first half, and went out to a nice lead ... and then in the second half we just didn't have any answers."

The Colts led 21-7 at halftime, with the Steelers' only score coming after Indy gifted them the ball at the 3-yard-line following a Philip Rivers fumble.

Indy extended their margin to 24-7 with a field goal out of halftime.

"If you could've been in the stadium, there was a feel of complete domination in the first half -- all three phases," Rivers said. "Just like, 'Y'all don't have an answer, and we're not going to give you an answer.'"

Then, as NFL.com's Kevin Patra noted, Indy hit a brick wall on offense and began giving up chunk plays on defense. The contest flipped in a hurry.

The offense punted three straight times, including two 3-and-outs, and the Steelers dive-bombed Indy with three straight touchdowns to wipe out the deficit. A Rivers INT and a turnover on downs sealed the Colts' fate.

Indy's inability to gain traction on offense and the defense struggling to slow a previously anemic Pittsburgh offense were compounded by a bevy of penalties that went against the Colts.

"We got in a rut on offense in the second half, to say the least," Reich said. "Defensively, in the second half, just too many big plays. (Didn't) make them go the long route; they got big plays, and obviously big penalties. Their big plays just weren't all completions, but a couple penalties in there."

The collapse now has the Colts needing help to make the postseason tournament.

Even at 10-5, Indy currently sits out of the AFC playoff picture behind fellow 10-win clubs Tennessee, Miami, Baltimore and Cleveland.

Reich's squad must now beat 1-win Jacksonville and hope someone ahead of them loses, or the Colts will be sitting at home with 11 wins watching the playoffs. Basically, the Colts need one of three things to happen before their game in order to be in position to make the playoffs for just the second time since 2014.

Baltimore loses to Cincinnati. Miami loses to Buffalo. Cleveland loses to Pittsburgh.

If any of those things happens, the Colts will simply need to beat the Jaguars to lock in a playoff spot.

As a bonus, the Colts could be in position to win the AFC South if Tennessee loses at Houston. That, of course, is if Indianapolis beats the Jaguars.

Because the Titans-Texans game kicks off at the same time as Jaguars-Colts, the Colts will still have something to play for at kickoff. But Sunday will be their last game of the season if the Ravens, Dolphins, Browns and Titans all win. ...

For what it's worth, ESPN.com's Mike Wells notes the Colts knew they were going to have their hands full with a Pittsburgh defense that went into Sunday leading the NFL in sacks (47) without starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo (ankle) and right tackle Braden Smith (COVID-19 list).

That turned into giving up a season-high five sacks against the Steelers. Not all the problems were because of right tackle Chaz Green and left tackle Will Holden. The Steelers brought pressure on the edge and up the middle against Rivers. Steelers pass-rusher T.J. Watt even stripped the ball from Rivers in the first quarter to give Pittsburgh the ball in the Colts' red zone.

The Colts took another hit along the line when Holden left the game early in the fourth quarter. They were forced to use J'Marcus Webb, who was just brought up off the practice squad, at left tackle.

Meanwhile, rookie running back Jonathan Taylor's late-season surge continued when he scored two touchdowns to bring his total to nine. According to Wells, what has been even more impressive is that Taylor has scored a touchdown in four straight games.

That ties the longest streak by a Colts rookie in the past 40 seasons. The longest streak (seven games) was set by Curtis Dickey in 1980 when the team was still in Baltimore. ...

On the injury front. ... Reich told reporters on Monday that receiver Michael Pittman Jr. is in the concussion protocol; he was limited in Wednesday's practice.

I'll follow up on his progress via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Also on the injury front. ... The Colts will try to make the playoffs without left tackle Anthony Castonzo.

Reich announced Wednesday the former Pro Bowler will undergo season-ending surgery on his right ankle Thursday. Reich did not explain how the Colts will fill Castonzo's spot on their injury-plagued offensive line.

“I’m not going to go into that right now from a competitive advantage standpoint," he said. “But we have a plan A and a plan B and we will wrap it up and confirm it on Friday. ...”

And finally. ... Rivers completed 22 of 35 passes for 270 yards with a touchdown and an interception. The 42-yard touchdown pass to Zach Pascal was the 420th of Rivers' career, tying Dan Marino for fifth in NFL history. Brett Favre is fourth with 508.

Tom Brady holds the record with 577 and counting, nine more than Drew Brees.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Derek Carr, Marcus Mariota, Nathan Peterman
RBs: Josh Jacobs, Kenyan Drake, Peyton Barber
WRs: Henry Ruggs III, Bryan Edwards, Hunter Renfrow, Zay Jones, Willie Snead
TEs: Darren Waller, Foster Moreau, Derek Carrier, Nick Bowers

Los Angeles Chargers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2020

Justin Herbert broke the rookie passing touchdown record Sunday, with a nine-yard scoring pass to running back Austin Ekeler to give him 28 on the season.

The previous record was 27, set by the Cleveland Browns' Baker Mayfield in 2018.

"I can't remember who came up to me and told me," Herbert told reporters after the game. "It's a pretty cool statistic."

As ESPN.com's Shelley Smith reports, Herbert was quick to credit his teammates -- including Hunter Henry, who is on the reserve/COVID-19 list, and injured Keenan Allen -- saying they're all a part of the record as well.

"I think it means a bunch to our team," Herbert said, via Gilbert Manzano of the Southern California News Group. "I think it's a season of all the hard work that we've put in this offseason, through these months of football and to have guys up front and some receivers and some running backs that make a lot of plays. It all goes to them."

Herbert has completed 66.3 percent of his passes for 4,034 yards, throwing only 10 interceptions. He's five completions away from tying Carson Wentz's rookie record of 379 from 2016. And he's 340 yards from Andrew Luck's rookie record of 4,374 yards passing from 2012.

Herbert joined Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes as the only QBs in NFL history to eclipse 4,000 passing yards through their first 14 career starts.

"I'm glad we have the young man," head coach Anthony Lynn said.

With his numbers and his team on the verge of avoiding double-digit losses, Herbert is a clear frontrunner for offensive rookie of the year.

Herbert's record-setting touchdown pass came at the 8:28 mark of the second quarter and gave the Chargers a 10-0 lead over the Denver Broncos. Overall, Herbert completed 21 of 33 passes for 253 yards and the Chargers won 19-16 thanks to a Michael Badgley 37-yard field goal with 45 seconds to play.

Herbert, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2020 draft, tied the record last week against the Las Vegas Raiders.

Herbert, 22, was planning to back up Tyrod Taylor as the season began, and Taylor led the Chargers to their first victory in a 16-13 win over Cincinnati. But Taylor was injured in that game and a team doctor injected him with a pain-killer just before kickoff of Game 2 vs. Kansas City and inadvertently punctured his lung and Taylor was taken to the hospital and Herbert has been the starter since that point.

Players were stunned to see Herbert step in under center that day, but as Ekeler said, "we went with it."

Herbert led the team to a 23-20 OT loss to Kansas City, throwing for 311 yards. Ironically, the Chargers' last game of the season will be against the same Chiefs team he first faced.

Still, for all the impressive milestones Herbert had piled up early in the season, they weren't resulting in wins for the Los Angeles Chargers.

Now, they are.

Herbert has led the Chargers on winning drives in three straight games.

"There's a way to do it and a way not to do it. We experienced that the first half of the season but we got better from it," said Herbert. "That's one of the best things to see. You have to be tough. It's about how you react."

Other notes of interest. ... Michael Badgley had made only three of his last seven field goals, but was perfect on all four attempts Sunday.

Badgley hit from 37 yards to cap the opening drive. Nasir Adderley put Los Angeles in great field position by returning the opening kickoff 53 yards. Badgley also connected from 43 yards late in the second quarter to extend LA's lead to 13-0 at halftime. He added a 25-yarder 10 seconds into the fourth quarter to make it 16-3.

"Typical Mike. He bounced back. He's a tough young man," Lynn said. "We were expecting him to bounce back and he did."

On the injury front. ... S Rayshawn Jenkins (ankle) and OT Bryan Bulaga (foot) were both injured in the first half and did not return. CB Casey Hayward (hamstring) didn't play during the second half. LB Kenneth Murray was evaluated for a concussion during the first quarter but ended up returning.

Allen (hamstring) was inactive for the first time since 2016 after trying to go through warmups. The Pro Bowl wide receiver came into the week second in the AFC with 100 receptions. And again, Henry was held out after being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list but it's not clear if he tested positive or was just a close contact.

According to Daniel Popper of the Athletic, it doesn't sound like DE Joey Bosa (concussion) or Allen will play in season finale.

Whatever, the case, I'll be following up on Allen and Henry via Late-Breaking Update in coming days as the team prepares to go up against a Kansas City team that will likely be resting a number of their starters in this one.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Justin Herbert, Chase Daniel, Easton Stick
RBs: Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, Larry Rountree III, Joshua Kelley
WRs: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Jalen Guyton, Josh Palmer, K.J. Hill, Josh Reed
TEs: Jared Cook, Donald Parham, Tre' McKitty, Stephen Anderson

Los Angeles Rams

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2020

Jared Goff is hoping to be back for the playoffs, but his team will have to get there first without him.

Goff had surgery on his broken and dislocated right thumb on Monday and is hoping he can return for the postseason, according to multiple reports.

Goff will miss the team's regular-season finale against the Arizona Cardinals, with John Wolford the likely starter in Goff's place.

Through 15 starts this season for the Rams (9-6), Goff has thrown for 3,952 yards (263.5 per game) with 20 touchdowns to 13 interceptions. He played the duration of Sunday's 20-9 loss to the Seattle Seahawks despite injuring his thumb.

Goff broke and dislocated his throwing thumb when his hand hit a Seahawks defender's helmet in the third quarter. Goff could later be seen on the broadcast popping his thumb back into place.

A win or tie versus the Cardinals (8-7) -- or a Chicago Bears loss or tie -- would clinch a Rams playoff berth on Sunday.

Should that happen, Goff is aiming to be back for the playoffs and believes he's got a shot, NFL Ian Rapoport noted.

Goff's surgery was handled by Dr. Steven Shin, NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported. Shin is the Rams' hand specialist and also repaired New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees' thumb last season.

With Goff undergoing surgery, Wolford, 25, will step to the forefront.

Though Goff struggled on Sunday -- 24-for-43 for 234 yards, no touchdowns and an interception, the Rams would certainly have preferred having him in the starting lineup against Arizona.

Wolford led the AAF in passing touchdowns during its lone, and truncated, season. He's never played in an NFL regular-season game but has spent two years with the Rams, last year on the practice squad and this year on the active roster, and will now get a chance to show what he can do in a very big game.

"John Wolford will step up," head coach Sean McVay said Monday. "John's done a great job preparing himself all year. If you watch the way that he's worked at it, I know there's confidence from coaches and from his teammates and guys will need to rally around him. But we're excited about the opportunity that John will have to lead the offense this week."

Bryce Perkins is on the Rams' practice squad and is currently the team's only healthy quarterback other than Wolford. Blake Bortles, who is currently on the Broncos' practice squad, will be offered a spot on the Rams' active roster, McVay confirmed. Bortles spent last season with the Rams, so he already knows the offense.

So there are issues to deal with at quarterback.

Running back is also a concern after Darrell Henderson left Sunday's loss with an ankle injury and he was placed on injured reserve Tuesday.

Henderson is believed to have a high sprain.

That leaves the Rams short two running backs as they try to make their way into the playoffs. Cam Akers did not play against the Seahawks due to an ankle injury of his own.

Malcolm Brown would get the start and almost certainly handle the bulk of the workload with both teammates out.

Brown, who has been used mostly in pass protection and goal-line situations this season, has rushed for 399 yards and five touchdowns on 98 carries this season.

The Rams also have rookie backs Xavier Jones and Raymond Calais on the roster. Both have contributed on special teams this season.

But wait. ... There's more.

Wide receiver Cooper Kupp was placed on the league's reserve/COVID-19 list Tuesday.

On Wednesday we learned Kupp tested positive and will not play in Sunday’s regular-season finale.

Kupp is the Rams' leader this season with 92 catches and 974 yards.

His absence -- added to the others -- is a major blow.

Remember: If the Rams beat the Cardinals on Sunday, they make the playoffs. If the Rams lose to the Cardinals, they need the Bears to lose to the Packers.

None of this is ideal as the Rams have lost two in a row and three of their last five and are now in danger of missing the playoffs.

More alarming, as Associated Press sports writer Tim Booth notes, the team was held without a touchdown for just the third time since McVay's arrival as head coach and continued a trend of not finishing drives. A week ago, the Rams drove into Jets territory on their final six drives, but scored only two touchdowns in their shocking loss to previously winless New York.

Against Seattle, the Rams had eight plays the entire game in the red zone.

McVay tried to shoulder the responsibility for the issues, but they may not be an easy fix, especially with the Rams turning to Wolford.

"I've got to be better," he said. "I have much higher expectations for myself. I'm not going to sit up here and make excuses. I see a lot better than I hear. Talk is cheap, and we've got to see the production. I don't think I've done a good enough job for the standards, the expectations."

I'll have more on the team's ongoing issues as developments warrant in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for the latest as the week progresses.

One last note here. ... LB Micah Kiser (Knee) has been activated from injured reserve and LT Andrew Whitworth (Knee) has been designated to return from injured reserve, the Rams announced.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Matthew Stafford, John Wolford, Bryce Perkins
RBs: Darrell Henderson, Sony Michel, Jake Funk
WRs: Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Van Jefferson, DeSean Jackson, Tutu Atwell
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Johnny Mundt, Jacob Harris, Brycen Hopkins

Miami Dolphins

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2020

As ESPN.com's Cameron Wolfe framed it, "The Miami Dolphins were gifted with a post-Christmas dose of FitzMagic."

Veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick replaced Tua Tagovailoa in the fourth quarter on Saturday and led his team to a remarkable game-winning drive in a 26-25 decision at the Las Vegas Raiders, significantly boosting Miami's chances of making the playoffs.

The play of the game came with the Dolphins down 25-23 and just 19 seconds left. Fitzpatrick dropped back and heaved a Hail Mary down the left sideline, where he found an open receiver in Mack Hollins for a 34-yard completion. It was redemption for Hollins, who dropped a potential touchdown just a few minutes earlier.

"For lack of a better term," Hollins said, "I live for that s---."

"In that case, really, you're throwing up a prayer," Fitzpatrick said. "I didn't know that it was complete, initially. My face mask was getting pulled, and my head was getting ripped off. I turned around to make sure they saw the face mask, then [right tackle] Jesse Davis or Myles Gaskin had to tell me it was completed."

Raiders defensive lineman Arden Key was the one yanking Fitzpatrick's face mask, adding a crucial 15-yard penalty to the play. The extra yardage set the Dolphins up for a 44-yard winning field goal by Jason Sanders.

It was a wild final five minutes that consisted of Fitzpatrick's go-ahead, 59-yard touchdown pass to Gaskin; a Raiders go-ahead field goal with 19 seconds left, aided by a very questionable pass interference call; and ultimately Fitzpatrick's late heave.

Fitzpatrick said that during the fourth quarter, it was the first time in his 16-year NFL career he had to use the locker room bathroom. When he returned, Dolphins coach Brian Flores told Fitzpatrick he would be going into the game. After a handful of roller-coaster series for both teams, Fitzpatrick made what he called the best play of his career with the throw to Hollins.

Also tucked in there was a unique decision by the Raiders to have Josh Jacobs slide at the 1-yard line, setting up a field goal, rather than the running back crossing the goal line for a touchdown.

The 10-5 Dolphins now have a 62 percent chance to make the playoffs, per ESPN's Football Power Index, and their path is very simple: Win this weekend in Buffalo and they are postseason-bound for the first time since 2016.

This is the second time this season Tagovailoa has been benched in the fourth quarter of a tight game in search of an offensive boost. The other was during a Week 11 loss at the Denver Broncos. Fitzpatrick fell just short of a comeback in that contest, eventually pulling off the incredible trick on Saturday.

Despite the late theatrics in Las Vegas, Flores said Tagovailoa will be the starter next weekend against the Bills. Flores explained he went to Fitzpatrick on Saturday because the team needed a "spark to win the game" but that the rookie will still be No. 1 on the depth chart.

"If we got to go to a relief pitcher in the ninth [inning], that's what we'll do," Flores said. "Fitz, he's always ready to go. ... I have a lot of confidence in Tua. He's made a lot of plays for us. He's made plays today. We just felt like we needed a spark. Fitzy gave us that.

"Tua is a young player. He's developing. He's improving on a daily basis. He's learning from these experiences. He'll be better next week."

Fitzpatrick threw for 182 yards in the fourth quarter, tied for his most yards in a final frame (2013 Week 15 vs. Arizona Cardinals).

Fitzpatrick managed to complete more passes thrown more than 5 yards downfield than Tagovailoa, who struggled mightily on those same throws. Fitzpatrick went 5-of-6 for 154 yards and a touchdown, while Tagovailoa was 3-of-7 for 35 yards. Fitzpatrick averaged 9.8 yards per attempt to 4.2 for Tagovailoa.

Tagovailoa, 22, said after the victory it's a learning experience and that he knows he needs to take more chances down the field, particularly when the game is on the line. It's a continual balance for Tagovailoa in taking what the defense gives him and making the splash plays like Fitzpatrick did.

"It wasn't really that shocking in a way what happened. They call him FitzMagic for a reason," Tagovailoa said. "This is the second time [getting benched has] happened. It's just something you got to learn from. When Fitz is in there, I'm going to support him."

Flores has continually counted on Fitzpatrick, 38, as a seasoned closer when needed in a sticky situation, seemingly with little concern about what the veteran arriving in the lineup does to Tagovailoa's mindset. Both quarterbacks have said they will do whatever the staff believes gives Miami the best chance to win. The team supports them both, and there doesn't appear to be any controversy about who the quarterback will be, though players often note the magical feeling when Fitzpatrick enters the lineup.

"Different energy. Everybody knows Fitz; it's a different type of a guy. It's a changeup," Gaskin said. "Probably the most fun game I've ever played in my life."

Ultimately, the moves Flores has made have paid off, and they might have saved the Dolphins' playoff chances.

The questions will come about Tagovailoa in the long term and Fitzpatrick in the short term, but Flores remains focused on what he believes is best for the team now with his choices.

"There's a lot of people in that locker room who are trying to win. That's at the forefront of the decisions I'm going to make here today and moving forward as long as I'm here," Flores said. "Tua is a resilient kid. He's a tough-minded kid. He's happy that Fitzy went in there and we won the game because he's a selfless, team-first guy; that's why he's here."

Asked again on Sunday about the "relief pitcher" comment, Flores dialed back a bit.

"I don't want to put any labels on," Flores replied. "The label is we're going to do what we've got to do to win. I owe that to the Dolphins fans, to the players in that locker room, the people in this organization. So that's what we're going to always do, so two-person, three-person quarterback, five-person quarterback; whatever we need to do to try to win, that's what we're going to do."

As long as it works, so be it. It takes a selfless, no-ego, low-maintenance starter to make it work. And that's what Tagovailoa is.

Meanwhile, the win in Las Vegas guarantees at least a five-game improvement from the 2019 season, which would be tied for the third-best year-to-year improvement in franchise history.

"We're excited to win," Flores said. "It was a tough game, a good team win. I thought they fought to the bitter end. We'll enjoy this one then we've got to turn the page and move on."

Other notes interest. ... Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed were active for the Dolphins on Saturday, which marks the first game this season both were on the field together.

As ESPN's Mike Clay notes, despite missing the team's past two games, Gaskin immediately resumed feature back duties, playing 47 (76 percent) of 62 snaps. He delivered on the big usage with one of his best games of the season, posting a 14-87-0 rushing line and adding 5-82-2 on five targets.

Ahmed, meanwhile, played 15 snaps and was held to 3 yards on seven touches.

Gaskin has now put up 13-plus fantasy points in five consecutive outings and has at least nine points in all nine of his games this season. A top-10 fantasy RB during those nine weeks, Clay believes Gaskin should be locked into lineups as a RB2 play against Buffalo in Week 17.

With a pair of touchdowns in Vegas, Gaskin became the first Dolphins running back to score multiple receiving touchdowns since Reggie Bush in 2012.

Sanders came up big for the Dolphins last Saturday night.

Sanders hit a couple of field goals in the first half of the game, but it was his work in the fourth quarter that really stood out. Sanders tied the game with a 22-yard field goal with four minutes left in the game and then made an extra point to put the Dolphins up 23-22 with just under three minutes to play. He then hit the above-mentioned 44-yard game-winner as time expired.

Sanders was named the AFC special teams player of the week on Wednesday as a result of that effort. It’s the second time Sanders has been so honored this year and the fourth time since the start of the 2019 season. He is 34-of-37 on field goals and 34-of-34 on extra points.

And finally. ... The Miami Dolphins will head into a must-win game this Sunday without wide receiver Jakeem Grant.

After suffering a high-ankle sprain in Thursday night's dramatic win over the Las Vegas Raiders, Grant will be held out against the Bills in Week 17, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reports.

Rapoport adds that Grant landing on injured reserve is a possibility.

Grant has 36 catches for 373 yards and one touchdown on the season. Serving as the Dolphins punt and kick return specialist, Grant added another score on special teams this season and averages a league-leading 11.4 yards per punt return.

Rookie wideout Malcolm Perry is slated to fill-in for Grant on punt returns on the Dolphins depth chart while rookie cornerback Noah Igbinoghene will field the kickoffs.

In addition, the Dolphins signed wide receiver Isaiah Ford to the active roster from their practice squad.

Miami traded Ford to New England in early November, but he re-signed with the Dolphins’ practice quad once the Patriots cut him earlier this month. Ford was elevated for Miami’s last two games, making a combined seven catches for 55 yards in Week 15 and 16.

Overall, Ford has 25 catches for 239 yards in 2020.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jacoby Brissett, Reid Sinnett, Tua Tagovailoa
RBs: Myles Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed, Malcolm Brown
WRs: DeVante Parker, Jaylen Waddle, Will Fuller, Jakeem Grant, Albert Wilson, Preston Williams, Mack Hollins
TEs: Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe, Hunter Long, Adam Shaheen

Minnesota Vikings

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2020

As ESPN.com's Courtney Cronin framed it, "Not even a Christmas miracle could help the Minnesota Vikings keep their playoff hopes alive against the New Orleans Saints on Friday."

In a 52-33 loss that knocked the Vikings out of playoff contention, the defense allowed the franchise's most points since 1963.

"Really disappointed defensively," head coach Mike Zimmer said. "You've got to work really hard to give up 52."

Fox analyst Troy Aikman pulled no punches when painting a picture of the Vikings' defense.

"They're just not very good," Aikman said as Minnesota proceeded to give up 174 rushing yards in the first half, the most the team has given up in a half since Arizona rolled up 205 first-half yards on the ground in 2005.

Alvin Kamara had 22 carries for 155 yards and six touchdowns, including three scores in the first half.

But this has been the state of things all 2020 because of injuries and young players filling roles out of necessity. With Troy Dye (concussion/hamstring) and Todd Davis (ribs) joining Eric Kendricks on the inactive list, the Vikings were set for an uphill battle.

Kamara's previous rushing high against Minnesota was 45 yards in 13 rushes in 2018. The difference then? Kendricks and Anthony Barr were there to stop the Saints. In Week 16, Minnesota stood no chance with such little linebacker depth and terrible tackling efforts, notably by safety Anthony Harris on three of Kamara's five touchdowns.

With as many injuries as Minnesota had across the board, especially on defense, it had no shot against a Saints team primed for a deep postseason run. For a fifth straight week, the Vikings fell behind by 10 points and were unable to recover.

In spite of how bad Friday's loss looked, there's quite a bit of optimism around some of the young players on this team. Wide receiver Justin Jefferson has made his mark and should be a shoo-in for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, and rookie cornerbacks Cameron Dantzler and Harrison Hand, who recorded his first career interception, also shine a bright light on the future.

But for now, there's very little to be happy about after the Vikings' season effectively ended. Minnesota will wrap up the 2020 campaign this week in Detroit.

Worth noting. ... Minnesota's offense kept the game close, but the Vikings have rarely been able to capitalize off turnovers (38 points off turnovers is tied for 28th, and they scored off one interception in New Orleans) and have made costly mistakes at inopportune times.

Take for example Irv Smith Jr.'s second touchdown in the third quarter.

Instead of going for two to make it a three-point game, Zimmer brought Dan Bailey out to kick an extra point attempt after he missed one nine minutes before.

Cronin went on to note the Vikings' two-minute offense has also been a head-scratcher throughout the season. Coupled with play calling and clock management, it has been particularly bad in these past two losses. On the Vikings' final possession of the first half, quarterback Kirk Cousins targeted both of his tight ends over Jefferson and Adam Thielen. Maybe those were where his reads took him, but after getting a first down on a 13-yard pass to Smith, the Vikings waited too long to run a play and had to burn their third timeout with 12 seconds left.

Instead of taking a deep shot on the final play of the half, Cousins threw an 8-yard pass to Tyler Conklin.

Clock management decisions often always rest with the head coach. But the play calling on these two-minute drives are on offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.

With one game left and no shot at the postseason, the Vikings have a handful of questions to answer in the short term, such as whether they'll shut down injured players for the rest of the year and rest Dalvin Cook against the Lions -- a decision that was sadly made for them on Wednesdy.

Cook was flying back home to Miami after his father, James Cook, died at the age of 46, Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports. Cook will not play in Sunday’s finale at Detroit.

James Cook had reportedly been suffering from complications of diabetes.

“The entire Vikings organization is thinking of Dalvin and his family following the passing of Dalvin’s father, James Cook,” the Vikings said in a statement.

Cook finishes the season with 1,557 yards rushing, third most in Vikings history and second in the NFL this season. He leads the NFL in yards from scrimmage with 1,918.

It remains to be seen who will be the primary running back for the Vikings against the Lions. Backup Alexander Mattison sat out last Friday’s game due to a concussion. Mattison was on the practice field Wednesday and appears to be on track to return.

If not, next in line would be Mike Boone.

Beyond that -- and longer term, the Vikings need to figure out what their draft strategy is for 2021.

Cronin believes Minnesota also has a decision to make when it comes to tight end.

The Vikings placed Kyle Rudolph on injured reserve Tuesday, due to a foot injury that has caused him to miss the last three games.

Rudolph, a second-round pick in 2011, has 453 career receptions, 4,458 receiving yards, and 48 touchdowns. He scored the game-winning touchdown in overtime against the Saints in a 2019 wild-card playoff game.

After the way Smith and Conklin performed down the stretch, it's possible veteran Rudolph, who hasn't played since Dec. 6 (foot injury), has played his last game with the Vikings.

Rudolph has no guaranteed money left on his contract, which runs through 2023, and has a $7.65 million base salary next year. The Vikings could get $5.1 million in cap savings if they release him after this season. According to Cronin, the salary cap for 2021 (which could drop as low as $175 million) becomes one of the biggest factors in whether to keep Rudolph, who has made it clear that he wants to finish his career in Minnesota.

He has become a pillar of the community, and perhaps he'd work with the Vikings to create a more palatable cap number, even if it means taking less.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Kellen Mond
RBs: Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison
WRs: Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn, Dede Westbrook, Ihmir Smith-Marsette
TEs: Tyler Conklin, Chris Herndon, Brandon Dillon, Ben Ellefson, Irv Smith Jr.

New England Patriots

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2020

With the game out of hand and many of Cam Newton's passes out of the reach of his New England Patriots receivers, head coach Bill Belichick sat down Newton in the third quarter in favor of Jarrett Stidham.

As NFL.com's Grant Gordon noted, neither produced in an unsettling 38-9 loss for the Patriots and neither was named starter for New England's Week 17 finale against the New York Jets, as Belichick essentially declined to answer the question.

"The game was over about 10, 15 minutes ago," Belichick said. "We worked on this game, we played the game. Haven't made any plans for next week, obviously. Game's 15 minutes old."

The Patriots pulled Newton and put in Stidham with 8:21 to go in the third quarter and trailing, 31-9. He ended the night 5-for-10 passing for 34 yards with a 57.9 rating along with four carries for 24 yards and a 9-yard touchdown that was easily the Pats' biggest highlight of the night.

Newton's 34 passing yards are the fewest by a Patriots starting quarterback since 1993, when Scott Secules had 13 yards in Week 10 (also at home vs. the Bills).

Of his five completed passes, none went more than 7 air yards. He was 0-for-4 on deeper passes.

He was blitzed six times, with the Patriots losing 10 yards on those dropbacks.

The Patriots averaged 4.8 yards per play with him in the game.

"Obviously you want to have a better outing, but it wasn't," Newton said. "Just doing what I'm asked to do, trying to be the best player for this team that I can possibly be."

Stidham proceeded to complete 4-of-11 passes for 44 yards with a 49.1 rating.

As for the timing of the switch, Belichick portended to his decision being more about opportunity for Stidham than a reaction to Newton's lack of productivity.

"To give Jarrett a chance to play," Belichick said. "We weren't playing very well and I felt like that was an opportunity to give him a chance to play. Cam did a good job for us, that wasn't the problem. We just weren't very competitive in the game."

Belichick wasn't definitive when asked during a Tuesday interview on WEEI if Newton would start the season finale against the Jets, but came pretty close.

"I would imagine [that he'll start]," Belichick said, via Ryan Hannable of WEEI. "We're going through that now. We'll see."

Belichick also said he thought Newton "did what we asked him to do" during Monday's loss to the Bills.

With a decision yet to be made, Stidham made it clear he would enjoy an opportunity for a full game, but indicated that was an obvious answer for any pro.

"I think, you know, everybody in the game of football wants to be playing every single week," Stidham said. "So yeah, I would absolutely love to have that opportunity, but that's not in my control and I'm not going to focus on it."

As ESPN.com's Mike Reiss suggested, Stidham might not be the long-term answer, but giving him his first full week as a starter would benefit the team with 2021 in mind, because he could be thrust into that type of situation at a moment's notice.

And 2021 is what it's all about at this point for the Patriots, who dropped to 6-9 and hardly looked competitive against the Bills (12-3), the new kings of the AFC East.

Which is one reason Stidham deserves a chance to start the finale. ...

What about beyond that?

A clearly frustrated Newton wasn't interested in look that far ahead after the game.

Newton was asked whether an account from the ESPN broadcast claiming that he wakes up at 4:20 a.m., leaves the house in 10 minutes, and doesn't go to bed until 11:30 p.m. reflect his normal schedule.

"That's been my schedule for 90 percent of the time I've been here," Newton said. "So you can kind of understand the frustration I do have when I don't have the outcome, because I'm sacrificing so much. [You're] talking to a person who ain't seen his kids in three months. Obviously the contract is what it is. Submitting myself to this team is something I've been doing since day one. Being accessible. Yeah, it's frustrating. It makes you mad. It makes you angry knowing that to be a trusted teammate you first have to submit to authority and submit to what the coaches are asking you to do.

"I feel like I have done that. I'm not in the place of blame. I'm more or less venting right now because, yeah, I've sacrificed so much this year. I mean, it hurts when you have the outing that you have tonight, just to go home, then start it over for a whole 'nother week, yeah."

This is the last week that he'll be doing it in the 2020 season, and the final compensation for his effort will be $3.706 million, which represents less than 10 percent of the current top of the quarterback market.

He also was asked whether he's done enough to deserve the starting job in New England for 2021.

"I don't care about no contract," Newton said. "I just want to win."

Asked more specifically whether he has done a good job in what he has called a "job interview," Newton responded, "That's not for me to answer."

The only answer he currently can provide relates to the frustration he's feeling, given the struggles of the offense.

"It's extremely frustrating, knowing what you're capable of, having belief in yourself, it's just not showing when it counts the most," Newton said.

He'll become a free agent in March, unless the Patriots sign him to a new contract before then. It will be interesting to see whether he wants to remain with New England once the dust settles on the 2020 season, and whether New England wants to bring him back. Given the current quality of the roster, especially on offense, Cam may need to go elsewhere in 2021 if his top priority is winning. ...

Other notes of interest. ... When receiver Damiere Byrd dropped an accurate long strike from Newton on the opening drive of the game -- Byrd was wide open on the trick play -- it set an early tone for what was to come. The Patriots had to settle for a field goal on the drive, and the way the Bills' offense has things going, it wasn't going to be close to good enough.

Sony Michel and J.J. Taylor ran hard, as the running game was one of the few areas of the team to produce consistent positive plays. Paired with Damien Harris in 2021, that's a solid trio to build around. And with one game remaining, with the Patriots eliminated from the playoffs for the first time since 2008, determining what pieces fit best in 2021 is now one of the most important things the Patriots can do.

The Patriots did not be activate wide receiver Julian Edelman from injured reserve for Monday's game and NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reports it's unlikely Edelman plays this week, meaning the 34-year-old's season is almost certainly over.

If that's the case, Edelman will finish the year with his fewest catches (21), receiving yards (315), and touchdowns (0) since 2011 and at 34 years of age, it's fair to wonder if he'll return next season. ...

And finally. ... The 29-point margin in Monday night's loss was New England's worst in more than 17 years.

The last time the Patriots lost by a larger margin was in Week One of 2003, also to the Bills, when New England was blown out 31-0. That game had special significance because Lawyer Milloy, a longtime Patriot, was cut by Belichick just five days before the game. Milloy then promptly signed with the Bills and contributed to that beatdown of the Patriots.

That year, the Patriots turned things around.

They went 14-1 the rest of the regular season and then won the Super Bowl, and they even capped off the regular season by beating Milloy and the Bills by that same 31-0 score.

This year, the Patriots have no time to make such a turnaround, as they're already mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Mac Jones, Brian Hoyer
RBs: Damien Harris, James White, J.J. Taylor, Rhamondre Stevenson
WRs: Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Gunner Olszewski, N'Keal Harry
TEs: Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Devin Asiasi

New Orleans Saints

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2020

As ESPN.com's Mike Triplett framed it, "Alvin Kamara went dashing through the Minnesota Vikings' defense on Friday with a Christmas Day performance for the ages. ..."

In case you somehow missed it (and if you were a fantasy manager going up against him, apologies for rehashing it one more time), Kamara ran for six touchdowns -- tied for the most in NFL history with Ernie Nevers of the Chicago Cardinals in 1929 -- as the New Orleans Saints clinched their fourth straight NFC South title with a 52-33 victory in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

According to the NFL Record and Fact Book, Nevers' milestone was tied for the league's longest-standing record.

Kamara, who was decked out in a pair of Christmas-themed, green-and-red cleats that will probably draw a fine, is only the fourth player to score six TDs of any kind in a game, joining Nevers, Dub Jones (1951) and Gale Sayers (1965), according to ESPN Stats and Information research.

"It's crazy. The O-line did a great job; I really didn't have to do too much. And the receivers did a great job setting the edge and coming across and doing the dirty work," Kamara said. "It just feels good to have one of those days, just for the team, just for offensive morale. Like I always say, I'm not focused on personal goals and yards and stuff like that. As long as the team has success, then personal success will come."

In the process, Kamara also set a franchise record with 21 touchdowns on the season. He registered a personal best with 155 rushing yards in a game, and he now has a career-high 932 rushing yards and 1,688 yards from scrimmage this season.

He also established a career high with 83 catches on the season -- ending his unusual streak of exactly 81 catches in each of his first three seasons. Kamara was named to his fourth Pro Bowl earlier this week.

Kamara said he first became aware of the league record when he asked running backs coach Joel Thomas after his third TD run in the first half.

"He came back to me and told me six, and I was like, 'S---, let's go,'" Kamara said.

He insisted he had no problem with head coach Sean Payton deciding to let quarterback Taysom Hill score on a 1-yard keeper late in the fourth quarter, when Kamara was still one short of the record.

"I was just like, 'It's all good. I'm second, at least,'" Kamara said.

But after a 41-yard catch by tight end Adam Trautman that put the Saints back at Minnesota's 3-yard line right before the two-minute warning, Payton told Kamara to get on the field -- and Kamara said he told the offensive line, "Get me in there; let's get it."

The unit capped Kamara's sixth TD with a group snow-angel celebration in the end zone.

"It was a great moment," Kamara said. "I wouldn't want to do it with another group."

Payton offered his take.

"Obviously, his performance was unbelievable," Payton said of Kamara. "I would say most of these players have no idea how good Gale Sayers was; but growing up in Chicago, certainly you were familiar with his ability.

"It was a big deal. He played fantastic today. And look, Minnesota was banged up too. They had a lot of new faces playing linebacker. It's been a little unusual year that way."

New Orleans took advantage of Minnesota's injury-depleted defense by running for 264 yards -- the Saints' second-highest total since 1986.

Kamara's cleats might draw interest in Canton, Ohio -- and in the NFL offices, because they don't match team uniform colors.

Kamara also wore Christmas-themed cleats during his rookie season in 2017, which drew a $6,079 fine that Kamara promised to match with a charity donation. He said he would do the same this time.

"If they fine me, whatever it is, I'll just match it and donate it to charity," Kamara said. "You know, the Grinch always tries to steal Christmas."

The Saints (11-4) still have an outside chance at the NFC's No. 1 seed but will need some help. They finish their season at the Carolina Panthers next week.

The Vikings (6-9) were eliminated from playoff contention in defeat.

The Saints leaned heavily on Kamara, who on Wednesday was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week, and the run game while quarterback Drew Brees was still shaking off some rust from the broken ribs and punctured lung that sidelined him from Weeks 11 to 14. Brees threw two interceptions on Friday for the first time since the 2017 season, and he had two other tipped passes that were in jeopardy of being picked off.

Brees did finish with 311 passing yards, however, completing 19 of 26 passes.

As SI.com notes, rookie WR Marquez Callaway has been perhaps the team's most pleasant surprise of 2020.

An undrafted free agent from Tennessee, Callaway stepped into a prominent role when injuries thinned out the receiving corps early in the year. He caught 12 of his 18 passes for the season during a two-game stretch for 109 yards as one of the team’s only healthy wideouts.

Callaway suffered a hamstring injury that slowed him at mid-season and caused a stint on injured reserve between weeks 13 and 15. He returned last week to catch 3 passes for 26 yards.

The Saints' defense also was a little beaten up on a short week. On Sunday, they tied a franchise record with 92 snaps played in a 32-29 home loss to the Kansas City Chiefs and lost two key starters to injuries -- safety Marcus Williams (ankle) and defensive end Trey Hendrickson (neck).

One late note here. ... Kamara's historic game crowned many a fantasy football champion in Week 16.

Among them: The 11-year-old son of the man who hands Kamara the ball.

Baylen Brees didn't just win with Kamara in the finals; according to dad Drew, he "destroyed the other guy."

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill, Trevor Siemian, Ian Book
RBs: Alvin Kamara, Tony Jones Jr., Dwayne Washington
WRs: Marquez Callaway, Deonte Harris, Chris Hogan, Lil'Jordan Humphrey, Ty Montgomery, Michael Thomas, Tre'quan Smith
TEs: Adam Trautman, Juwan Johnson, Garrett Griffin

New York Giants

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2020

As ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan framed it, "Not even close.

"That pretty much sums up Sunday's game in Baltimore and where the New York Giants stand in their rebuild."

The Giants were outclassed by the Ravens in a 27-13 blowout loss in Baltimore. It was their third straight defeat, all against winning teams.

It was also an eye-opener to just how far the Giants (5-10) are from being a real playoff contender, having dropped the past three games to the Arizona Cardinals, Cleveland Browns and Ravens by an average of 15.7 points. It didn't matter if quarterback Daniel Jones was healthy or not.

Their relevance (they entered Sunday one game back of the Washington Football Team in the NFC East) was only a byproduct of their division's incompetence.

These past few weeks were a dose of reality for New York, and these three losses weren't even to the true upper-echelon teams. That trio is, by most, considered in the second tier or worse of Super Bowl contenders.

The Giants' organization still has a lot of work to do. General manager Dave Gettleman's roster has glaring holes, further accentuating the question of whether he's done a good enough job restocking the cupboard in three years on the job. The reality is New York still can't score points; it hasn't reached 20 in a game since mid-November.

The Giants still have trouble rushing the passer without a dominant edge rusher on the roster and, conversely, protecting their own quarterback. At one point on Sunday, Jones was sacked on three consecutive plays.

The talent discrepancy was obvious right from the start against the Ravens. Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson and Co. did whatever they wanted from the outset, racking up 147 yards in the first quarter while building a 14-0 lead. It was pretty much over from there, even though the Giants made it respectable late.

The Giants' offense never really got going in the first three quarters, again stalling whenever it reached the red zone. They moved the ball sporadically, but without the explosive playmakers necessary to keep up with the Ravens, any real hope of sneaking into the playoffs (because they play in the worst division in football) slipped away.

Jones was back after missing last week's game with ankle and hamstring injuries. He moved much better than two weeks ago against the Cardinals, when he was dealing exclusively with the hamstring injury. He made make some quality throws on the move and did slide in the pocket effectively.

But it was still a tough day overall. Jones finished 24-of-41 passing for 252 yards with one touchdown and no turnovers. He was sacked six times, including on three straight plays early in the fourth quarter and threw his first touchdown pass since Week 9 against Washington when he hit Sterling Shepard for a 3-yard score midway through the fourth quarter.

For what it's worth, Jones said after the game that he felt he could move and "get out of the pocket and do what I needed to do," but he only ran once and took six sacks from the Baltimore defense.

"Daniel looked the way I expected him to look out there," head coach Joe Judge said. "He played confidently, didn't look hesitant in anything he did. He gave us a chance out there. I thought Daniel did a lot of nice things today. Ultimately, as a team, it wasn't enough. But, in terms of how he looked coming off the injury, I thought he looked better."

The Giants will take another turnover-free game from Jones against the Cowboys this weekend, but they wouldn't mind it if there were a few more positives that show up on the scoreboard.

For the record, the Giants are in third place in the NFC East and have five wins in 15 tries, with one game remaining Sunday when they host the Dallas Cowboys (1 p.m. ET, Fox) in Week 17 of the 2020 NFL season.

Only in the NFC East do they still have a chance to win the division.

On the flip side, and with more help, the Giants could end up with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft. It's possible in this improbable season.

This is where we're at: A win to potentially capture the division, a loss to remain in the top eight of the draft. Which is better for the long-term betterment of the franchise?

If the Giants beat the Cowboys and the Eagles (4-10-1) handle the Washington Football Team (6-9), there would be a three-way tie atop the NFC East. The Giants would win the division based off their 3-1 head-to-head record against Dallas and Washington.

So there you have it, the unorthodox road to a 6-10 NFC East title and a playoff berth for the Giants. If nothing else, it gives the Giants something to play for when not everybody does.

On the injury front. ... Judge says he's optimistic about tight end Evan Engram's availability for Sunday, but he still has meet with doctors. Engram hurt his ankle in Sunday's loss to the Ravens.

Engram was not seen on the practice field Wednesday. Golden Tate, who missed last week's game with a calf injury, was working on the side -- but not running.

I'll have more on that via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Daniel Jones, Mike Glennon
RBs: Saquon Barkley, Devontae Booker, Gary Brightwell
WRs: Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, C.J. Board, Kadarius Toney, John Ross
TEs: Evan Engram, Kyle Rudolph, Kaden Smith

New York Jets

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2020

As ESPN.com's Rich Cimini wrote: "It's official: The New York Jets are out of the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes.

"Prepare for four months of Sam Darnold debate. ..."

With their second major upset in a seven-day span, a 23-16 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday at MetLife Stadium, the Jets (2-13) clinched the second overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft. Lawrence would have been a no-brainer for the Jets, but this complicates matters for them -- appropriate for a franchise that has suffered for a half-century without a Super Bowl title. There are no gimmes for the Jets.

Now the question is this: Are they better off with Darnold, who has steadied himself the past two games, or the best draft-eligible quarterback not named Lawrence? Justin Fields? Zach Wilson? Another?

It's a tough call for general manager Joe Douglas, who must weigh several factors, including the economic impact of Darnold (one year left on his contract) versus a rookie quarterback.

Once again, Darnold delivered a "game manager" performance, playing turnover-free ball for the second straight game and leading an efficient, if not explosive, offense. He completed 16 of 32 passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns. He did OK, nothing great. He got away with a couple of poorly thrown balls, somehow avoiding an interception. Unlike the Browns' Baker Mayfield (two fumbles), he didn't cough it up.

At the same time, Darnold struggled in the second half, showing why he's not a slam-dunk to return as the quarterback.

If he's not back, he at least has improved his trade value with a couple of workmanlike games.

And how about the coach?

Despite the winning streak, Cimini reports Adam Gase still is expected to be fired.

The question is, when?

Rumors were swirling before the game that he'd be fired after a loss, as the Jets want to begin the process of interviewing candidates via zoom calls -- a new league rule. Now they have to decide whether to make the move during a two-game winning streak or wait until the season is over next Sunday.

Worth noting, while Darnold's future with the New York Jets is murky, if he is staying, it sounds like he'd be happy to keep working with Gase, Grey Papke of Larry Brown Sports reports.

Darnold was asked about Gase's future as head coach after Sunday's win. Perhaps surprisingly, Darnold gave Gase his full backing and said he hoped to keep working with him.

"I love Adam. I love working for him," Darnold said, via Connor Hughes of The Athletic.

Despite the endorsement, Darnold and Gase haven't worked great together. Darnold has failed to progress much under the head coach, and has only eight touchdowns to nine interceptions this season.

The reality is that neither Darnold nor Gase may have any role on the Jets next season.

The ironic part, of course, is that New York, a laughingstock for 13 games, have a two-game winning streak over two quality teams -- the Los Angeles Rams and Browns (10-5). Sometimes the NFL doesn't make sense. New York actually became the first team since the 2017 San Francisco 49ers to hold a 17-point lead against two opponents that were at least five games over .500.

For the record, asked if he thought the two wins will make him likelier to return for a third season, Gase called that "something I can't worry about" and said he hasn't spoken to team president Christopher Johnson about his future.

"I haven't thought about it," Gase said, via Mark Cannizzaro of the New York Post. "I haven't had any discussions with Christopher about any of this. My job is to get us ready for the next game, so that's what I'm going to worry about. ..."

Other notes of interest. ... If Sunday ultimately will be Frank Gore's final NFL game, he will end his career with exactly 16,000 rushing yards.

While it may not have been the last game of Gore's career, it will be Gore's last game in 2020. Gase told reporters on Monday that Gore won't play in Week 17 at the Patriots due to a lung contusion.

Gore entered the NFL in 2005 as the first pick in round three, after suffering a pair of ACL tears in college. Following a decade with the 49ers, Gore spent three seasons with the Colts and one year with each of three AFC East teams: The Dolphins, Bills, and Jets.

Gore, if he's indeed done, finishes third on the all-time rushing list, behind Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton. With 3,985 career receiving yards, Gore's 19,985 yards from scrimmage place him at No. 4 on the all-time list, behind Jerry Rice, Smith, and Payton.

The rest of the top 14 players on that list are or will be in the Hall of Fame. Gore undoubtedly should be, and hopefully he will be. Despite a bizarre cadre of Gore naysayers, he brought incredible durability and resilience to the position -- especially during the years when he was pretty much all the 49ers had offensively.

But wait. ... There's more. LaMical Perine, won’t be available for the regular season finale either.

Gase announced on Wednesday that Perine has tested positive for COVID-19. He’ll be placed on the reserve list and will not take part in Sunday’s game against the Patriots.

Perine is the first Jets player to test positive for COVID-19 since the start of the season. The team is doing contact tracing to determine if any other players’ availability is affected.

Perine was a fourth-round pick in April. He will end his rookie season with 64 carries for 232 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught 11 passes for 63 yards.

Josh Adams and Ty Johnson will likely handle the running back duties.

Meanwhile, The Jets announced Tuesday they activated tight end Ryan Griffin from the reserve/COVID-19 list. ...

It took 16 weeks, but Gase finally broke out a gadget play on offense -- and (surprise!) it worked. Jamison Crowder tossed a 43-yard touchdown to fellow wide receiver Braxton Berrios, the first pass completion of Crowder's career.

Berrios is an underrated slot receiver, but he never gets much playing time because he's stuck behind Crowder and Gase hasn't figured out a way to utilize both in the passing game. Well, he finally did, albeit too late in terms of the season.

And finally. ... A radio report in New York this week indicated that Gase has already been told that he’ll be relieved of duties after Week 17. On Wednesday, Gase said that isn’t the case.

“That was news to me. No one has said that to me,” Gase said, via Ralph Vacchiano of SNY.

Gase was also asked what he thinks will happen at the end of the season. Gase answered by saying that he learned from working for Nick Saban at Michigan State that “you do your job until somebody tells you different” and he’s focused on Sunday’s game against the Patriots for the time being.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Zach Wilson, Mike White
RBs: Ty Johnson, Michael Carter, Tevin Coleman, Lamical Perine, Josh Adams
WRs: Corey Davis, Jamison Crowder, Elijah Moore, Keelan Cole, Braxton Berrios, Denzel Mims, Jeff Smith
TEs: Tyler Kroft, Ryan Griffin, Daniel Brown, Trevon Wesco

Philadelphia Eagles

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2020

According to ESPN.com's Tim McManus, "It's a fitting tribute to the Eagles' dysfunctional 2020 NFL season that just when a giant window of opportunity opened, they slammed it shut right on their fingers."

With the Washington Football Team unable to take care of business against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, an Eagles win against the Dallas Cowboys would have set up a Week 17 showdown between Philadelphia and Washington for the NFC East crown.

Instead, the Eagles stumbled on defense and fell to Dallas 37-17. As a result, the Eagles were eliminated from the playoffs, and they will miss the postseason for the first time in four seasons.

Down centerpiece defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and multiple members of their secondary, the Eagles were burned for over 500 yards and four touchdowns.

Rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts started hot but cooled late in his third career start. He ended 21-of-39 passing for 342 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, while also rushing for 69 yards. Wideout DeSean Jackson burst back onto the scene with an 81-yard touchdown in his first game since Week 7.

The 990 combined yards on offense was the most in this rivalry's history.

Sunday's loss fell mostly on the defense, but everyone has had a turn contributing to the Eagles' worst season since 2012, when they went 4-12 in coach Andy Reid's last year in Philly.

The Eagles are now a week away from what promises to be a drama-filled offseason during which the fate of head coach Doug Pederson and quarterback Carson Wentz will be decided.

One way or another, changes are coming. That's what happens when a team falls a mile short of expectations and a championship-caliber nucleus reaches its expiration date.

But more immediately, this will remain the same.

Pederson will roll with Hurts to the end of the 2020 season.

The coach announced the rookie would start the season finale on Sunday night's prime-time matchup against the Washington Football Team.

"I want to continue to evaluate," Pederson said of Hurts.

It was the obvious and logical move, even after Hurts turned the ball over three times and was shakier than previous starts in the Eagles' 37-17 blowout loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

The Eagles need to see as much of Hurts in game-action as possible.

Hurts has started the past three games since taking over for Wentz in the second half against the Green Bay Packers in Week 13. While he had the worst outing of his young career against Dallas, he's has been solid overall with six touchdowns to three interceptions to go with 320 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

Pederson said Hurts was playing through some "lower-body tightness" in the second half against the Cowboys, which the coach believes affected his QB.

Pederson dismissed questions about Wentz and Hurts' futures as the Eagles' season comes to a close after being eliminated from playoff contention.

"We're not there yet," the coach noted when asked who his QB of the future would be. Pederson added: "We'll answer that at a different time."

For the record, Pederson continues to be confident he'll return as the Eagles coach in 2021, despite a woefully disappointing and tumultuous season.

As the only team in the division to return its coaching staff in 2020, Philadelphia was supposed to have an advantage in an unprecedented year, when there was a shortened offseason because of the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, it has been a disaster.

Wentz regressed sharply in Year 5, establishing career lows in most statistical categories before being benched in favor of Hurts in early December. The season has been full of injuries and undisciplined football.

Philadelphia will finish with its worst record since 2012, the one that led to Reid's firing.

But Pederson guided the Eagles to the playoffs in the three previous seasons. He helped deliver the city's first and only Super Bowl championship in February 2018, becoming just the eighth head coach in NFL history to hoist a Lombardi trophy within his first two years at the helm.

During his weekly Monday morning hit Sports Radio 94WIP, Pederson made it clear he expects to be back next season.

"I feel fully confident to be the head coach of the Eagles in 2021," Pederson said, via Radio.com. "The thing I'm most proud of this football team, we have been in the postseason three of the last five years since I've been here and that's pretty good. We have won a championship here. We have gone through a season where a lot of our veteran guys are not playing due to injury. We are playing with a lot of young players.

"There is always going to be evaluation in the offseason and my job is evaluated as well. I fully expected to be the coach next season and I welcome the opportunity to get things right, get things fixed and take this team into next season."

If his belief holds true, how he handles the QB situation moving into the offseason will be the biggest task of his tenure. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Jackson recorded his fifth receiving TD of 80-plus yards. That's tied for the most in NFL history with Jerry Rice, Lance Alworth, Bob Hayes and Derrick Alexander, according to ESPN Stats and Information research.

He also has 25 career touchdowns of 60-plus yards, the most in NFL history. ...

One last note here. ... The Eagles committed 12 penalties for 115 yards, including six false starts. They were tied for the league's fifth-most penalties per game (6.4) coming in to the contest and were bit once more by the lack of discipline.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jalen Hurts, Joe Flacco, Gardner Minshew
RBs: Miles Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell, Boston Scott
WRs: DeVonta Smith, Jalen Reagor, Quez Watkins, Greg Ward, JJ Arcega-Whiteside
TEs: Dallas Goedert, Zach Ertz, Jack Stoll

Pittsburgh Steelers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2020

As Associated Press sports writer Will Graves notes, this time, JuJu Smith-Schuster saved his dancing for the locker room.

The wide receiver who drew the ire of opponents and an admonition from head coach Mike Tomlin recently for TikToking his moves on the midfield logo during warmups celebrated the end of a three-game winning streak in decidedly on-brand fashion.

Sporting newly minted AFC North champion hats and T-shirts, Smith-Schuster and a handful of teammates celebrated Pittsburgh's stunning rally over Indianapolis on Sunday by putting together a loosely choreographed routine. It ended with rookie receiver Chase Claypool on his knees with his arms raised in a shout that looked like a mixture of joy and relief.

There's plenty to go around.

After spending the better part of a month doing everything they could to prove their 11-0 start was mostly smoke and mirrors, the Steelers (12-3) put together 20 minutes of brilliance against the Colts. They earned the franchise's seventh division title in Tomlin's 14 seasons. The offense scored touchdowns on three straight possessions to erase a 17-point deficit.

With the win, Ben Roethlisberger is 3-24 in his career when trailing by 17-plus points, and the 17-point comeback is the largest comeback of his career, matching 2017 Week 13 at the Bengals and 2015 Week 15 against the Broncos.

One thing that worked for them was the deep ball. Aa part of the offense that had gone missing for weeks, returned against the Colts as Roethlisberger unsuccessfully attempted to dink-and-dunk his way downfield in the first half, then the Steelers finally generated some momentum after going up-tempo in the third quarter.

Roethlisberger's numbers after halftime -- 23 of 29 for 244 yards and three touchdowns -- were reminiscent of his scorching opening stretch of the season. It helped that his receivers, from Smith-Schuster to Diontae Johnson to tight end Eric Ebron, held onto the ball.

Johnson's diving 39-yard scoring grab late in the third quarter was the spark that lit the flames of the comeback and provided a reminder of what the Steelers are capable of when Roethlisberger is time to do his job.

So effective was the passing game, Graves suggested -- perhaps only half-jokingly, -- maybe they should just bail on the running game entirely.

Pittsburgh mustered 20 yards on the ground on 14 carries (not counting kneel-downs). While James Conner's return from a quadriceps injury helped immensely in the passing game, he ran for 20 yards on five carries. Benny Snell Jr.'s wildly uneven season continued. A week after piling up 84 yards against Cincinnati, Snell's six carries resulted in zero yards.

Whatever the case, Sunday marked the first time the club won when trailing by at least 17 points in the second half with Mike Tomlin as head coach. It was the first time since 2002 -- and just the fifth time in franchise history -- the Steelers came back from a 17-point second-half deficit to win.

The defense harassed Indianapolis quarterback Philip Rivers into a late interception and an errant fourth-down heave to clinch it.

"I hope it's something we can build on," defensive end Cam Heyward said. "We don't have to play perfect, but we can still battle back."

The question going forward is which team is the "real" Steelers?

The one that looked disjointed and disinterested during a three-game losing streak that seemed all but certain to extend to four after the Colts took a 24-7 lead? Or the one that spent three months flirting with perfection, then took a monthlong siesta before offering a spirited reminder in the fading afternoon sunlight at Heinz Field?

The playoffs will provide the answer.

For now, the Steelers can (briefly) relax knowing their postseason will begin at home and the form showed during a franchise record-setting start is still in there somewhere.

"We've been through some adversity," Tomlin said. "But just growth in the midst of that. Hopefully, these negative experiences can galvanize us, man, and strengthen us as we move forward. We got some big battles that lie ahead."

And relax they will.

Heading into the finale, the team must figure out who to sit heading into the regular-season finale in Cleveland next weekend. The Steelers are assured of finishing no lower than the third seed, rendering the game against the Browns relatively meaningless for Pittsburgh.

The last time that Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph started against the Browns, he wound up being blasted in the head by a helmet-wielding Myles Garrett during a post-play fracas.

Rudolph will get another chance to face Garrett and the Browns in Week 17.

Tomlin announced on Tuesday that Roethlisberger will not play against Cleveland this weekend and that Rudolph will get the start in his place.

"I haven't had an opportunity to talk to him about it, but I'm sure he's excited about the opportunity to start," Tomlin said of Rudolph.

Beyond that, Tomlin told reporters, "This is no preseason game where we're playing backups, players 54-75 to evaluate. ...

"This is an NFL team that will go play, minus Ben and maybe another player or two."

Tomlin noted that the team cannot move up to the top seed in the AFC and said other players may also sit out, but that the Steelers will be trying to win the game. A victory would secure the No. 2 seed for Pittsburgh while a loss and a Bills win would give Buffalo the spot.

"Motivations, intentions and all of those things, you know that's good water-cooler fodder, and I get it," Tomlin said when asked about potential motivation to knock the Browns out of the postseason with a Week 17 win. "But again this is a scheduled game. Our business is to win. We're going to prepare with that mindset. That will be unchanged in terms of how we approach it."

Of course, the decision to rest starters will have an impact on the Wild Card race as well.

The Browns are in the playoffs with a win and the path to victory would presumably look a little better against second-string players.

One last note here. ... The Steelers escaped relatively unscathed. Still, kicker Chris Boswell's hip, which forced him to be inactive for the second time in a month, is a concern. Replacement Matthew Wright was perfect on four extra-point attempts but lacks Boswell's field-goal range and ability to put the ball in the end zone on kickoffs.

I'll follow up on that and any indications of who might join Big Ben on the sidelines if/as that information becomes clearer in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Dwayne Haskins
RBs: Najee Harris, Benny Snell, Kalen Ballage, Anthony McFarland Jr.
WRs: Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Ray-Ray McCloud
TEs: Eric Ebron, Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry

San Francisco 49ers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2020

As ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner reminded readers, it had been 790 days between starts for C.J. Beathard going into Saturday's game against the Cardinals.

In between, Beathard endured a lifetime's worth of grief.

Earlier this week, Beathard observed the one-year anniversary of the death of his younger brother, Clayton, who was stabbed to death outside of a bar in Nashville, Tennessee, on Dec. 21, 2019. On the same day as that painful anniversary, Beathard got word that he'd be starting against the Cardinals.

On Saturday, Beathard, buoyed by a stifling defense and a career performance by running back Jeff Wilson Jr., led the Niners to a surprising and cathartic 20-12 victory against Arizona at State Farm Stadium in Glendale.

"It means more than I can really put into words," Beathard said. "Everything that I've been through the last year and it being the year anniversary of my brother passing, it's just one of those things that you can't really put it into words. ... You can't write a script any different. I couldn't handpick this to go the way it did."

Beathard put up a three touchdown performance while completing 13-of-22 passes for 192 yards and no interceptions. The quarterback threw touchdowns to Wilson and Kyle Juszczyk (2) and connected with seven different receivers on the day.

The quarterback also picked up 18 yards on the ground on two designed runs.

"I thought C.J. played awesome. I thought he made some plays in the pass game. He did a good job on the zone reads," head coach Kyle Shanahan said. "Just his leadership out there - the way the guys gravitated to him. You could feel it during the week at practice. He came in on Wednesday when he first got his reps, just so ready to go. I think you could tell how hard they played for him too. I was very impressed with C.J. and I'm very happy for him today."

San Francisco's offense finished the day with 398 yards of total offense on just 55 offensive plays (to Arizona's 80) while averaging 7.2 yards per play.

Beathard benefited from having his former Hawkeyes tight end on the field on Saturday, as George Kittle led the 49ers pass catchers in his first game back since Week 8. Kittle finished the day hauling in 4-of-5 catches for 92 yards. The tight end embraced contact, forcing defenders to miss while picking up yards after contact.

Kittle was also key in the 49ers run game, helping open up holes for Wilson's career day.

"Everyone sees on the field what it means to us, how good of a player he is in the run game and in the pass game. Just having him at practice is different," Shanahan said. "We knew just getting him a part of us and dressing him today would be able to help a ton. With just what he was able to do even statistically in the pass game and always in the run game, I can't say enough about George."

With Raheem Mostert done for the remainder of the season, Wilson Jr. took the load as San Francisco's lead back and put up a career performance. Wilson finished the day with a career-high 183-yards rushing on 22 carries and hauled in a 21-yard reception for a touchdown, his eighth score of the season.

Wilson Jr.'s 204 yards from scrimmage were the most by a 49ers running back since Frank Gore in 2009. (Week 2 vs. the Seattle Seahawks -- 207 yards)

San Francisco's 227 rushing yards was their largest output of the season.

But the news wasn't all good.

Wideout Brandon Aiyuk suffered a high ankle sprain in Saturday's game. Offensive tackle Trent Williams has a sprained elbow.

Both will miss the season finale, Shanahan announced.

Shanahan added it's very unlikely quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (ankle) would play Sunday and once again stated he believes Garoppolo will be the team's quarterback next year.

CB Richard Sherman (calf) will also miss the finale. The team announced running back Austin Walter has been activated off the reserve/COVID-19 List. Fullback Josh Hokit has been restored to the team's practice squad from the practice squad/COVID-19 List. Offensive lineman Hroniss Grasu and long snapper Taybor Pepper have been placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

And finally. ... As Profootballtalk.com suggested, "It’s been a heck of a Wednesday for Robbie Gould."

After agreeing to a two-year contract extension worth $7.25 million, Gould has been placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Gould is the second San Francisco specialist to go on the COVID-19 list this week, joining long snapper Taybor Pepper.

With no kicker on the practice squad, Shanahan told reporters the 49ers will sign Tristan Vizcaino off the Vikings’ practice squad. He’s also spent time with the Bengals this season but has not kicked in a regular-season NFL game.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, Trey Lance
RBs: Elijah Mitchell, Trenton Cannon, Trey Sermon, JaMycal Hasty, Jeff Wilson, Raheem Mostert
WRs: Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Trent Sherfield, Mohamed Sanu, Jauan Jennings, Jalen Hurd
TEs: George Kittle, Ross Dwelley, Charlie Woerner, Daniel Helm

Seattle Seahawks

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2020

The Seattle Seahawks are NFC West champions, and they have their resurgent defense to thank for that.

That recent trend continued Sunday at Lumen Field as the Seahawks held the Los Angeles Rams to three field goals in a 20-9 win, securing Seattle's first division title since 2016.

Few would have predicted this at midseason, when Russell Wilson and Co. were on a roll while Seattle was setting or threatening NFL records for defensive futility.

Wilson and the offense did their part in closing out the victory after a sluggish start. Wilson rushed for a touchdown in the third quarter and threw for another with 4 minutes, 30 seconds remaining in the fourth, hitting Jacob Hollister from 13 yards out to put the game out of reach.

In Week 17 of last season, Hollister came within inches of crossing the goal line in a loss to the San Francisco 49ers; a TD would have clinched the NFC West title for Seattle.

The Seahawks sacked Jared Goff three times and took advantage of an inexplicable throw that was picked off by Pro Bowl safety Quandre Diggs. They stopped the Rams on consecutive plays from the 1-yard line earlier in the game, when L.A. ran four plays from inside the 5 and came away with no points.

Wilson finished 20-of-32 for 225 yards, one passing touchdown and one rushing score. Jason Myers made two field goals to remain perfect on the season (22-of-22).

The Seahawks close out the regular season against the 49ers (in Arizona) Sunday.

While the Seahawks clinched the NFC West, guaranteeing they'll host at least one playoff game and be one of the NFC's top three seeds, it's worth noting they can add to that.

Improving upon that position for the Seahawks would require not just a win in their regular-season finale against San Francisco, but also some help from a couple other NFC teams.

The Seahawks can still earn the No. 1 seed and the first-round bye that comes with it if they beat the 49ers and if Green Bay loses to the Chicago Bears and if New Orleans loses or ties their game against Carolina.

While the Packers (12-3) and Saints (11-4) have the better records than their Week 17 opponents, they're both on the road, and in the case of the Packers game at Chicago, the Bears can clinch a playoff berth with a win. ...

Worth noting. ... Rashaad Penny played only four snaps against the Rams in his second game back from knee surgery. That was two fewer than last week. Chris Carson continued to lead the Seahawks' backfield in playing time and touches with 40 snaps, 16 carries and three catches Sunday for 79 combined yards.

Carlos Hyde's numbers were 20 snaps and three touches (26 yards). Penny carried three times (9 yards).

DK Metcalf caught six of eight targets for 59 yards during Sunday's win over the Rams.

Metcalf led the team in targets, catches and yards, though special attention from the talented Rams secondary limited his total output. His long gain on the day went for just 17 yards, and he's now recorded just one grab of more than 25 yards in his last seven games. Metcalf's drop in production has coincided with Wilson's, but the duo has still propelled the Seahawks to the NFC West title.

With that said, the star wideout will face another tough matchup as he tries to round into form in Sunday's matchup against the 49ers.

Tyler Lockett caught three of five targets for 44 yards during Sunday's 20-9 win over the Rams.

As CBSSports.com notes, Lockett's long gain of 24 yards matched his best from the last six games, but he struggled to make a notable impact other than that. He has now topped 60 receiving yards just once over his last five games and hasn't reached the end zone during that stretch.

Lockett seems to be quite far removed from his monstrous 200-yard performance from Week 7 but will look to finish the regular season on a high note against the 49ers.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Russell Wilson, Geno Smith, Jake Luton
RBs: Chris Carson, Alex Collins, DeeJay Dallas, Travis Homer, Rashaad Penny
WRs: DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, D'Wayne Eskridge, Freddie Swain, Penny Hart
TEs: Gerald Everett, Will Dissly, Colby Parkinson

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2020

As ESPN.com's Jenna Laine recounted it, first Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht coaxed Bruce Arians out of retirement last year. Then it was Arians who sparked the idea this offseason -- and even spoke it into existence at February's NFL scouting combine, as far-fetched as it seemed at the time -- of signing six-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady.

Laine went on to note that chain of events and that "dream big, swing for the fences" mentality is largely responsible for helping the Bucs punch their first ticket to the playoffs for the first time since 2007, ending the NFL's second-longest postseason drought at 13 seasons, with a 47-7 blowout win over the Detroit Lions on Saturday.

"It's just the beginning. Our goal when we started out, especially this year, was just to get in the dance. And now it's to win 11 games. And see where we stand and where we're going, know who we're playing," said Arians, who returns to the postseason for the first time since 2015, when he led the Arizona Cardinals to the 2015 NFC Championship game.

"You could feel -- this was the playoff practice week," he said, adding that he was "really, really proud" of the effort put in by his players. "Even with the holidays, they handled their business well."

Brady, appearing in his 300th game in the same city his career began -- Detroit, 20 years ago on Thanksgiving Day -- threw four touchdown passes and led five TD-scoring drives in the first half before giving way to backup Blaine Gabbert in the second half as the team compiled 588 yards of total offense -- the most in Buccaneers history.

"Anytime you have a 158 quarterback rating and throw for over 300 yards in the half, back-to-back, it's pretty special," Arians said. "And he's a pretty special player."

The 300-game milestone, achieved by just 11 other players in NFL history, wasn't lost on the 43-year-old Brady, nor was the significance that it happened 45 minutes down the road from Ann Arbor, where Brady's journey from seventh-string QB at Michigan helped forge one of the NFL's greatest Cinderella stories and one of the greatest underdog stories in all of professional sports.

"I love playing and the teammates that I have -- I always feel like I never want to let them down," Brady said. "I know it's been that way for 21 years of my career. I just try to show up and do the best I can do every week and every day, and realize that the competition isn't only on Sunday. The competition is every day of the week, and I've got a lot of guys on this team this year that have made a great commitment to one another, and we're committed to being the best we can be."

Brady put together the best first half of his career, completing 22 of 27 passes for 348 yards. He is the only player over the past 40 seasons with at least 240 passing yards and four TDs before halftime, according to Elias Sports Bureau research. (Brady also threw for 345 yards and five TDs in the first half against the Titans in 2009.)

"We've been scratching and clawing every single year to try to make the tournament," wide receiver Mike Evans said. "It's been seven years for me, nine for Lavonte [David] and eight for Will Gholston. It's been a journey, but we are happy we finally accomplished it, and that's just where it starts. We want to go as far as we can."

On the opening drive, Brady found tight end Rob Gronkowski on a deep fade route for a 33-yard touchdown, before hitting Evans on a go route for a 27-yard score on the next possession. It was the first time since Week 4 that the Bucs scored a touchdown on the opening drive, and the first time all season they scored a touchdown on their first two possessions.

Following a 4-yard touchdown run up the gut by Leonard Fournette -- who filled in for the second week in a row for Ronald Jones -- Brady hit Chris Godwin on a 7-yard crossing route for a one-armed, diving TD catch. Brady then delivered a 12-yard strike to Antonio Brown to make it 34-0 at the half.

Brady was particularly sharp on the deep ball -- an area of concern for many of his critics who said that, at 43, he didn't have the arm strength to orchestrate Arians' high-flying offense. Brady went 5-of-7 with the two TDs on passes of 20-plus air yards, matching his most such completions for an entire game over the past 15 seasons, according to research by ESPN Stats and Information.

Brady's four touchdown passes on Sunday marked the 32nd time in his career that he has reached that mark in a game. Only Drew Brees (37) and Peyton Manning (35) have done that more often. In the process, Brady completed his inexorable hunt of the Buccaneers single-season touchdown pass record. Jameis Winston set a new record in that category just last year but Brady blew by the mark in Week 16 with one game to play.

Evans caught 10 passes for 181 yards and two scores, and he now needs just 40 yards against Atlanta next weekend to become the first player in NFL history to record 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first seven seasons. Evans is tied with Pro Football Hall of Famer Randy Moss as the only players with 1,000 yards in each of his first six seasons.

Also catching two TDs was Gronkowski, whom Brady lured out of a one-year retirement. Gronkowski tacked on a 25-yard touchdown catch from Gabbert on his first play in the third quarter.

Arians is one year removed from a 7-9 record in his first season, which came after back-to-back 5-11 campaigns under former coach Dirk Koetter. The Arizona Cardinals team Arians inherited had also gone 5-11 the previous season before he took over in 2013. His most recent playoff appearance was the 2015 NFC Championship Game, before a one-year retirement stint after the 2017 season.

Should the Los Angeles Rams fall to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday or the Arizona Cardinals next weekend, the Bucs would move into the fifth seed in the NFC, assuming the Bucs defeat the Falcons next weekend. That would pit them against the NFC East winner -- Washington currently leads that division -- in the opening round of the playoffs in two weeks.

But they have to take care of business against the Falcons, who led them 17-0 in the first half of Week 15 before Tampa Bay staged a 31-point comeback.

If Brady can get off to another hot start and match that second half in Atlanta with his first-half performance Saturday, the Bucs could start clicking and become a dangerous postseason team. But they've had few complete games all season.

"I know at different times we haven't played the way we're capable of playing, and when we do play the way we're capable of playing, we're pretty tough to beat," said Brady, whose soon-to-be 12 consecutive playoff seasons is the most in NFL history. "We've gotta figure out how to do it more consistently in the best possible way. We play another divisional opponent at home, and I'm gonna be excited to get out there to play and see what we can accomplish."

Meanwhile, The Buccaneers will not rest their starters in Week 17.

That's the word from Arians, who said today that he wants to finish the season 11-5 and earn the highest seed in the NFC playoffs that the Buccaneers can get.

"We're going to play to win," Arians said.

The Bucs clinched a wild card berth by beating the Lions.

But they would like to clinch the No. 5 seed, which would result in a first-round playoff matchup against the NFC East winner. That's the easiest game any NFC wild card team can play.

And since the Bucs clinch the No. 5 seed if they win on Sunday, that's exactly what Arians will try to do.

While the starters will play, it remains to be seen if Jones will be joining them.

Jones has missed the last two games while on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Jones was removed from that list on Tuesday and it sounds like Arians would like to play him this week.

"Hopefully he's clearing the COVID and we get him in the building to look at him," Arians said.

Jones also had surgery to repair a broken finger this month, so the team will need to see how he's recovered from that injury before deciding if he plays in the regular season finale.

I'll have more on his status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Tom Brady, Blaine Gabbert, Kyle Trask
RBs: Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones, Giovani Bernard, Ke'Shawn Vaughn
WRs: Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, Scott Miller, Jaelon Darden, Tyler Johnson
TEs: Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate

Tennessee Titans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2020

As Associated Press sports writer Teresa M. Walker notes, the Titans at least should be comfortable in this spot.

For a fourth straight year, they go to the regular-season finale needing a victory to clinch a playoff berth. Just like a year ago, they head to Houston needing a win to guarantee they go to the postseason.

The difference this time? A win clinches the AFC South and the Titans' first home playoff game since the 2008 season.

"We just have to go out there and do it," safety Kevin Byard said.

The Titans have reached the playoffs two of the previous three seasons by winning their final game. They beat Jacksonville in 2017 with Mike Mularkey as coach, lost to Indianapolis in 2018 missing three key starters, and downed the resting Texans in Houston a year ago.

They had a chance Sunday night to clinch the division after Indianapolis ' loss to Pittsburgh. But Tennessee fell behind 19-0 and wound up losing 40-14 to the Packers in snowy Lambeau Field.

They still can clinch the division if the Colts lose at home to Jacksonville with its 14-game skid or if both the Titans and Indianapolis tie. Beating Houston (4-11) would be much more satisfying, and now they get another chance at grabbing the division with a win.

"Rarely do you get a second opportunity at something, and I think that that's the message this week, is that we've got a second opportunity to be able to go on the road, win a game, win our 11th game, win the division, host a home playoff game," Titans coach Mike Vrabel said Monday.

Vrabel said that means fixing what cost them in the loss to Green Bay and prepare for the ever dangerous Deshaun Watson.

"It's going to be critical that we start the game better," Vrabel said.

The run game led by Derrick Henry remains strong even though the NFL rushing leader snapped his streak at nine straight road games with at least 100 yards rushing. Henry finished with 98 yards as the Titans piled up 156 yards rushing. That's their eighth game with at least 150 yards rushing, and they rank second averaging 160.1 yards rushing this season.

He leads the NFL with 1,777 yards and has a 220-yard lead over Dalvin Cook trying to repeat as the NFL's rushing leader. That hasn't happened in the NFL since Pro Football Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson did it in 2006-07. Hall of Famer Earl Campbell is the only other running back for this franchise to lead the league in rushing more than one season.

But an offense that is among the NFL's best showed how reliant Tennessee is on the offense scoring on every drive possible to cover up the defensive struggles. The Titans went three-and-out on three drives when it mattered most, including one ended by an interception.

The third came in the third quarter just after the Packers had scored going up 26-14. The Titans picked up just 3 yards and punted, and that was it.

The good news?

For a team that has lost a pair of offensive tackles, including left tackle Taylor Lewan, and defenders including Jadeveon Clowney and linebacker Jayon Brown, the Titans appear to be as healthy as they've been in weeks. Cornerback Adoree Jackson played 65 snaps in his second game back this season.

But the Titans placed kicker Stephen Gostkowski on the reserve/COVID-19 list, the team announced on Monday. It's currently unknown whether Gostkowski tested positive or is a close contact of someone who has.

Gostkowski got off to a rough start with the Titans, but has been perfect on his six field goals and 21 extra points over the past six games. Overall, Gostkowski is 18-of-26 on field goals and hit 46-of-48 extra points in 2020.

Tennessee does have kicker Sam Sloman on its practice squad. Sloman began the year with the Rams, but L.A. cut him after seven games. Sloman was 8-of-11 on field goals, 18-of-21 on extra points, and sent 59.5 percent of his kicks for touchbacks.

We'll see what this means heading into Sunday's game.

If they don't get the win in Houston, they need Indianapolis to fall to get the AFC South crown, or Baltimore or Miami to lose -- or three other scenarios involving ties or losses -- for another wild-card berth.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Ryan Tannehill, Logan Woodside
RBs: Derrick Henry, Jeremy McNichols, Khari Blasingame, Mekhi Sargent, Darrynton Evans
WRs: A.J. Brown, Julio Jones, Josh Reynolds, Nick Westbrook_Ikhine, Racey McMath, Cameron Batson
TEs: Anthony Firkser, Geoff Swaim, Tanner Hudson

Washington Football Team

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2020

As ESPN.com's John Keim framed it, "Washington Football Team quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. could have redeemed himself after a difficult week. Instead, he might have sealed his fate in Washington in a 20-13 loss to the Carolina Panthers.

"And the one point that has become clear is this: They need Alex Smith to return."

Half of that came to pass Monday; the other half seems likely come Sunday night.

With Haskins demoted to third-string for the second time this season, instead of having the QB on the roster inactive, the club determined its best course of action was simply to release Haskins.

"This afternoon I met with Dwayne and informed him that we would be releasing him," head coach Ron Rivera said in a statement. "I told him that I believe it benefits both parties that we go our separate ways. We want to thank Dwayne for his contributions these last two seasons and wish him well moving forward."

The decision was a culmination of issues between the club and Haskins.

This past week was a low point for the 23-year-old. After pictures surfaced of him maskless at a private party with his girlfriend last Sunday, he was stripped of his captaincy and fined. Then after struggling once again on the field, he was benched in the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss to Carolina.

With Washington hopeful that Smith will return in Week 17, Rivera already said Taylor Heinicke would be the backup, making Haskins the inactive third-stringer.

Instead, Steven Montez should fill the third QB role from the practice squad.

Since taking over in Washington, Rivera never bought into the former No. 15 overall pick in the 2019 draft as the future of the franchise. First, at the NFL Scouting Combine, Rivera openly discussed the possibility of drafting a quarterback No. 2 overall. Then Washington traded for Kyle Allen, and Rivera said there would be an open competition. There were also several reports intimating Haskins' lack of study habits that emanated from D.C.

After declaring Haskins the starter, Rivera was openly frustrated by the QB's poor play, the inability to get through his reads, his lack of explosive plays, and the overall impotent offense with Haskins under center. Rivera benched Haskins just four games into the season, citing the team's chances of winning the NFC East. By doing so, it was clear Rivera didn't believe Haskins was the QB who could stack wins.

After injuries to Allen and Smith put Haskins back in the saddle, the QB's on-field play didn't improve, and last week's off-field issues compounded the problems leading to his release.

Once a favorite of owner Dan Snyder, Haskins' fall in Washington came precipitously.

The former first-round pick started just 13 games over less than two years with the club. Few first-round picks get such a short leash. It was evident Haskins didn't fit Rivera's vision of a franchise signal-caller from the start.

Now both are getting a fresh start.

Haskins is due $4.266 million in fully guaranteed base salary over the 2021 and 2022 seasons. Any team that claims him off waivers would be on the hook for that salary. It would be a relatively small price if a team liked the big-armed QB coming out of the draft and believes they can unlock the latent talent.

If Haskins goes unclaimed, the former first-round pick who once said, "The league done messed up," in letting him fall to No. 15 overall will be a free agent to start 2021.

But more importantly, for now, Washington (6-9) can still clinch the NFC East by winning at Philadelphia in the season finale and Rivera is encouraged by Smith's chances of returning for that game.

"He was very close last week," Rivera said of Smith, via the Washington Post's Nicki Jhabvala. "I thought he had an exceptional day on Friday, but it's always about how that person feels the next day and he felt it was still grabbing him a little bit. ... This week, I'm optimistic about the opportunity."

Smith's calf injury left him listed as questionable on Washington's final injury report before its game against Carolina, and though he was a full participant in Friday's practice ahead of the Week 16 game, he didn't end up suiting up.

And while Heinicke was noticeably better than Haskins, injecting life into Washington's offense with a mini-comeback effort that came up short -- and he'll start Sunday if Smith can't go, Washington's best chance lies in Smith's availability.

With Smith, it's as much about his ability to complete passes as it is about Smith not making fatal errors, something that doomed them Sunday.

"It's about controlling the game, managing the tempo, protecting the football," Rivera said of Smith's impact. "If you look at the games we won, you'll notice that our turnover ratio obviously is better ... and the ball has been consistently spread [to multiple receivers]."

Washington will need Smith doing exactly that, and avoiding a turnover differential like the one it posted Sunday (4-2). Protecting the ball will be paramount to beating Philadelphia, which demonstrated its own issues with maintaining possession in a loss to Dallas on Sunday.

Perhaps most importantly, the Football Team is going to want to take a moment to enjoy the moment. After all, no one saw Washington in a win-and-in Week 17 game back in October.

"We got to get back to having a little bit of fun," Rivera said. "The truth is we're playing with house money. Nobody expected us to be here. ... These guys deserve it."

On Wednesday, reporters on the scene said Heinicke is getting the first-team reps while Smith worked off to the side.

Meanwhile, as they try to sort out their quarterback, the Football Team may not have their top wide receiver available to catch passes.

Terry McLaurin did not play against the Panthers due to an ankle injury and Rivera's Monday update on his condition wasn't particularly optimistic about his availability for the regular season finale.

Rivera said that McLaurin is in a walking boot to protect a high-ankle sprain suffered in Week 15 against the Seahawks.

Those injuries often keep players out for multiple weeks, but Washington isn't closing the door on McLaurin at this point.

The hope is that he will be able to practice outside because the team doesn't want him to work on the turf field because of his ankle. If he's able to do that without further difficulty, the door to playing against Philly will likely be open. He did not practice Wednesday.

Antonio Gibson, who returned from a two-week absence to play against the Panthers, did not practice Wednesday due to the same toe issue.

I'll be following up on Smith, Gibson and McLaurin via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...

Also of interest. ... Washington ran the football well in Sunday's loss, and while the team only gave the ball to its running backs 15 times, Rivera doesn't believe the team got away from the run too early.

"Not necessarily, because before I knew it, it was 13-nothing then 20-nothing. So to answer that question, no," Rivera said Sunday night when asked if Washington stopped running the ball too early.

A key series in the game happened early in the first quarter where Washington called four consecutive run plays that gained 27 yards. On the fifth play of the drive, Haskins dropped back to pass, and he was hit in the hand and fumbled, which the Panthers defense pounced on.

"I thought we were running the ball well, and we had a great opportunity to throw the ball," Rivera said. "Unfortunately, when we threw the ball, we had it knocked out of his hand and then it just kind of turned on us after that."

On their next offensive series, again Washington ran the ball well. The drive opened with three carries for Gibson that gained 22 yards, but then two incompletions from Haskins forced another Washington punt.

After that came a stalled drive from Carolina, but disaster struck on the ensuing punt when Steven Sims muffed the kick and Carolina recovered in the end zone for a touchdown.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Taylor Heinicke, Kyle Allen, Ryan Fitzpatrick
RBs: Antonio Gibson, J.D. McKissic, Jaret Patterson
WRs: Terry McLaurin, Dyami Brown, Adam Humphries, Cam Sims, Curtis Samuel
TEs: Logan Thomas, Ricky Seals-Jones, John Bates, Sammis Reyes