Team Notes Week 17 2018

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 26 December 2018

As the Associated Press reported it, "Larry Fitzgerald took a back pass from Josh Rosen, shuffled a couple of steps right and set his feet.

"Arizona's all-time leading receiver cocked his right arm back and let a not-quite-a-spiral fly into the desert air. The ball landed softly into the hands of Cardinals running back David Johnson, hitting him stride for a 32-yard touchdown.

The Cardinals may have lost 31-9 to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, but Fitzgerald added another highlight as Arizona fans celebrated what could be the final home game of his storied 15-year career.

"It's awesome," Rosen said. "This town loves Larry, he's an unbelievable player. The fans were looking for something positive and that was a fun one."

Fitzgerald hasn't decided if he will return for a 16th NFL season and the Cardinals still have one game left, next Sunday at Seattle.

Arizona's first season under Steve Wilks was a huge disappointment, possibly sending the Cardinals (3-12) toward a coaching search for the second straight season by New Year's Eve.

Amid one of the worst seasons in franchise history, Fitzgerald showed he's still got it, even at 35.

Entering Sunday's game, Fitzgerald was Arizona's leading receiver with 59 catches for 645 yards and five touchdowns. He caught six passes for 62 yards against the NFC West champion Rams (12-3), extending his streak of games with a catch to 226 straight -- second all-time to Jerry Rice's 274.

Fitzgerald holds the NFL record for catches with one team and is third all-time overall with 1,299. He's second all-time with 16,243 yards.

Fitzgerald also is one of the most respected players in the NFL and in Phoenix sports history, both on the field and off.

"I can't really speak enough about Larry, not only what he brings to this organization, but to the shield itself, the National Football League," Wilks said. "Just a true pillar of this league."

Arizona's home finale felt like the end of the line for Fitzgerald, even if he hasn't made a decision yet.

Fitzgerald stood alone in the Cardinals' inflatable helmet at the end of pregame introductions and ran onto the field to the first of many chants of "Larry!" from the home crowd.

Throughout the game, the video boards showed highlights of Fitzgerald's career to the Christmas-inspired song "Twelve Days of Fitzmas."

The Cardinals kept his receptions streak alive by targeting him early and often. Fitzgerald then did something he had never done before, lofting his first career TD pass into the hands of Johnson, setting off another "Larry!" chant.

"It was a great throw. He threw it up there," Johnson said. "I didn't have to slow my stride or anything."

The Cardinals had the Fitz pass in the playbook most of the season, insisting it wasn't put in just because this might have been his final home game.

Even so, when Fitzgerald came to the sideline after his first TD pass, offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich got a massive chest bump from the veteran receiver.

"I guess it's like a layup in basketball; you can't miss," said Fitzgerald, 2 for 4 for 53 yards career passing. "I just wanted to put a little air under it. It came out a little wobbly, like (former teammate) Kurt Warner's ball. But, like Kurt Warner's ball, it was effective."

As the clock wound down on another Cardinals' defeat, the few remaining fans started a chant "Larry!" -- maybe for the final time.

When it was over, Fitzgerald found himself surrounded by photographers, following his every move as Rams players and coaches lined up to congratulate him on the field.

Even after 60 minutes of pounding each other, the respect was there for one of the greatest receivers -- and people -- in NFL history.

"I play a team sport. I'm not Michael Phelps or Tiger Woods. Those guys do individual things," Fitzgerald said. "Everything I've done has been in the context of a team setting. It's a little uncomfortable to be singled out. There's 11 guys with me and I wouldn't be able to do my job without every single guy doing it. It's cool, but still, you never get used to that. ..."

We'll eventually find out well after the season if that was indeed his last home game. As always, expect the decision to be made deliberately and after the emotion of the season has ebbed a bit. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Rosen got loose to scramble multiple times, rushing for 49 yards on four attempts and standing as his team's leading rusher. But the passing game didn't accomplish much aside from Fitzgerald's highlight, with Rosen completing 12 of 23 passes for 87 yards. Rosen left the game in the fourth quarter for a second straight game in favor of backup Mike Glennon, after absorbing four sacks and many more hits.

Rosen does not like leaving games but said he forced Wilks' hand by playing poorly.

"It's frustrating, but it's my fault," Rosen said.

Wilks didn't want Rosen to get any more beat up than he was to that point. Rosen injured his arm on an incomplete pass midway through the third quarter and had it wrapped on the sideline, but returned to the game without missing any action.

"It feels like a bruise," Rosen said. "It hurt a little bit but I'm fine now. ...

Meanwhile, back to the topic touched on at the top. ... ESPN's Adam Schefter reported on Sunday that the Cardinals are planning to part ways with Wilks, who has said he has not discussed his future with the Cardinals' front office.

"You know, again, asking those guys about the future means I'm not focused on the job at hand," Wilks said. "No, that conversation hasn't come up at all."

Wilks added that the situation at hand wasn't difficult for him personally.

"No, not really," Wilks said. "I'm very spiritual-based. Hey, I'm working. And whatever happens, God will put me where he wants me to be."

One source told Schefter he could not envision a scenario in which the Cardinals would bring back Wilks, who was hired only in January -- a sign of how quickly owners get unhappy and impatient.

In reviewing the pros and cons of such a move, ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss pointed to the obvious reasons for letting him go: The Cardinals are expected to finish 3-13, which would tie their worst record since 1959.

Their offense is ranked last in yards per game and points per game. Wilks let the offense continue down a path of no return. He allowed former offensive coordinator Mike McCoy to join his staff, a decision that cost the Cardinals dearly in the first seven games before Wilks fired McCoy and promoted Leftwich.

Rosen has not thrown for more than 252 yards in a game, has once completed more than 65 percent of his passes and has been sacked 39 times. While he hasn't shown noticeable signs of growth, Rosen also hasn't regressed. He has basically just tried to stay healthy behind a patchwork offensive line that has forced him to run for his safety often.

The defense, of which Wilks is supposed to be a master, is ranked in the bottom half in yards allowed per game and in the bottom third of points allowed per game. The run defense has given up more than 100 yards in 13 of 15 games and more than 200 in the past two. At one point, defensive players openly complained that their teammates weren't doing what they were coached to do in games.

And the reasons to keep him?

While this season was a disaster nearly from the start, Weinfuss notes that plenty went wrong that Wilks can't be faulted for. First, general manager Steve Keim was suspended for five weeks after being charged with extreme DUI, and his suspension came during training camp. Training camp is one of the most crucial times for a coach, especially a first-year head coach, to have his GM. That meant the two weren't able to have daily discussions about the roster, which meant they weren't necessarily able to form the roster to Wilks' tendencies. That wasn't Wilks' fault.

It takes more than one offseason for a new head coach, especially one who's transitioning a defense from a 3-4 to a 4-3, to build the roster he wants. And there's no better time to do it than in training camp.

Giving Rosen stability with a coaching staff could be critical for his immediate success. Keeping him with Leftwich for another season will give Rosen a chance to spend the offseason learning Leftwich's system and working with a single voice. Having Leftwich continue to coach him through the ups and downs of an NFL defense, as opposed to having a new coach come in and have to start from scratch, could be the difference between Rosen making that expected improvement between his rookie season and Year 2, and not.

It's also worth pointing out that the Cardinals suffered a number of injuries this season, including to four of their five projected starting offensive linemen. The fifth, right tackle Andre Smith, was released in Week 12. Heading into the final week of the season, several Cardinals are on injured reserve, including wide receiver Christian Kirk, defensive linemen Robert Nkemdiche and Olsen Pierre and starting linebacker Josh Bynes. Not having the proper depth isn't necessarily on Wilks. That's a front-office issue, which falls on Keim. Heading into the regular season, the Cardinals had noticeable depth issues on both the offensive line and at wide receiver.

And then there's this: It will cost team president Michael Bidwill a significant amount of money to clean house and rehire a new coach and a new staff. Since coaches' contracts are guaranteed, paying out their salaries for their two-, three- or four-year contracts could cost upward of $20 million -- maybe as much as $30 million. Bidwill will have to pay for another new staff, which could be another $20 million to $30 million.

That's a lot of money for a team to pay.

That said, NBCSports.com's Peter King wrote on Monday that former Packers coach Mike McCarthy likes Arizona and would be interested in exploring the job. King hears the Cardinals have interest as well, so we'll see, assuming Wilks is one-and-done.

Still. ... It's something we'll all be watching in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Kyler Murray, Brett Hundley
RBs: Kenyan Drake, David Johnson, Zach Zenner, Alfred Morris, Chase Edmonds
WRs: Christian Kirk, Larry Fitzgerald, KeeSean Johnson, Trent Sherfield, Andy Isabella, Damiere Byrd, Pharoh Cooper
TEs: Charles Clay, Maxx Williams

Atlanta Falcons

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2018

Fans were making their way back to their seats when Matt Ryan hit streaking wide receiver Calvin Ridley for a 75-yard touchdown.

The Falcons' first play of the second half against the Carolina Panthers -- a play that took all of nine seconds -- emphasized how quickly the Falcons' offense can strike when hitting on all cylinders. Sure, it helped that the Panthers blew the coverage, but Ryan made the right throw, and Ridley finished with the catch-and-run score in a game the Falcons won 24-10 on Sunday.

As ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure suggested, if only it could have been that easy throughout the entire 2018 season.

Sunday's game didn't mean much in terms of this year, with the Falcons already eliminated from playoff contention. But seeing the offense click at a high level and hit on explosive plays was something to build upon heading toward the offseason.

Ryan's connection with Ridley marked the second, 75-yard touchdown hookup between the two this season, equaling what happened in a Week 3 loss to New Orleans. Ryan also hit Mohamed Sanu with a 44-yard touchdown strike Sunday, finding the reliable Sanu stride. The score tied Ridley with former Falcons tight end Junior Miller for most touchdown receptions in a single-season by a rookie in franchise history with nine on the year.

Oh yeah, and let's not forget about Julio Jones.

The six-time Pro Bowler entered the game questionable with hip and rib injuries, yet showed no signs of being hobbled during a 1-yard touchdown reception. Jones ran from one side of the end zone to the other in order to create separation. And the end result was his seventh touchdown in the last eight games. He started the season with no touchdowns through his first seven games.

McClure went on to note the Falcons know they have a reliable franchise quarterback in Ryan, and the weapons around him make the future look that much more promising. General manager Thomas Dimitroff already said the team plans to renegotiate Jones' contract after the season, and Jones already is signed through 2020. Sanu, who probably doesn't get enough credit for being a reliable third-down target, excellent blocker and Wildcat double-threat, also is signed through '20. Ridley's just completing the first year of his four-year rookie deal that includes a fifth-year option. And tight end Austin Hooper, a Pro Bowl alternate after a breakout season, is signed through next season and sure to be re-signed at one some point.

That doesn't mean the Falcons have all their offensive issues resolves, by any stretch. An NFL Network report has already surfaced about the team preparing to move forward from offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. If that report is accurate, then the Falcons will have to find an experienced coordinator capable of taking the offense to a new level with so many dangerous pieces.

The Falcons also have to shore up the offensive line, particularly the interior at the guard spots next to Pro Bowl center Alex Mack. And the benching of right tackle Ryan Schraeder probably means that spot needs to be addressed this offseason, too.

The likely return of two-time Pro Bowl Devonta Freeman from groin surgery only should make the offense that much more explosive, unless the Falcons have other plans on how to address the running back situation. The thought of a Freeman-Tevin Coleman duo like what they had during the Super Bowl run sounds appealing, but probably not financially feasible for the Falcons.

However it all unfolds, the Falcons know they have quite a core with Ryan, Jones, Sanu, Ridley and Hooper. They were feared coming into this season. Sunday showed why opponents should on high alert again in 2019.

In fact, for the first time this season, Jones, Sanu and Ridley scored a touchdown in the same game....

Other notes of interest. ... Ito Smith had a knee scope, head coach Dan Quinn confirmed this week. Quinn added that Smith is going to have a full offseason with his teammates and things are looking good.

With Smith out for the rest of the season, Brian Hill got the opportunity to prove what he could do for the Falcons. He showed a nice blend of vision and speed on the final play of the third quarter, breaking free for a 21-yard gain. Hill finished the run by lowering his shoulder along the sideline, which caused a brief scuffle and drew a 15-yard penalty, but Quinn probably like seeing his running back send a message.

Hill also showcased his speed on a 60-yard run on the second-to-last play of the game, putting him over the 100-yard mark on Sunday.

The Falcons have struggled running the ball for much of the season, but they've begun to find their stride of late. After having topped 100 rushing yards just twice this season, the Falcons have now topped that mark in three straight games.

Atlanta's 194 rushing yards on Sunday was its second-highest total on the ground this season. Hill led the way, but Coleman gained 51 yards on 10 carries before leaving the game with a groin injury and even Sanu pitched in with 29 yards on two carries.

In fact, Atlanta has used the wildcat formation several times this season with Sanu in the backfield, and they did so again on a third down late in the first quarter. It turned out to be the most successful play of the year out of that formation. Sanu kept the ball after faking a handoff and took off for 24 yards and a big first down.

The drive ended with the Falcons' first touchdown of the game. ...

As for Coleman, Quinn provided an update on the running back's status on Monday.

"We'll take him through the week," Quinn said. "He'll participate in some of the walk-throughs Wednesday into Thursday and as we get into that we'll have a better assessment. If the strength comes back, we'll have a better feel for where he's at. I know he's going for it in a big way to make it for this game. I definitely think he has a good chance to do that."

For the record, neither Coleman nor Jones (hip, ribs) were on the field Wednesday. I'll follow up as needed via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

One last item here. ... Punter Matt Bosher and kicker Matt Bryant were randomly drug tested Monday.

Remember, Bosher had a punishing hit on Panthers return man Kenjon Barner and flexed afterward. But a source tells McClure the list of Falcons selected for the random drug test was submitted before the game started, although the players weren't officially informed until after the game.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub
RBs: Devonta Freeman, Brian Hill, Qadree Ollison, Kenjon Barner, Ito Smith
WRs: Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage, Justin Hardy, Christian Blake
TEs: Austin Hooper, Luke Stocker, Jaeden Graham

Baltimore Ravens

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2018

Mark Andrews had to endure his share of friendly ribbing from teammates over the last few weeks. The rookie tight end was caught from behind on a wide-open touchdown against the Oakland Raiders in Week 12, and he took some hits for his speed.

But he was plenty fast last Saturday night.

Andrews and rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson delivered a critical touchdown in the 22-10 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers, where Andrews shrugged off a tackling attempt from safety Jahleel Addae and then outran safety Adrian Phillips on his way to a 68-yard score.

"It was a little bit of a revenge thing," Andrews said after the win. "I had to get the touchdown and not get caught."

He picked the right time to get some redemption.

The score came on Baltimore's second drive of the third quarter, with the Ravens trailing 10-6. The Chargers had momentum on their side after Ravens running back Kenneth Dixon fumbled on the first play of the second half, which lead to a Los Angeles touchdown.

After leading for nearly the entire first half, the Ravens suddenly found themselves in a deficit with their playoff lives hanging in the balance.

That's when Jackson delivered a strike to Andrews as he cut across the middle of the field. Jackson hit Andrews perfectly in stride in the middle of three defenders, and then the tight end took care of the rest.

"I didn't know if it would be a touchdown because I saw two guys chasing him, but when he broke that tackle I was like, 'Oh yeah. Six,'" Jackson said. "We had to respond for our defense. We put them in a bad spot. [The Chargers] punched it in off the fumble. We had to go back down and respond."

"I just managed to stick my arm out, get a stiff arm, and it was all green grass from there," Andrews added. "Great play, great ball. It was fun for me."

Andrews' score was the lone touchdown for Baltimore's offense, but that was all it needed on a night where the defense was dominant. The touchdown was the third of the season for the third-round pick, who already has the Ravens franchise record with 498 receiving yards for a rookie tight end.

The long touchdown was also a big part of the reason that Jackson had his best passing performance to date, as he went 12-of-22 for 204 yards with a touchdown and quarterback rating of 101.3.

The Chargers bottled up the Ravens' running game better in the second half, and Jackson made the biggest play with his arm to help deliver the victory. In a tough road environment against the best defense Jackson has faced yet, the rookie quarterback stepped up.

"It had to be a challenge," head coach John Harbaugh said. "You think about what an accomplishment it was for Lamar to come out here and win this game. This is a really good defense, this is a really good team [the Chargers]. … He handled himself with great poise, operated the offense and played quarterback.

"To answer in that way with that kind of a play, something we've been working on all year over and over again. For [Andrews] to score and stiff-arm and make the play … we were on him pretty hard about the last one when he didn't get it in! But he's a talented guy, and that was obviously the turning point in the game."

And for Andrews, he's spared himself from any speed jokes for the foreseeable future.

"He proved everybody wrong," Jackson said. "He did a great job."

As ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler noted, the night also served as redemption for the Baltimore defense, which has been criticized for the past two years for not finishing games in December. This time, the Ravens closed out the game with Young's touchdown and Marlon Humphrey's interception in the end zone with 1:21 remaining.

"Man, I think you go back and look at that game on tape, and I'm excited to watch that, because our defense -- that's an ass-whupping," Andrews said. "That's plain and simple."

The Ravens technically don't control their playoff fate. Baltimore could be bounced from the postseason if it beats the Browns and the Houston Texans (10-4) lose out.

But the Ravens took a significant step in advancing to the playoffs for the first time since 2014 and making a championship run with an unconventional offense and the best defense in the league. It was only a month ago when the Ravens had lost three in a row to fall to 4-5 and then-starting quarterback Joe Flacco was sidelined with a hip injury. Now, Jackson has gone 5-1, giving the Ravens a new offensive identity, as well as a new hope.

"We've proven people wrong as we've gone on," Jackson said. "People just expecting us to go out there and just blow the game. We go out and we compete, we fight. And we just came out with the victory. ..."

One last note on the rushing attack. ... The Ravens entered Saturday night with five straight contests of 190-plus rushing as a team. The offense fell short of the mark against the Chargers, but not by much with 159 yards. Again, the Ravens pose all kinds of problems for opponents and possess a style of football that's a throwback when compared to the high-flying offenses around the league. With a punishing ground game, a rookie signal-caller coming into his own and a suffocating defense, look out, NFL.

On the injury front. ... John Brown (hamstring) did not practice Wednesday and I'll follow up on his satus via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. It's worth noting, that Brown rarely practices on Wednesdays as the team works to keep him rested.

And finally. ... Harbaugh on the Ravens' announcement late last week that he'll be returning in 2019: "I think it's a non-story. We're just trying to win football games. We've kept it simple. We've kept it about football. Everybody is on a one-year deal. You're on a one-week deal, as far as I'm concerned in this league. Players and coaches get that. We don't think too much about all of that. So all that stuff is just not something you dwell on or think about.

"There are too many other things to think about."

For what it's worth, there's apparently a real chance that Harbaugh will not sign an extension, but rather coach his final season and take his chance on the market in 2020 -- or sign back with the Ravens, Peter King of NBCSports.com reported in his Football Morning in America column on Monday.

King suggested this could play out a lot like the Flacco situation in 2012, when he wouldn't sign long-term with Baltimore and gambled that he'd win big in the last year of his contract. He did. The Ravens won the Super Bowl, and Flacco earned a $20-million-a-year contract.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III, Trace McSorley
RBs: Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill
WRs: Marquise Brown, Willie Snead, Chris Moore, Seth Roberts, Miles Boykin, Jaleel Scott
TEs: Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle, Hayden Hurst

Buffalo Bills

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2018

An inability to move the ball on offense combined with defensive deficiencies against the run resulted in a loss for the Bills. They dropped their Week 16 contest with the Patriots by a score of 24-12.

Though Josh Allen finished the game with more completions and passing yards than Tom Brady, Buffalo's offense largely struggled. The unit finished the game with 289 net yards and just 14 first downs. The offense totaled just 72 yards on the ground, 30 of which came from Allen.

New England's victory can be largely attributed to the success of its rushing attack. The Patriots finished the game with 274 rushing yards. Rookie Sony Michel rushed for 116 yards.

With the loss, the Bills fell to 5-10 on the season.

For rookies like Allen, Robert Foster, Corey Thompson and a handful of others, it was their first exposure to the consistency machine that is the New England Patriots on Sunday. For others like Tremaine Edmunds it was round two.

No matter the level of experience against the team that has now won 10 straight division titles, in the wake of Sunday's 24-12 defeat, there were hard lessons to be taken away from the matchup.

"Just missed opportunities on our part. That starts with me," said Allen. "I've got to be better. We'll learn from this one. New England is a team that teams want to be. The trajectory of where we want to put this team and how they can sustain success, so we're going to learn from this one and be better from it."

According to the Buffalo News, Allen's play was encouraging, despite mistakes. He needed to pull the trigger quicker and take some check-downs for LeSean McCoy. He made a good audible and throw on the deep drop by Foster. Allen's incompletion on the fourth-and-3 fade to Foster (against Stephon Gilmore) shows how much confidence the QB has in the young receiver (and the lack of other go-to weapons).

Allen stood in the pocket and took hits on a couple third-quarter gains. He made a great sidestep in the pocket on the late TD pass.

Foster's play was encouraging, too, even though he only produced four catches for 52 yards. He blew by Gilmore on the deep ball foiled by the sun in his eyes. Gilmore had to give him cushion after that. In the second half, Gilmore manned up a bit more on Zay Jones. Logan Thomas couldn't come up with a great catch at the goal line and struggles mightily blocking.

Meanwhile, ESPN.com's Mike Rodak reports that McCoy said a "situation" with head coach Sean McDermott was the reason McCoy did not start in Sunday's 24-12 loss to the New England Patriots, but he did not elaborate.

Undrafted rookie Keith Ford started at running back for the Bills before McCoy entered on the second offensive play. It was the first time McCoy did not start a game in which he played since 2010.

"Coach, we had a situation, and he was totally right," McCoy said. "It was a private situation. I'm a captain and I gotta be more accountable. Simple as that. He checked me, put me in place. That was it."

McCoy did not elaborate on when the "situation" happened, but said he and McDermott resolved it.

Ford led the Bills with 14 carries for 46 yards in last Sunday's win over the Detroit Lions when McCoy (hamstring) and backup Chris Ivory (shoulder) did not play. McDermott said before Sunday's game that he wanted to get Ford and other young players time on the field, but McCoy scoffed when reporters asked whether he would still be the featured running back.

"C'mon man," McCoy said Thursday. "Am I the feature back? Am I gonna come off the bench?"

McCoy ran six times against the Patriots for 9 yards, the fifth time this season McCoy has averaged less than 2.0 yards per carry in a game. McCoy has 488 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns in 13 games this season.

Rodak went on to note that as the Bills end their 2018 season Sunday at New Era Field against the Miami Dolphins, it is becoming increasingly clear that McDermott's young team and McCoy are two trains traveling along different tracks.

McDermott made establishing a winning culture the focus of this season while integrating less-experienced players into the lineup on both sides of the ball. McCoy, 30, expressed his desire not only to win this season but also march closer to 12,000 career rushing yards and strengthen his case for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The two seemingly competing goals might have coexisted this season, but Rodak believes Sunday's loss to the showed signs of strain that suggest a divorce could be best for both sides this offseason.

On the injury front. ... Ivory has not played in the previous two games, but "should be in good shape this week," McDermott said on Wednesday.
DEPTH CHART
QBs: Josh Allen, Matt Barkley
RBs: Devin Singletary, Frank Gore, T.J. Yeldon
WRs: John Brown, Cole Beasley, Andre Roberts, Isaiah McKenzie, Duke Williams, Robert Foster
TEs: Dawson Knox, Tyler Kroft, Tommy Sweeney, Lee Smith, Jason Croom

Carolina Panthers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2018

As ESPN.com's David Newton noted, the Panthers might be having a down season, but Christian McCaffrey is having a record-breaking one.

The eighth pick of the 2017 draft broke the NFL's single-season receiving record for a running back Sunday during Carolina's 24-10 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

Matt Forte had 102 catches in 2014 for the Chicago Bears. McCaffrey topped that in Sunday's third quarter with his ninth catch of the game, then added three more to bring his season tally to 106.

McCaffrey also has family bragging rights. He has more catches in a season than his wide receiver father ever had. Ed McCaffrey's career best was 101 in 2000 with the Broncos.

But even that didn't give McCaffrey much pleasure.

"He's got a comeback. He's got three Super Bowls," said McCaffrey, forcing a smile. "So he's got me there."

The former Stanford star finished Sunday with 21 rushes for 101 yards and 12 catches for 77 yards, but the Panthers lost their seventh straight game and were eliminated from playoff contention.

"He's one of the best I've ever been around, both from a talent standpoint and character, and the way he carries himself each and every week, the way he takes care of his body, preparation," Carolina center Ryan Kalil said. "I wish I played with a dozen McCaffreys, because we wouldn't lose a game."

McCaffrey has been one of the few bright spots in a season that has seen Carolina go from 6-2 to 6-9 and has left some uncertainty about the future of head coach Ron Rivera. No team has lost its final eight games after a 6-2 start since the league went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, according to ESPN Stats and Information research.

But McCaffrey hasn't been the issue in losing.

"The young man is a tremendous football player, and we've got to make sure we shore up a lot of things," Rivera said. "There's most certainly some things we can do on the offensive side to help him out and to help our quarterbacks as well."

McCaffrey was more concerned about another loss than he was about the record.

"I mean, at the end of the day, I just want to win," he said. "All that other stuff is great, but there's nothing like winning. Losing sucks."

McCaffrey also became the third back in NFL history to surpass 100 catches and 1,000 yards rushing in a single season. LaDainian Tomlinson and Forte were the other two.

Tomlinson recently credited Panthers offensive coordinator Norv Turner for McCaffrey's explosion.

"Christian's dexterity that he possesses is really incredible," Tomlinson, who played much of his career at San Diego under Turner as a coordinator and head coach, told ESPN.com. "It's the perfect match with someone like Norv, who knows how to use that skill set.

"He's a unique athlete in itself, but the way he excels is basically getting the ball into his hands in space, of letting him create certain runs, not necessarily forcing him to go downhill and try to use him inside the whole game."

McCaffrey's record-breaking catch also tied the franchise single-season receptions record Steve Smith set in 2005. He later broke Smith's mark.

McCaffrey topped 1,000 yards rushing in the first half with 52 yards on 15 carries. He had 22 touches in the first half, catching all seven of his receiving targets.

His effort came with starting quarterback Cam Newton inactive with a sore right shoulder. Backup Taylor Heinicke got the start, but left for a short time with an elbow injury before returning late in the second quarter.

Heinicke became emotional after the game talking about the beating he took and how he kept coming back because so many people believed in him.

Turns out that will be the last we see of Heinicke as he was placed on injured reserve Wednesday with a left elbow injury.

Newton remains injured, though he has not been placed on injured reserved, and Kyle Allen is likely to get the start with Carolina also signing Garrett Gilbert as a back-up.

McCaffrey was impressed with Heinicke's toughness, calling him a warrior just as he did Newton a week earlier.

"The guy has a lot of heart," McCaffrey said. "You saw the hits he took out there and he keeps getting up and keeps leading us. That means a lot."

McCaffrey also was a warrior, with a season-high 33 touches.

"We thought he could carry a good load," said Rivera, who said before the season the goal was to get McCaffrey 25-30 touches a game. "We are asking a lot out of him."

McCaffrey was snubbed for the Pro Bowl, but he has a good chance to make the annual game as the second alternate. The top three backs were Ezekiel Elliott (Cowboys), Todd Gurley (Rams) and Saquon Barkley (Giants).

This has been a breakout season for McCaffrey in terms of being an all-purpose back. He led the Panthers with 80 catches in 2017 but was limited to 435 yards rushing as he shared the backfield with Jonathan Stewart.

McCaffrey entered Sunday's game having taken 97.65 percent of Carolina's offensive snaps, by far the most by a back in the NFL this season. Before getting a rest late in the fourth quarter he hadn't missed a snap since the 52-21 loss to Pittsburgh on Nov. 8, when this losing streak started.

"It's why you prepare, man," McCaffrey said. "It's why you prepare in the offseason. That's the way I look at it."

We'll see if he handles such a heavy workload this weekend. Sunday's game at New Orleans will put an end to Carolina's frustrating 2018 season. The Saints have already clinched the top seed in the NFC, and the Panthers are mathematically eliminated from postseason contention. That said, there's good reason for both teams to rest key starters.

So how will Rivera approach this final week?

"You go into Week 17 trying to win, first and foremost," he said. "But at the same time, we have to be smart, we have to be realistic and be honest.

"You do want to finish on a high note," he added. "We'll see what happens."

Could that mean a week off for McCaffrey?

We'll be watching for that. Check the Late-Breaking News section for more in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Kyle Allen, Will Grier, Cam Newton
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Reggie Bonnafon, Jordan Scarlett, Elijah Holyfield
WRs: D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel, Jarius Wright, Greg Dortch, Donte Moncrief, Brandon Zylstra, Chris Hogan
TEs: Greg Olsen, Ian Thomas, Chris Manhertz

Chicago Bears

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2018

With a dominant defense behind him, Mitchell Trubisky knows the Chicago Bears' offense doesn't have to do too much to keep winning.

That formula has the Bears heading into the season finale with a chance to earn a first-round playoff bye.

Trubisky threw one TD pass and the Chicago defense used a couple of key late stops to keep San Francisco out of the end zone, leading the Bears to their eighth win in nine games, 14-9 over the 49ers on Sunday.

"For us as an offense, we have to do our part as well," Trubisky said. "Because we're a family and we want to take care of those guys and take a lot of pressure off them and score a lot of points so they don't have to play all-world every single week. That's the standard that they've come to hold themselves to."

Khalil Mack and Co. delivered again. Danny Trevathan made a key interception with San Francisco (4-11) driving in the fourth quarter, and then the defense made one more stop to clinch at least the third seed in the NFC playoffs. The Bears (11-4) can earn a first-round bye with a win in the season finale and a loss by the Rams.

The Bears struggled to do much offensively all game but managed a TD drive on their final possession of the second quarter and first of the third quarter.

Trubisky capped the first with a 4-yard pass to Miller and then completed all seven passes on a 90-yard drive that took 7:43 and ended when Howard scored on a 2-yard run that made it 14-9. He finished 25 of 29 for 246 yards, with his 86.2 completion percentage the best mark for the franchise since at least 1950 with a minimum of 16 attempts.

"We figured out we had to dink and dunk a little bit," Trubisky said. "They played more zone shell than they had played all year. That's fine. We just had to make that adjustment and make them tackle in space."

When it was all said and done, the Bears' dream of a first-round playoff bye is still alive.

By virtue of Sunday's win, the Bears (11-4) have wrapped up at least the third seed in the NFC.

But a victory against the Minnesota Vikings this Sunday, coupled with a Los Angeles Rams loss to the 49ers, would propel Chicago to the No. 2 seed, which carries with it a coveted bye week.

As ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson suggested, the Bears are going to be tough to defeat at home, where they went 7-1 in the regular season, their best record at Soldier Field since 2005.

Of course, the Vikings have plenty of motivation in Week 17, since they'll need to knock off the Bears -- or have the Eagles lose to the Redskins -- to earn a wild-card berth.

The good news for fantasy owners is that Nagy, even with a playoff berth locked up, is almost duty-bound to go all-out against the Vikings. The Bears still have a chance to earn the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye if they beat the Vikings and the Rams (12-3) lose to the 49ers at home.

If the Bears are the No. 3 seed as -expected, they could face the Vikings (8-6-1), Eagles (8-7) or Seahawks (9-6) in the wild-card game Jan. 5 or 6 at -Soldier Field. The opponent depends on the outcome of four games Sunday: Bears-Vikings, 49ers-Rams, Cardinals-Seahawks and Eagles-Redskins.

If the favored Rams, Eagles and Seahawks all win as expected, the Bears will play the Eagles in the wild-card game if they beat the Vikings, or they'll play the Vikings again if they lose. The only way the Bears can face the Seahawks is if Seattle loses to the Cardinals and the Bears lose to the Vikings.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times' Mark Potash, the final week presents some interesting scenarios for Nagy. The only real known is that Nagy will open the game Sunday with his starters.

Considering the hit-and-miss playoff record of teams that coast in Week 17, it might be a good thing to have something to play for.

"Yeah, I like that," Nagy said. "I've been a part of both [strategies]. We try to win and do everything we can to do that, we're at least controlling what we can control. And it gives us an ability throughout the week to prepare mentally, physically -- you stay within the same pattern you've been in all season."

But even that approach is fluid. If the chances to get the No. 2 seed dissipate, Nagy likely will switch to "coast" mode.

"You have to be realistic in some of this," Nagy said. "We'll have to have a plan [and] be smart about it. If it's a complete blowout and word gets to me about that, then we have to figure out what the best thing is for us."

Nagy said Wednesday that safety Eddie Jackson (ankle) and linebacker Aaron Lynch (elbow) would be monitored this week, but were headed in the right direction, while receiver Allen Robinson (ribs) was unlikely to practice.

I'll be watching for more on Robinson in coming days; keep an eye on the Late-Breaking News sections for any development there.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Mitchell Trubisky, Chase Daniel
RBs: David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen, Mike Davis, Kerrith Whyte Jr.
WRs: Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel, Cordarrelle Patterson, Javon Wims, Riley Ridley
TEs: Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen, Ben Braunecker, Bradley Sowell

Cincinnati Bengals

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2018

Marvin Lewis spent about 60 seconds summing up his team's latest loss. Hue Jackson was nowhere to be found.

As Associated Press sports writer Tom Withers suggested, at this point, there's not much left to say -- the Cincinnati Bengals are a mess.

A last-place mess.

By losing for the sixth time in seven games, the Bengals locked up their first finish at the bottom of the AFC North since 2011 on Sunday with a 26-18 defeat to the Cleveland Browns, who swept the season series between the Ohio rivals and continued the biggest turnaround in franchise history.

The Bengals, meanwhile, are spiraling downward.

"It is very frustrating," said running back Joe Mixon, the team's only healthy, legitimate offensive threat. "I have never been a part of a losing program. I am never going to get comfortable with being part of it. At the end of the day, I am going to take it for what it is this year, build, and try to get better and get ready for next year. We still have another week coming up. It is a big one. I promise you, we are not going to be in this for long -- and that is a fact."

After a 4-1 start, the Bengals (6-9) were envisioning another probable playoff run under Lewis before the bottom dropped out.

Now, owner Mike Brown has to have legitimate concerns about his team's direction after the Browns (7-7-1), who thumped the Bengals last month in Cincinnati, built a 26-3 lead before giving up a pair of late touchdowns that made the scoreboard look more respectable than anything that happened on the field.

Of course, there are reasons for Cincinnati's collapse, starting with season-ending injuries to quarterback Andy Dalton and star receiver A.J. Green. However, there's no justification for minus-15 yards passing in the first half, blown coverages, missed tackles or mental mistakes.

The mood bordered on anger in the Bengals' locker room afterward. This is not where they wanted to be.

"It is what it is," Mixon said. "People can make a lot of excuses on why we finished last. At the end of the day, we have to come to work every day to work. If you are not doing that, you are not going to get the results you want. For me, I'm going to keep on coming, ready to play for 60 minutes each and every week and finish this last week strong."

Mixon got his 1,000th-yard the hard way on his day's first carry when he bulled for six yards through the middle of a 10-man front.

Quarterback Jeff Driskel, who threw a pair of TD passes in a two-minute stretch in the fourth, said it's time for Bengals players to be accountable.

"I don't think you look at the roster. I think you have to look at yourself, 'What can I do better to prevent this in the weeks and seasons to come?'" said Driskel, who had just 3 yards passing in the first half. "Obviously, we came into the season thinking that we were going to be able to win this division. We go into every game thinking that we're going to win the football game. So, we have to find a way to win tight football games. We have one more this season, and we're going to do everything we can to get a win so we can end the season on a win."

Driskel, making his fourth start for the injured Dalton, was sacked three times and under duress all day. He completed two passes for 3 yards in the first half, when the Bengals had minus-15 yards passing.

For Jackson, his return to Cleveland couldn't have gone much worse.

Fired on Oct. 29 after winning just three of 40 games in two-plus seasons with the Browns, Jackson was re-hired by Lewis as a special assistant. It may only be a coincidence, but the Bengals' crash began shortly after Jackson's arrival.

With the Browns clinging to their eight-point lead, rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield completed a daring, game-clinching, 66-yard pass to tight end David Njoku and then jogged down the field staring in Jackson's direction. Mayfield was angered by Jackson's decision to join a division rival so soon after his Cleveland tenure ended.

It was the final insult on a day of them for the Bengals, who may have to deal with Mayfield for another decade.

Now, whether the team beats the Steelers in this week's finale means little now except for pride and draft position. At this point, the Bengals certainly should have seen enough to make a decision regarding the future of their coach.

Whatever decision they make will carry a huge impact. As ESPN.com's Katherine Terrell summed up, "If the Bengals don't make the correct one, they could be staring at the cellar of the division for a long while."

On the injury front this week, it should come as no surprise but Tyler Boyd (knee) was not on the practice field Wednesday. He seems unlikely to be ready this week, but I'll be following up via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Ryan Finley, Andy Dalton, Jake Dolegala
RBs: Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard, Trayveon Williams, Samaje Perine
WRs: Tyler Boyd, A.J. Green, Auden Tate, Alex Erickson, Josh Malone, Stanley Morgan Jr., John Ross
TEs: Tyler Eifert, C.J. Uzomah, Drew Sample, Cethan Carter

Cleveland Browns

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2018

As Associated Press sports writer Tom Withers framed it, "No awkward hug. No cold handshake. No holiday greeting.

"Baker Mayfield's only interaction with former coach Hue Jackson was an icy stare. ..."

Mayfield threw three touchdown passes to thrill a sellout, holiday-spirited crowd that came out to boo Jackson, and rookie Nick Chubb ran for 112 yard as the Cleveland Browns beat the Cincinnati Bengals 26-18 on Sunday to sweep their southern Ohio neighbors for the first time since 2002.

"Quite honestly, I couldn't care about what happened in the past," Mayfield said. "It is about this year and we won. We are moving forward."

The No. 1 pick in this year's draft continued his stellar rookie season, one that took off after Jackson was fired by the Browns on Oct. 29. Mayfield has thrown 24 TD passes, third most in NFL history by a rookie and just two shy of the record shared by Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson.

Mayfield connected with tight end David Njoku for 66 yards just before the two-minute warning and the Browns ran out the clock. Following the long completion, Mayfield jogged past Jackson standing on the sideline and stared at his former coach, whom he called "fake" after their matchup last month in Cincinnati.

Mayfield playfully denied he was showing up Jackson.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," he said.

Told that the exchange was blowing up on social media, Mayfield said, "That's all right. We won."

With their fifth win in six games, the Browns (7-7-1) improved to 5-2 under interim coach Gregg Williams, who has gone from long shot to legitimate candidate to become Cleveland's next coach. It's only the second time since 2007 that the Browns have won at least seven games.

Mayfield has Browns fans convinced there are glory days ahead. He challenged Clevelanders to fill FirstEnergy Stadium for the home finale, and they did show with a surge in ticket sales this week.

The Browns were officially eliminated from the playoffs on Saturday. That hardly dampened the enthusiasm around a team that has recovered from a 0-16 season and become one of the league's best stories in 2018.

Mayfield's the main reason.

In the fourth quarter, fans chanted "Ba-ker, Ba-ker" after he scampered 10 yards. Moments later, they were roaring again after Mayfield stretched to reach for a first down before being shoved hard out of bounds by defensive end Carlos Dunlap, triggering a sideline skirmish near Cleveland's bench.

"It has been a good run," Mayfield said. "Obviously, we would love to be in the playoffs, but like I said earlier in the year, you know that you have to go through some tough times to see the brighter end of it."

On Wednesday, Mayfield was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week. On Sunday, the Browns finish season at Baltimore. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens went into his bag of tricks to set up Cleveland's second TD. On first down, the Browns ran a pass off a reverse with wide receiver Jarvis Landry threading a 63-yard pass -- the ball traveled more than 50 yards in the air -- to Breshad Perriman.

Two plays later, Mayfield rolled right and found just enough space to throw a scoring pass to Darren Fells.

"I need to ice up my shoulder," joked Landry.

Chubb and set the franchise rookie rushing record for a season, previously held by Trent Richardson.

That's even more impressive when you remember that Chubb had 16 attempts for 173 yards in the first six games, a number bloated by 63- and 41-yard touchdown runs against the Raiders. The next week, he still got three attempts.

After removing the impediments to his progress (Carlos Hyde and Hue Jackson), he has flourished, averaging 18.5 attempts and 88.8 yards per game.

He needs just 28 yards against the Ravens this week to get to 1,000. And though that's not easy to accomplish the way the Ravens are playing, he's given his teammates reason to believe.

"He's a heck of a running back," left guard Joel Bitoio said. "Great person, too. He keeps his head down, very quiet but he runs so hard and he makes people miss. ..."

Mayfield has thrown at least one TD pass in each of his 12 starts. He trails only St. Louis' Kurt Warner (23 from 1999-00) and Minnesota's Brad Johnson (15 from 1996-97) for the most consecutive starts with a scoring pass to begin a career.

With three touchdown passes against the Bengals in Cleveland's sold-out regular-season home finale, Mayfield pulled his total for the season to 24.

With two more on Sunday in Baltimore, Mayfield will match the single-season rookie record of 26, held both by Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson. A third touchdown pass will give Mayfield the record to himself.

As Profootballtalk.com notes, Mayfield has gotten to 24 despite not playing until a Week 3 injury to Tyrod Taylor opened the door for the first overall pick in the draft. The fact that Mayfield wasn't the Week 1 starter could be one of the reasons for Mayfield's decision to stare down Jackson before pretending later he didn't.

Meanwhile, former Ravens first-round pick Perriman has found his comfort zone with the Browns, with 13 catches for 295 yards and a touchdown in nine games. In the past three games, he's had catches of 66, 63 and 31 (touchdown) yards.

The Ravens secondary will have to brace for the threat of a big play by their former teammate.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Baker Mayfield, Drew Stanton, Garrett Gilbert
RBs: Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, Dontrell Hilliard, D'Ernest Johnson
WRs: Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Antonio Callaway, Rashard Higgins, Taywan Taylor, Damion Ratley, Derrick Willies
TEs: Demetrius Harris, Ricky Seals-Jones, Pharaoh Brown, David Njoku

Dallas Cowboys

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2018

As ESPN.com's Todd Archer reported, it turns out the Cowboys did not need any help to clinch their second NFC East title in three seasons.

The Cowboys beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27-20 on Sunday to secure their third playoff berth in the past five years.

If the Cowboys (9-6) had not beaten the Buccaneers, they would have headed into Week 17's game against the New York Giants possibly needing a victory to close out a playoff spot, after the Philadelphia Eagles got past the Houston Texans on Sunday.

"We wanted to come out here and get things done under our own will, so to say," quarterback Dak Prescott said. "Not necessarily win the division by other teams losing. We wanted to come in and secure this thing and get it done this week. It was a big team win."

It has been quite a turnaround for the Cowboys.

A playoff spot seemed far from possible after the Cowboys' Nov. 5 loss to the Tennessee Titans left them with a 3-5 record, but they have since won six of seven games to make the postseason.

"It speaks volumes about the guys in the locker room and the fight that we have," Pro Bowl right guard Zack Martin said. "Kind of took on a mantra, a back-against-the-wall mantra. Not a desperation backs against the wall but kind of the only place we can go is forward. Guys bought into that and got some huge wins down the stretch. It's pretty special to be able to close this thing out at home."

Successful seasons in Dallas, however, are defined by postseason wins, and the Cowboys have not made it to a Super Bowl -- or played in an NFC Championship Game -- since 1995. The Cowboys have won just three playoff games since winning Super Bowl XXX and just one with Jason Garrett as head coach (in 2014).

"We're playing the kind of football where you can win games in the postseason," owner and general manager Jerry Jones said.

According to Archer, Garrett's job still might not be secure even with a playoff showing.

He is signed through 2019, and if the Cowboys are to make anything more than a cameo appearance in the postseason, they have a lot to clean up, especially offensively.

A week after getting shut out by the Indianapolis Colts, the Cowboys' offense scored two touchdowns, but one was on a 4-yard drive after Randy Gregory recovered a Tampa Bay fumble in the third quarter. After going 75 yards on eight plays on their first drive, the Cowboys did not have a drive with multiple first downs over their next five possessions.

The defense also contributed a touchdown, with Jaylon Smith's 69-yard fumble return after a Gregory sack in the first quarter.

It wasn't a pretty playoff-clinching victory, but considering where the Cowboys were Nov. 5, making the postseason with one game to spare is something of an accomplishment.

"At 1-2, at 3-3, at 3-5 we knew exactly what we had," Prescott said. "We knew the team that we had. And we still have that. There is a lot of work to be done. We're going to celebrate the right way and then it's right back to work."

In fact, the Cowboys insist they will play to win against the Giants on Sunday despite having nothing on the line.

But as Profootballtalk.com notes, Ezekiel Elliott does have something on the line -- the NFL rushing title -- though that's not why he wants to play.

"This is not a week off. This is not a game that doesn't matter," Elliott said. "I think it's important for us to go win this ball game and gain some momentum going into the playoffs."

Whether he plays or not, the Cowboys star running back likely has won his second rushing title in three years. The only time he didn't win it was last season when the NFL suspended him for six games, and Elliott still led the NFL in rushing yards per game.

Elliott has 1,434 rushing yards this season. That is 183 more than Rams running back Todd Gurley, who didn't play Sunday and could remain on the sideline in Week 17. Rookie Saquon Barkley is 236 yards behind Elliott, and Barkley plays the Cowboys on Sunday. He had 11 carries for 28 yards against the Cowboys in Week Two.

Two years ago, when the Cowboys were in the same position in Week 17, Elliott dressed but did not see the field in the regular-season finale against the Eagles. Elliott still won the rushing title with 1,631 yards.

Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith, the NFL's all-time leading rusher, won four rushing titles in his 15 seasons and led the league in yards per game three times.

So are Cowboys playing to win against the New York Giants?

There's no doubt in owner Jerry Jones mind.

"Absolutely," he said early this week. " We're all-out. We've got work to do. We've got some work to do out here, I think we'll all agree. We don't want to, if we can, go into the playoff with dangling participles -- loose ends."

And finally. ... Brett Maher, garnered his second NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honor this season (he also drew the distinction in Week 4), was on the money Sunday in the Cowboys' NFC East-clinching victory as he converted two field goals and three extra points in his team's 27-20 win over the Buccaneers. Maher hit on a huge 59-yard field goal and added a 20-yarder.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush
RBs: Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard
WRs: Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Randall Cobb, Tavon Austin, Devin Smith, Ventell Bryant
TEs: Jason Witten, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz

Denver Broncos

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2018

As ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold framed it, "Coaches know what they're getting into in the NFL. A lack of winning can mean spending the holiday season with your job hanging in the balance. ..."

It's true. Vance Joseph is living that. And a 27-14 loss to the Oakland Raiders in what might be their last game at the Oakland Coliseum won't help.

"Nobody likes not winning, we all hate it," quarterback Case Keenum said. "We want all want to play hard, we all want to win for coach Joseph, we all love him, he's an incredible human and a great football coach. I want to play hard for him, for every guy in that locker room. That's big a part of our team, our identity, that we all stick together, love, like and respect each other, that we all fight for each other. But it's a production league, when you're not winning, it's tough."

The Broncos are 11-20 in Joseph's tenure, and Monday's first half was a microcosm of all the things the Broncos have seemed to do over and over again this season. Here are some lowlights:

The Raiders' first touchdown came on a 99-yard punt return by Dwayne Harris. Broncos cornerback Isaac Yiadom fell on the top of the ball at the Raiders' 1-yard line, but didn't keep it. Harris scooped up the loose ball and ran, untouched, up the Broncos sideline."That was tough, great awareness by him," Broncos safety Justin Simmons said. " … He knew once we tough it he could just pick it up and go and he had a whole lot of room to run."

"The ball is down on the half yard line, I guess we didn't have possession," Joseph said. " … That was a bizarre play obviously."

Keenum, who is fighting for his future as well, didn't make note of the play clock as the Broncos took a delay of game penalty when they were trying to convert a fourth-and-1.

Rookie wide receiver Courtland Sutton couldn't maintain possession on what had the potential for a game-changing play, ran out of bounds on third down -- short of the first down on another play and was called for offensive pass interference later to negate another Broncos first-down conversion.

In addition, the Broncos ran 31 plays in the first half and converted only two first downs with no touchdowns. Von Miller didn't have a sack, and without traded wide receiver Demaryius Thomas or the injured Emmanuel Sanders, the Broncos lacked a playmaker. The Broncos also had another 12 men on the defense penalty.

Oh, and the brightest spot of the season, rookie running back Phillip Lindsay left the game with an injury to his right wrist.

The Broncos also lost one of their most precious streaks, given they are now guaranteed back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1971-72.

"It frustrating," Joseph said. "Our team, I thought, we maxed out every game, probably the Jets game (a 34-16 loss in Week 5) we didn't max out. But it didn't feel good today, we didn't play good enough football offensively to win, defensively we had our moments, but we still gave up two big drives when we had to get stops, we didn't play winning football."

Simply put, the Broncos looked listless. And no matter what personnel is in a game or what they do or don't do, it all ultimately find its way back to the head coach.

The true measuring stick of where the Broncos are as an organization, top to bottom, is the fact that over the last three seasons, which predates Joseph, the Cleveland Browns, the New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers are on the short list of teams that have lost more games than Denver. All three have beaten the Broncos this season.

The Broncos also slugged it out with some of the league's best this season, even gave some who will play in the postseason all they wanted along the way. But on a rainy night in Northern California they simply looked like a thin roster without a magical playbook or even a little good timing.

"Just didn't do enough personally for us to win," Miller said. " … You want to win, you want to go out and win every game, it's tough. Especially being part of an organization that's used to elite play and elite wins … it was the story of the season … we play every game for our brothers and our coaches, we just came up short."

Looking for positives -- and negatives? All at once?

First, the good news: Lindsay didn't need long to top the 1,000-yard mark for the season. He entered Monday night's game with 991 yards. He had six carries for 26 yards in the first quarter.

Lindsay became only the third undrafted rookie to reach that milestone, joining Indianapolis' Dominic Rhodes, who had 1,104 yards in 2001, and Tampa Bay's LeGarrette Blount, who had 1,007 yards in 2010.

He is the sixth Broncos' rookie to gain 1,000 rushing yards.

Cincinnati's Joe Mixon is the only other AFC running back over 1,000 yards, with a conference-leading 1,063.

Now for the bad news: Lindsay initially described his wrist injury as "probably just a sprain," although he was slated to undergo further testing Tuesday. That testing didn't go well.

He had an MRI on Tuesday and Mike Klis of KUSA reports it showed “significant damage.”

In fact, during a Wednesday appearance on Orange and Blue 760, Joseph confirmed Lindsay’s injury is “serious” and said the rookie will be having surgery as a result.

Before Joseph announced Lindsay would have surgery, Klis of reported it was a possibility and that Lindsay is looking at a 4-6 month recovery timeline after suffering ligament damage around the scaphoid bone. That would likely leave Lindsay limited for the offseason program and OTAs if he’s participating at all, but should leave him ready for the start of training camp next summer.

In addition to his 1,037 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground, Lindsay caught 35 passes for 241 yards and a touchdown on his way to becoming the first undrafted offensive rookie to earn an invite to the Pro Bowl.

It’s bad way to end what’s been a remarkable year.

Royce Freeman and Devontae Booker are the other backs on the Broncos 53-man roster.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Brandon Allen, Drew Lock, Brett Rypien, Joe Flacco
RBs: Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman, Devontae Booker, Theo Riddick
WRs: Courtland Sutton, Fred Brown, Daesean Hamilton, Juwann Winfree, Diontae Spencer
TEs: Noah Fant, Jeff Heuerman, Troy Fumagalli, Jake Butt

Detroit Lions

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2018

As Associated Press sports writer Noah Trister wrote, "The collapse of the Detroit Lions is essentially complete."

There's still one more game to go, but the Lions are now assured of their first last-place finish since 2012 after a 27-9 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. Detroit actually dominated the first 25 minutes or so, but the Lions allowed Minnesota's Kyle Rudolph to catch a Hail Mary touchdown with embarrassing ease with no time remaining in the first half.

That play put Detroit behind for good.

"Each game is different. That's part of the frustrating part," quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "It's not one thing, you say, 'OK, let's go fix that and we'll be fine.' It's just, it's tough to win games in the National Football League and for one reason or another, execution and playmaking, we haven't done enough of it."

Detroit (5-10) will end up in the NFC North cellar for the first time since going 4-12 in 2012 under Jim Schwartz. The Lions fired coach Jim Caldwell after going 9-7 last season, and in the first year under Matt Patricia, they will end up with a worse record than in any of Caldwell's four seasons in Detroit.

One of the low points of Caldwell's tenure came in 2015, when Aaron Rodgers threw a 61-yard touchdown pass to Richard Rodgers with no time remaining to give Green Bay a 27-23 win over the Lions. Detroit seemed ill prepared for that play, and the defense wasn't much better Sunday when Minnesota tried it.

"We just have to get a little bit better from an alignment standpoint, we have to get some of those guys in better position," Patricia said. "Get the guy who caught the ball boxed out and get him out of there. So, a couple details there."

Aside from that Hail Mary, it wasn't a bad performance by the Lions on defense. They held Minnesota (8-6-1) without a first down for the whole first quarter, and Detroit was up 9-0 in the second.

The game turned when the Lions left Adam Thielen all alone on third-and-17, and Kirk Cousins found him for a 40-yard gain. That set up a touchdown with 1:32 left in the half.

Minnesota got the ball back, and the Vikings made it to the Detroit 44 with 2 seconds left. Cousins had plenty of time to throw to the end zone, and Rudolph made the catch without even falling down.

Detroit managed only 74 total yards in the second half. The offense was without rookie running back Kerryon Johnson and receiver Marvin Jones, both on injured reserve.

The Lions dropped their opener at home to the New York Jets, 48-17 back in September. Their home finale Sunday was similar.

"We just have to be better as a team and even next year, it's not going to get any easier," defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois said. "We're going to keep playing playoff teams, now you have to figure out how to beat playoff teams. Don't even look at the season, just look at playoff teams."

For the record, the Lions will have double-digit losses for the first time since the 2012 season in the wake of a loss that was one of the team's worst outings of the year -- and that's saying something.

Detroit's offense was conservative throughout the game and some of the personnel usage was questionable at best, including the continued use of LeGarrette Blount over Zach Zenner.

Going forward, a potential top-five pick could help. So could finding different pieces to surround the team's core. It's the main offseason job for general manager Robert Quinn, Patricia and the players Detroit chooses to keep around.

As ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein suggested, tanking doesn't happen in football -- at least not purposely. If a team tried it, it could lead to apathy, injuries and a league without guaranteed contracts and unemployment.

"So," Rothstein continued, "what the Lions showed this season, considering where they came from with winning records in three of the past four years, is 2018 can be qualified only as a failure."

The Lions close out their season against the Packers in Green Bay on Sunday. ...

Some key starters were among at least six players who missed practice for the Lions on Wednesday.

Kenny Golladay (chest) and tight end Luke Willson (concussion) were the skill players of interest along with defensive tackles A'Shawn Robinson (knee) and Damon Harrison (ankle). Cornerback DeShawn Shead (knee) and safety Quandre Diggs (undisclosed) also did not practice.

Blount (knee) was limited Wednesday.

Robinson, Willson and Shead all left last week's 27-9 loss to the Minnesota Vikings with their injuries.

Patricia said no determinations have been made yet if any of those players will go on injured reserve before Sunday's season finale against the Green Bay Packers.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jeff Driskel, Matthew Stafford
RBs: Ty Johnson, J.D. McKissic, Paul Perkins
WRs: Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola, Jermaine Kearse, Brandon Powell, Chris Lacy, Travis Fulgham
TEs: T.J. Hockenson, Jesse James, Logan Thomas

Green Bay Packers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2018

Aaron Rodgers made it clear last week that he planned to play in the penultimate game of the Green Bay Packers' lost season.

He plans to do the same in this Sunday's regular-season finale against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field, which will be just as meaningless as Sunday's Week 16 game against the New York Jets.

And as ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky suggested, it's now it's obvious how he will play.

The two-time MVP quarterback, in the midst of perhaps the poorest season of his NFL career, played with the same kind of energy and passion he showed in the regular-season opener when everything was on the line. He did the same with nothing on the line except for the shame that would have come had the Packers lost for the eighth time in as many road games this season.

But thanks to the cue from their quarterback, the Packers avoided the first winless road season since 1958 and pulled off a thrilling -- even if irrelevant -- 44-38 overtime win at MetLife Stadium.

"That's who he is," Rodgers' center, Corey Linsley, said. "It's in his nature."

And it wasn't a surprise.

"That's why he is who is," Linsley added. "For him to do that, we're all putting our bodies on the line, but I think there's a general sense that maybe the star quarterback shouldn't do this or that, he doesn't. He fights his ass off. I don't know if there's a perception of whatever, but he doesn't fulfill that."

Rodgers explained last Wednesday why it was important for him to play even after the Packers were eliminated from playoff contention following last week's loss at Chicago, which dropped them to 0-7 on the road and 5-8-1 overall. It was about leadership, he said.

Still, Rodgers could have sat in the pocket, and if things didn't develop, throw the ball away. Why put his body at risk after a season that was impacted by the Week 1 left knee injury and last Sunday's pulled groin?

Yet there was Rodgers putting on perhaps his best running performance of the year. He ran for a pair of touchdowns -- and had a third that would've won the game in overtime called back by a penalty. It was just the second two-rushing-touchdown game of his career and his first game with even one on the ground in almost two years. He also ran in a two-point conversion. All of that came after the Packers trailed by 15 points, 35-20, entering the fourth quarter.

Afterward, Rodgers simply said he wanted to show everyone "that it matters."

"That even when the record isn't great and you're not going to the playoffs, that it still matters," Rodgers said. "I have a lot of pride. I love competing -- in anything. Like I said on the field after the game, I don't want to look back in 20 years and wonder, 'What if I played that game? Could something special have happened?' What would it look like to my teammates if they knew I kind of quit on them? I hope my teammates know I'm never going to quit on them. I'm going to battle through anything I've got."

According to Demovsky, it became contagious.

There was defensive back Tramon Williams back in the game after getting clocked on a punt return by an illegal hit that sent him to the locker room for stitches above his right eye.

And left tackle David Bakhtiari, who finished the game despite an injury to his right leg trying to chase down an interception return on a two-point conversion -- a play that was wiped out by penalty.

And Davante Adams, who caught 11 passes, including the winning 16-yard touchdown in overtime that pushed his catch total for the season to 111 -- one short of Sterling Sharpe's single-season team record.

And Jamaal Williams, the last running back standing who rushed 15 times for 95 yards and a touchdown and had 61 more yards on six catches.

Looking for more bodies in the backfield, the Packers claimed running back Kapri Bibbs off waivers from Washington and promoted Lavon Coleman from the practice squad Saturday.

Yet, it was clear from the start Sunday those transactions were strictly precautionary measures.

Making his seventh start in 15 games, Williams had a hand in practically every Packers scoring drive, beginning with his 10-yard reception and 13-yard run up the middle to help propel the offense to its first touchdown-producing series midway through the second quarter. With the offense facing third-and-4 a few plays later, Williams helped pick up a blitz in pass protection to give Rodgers just enough time to complete a 49-yard touchdown to Jake Kumerow.

From a pure athletic standpoint, perhaps Williams' biggest play came with 1:39 left in the first half when he managed to stay on his feet to extend a stretch run for a 7-yard touchdown to cut the Jets' lead to 21-14.

Williams finished the first half with 67 rushing yards on only eight attempts.

The Packers went pass-heavy early in the second half after falling behind 35-20, a byproduct of a fumble on a kickoff return giving the Jets the ball at Green Bay's 18-yard line.

But Williams' performance fell into line with Rodgers' expectations.

"I told the guys before the game, this will be a character game," said Rodgers, who threw for 442 yards and two touchdowns on 37-of-55 passing. "It's going to show what kind of pride that we have, what kind of mental toughness that we have and what we're willing to lay on the line for our teammates. Obviously, those guys laid it on the line and played really well."

It was Rodgers' seventh win in a game in which he trailed by 14 or more points in the fourth quarter since 2012. No other quarterback has more during that span. It was the second win in three games under interim coach Joe Philbin.

"It matters for pride, it matters for Joe," Rodgers said. "We love Joe. We want to play for Joe and give him the best opportunity possible. And it matters for leadership purposes. Again, what kind of leader would I be if, 'Well, I could probably play but maybe I'll shut it down until next year.' That's the type of competitor that I am. I like to put my body on the line for my teammates and let them know that I want to be out there, that it matters, that their presence on the field matters, as well. Hopefully, they saw that this week, they saw that today, they saw us battle. Maybe that sticks with them and means something down the line when we need it."

The Packers needed it from Rodgers after all the special teams miscues -- among them the Jets' 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Andre Roberts, a 51-yard return by Roberts, a fake-punt conversion and a fumbled kickoff return by J'Mon Moore.

And they're going to get it again from Rodgers in this week's finale, too.

"I've got another week in me," Rodgers said of this week's game against the Lions..

Fantasy managers in leagues that play out through Week 17 have to appreciate that.

On the injury front. ... Adams said a right knee injury kept him out of practice Wednesday, but he said he doesn't see it keeping him out Sunday, when he needs two catches to break Sterling Sharpe's single-season record of 112. Randall Cobb (concussion) remained sidelined at Wednesday's practice. St. Brown (concussion) was also held out Wednesday.

In what's likely a related note. ... With Cobb out Sunday, the trio of Equanimeous St. Brown, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Jake Kumerow combined for 13 catches, 237 yards and a touchdown, giving us all food for thought over the offseason.

We're all going to spend some time trying to figure out which Green Bay receiver not named Adams is going to be worthwhile.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Aaron Rodgers, DeShone Kizer, Tim Boyle
RBs: Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, Dexter Williams
WRs: Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Geronimo Allison, Allen Lazard, Jake Kumerow, Darrius Shepherd
TEs: Jimmy Graham, Marcedes Lewis, Robert Tonyan, Jace Sternberger

Houston Texans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2018

The Houston Texans entered Week 16 in need of a win against the Philadelphia Eagles to remain the No. 2 seed in the AFC. They also needed a win to clinch the AFC South title. The Eagles put those plans on hold as they beat Houston 32-30.

The Texans (10-5) now fall to the No. 3 seed while the New England Patriots are back in the No. 2 spot and in line for a first-round bye. Houston squandered a chance to avoid having to play during wild-card week.

Quarterback Deshaun Watson did his best to lead the Texans, but couldn't overcome an offensive explosion by Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles.

"He's just got incredible instincts, he sees things well, he hangs in there," head coach Bill O'Brien said of Watson. "The football field for him is heaven on Earth ... I think the ball in his hands is the best thing for our offense and for our football team, no doubt about it. I think that all of these games, virtually every one that we've been in this year has come down to the last two or three minutes of the game. Sometimes we've been on top of those games and today we weren't. Give [Philly] their team, their coaching staff a lot of credit. They did a better job than we did overall. They made more plays."

Watson completed 29 of 40 pass attempts for 339 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for two touchdowns, which was the first time he had done so in his two-year career. He also became only the fifth quarterback to do so this season.

Despite heading into Sunday's game at Philadelphia with an ankle injury, DeAndre Hopkins proved once again why he's the best in the NFL.

Hopkins, listed as questionable and limited in practice all week, tested out his ankle with trainers pregame and started in Week 16. The All-Pro injured his ankle during the final scoring drive in Week 15 against the New York Jets, but not before scoring the game-winning touchdown. Hopkins was determined to suit up and help his team get another win on the road.

"Man it was tough," Hopkins said. "It was a game-time decision that came up. I knew we had to come out and try and get this win today so I was going to do anything in my power. Unfortunately, it didn't happen but it's football."

Hopkins finished with a team-high nine catches for 104 receiving yards, averaging 11.6 yards per reception in Houston's 32-30 loss to the Eagles. He has missed just two games in his six-year NFL career. Through 15 games this season, Hopkins has 103 receptions for 1,425 receiving yards (13.8 avg.) and 11 touchdowns. He also owns the most receptions (516), receiving yards (7,290) and receiving touchdowns (47) through the first six seasons of a player's career in Texans history.

As ESPN.com's Turron Davenport noted, however, Houston's defense had a meltdown in the second half, allowing 16 unanswered points.

Watson willed the Texans back to a 30-29 lead on a drive highlighted by two amazing plays. He miraculously broke three tackles in the pocket on a third-and-11 before unleashing a rope to tight end Jordan Akins for a 22-yard gain.

"I don't know if any quarterback can go out there and shake three defenders then make such a precise pass," Hopkins said of Watson. "I watch football all of the time. What he can do is special."

Three plays later, facing another third-and-long situation, Watson delivered a drop-in-the-bucket throw for a 35-yard touchdown to wide receiver Vyncint Smith to give Houston the lead.

"We have a lot of faith in Deshaun," said linebacker Dylan Cole. "When he has the ball, we know there's a big play coming. We just have to do our job on defense. The offense did a really good job today. We just have to execute a lot better on defense."

Still, the defense failed to protect the lead, giving up an 11-play, 72-yard drive capped off by a 35-yard Jake Elliott field goal that gave Philadelphia the win.

The Texans finish the regular season by hosting the Jacksonville Jaguars, but they'll likely have to do so without the services of wideout Demaryius Thomas who was carted off with an Achilles injury.

The early word is it's a torn Achilles. Thomas was placed on injured reserve on Monday.

"Yeah I feel terrible," O'Brien said when asked about Thomas after the game. "Demaryius is a great addition to our football team, awesome guy, much more than a football player. I don't know what his injury is exactly, but it didn't look good but I just feel terrible for him."

Thomas had three catches for 37 yards in the Week 16 game at Lincoln Financial Field. After Houston lost wideout Will Fuller to a season-ending ACL injury against Miami on Oct. 25, Thomas was acquired via trade from Denver five days later. As a Texan, Thomas started seven games and caught 23 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns.

Hopkins said the impact of his loss will be felt off the field as well.

"He has not been here that long, but everyone looks up to him," Hopkins said. "Everyone asks him questions, not just about football, but life questions. He is a big brother to a lot of guys in the locker room. When he came here, everyone was picking his brain. For him to go out the way that he did, I hated that for him. Hopefully, he heals fast and we overcome this tough loss."

Rookie Vyncint Smith took over for Thomas and caught his first NFL touchdown from Watson in the second half of the game. ...

Other notes of interest. ... The running game must re-emerge and it can, but it needs to happen this week.

Running back D'Onta Foreman saw his first action and couldn't muster much of anything on the ground. But, that catch for a touchdown was clutch. Considering that most draft analysts thought he had hands of stone because Texas didn't throw him the ball much while he was as a Longhorn. Actually, it's quite the opposite, but, in the run game, there wasn't a ton of room to run.

Consequently, once the Texans got behind, they went to the air for much of the remainder of the game.

Now, the offense has faced some really good fronts and Lamar Miller hasn't played since early in the first quarter in New York last week but it's been a struggle lately. That running game must get cranked up this week against Jacksonville.

Alfred Blue and Foreman combined to run 11 times for 13 yards and catch six passes for 54 yards.

The team had a hard running the ball against the Jets in Week 15 win after Miller left the game as well, so having him back against the Jaguars would be a good thing for their push to wrap up the divisional title.

On Monday, O'Brien suggested that Miller could be in the mix. He said, via Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle, that Miller is "trending upwards" in his recovery from the injury.

Miller has 917 yards and four touchdowns on 193 carries this season.

I'll have more on his status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

And finally. ... As Profootballtalk.com's Michel David Smith suggested this week, Watson is closing in on a statistical accomplishment he surely would rather avoid.

Watson has been sacked 56 times this season, putting him within one average game of a 60-sack season. That's extremely rare in the NFL.

The last quarterback to get sacked 60 times in one season was Jon Kitna of the 2006 Lions, who was sacked 63 times that season. And Kitna took all those sacks while throwing 596 passes that year. Watson has thrown just 470 passes while getting sacked almost as many times.

To find a quarterback getting sacked more than Watson while throwing so few passes, we have to go all the way back to another Texans quarterback, David Carr, who was sacked 76 times while throwing 444 passes in 2002, then was sacked 68 times while throwing 423 passes in 2005.

Smith summed up, "The Texans surely want to see Watson have more success as their franchise quarterback than Carr did, so it would be wise to fix the pass protection problems that seem to plague this franchise."

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Deshaun Watson, AJ McCarron
RBs: Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson, Buddy Howell, Taiwan Jones
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, Kenny Stills, DeAndre Carter, Keke Coutee, Will Fuller
TEs: Darren Fells, Jordan Akins, Kahale Warring, Jerell Adams, Jordan Thomas

Indianapolis Colts

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2018

As ESPN.com's Mike Wells framed it, "Andrew Luck did it again. And he did it with the Indianapolis Colts' playoff hopes hanging in the balance. ..."

Luck, as he's done throughout his seven-year NFL career, helped the Colts overcome a 14-point deficit and stay in the thick of things in the AFC playoff race when he threw a one-yard touchdown pass to receiver Chester Rodgers with less than a minute remaining in their 28-27 victory.

The AFC playoff race is cloudy as can be heading into the final week of the season. The Colts could move into the sixth seed in the AFC if Pittsburgh loses to New Orleans in a Sunday afternoon game. If that happens, it'll be winner take all in the Week 17 game between the Colts and Tennessee Titans. Luck is 12-0 in his career against the Titans.

Pulling off come-from-behind victories is nothing new for Luck, who is one of the frontrunners for the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year award. He now has 21 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter and overtime in his career. He's now tied with Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers with six victories where the Colts have trailed by at least 14 points, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

The Colts sealed the come-from-behind victory when Malik Hooker intercepted Eli Manning's pass with 23 seconds left in the game.

The Colts left many wondering if they were going to be able to pull off the win the way they played for nearly three quarters. As Wells suggested, the Colts looked more like the team that started the season 1-5 than the one that has won eight of their last nine games when they reverted back to their bad habits early against the Giants.

If there was a way for the Colts to hurt themselves and give the Giants some confidence they did it.

A dropped pass on the first play of the game. Two false starts. Too many players on the field on defense. Blown coverage on a 55-yard completion. And this was all in the first half of the game.

Those mistakes aided the Giants to help them jump out to a 14-0 lead.

But the Colts kept chipping away before Luck led them on the eight-play, 53-yard game-winning drive that was helped by two pass interference calls, including one that put the Colts on the Giants' one-yard line.

As it turns out, Luck apparently blew his top at halftime, peeling the paint off the walls out of frustration at their lackluster play and 17-7 deficit, which would become a 28-27 win.

"Screaming and yelling, 'This has got to be better,'" head coach Frank Reich said of Luck's talk to the entire team, via Zak Keefer of the Indianapolis Star. "'That was embarrassing. That was pathetic what we did out there in the first half.'"

The speech took long enough that the Colts were nearly late for the second half, with kicker Adam Vinatieri joking: "We had guys running straight from the tunnel and onto the field."

But Luck felt like something needed to be said, and his teammates clearly responded.

"Passionate's a good way to describe it," Luck said. "What are the things we can improve? And I think we did improve. I think we did come out of that tunnel with a better mindset than we started the game."

Luck delivered on his own words, and led the kind of comeback he has so many times in his career. Veteran left tackle Anthony Castonzo referred back to his rookie year, when Luck set a record with seven come-from-behind wins.

"This felt like a 2012 game," Castonzo said. "Like, how did we win that?

"There's just a feeling in this locker room and on this team. I can't put my finger on it. But everybody believes in each other, and that matters so much every time we take the field."

And if they didn't believe it before, having Luck screaming at them certainly got their attention, as they've gone from 1-5 to a win away from the postseason. ...

Meanwhile, as the team's official website noted, T.Y. Hilton just continues to battle it out for his teammates and his coaches.

The veteran wide receiver on Sunday was a game-time decision for a second straight week as he deals with a painful ankle injury, and, once again, Hilton decided to toughen it out and play, knowing what's at stake for his team. One would understand if Hilton played more of a decoy role considering his injury, but that wasn't going to be enough.

He ended his day against the Giants catching seven passes for 138 yards, as he continues his push as the league's top receiver in the second half of the season.

But beyond the sheer numbers, Hilton made huge plays Sunday when his team needed them the most.

His 25-yard catch midway through the second quarter got Indy to the New York 15-yard line, and Nyheim Hines would run it in from one yard out four plays later to cut the New York lead to 14-7. In the third quarter, his 55-yard reception from Luck got the Colts to the Giants' 17-yard line; four plays later, Luck found Dontrelle Inman for a two-yard touchdown, cutting the lead to 17-14. Then, finally, later in the third quarter, Hilton was able to draw a defensive holding call on a play in which Luck was sacked and lost a fumble, negating a huge possible swing in momentum for the Giants. Two plays later, Marlon Mack punched it in from three yards out to make it 24-21 Giants.

With the 138 yards on the day, Hilton passed 8,000 career yards for his career. Since Hilton entered the league in 2012 only three other receivers have more than 8,000 yards in that span.

Someone get that man a fist bump and a big bag of ice.

With Hines' four receptions he tied Austin Collie (60 in 2009) for the fourth-most receptions by a Colts rookie since 1970. ...

On the injury front this week. ... Reich told reportesr on Wednesday Eric Ebron would be limited to open the week, but he wound up not practicing as he works his way through the concussion protocol. Hilton (ankle) was also held out. I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

And finally. ... Sunday's game marked Vinatieri's 352nd regular season game played, which tied Jeff Feagles for the third-most regular season games played in NFL history. The game is also the 193rd game for Vinatieri as a Colt which ties him with Robert Mathis and Justin Snow for the seventh-most games played in team history.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jacoby Brissett, Brian Hoyer, Chad Kelly
RBs: Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins, Jonathan Williams
WRs: Zach Pascal, Chester Rogers, Deon Cain, Devin Funchess, Ashton Dulin, T.Y. Hilton, Parris Campbell
TEs: Eric Ebron, Jack Doyle, Mo Alie-Cox

Jacksonville Jaguars

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2018

As ESPN.com's Mike DiRocco noted, the Jacksonville Jaguars were Blake Bortles' team again -- for almost 16 minutes Sunday afternoon, anyway.

And for at least another week it turns out.

After watching starter Cody Kessler repeatedly get battered behind a makeshift offensive line for nearly three quarters, head coach Doug Marrone re-inserted Bortles into the lineup in the hopes it would spark an offense that had managed only two touchdowns since Nov. 25.

Bortles led the Jaguars to what turned out to be the winning field goal on his first drive in Sunday's 17-7 victory over the Dolphins,

So with one game left in a losing season, the Jaguars are turning back to Bortles at quarterback.

Marrone mentioned Bortles’ mobility was part of the decision, but making the move to play him last week and coming out of the game with a win was a pretty strong sign that he’d be the starter.

Sunday was Bortles' first action since Nov. 25, when he completed 12-of-23 passes for 127 yards in a 24-21 loss at Buffalo. That was the fourth time in a six-game stretch in which he threw for fewer than 150 yards, and Marrone benched him and fired offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett the following day.

Bortles ended up completing 5-of-6 passes for 39 yards and running four times for 25 yards in what could be the last time he'll play for the Jaguars.

"I don't know. I just work here," Bortles said. "I signed up for three years so until those three years are up or until they let me go, I'll play when they need me."

As Profootfootballtalk.com suggested, the bigger question in Jacksonville concerns who will start in Week 1 next season. Bortles is under contract for two more years, but the prospect of sticking with him is an unappealing one given the way he played this season. There would be $16 million in dead money on an already tight cap and Bortles has $6.5 million in guaranteed money coming his way, but those considerations seem unlikely to stop the Jags from finding someone else to lead the offense.

What Bortles did Sunday certainly won't change the franchise's decision to move on from him after the season. He leads the NFL in turnovers (93) and interceptions (74) since he entered the league in 2014 as the third overall pick, and while he also is second in franchise history in passing yards (17,539) and passing touchdowns (103) in 72 starts, his maddening inconsistency is making the franchise start over at the position.

Bortles probably will be released in the offseason and the Jaguars (5-10) are expected to draft a quarterback with their first pick -- and potentially sign a free agent to be a bridge quarterback as well. But for one afternoon, he earned a small bit of redemption.

"Everybody gets criticized, especially when you have a tough year like this, but Blake, he gets even more," cornerback Jalen Ramsey said. "He gets tons, so to see him be able to come in there and lead those guys down the field and add some points, no matter if it's three, whatever, then that's dope. They moved the ball well when he got in there. He had some good runs. It was exciting to see."

Beyond that, Leonard Fournette was being held out of Wednesday's practice with foot/ankle injuries.Josh Lambo, who has missed the last two games with a groin injury, was also being held out along with cornerback A.J. Bouye (toe) and offensive tackle Josh Wells (concussion) are also expected to miss practice. I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as needed

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Nick Foles, Gardner Minshew, Josh Dobbs, Phillip Walker
RBs: Leonard Fournette, Ryquell Armstead, Devine Ozigbo, Tyler Ervin
WRs: D.J. Chark, Dede Westbrook, Chris Conley, Keelan Cole, CJ Board, Marqise Lee
TEs: Josh Oliver, Seth DeValve, Ben Koyack, Geoff Swaim, James O'Shaughnessy

Kansas City Chiefs

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2018

The Kansas City Chiefs, who failed in chances to clinch the AFC West championship the past two weeks, have one more shot to make things right.

The Chiefs would win the AFC West, get a first-round bye and have home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs by beating the Oakland Raiders next Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.

But ESPN.com's Adam Teicher suggested, that seems like less than a sure thing after the Chiefs lost to the Seattle Seahawks 38-31 on Sunday night. The 11-4 Chiefs have lost back-to-back games for the first time this season.

The Chiefs could still win the division title with a loss to the Raiders, if the Los Angeles Chargers also lose their game on Sunday against the Denver Broncos. But even by winning the AFC West at 11-5, the Chiefs wouldn't necessarily get a first-round bye or home-field advantage.

That would depend not only on the Chargers losing, but also the New England Patriots and Houston Texans.

If the Chiefs lose next weekend and the Chargers win, the Chiefs would get a wild-card playoff berth.

Of the Chiefs' four losses, Sunday's was the first by more than three points.

"In this league, it's that close, the margin between winning and losing," said Chiefs coach Andy Reid, holding his index finger close to his thumb. "We've got to straighten a couple of things out and we'll be OK. It seems extreme right now but that's not the reality of it. If we fix a couple things we'll be all right.

"We have an opportunity to finish this thing the right way. It's important that we do that, that we pull it all together and get ourselves ready to go. If we play the way we can play and we're going to play, we're a tough team right there, as good as any in the National Football League."

Quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw for three touchdowns, giving him 48 this season. That's tied with Dan Marino for the fourth most in a season.

But Mahomes completed just 23 of 40 passes for 273 yards.

"Losing games," Mahomes said when asked what was the bigger concern, the way the Chiefs are playing or the fact they haven't clinched the division despite two chances to do so. "We've been in every game that we've lost, but you have to find ways to win. ... We haven't lately. That's the most frustrating thing.

"You can't be satisfied with what's gotten us here. This is when it counts. ... We're not satisfied with just being here."

The Chiefs beat the Raiders 40-33 in Oakland in Week 13, but it seems like forever ago.

In three December games since, they've escaped with an overtime win against the Baltimore Ravens, and lost by a combined eight points to the Chargers and Seahawks.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Matt Moore, Chad Henne
RBs: Damien Williams, LeSean McCoy, Darrel Williams, Darwin Thompson
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson, Mecole Hardman, Byron Pringle
TEs: Travis Kelce, Blake Bell, Deon Yelder

Los Angeles Chargers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2018

As ESPN.com's Eric D. Williams reported, facing perhaps the toughest defense in the NFL, a usually explosive Los Angeles Chargers' offense sputtered on Saturday, falling 22-10 to the Baltimore Ravens in a nationally televised game at the StubHub Center.

"We got outplayed and we got outcoached," head coach Anthony Lynn said. "It's just that simple. It's a good football team, they came in here and they beat us."

Philip Rivers was sacked four times -- all in the second half -- and was under duress most of the night. The 37-year-old quarterback completed 23 of 37 passes for just 181 yards, with no touchdowns and two interceptions, ending a 26-game streak with at least a one touchdown pass.

"We didn't play as well as we have played," Rivers said. "And if we were going to have one like this, better now than later. But we've got to regroup, have a good week and then find out where we go on that first week in January."

With the loss, the Chargers dropped to 11-4 on the season, probably cementing the team's spot as the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoffs.

How bad were the Chargers on offense?

The Ravens held the Bolts to 72 total yards on offense in the first half, their fewest at halftime since Week 15 of 2012 (66 yards vs. the Panthers).

The Chargers finished 0-for-4 on third down offensively in the opening half but had penalties wipe out three third-down conversions.

The Chargers' first play in Ravens territory came at 1:04 of the second quarter.

Rivers' 57 first-half passing yards were his fewest since 2017 Week 1 at the Broncos (52).

The Chargers had 198 total yards, their fewest in a game since 2014 (a 37-0 loss at Miami).

But Williams believes those total reflect a bigger issue; as center Mike Pouncey pointed out, too often, the Chargers start out slowly on offense and have to play from behind, and that trend caught up to them in a 22-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday, according to center Mike Pouncey.

"We've been coming back in the second half of games and winning games, and it's been awesome for our football team," Pouncey said. "But that's not the winning formula in this time of year, especially when you're playing playoff football teams.

"You have to come out and start fast, and then you have to finish the game the right way. We turned the ball over in some critical times of the game. We didn't pass block very well. It was just one of those weird games where we didn't have the ball much in the first half. They kind of dominated the time of possession and in the second half, we tried to fight from behind but it just wasn't good enough."

Over the past five games, the Chargers have been outscored 43-14 in the opening quarter.

Despite those poor starts, the Chargers managed to earn impressive comeback victories on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Kansas City Chiefs.

However, with L.A. hitting the road again for the final game of the season against the Denver Broncos and likely again once the playoffs begin, the Chargers have to figure out how to get going on offense earlier in the game.

"We just have to focus on the execution early and often, so we can get the lead and play from the lead," Lynn said. "I like it when we play from the lead. If we do get behind, we always feel like we can come back, and I think that's a good thing, but you don't want to do that too often because at some point it's going to bite you in the butt. We've got to play from the lead, and we've got to execute early and often."

As Lynn said, the Chargers finally paid the price against the Ravens for constantly falling behind in games, although Rivers acknowledged that wasn't the only reason they lost the game.

"I don't know. It was 6-3," Rivers said of the Chargers' halftime deficit. "I expected it to be this kind of game, honestly. I didn't think it was going to be a high-scoring game, out of respect to that defense.

"I thought we could have a lot more success than we did and I thought it could be us back and forth -- a December, January type of game against a physical, tough opponent. It was. We had opportunities there, a handful there at 16-10, and we didn't get it done."

The Chargers turned the ball over three times. Rivers was sacked four times and under siege most of the game. As noted above, they finished with a season low in total yards and points (10).

The Chargers allowed Baltimore to roll up 159 yards on the ground.

Those kinds of numbers will get teams beaten in the postseason, and the Chargers have to figure out how to turn things around -- which means faster starts so they can play from ahead, particularly in hostile environments on the road.

Meanwhile, running back Melvin Gordon returned to the lineup after a knee injury caused him to miss three straight games. Gordon, however, was mostly ineffective against the Ravens' stout defense, totaling 54 yards (41 rushing) and a touchdown in the losing cause. The Chargers are obviously a better offense with Gordon in the lineup, and he'll have the season finale against the Broncos to knock off the rust from the missed time before the postseason.

In addition, Lynn said on Monday that he expects Austin Ekeler to play in the regular season finale.

He's missed the last two games while in the concussion protocol and has been a productive runner and receiver when called upon this season.

Week 17 will also allow Ekeler to knock off any rust and get ready for the Chargers' first playoff game.

And finally. ... Lynn said on Monday he will not rest players in his team's final game against the Broncos.

"We're going into this game no different than any other game," he said. "We're not worrying about resting people. We're trying to win the game. Herm Edwards said it best -- you play to win."

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Philip Rivers, Tyrod Taylor, Easton Stick
RBs: Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, Detrez Newsome, Troymaine Pope
WRs: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Geremy Davis, Andre Patton, Dontrelle Inman, Travis Benjamin
TEs: Hunter Henry, Virgil Green, Lance Kendricks, Stephen Anderson

Los Angeles Rams

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2018

As ESPN.com's Lindsey Thiry noted, throughout last week, reporters peppered veteran running back C.J. Anderson with questions.

Could he learn the Los Angeles Rams' offense? How was his conditioning? Did Todd Gurley offer any advice?

Anderson handled each inquiry with unabashed confidence, then Sunday started in place of Gurley and rushed for 167 yards and a touchdown in a 31-9 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

Not bad for a sixth-year pro who was released this season by the Carolina Panthers and Oakland Raiders, and whom the Rams signed just five days earlier as uncertainty loomed over the status of Gurley and inflammation in his left knee.

Anderson, playing five days after he was signed by Los Angeles, rushed for 167 yards -- one shy of his career high -- and the Rams bounced back from a pair of losses to beat the troubled Arizona Cardinals 31-9 on Sunday.

"I never gave up on myself," Anderson said after the game. "I never gave up on my ability and what I could do."

Gurley was listed as questionable going into the game, then was placed on the inactive list after he participated in a workout two hours before kickoff.

"We were expecting him to play today," head coach Sean McVay said. "He wasn't feeling quite as good as we thought, based on yesterday and coming in today. It was a little bit different than we anticipated."

McVay said he was not concerned about Gurley's health going forward. "We'll just take it one day at a time," he said.

In other words, nothing has changed this week.

If Gurley is ready to play, he'll play. If he's not, he won't.

"We want to do what's best for Todd most importantly and what's best for Todd is also what's best for our football team," McVay said. "We don't want to do anything where we're putting him in harm's way, if we feel like it could be something where we're putting him at risk. But if he's getting back, if he's feeling good, then the anticipation is getting him ready to go. But we're just going to take this one day at a time right now.

"It was good to see what [Anderson and John Kelly] did yesterday, but nothing changes with regards to our approach with Todd. If we can get him ready to go, then that's what we'll do. and if not, then we'll just kind of play that by ear."

Gurley's knee injury is not considered serious or one that will keep him from the playoffs, a source told Thiry.

Anderson's performance helped the Rams (12-3) stop a two-game losing streak, their first such skid in the regular season under McVay, and maintain pace to secure a first-round bye in the playoffs.

The 5-8, 225-pound Anderson became the first Rams player not named Gurley to rush for 100 yards since Tre Mason in Week 13 of 2014, according to ESPN Stats and Information research.

It was Anderson's first game rushing for more than 100 yards since Dec. 14, 2017, and it was one yard shy of tying his career high of 168 set in 2014 against the Kansas City Chiefs.

McVay awarded him a game ball for his performance Sunday. "We felt like some of the things we were going to do were a good fit for his skill set," McVay said. "He delivered in a big way."

Jared Goff, who completed 19 of 24 passes for 216 yards and a touchdown, said he spent extra time with Anderson throughout the week to catch him up, but that the running back needed little assistance to understand what the Rams were doing.

After he signed, Anderson routinely arrived at the practice facility around 5 in the morning to begin his daily preparation.

Still, Goff was somewhat surprised by Anderson's performance.

"Yes and no," Goff said, when asked if Anderson's numbers were bigger than expected. "I mean yeah, because he's brand new to the team, but you see the way he practices, the way he prepared, how smart he was, and I think halfway through that first quarter I'm like, 'OK, this guy can still run.'"

Anderson played five seasons with the Denver Broncos before he signed a one-year deal with the Panthers last offseason. In nine games he rushed for 104 yards on 24 carries and was released Nov. 12. Anderson spent three weeks looking for work before he signed with the Raiders on Dec. 5. He was released after less than a week.

Prior to Anderson's emergence Sunday, the Rams had become dangerously thin at running back as they prepare for the playoffs.

Trusted backup Malcolm Brown was placed on injured reserve after he suffered a clavicle injury in Week 13. Second-year pro Justin Davis injured his shoulder last Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles and sat out of practice all week, but was active against the Cardinals. And rookie John Kelly was inactive through 12 games, then was inserted on offense last week and appeared overwhelmed in pass protection. On Sunday, Kelly rushed for 40 yards on 10 carries.

The Rams will close out the regular season next Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. A victory over the 49ers (4-11) will give the Rams a first-round bye in the playoffs.

A loss to the 49ers plus a Bears victory over the Vikings would force the Rams to play wild-card weekend.

Again, I'll be following up on Gurley's progress in coming days; watch for Late-Breaking Updates as the week moves on.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jared Goff, Blake Bortles
RBs: Todd Gurley, Malcolm Brown, Darrell Henderson
WRs: Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Josh Reynolds, JoJo Natson, Mike Thomas, Nsimba Webster, Brandin Cooks
TEs: Gerald Everett, Tyler Higbee, Johnny Mundt

Miami Dolphins

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2018

Head coach Adam Gase told reporters on Monday that he hasn't had any discussions with team owner Stephen Ross regarding his future and doesn't need to lobby to keep his job.

Ross faces decisions regarding possible offseason organizational changes in the wake of the Dolphins' elimination from playoff contention when they lost at home to lowly Jacksonville, 17-7.

Gase is 23-25 in three seasons at Miami, including 7-8 this year. He said Monday he's not worried about the offseason or next season, and is focused on Sunday's finale at Buffalo.

The Dolphins are assured of sitting out the playoffs for the 15th time in the past 17 seasons.

Gase said he now wants to finish 8-8 and will approach the game like business as usual, including starting Ryan Tannehill at quarterback.

Still, defensive end Cameron Wake couldn't help but chuckle when asked about the prospect of change within the coaching staff after another disappointing season. Change was the topic on everyone's mind following the loss to the Jaguars.

"I assume every week you're playing for your job. I'm assuming every week the coach is coaching for his job," Wake said. "It's an audition. It's a league with a short memory, what have you done for me lately."

Sunday's audition was a bust, and Gase admitted as much, calling his offense "terrible," "awful" and "brutal to watch."

Lately, Dolphins coaches and players shouldn't be happy with what they've put out there to be judged. But truth be told, Wake is probably more worried about his own future than that of Dolphins coaches or front-office members.

According to ESPN.com's Cameron Wolfe, Wake isn't alone.

Dark clouds loom over the Dolphins as 2018 comes to a close. Nobody should feel comfortable after the Dolphins find themselves in mediocrity again, and the looming offseason will provide answers about who stays and who goes.

As Ross walked across the locker room with his head down about 30 minutes after the game ended, a few Dolphins players watched him stroll from one side of the room to a locker room exit door on the other side. They know Ross holds the keys to the future of many people, starting with those in the front office, down to the coaches and several key players.

"I don't need to lobby for my job," Gase said. "If (Ross) says there's an issue, I'll know."

Gase said they didn't overestimate the talent on the team. Instead, he cited injuries to key players that helped knock the season off track. "We started the year 3-0 for a reason," he said.

Gase on a plan for fixing this: "We've been talking about it for three years. It is what it is. We had a lot of good things going on, and we lost some players. It happens. It's the NFL." He said it's not up to him if he gets a fourth season.

"It's going to be an interesting next week or two," one Dolphins player said after the game. "We're all are waiting to see what happens."

Questions at quarterback and defensive line scream out, and Miami also has several veterans older than 30 holding down key positions. Thirteen players landed on injured reserve -- many of them being key offensive contributors. There are obvious holes to fill this offseason but not everyone believes that lack of talent is the biggest problem.

"There is a lot of talent in this locker room. There are a lot of good players -- really good players -- on all three phases of the ball," cornerback Bobby McCain said. "Us putting it together as a team, as a unit, that's what we have to do. All year we haven't played collective football. ... There's too many ups and downs."

Failing to eclipse 200 yards five times this season -- and in three of their past four games -- is a problem that can't be ignored. Ranking in the bottom 10 offensively and defensively can't be ignored. The Dolphins have just as many or more roster questions now than when the season began. That can't be ignored.

Ultimately, Ross will have to decide who is at fault as to why his team won't be playing in January. He probably will find it's a mixture of coaching, players and personnel decisions. Then it will be on him to make a choice on what to do.

"It's a Dolphins issue. Can't really separate the two," Wake said. "It's not like the players can go to playoffs and coaches stay or vice versa. It's either all or nothing. We work together cohesively as a unit and we share failures; we share successes. It's on everybody."

On the injury front this week, Danny Amendola (knee) didn't practice Wednesday -- as has become tyhe norm; I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as needed, but the veteran wideout has been playing through the lingering issue in recent weeks.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh Rosen
RBs: Kalen Ballage, Myles Gaskin, Patrick Laird, Mark Walton
WRs: DeVante Parker, Albert Wilson, Jakeem Grant, Allen Hurns, Preston Williams
TEs: Mike Gesicki, Nick O'Leary, Durham Smythe, Chris Myarick

Minnesota Vikings

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2018

According to ESPN.com's Courtney Cronin, the majority of the first half of the Vikings' 27-9 win over the Detroit Lions could not have played out worse for Minnesota.

As the penalties piled up (seven for 48 yards), so did the runs that went nowhere and drives that stalled. A team that came into Ford Field hoping to lock up its second straight playoff berth did very little throughout the first 25 minutes (12 plays, 4 yards, zero points) to show it was capable of returning to the postseason.

The two-minute warning came and went, and then came a 180-degrees shift in momentum, igniting a 27-0 run for Minnesota en route to its second straight victory.

The Vikings came into Week 16 needing to beat the Lions and have the Philadelphia Eagles lose to clinch a spot in the postseason. A red-hot Philadelphia team defeating Houston 32-30 means Minnesota's playoff dreams will come down to the final game of the regular season.

With a win over the Bears at home in Week 17, the Vikings are in. Minnesota could also make the playoffs with a loss to Chicago but would need the Eagles to lose or tie the Redskins.

Sunday's win showed that, ready or not, the Vikings remain on the playoff path despite an at-times sluggish performance against Detroit.

Despite grabbing back-to-back wins during a stretch that will decide its postseason fate, Cronin notes that Minnesota still has a handful of issues it needs to work out if it wants to make a deep push in January.

The Vikings scored 14 unanswered points at the end of the first half, first with Kirk Cousins hitting Stefon Diggs' for an 8-yard touchdown on an out route followed by the quarterback launching a Hail Mary pass with no time left that was caught by Kyle Rudolph in the end zone for a 14-9 lead.

That run was set up when the Vikings were able to reverse the things that were stalling drives. After going 0-for-4 on third down, Cousins found Adam Thielen for a 40-yard reception on third-and-17 that set up Diggs' TD two plays later.

Rudolph's usage in the passing game was a critical asset in the Vikings nabbing their third road win of the season.

The veteran tight end saw season-best production against the Lions, on the receiving end of Cousins' 44-yard last-ditch bomb that he leapt up and caught in the back of the end zone and a 4-yard play-action touchdown that further extended Minnesota's lead at the start of the third quarter. Rudolph's day was as perfect as it could have been, going 9-for-9 on targets and catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns.

Against Detroit, Rudolph posted the third 100-yard receiving game of his career, the last of which came two years ago during the final game of the 2016 season.

It was his play on a Hail Mary pass from Cousins at the end of the first half that highlighted his performance just as his afternoon was truly getting underway. One play before Cousins' launched a 44-yard bomb to the end zone that Rudolph leapt into the air to haul in, helping to put the Vikings ahead 14-9 at the half, he caught a critical 17-yard pass to move Minnesota into Detroit territory, setting up Cousins' final heave.

The Hail Mary, which was quickly dubbed the "Hail Rudy" by his teammates, is a play the Vikings go over routinely, a situation that's on the walk-through script every Saturday. Drawing back on the days when he used to dominate opponents in the low post, Rudolph found his spot in traffic in the end zone and boxed out the way he had at Elder High School in suburban Cincinnati, where he totaled 689 rebounds during his high school basketball career.

Rudolph reached the end zone for the first time since Week 3 in the Vikings' 27-9 victory over the Lions. Outside of his performance against the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 25, Rudolph's targets had diminished since Minnesota's bye week, a source of frustration for the veteran who over the past few seasons has grown into one of the Vikings' top receiving options, particularly in the red zone.

After a season-best offensive output against Miami, the Vikings spoke all week about how much harder their challenge would become against a much more stout front in Detroit. Throughout the first half, Dalvin Cook struggled to go anywhere, totaling 15 yards on six rushes. By game's end, the second-year running back was an active part of the passing game as much as he was on the ground, totaling 19 touches (16 rushes, three catches) for 108 yards.

Despite the blunders on offense and explosive plays allowed by the Vikings' defense early on, the Lions had to settle for field goals on each of their scoring drives.

In many respects, the Lions came out flatter than the Vikings and didn't have enough to overcome their own mistakes when Minnesota opened an early window for them to strike quickly and get ahead.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Sean Mannion
RBs: Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Mike Boone, Ameer Abdullah
WRs: Stefon Diggs, Olabisi Johnson, Laquon Treadwell, Chad Beebe, Davion Davis, Adam Thielen
TEs: Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith Jr., Brandon Dillon, Tyler Conklin

New England Patriots

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2018

According to ESPN.com's Mike Reiss, when tight end Rob Gronkowski wasn't on the field for the first play of the New England Patriots' victory over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, it was a statement of intention by offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

In Gronkowski's place was No. 2 tight end Dwayne Allen, who prides himself on being one of the most devastating blockers in the NFL at the position.

Behind Allen was bulldozing fullback James Develin and fresh-legged rookie running back Sony Michel.

There haven't been many times this season when the Patriots have subbed out Gronkowski for Allen, but they did it quite a bit on Sunday. This came on a day when they ran for 273 yards, their most in a game started by quarterback Tom Brady.

Perhaps this, with Brady and the passing offense struggling to generate consistent momentum and looking out of sorts, is a big part of the formula the Patriots must turn to in their hopes of making a deep playoff run.

Call it 2003 and 2004 Patriots-style football. Those were the years when a young Brady was still finding his way, and the Patriots relied more on hard-charging running from Antowain Smith and Corey Dillon and slippery-quick and clutch play from third-down back Kevin Faulk. The running game complemented a defense that could put the clamps down at times.

It was physical Patriots football back in those days, taking it to the opposition, just like they did Sunday against the Bills.

"Obviously, when we can do that, it's going to make things a lot easier on everyone," said Brady, who struggled for long stretches as a passer against the Bills. "The line really took the physical challenge to heart, and we outgained them by a bunch of yards in the run game. Whatever it takes on a week-to-week basis, I think that's what we've got to do."

The Patriots, who finished 3-5 on the road this season and are 7-0 at Gillette Stadium, seem to do those things better at home.

That's why what unfolded Sunday in Philadelphia was so significant, with the Eagles rallying to beat the Texans and putting the Patriots back in control of the No. 2 playoff seed and a first-round playoff bye. If the Patriots beat the Jets at home on Sunday, they will clinch a first-round bye.

The rushing performance against the Bills was so decisive -- especially on some outside runs, with how quickly the plays developed -- that Bill Belichick said he and a reporter could have been aligned at center and guard, and the plays would have had success.

Other times, especially on a couple successful James White third-down runs, the approach was to keep it between the tackles.

"Especially this time of year, games are tough," running back Rex Burkhead said. "You've got to really have that mindset that it's going to be a physical game. This is when real football begins."

Maybe this is the way it has to be for the Patriots going forward, with Brady looking un-Brady-like and the passing attack forced to evolve again after Josh Gordon's indefinite NFL suspension.

The Allen-for-Gronkowski personnel swap was one example of the Patriots investing in that approach, with Allen this year's version of run-grading tight end Daniel Graham, who played for the Patriots from 2002 to 2006.

It's not that Gronkowski isn't a good blocker, but Allen is almost like a sixth offensive lineman, which takes it to a higher level. When Allen is on the field, it's often a statement that the Patriots want to grind it out, 2003-04 style.

Meanwhile, the end result was New England clinching their 10th consecutive AFC East championship Sunday, putting them in rare company in professional sports.

A win over the Bills would have done it, but the Patriots didn't have to wait, clinching when the Dolphins lost. The Patriots went on to win 24-12.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Patriots join the Atlanta Braves as the only franchises from the NFL, NBA, MLB or NHL to win at least 10 straight division titles.

The Braves won 14 straight from 1991 to 2005, excluding the strike-shortened 1994 season. The 10 straight division titles also extends the Patriots' own NFL record. The Los Angeles Rams, who won the NFC West for seven straight seasons from 1973 to '79, had held the record before the Patriots broke it in 2016.

In addition, the Patriots became the first franchise in NFL history to earn a playoff berth in 10 consecutive seasons.

They had entered Sunday tied with the Dallas Cowboys (1975-83) and Indianapolis Colts (2002-2010) as the only teams to qualify for the postseason for nine consecutive seasons.

While the Patriots (10-5) haven't been as dominant as they've been in past seasons under coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, they rode a six-game winning streak from Sept. 30 to Nov. 4 to give themselves some margin for error.

That cushion over division rivals Miami, New York and Buffalo was important as they entered Sunday on a two-game losing streak.

Even though the game against the Bills was under control for long stretches, the Patriots struggled in the passing game, sparking questions of how deep of a playoff run they might be able to make. But the defense, helped by some struggles from rookie Bills quarterback Josh Allen and pass-catchers who struggled to hang on to the ball, nicely complemented a strong Patriots running game.

After their win, the Patriots were surely keeping an eye on the Texans' last-second loss to the Eagles, which means New England can earn a first-round playoff bye with a win over the Jets next Sunday at home.

One individual milestone of note: Brady surpassed 4,000 passing yards this season, joining Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards in at least 10 seasons.

On Monday morning, in his weekly hit on WEEI Radio, Brady was asked about his The quarterback clearly doesn't look right as he deals with a left knee injury.

Despite evidence to the contrary, Brady insisted Monday he feels "great." He wouldn't discuss the knee injury when asked specifically if he's dealing with an MCL sprain.

"I am not getting into specifics with injuries. It just doesn't make any sense. ... It is football. There are a lot of guys dealing with a lot of things," Brady said, via Ryan Hannable of WEEI.

The good news for Brady and the Patriots is that a victory in Week 17 over the New York Jets would ensure a playoff bye. Brady certainly looks like he could use the rest.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Tom Brady, Jarrett Stidham, Cody Kessler
RBs: Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden
WRs: Julian Edelman, Mohamed Sanu, N'Keal Harry, Phillip Dorsett, Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski
TEs: Ben Watson, Eric Tomlinson, Ryan Izzo, Matt LaCosse

New Orleans Saints

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2018

Drew Brees paced an efficient first half with 151 yards passing and the Saints held a 17-14 lead.

The second half, however, was a different story, as the Saints struggled with consistency after going up 24-14 with two straight punts and a blocked field goal, and then had to claw back with less than two minutes in the game to come out ahead. Despite the win, it doesn't help that the offensive line required some shuffling.

Left tackle Terron Armstead, who was recently named to the Pro Bowl, returned to the lineup for the first time in five games. But he briefly left the game in the first quarter, returned to finish the first half, and then sat out the fourth quarter.

As NFL.com's Herbie Teope noted, when the Saints have an intact offensive line, it is among the league's best and the engine that drives an elite offense. Having Armstead would help the Saints' chances in the postseason.

Which brings us to a bigger point.

According to ESPN.com's Mike Triplett, "Common sense says the New Orleans Saints should rest as many starters as possible in Week 17."

Triplett added the team's history agrees.

Although head coach Sean Payton wouldn't reveal his intentions after the Saints (13-2) secured the NFC's No. 1 seed with a 31-28 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, his track record suggests he'll play it safe.

That means we should see Teddy Bridgewater make his debut as the Saints' starting quarterback on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers before he hits the free-agent market in March.

In 2009, Payton rested starters in Week 17 when the Saints had the No. 1 seed locked up -- even though they had lost two straight games in Weeks 15-16 and could have used a momentum boost. They showed no rust in their playoff opener (a 45-14 win) and wound up winning the Super Bowl.

In 2006, Payton rested starters in Week 17 when they had the No. 2 seed locked up -- and they wound up winning their first playoff game two weeks later.

And perhaps most telling, the Saints decided to play their starters in Week 17 in 2010 when they had an outside chance at the division title and No. 1 seed -- and they wound up losing key players Jimmy Graham, Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Ivory to injuries before losing their playoff debut a week later. Payton later talked about how much he second-guessed it.

"I'm sure Sean is gonna look at that schedule and obviously make the best decision for what he feels like we need," said Brees, who should spend this week the sidelines even though that would mean finishing the season with just 3,992 passing yards, his first season below 4,000 since joining the Saints in 2006.

"You know, every team's different," Brees said. "But it's one of those where you take advantage of the time to rest up, get healthy, get your body right. At the same time, you want to stay on point, keep the rhythm, keep the good habits."

Most Saints players took the "we'll see what happens" route. But cornerback Marshon Lattimore, for one, practically campaigned for an extra week of rest.

"That's why I'm so glad we got the win," Lattimore said. "Next week hopefully we can rest our starters and we can have two bye weeks, get our bodies ready. That's what we need. It's a long season, everybody gets dinged up here and there. So we need to be healthy."

The Saints' offensive line could use the rest most of all -- even though it remains to be seen if two weeks off will be enough for Armstead.

"I'm gonna keep working, man, working to get back," Armstead after the game. "It's frustrating for sure. I felt like I was past this. But not yet, so I'm gonna keep working on it.

"Tried to fight as long as I could. Got worse. Tried it again, just wasn't able to. Didn't want to be a liability, so I had to shut it down."

Armstead's backup, Jermon Bushrod, also missed Sunday's game with a hamstring injury. Center Max Unger played Sunday after suffering a concussion two weeks ago. Left guard Andrus Peat (who also played both right tackle and left tackle during Sunday's game because of Armstead's injury and a brief injury to right tackle Ryan Ramczyk) has also battled a variety of minor injuries this season.

Meanwhile, Triplett contends that "Standout players such as Brees, Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, Cameron Jordan, Lattimore, Sheldon Rankins, Demario Davis and Marcus Williams are just too darn valuable to risk losing to fresh injuries -- though it might not be mathematically possible to rest them all."

Payton said on Monday, however, that his team will approach the game like any regular season game and that they'll try to win to end the year with a 14-2 record. As noted by multiple reporters on the Saints beat, Payton didn't say that every starter was going to be part of that effort.

And as Triplett contends, a team loaded with backups would still be compelling to watch, though, because of Bridgewater.

The former Vikings starter and first-round draft pick worked his way back from a devastating 2016 knee injury to play well for the New York Jets this preseason. So well that the Saints decided to trade a third-round draft pick for the 25-year-old -- even though he had only a one-year contract. The Saints mostly wanted to improve their backup QB situation. But they also wanted to make some recruiting inroads in case Bridgewater ever makes sense as a possible successor to Brees.

It will be interesting to see how much interest Bridgewater draws from teams looking for a starting QB this offseason. Or if he's willing to consider staying in New Orleans as Brees will turn 40 in January.

Playing well on Sunday would likely enhance both of those options.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Teddy Bridgewater, Taysom Hill, Drew Brees
RBs: Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray, Dwayne Washington
WRs: Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, Tre'quan Smith, Austin Carr, Deonte Harris, Emmanuel Butler
TEs: Jared Cook, Josh Hill

New York Giants

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2018

As ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan framed it, "Put this one down in the pro-Eli column, even if the New York Giants fell short on Sunday afternoon."

Every one counts these days, as a decision on Eli Manning's future looms.

Manning had one of his better games this season in a 28-27 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. He threw for 309 yards on 25-of-33 passing with a touchdown and interception, which came when he needed to take a shot downfield in the final seconds.

According to Raanan, it goes right up there with his three-touchdown performances against the San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins and his near-perfect completion percentage in a win over the Houston Texans. This performance against the Colts will work in Manning's favor when general manager Dave Gettleman and coach Pat Shurmur cue up the film to make their determination of whether Manning can still play at a consistently high level.

"He did a heckuva job," Shurmur said afterward. "I think Eli did a good job, but I think it was still coordinated. We had the run/play-action going. He did some good things.

"We didn't do enough at the end. None of us did."

The Giants (5-10) finish another disappointing season Sunday, when they host the Dallas Cowboys. Then they have a decision to make with their soon-to-be 38-year-old quarterback, who has one year remaining on his contract.

Manning is set to count $23 million against the salary cap and has 19 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions this season. It isn't enough in the big picture, given that only two quarterbacks who started 15 games (Dak Prescott and Case Keenum) have fewer TD passes. Manning also has a strange home/road split of 14 touchdowns and four interceptions on the road compared to five touchdowns and six interceptions at home.

But the Giants can look at this as almost two different seasons: pre-bye and post-bye.

Manning and the offense struggled badly in the first half of the season with the offensive line in shambles. They played significantly better most of the second half, with the line somewhat solidified.

Is it enough? Can Manning lead them to a winning season next year? The Giants have gone 4-3 in the second half of their season, but they have missed the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years.

"Something to build off. The whole second half of the season we've been doing well," Manning said. "Last week obviously didn't do well in tough circumstances, but besides that have been moving the ball and doing a lot of good things."

The Giants have been monitoring the Manning situation closely. They have been especially careful with how they have handled it all after the botched benching last season. How Manning performed in the second half of this season was always going to go a long way in determining whether they cut the cord. With each strong performance, the likelihood that he comes back seems to increase, and the final decision could even be swayed by the finale against the Cowboys.

No concrete proclamations have been made by the front office to date. One more solid performance from Manning could be the determining factor.

There were moments in Sunday's game that could make this week the Philadelphia game, which cemented Gettleman's opinion that Manning still had years left last offseason. Manning slid to his left in the first half against the Colts and fired deep downfield to an open Sterling Shepard for a 55-yard gain. It was one of several quality plays he made in the first half.

"He was spot-on," said Shepard, who finished with six catches on seven targets for 113 yards. "He was hitting open guys, getting the ball out quick to guys and letting them make plays. That is all you can ask for.

"He shows that all the time. It's nothing new."

It is new compared to the first half of the season and most of the previous two years. This is what the Giants have to factor into the equation, which includes if there are better bridge options at quarterback. It isn't an easy decision for an organization that doesn't want the career of the best QB in franchise history to end badly.

After last Sunday, the matter seems to be trending in Manning's favor. ...

Meanwhile, New York Newsday's Tom Rock suggests their final opponent is unlikely to present a full-on challenge. The Cowboys, who will visit MetLife Stadium on Sunday, clinched the NFC East title with their victory this weekend and are locked into the No. 4 seed in the upcoming playoffs.

Most figure that Cowboys coach Jason Garrett will rest the majority of his starters against the Giants.

Shurmur seems to have no such leaning. Even though there is a school of thought that a loss would help the Giants more than a win by giving them a higher draft pick in April, he appears to be resolute in his desire to try to come out on top, whether it be to keep the team's playoff chances alive -- as was the case earlier this season -- or simply to finish out the string.

To that point, -- beyond committing to Manning as his starter, Shurmur gave no indication that he won't finish the game ("We'll just have to see what the week brings," he said of his backup situation). He also maintained the position that he won't be putting players such as Odell Beckham., Alec Ogletree, Spencer Pulley and Russell Shepard on injured reserve. Rhett Ellison (concussion) and Mario Edwards (calf) left Sunday's game with injuries.

Sterling Shepard (hip) was limited and Beckham was among the players not scheduled to practice Wednesday.

"I can't tell you exactly what's going to happen there, but just like every game, anybody that's injured is doing everything in their power to get back and play this week," he said.

If what he and the Giants players were saying on Sunday and Monday is true -- that the Giants are inching toward becoming a team that can contend for the postseason and maybe even a championship, and doing so soon -- then it makes no sense to pull away from that now.

"I think we've learned a lot of things together," Shurmur said of himself, the players and the coaching staff. "We're battling through it, and we're doing some things that put us in a position to win. We've won some games, but we haven't won enough, and so that's the growth that has to take place. For those of us that aren't very patient, it's a painful process until we get to that point where we're winning all of these games at the end. Not just a few of them, but all of them."

The Giants have learned how to build a lead. In the second half of this season, they've led by 10 points in five of their seven games. They've held that lead to the end of regulation in only two of them, though (and needed overtime to win a third).

Overall, they have lost seven games by a total of 28 points, including four by a total of nine points.

"We are very close," Shurmur said. "But right is right. You've got to win. And I think as we start building and as the players get better, as we improve, as we understand situations and how to play each situation better, then eventually this thing pushes over the top."

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Daniel Jones, Eli Manning, Alex Tanney
RBs: Saquon Barkley, Wayne Gallman, Javorius Allen, Elijhaa Penny, Austin Walter
WRs: Golden Tate, Cody Latimer, Cody Core, Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard
TEs: Rhett Ellison, Garrett Dickerson, Kaden Smith, Evan Engram

New York Jets

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2018

The player Sam Darnold grew up watching and studying -- Aaron Rodgers -- was no longer a digital image on his phone or laptop. He was real, in the flesh, standing on the opposite sideline Sunday at MetLife Stadium. This was a unique opportunity to compete against the athlete who inspired him as a young beach kid in Southern California.

The New York Jets rookie did more than just show up; he came close to beating Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.

As ESPN.com's Rich Cimini reported, Darnold made two mistakes in crunch time -- one mental, one physical -- but his overall performance in the Jets' 44-38 overtime loss was filled with wow moments and uncommon poise. Darnold continued his late-season ascent, becoming the youngest quarterback in NFL history to pass for 300 yards and three touchdowns in a game.

"He played great," Rodgers said. "He played really, really good. I like his game. He threw the ball really well, but he's moving around, making those throws on the run. I think he has a bright future."

Two themes were reinforced in the Jets' loss:

They need to start fresh in 2019 with a new coach. Under Todd Bowles, they play their rear ends off, but they invariably find a way to lose. On Sunday they were an undisciplined mess, committing 16 penalties for a franchise-record 172 yards and blowing a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter. Week after week, the Jets (4-11) prove it's time for a change at the top.

The next coach will walk into a promising quarterback situation thanks to Darnold, who has posted a league-best 81.4 Total QBR over the past three games. No longer a confused rookie with a mounting interception total, Darnold has morphed into an efficient 21-year-old who has cut down on his turnovers (86 attempts without a pick) and has injected life into the Jets' offense.

Or as Cimini wrote, "He provides hope for a wayward franchise."

"I truly believe this kid is going to be a star," wide receiver Jermaine Kearse said.

Darnold certainly wasn't intimidated by Rodgers, as he threw two touchdowns to running back Elijah McGuire (4 and 20 yards) and one to rookie tight end Chris Herndon (5 yards). Instead of limiting Darnold, as they had done in previous games, the coaching staff allowed the offense to run through him. If it weren't for the late-game choke job by the defense, this would've been Darnold's first victory with more than 30 pass attempts. He completed 24 of 35 passes for a career-high 341 yards.

Each week, he shows a little more than the previous one. This time, Darnold was razor sharp on slants and other in-cutting routes. Early in the year, he wasn't consistently efficient on over-the-middle throws, so this represented nice progress. He saw the field, didn't panic under pressure and showed his arm strength on deep outs to the sideline, even when rolling to his left.

Another positive was his effectiveness on play-action -- he was 11-for-12 for 190 yards and a touchdown. Darnold admitted this was an adjustment for him because, as a college quarterback in the shotgun, he didn't have to turn his back to the defense while executing play-action fakes.

"I feel like I've improved a lot in that area," he said.

Darnold has been a different quarterback since returning from his four-week foot injury. He graduated from freshman algebra to advanced-placement calculus.

"When he was away, with his time off, he didn't let his mind atrophy," backup Josh McCown said in a quiet corner of the locker room. "He continued to grow; he continued to stay in the present. He was involved in every meeting and he was involved on the sideline in every game. You're seeing the results right now."

Darnold wasn't perfect. On a third-and-19 with 3:24 remaining in regulation, he dirted a screen pass instead of falling down and taking the sack. The Jets were ahead by five points and needed to milk the clock, especially since the Packers had no timeouts left. Later, with 32 seconds left, he missed an open Deontay Burnett in the end zone for what would've been a 15-yard touchdown --- a potential game winner.

"You always want to go out there and make a mark on the game and try to score, but I had my chance late in the fourth quarter and just missed [Burnett] by a little bit," he said.

Darnold needed those two plays to beat Rodgers, who countered by doing Rodgers things in the fourth quarter and overtime. He passed for 442 yards and two touchdowns, ran for another two and played like the all-planet quarterback he is. The Jets were hypnotized by the Packers star, as if they were lulled into a funk by watching an endless loop of his car-insurance commercials.

There's only one Rodgers. Maybe Darnold can be on that level some day. For that to happen, the organization needs to reinvent itself.

And that will start after this weekend. How will it play out?

When asked whether he's hoping to return in 2019 following Sunday's loss, Bowles replied, "Personally, I do not speak about my next job. I worry about tomorrow when Christmas comes, and I worry about New England on Sunday. And I'll go from there."

Bowles, who has lost 19 of his past 25 games, is expected to be fired next Monday.

He's signed through 2020, but the season fell apart with a six-game losing streak in the middle of the year. The Jets blew fourth-quarter leads in their past three defeats, all of which were marred by costly penalties.

Despite the swirling speculation, Bowles has refused to fuel the narrative. He insisted he's not thinking about his future.

"Not really, until the season is over," said Bowles, whose career record is 24-39.

On Sunday night, Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio, citing an unnamed source, reported that the Jets are planning to pursue Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh.

Jets CEO Christopher Johnson addressed the report Monday, saying in a statement, "Todd Bowles is our head coach. There is no truth to the report of our interest in Jim Harbaugh."

If the Jets were to pursue Harbaugh, it wouldn't be the first time.

In 2009, they held a clandestine interview with Harbaugh when he was the coach at Stanford. They eventually hired Rex Ryan for the position. In 2015, they expressed interest in Harbaugh before he took the Michigan job, eventually naming Bowles as their coach.

Bowles said he has no reaction to the Harbaugh speculation.

"I don't have one," he said. "It's probably a question for the person who reported it."

In a recent interview with ESPN, Harbaugh stated emphatically that he won't leave Michigan, his alma mater.

Bowles also was in no mood to elaborate on his postgame criticism of the officiating in Sunday's 44-38 overtime loss to the Green Bay Packers. The Jets set a franchise record with 172 penalty yards, prompting Bowles to lash out.

"I said what I said and I meant everything I said," he said Monday morning. "All has been said, so I'm done with it. ... I'm not going to sit here and play Monday-morning quarterback."

On the injury front. ... Jermaine Kearse (Achilles') was not practicing Wednesday and Quincy Enunwa (ankle) has missed the last two games; I'll have more on both via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Sam Darnold, David Fales
RBs: Le'Veon Bell, Ty Montgomery, Trenton Cannon, Bilal Powell, Josh Adams
WRs: Robby Anderson, Jamison Crowder, Demaryius Thomas, Tim White, Braxton Berrios, Josh Bellamy
TEs: Chris Herndon, Ryan Griffin, Trevon Wesco, Daniel Brown

Oakland Raiders

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2018

According to ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez, "It turned out to be more a celebration than a funeral.

"Maybe. ..."

Marshawn Lynch, Oakland's favorite son, who might or might not have already played his final NFL game, lit the Al Davis Torch to wild applause.

Doug Martin, who was born in Oakland, scored untouched on a 24-yard run before throwing up an "O" with his outstretched hands to the hometown crowd.

And the Oakland Raiders, who might or might not have played their final game in the Oakland Coliseum, gave their fans a thrill to last -- well, at least until a decision is made on where the Raiders will play home games in 2019 -- in a 27-14 defeat of the rival Denver Broncos on ESPN's Monday Night Football.

"Having family and fans in Oakland was definitely important to me, and it was definitely important to the players," said Martin, who rushed for a season-high 107 yards on 21 carries. "I wanted to give this win to them for a Christmas present, and merry Christmas to Oakland. I hope you enjoyed it. We love you."

But what's next?

We know the Raiders (4-11) will be in Las Vegas in 2020, and the NFL wants to know where they plan to play next year by early February, at the latest.

With so much uncertainty in the air -- and rain showers before the game that turned the field into a muddy bog -- it was a sublime Christmas Eve in the Coliseum, the Raiders' home from 1966 through 1981 and again from 1995 through now, with a 13-season sojourn in Los Angeles in between.

The game began with a Christmas miracle of a play: Raiders punt returner Dwayne Harris got things going for Oakland when he picked up a ball the Broncos tried to down at the 1-yard line. Harris bobbed and weaved his way through Denver's coverage team and went on to score on a 99-yard return, the second-longest punt return in NFL history, tied with Patrick Peterson's 99-yarder in 2011 and trailing only Robert Bailey's 103-yarder in 1994.

According to NFL NextGenStats, Harris ran 157.5 yards on his TD return, the longest distance covered by any ball carrier in the past three seasons.

On Wednesday, Harris was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week.

The win also featured another efficient game by quarterback Derek Carr, whose understanding of Jon Gruden's offense continues to grow. Carr completed 19 of 26 passes for 167 yards, and his streak of consecutive passes without an interception reached 325; he hasn't been intercepted since Oct. 7.

Fans held up signs throughout the game, imploring the Raiders to stay for one last season.

But after the City of Oakland announced on Dec. 11 that it planned on filing a federal lawsuit against the Raiders and the NFL over the team's move to Southern Nevada, the Raiders pulled their lease offer of $7.5 million to stay at the Coliseum off the table. And while both sides have been at a stalemate since, the San Francisco Giants acknowledged last week that they were open to letting the Raiders play next season at their waterfront baseball stadium, ATandT Park.

San Diego has also been mentioned as a possible one-year home, as have Santa Clara, California; Reno, Nevada; and Glendale, Arizona.

Raiders owner Mark Davis has told ESPN that "all options are open" and has also said that he would not want to do business with an entity that is suing him.

On this night, though, it was about what happened on the field, at a stadium that remains the only one shared by an NFL team and an MLB team. The Coliseum has played host to some of the most memorable games in NFL history, from the "Heidi Game" to the "Sea of Hands." It has seen unbelievable highs for the Raiders, from finally beating the Pittsburgh Steelers for the AFC title in 1976 and claiming another conference title by beating the Tennessee Titans in 2002, as well as some unbelievable lows, such as Carr breaking his leg two years ago to the day.

Gruden, who rushed to the Black Hole section of fans to celebrate after the game, said on Saturday he was holding out hope to return to the East Bay next year.

"If it is the last game, it will certainly be a sad day," he said.

"It's Christmas Eve and the end of the season, we have a lot to be thankful for. We haven't won many games, but the people that know this football team know what is going on inside here and know that there has been some really cool foundation that has been laid. I think the fans appreciate the effort, and they know we appreciate them."

Carr, meanwhile, made a Cal Ripken Jr.-like circle of the entire Coliseum to slap hands with fans, who did not rush the field en masse. Rather, at least half a dozen individuals making runs on the field were taken down by security as fans danced on the dugouts to the sounds of Oakland rappers Too Short and MC Hammer.

"I know it stings," Carr said. "I know it hurts that we might not play here [next year], because I don't know, but I was going to make sure that, if this was the last time, I wanted to say thank you in whatever way I could. So anyone that sees this, Raider Nation, thank you. I love you. My family loves you, and you guys are the most loyal fans in the world.

"I know it hurts that we might not be the Oakland Raiders forever, but we are still Raider Nation, and I know that they'll always have our back."

The Raiders' 17-0 halftime advantage Monday marked their largest lead of the season. And in closing out the Broncos in victory formation, facing the Black Hole, the Raiders were able to savor the victory, rather than scramble to come back in the final minute.

"There's not a better way to win a game than to take a knee three times in the [final] two minutes, to let it soak in," said receiver Jordy Nelson, who had seven catches for 75 yards. "Especially with the environment tonight, and what this could possibly be."

This, many longtime observers would tell you, was a different vibe than the last time the Raiders played in Oakland a "final" time -- a dispiriting 23-6 loss to the Vince Evans-led Chicago Bears on Dec. 13, 1981.

Winning Monday night might have hurt the Raiders' draft spot -- they moved from the No. 2 pick to No. 4 with the victory -- but that's for a different day and conversation.

"What a great way to celebrate the holidays and put a great taste in everybody's mouths here at the end of the season," tight end Lee Smith said. "It's awesome. It's fun. It's a night no one wearing a Raiders logo will ever forget."

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Derek Carr, Mike Glennon
RBs: Josh Jacobs, Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington
WRs: Tyrell Williams, Zay Jones, Hunter Renfrow, Trevor Davis, Keelan Doss, Dwayne Harris
TEs: Darren Waller, Foster Moreau, Derek Carrier

Philadelphia Eagles

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2018

Head coach Doug Pederson said on Monday afternoon that quarterback Nick Foles will start this Sunday in Washington. The Eagles need to win, and Minnesota must lose in order to make the playoffs.

Quarterback Carson Wentz, who is sidelined with a back injury, will remain on the active roster.

Wentz is dealing with a stress fracture in his back. The team has not officially ruled Wentz out for the season, leaving some uncertainty as to who will guide the team the rest of the way.

The Eagles need to win their finale at the Redskins to have a shot at making the playoffs.

Foles guided the Eagles on a 72-yard drive with just over two minutes remaining that ended with Jake Elliott's walk-off 35-yard field goal to give Philadelphia a 32-30 win over Houston. Foles set the franchise single-game record for most passing yards with 471 in the victory. It was his fourth 400-yard passing games, most in Eagles history, as well as his fourth four-touchdown performance of his career.

Pederson said that Foles was "fine" after taking a helmet to the chest area from Jadeveon Clowney on that final drive. Foles had the wind knocked out of him, and had to come out for a single play since he was tended to by the medical staff.

Foles had X-rays taken postgame following a vicious hit to his midsection in the closing minutes of Sunday's victory over the Houston Texans, but said he is healthy enough to play in the regular-season finale against the Washington Redskins if need be.

"I'm great. Feel great," Foles said when asked how the X-rays turned out.

On Wednesday, Foles was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week; I'll be watching for any issues with those ribs in coming days and will report back via Late-Breaking Update as needed. ...

Meanwhile, it seems that Zach Ertz has broken records in every game over the last month or so, but Sunday's record-breaking performance may have been the most historically significant.

With 12 catches for 110 yards, Ertz broke Jason Witten's record of 110 catches by a tight end in a single season set back in 2012, finishing the day with 113 catches on the year. The Eagles, of course, still have one game left to play -- a road matchup with Washington -for Ertz to add to his all-time great numbers.

Ertz, 28, surpassed Brian Westbrook's mark for most receptions in a single season in team history with his 90th earlier this month against Washington.

"I don't think I've truly come to grips with it yet," Ertz said afterward. "One thing I do know is I'm thankful to my Lord and savior Jesus Christ for allowing me to be here. I'm thankful for everyone who helped me along the way. The one thing I do know is I didn't get here by myself. Jason Witten has been a huge part of this, so I think technically part of him still has the record. Brent Celek has been huge for me. There's just been so many people along the way that have helped me that I'm just eternally grateful for.

"I think it truly takes a village to become a professional athlete -- my family, my wife (Julie). I'm so thankful for everyone who's helped me along the way. It is special though, having that record. Hopefully, it's something that will last a while, but if not, I'll be happy for the next guy to do it. But it is special."

On Sunday, Ertz's performance was about both quantity and quality. Two of his catches went for touchdowns, with his second giving the Eagles a 29-14 lead early in the fourth quarter. The Texans would come back to take the lead late, but Ertz and the offense drove down the field to get in range for the eventual game-winning field goal from Elliott.

"That fourth quarter, the circumstances, that kind of epitomizes our whole season, and we did not blink," Ertz said. "The guys in the huddle were so confident. (Nick) Foles was so confident. Everyone was so calm. We've been in that situation so many times together, and no one flinched. I think that's the mark of a good team.

"They're a big zone defense, and finding zones is kind of something that I take a lot of pride in. They're a really good defense. That front four, those front seven guys are really, really talented. (Jadeveon) Clowney, (J.J.) Watt, (Bernardrick) McKinney, they're all really talented. … I'm just glad we won the game. To have that many targets and catches and to win the game feels really good, and that is what I love."

The Eagles will hop on a train and head south to our nation's capital for the final regular-season game next Sunday.

The Eagles will need some help to make it into the postseason, but Ertz knows the Eagles need to just take care of what they can control and let the chips fall where they may.

"It's tough not to really control your own destiny, but at the same time if you focus on everything else going on and you slip up because we're not focused on our job, it's really not going to matter.," Ertz said. "We've said for a while now every game is a must-win game. That's the way we've approached these last five games."

And finally this week. ... Wide receiver Mike Wallace said early this month that he was holding out hope of returning from a fractured fibula before the year was out.

On Monday, the Eagles activated Wallace from injured reserve.

He may have to be satisfied with a return to the practice field though. Pederson was asked at his Monday press conference if there was any chance of Wallace getting back this season.

"Mike Wallace is getting better, too," Pederson said. "I will tell that you Mike will entertain some more individual reps, Wednesday, Thursday, and see where he's at moving forward."

Wallace was injured in September, so it has been a long time since he's done any on-field work. That makes going from first practice steps to game action in a few days seem like a stretch.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Carson Wentz, Nate Sudfeld, Clayton Thorson
RBs: Jordan Howard, Miles Sanders, Darren Sproles, Corey Clement
WRs: Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Jordan Matthews, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Mack Hollins, Greg Ward, DeSean Jackson
TEs: Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert

Pittsburgh Steelers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2018

As ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler framed it, "The football -- and possibly the Pittsburgh Steelers' playoff hopes -- bounced off of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome turf. ..."

JuJu Smith-Schuster's fumble in the open field with 32 seconds left sealed the New Orleans Saints' 31-28 win that knocked Pittsburgh a half-game behind the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North standings.

It was a devastating play for a receiver who has been tremendous all season.

But devastating losses and plays have one of the league's most talented teams sitting at 8-6-1, thanks to three December losses by three points. The Steelers were driving into scoring range when linebacker Demario Davis recovered the ball at the New Orleans 35-yard line.

"For it to come down like this every week, it sucks," said Smith-Schuster, who finished with 115 yards on 11 catches but was clearly dejected in the locker room, sitting in his uniform well after many teammates had showered.

The Steelers knew their playoff hopes hinged largely on what happened in New Orleans, and on Sunday, they played like it. They were desperate, inspired, bold, exciting.

They weren't perfect, though. That's about what it took to beat the Saints in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

In arguably their gutsiest performance of the season, a wild game from start to finish, the Steelers couldn't overcome a handful of mistakes against a team this good.

The Steelers would be dangerous in these playoffs. But a Week 1 tie in Cleveland and a Week 14 loss in Oakland probably put their playoff hopes to bed. Now they need Baker Mayfield's magic in a Week 17 game at Baltimore to force the Ravens into relinquishing the divisional lead. The Steelers host the Cincinnati Bengals at home.

Head coach Mike Tomlin's decision to fake a punt with 4:06 left backfired, and surely will be questioned. The Steelers were at their own 42 on fourth-and-5 when fullback Roosevelt Nix took the snap and bulldozed over the middle, nearly getting to the first-down mark.

Running back Stevan Ridley's fumble on the previous drive slowed the Steelers' red-hot offense. The defense gave up a third-and-20 in the final minutes.

Said wide receiver Antonio Brown: "Can't make no excuses. Have to find a way to put ourselves in a better position."

The game won't be without controversy. In a game this close, the image of Joe Haden gently patting Alvin Kamara on the back in coverage of a first-quarter pass that neither had a chance at catching will fume Steelers fans for days. Haden's penalty, a highly questionable call at best, turned a would-be stop on fourth-and-2 into a 33-yard penalty to the Saints' 1-yard line, which Mark Ingram converted into a rushing score.

Or, there's that fourth-and-2 interference call on Haden in the final minutes that looked debatable. Haden broke up a pass but officials called him for grabbing from behind.

Haden couldn't hide his frustration after the game.

"It is what it is, man. It's an offensive game," Haden said. "You can't touch these guys."

On offense, Pittsburgh turned to the two players who have won clutch games for the team many times before -- Brown> and Ben Roethlisberger, who dazzled in the second half as Pittsburgh went to a near-all-passing attack.

Roethlisberger was near-flawless with 380 yards on 33-of-50 passing and three touchdowns, and Brown continued to spin around Marshon Lattimore for 185 yards and two touchdowns on 14 catches.

Between the second and third quarters, the Steelers' offense broke off scoring drives of 97, 75 and 66 yards with only five rushing attempts, none in the third quarter.

In what might be his throw of the season, Roethlisberger split two defenders with a back-of-the-end-zone dart to a streaking Brown late in the third quarter.

And the game had tilted Pittsburgh's way when linebacker L.J. Fort blocked New Orleans' field goal attempt with 6:13 left to protect a 28-24 lead. The Saints were moving the ball swiftly, but Pittsburgh locked up inside the 40. The Steelers got three impressive second-half stops on one of the game's best offenses.

It wasn't enough.

And without much-needed hope and some luck in Week 17, the Steelers will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

"The story's not written yet. I told the guys in there -- I said, 'Listen, it's not over yet; this chapter of the story's not done," Roethlisberger said. "Obviously we don't control it, but let's see what happens."

For what it's worth, the Steelers pretty much abandoned the running game after gaining 41 yards on 12 carries in the first half, and unleashed Roethlisberger on the Saints' pass defense.

Roethlisberger completed 33 of 50 passes for 380 yards and three touchdowns as he found Browns and Smith-Schuster for big plays. Brown was a monster, hauling in 14 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns, while Smith-Schuster totaled 11 catches for 115 yards.

On the game, the Steelers rushed for 65 yards on 18 carries, a huge disparity in the pass-run ratio (50:18).

Obviously, the Steelers would prefer a more balanced approach on offense, but the continued absence of running back James Conner likely means a pass-heavy approach when the postseason arrives. ...

In case you missed it, Smith-Schuster was listed as questionable heading into Sunday's game against the Saints because of a groin injury, but wrote a tongue in cheek message on Twitter a day before the game that he'd be playing because it was the finals of most fantasy football leagues.

Smith-Schuster was back on Twitter Monday, but the message wasn't delivered with a smiley face. Smith-Schuster wrote an apologetic message to his followers on Monday to address the above-mentioned fumble.

"When I'm at my lowest, I'm not going to hide," Smith-Schuster wrote. "I'm sorry. That loss was on me. I let everyone down, it won't happen again."

Smith-Schuster had 11 catches for 115 yards and drew a pass interference penalty at the 2-yard-line that set the Steelers up for a touchdown. None of that makes the fumble any less painful for Smith-Schuster or the Steelers' playoff hopes, but the play wasn't the only reason the Steelers came up short on Sunday.

On the injury front. ... Tomlin said on Monday that Sean Davis (quad), Vince Williams (toe) and Conner (ankle) are all questionable to play this week against the Bengals. The coach added practice participation will determine their availability this week. I'll have more on Conner via Late-Breaking Update in coming days but he did practice fully to open the week on Wednesday.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Mason Rudolph, Devlin Hodges, Ben Roethlisberger
RBs: James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, Benny Snell
WRs: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, Johnny Holton, Ryan Switzer, James Washington
TEs: Vance McDonald, Nick Vannett, Zach Gentry, Xavier Grimble

San Francisco 49ers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2018

The Chicago Bears topped the San Francisco 49ers, 14-9, in a grind-it-out game at Levi's Stadium in Week 16. Explosive plays were at a minimum in a contest largely dominated by defense.

San Francisco failed to get into the end zone for the second consecutive matchup against Chicago.

It wasn't for lack of effort or opportunity.

As Sacramento Bee staffer Chris Biderman noted, the 49ers had 1:14 to score a possible go-ahead touchdown and escape Sunday with a comeback victory against one of the best teams in the NFC.

But quarterback Nick Mullens didn't give his team that chance to beat the Bears because of a crucial mistake on fourth and 4.

Mullens, who rolled right after feeling pressure up the middle, had an open running lane up the right sideline. But instead of taking it, where it appeared he could have gained some 20 yards and gotten out of bounds, he threw long to Marquise Goodwin near the goal line.

It landed well beyond Goodwin's reach.

"I've just got to handle the situation better," Mullens said. "I should have ran. I didn't run.

"In the heat of battle, a lot of things are happening fast, split-second decisions. Saw 'Quise down the field. Tried to give him a chance instead of making the simple play. I didn't make the simple play."

Mullens reacted to his mistake right away. It was arguably the most glaring miscue of his impressive seven-game run as the starter.

With 241 yards passing Sunday, Mullens now has 1,995 for the season, third-most in a seven-game stretch since the merger in 1970. And no 49ers quarterback has thrown for more than 220 yards in seven straight games since Jeff Garcia in 2000.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan was impressed with his second-year quarterback, despite the late-game mistake.

Even Mullens' lone interception wasn't an egregious error. It was a pass that arguably should have been caught by Goodwin but deflected right to linebacker Danny Trevathan deep in Bears' territory, preventing the 49ers from taking a lead in the fourth quarter.

"Going against that defense is a very big challenge, and it's as good of a pass rush as I've seen. And that, tied with the sound coverages and scheme, that's a challenge," Shanahan said. "He did a good job today, especially throwing it 38 times, protecting the ball fairly well. I know we'd like to have that one back, but definitely wasn't a bad decision. Just a hair off 'Quise's hand. He hung in there. Everyone misses a couple, but he also made a couple that weren't there. A couple off-schedule plays that were very impressive. I thought Nick, under the circumstances, played very well."

Meanwhile, a theme from the 49ers' losses this season popped up again Sunday: injuries to key players on offense. Matt Breida's season-long ankle injury was aggravated early in the second quarter.

Rookie Dante Pettis, the team's most productive receiver for the past month, suffered an MCL injury minutes later. Then, tight end Garrett Celek went down with a concussion. All three were ruled out after the teams returned from halftime.

Both Pettis and Breida will miss Sunday's regular-season finale Shanahan announced on Monday.

Pettis was replaced at "X" receiver by Goodwin, who had been passed over by Pettis the last two games to allow Pettis more reps during a team-wide youth movement with the playoffs out of reach.

Goodwin had three catches for 29 yards, giving him four receptions for 36 yards since returning two weeks ago following his two-game absence to deal with a family issue.

The 49ers ran for a season-low 47 yards with Breida out for three quarters. Four of their worst rushing performances of the season have come in December. They had just three rushing attempts after halftime, and Shanahan asked Mullens to throw the ball 38 times.

"You would love to just run it every play, especially versus that pass rush and everything, but the only thing that they do better than stopping the pass is stopping the run," Shanahan said. "... Definitely thought throwing the ball there, when we decided, I'm sure you could see, gave us the best chance to win the game."

Breida finished his second season with 13 games, 12 starts, 180 touches, 1,075 yards and five touchdowns.

"I think Matt's had a very impressive season," Shanahan said at his press conference. "He started out great filling in, losing [RB Jerick McKinnon] at the beginning of the year. I think Matt stepped in right away and played like a number one back. I think he was up there for a while close to leading the league in rushing. Got a ton of explosives. Had a good yards per carry. He got hurt early on. He's battled every week to get in there and play for us. He's ended up hurting it every week also, so it's lingered all year. Just a credit to him to still be effective when he's been out there and been able to help us throughout this year has been unbelievable.

He has not been 100 percent for a while. That has affected his production. It has made it harder for him to look the same way he did at the beginning of the year. But it shows you the type of guy he is that he can still take it to a whole other level the healthier he gets for next year."

Jeff Wilson Jr. will handle the lead role with Breida out this week.

In addition, Goodwin (calf/Achilles contusion) was not scheduled to practice Wednesday; I'll have more on that via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Also worth noting, George Kittle paced San Francisco's pass-catchers with seven receptions for 74 yards. Kendrick Bourne chipped in with four catches for 73 yards. Both are likely to be major contributors again this week.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Mullens, C.J. Beathard
RBs: Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson
WRs: Emmanuel Sanders, Deebo Samuel, Dante Pettis, Marquise Goodwin, Richie James, Kendrick Bourne, Trent Taylor, Jalen Hurd
TEs: George Kittle, Levine Toilolo, Ross Dwelley

Seattle Seahawks

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2018

As ESPN.com's Brady Henderson reported it, the Seattle Seahawks had a three-point lead and four-and-a-half minutes on the clock Sunday night when their offense, with the NFL's most committed and prolific rushing attack, took over with the game on the line.

It seemed almost certain that they would try to grind out a victory on the ground, and in the process, clinch a playoff berth.

Instead, the Seahawks left it up to Russell Wilson and his receivers to seal their win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

With the way they had played, why not?

That was the thinking head coach Pete Carroll expressed to offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer when Seattle regained possession following a Chiefs field goal that cut the Seahawks' lead to 31-28.

To that point, Wilson had matched MVP front-runner Patrick Mahomes with three touchdown passes and had answered every punch from the NFL's highest-scoring offense.

"I was talking to Schotty, 'Let's keep going for it. You can throw as much as you need to here. Don't hold back,'" Carroll said. "Russ was on fire. We could ride him."

So they did.

After a first-down run and an incompletion, Wilson converted a third-and-6 to David Moore, who muscled his way past the line to gain. He hooked up with Tyler Lockett on a perfectly placed over-the-shoulder deep ball for 45 yards then with Doug Baldwin, who made a one-handed grab for 29 yards to get Seattle to Kansas City's 1. Chris Carson punched it in from there to give the Seahawks another two-score lead.

The eight-play drive included 5 drop-backs, 3 Wilson completions for 81 yards and three Carson rushes.

When the Seahawks held Kansas City to a field goal on the ensuing possession and then withstood an unsuccessful onside kick attempt, they had escaped with a 38-31 win that punched their ticket to the playoffs.

Wilson (18-of-29 for 271 yards, no turnovers) has had more prolific games. Considering what was at stake, who was on the other side and the plays he made down the stretch, this could rank among the best games of Wilson's career.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, he was 8-of-11 for 197 yards and a touchdown on passes 15-plus yards downfield. It was his second-most completions on such throws in his career.

He also torched Kansas City when it blitzed, finishing 9-of-15 for 123 yards and 2 touchdowns when the Chiefs brought an extra pass-rusher. That gives him an NFL-high 15 touchdowns to only one interception against the blitz this season. Wilson was also 7-of-11 for 71 yards and 2 touchdowns when under duress and he scrambled 4 times for 61 yards, including a pair of first downs.

"The times he took off and ran and created first downs for us, he looked like he was done and gone," Carroll said. "He was doing the stuff that I think a lot of people came to watch this game because of Patrick and Russ. They're magnificent ballplayers."

Kansas City tied the game at 17 in the third quarter when Mahomes (23 of 40, 273 yards) made one of the jaw-dropping, physics-defying plays he's becoming known for. While running to his left, he delivered a side-arm throw back across his body to Charcandrick West for his second touchdown of the night.

Wilson showed plenty of off-script magic of his own, including a touchdown throw to tight end Ed Dickson while rolling left. Dickson's diving catch was one of his two big plays. He also converted a third-and-15 with a tackle-breaking 18-yard catch in the third quarter. That extended a drive that ended with a Baldwin touchdown.

"It was a great catch for the touchdown, but his run after the catch was one of the moments in the game where you know, 'OK, we have a shot to win this frickin' game,'" Carroll said. "And you can tell because the plays are being made and the guys are coming through."

Carroll said there's "no doubt" Wilson fed off of having to go back and forth with an MVP candidate during the second half.

"He knows who he's playing against and he knows all that," Carroll said before mentioning how Wilson was left off the NFC Pro Bowl roster. "I guess it's just a statement that we didn't throw the ball enough and everybody's enamored with that. But he's thrown the ball great. Look at his rating (112.7, third behind Drew Brees and Mahomes). I don't know who has a better rating than him, but he's been phenomenal all year long. I hope he doesn't say anything about it because he won't.

"But yeah, when you're competing against guys like that, you want to do well. He came through and did a great job."

That's probably something we should all remember when next summer's fantasy drafts roll around. ...

As for this week?

Carroll does not believe in resting players at the end of the regular season to keep them healthy for the playoffs.

"I don't like doing that," Carroll said Monday, citing a belief that it messes with a team's momentum.

Carroll has proven that in the past, playing Wilson and other key players in Week 17 even when the Seahawks are locked into a playoff seed.

The Seahawks don't have much to play for on Sunday against the Cardinals, as they have clinched a wild card berth but can't win the division. Still, the difference between being the NFC No. 5 seed and playing at Dallas in the wild card round of the playoffs and being the NFC No. 6 seed and playing at Chicago or the Rams is not nothing. The Cowboys are the more favorable matchup, and the Seahawks will try to win on Sunday and earn a trip to Dallas.

For what it's worth, Carroll also said Rashaad Penny (knee) would return for Sunday's finale against the Cardinals. In fact, Carroll said Penny should "come roaring back this week."

Carroll also said right tackle Germain Ifedi (groin) should play this week, but it's too early to know on left guard J.R. Sweezy (foot). ...

And finally. ... The team announced on Monday that Carroll has signed an extension that runs through the 2021 season, which would be his 12th year with the organization. Carroll's previous deal was set to expire after the 2019 season.

"So grateful to Jody [Allen, the sister of late owner Paul Allen and Trustee of the Paul G. Allen Trust] and the organization," Carroll said in a statement. "I love this team and couldn't be more proud to represent the 12s."

No other terms were announced, but Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports that it is worth over $11 million per season. Carroll is 97-59-1 including the playoffs since being hired in Seattle.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Russell Wilson, Geno Smith
RBs: Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny, C.J. Prosise, Travis Homer
WRs: Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf, Josh Gordon, David Moore, Malik Turner, John Ursua
TEs: Luke Willson, Jacob Hollister, Ed Dickson, Will Dissly

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2018

With a 27-20 loss to the host Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 5-10. It is their second double-digit losing season in three years under coach Dirk Koetter.

Tampa Bay now has double-digit losses in seven of the past 10 seasons.

And it should come as no surprise that Koetter's job security is a topic.

The Bucs "haven't ruled out keeping Koetter," according to an NFL Network report, despite the mounting losses and the issues that have plagued the team in three years under his guidance. His teams have struggled on offense, they have had high turnovers, and clock management has been a consistent issue.

As ESPN.com's Jenna Laine noted, the main argument for keeping Koetter is that the Bucs' offense has been so successful in producing yardage. Their 416.6 yards per game heading into Week 16 ranked third-most in the league.

But the Bucs were also 10th in the league in scoring heading into Sunday, and they have struggled against the league's better defenses, averaging 15.3 points per game in Weeks 14-16 (the league average from Weeks 14-15 is 19.32).

"It's frustrating to move the ball like that and not get touchdowns. That's what you have to do," Koetter said Sunday.

The Bucs' struggles became painfully evident in the fourth quarter, when they had two delay-of-game penalties in the red zone.

Koetter contemplated calling a timeout when it was fourth-and-1 at the Dallas 2-yard line. The Bucs turned the ball over on downs.

"I did think about a timeout, and I saw the clock," Koetter said. "We were gonna throw it anyway. I just didn't know about using the timeout, and sometimes being back further gives you more route options anyway, so ... I also thought we were gonna get the ball snapped. ... We didn't do a good job there."

Earlier in the game, the 6-foot-4, 231-pound Jameis Winston fought his way for 4 yards to the Dallas' 2-yard line, setting up a Jacquizz Rodgers rushing touchdown, so Koetter's rationale is puzzling.

"We had those delay-of-game penalties. ... On me," Winston said. "And I've just gotta. ... I don't know. I don't know what happened with the clock. I've just gotta call it faster and get the ball out. Because that hurt us in terms of being fourth-and-6 and fourth-and-1. I've gotta do a better job with operations."

For all the one-score games the Bucs were in and lost in 2017 (they went 3-7 in such games and are currently 13-17 in such games under Koetter), decisions such as that can affect a team, and it did on Sunday, as the Bucs were 2-of-4 in the red zone.

That falls on Winston, too, who as a fourth-year quarterback has been in the same system since he entered the NFL.

"I knew where [the clock] was," Winston said. "I just thought it was quick. I just. ... I don't know if we got 40 seconds or 25 or 15. I just thought it was quick, and obviously I've gotta be aware of that ... so I wish I had that one back."

That was at the end of a 9:26 drive.

"We put a lot out there to move the chains," wide receiver Adam Humphries said. "[With] long drives, a lot of plays, you get tired. You want to ultimately be rewarded at the end with points and a touchdown. It is unfortunate to come out of those long drives without points."

The Cowboys capitalized big time on the Bucs' turnovers, scoring 14 points off of them. At the end of the first quarter, on third-and-5, Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory blazed by left tackle Donovan Smith, sacking Winston and forcing a fumble. Jaylon Smith recovered it and returned it 69 yards for a touchdown.

In the third quarter, a botched exchange between Winston and Bobo Wilson on a jet sweep led to a Wilson fumble that Gregory recovered, setting up a 4-yard touchdown pass from Dak Prescott to Michael Gallup to give the Cowboys a 27-13 lead.

"We had one in the first half that hurt us and one in the second half that hurt us," Winston said. "That's tough to bite, but it happened. Those are things we know we can fix."

Penalties and protection were another issue. Winston was sacked three times and hit eight times, and the offensive line was responsible for five penalties (four holding calls and a false start).

"We had the holding penalties -- three in the pass game and one in the long run by Peyton [Barber] -- that hurt us a lot in that drive," Koetter said. "But holding penalties aren't discipline. Those are those guys giving their all to protect the quarterback. That's not a discipline issue. It doesn't mean you like them, but that's a really good rush team we played today, and our offensive line played their tails off. I mean, in a perfect world, we wouldn't be throwing it 48 times, but we did."

With the loss, the Bucs moved up two spots, from No. 8 to No. 6 in the 2019 NFL draft order. The No. 6 slot is in Mike Evans territory, so the Bucs could net a major impact player.

That bright spot doesn't make the losses any easier to stomach, however, especially for Bucs fans who are receiving their season-ticket renewals this month.

The Bucs have one more game to play, and beyond 2018, fans can hope management figures things out.

On the injury front. ... DeSean Jackson was not on the practice field Wednesday after his Achilles tendon was cleated in Dallas. The injury kept him out most of the second half of the game and could keep him out this week; I'll have more via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jameis Winston, Ryan Griffin, Blaine Gabbert
RBs: Ronald Jones, Peyton Barber, Dare Ogunbowale, T.J. Logan
WRs: Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Breshad Perriman, Justin Watson, Scott Miller, Bobo Wilson
TEs: O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate, Antony Auclair, Tanner Hudson

Tennessee Titans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2018

The Tennessee Titans desperately needed to beat the Redskins to keep pace in the AFC wild-card race. With Blaine Gabbert and Derrick Henry coming through on a crucial drive, they found a way.

As ESPN.com's Turron Davenport noted, Gabbert's 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end MyCole Pruitt with 4 minutes, 30 seconds to play, punctuating a go-ahead drive on which Henry did most of the damage, was perhaps the biggest play of a 25-16 win over the Redskins on Saturday.

It kept the Titans (9-6) tied with the Baltimore Ravens (9-6) for the final spot in the AFC wild-card race.

"You always have to be ready when your number is called. It was just go win the game," Gabbert said of the drive. "We needed a touchdown. I think we were down four at that point. Derrick Henry did a great job churning up some tough yards. And then [offensive coordinator] Matt [LaFleur] had that great call on the keeper down there on the goal line. He ran the ball a couple of times in that formation in the game, and MyCole popped right open."

Henry carried the ball four times for 32 yards on the seven-play drive that covered 75 yards. His physical runs set up an easy play-action throw for a touchdown.

For Gabbert, it was sweet to be back on the field with a chance to huddle up with his teammates. It's something the eight-year veteran said he misses now that he is a backup.

After the Steelers lost to the Saints on Sunday, the Titans are in control of their AFC wild-card destiny in Week 17.

But no matter what happens, they must win next Sunday against Andrew Luck and the Colts (8-6).

And the Titans might have to do it without starting quarterback Marcus Mariota, who was injured at the end of the first half and diagnosed with a stinger.

"We had full trust when Blaine got in the game that he was going to drive down the field and score on that last drive. We have full trust in him no matter what happens going forward," safety Kevin Byard said.

If Mariota isn't able to play, the bulk of the load on offense will be on Henry's shoulders.

The Titans are 5-0 when Henry carries the ball 15 or more times. Henry doesn't have any concern if they must lean on Gabbert.

"Blaine has that attitude," Henry said. "He has that killer instinct. I don't think anything scares him. He doesn't shy away from anything. He goes in there like he's the starter. One man goes down, you have to step up."

All that said, the team's official website notes that Mariota had shown some positive signs on Monday. His status for Sunday's game against the Colts, however, won't be known until later in the week, according to coach Mike Vrabel.

During a press conference on Monday, Vrabel said the injury is not the same one he suffered against the Dolphins in Week 1, an elbow injury that lingered and caused him to wear a makeshift glove on his throwing hand the first half of the season.

"That's not the same issue," Vrabel said of Mariota. "The issue is a stinger. When you get hit, unfortunately, and tackled to the ground like we'd rather not have our quarterbacks be, sometimes those things happen.

"We'll see kind of where (Marcus) is at today. We are going to do a little bit of individual work on the field and see if he can do any of that stuff, and then we'll kind of keep moving on towards the end of the week and make sure he can do everything that we ask our quarterbacks to do."

Vrabel added there's a scenario where Mariota could play even if he's limited during the course of the practice week.

Mariota was injured after being sacked on a first-and-10 play from the Redskins 14. Trainers examined Mariota on the field, and he headed to the locker room prior to the half. Mariota remained in the locker room during the second half of the contest.

Mariota completed 10-of-13 passes for 110 yards before leaving the contest.

What would Vrabel like to see from Mariota during the week to let him know he's able to play? Vrabel said Mariota is no different than other players on the roster.

"One: Are you going to make it worse? Two: Can you protect yourself? And Three: Can you execute the game plan that we think is going to be able to win?" Vrabel said. "I would probably just insert that answer for that specific player, or any other player that you would talk about or ask about, as it relates to injuries and his availability, being able to play and ultimately help us win."

For the record, Mariota was not on the field for the start of Wednesday's practicve. and I'll watching him closely in coming days; check the Late-Breaking Updates section for more as the week progresses. ...

Worth noting. ... The Titans placed defensive tackle Jurrell Casey and tight end Cole Wick on injured reserve Monday. The moves made room for the additions of quarterback Austin Davis and linebacker LaTroy Lewis.

Casey, who injured his knee in Saturday's win over Washington, started every game for the Titans and made 62 tackles, seven sacks and two forced fumbles.

The Titans signed Wick off the 49ers' practice squad Dec. 11, but he did not appear in a game.

Davis provides insurance behind Gabbert.

Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo, who has missed the previous two games with an elbow injury, will be evaluated during the week, Vrabel said.

Running back David Fluellen was placed on injured reserve last week. He's missed the last five games with a knee injury and was ruled out for Saturday. ...

Beyond that. ... After producing two straight games of 170-plus yards rushing, Henry came back to Earth a little with 84 yards rushing and a touchdown on 21 carries.

Henry, however, saved his best running for when it was needed the most in the final two quarters. After being held to 27 yards rushing on seven carries in the first half, Henry found a rhythm in the second half with 57 yards on 14 attempts to help pace the Titans' ground attack, which totaled 99 yards on the game.

Henry's hot December continued in the end zone, too.

On his career, the third-year pro has 22 rushing touchdowns, with 12 coming in December.

Eight of Henry's 12 rushing scores in 2018 have come in the past three weeks, and his emergence down the stretch of the season will be a large contributing factor in determining whether the Titans advance to the postseason.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Ryan Tannehill, Marcus Mariota
RBs: Derrick Henry, Dion Lewis, Dalyn Dawkins, David Fluellen
WRs: Corey Davis, A.J. Brown, Adam Humphries, Tajae Sharpe, Darius Jennings, Kalif Raymond
TEs: Jonnu Smith, Delanie Walker, MyCole Pruitt, Anthony Firkser

Washington Redskins

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2018

According to ESPN.com's John Keim, the end to the Redskins' playoff hopes was accompanied by the usual assortment of questions, highlighted by a two-word query:

What if? As in, what if the Redskins had stayed healthy, especially on offense?

Keim went on to explain the Redskins, officially eliminated from playoff contention Sunday, and now must determine if health was the only reason for their second-half slide. They certainly were decimated on offense. Of their top 22 players on the Week 1 depth chart, only nine played in Saturday's loss to Tennessee. The rest were hurt. The Redskins have 21 players on injured reserve, and a few more could join them this week.

It leads to serious issues, and it led to a team trying to keep its meager postseason hopes alive by starting its fourth quarterback, one who wasn't here a month ago. Five players have started at left guard and four at right guard. The Redskins lost their top two quarterbacks in a two-week span, though Josh Johnson's play the past two weeks provided a spark. It took a toll on the offense. According to Keim, scouts from other teams wondered how the Redskins were staying in games, given their injuries.

But the Redskins must decide if it was just the injuries that led to their downfall. Head coach Jay Gruden does not appear to be on a hot seat, though nothing is official, and as he said recently, as a coach, "You're fine, you're fine, you're fine, and then you're not fine."

He has two years remaining on his contract, and firing him would require a $10 million buyout in addition to whatever members of his staff are owed.

Team president Bruce Allen, completing his ninth season and seventh without a playoff berth, will be scrutinized, but there hasn't been much smoke, let alone a fire, about his possible exit. All of this can change, and owner Dan Snyder could make changes. It might just be on defense with coordinator Greg Manusky. His group was far healthier than the offense, but it regressed for whatever reason -- whether because of players or scheme.

Safety D.J. Swearinger certainly believes it was about the scheme: He ripped Manusky to the media after Saturday's loss. Gruden subsequently released Swearinger on Monday.

At one point, the Redskins were 6-3 and held a two-game lead in the NFC East. They've lost five of their past six.

Quarterback Alex Smith suffered a leg injury that put his career in jeopardy; Colt McCoy broke his leg two weeks later.

"It's very disappointing, without a doubt," Gruden said. "You look at where we were at 6-3, we had a lot of things going positively. I felt like we were still underachieving, especially on offense. Alex was just starting to get his rhythm a little bit, get a lot more familiar with the players and what we were doing and getting better and better. Then he goes down, and obviously Colt goes down, and we had issues with the guards and tight ends and everybody else. It is a tough pill to swallow because I know we have a very talented team here, and I feel like I didn't get enough out of them to get us in a position to advance to the playoffs."

The only players who have started every game on offense are running back Adrian Peterson, center Chase Roullier and right tackle Morgan Moses. In their first nine games, the Redskins averaged 337.4 yards and 19.56 points per game. Since then, they've averaged 278.2 yards and 17.5 points, but they haven't topped 16 points in the past four games.

Saturday summed up the Redskins' season: a gritty effort that wasn't enough.

"This group is different from any other group I've been around," running back Chris Thompson said. "Guys on defense continue to fight on every play. ... I just wish we can continue to stay together ... we really grew together and really became a true team."

It adds to the frustration of the season for Washington. But Gruden said he still could have coaxed more out of them.

"We could have done better," Gruden said. "We had the skill on defense to be a very good defense. Offensively, we had enough people in here to be productive. We left some plays out on the field and a few bad calls here and there. That's ultimately on me. They saw us compete [Saturday]. We had every opportunity to win that game and a different call here by me or what have you, maybe something a little bit different, maybe I could've gotten a little more out of them."

Looking for positives?

In a season of turmoil for Washington's offense, Peterson proved a constant and bright spot.

Against the Titans, Peterson showed flashes of his younger days, running with speed, agility and power en route to an impressive 119-yard rushing effort on 26 carries. The 33-year-old Peterson, who joined Washington in August, entered the game needing 77 yards to reach 1,000 yards rushing for the eighth time on his career. Peterson became the fifth player in NFL history to rush for 1,000-plus yards in a season at age 33-plus.

He joins Frank Gore and Hall of Famers John Riggins, who did it twice, Franco Harris and John Henry Johnson, who also did it twice, as the only players in NFL history to accomplish the feat.

In addition, Peterson leapfrogged Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson on the all-time rushing list. Peterson, now No. 8, has 13,318 career yards; Dickerson has 13,259.

Peterson has said he plans to play for three or four more years. With 345 more yards, Peterson will surpass Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis for No. 7. A full 23 yards later, Peterson will pass Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson. With 417 more after that, Peterson will skip past Hall of Famer Curtis Martin for the sixth spot on the career list.

Peterson needs 5,037 to catch Emmitt Smith at the top of the all-time list, and Peterson has said on multiple occasions that he still holds out hope for setting that record.

For what it's worth, Johnson was having a good game, displaying poise through the first three quarters, until disaster struck in the final period. Johnson, a 32-year-old journeyman signal-caller, threw two costly interceptions with the game still very much in doubt, costing the Redskins a win and likely any glimmer of hope for a postseason berth.

Johnson, who signed weeks ago from the AAF, was in a tough spot to begin with after taking over last week when injuries wrecked the quarterback position in Washington.

For what it's worth, nobody directed anger at Johnson for the fourth-quarter interception that ended a shot at a tying field goal late in the game.

Instead, afterward in the locker room, linebacker Ryan Anderson walked over to him and said, "I appreciate you, 8," referring to his jersey number.

Johnson won over players; he just couldn't produce enough with a makeshift attack. ...

According to Kareem Copeland of the Washington Post, McCoy will not return this year, with the team eliminated from playoff contention. McCoy said last week he was hoping to play in the regular season finale against the Eagles, which would have been 27 days after breaking his fibula against them (Dec. 3). That always seemed optimistic, so perhaps they're protecting him from himself.

McCoy started running some drills last week, but it became a moot point with results of other games. Johnson will draw another start to close out the season.
DEPTH CHART
QBs: Dwayne Haskins, Case Keenum, Colt McCoy
RBs: Adrian Peterson, Derrius Guice, Wendell Smallwood, Chris Thompson, Craig Reynolds, Shaun Wilson, Bryce Love
WRs: Terry McLaurin, Paul Richardson, Trey Quinn, Jehu Chesson, Kelvin Harmon, Cam Sims
TEs: Vernon Davis, Jeremy Sprinkle, Hale Hentges, Jordan Reed