Team Notes Week 16 2017

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 19 December 2017

As ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss put it, "The Arizona Cardinals and the end zone mixed like oil and water on Sunday. ..."

It was that bad.

All six times it had the ball inside the 20-yard line, the Cardinals' offense stalled because, more often than not, it made a mistake. Blaine Gabbert was sacked. Gabbert threw an interception. Gabbert was hit as he threw. A pass fell incomplete. Whatever the reason, the Cardinals' failures in the red zone were magnified in their 20-15 loss to the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field.

In fact, the Cardinals haven't scored a touchdown in their past 10-plus quarters of play, a span dating back to Dec. 3 against the Rams.

"It's something that's talked about. It's harped on and it's a point of emphasis," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "We've got to be able to score touchdowns. Our defense has played well enough for us week in and week out for us to be able to come out here and win. When you're not able to do it, it's a head scratcher."

Against the Redskins, they had more of an excuse -- two new offensive linemen starting, giving them four O-line backups starting -- but poor play wasn't limited to just the protection up front.

Gabbert made poor decisions again. Passes were dropped. The Cardinals had 80 offensive plays and gained just 286 yards -- an average of 3.6 yards per play. To make matters worse, they were 4-of-19 on third down and haven't scored a touchdown since the second quarter of their Week 13 game against the Rams, a span of 10 quarters.

Given Gabbert's struggles, it's no surprise that Drew Stanton, who started two games this season, was reinstated as the starting quarterback.

Gabbert, who started the last five games, will go back to the bench.

For his part, Arians said the decision to go back to Stanton wasn't an indictment of Gabbert as much as it was simply wanting to give Stanton another chance now that he's healthy. Still, if Gabbert were playing well, Arians would have stuck with him. The fact is, Gabbert didn't play well.

Whatever the case, the Cardinals have officially been eliminated from the playoffs, and as Weinfuss suggested, they have no one to blame but themselves. Sunday was emblematic of the rest of the season: They couldn't capitalize. They might have a better chance of succeeding when they host the Giants on Christmas Eve.

Still, the focus will now be on the offseason and the bevy of questions that it brings.

Will Arians return for a sixth season? Will quarterback Carson Palmer and Fitzgerald retire? Will Arizona try to keep the band -- one that includes future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson -- together for, yet, another run at a Super Bowl? What will the Cardinals do with their high-cap value assets? Which position will go through a major overhaul? And, most importantly, who will they draft?

The answers to those questions will decide whether the Cardinals can return to a 10-win season or split the first six years of Arians' tenure in the desert into the best of times and the worst of times.

There are few debates that can be settled as quickly as this one: Do the Cardinals still need a quarterback with the long-term future? After Sunday's ugly performance by Gabbert, the answer is a resounding yes. But where the Cardinals will find that quarterback is to be determined.

Free agency may be a telling factor in how the franchise will approach next season. If the Cardinals continue to sign veterans like they did for 2017, then a retool will likely be in place instead of a reboot.

But will a retool be enough to contend in 2018? It wasn't this season.

Then there's Arians.

He'll be the lynchpin of the Cardinals' entire offseason.

If he returns, then Arizona will approach free agency and the draft to find players that suit his offense.

So, how will the Cardinals proceed this offseason? Will they build around the short-term future with Arians or, potentially, the long-term future without Arians?

As Weinfuss summed up, it's a decision that will not only impact the franchise in 2018, but well into the future, making this one of the most important offseasons in franchise history. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Stanton, who has been in Arians' system for six years, is 7-4 as a starter for Arizona, 1-1 this season. This year, Stanton has completed 48 percent of his passes for 540 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions. Gabbert has completed 56 percent of his passes this season for 1,086 yards with six touchdowns and six interceptions.

"Like I said, it is no fault of Blaine," Arians said. "I think Blaine is going to be a hell of a player, but Drew already knows all those scenarios. He's healthy enough now, and it's just a matter of us getting those touchdowns that are there from experience and trying to win this game. But, it is in no way an indictment on Blaine. ..."

Receiver Brittan Golden suffered a fractured right arm while returning a punt in the final minutes of Sunday's loss to Washington. Golden was placed on injured reserve Tuesday.

The Cardinals re-signed running back Bronson Hill in a corresponding move.

Arizona released Hill on Saturday after he spent two games on the active roster. He originally joined the Cardinals' practice squad Nov. 20 and earned a promotion to the 53-player roster nine days later.

In three with the Jaguars in 2016, Hill had two carries for 11 yards.

Golden was the 14th different player the team has had to place on injured reserve.

In fact, as the team noted on Twitter, Arizona has had 28 different players (17 offensive; 10 defensive; 1 special teams) miss a total of 144 games so far this season. Six of the team's Week 1 starters on offensive have combined to miss 45 total games this season. ...

Running back Kerwynn Williams suffered a quadriceps injury during the second half of Sunday's game and did not return. Arians did not have any updates on Williams' condition on Monday. Elijhaa Penny and D.J. Foster are the next men up.

Penny rushed 10 times for 45 yards operating as the lead back for the fourth quarter after Williams was injured. He would likely be in line for a start against the Giants if Williams fails to suit up, but Penny lacks upside in a Cardinals offense that hasn't scored a touchdown in two weeks.

Their injured list from Sunday also includes TE Troy Niklas (ankle). Receiver John Brown (toe) continued to miss game action. He was limited in Wednesday's practice.

I'll have more on Williams, who didn't practice Wednesday and Niklas via Late-Breaking Update. ...

And finally. ... While nobody else helped you in Washington, kicker Phil Dawson had five field goals against the Redskins, connecting on kicks of 40, 35, 19, 34 and 32 yards. It's the third time this season he has kicked at least four field goals in a game and the first time he's made five for the Cardinals.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Drew Stanton, Blaine Gabbert
RBs: Kerwynn Williams, Elijhaa Penny
WRs: Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, Jaron Brown, J.J. Nelson, Chad Williams
TEs: Jermaine Gresham, Troy Niklas, Ricky Seals-Jones

Atlanta Falcons

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2017

As ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure put it, "A three-game losing streak back in October was portrayed to be the end of the world for the Atlanta Falcons and the ultimate sign of a Super Bowl hangover.

"So much for that. ..."

Over and over during the skid, head coach Dan Quinn preached resetting following losses. His words kicked in eventually. Now the Falcons find themselves in a positive place as the postseason approaches.

Not every victory has been pretty, but the Falcons' 9-5 record after Monday night's 24-21 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has them in better position to earn their second consecutive NFC South title.

"We've got a lot of work to do," running back Devonta Freeman said. "I still feel like we haven't played our best ball. But it's a lot of football out there for us, man. Hopefully, we're trying to be here for February."

Just two games remain on the regular-season schedule, with a Christmas Eve showdown with New Orleans and the season finale at home against Carolina on New Year's Eve. A pair of wins over the Saints and Panthers would send the Falcons into 2018 with a division title and at least one home playoff game, either in a wild-card matchup or in the divisional round.

The Falcons entered Monday night sixth in the NFC playoff picture and maintained their standing behind the fourth-seeded Saints and fifth-seeded Panthers, both 10-4. They can surpass both teams by handing each of them a loss the next two weeks.

If all three teams finish 11-5, which is possible, the Falcons would get the nod based on what would be a season sweep of the Saints and an overall record of 5-1 in the division. In that scenario, the Falcons would have a season split with the Panthers but a better division record, with the Panthers having lost two NFC South games to the Saints.

"We are right where we need to be at this point of the season," quarterback Matt Ryan said. "Two games to go in the regular season, and we have to find a way to get back to work this week, try to improve and make sure that we play the best we are capable of playing next Sunday to try and get a win."

The question now is can the Falcons close with strong efforts against the Saints and Panthers?

They'll have to play better than they did against the depleted Buccaneers, who were without star defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David due to injury and without running back Doug Martin for disciplinary reasons. Then Tampa Bay lost receiver DeSean Jackson and tight end O.J. Howard during the game, so the Falcons were expected to win.

As the Sports Xchange noted, with the Bucs determined to slow down wide receiver Julio Jones, Freeman had to make them pay. He rushed 22 times for 126 yards and caught five passes for 68 yards as he combined for 194 total yards.

"I was just trying to do what I do," Freeman said.

With Tevin Coleman out in the concussion protocol, Freeman had to carry most of the load against the Bucs and may have to do so against the Saints.

"I have a lot of work to do," Freeman said. "I still feel like we've got a lot of work to do. We have not played our best ball. There's a lot of football out there for us."

It wasn't a perfect day for Freeman, who had two fumbles.

"I feel like it was just the overall, complete game for me other than the two fumbles I had," Freeman said. "I could definitely get better there and not even put our team in a situation like that."

Freeman has three fumbles -- all of them recovered by teammates -- the past two games.

Ryan looked better against the Buccaneers than he did last week against the Saints and showed some nifty footwork running the ball -- he noted that he has probably made two or three people miss his entire career -- but he still isn't the MVP-caliber player we saw last season. Also, Julio Jones shouldn't ever get shut out in a half, like he did in the second half Monday after catching three passes for 54 yards in the first half.

Then again, the Falcons had the running game going, compiling a season-high 201 rushing yards.

Quinn said the Falcons did not suffer any major injuries in the win over Tampa Bay. However, wide receiver Justin Hardy left the locker room with a big ice pack on his right shoulder.

Hardy caught his third touchdown pass of the season and the seventh of his career. He also had a 27-yard reception during that same drive, which tied the longest reception of his career.

Jones was targeted eight times and made three catches for 54 yards despite hurting his ankle early in the game

Jones did not take part in Wednesday's practice, but the injury isn't expected to keep him out this weekend.

Coleman practiced on a limited basis Wednesday as he continues to progress through the concussion protocol. Mohamed Sanu (knee) was also limited Wednesday.

I'll be watching for more on their status in coming days; I'll report back further via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...

One last note here. ... NFL.com's Chris Wesseling reminded readers that when Taylor Gabriel emerged as one of the NFL's most dangerous playmakers last season, he said that it was a credit to former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan for putting him in a position to make plays. Those home runs have evaporated under new coordinator Steve Sarkisian, as the impending free agent has been a relative afterthought in Ryan's attack.

This prompted Wesseling to wonder if Gabriel might be harboring visions of catching passes from Jimmy Garoppolo in a potential reunion with Shanahan. It's worth watching.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, Matt Simms
RBs: Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Terron Ward
WRs: Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, Justin Hardy, Nick Williams, Andre Roberts
TEs: Austin Hooper, Eric Saubert, Levine Toilolo

Baltimore Ravens

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2017

Joe Flacco passed for a season-high 288 yards, delivered one of his best touchdown throws of the season and ran for his first score of the season in a 27-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns.

According to ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley, this didn't go unnoticed by the players in the locker room, who have grown accustomed to Flacco playing his best around playoff time.

"We know how 'Joe Cool' can play when he gets hot," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "He's just got to get hot. He can't be so 'Joe Cool.' He played really well [Sunday]. If he comes out and plays really well against Indy, then we've got something."

Flacco has been warming up the past few weeks. In the past three games, he has thrown for the seventh-most passing yards (826) in the NFL in that span, producing five touchdowns and one interception.

Flacco's Total QBR of 68.1 since Week 13 ranks ninth in the NFL and is better than those of Tom Brady (64.4), Drew Brees (60.1) and Russell Wilson (60.1).

Flacco's performance was more impressive considering that the running game sputtered (3.1-yard average) and the passing game was without Jeremy Maclin, who missed most of the game with a knee injury. Still, Flacco passed for the seventh-most yards among QBs in Week 15, ran in a 2-yard touchdown off a quarterback draw and hit tight end Benjamin Watson in stride for a 33-yard score.

Along the way, Flacco completed passes to nine players. Mike Wallace led the way with six receptions for 89 yards.

"We've definitely been better in the past few weeks," Flacco said. "We've been working hard at it, and we're starting to put some stuff together and do some good things. In a way, it felt good to leave some stuff out there [Sunday]. It felt like we could have put more up -- more yards, more points."

Flacco has made a habit of elevating his game when it counts. Since 2011, he has thrown 21 touchdowns and three interceptions in the playoffs, for a 107.5 passer rating (second only to Matt Ryan among quarterbacks with at least three playoff games).

His numbers haven't come close to reaching that level yet, though there are signs pointing in the right direction. After the Browns jumped to a 7-3 lead in the second quarter, Flacco completed five of seven passes for 62 yards and capped the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run up the middle on which he went untouched.

For an offense that has struggled to reach the end zone, the Ravens are starting to hit their stride these days. Baltimore has averaged 31.7 points the past three games, which ranks second only to the Jacksonville Jaguars (35 per game).

Of course, there are still times when the Ravens' defense is their best offense. Baltimore has scored five defensive touchdowns this season and forced 33 takeaways.

Meanwhile, the Ravens path to the playoffs is devoid of tiebreakers, scoreboard watching or lengthy plane trips.

For the Ravens (8-6) to end a two-year hiatus from the postseason, all they have to do is win their last two games -- both at home against teams that long ago were eliminated from playoff contention.

Judging by past performances, the odds are stacked heavily in favor of the Ravens.

Baltimore is 58-20 at home during the regular season during Harbaugh's 10-year run, including 15-7 in December. The Ravens have allowed an NFL-low 16.4 points per game at home over that span and have an average victory margin of 14.2 points.

They're 4-2 in their own stadium this season, including a 40-0 rout of Miami and a 44-20 win over Detroit.

The Ravens close out the regular season with home games against the Indianapolis Colts (3-11) on Saturday and then the Bengals (5-9). That's a pretty sweet run from a fantasy perspective. ...

On the injury front. ... The Ravens could be Maclin (knee) and defensive tackle Carl Davis (leg) on Saturday.

"Both of those guys will do everything they can to get back this week, with varying degrees of likelihood," Harbaugh said. "It kind of depends on how they come along in the next couple of days. More likely that it wouldn't be this week, and it could be the week after."

Maclin missed two previous games with a shoulder injury. He has 40 receptions for 440 yards with three touchdowns this season.

Wallace, dealing with an ankle issue, was able to play Sunday against Cleveland after missing practice the previous week. Wallace finished with six receptions for 89 yards and didn't appear to be hampered by the injury.

I'll have more on Maclin, who didn't practice Tuesday or Wednesday, via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Baltimore could not get much going against the Browns' stout run defense. Alex Collins was held to just 19 yards on 12 carries. Javorius Allen provided more of a spark with 70 yards on 13 carries. Collins will look to rebound against a Colts defense that's giving up an average of 28 fantasy points per game (tied for sixth-worst in the league).

And finally. ... Breshad Perriman was active against Cleveland after being a healthy scratch in three of the last four games. Perriman, the team's first-round pick in 2015, was targeted twice and caught one pass for nine yards. The Colts are also tied for sixth-worst in points allowed to fantasy wideouts as well (34 points per game).

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Joe Flacco, Ryan Mallett, Dustin Vaughan
RBs: Terrance West, Javorius Allen, Danny Woodhead
WRs: Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin, Breshad Perriman, Chris Moore, Michael Campanaro, Kenny Bell
TEs: Ben Watson, Maxx Williams, Nick Boyle, Gavin Escobar

Buffalo Bills

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2017

As ESPN.com's Mike Rodak reminded readers, two weeks ago, Tyrod Taylor's career with the Buffalo Bills looked to be over.

The quarterback had been fighting through a knee injury suffered on the first play of a loss to the New England Patriots on Dec. 3, until another blow to the knee in the fourth quarter landed him on a cart on its way to the locker room. As Nathan Peterman -- the rookie whom the Bills had tapped once this season in favor of Taylor -- took the field, Taylor rode off with a towel over his head.

"I didn't know what was going on," Taylor recalled Wednesday. "I knew it hurt like crazy. It hurt like crazy the first time it happened, but for it to happen two times, I didn't understand what was going on. Like I said, I agreed with the trainers at the time. We needed to see what it was."

It turned out to a be bruised patella that kept Taylor out of a snowy win over the Indianapolis Colts last week. Head coach Sean McDermott maintained Taylor would return as the starter once healthy, which he did for Sunday's 24-16 win over the Miami Dolphins.

On Sunday, the Bills dominated the Dolphins in a 24-16 victory. Buffalo intercepted Jay Cutler three times and had one of its best offensive performances of the season.

"That's the best (first) half we've done as an offense, I think," offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said. "They really worked hard last week."

Taylor was a big part of that.

Taylor completed 12 of 18 passes before halftime with one passing touchdown, while rushing for another 9-yard score. His 165 passing yards were tied for the third-most of his career in a first half.

The Bills' offense sputtered in the second half, but the 21-6 halftime lead was all Buffalo needed to stay alive in the AFC playoff race.

This is only the third season since the start of Buffalo's playoff drought in 2000 that began with an 8-6 record; the others were in 2004 and 2014. The playoffs eluded the Bills in both of those years. For now, it remains probable Buffalo will again be watching from home this January.

Whether Taylor leading the Bills to the playoffs changes his fate for next offseason remains to be seen. His benching for Peterman in mid-November was an undeniable sign the Bills were considering moving away from Taylor.

At least for the first half Sunday, Taylor proved again he cannot be counted out. For at least another week, neither can the Bills. ...

Meanwhile, if the Bills want to end their 17-year playoff drought, they'll also have to take care of business on the road. Up next for Buffalo is a road game against New England, where the Bills have had little success in the Bill Belichick and Tom Brady era.

Buffalo is 2-14 at New England since 2001, with wins coming in a meaningless Patriots finale in 2014 and a 2016 game that featured then-rookie Jacoby Brissett at quarterback in place of the suspended Brady.

As Associated Press sports writer John Wawrow reminded readers, the Bills can take from their first game against New England is a solid defensive performance that held the Patriots to three field goals in the first half.

Buffalo lost 23-3, but it was one of Buffalo's better defensive performances against Brady.

Even if the Bills are unsuccessful against New England, they'll still have a shot at the playoffs with a win over Miami in Week 17 and some help from conference opponents. ...

Other notes of interest. ... With his personal chase for 10,000 career yards rushing out of the way, LeSean McCoy can turn his focus on reaching an even better destination: the playoffs.

McCoy scored twice and became the 30th player to hit 10,000.

"I'm happy it's done," McCoy said of his personal accomplishment. "Now I look forward to trying to get in these playoffs. We took care of business today. ..."

Receiver Kelvin Benjamin said following the win over Miami that he will be undergoing surgery as soon as the season ends to repair the torn meniscus in his right knee. Benjamin suffered the injury on Nov. 19 against the Chargers, sat out the next two games, and has now played in two straight.

In those two games, he has only five catches for 58 yards and a touchdown and against Miami, and it was clear that he was limited because he actually tweaked the knee the week before in the snow game against Indianapolis.

McDermott said Monday the good news is that Benjamin did not suffer a setback against the Dolphins as he did against the Colts. He was able to play through it, and that bodes well moving forward, although Benjamin did not practice Wednesday. I'll have more on his status via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...

Tight end Charles Clay caught five passes for 68 yards, another nice game for him against his former Miami teammates.

Kicker Stephen Hauschka continued his outstanding season with a field goal and three extra points. ...

And finally. ... Peterman was inactive due to a concussion, so Joe Webb served as the backup. Peterman is now out of the protocol and will be able to practice this week.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Tyrod Taylor, Nathan Peterman
RBs: LeSean McCoy, Mike Tolbert, Joe Banyard, Taiwan Jones
WRs: Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones, Deonte Thompson, Andre Holmes, Corey Brown, Brandon Tate
TEs: Charles Clay, Nick O'Leary, Logan Thomas

Carolina Panthers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2017

An investigation by the NFL into allegations that owner Jerry Richardson settled with at least four former employees for workplace misconduct. The return of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers from collarbone surgery.

As ESPN.com's David Newton understated, "The Panthers had a lot of off-field distractions hanging over them heading into Sunday's game."

But on the field, the story was quarterback Cam Newton and an opportunistic defense that had three interceptions and a crucial fumble recovery with the Packers driving for the potential tying touchdown with 1:50 remaining.

"That was pretty much our chip, being that information did get pointed out to us," said Newton, referring to the team getting briefed on the allegations Saturday night so they would be prepared when the story detailing them came out Sunday. "We're kind of been used to it. We've been weathering the storm, not letting the minutia of the media kind of affect and alter our focus.

"We control the narrative, as coach always says, if we go out and do our job. Be professionals about it. Understand what your No. 1 priority is and everything else falls second, third and fourth. We still want to keep that professional approach to it but keep moving forward."

Needing a victory to keep pace with the New Orleans Saints in the NFC South and to stay ahead of the pack in the wild-card race, Newton moved forward with arguably his best performance of the season in a 31-24 victory.

He threw four touchdown passes with no interceptions and kept the Packers off balance with 14 rushes for 58 yards. He outplayed Rodgers, who was picked off three times and sacked three times in his first game back from injury.

It may have been Newton's best performance of the season, particularly with the outside noise and what was at stake in terms of the playoffs.

The Panthers are 10-4, tied with New Orleans with two games remaining. They are all but a lock for the playoffs, although the division title is their first priority.

They would need to win out against Tampa Bay and Atlanta, then hope the Saints lose one of their final two games against the same teams.

Winning out seems realistic with the way the offense came to life with the reemergence of tight end Greg Olsen as a weapon and possibly the coming-out party of rookie running back Christian McCaffrey.

Olsen, who spent eight games on injured reserve with a fractured foot and missed the next game and a half with soreness in the foot, looked a shell of himself in last week's win against Minnesota with no catches on one target.

But he looked like the first tight end in NFL history to have three straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons Sunday against Green Bay, catching nine passes for 116 yards and a touchdown.

McCaffrey hasn't consistently hasn't had the impressive statistics many expected when the Panthers selected him with the eighth pick of the draft. But he started over Jonathan Stewart a week after the veteran had 103 yards rushing and three touchdowns, and proved worthy of that from the outset.

McCaffrey had nine touches for 60 yards on Carolina's opening 15-play, 75-yard drive, including a 7-yard touchdown catch over the middle for an early 7-0 lead.

McCaffrey finished with 12 carries for 63 yards and six catches for 73 yards.

His biggest mistake was muffing an onsides kick that gave Rodgers one last chance to tie in the final minutes.

Newton contributed to the rushing attack as well with 58 yards on the ground, though Stewart didn't follow up his big game from a week earlier, stuck with 27 yards on 11 carries.

Despite a favorable matchup, Devin Funchess caught one of four targets for 19 yards.

As CBSSports.com noted, Funchess was hardly heard from, with his lone reception coming on the first play of the second half. He was also forced into a brief exit after a hit to his bum shoulder prevented him from hauling in a would-be touchdown during the first half.

The only game in which Funchess finished with fewer receiving yards this season came Week 8 against the Buccaneers, adding another layer to his rebound attempt as Tampa Bay visits Carolina this Sunday.

That said, Funchess did not practice Wednesday and his status is something you'll need to follow when Late-Breaking Updates commence early Thurdsday.

Beyond that, an offense that has at times looked stagnant was as explosive as head coach Ron Rivera predicted it would be during the preseason. And it all started with Newton.

"Cam was solid," Rivera said. "He has been on point, he has done the things we asked and he has been solid. We have been very pleased with those things, and again, I think that as we continue to go forward this is the type of energy we need from our quarterback and from our key players."

Pair that with a defense ranked fifth in the league, one that finally is getting interceptions that it couldn't buy through the first 12 games, and the Panthers could be a serious threat in the NFC.

This next week is bound to be filled with questions and commentary about the status of Richardson.

Earlier, from within the locker room, the Panthers were largely defending Richardson though pointing out they are not familiar with the specifics of the allegations.

"One thing about it, Mr. Richardson has been an unbelievable source in my life," Newton said. "I can't speak on anybody else, but ... I found a place, a refuge, with Mr. Richardson."

Many of the Panthers addressed the questions revolving the owner following the Green Bay game, perhaps hoping to say what they can about the topic and then move on as the NFL carries out an investigation.

"Let it go through the process," Rivera said. "All I know is what Mr. Richardson has been for me and that has been very supportive."

As the Sports Xchange summed up: "The Panthers own the seventh 10-win season in franchise history. Newton is playing as efficiently as any time in his career, and he's trying to concentrate on that aspect of the season."

"I am just happy that we're winning," Newton said. ...

For the record, Richardson planned to sell the team he founded shortly after his death, rather than keep it in his family. But that changed before the end of Sunday.

The Panthers announced in a statement from Richardson that he intends to sell the team. Then, Monday morning, the club announced Richardson was stepping away from the team with Lisa Becker taking over as chief operating officer. Becker's had been executive director, owner's office.

"I believe that it is time to turn the franchise over to new ownership," Richardson said in the statement. "Therefore, I will put the team up for sale at the conclusion of this NFL season. We will not begin the sale process, nor will we entertain any inquiries, until the very last game is played."

This is obviously a stunning turn of events during an incredible day for the team, and the only owner in the league who also played in the NFL. ...

One last note here. ... The league announced Monday that linebacker Thomas Davis would be suspended for the final two games of the regular season for the illegal collision that left Davante Adams with a concussion.

The suspension was reduced to one game on Tuesday.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Cam Newton, Derek Anderson
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Jonathan Stewart, Fozzy Whittaker, Cameron Artis-Payne
WRs: Devin Funchess, Russell Shepard, Brenton Bersin
TEs: Ed Dickson, Greg Olsen

Chicago Bears

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2017

As ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson framed it: "Whatever momentum the Chicago Bears' offense gained last week went out the window at Ford Field. ..."

Dickerson went on to explain that for all the promise Mitchell Trubisky showed in Cincinnati, the rookie quarterback was bitten by the turnover bug in Chicago's 20-10 loss to the Lions on Saturday. Trubisky was guilty of throwing three interceptions, including a fourth-quarter pick in the end zone on third-and-goal from the 5-yard line that killed any chance of a rally. Trubisky also tossed an interception on the game's final drive, but the outcome had long been decided.

The problems, though, ran deeper than just the quarterback's.

The Bears rushed for 222 yards on Nov. 19 in their first meeting against the Lions, the most Detroit has given up in a game this season, according to ESPN Stats and Information data.

What did the Bears do for an encore?

They rushed for 19 yards in the first half on Saturday and finished the game with 43.

Chicago's offensive line took a hit with injuries to starting guards Tom Compton and Josh Sitton -- and rookie tight end Adam Shaheen (chest) was inactive -- but the offense was so sloppy, it was hard to watch at times.

The Bears were flagged 13 times for 97 yards as a team, but on one drive in the fourth quarter, the offense committed five separate infractions. The fact that drive actually ended with a touchdown -- Trubisky to Benny Cunningham for 9 yards -- was nothing short of a miracle.

All the extenuating circumstances made it easy for the Bears to shrug off Trubisky's up-and-down Week 15.

"I've been super, super impressed, his growth, his production as we've gone," Bears coach John Fox said. "I haven't watched the tape yet; it's going to be hard to say. You look at the box score, and people talk about the three picks, but I don't know exactly what happened on all of them. A couple of them appeared to be overthrows, but we need to go back and look at it in the film room. I've loved how he's grown and matured, and even today with his screen pass. You know, he spiked it in the dirt. He's had steady growth. I think he's improving every week."

Added wide receiver Kendall Wright: "If I know Mitch, when he goes up there and does his media thing he'll take all the blame and say it's all his fault. It's not all his fault, man. Mitch is fine. Mitch is fine."

Enough evidence exists to suggest Trubisky will, in fact, be fine.

But as Dickerson summed up, "It's just going to take longer than some would like. ..."

In a semi-related notes, Trubisky said Monday he and John Fox have a "great relationship" and praised the coach and his staff for showing the patience he needs as he adjusts to playing in the NFL.

"They just allow me to be who I am as a person, as a player," said Trubisky, the No. 2 overall draft pick. "They've been patient with me, allowed me to develop. And I think they just truly believe in me and what I can do for this football team moving forward.

"Sometimes, it's tough having a rookie quarterback because you know there's gonna be mistakes and there's gonna be bumps in the road. But they've stuck by me and they know it's a learning process and they've taught me a lot throughout this whole year."

Fox said he has seen enough to believe Trubisky will be a successful NFL player, though they might not be working together much longer. With a 13-33 record over three seasons, there's a good chance Fox's time in Chicago is winding down.

The Bears (4-10) host winless Cleveland this week in their final home game, and even beating the Browns hardly seems like a certainty. ...

Other notes of interest. ... As mentioned above, Sunday was another in a series of games when the running game did nothing early and had to be abandoned. Losing Compton and Sitton only ensured the running game wouldn't be a factor. As the Sports Xchange noted, the Lions run-blitzed, or just played eight and nine in the box to choke off the run and short pass.

It's a tactic most teams use against the Bears, who are afraid to chase off defenses by throwing deep.

But Detroit's struggling run defense is usually ineffective doing this against other rushing attacks. A total of Bears 43 rushing yards says it worked pretty well Saturday.

Jordan Howard finished 37 yards on 10 carries, but caught all four of his targets for 26 yards. Tarik Cohen had two carries for one yard while catching 4-of-6 targets for 16 yards. ...

On the injury front, Shaheen's status will be updated later in the week. I'll have more via Late-Breaking Update. ...

Beyond that, the Bears placed outside linebacker Pernell McPhee on injured reserve with a shoulder injury, ending his season.

And finally, as the Xchange suggested, two catches might seem like a small contribution, but for wide receiver Markus Wheaton, the two passes against Detroit were one more than he'd made all season. Wheaton's 29 plays represented 42 percent of the snaps and his greatest participation all season.

Wheaton has another year left on a two-year, $11 million deal that included a $6 million bonus. After nagging injuries left him behind, Wheaton hadn't found a way to get on the field ahead of Dontrelle Inman or Josh Bellamy.

In theory, Wheaton's speed was supposed to loosen up defenses to open up underneath routes and his performance had Trubisky looking toward the future.

"For me and him to be on the same page, it's really good for this offense going forward and you continue to build that chemistry," Trubisky said. "And hopefully teams will start backing off because you know he's got big-play capability."

Logged, duly noted and tucked away for future reference.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Mitchell Trubisky, Mike Glennon, Mark Sanchez
RBs: Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Benny Cunningham
WRs: Kendall Wright, Josh Bellamy, Markus Wheaton, Dontrelle Inman, Kevin White
TEs: Dion Sims, Adam Shaheen, Daniel Brown, Ben Braunecker

Cincinnati Bengals

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2017

As ESPN.com's Katherine Terrell suggested, "It seems the Marvin Lewis era will conclude with a whimper."

The Bengals reached a new low in franchise history on Sunday afternoon with a 34-7 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, just hours after ESPN's Adam Schefter broke news that Lewis plans to leave at the conclusion of the season.

Lewis' contract, along with those of several assistants, expires at the end of the season.

Lewis denied the report after the game.

It has been customary with the Bengals organization to meet the first Monday following the conclusion of the regular season to discuss personnel or coaching changes. Lewis said on Monday that he and team president Mike Brown speak daily but have not yet discussed his contract for next season.

"We're going to address next year when next year comes," Lewis said.

In 2003, Lewis took over a team in shambles coming off a 2-14 season and vowed, in his words, to bring the NFL back to Cincinnati. Most would say he succeeded.

Lewis is the Bengals' winningest head coach with 123 wins, and his teams have won four AFC North titles. But, his 0-7 record in the playoffs and two straight losing seasons including this year, have resulted in a sentiment among Bengals fans that the time has come for a change.

The 59-year-old Lewis said "sure" when asked by a reporter Monday if he would be open to coaching again next season, more specifically in Cincinnati. "Are you making an offer?" Lewis quipped.

Despite being eliminated from the playoffs, Lewis said his team has plenty to play for in the final two weeks, if only individually. And, he added that discussing his future only serves as a distraction for his players.

"It's not the pertinent thing right now," Lewis said. "The pertinent thing right now is to coach the football team. That's what my job is, that's what I'm supposed to do. It will be addressed when we address it."

Lewis said he didn't think his players had been looking at the news before the game and thought it didn't have any effect on the outcome Sunday. Lewis said that he briefly addressed the issue with his players and told them not to be concerned.

"He just mentioned it," quarterback Andy Dalton told reporters in his postgame news conference. "But, I think at the end of the day we just have to keep playing. That's all that was really said."

It was clear the players didn't appear to be on the same page as Lewis, with some finding out the news on social media and others hearing it through word of mouth that quickly spread through the locker room.

Some players, like A.J. Green, said Lewis did not address the reports, while others said he did.

"He didn't address it and he didn't need to address it," Green told reporters after the game. "We all get paid to do our job, no matter what happens. My heart is in every play and we have to deal with the results."

Brandon LaFell found out from Green.

"Until the season is over and until whatever happens, he is still going to coach us to death," LaFell told the media. "We are still going to look forward to meetings tomorrow, watching this film, getting it behind us, and moving on to the Detroit Lions."

"[If Lewis leaves], it will hurt a lot of guys," LaFell added. "It will hurt. ... This is the only coach they have ever had, this is the only coach that has been here for 10-plus years. To change, it will hurt. But we have enough guys, we have enough professionals around here that they will know there is a new coach coming in, pick up your jockstraps, continue to practice, and prove to the next coach that you can play."

The news trickled down to players, or what was left of an injury-riddled squad that hasn't looked the same since leading the Steelers 17-0 before the half just a few weeks ago. This team missed tackles, left receivers wide open, and couldn't move the ball on offense more than a few feet at a time.

As Terrell reported, the play was so bad that the Vikings began taking their starters out with more than 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter. They pulled starting quarterback Case Keenum for Teddy Bridgewater, who had not played since the 2015 season after a gruesome preseason injury last year.

Dalton was taken out shortly after in favor of AJ McCarron, presumably because the Bengals also considered the game out of reach and didn't want to risk Dalton getting hurt.

Dalton was 11 for 22 for only 113 yards before getting the hook in Minnesota. He finished with a 27.3 rating and threw a pick-six in the first quarter. The Vikings defense all but eliminated Green from the attack, with only two catches for 30 yards on four targets.

The Bengals have been outscored 80-14 in the past nine quarters. ...

Where do they go from here? They need to start looking at the future immediately.

As Terrell noted, there's no question that Lewis, did what few others could by turning the organization around after it reached its low point in the 1990s.

But on Sunday, the team looked as if it had regressed back to that point.

The organization needs to figure out how to reinvigorate the players, and it needs to do it by looking outside the walls of their own facility. Hiring from within didn't work with Dave Shula, Bruce Coslet or Dick LeBeau. While the Bengals likely have some internal candidates in mind, Terrell believes the best thing for them to do now is immediately start a coaching search and find a home run hire.

Even if the team finds a way to win its last two games, there's no salvaging this season.

Clearly, the time to look to the future is now in Cincinnati. ...

That said, Lewis has no intention to bench Dalton, in favor of getting McCarron some starting experience.

"No, I will not," Lewis said, via Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer.

As Profootballtalk.com noted, Dalton has struggled mightily overall this year, and McCarron is a guy who might be some degree of asset for the Bengals in a potential post-Lewis future.

McCarron has ended up on the field the last two weeks, which the Bengals have lost by a combined score of 67-14. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Joe Mixon returned to practice last week but was limited. He was inactive for the second straight game on Sunday. He left the December 4 game against the Steelers in the first half with a concussion following a violent collision after catching a screen pass late in the first half.

Lewis announced on Wednesday that Mixon was still in the concussion protocol to start this week, but there was good news: Mixon was a full participant in practice, which is clearly as step in the right direction.

I'll have more on his status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days as the Bengals prepare to take on the Lions in Cincinnati.

With Mixon out, Giovani Bernard led the team with 30 yards on 14 carries and the lone touchdown. Cincinnati averaged only 2.3 yards per attempt.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Andy Dalton, AJ McCarron, Jeff Driskel
RBs: Joe Mixon, Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard, Brian Hill, Thomas Jones
WRs: A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, John Ross, Josh Malone, Alex Erickson, Cody Core
TEs: Tyler Kroft, Ryan Hewitt, C.J. Uzomah

Cleveland Browns

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2017

Head coach Hue Jackson indicated after Sunday's loss that it might be time to make a quarterback change, but on Monday Jackson said he's sticking with the status quo.

DeShone Kizer will start at quarterback on Sunday in Chicago, Jackson confirmed.

"It's still DeShone," Jackson said.

Kizer had a rough outing Sunday, throwing two interceptions and losing a fumble while gaining only 146 yards through the air in a 27-10 loss to the Ravens. Jackson wondered aloud after the game if Kizer will ever get it.

Everyone is wondering whether the 0-14 Browns will ever win a game. If they're to do it against a beatable Bears team on Sunday, it will be with Kizer under center.

Clearly, they'd like to see some improve from him.

"He has some work to do," Jackson said of Kizer in post-game comments. "I think that's a fair question if he'll ever get it. I think he will, but he has to keep working."

Jackson's answer was in direct response to Kizer throwing his league-leading sixth red zone interception against the Ravens according to profootballfocus.com, his third turnover of the game.

"Those are the things that he has to really fight against," said Jackson. "That's one of the areas of the field where there have been some struggles, but there has also been some improvement. You want to keep it going that way. Today we took a step back."

Kizer was also picked off in the first quarter and was strip-sacked in the end zone, where the Ravens recovered it for a touchdown.

That makes a league-leading 19 interceptions for Kizer, and six lost fumbles, accounting for 25 of the Browns' 36 giveaways. In addition to the six red zone interceptions, he's also lost two fumbles inside the 20.

All of which had Jackson pondering benching him for the final two games despite declaring after the Jacksonville game Nov. 19 that he'd ride it out with him the rest of the way. Kizer looked emotionally beat up after the game again, and Jackson stopped by his locker on his way out to have a few words with him.

"I think he can (make it to the finish line)," said Jackson. "Obviously, I'm going to watch the tape and make the best decision for our football team because we're still trying to win. We're not here just trying to get through the season. I don't look at it like that and I'm not going to let our players look at it like that. We're trying to win. If the best decision is to move forward in a different direction, we will. At the same time, I want him to finish this if he can. We'll see."

And now we know that Jackson saw enough to stick with the rookie.

But there's no denying the overall situation heading into Sunday's game against the Bears, which ESPN.com's Pat McManamon laid out in what he called a "misery list."

Among the highlights: Jackson's record as coach is 1-29 and the Browns have gone 4-47 in their past 51 games.

McManamon added: "The end of this season's home schedule is an act of mercy. ..."

Other notes of interest. ... Running back Duke Johnson caught five passes for 40 yards on Sunday, giving him 537 receiving yards in 2017. He is the first NFL running back since Herschel Walker from 1986-88 to have three consecutive 500-yard receiving seasons.

"That is a tremendous accomplishment for him," Jackson said. "I'm sure he would share that with all of his offensive teammates because that is a unit issue. Everybody has to chip in for him to do his job, as well."

Isaiah Crowell weaved his way for 59 yards on one run to set up the Browns only touchdown. He carried only four other times, however, in another example of the Browns giving up on the run too quickly. Johnson scored the team's only touchdown on a 12-yard run. The play started inside but with nowhere to go, Johnson bounced outside to the left and dashed to the corner of the end zone.

Crowell caught four passes, but those receptions resulted in a net loss of seven yards.

Crowell and Johnson were both limited in Wednesday's practice by lingering shoulder issues; both have played through them without any apparent difficult at various times this season, but I'll be following up via Late-Breaking Update as needed. ...

Wide receiver Josh Gordon has played only the last three games with the Browns this season. He did not experience the first 11 losses this year or the 1-15 2016 season because he was under NFL suspension.

Now he feels for teammates who have suffered loss after loss.

"I finally understand it; I finally get it," he said. "That's a tough load to carry through an extensive season. Fighting back injuries, fighting through games, psychologically and physically, that is tough. I get it, and I'm here fighting with them. I'm going to go as long as they keep going."

Gordon has 12 catches for 201 yards since his return.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: DeShone Kizer, Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan
RBs: Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson, Matt Dayes
WRs: Josh Gordon, Corey Coleman, Ricardo Louis, Rashard Higgins, Bryce Treggs, Sammie Coates
TEs: David Njoku, Seth DeValve, Randall Telfer

Dallas Cowboys

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2017

The Ezekiel Elliott wait is over.

On Monday morning, Elliott was allowed to return to the Dallas Cowboys' practice facility in Frisco, Texas, with his six-game suspension ending just hours after the Cowboys' 20-17 win against the Oakland Raiders.

While Elliott returned on Monday, however, players are off and do not return to work until Tuesday. His first practice was Wednesday as the Cowboys get ready to play the Seattle Seahawk on Christmas Eve in Dallas.

"We get an extreme boost because that's our guy," wide receiver Dez Bryant said. "That's our horse. He gives us that extra boost of joy because of his personality and who he is. He gets guys going with his attitude and his passion and love for the game. Just seeing him back will make us play that much harder."

Elliott was suspended for six games after a legal fight kept him active for the first eight games of the season following the NFL's determination he committed domestic violence against a former girlfriend in the summer of 2016 while in Columbus, Ohio.

The Cowboys turned to Alfred Morris and Rod Smith in Elliott's absence and prior to Sunday's game still averaged 120.4 yards per game on the ground, which would have been good enough to be ranked in the top 10.

Morris had 99 carries for 430 yards and a touchdown, including 127 yards against the Redskins. Smith had 33 carries for 153 yards and rushing touchdowns in four straight games, while adding an 81-yard catch for a touchdown against the New York Giants.

"He's a great football player," head coach Jason Garrett said of Elliott. "Obviously had a big impact on our football team in the times he's been with us. But a real credit to Alfred Morris and to Rod Smith for playing as well as they have in his absence. Any time you have a player of Zeke's caliber back in the lineup, he's going to help. He's going to take some pressure off everybody else. He's just that kind of player and he's been that kind of player for us. There'll still be a role for Alfred. There'll still be a role for Rod. But we'll certainly embrace Zeke being back."

Elliott met with Garrett for 10 or 15 minutes Monday as well as with running backs coach Gary Brown.

Garrett said his message to Elliott was to "get back to work" and that Elliott "looked good" and his spirits "seemed good."

The Cowboys removed Elliott from the reserve/suspended list and cut running back Trey Williams to make room for Elliott on the active roster.

While Garrett was not ready to commit Monday to how much the Cowboys will use Elliott in their final two games, he was more ready on Wednesday, telling reporter that Elliott would practice fully in his first day of work Wednesday and would be their No. 1 back this weekend.

Go ahead and expect heavy usage.

The Cowboys weren't shy in how much they used Elliott in the first eight games of the season before the suspension. Elliott ran for 783 yards and seven touchdowns on 191 carries and had at least 93 yards rushing in each of his past four games, topping out at 150 yards on 33 carries and two touchdowns in a win at the Washington Redskins on Oct. 29.

As ESPN.com's Todd Archer reminded readers, earlier this year, the Cowboys worked defensive tackle David Irving back into the lineup after a four-game suspension for violating the substance abuse policy. Defensive end Damontre Moore, currently a free agent, returned from a two-game suspension.

In other words, the Cowboys know what to look for when a player comes back from a layoff.

"I just think the obvious things: what kind of condition are they in, how's their movement, can they sustain it, do they look functional, do they look smooth, do they look natural out there," Garrett said. "And again, we anticipate him being able to do all the things we ask him to do and hopefully get him reacclimated quickly."

Elliott spent his suspension working out in Cabo and is said to be in better condition. Garrett did not agree with the premise that Elliott was not in top shape for the first eight games.

"Typically, when you're away from the team, you have to find ways to stay in shape and get yourself ready to come back and play football," Garrett said. "Obviously, he was very productive for us the first half of the season, productive as a runner, did a lot of really good things for our football team. He was away from our team, and obviously what you want to do is stay in shape to come back and reacclimate yourself to playing pro football."

According to Fort Worth Star-Telegram staffer Clarence Hill, the Cowboys hardly recognized their slimmer, trimmer teammate, whom they hadn't seen in six weeks.

"He looks slimmer," Bryant said. "He does look slimmer. It makes his head look even bigger. He looks damn good. I know he is going to be ready to play. It's was exciting just to see him."

"He looked lean," defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. "He looked in good shape so I'm ready for him to get the ball 80 times. It's just great to have him back. He should have fresh legs, ready to run the ball, ready to attack opposing defenses. We're just happy to have him back, just have our brother back in this locker room."

Lawrence went on to suggest that Elliott looks "ready to get the ball 80 times" on Sunday.

Needless to say, I'll be following Elliott's progress closely in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking News section for more. ...

At 8-6, the Cowboys remain in playoff contention but still need win their final two games and have teams ahead of them in the standings lose as well to make it back to the postseason.

"We're in the hunt, but it's not just, 'Here he comes back,'" tight end Jason Witten said. "We can never rely on that. Great player and I know he's worked hard to get himself back and handled this entire process like a pro, but the most important thing is just to be in the hunt still. ..."

Other notes of interest. ... Dak Prescott rushed for 32 yards to become the fourth quarterback in team history - sixth time overall - to rush for 300 yards (320) in a single season, and the first time since Troy Aikman (302) in 1989. He also moved past Steve Pelluer (314 - 1988), Roger Staubach's 1975 total (316 - 1975) and tied Staubach's 1974 total (320) for the second-highest rushing output by a Cowboys quarterback in a single season.

Prescott aside, the true running game was bad.

Morris had 61 yards on 16 carries after rushing for 51 yards in the first quarter alone. Smith had seven carries for just 13 yards, but he also scored a touchdown. It was his fourth straight game with a rushing score, the longest such streak since DeMarco Murray in 2014, who did it twice with a four- and five-game streak, respectively.

Witten caught four passes for 47 yards. Witten's 47 receiving yards allowed him to reach 500 yards for the season (504) for the 14th season of his career to become the 10th player - second tight end - in NFL history to reach that mark in at least 14 seasons. Witten also became the fifth player - second tight end - to post at least 500 receiving yards in 14 consecutive seasons.

Dan Bailey made two field goals (45, 19) including the game-winner - his franchise-best 11th time of his career and first since the 2015 season at Washington.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush
RBs: Alfred Morris, Rod Smith
WRs: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Ryan Switzer, Brice Butler, Noah Brown
TEs: Jason Witten, Geoff Swaim, Rico Gathers

Denver Broncos

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2017

The Broncos aren't sure who their quarterback is.

In the latest twist to the uncertainty that's surrounded the position ever since Peyton Manning retired, head coach Vance Joseph said Monday he wasn't sure whether to name Brock Osweiler or Paxton Lynch his starter at Washington this weekend.

"We're going to discuss it with the staff and see where we are with both guys," Joseph said. "Paxton hasn't practiced in three weeks and we have to see where he's at physically. He came in on Saturday and Sunday and threw the ball and rehabbed. We'll see, but there are a lot of things that go into that decision."

According to Associated Press sports writer Arnie Stapleton, keeping the locker room engaged in among them.

"That definitely has to be considered," Joseph said. "We've won two (consecutive) games and our locker room wants to win. So again, our first priority is to win a football game. We all know that, the players and coaches included. That's very important."

Safety Darian Stewart said the players "trust the coaches to do what they need to do to help this team. We're all in. We still have to go play a football game. Whoever they choose will be ready to help us."

GM John Elway, appearing Tuesday on Orange and Blue 760 Radio in Denver, said that the decision will be made at the end of the week. They want to see how Lynch does in practice this week.

Trevor Siemian went on IR with a left shoulder injury he sustained at Indianapolis last week. Osweiler relieved him and led Denver to a 25-13 win with one of the best performances of his career.

Although that earned Osweiler praise from his teammates, it won him neither the unequivocal support of his coach or the starting nod Sunday when the Broncos (5-9) visit the Redskins (6-8).

"Brock played well. It would be hard to say he didn't play well. It's proof in the film there, but we have a lot of things going on as far as the quarterback deal," Joseph said.

Insisting that winning games is still paramount, Joseph reiterated Monday that he'd like to see Lynch play some more over the last two weeks. That's provided he's sufficiently recovered from a sprained left ankle that left him sobbing on the sideline at Oakland last month in his only start this season.

Joseph said he'd like to see Lynch at practice Wednesday before naming his starting QB.

"We want to see Paxton play some, so that's the truth. We have to see where he is as a player moving into the offseason," Joseph said. "That's important for our football team moving forward. We have to discuss it. Again, we want to make sure he is totally healthy so he can play and play well if he does play."

The Broncos' 2016 first-round pick, Lynch began the season rehabbing from a sprained left shoulder he sustained in the preseason after being defeated by Siemian for the starting job. Siemian lost that gig to Osweiler two months in, and Osweiler was benched after losing three starts.

Lynch was awful in his only start last month, passing for just 41 yards and throwing an interception into triple coverage from the 1, the only one of his eight drives that didn't end in a punt.

Asked what he needed to see from Lynch, Joseph said: "I will say this, players get better with playing in games. I've seen the guy play in practice and he's had a start against the Raiders with three quarters. With game experience, some guys get better and you want to see him in games."

As he has all season, Joseph praised Siemian's toughness but he demurred when asked about Siemian's future in Denver.

"That's a question that we all have to answer after the season, a number of us," Joseph said. "I'm not sure. He's a good, young quarterback and smart and tough. ..."

Worth noting. ... Denver is 5-0 when it runs more often than it passes, and 0-9 when it passes more often than it runs. The Broncos have also never lost when handing the football to C.J. Anderson at least 20 times; he carried it 30 times last Thursday night.

It seems pretty clear, right? Run the ball and win; pass the ball and lose.

"Well I'll say this about that, when you're in even games, you can stay with the running game. When you're down by two or three scores, it's tough to stay in the running game," Joseph said. "Even when you're down by a field goal, even a touchdown, you can stay with it because you won't score out. You're down by three scores, you can't. It's simply being in one-score games."

The Broncos were down by two scores Thursday, but that was in the first half; the game was within reach. Once Osweiler guided the offense to a touchdown late in the first half, the Broncos had the freedom to run and keep running.

Anderson had more carries (30) and rushing yards (158) Thursday than in any game since Nov. 30, 2014. Anderson is now 142 yards away from the first 1,000-yard rushing season of his career and needs to average 71.0 yards per game to reach that standard; he is currently on pace for 981 yards.

A few final notes here. ... Emmanuel Sanders is day-to-day after suffering a right ankle bruise that sidelined him late in Thursday's game. I'll be following up on his status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Cody Latimer caught a third-quarter touchdown pass for the third touchdown of his career. Two of them were thrown by Osweiler. Latimer finished the game with 60 yards on three receptions.

Tight end Jeff Heuerman's 54-yard touchdown catch-and-run in the third quarter Thursday was the longest play of his career.

And finally. ... Linebacker Shane Ray opened the regular season on injured reserve after having wrist surgery and he'll end the year on the same list after going in for another operation last Friday.

Ray had screws removed from his wrist after playing against the Colts on Thursday night and said on Monday that a decision about whether he'd play again this season was pending. In a Twitter post on Tuesday, Ray signaled that the decision was made.

The Broncos made it official later Tuesday. Ray had a sack in eight appearances this season and should be healthy in time for the start of offseason work.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Brock Osweiler, Chad Kelly
RBs: C.J. Anderson, Devontae Booker, Jamaal Charles, De'Angelo Henderson
WRs: Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Bennie Fowler, Cody Latimer, Isaiah McKenzie, Jordan Taylor
TEs: Virgil Green, Jeff Heuerman, Jake Butt

Detroit Lions

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2017

The Lions have long said that they believed they are a good team. And as ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein noted this week, they showed it in spurts throughout this season, but not often enough to be believed. That's why they ended up in a series of must-win games in December to simply keep their season alive.

On Saturday, though, they illustrated why that potential had always been there, why they had reason to believe in what they were saying, even while struggling against most of the playoff-bound teams they faced. The Lions were efficient on offense. They made plays on defense. They still have Matt Prater.

And, as Rothstein went on to explain, it is games like these, a 20-10 win over the Chicago Bears, which make the Lions so tantalizing.

But is it really something you can believe in? Or should believe in with two games left in the season?

It's tough to read too much into this win over the up-and-down Bears. Chicago beat Pittsburgh, Carolina and Baltimore this season, all teams that the Lions lost to. But Chicago also lost to San Francisco and Tampa Bay. Plus, the Bears are out of playoff contention and essentially playing out the string before the offseason.

And the Lions have shown in the past that they can handle subpar teams in a national spotlight, like they did twice on Monday Night Football this season -- once against the 2-11 Giants and the other versus a Packers team that was still figuring out how to play with fill-in quarterback Brett Hundley.

So yes, Detroit looked good Saturday, scoring points on four of its first six drives. And yes, the Lions' defense continued to turn over mediocre teams, forcing three Mitchell Trubisky interceptions -- two from likely Pro Bowler Darius Slay and one by Quandre Diggs in the end zone to end a Bears threat in the fourth quarter.

That said, the Lions have not beaten a team bound for the playoffs since Week 4 at Minnesota -- against an arguably worse version of the Vikings team than the one the Lions played on Thanksgiving in a game that Detroit never led and actually trailed by double digits for the majority of the contest.

This is still a Detroit team that Baltimore blew out 44-20 two weeks ago -- a loss that put the Lions in must-win games over the final four weeks of the season. They still are on the fringe of the playoff race, although the win over the Bears is what Detroit needed to keep pace and have any shot at the postseason.

Meanwhile, Ameer Abdullah admitted that he was frustrated at his lack of playing time in Sunday's win over the Bears, when he played a season-low eight snaps, and he said coaches have not given him a reason for his reduced role at running back.

"That's definitely something to definitely reflect on for me personally," Abdullah told the Detroit Free Press on Monday. "But at the same time, like I told you guys last time, I'm always going to trust the coach's instinct and judgment because they're the ones designing this plan to win, and if that's in the plan for that week, you've got to trust it. At the same, do my best to continue to be in the plan."

After starting the first 11 games of the season at running back, Abdullah has slid to third on the depth chart behind Theo Riddick and Tion Green.

Riddick started and played the majority of the snaps against the Bears before fumbling just before halftime and then leaving in the third quarter with a wrist injury.

Green, an undrafted rookie, played most of the fourth quarter.

Abdullah had one carry for eight yards and three catches for 13 yards.

Riddick was practicing fully on Wednesday despite his injury, so it'll be interesting to see how the rushing attack plays out in a very favorable matchup against the Bengals this week -- although it will continue to be very difficult for fantasy owners to trust anybody involved for solid output given the rotation. ...

The passing attack, of course, is on point.

Matthew Stafford is completing 80.1 percent of his passes over the last three games and he had another efficient day Saturday.

Stafford threw for 237 yards and two touchdowns without a turnover. He did take four sacks playing behind a makeshift line, but Stafford did an admirable job of spreading the ball around as seven different Lions had at least three receptions.

Marvin Jones has become one of the best deep-ball receivers in the NFL, and he outjumped Eddie Jackson for a key 58-yard grab to set up the Lions' first touchdown. Jones had four catches for 90 yards Saturday and now has 970 yards receiving for the season, a new career high.

He faces his former team on Sunday.

For the record, Stafford needs just 80 yards passing this week to reach 4,000 yards for the seventh straight season. Drew Brees, who should reach that milestone for the 12th straight season this year, is the only quarterback with more consecutive 4,000-yard seasons.

In addition, Stafford made another move past a former Dallas Cowboys quarterback on the all-time passing list.

After passing Troy Aikman, the player he looked up to as a boy growing up in Dallas, earlier this season, Stafford threw past his Cowboys quarterbacking contemporary on Saturday. With an 11-yard pass to TJ Jones in the third quarter, Stafford surpassed Tony Romo and moved into 31st place in career passing yards.

Romo, who finished with 34,183 yards in his career, retired earlier this year and became a broadcaster.

Stafford entered the day with 33,986 yards. In the first quarter, he became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 34,000 yards before the age of 30. He now has 34,223 passing yards in his career. He also completed better than 75 percent of his passes for the third straight game.

Next up on the all-time passing list is No. 30 Steve DeBerg, who had 34,241 yards in his career, and the Miami Dolphins' Jay Cutler, who has 34,567 yards and counting.

With two touchdown passes on Sunday, Stafford also tied Matt Hasselbeck and Terry Bradshaw for No. 33 all time in that category with 212.

Finally. ... TJ Jones did not finish Saturday's game because of a shoulder injury and he was placed on season-ending IR on Tuesday. Jones is fifth on the team with 30 catches for 399 yards.

To take Jones's place on the 53-player roster, the Lions added wide receiver Andy Jones. Andy Jones has bounced back and forth from the Lions' practice squad to active roster since they signed him as an undrafted rookie last year.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Matthew Stafford, Jake Rudock
RBs: Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, Dwayne Washington, Tion Green, Zach Zenner
WRs: Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, Jared Abbrederis, TJ Jones
TEs: Darren Fells, Eric Ebron, Michael Roberts

Green Bay Packers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2017

For all practical purposes, the Packers' season ended on Sunday. And as the Sports Xchange suggested, it seemed like a mere formality that Aaron Rodgers will be shutdown, as well.

And that formality came on Tuesday.

With the Green Bay Packers out of the playoffs, they're not taking any more chances with the two-time NFL MVP's right collarbone. They placed Rodgers on injured reserve Tuesday, ending his season.

Rodgers, who missed seven games after he broke his right clavicle on Oct. 15 at Minnesota, was cleared to return last week against the Panthers. But after the Packers lost at Carolina and the Falcons won on Monday night, Green Bay was eliminated from playoff consideration with two games to play. It's the first time the Packers will miss the postseason since Rodgers' first year as a starter (2008).

There was no indication that Rodgers experienced a setback because he played last week. Both he and head coach Mike McCarthy mentioned soreness and, of course, the collarbone wasn't 100 percent healed to begin with.

Brett Hundley, who went 3-4 in place of Rodgers this season, is expected to start Saturday night against the Vikings. The Packers re-signed backup Joe Callahan, who was released last week when the Packers activated Rodgers off IR, and also promoted a third quarterback, rookie Jerod Evans, from the practice squad.

Rodgers had surgery on Oct. 19 to have 13 screws and two plates implanted to stabilize his collarbone.

Rodgers, who suffered a broken right collarbone on Oct. 15, returned to game action exactly nine weeks after the injury.

No one in Green Bay's camp envisioned what Sunday brought against Carolina.

Rodgers couldn't throw the deep ball with his usual zest. His accuracy wasn't as razor sharp as usual.

And for the first time since Week 9, 2009, Rodgers threw three interceptions. That was a major reason why Green Bay lost the turnover battle, 4-0, and fell to host Carolina.

"Well, it's not the fairy tale that we were hoping," Rodgers said after the game. "As I lay in that surgery bed eight weeks ago thinking about this moment, obviously, I saw it going a little differently.

"But I'm proud of our guys for the way they played the last few weeks. Today, disappointed. I didn't play very well. Obviously, I hold myself to a high standard. I expected to play well. It's a good defense, but I made too many mistakes."

Rodgers finished 26-of-45 for 290 yards, three touchdowns and those three critical interceptions. Rodgers' passer rating of 71.5 was well below his career average of 104.1.

"I thought Aaron did a lot of good things," McCarthy said. "I thought he competed just like he always does. Obviously, when you look at our stat line, I'm stating the obvious. It's hard to overcome being minus-4 (turnovers) in the game. But I thought Aaron did a lot of good things."

Carolina blitzed Rodgers early and often, and the two-time MVP couldn't handle the heat. Rodgers completed just 4-of-12 passes against the blitz, threw two interceptions and had a passer rating of 5.9.

Shockingly, Rodgers carried the ball six times for 43 yards - the second-most rushing yards on the team. Rodgers even called his own number on a fourth-and-1 and ripped off a seven-yard run.

"(Rodgers) looked great," wide receiver Randall Cobb said. "We missed on a few. We had opportunities where we didn't connect. Some of those plays we wish we would have had back both ways, from a receiver's standpoint and a quarterback's standpoint, but that's the flow of the game and that's how it goes sometimes. You just try to make the plays whenever you have those opportunities."

Those opportunities are over, though, for 2017. With the Packers' playoff hopes dead, there was no reason for him to take the field again this season.

Instead, the extra rest would give his collarbone additional time to heal.

McCarthy, meanwhile, railed against veteran Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis' blindside, helmet-to-helmet block on wide receiver Davante Adams, who was in the league's concussion protocol Monday but lashed out at Davis on Twitter earlier in the day. The NFL initially suspended Davis for two games for the hit as a "repeat offender" but subsequently reduced it to one game. Whatever the case, McCarthy remained livid that Adams was injured on what he called a "dirty" hit.

"There's no place in this game for those types of hits. That's been made loud and clear," McCarthy said. "That hit was totally unnecessary yesterday. As far as any type of rule changes, what they want to add, that's obviously for future discussion. The player has been suspended, whatever you think about that. But Davante was in a position that he shouldn't have been hit like that, and that was clear.

"I like (Panthers coach) Ron Rivera. I've always respected the play style of his football team. But that hit was a dirty hit."

Adams also suffered a concussion in Week 4 after a brutal hit from Chicago's Danny Trevathan. He was not on the field to open the week on Tuesday and didn't practice again Wednesday. His status is something I'll be watching closely in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Green Bay ran for 120 yards and averaged 6.3 yards per carry. But the pass-happy McCarthy called just 14 running plays all day. Jamaal Williams rushed 10 times for 30 yards while Aaron Jones rushed three times for 47 yards. Jones, who had not played more than eight snaps since returning from his knee injury, played 26 of the Packers' 70 offensive snaps in this one.

Tight end Richard Rodgers entered Sunday's game with just eight receptions for 83 yards and no touchdowns in 2017. Against Carolina, Rodgers had four catches for 77 yards and a touchdown.

With the Packers trying to fight back late in the game, Rodgers had a 36-yard reception and later hauled in a 24-yard touchdown. Rodgers caught all four passes thrown his way and Aaron Rodgers had a perfect 158.3 passer rating throwing to his tight end.

Mason Crosby executed a perfect onside kick with 2 minutes, 43 seconds left that was recovered by Packers safety Marwin Evans. Crosby's kick took one large bounce, then died and slid through the arms of Panthers do-everything rookie Christian McCaffrey. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Crosby leads the NFL since 2010 with six onside kicks recovered.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Brett Hundley, Joe Callahan
RBs: Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones, Devante Mays, Ty Montgomery
WRs: Davante Adams, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Geronimo Allison, Jeff Janis, Trevor Davis
TEs: Richard Rodgers, Lance Kendricks

Houston Texans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2017

As ESPN.com's Sara Barshop reminded readers, the Texans have gone 1-6 since rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson tore his ACL in early November, and the team quickly fell out of playoff contention. Since then, the season has turned into an audition for next season's backup quarterback, and it's clear there's no good option on the roster.

In Sunday's 45-7 loss to the first-place Jacksonville Jaguars, quarterback T.J. Yates was 12-of-31 for 128 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. He finished the game with a passer rating of 48.9. Yates especially struggled in the first half, completing just 5 of 14 passes for 31 yards and an interception.

Yates was starting in place of Tom Savage. Savage began the season as the Texans' starting quarterback but was benched for Watson at halftime of the season opener. While Watson was always in the Texans' long-term plans after they traded two first-round draft picks to take him at No. 12, Savage had the chance to earn a job elsewhere or as the Texans' backup going forward.

Instead, Savage completed just 56.1 percent of his passes for 1,412 yards with five touchdowns and six interceptions in eight games this season.

Part of the reason Savage started for as long as he did was because the Texans did not have a better option after Watson went down. Houston released third-stringer Brandon Weeden before the season, opting instead to use his roster spot elsewhere. Weeden signed with the Tennessee Titans in early October.

After Watson tore his ACL, the Texans signed Yates, who had previously played two stints with the Texans but had not thrown a pass in a regular-season game since 2015.

Watson had ACL surgery on his right leg on Nov. 8 and was given a projected timeline of eight to nine months for his return. July will mark eight months since the surgery and Watson is expected to be back in time for the start of the season. Watson tore his left ACL during his freshman year at Clemson and returned in five months.

Obviously, the Texans would prefer not to have to rely on their backup quarterback at all next year, but with Watson rehabbing from his injury and a shaky offensive line, it is a position that needs to be addressed before the 2018 season.

For what it's worth, Savage was placed on season-ending IR on Tuesday.

Savage returned to the team's Week 15 game after suffering his concussion, which has led to a great deal of scrutiny of the way the league and the teams determine whether a player can go back in a game. O'Brien said that if he had seen the video that showed Savage clearly shaken and wobbly after a hit, he wouldn't have allowed Savage to return.

Given that, and give the fact that the Texans are out of contention anyway, it made sense to let Savage have the final two games of the season off.

Meanwhile, head coach Bill O'Brien was emphatic on Monday about his desire to remain with the Texans, a day after the team dropped to 4-10 with an embarrassing 45-7 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Texans won consecutive AFC South division titles the previous two seasons, but have struggled this year as they have dealt with numerous injuries to star players like Watson, defensive end J.J. Watt and outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus.

"I will never quit as the head football coach of the Houston Texans," he said. "Ever."

O'Brien, who has one more season left on his contract, was asked if he had thought about resigning after the Texans complete what will be the first losing season in his time with the team.

"I'm not a quitter," he said. "I was raised in a family that believed in family, faith, education and never quit. So, I never will."

O'Brien's job security has become a topic of discussion in recent weeks as injuries and inconsistent quarterback play have led to four straight losses, one win in the last eight games. He spent a sizable chunk of his media availability Monday discussing his future, his relationship with general manager Rick Smith, and whether he would like to sign an extension to remain with the Texans.

He dismissed the notion speculation about his job is getting to him.

"All I'm worried about is this team," he said. "All I'm worried about is this team and this coaching staff. That's really all I really care about."

The Texans are trying to regroup and focus on how they can play better before they host the Pittsburgh Steelers next Monday.

One player who has undoubtedly continued to compete at a high level despite Houston's struggles is receiver DeAndre Hopkins. He's one of the few bright spots this season. Hopkins leads the NFL with a franchise-record 12 touchdown receptions, and his 1,313 yards receiving are second to Antonio Brown despite playing with three quarterbacks this season.

"I think he's the best receiver in the league," O'Brien said. "He's big. He's strong. He's got great ability on the sideline. He's such a great competitor on Sundays. He wants the ball. He wants the ball thrown to him."

Other notes of interest. ... Yates was under heavy duress during the blowout loss Sunday. He was sacked four times and hit nine times, completing just 12 of 31 passes for 128 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

Yates finished the game with a 48.9 passer rating against one of the top defenses in the NFL.

Yates only completed passes to two wide receivers: Hopkins and Will Fuller. The other three completions were to running backs Jay Prosch and Lamar Miller for a grand total of four yards.

O'Brien said Yates battled despite being under constant pressure. Yates had two touchdown passes against the 49ers in relief of Savage, but wasn't as effective against a stout Jacksonville defense that leads the NFL in sacks and fewest points allowed.

"He hung in there and tried to play as good as he could," O'Brien said.

The Texans generated only nine first downs and 186 net yards.

One of the most vexing problems facing the Texans has been their inconsistent and injury-riddled offensive line.

The blocking unit took another painful hit Sunday when center Nick Martin, regarded as the consensus top offensive lineman on the roster, injured his ankle. The injury is regarded as serious enough that it could end his season with two games remaining.

The Texans' running game remained stuck in neutral.

The Texans gained just 87 rushing yards on 21 carries. Backup running back Alfred Blue led the Texans with 55 rushing yards on 12 carries as Miller rushed for 32 yards on nine carries.

By halftime, the Texans had rushed for just 47 yards on 11 carries.

"We needed to start faster and we came out slow," Miller said. "They have a really good defense and they are tough playing at home.

"To only score once on offense is disappointing. We just need to find a way to finish the season strong."

Fantasy owners heading into title games this week, of course, shouldn't count on that happening.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: T.J. Yates, Tom Savage
RBs: Lamar Miller, Andre Ellington, Alfred Blue, Tyler Ervin
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Braxton Miller, DeAndrew White
TEs: Stephen Anderson, Evan Baylis, MyCole Pruitt

Indianapolis Colts

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2017

Now we know why Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay recently said additional surgery for Andrew Luck wasn't planned "at this point" when discussing the quarterback's rehab.

ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported Sunday that although recovery on Luck's surgically repaired right shoulder is going well, the quarterback hasn't thrown a ball yet, and there's a possibility that he could have another surgery that would sideline him an additional three to six months if he continues to have pain.

The decision on that, according to Mortensen, won't be determined until some point in January.

Mortensen's report comes days after Irsay told NFL Network that "no additional surgery at this point [is] planned" for Luck.

"He's doing great," Irsay told NFL Network. "He's doing well. [We're] disappointed, obviously, it's taken as long as it's taken. You know, medicine and the way it goes. But there hasn't been any unusual setback. We didn't find out anything ominous, something we didn't know about or anything like that. It's just taken time for him to go through his whole aspect of rehabbing and progressing and working through the soreness."

The normal recovery from the tendon procedure ranges from three to six months and would not normally project as a surgery that would threaten the 2018 season.

According to Mortensen, the Colts and Luck have been aware of the possible corrective surgery when he sought multiple opinions after his setback that ultimately resulted in the team placing him on injured reserve Nov. 2. Luck chose the conservative path with treatment and rehab in Europe, sources said. The latest information has been encouraging but without the benefit of throwing the football.

Luck ultimately would have the final say on whether he would have surgery if the pain returns, but the Colts would enter the offseason with uncertainty at the position they thought they had secured when they made Luck the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft and subsequently signed him to a $122.9 million contract extension in June 2016.

But as ESPN.com's Mike Wells suggested, the Colts can't sit around and wait to see if Luck will be healthy for the start next season. They tried that approach this season, and while they were able to acquire Jacoby Brissett, they didn't make the move until a week before the start of the regular season. They're on their way to their worst finish since going 2-14 in 2011.

They must explore all quarterback options, including continuing to evaluate Brissett, looking at free agency and possibly using their first-round pick on a quarterback.

It wasn't supposed to be this way for the Colts, who are potentially at a crossroads with Luck -- the player Irsay gave a $140 million contract to in the summer of 2016.

Selecting a quarterback in the first round -- possibly UCLA's Josh Rosen or USC's Sam Darnold -- would prevent them from taking a potentially elite pass-rusher like NC State's Bradley Chubb in the first. The Colts, who are currently slated to pick No. 3, desperately need a legitimate pass-rush threat on a defense that has continually finished near the bottom of the NFL under head coach Chuck Pagano.

General manager Chris Ballard and the Colts are very high on Brissett, who has done his best to handle what has been a tough situation. It's key that he continues to develop because there's basically no chance for any team to have success without solid quarterback play.

All eyes will be on Luck when he returns from Europe because the direction of the franchise hinges on how his throwing sessions go and how his shoulder holds up through the process. But unfortunately for Ballard and his staff, they have to brace themselves for the possibility of the worst outcome for their franchise player.

Meanwhile, now 3-11 for the season, Indianapolis has a road game at Baltimore on Dec. 23 and then will finish out the year at home against AFC South opponent Houston on Dec. 31.

Pagano stresses that despite the way the season has turned out, and despite questions about his coaching future in Indianapolis, the Colts are committed to finishing out the year on a successful note.

"We're going to finish the right way," he said. "We signed up for 16 (games) and that's what we'll do. Go back to work Monday and prepare for these last two games."

Of course, the Colts only tend to play half of their games. They lost for the seventh time this season after leading at halftime. The NFL record is eight (1990 Broncos).

The Colts have now been outscored 223-88 after halftime this season. ...

Brissett started out fairly well against the Broncos, but things got rough over the final two quarters. Brissett wound up completing 17-of-30 passes for 158 yards and was sacked once. He scored Indianapolis' lone touchdown with a 7-yard run in the first quarter.

Brissett ended the night with a 71.2 passer rating.

T.Y. Hilton had five catches for 41 yards. Jack Doyle led the way with seven receptions for 47 yards. Frank Gore added three catches, including a screen pass that went for 22 yards. Tight end Ross Travis continued to see more playing time.

Gore and rookie Marlon Mack combined for just 70 yards rushing in 22 total carries.

Gore, who had 36 carries for 130 yards in the Week 14 overtime loss at Buffalo, only had 10 rushing attempts for 31 yards against Denver. It appeared as if the short week and fatigue was a factor in the Colts' sluggish run game. The Colts played without center Ryan Kelly, who was placed on injured reserve due to his concussion, and lost T Denzelle Good with a knee injury during the game.

Joe Haeg went from starting at right guard to moving out to right tackle when Good was sidelined.

Tight end Brandon Williams suffered a head injury in the first quarter. Williams was placed on a gurney and taken to Methodist Hospital for a brief time. He did have movement in his limbs. Williams was taken to the hospital as a precautionary measure, but returned to the stadium training room later. He was diagnosed with a concussion.

Donte Moncrief (ankle/foot) was a pregame inactive against Denver Thursday. He remains listed as week-to-week. Tight end Darrell Daniels (hamstring) was also held out of the Denver game and is also week-to-week.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jacoby Brissett, Scott Tolzien
RBs: Frank Gore, Marlon Mack, Matt Jones, Robert Turbin
WRs: T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Chester Rogers, Kamar Aiken
TEs: Jack Doyle, Ross Travis, Jason Vander Laan

Jacksonville Jaguars

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2017

After the Texans were blown out 45-7 by the Jaguars, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was asked if Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles is improving. The defensive end replied to reporters, "He's trash."

On Sunday, Bortles completed 21 of 29 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns. He finished with a passer rating of 143.8. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Bortles became the first quarterback in Jaguars history to throw multiple touchdowns without an interception in three straight games.

In the month of December, Bortles has thrown for 903 yards with seven touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Last week, Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas told reporters that the loss to the Jaguars was tough because they lost to "a subpar quarterback."

In the Jaguars' locker room after the game, Bortles' teammates praised his recent play.

"His reads are sharp," tight end Marcedes Lewis said. "He knows pre-snap what he wants to do. You can see him out there. He's just playing ball. If there's a rush coming he's just sliding over a little bit, getting in position, making the throws, not panicking. He's doing his thing."

Added Jaguars defensive tackle Malik Jackson: "I'm just glad he's able to turn it around and I'm glad he's doing what we knew he could do and I'm glad he's proving himself that he can do it. He chose one hell of a year to pick it up, so I'm happy."

Sunday was the third consecutive game in which Bortles produced a rating of 119 or better. In December, he has completed 65 of 91 passes (71.4 percent) for 903 yards, seven TDs and no interceptions for a passer rating of 126.8, the best mark in the month of December among quarterbacks with at least 20 pass attempts.

Bortles' recent play drew praise from team owner Shad Khan.

"I think it's been incredible. I think the stats show that," Khan said. "He's been kind of a different, more confident person and he's providing the leadership we all want out of him."

Jacksonville's woes at wide receiver continued when starting wide receiver Marqise Lee went down with an ankle injury on the Jaguars' second possession of the game.

He thus joined Allen Robinson (on injured reserve since the season-opener with a torn ACL) and Allen Hurns (out the last five games with a severe ankle sprain) on the sideline. It is unclear how long Lee will be sidelined.

Those three injuries have opened the door for young receivers Keelan Cole, Dede Westbrook and Jaydon Mickens.

Cole had not caught more than three passes in a game before Sunday, when he had seven receptions for 186 yards and one score. His 186 yards were the second most by a Jaguars rookie in franchise history.

"I am doing what I am supposed to be doing," Cole said. "They picked me up for a reason and they have faith in me. They call my number and I just had to make plays."

Mickens wasn't promoted to the 53-man roster from the practice squad until Oct. 21, and he was so uncertain of his future while he was on the practice squad that he slept in his car.

Mickens and teammate Larry Pinkard (promoted from the practice squad on Nov. 18) have since moved into a townhouse together.

"You can go into an offseason and not get paid for six months," Mickens said. "I would rather save every check if I'm on the practice squad for the whole year and have something to fall back on."

Mickens averages 11.9 yards on punt return and against the Texans he had four receptions for 61 yards including two touchdowns.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, Lee got good news on the MRI, after yesterday's ankle injury. He's expected to be able to return for the postseason, if not sooner. ...

The Jaguars gained 138 yards on the ground and all came from three running backs, none of whom were named Leonard Fournette, the team's leading rusher who sat out the game due to a quad injury. The team's No. 4 rusher, Corey Grant, led the way with 69 yards on just 10 carries.

Fournette was scheduled to practice Wednesday and head coach Doug Marrone expects the rookie to play this week.

The Jaguars are currently the No. 3 seed in the playoffs and would have been the No. 2 seed had Pittsburgh hung on and beat New England. That would have given the Jaguars a first-round bye followed by a home playoff game. Now they need wins over San Francisco and Tennessee and hope for an unexpected loss by either New England or Pittsburgh in one of the final two weeks.

So there's ample reason to get Fournette back into the mix, especially after Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon came up small in his absence.

That said, the Jaguars clinched a playoff berth for the seventh time in the franchise's 23-year history. It also marked their first 10-win season since 2007 when they finished 11-5 and made their last playoff appearance. It was the team's sixth home victory, matching the 6-2 mark posted by the 2007 team.

I'll be following up on Fournette, Hurns (who returned to practice Wednesday as well) and Lee (who didn't practice Wednesday) via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Blake Bortles, Chad Henne, Brandon Allen
RBs: Leonard Fournette, Chris Ivory, T.J. Yeldon, Corey Grant
WRs: Keelan Cole, Dede Westbrook, Allen Hurns, Max McCaffrey, Jaelen Strong, Marqise Lee
TEs: Marcedes Lewis, Ben Koyack

Kansas City Chiefs

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2017

As ESPN.com's Adam Teicher noted, the Chiefs weren't concerned when rookie running back Kareem Hunt's production dipped drastically for several games in the middle of the season.

They were confident that Hunt's diminished stats were a product of the many things going wrong around him and that when those issues worked themselves out, Hunt would respond.

He did.

Hunt's slump, like that of the Chiefs, is over. The Chiefs won their second straight game on Saturday night, 30-13 over the Los Angeles Chargers, to claim sole possession of first place in the AFC West at 8-6 overall.

Hunt is one of Kansas City's vital offensive players, so it's no surprise he has rebounded with the team. He rushed for 155 yards and a touchdown against the Chargers and also caught a touchdown pass. He had 116 rushing yards in the previous week's win against the Oakland Raiders.

Against the Chargers, Hunt broke the Chiefs' rushing record for a rookie. He has 1,201 yards on the ground with two games to go.

"I set some early goals," Hunt said. "Honestly, the biggest thing is just to put the team in a winning position and just make the most of my opportunity. I definitely wanted to get over 1,000 yards as a rookie."

Hunt is being helped by the improved play of the offensive line. For several games, he was getting hit at or behind the line of scrimmage on a large percentage of plays.

Hunt also did a lot of good work against the Chargers, breaking seven attempted tackles and gaining 99 yards after contact, according to Profootballfocus.com.

"Guys want to block for him," quarterback Alex Smith said. "They see how hard he's running. They see the effort plays that he has. I think everybody kind of feeds off of that."

Even Smith threw a block for Hunt against the Chargers on an option play after he pitched to the running back.

"He's such a special player in space," Smith said. "Strong, fast, all those things, great balance. ... He has such a knack to break a tackle or make a guy miss."

As the Sports Xchange reminded readers, head coach Andy Reid often said during the team's 1-6 midseason losing skid that everyone on the team owned a piece of the club's problems, and that included Hunt.

"The offensive line is playing better so that's a little bit of it," Reid said. "He had things that he obviously could have done better. We could have given him different plays, things that he could work that fit him a little bit better."

Reid said the offensive line suffered from individual breakdowns during the team's losing streak that limited Hunt's opportunities. He now sees the group "dancing the same dance" and working well as a team.

"I think they just kind of put their mind to it and said, 'Hey, enough's enough, we've got to take charge here and get thing rolling,'" Reid said. "Whoever's fault it is, it doesn't matter, right. It doesn't matter. There's just a point where you go whether it's our fault or somebody else's, who cares, let's go."

Meanwhile, a home victory against the Miami Dolphins this week clinches the division and a playoff spot, but Reid is not ready to let his foot off the pedal yet.

"Nothing's done," Reid said. "We haven't solidified anything other than it was a good game and you needed to win that game. We got to keep playing and playing aggressively and everything. That's the way our guys are wired in there, tuned in that way. ..."

Other notes of interest. ... Wide receiver Tyreek Hill topped the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the season in Saturday night's win over the Chargers. He joins DeSean Jackson as the only two receivers to top 1,000 yards receiving during their first two years in the league as part of Reid's West Coast offense.

"They're normally the two fastest guys on the field," Reid said of Hill and Jackson. "They both can run like the dickens, they're fast."

But Reid said the ability of both players to track the ball puts them in another class by themselves.

"There's one thing to run fast, there's another thing to be able to adjust to the ball when it's in the air," Reid said. "Both of them would have been great center fielders in baseball."

Hill demonstrated that ability while hauling in a 64-yard touchdown pass from Smith Saturday night. He used a burst of speed to race past cornerback Casey Hayward and catch the ball in stride on his way to the end zone.

"They have a way of being able to run fast when the ball is in the air, look, put their chin to the shoulder, still maintain speed, which I think is unique," Reid said. "A lot of guys when they turn, they drop their arm, they can't turn all the way back to their shoulder and can't track the ball, can't find it. It cuts their speed in half."

Reid also praised Hill's work ethic and desire to learn from veterans such as Smith and former Chiefs wide receiver Jeremy Maclin.

"He comes out every day, he's like a kid out there just bouncing around having fun and trying to get better," Reid said. "When Jeremy was here last year, Jeremy was the old seasoned veteran, he drained Jeremy of stuff and learning that, and just the trade itself."

At 5-10 and 185 pounds, Reid says Hill must take advantage of his natural skills as well as abilities honed on the practice field.

"Somebody with his size, you've got to go about it a certain way," Reid said. "But then he's got these other unique characteristics and abilities. He's really worked on his weakness, but then tried to make sure what he does well he even gets better at that."

In case you missed it, Smith finished 23-of-30 for 231 yards and two touchdowns in an efficient performance. A couple of drops kept Smith from having a near-perfect night. The offensive line generally kept Smith clean, and he used his feet well at times to extend plays and scramble for yards. Smith made a brilliant read to find Hill in single coverage on the above-mentioned 64-yard scoring play.

Only the drops (including another by Travis Kelce inside the 10 yard line) and shortcomings in the red zone left any blemish on the passing side of the equation.

Wideout Albert Wilson appeared on last week's injury report with a shoulder injury along with a lingering hamstring issue, but the veteran played 62 of the team's 66 offensive snaps.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Alex Smith, Tyler Bray
RBs: Kareem Hunt, Charcandrick West, Akeem Hunt
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Albert Wilson, De'Anthony Thomas, Jehu Chesson, Demarcus Robinson
TEs: Travis Kelce, Demetrius Harris

Los Angeles Chargers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2017

Winners of seven of their previous nine games, the Chargers laid an egg in their biggest one of the season against the Kansas City Chiefs.

In Saturday night's showdown for the top spot in the AFC West, the Chiefs appeared ready to do battle, while the Chargers seemed not ready for prime time when it mattered most.

The Chargers led 13-10 midway through the third quarter, but the Chiefs scored 20 unanswered points to pull away for the 30-13 victory.

"Maybe we made this game bigger than what it really was," head coach Anthony Lynn said. "As a young team mixed with some veterans, we have to mature and get our guys ready to play. And that's on me."

Now 7-7, the Chargers no longer control their destiny. Even if they win their next two games -- on the road next Sunday against the New York Jets and the Dec. 31 season finale against the Oakland Raiders -- the Bolts are going to need some help.

The easiest path? The Chiefs lose their last two games (at home against the Miami Dolphins and on the road against the Denver Broncos), and the Chargers win their next two and win AFC West at 9-7.

Also a realistic possibility: The Tennessee Titans lose their next two games (Titans host the Los Angeles Rams and the Jacksonville Jaguars), the Buffalo Bills lose one of their next two (Bills travel to the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins), and Chargers win their next two and go to the playoffs as an AFC wild card team at 9-7.

Possible, but unlikely: The Baltimore Ravens lose their next two games (at home against the Indianapolis Colts and the Cincinnati Bengals), the Buffalo Bills lose one of their next two and the Chargers win their next two. The Chargers go to the playoffs as an AFC Wild Card team at 9-7.

Whatever the case, it's important that the Chargers show up for these next two games.

"They're huge," Lynn said. "Our playoffs have begun. And there's no absolute that we're going to the playoffs, even if we win the next two games. But if we don't, we damn sure ain't going."

Everything the Chargers accomplished during the four-game winning streak they took into Saturday's contest came unraveled against the Chiefs.

The Chargers were careless with the football, turning it over four times. They made what Lynn characterized as dumb mistakes, being penalized nine times for 61 yards. And after being healthy most of the season, the Chargers saw eight starters leave because of injury at various points during the game.

Of most distress to fantasy owners, after going four games without an interception, during which he threw for 1,348 yards and four touchdowns, Philip Rivers regressed.

He threw three interceptions against the Chiefs for the second time this season. Per ESPN Stats and Information, Rivers finished 0-for-9 with two interceptions on passes traveling 15 or more yards in the air -- his most such attempts without a completion in the past 10 seasons.

In his team's eight-game losing streak against the Chiefs, Rivers has thrown just six touchdowns passes to 13 interceptions.

Rivers knows he has to play better, and said Lynn had a simple message to his players afterward: Just keep going.

"We've got two games left, so just finish the right way," Rivers said. "Just what you'd expect; he's been very consistent all year long, and this is a disappointing one for all of us. But we've got to regroup and go fight these next two to see if it's enough to get us in."

One issue this week?

Tight end Hunter Henry has a small laceration in his kidney, Lynn announced Monday.


The team announced on Tuesday that Henry was placed on injured reserve. Henry, a 2016 second-round pick, caught 45 passes for 579 yards and four touchdowns this season.

With Henry out, Antonio Gates could see an increased role. He has seen only 37 targets and averages only 25 snaps a game. The Chargers have used Henry as their top tight end, with Sean McGrath as their blocking tight end, and Jeff Cumberland has found a role in the team's two- and three-tight end sets.

For the record, the 86th touchdown pass caught by Gates that was thrown by Rivers broke a tie with Steve Young and Jerry Rice for the second-most by a combo in NFL history. ...

Also on the injury front. ... Running back Austin Ekeler broke his hand in Saturday's game, but he's yet to be ruled out. His absence would be felt on special teams as well. Branden Oliver will see his playing time increase with Ekeler ailing.

Inside linebacker Denzel Perryman (hamstring) won't play against the Jets this week, but receiver Keenan Allen (back) should be able to play as usual.

I'll be following up on Allen's status as well as the rest of the walking wounded via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Running back Melvin Gordon had a career-high 91 receiving yards, thanks to a career-high reception of 49 yards. Gordon as he rushed for a score and added 78 yards rushing.

But the Chiefs kept the Chargers under 100 yards rushing, which led to Rivers' being in third-and-longs too many times.

The Chargers are moving on to their fourth kicker of the 2017 season.

The team announced Monday that they have claimed Nick Rose off of waivers and waived Travis Coons. Rose was dropped by the Redskins when they activated Dustin Hopkins from injured reserve.

Rose made 10-of-11 field goals and 18-of-20 extra points in eight games for Washington this season.

Coons was signed to the practice squad in November and promoted to the active roster a short time later when Nick Novak was placed on injured reserve. He made 7-of-8 field goals and 5-of-6 extra points in three games.

Younghoe Koo opened the season as the Chargers kicker, but the team replaced him with Novak after four games.

And finally. ... With his sack on Saturday, defensive end Melvin Ingram reached 10 on the season. With defensive end Joey Bosa having 11.5 sacks, they become the first Chargers tandem to reach double-digits in one season since 2006 when Shawn Merriman (17) and Shaun Phillips (11.5) did so.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Philip Rivers, Cardale Jones
RBs: Melvin Gordon, Branden Oliver
WRs: Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Travis Benjamin, Mike Williams, Geremy Davis
TEs: Antonio Gates, Sean McGrath

Los Angeles Rams

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2017

And just like that, Todd Gurley almost single-handedly delivered trips to fantasy championships.

"It was cool," Gurley said after the 42-7 win from CenturyLink Field. "It felt good to be able to get in some space and run."

Gurley ran for 152 yards, with 144 of them coming in the first half, and scored four total touchdowns, with one of them coming off a 14-yard catch and run near the sideline. Gurley's 17 touchdowns are five more than the runner-ups, Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara.

His 1,817 yards from scrimmage trail only the Pittsburgh Steelers' Le'Veon Bell (1,849) for the NFL lead.

In other words, Gurley -- coming off what was by some measures the least-productive season ever by an NFL running back -- seems squarely in the mix for an award that hasn't gone to a non-quarterback since 2012.

"After this game, he should probably be in the MVP conversation," return specialist Pharoh Cooper said.

"That guy's something special, man," defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who sacked Seattle's Russell Wilson three times, added. "He's been balling this whole year, been doing a lot of things to help us win games. He's definitely a top guy, and he should be in the conversation."

As ESPN.com's Alden Gonzalez notes, Gurley is averaging 7.3 yards per carry over the past two weeks, gaining 248 yards on 34 attempts against the Philadelphia Eagles and Seahawks. On Sunday, in a game that all but wrapped up the NFC West, Gurley became the first NFL player since Danny Woodhead in 2015 to amass four scrimmage touchdowns and the first Rams player to do so since Steven Jackson in 2006. No player had scored four touchdowns in Seattle since Willis McGahee in 2004.

Gurley is the fifth player since the 1970 merger to run for at least 150 yards with three rushing touchdowns and one receiving touchdown, according to ESPN Stats and Information research. He's the first to do it since Darren McFadden did in in 2010.

"I might be a little biased, but I think he's the best running back in the league," Goff said. "He's the most complete running back. He can do it out of the backfield, he can do it in the passing game, he can do it in the pass-protection game. Obviously, the way he runs is special. He deserves everything coming his way. I think the best thing about him is he could care less about that."

Gurley's first two touchdowns were only 1-yard runs set up by Cooper's punt returns. But Gurley had five runs of at least 10 yards, even though he gave way to Malcolm Brown over the final 21 minutes. Ninety-six of Gurley's 152 rushing yards came before first contact, which supported what left tackle Andrew Whitworth said about the offensive line getting "better and better" at opening holes.

The Rams had been a little pass-heavy lately. Only three teams had thrown the ball more often over the previous five weeks, prompting first-year coach Sean McVay to answer an assortment of questions about going away from his best offensive player.

McVay said getting Gurley going on the ground "was a point of emphasis" on Sunday.

"Certainly you don't want to make the same mistake again," McVay said, referencing an Eagles loss that saw Gurley run the ball only 13 times. "Todd makes you right."

Gurley has spent the entire year as the focal point of the Rams' high-powered offense, accumulating 311 touches (tied for second in the NFL) and 652 snaps (trailing only Bell for the lead among running backs). A quarterback has been named MVP after each of the past four years, and Tom Brady -- with 4,163 passing yards, 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions for the surging New England Patriots -- may very well capture his third this year.

But the field has seemingly narrowed behind him. Eagles quarterback Wentz tore his ACL against the Rams last Sunday, and Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson might have taken himself out of the running this Sunday, because he struggled and because his team might not make the playoffs. Another MVP candidate, Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, suffered a partially torn calf muscle that could keep him out until the playoffs.

It took a 2,000-yard rushing season for Adrian Peterson to claim the MVP in 2012, becoming the only non-quarterback to win the award in the past 10 years.

But Gurley has now forced his way into the conversation, one year after gaining only 885 rushing yards on 278 carries. On Wednesday, he was awarded NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.

"You've got the big names out there, but let's remember that this guy is only in his third season, coming off what he had last year and all the frustration," Rams left guard Rodger Saffold said. "If he's not the MVP, he's Comeback Player of the Year -- he's something. ..."

So thanks in large part to Gurley, Sunday was a convincing, commanding, efficient win. And easily the Rams most complete effort all season.

"I think it just shows how much we believe in each other and how we don't let any team beat us twice or something that happened the previous week carry into the following week of practice or something like that," said quarterback Jared Goff. "We're able to flush stuff pretty quickly and move on and I think that's the sign of a good team."

Almost immediately afterward, though, the Rams had turned their attention to the Titans next week. A win clinches the division title. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Goff completed 14-of-21 passes for 120 yards, two touchdowns and a 93.4 passer rating. Goff exited the game early in the fourth quarter with a passer rating of 93.4, which is the highest quarterback rating by a Rams quarterback at CenturyLink Field (Marc Bulger posted a 90.0 rating in 2005).

Goff (14) has passed Jim Everett (13 in 1990) for the fifth-highest single-season passing touchdown output on the road in franchise history and tied Everett for fourth (14 in 1992) for fourth. Kurt Warner set the record for most touchdown passes on the road in a single season with 21 in 2001 and he also holds the third-place record with 18 in 1999. Everett is second on that list with 19 in 1988.

Cooper Kupp (804) passed Bucky Pope (786 in 1964) and Torry Holt (788 in 1999) for second on the Rams all-time rookie receiving list. Eddie Kennison holds the record with 924 receiving yards during his rookie campaign in 1996.

Robert Woods caught 6-of-7 targets for 45 yards and one touchdown in his return from a shoulder injury that had sidelined him the previous three games. Feel free to roll him out as you see fit in a favorable matchup against the Titans. ...

And finally. ... Cooper has emerged as one of the best return men in the NFL, both in the punt and kickoff games. His 128 yards on punt returns Sunday continually set the Rams up in good field position, and it helped them build a commanding first-half lead.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jared Goff, Sean Mannion
RBs: Todd Gurley, Malcolm Brown, Lance Dunbar
WRs: Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins, Cooper Kupp, Tavon Austin, Pharoh Cooper, Josh Reynolds
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett

Miami Dolphins

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2017

Jay Cutler took full responsibility for his three-interception performance in Sunday's 24-16 loss to the Buffalo Bills.

"Three turnovers," a disappointed Cutler said. "I'm responsible for all three, no matter what the situation was."

As ESPN.com's James Walker noted, if the past two weeks confirmed anything, it's that the Dolphins this season closely followed the same inconsistent path of their starting quarterback.

Last week, Cutler was phenomenal. He carved up the defending champion New England Patriots on Monday Night Football to the tune of three touchdowns in a Miami win. When Cutler plays that well, the Dolphins are capable of beating anyone.

However, Cutler took major steps backward on Sunday in what was a must-win game for Miami (6-8). Cutler prevented the Dolphins from making any kind of second-half comeback and all but ended their chances of making the postseason. In addition to the three interceptions, Cutler also had a pair of likely picks dropped by the Bills; and he fumbled four times, as well -- although all were recovered by Miami.

After this loss, the best the Dolphins can finish is 8-8 and revert to a spoiler role in the final two weeks.

"It's a great locker room. I don't think we're going to have any issues with guys shutting it down," Cutler said. "We've been in a few games where we've been two scores out and guys find ways to go out there and make some plays. As long as they let us play, we'll be ready."

Cutler earned the "Good Jay, Bad Jay" moniker for his inconsistency in previous stops with the Denver Broncos and Chicago Bears. We saw some of that this season, which could be his last with Miami.

Cutler has been sacked 20 times and his 6.1 yards per pass attempt is the lowest of his career.

The Dolphins must make a decision at quarterback, and Cutler, who was coerced out of retirement to sign a one-year, $10 million contract, doesn't appear part of the plan. His inconsistency is one of the primary reasons Cutler has a sub-.500 record (74-77) as a starter. The Dolphins cannot afford to go that route for another season -- and certainly not at that price.

Miami is more likely to stick with former starter Ryan Tannehill, who is recovering from knee surgery, or go in a different direction via the draft or free agency. The Dolphins have surrounding talent but need a quarterback who is steady on a weekly basis.

The Dolphins rolled the dice and tried the Cutler roller-coaster this season. There were a few highs, such as the victory versus the Patriots last week; but overall, he didn't take Miami where it wanted to go.

As a result, Miami is basically playing for pride down the stretch. The best the Dolphins can finish is 8-8 if they embrace their spoiler role and beat the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo in a rematch to end the season. Both are fighting for playoff spots.

And there's reason for optimism. Running back Kenyan Drake played well for the third straight game. He finished with 113 yards from scrimmage (78 rushing, 35 receiving) and produced more big plays on runs of 31 and 19 yards. Drake now has runs of 31, 42, 42 and 66 yards this season in addition to a 47-yard reception.

He didn't get many attempts in the second half with Miami playing from behind.

Drake, by the way, overtook Jay Ajayi as Miami's leading rusher for the season. He now has 512 yards on 106 carries (4.8 yards per carry) and three touchdowns. Drake is the only player with a rushing touchdown this year.

Drake is doing his part to prove he's part of the solution for the Dolphins in 2018. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Jarvis Landry has 98 receptions for 844 yards and 8 TDs, an outstanding season. Landry has career bests in touchdowns and is 12 receptions from equaling his career best of 110 receptions in 2015. Landry would have to post a pair of incredible performances in the final two games to approach his career best of 1,157 yards in 2015, or his second-best total of 1,136 yards last season.

DeVante Parker finished with six receptions for 89 yards, but the vast majority of that came in the fourth quarter when the Dolphins were desperately passing to catch up and Buffalo was playing a soft defense. Overall, as the Sports Xchange suggested, it was another almost invisible showing by Parker, who had three receptions for 22 yards in the first half.

Kenny Stills entered Sunday averaging 85.75 receiving yards in his past four games. But the Bills did a good job of shutting out Stills with zero catches in the first three quarters. Stills finished with just one reception for 8 yards.

Tight end MarQueis Gray had two carries for seven yards against Buffalo. Gray has four carries for 12 yards.

On the injury front. ... Parker (ankle) didn't practice Wednesday while Damien Williams (shoulder) was limited. I'll be following up on both via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

On Wednesday, the Dolphins placed TE Julius Thomas and OL Jermon Bushrod on IR, promoted TE Thomas Duarte and activated OT Eric Smith off injured reserve.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jay Cutler, Matt Moore, Brandon Doughty
RBs: Kenyan Drake, Damien Williams
WRs: Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, Leonte Carroo, Jakeem Grant
TEs: Anthony Fasano, MarQueis Gray

Minnesota Vikings

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2017

The rout was on early, as expected.

The Cincinnati Bengals were already wounded when they arrived in Minneapolis, their entire starting linebackers corps decimated by injury. Another major blow was delivered hours before the game when reports surfaced that Bengals coach Marvin Lewis and the organization would part ways after this season.

With the Bengals' world swirling in disorder, the Minnesota Vikings left nothing in doubt in a 34-7 annihilation, getting back on track with a dominating win and locking up the NFC North for the second time since 2015.

As the game wore on and the Vikings furthered their lead over Mike Zimmer's former team, the "Teddy! Teddy!" chants circled U.S. Bank Stadium in deafening unison.

Case Keenum's day ended in near perfection at the beginning of the fourth quarter (20-of-23 passing for 236 yards, 2 touchdowns and a passer rating of 138.4), making way for a quarterback switch the Vikings chose to make -- not one they needed to.

With 10 minutes, 38 seconds remaining in the game, Teddy Bridgewater took the field for the first time in 708 days. It was another step forward in the quarterback's journey back from the devastating knee injury he sustained on Aug. 30, 2016.

The Vikings needed a win like this after last week's sobering loss at Carolina, which was only their third loss of the season. They did exactly what they were expected to against a weaker opponent, which resulted in them punching their ticket to the postseason.

The Viking will be back in the playoffs this year.

Where they'll be seeded will be determined later, but if they were to finish with two wins in this final stretch of three games, they would end up with a record of 13-3.

But the big-picture goal will remain the same.

"We want to get back out here and play in front of these fans who have been amazing all year," running back Latavius Murray said.

The Super Bowl, for those who haven't heard, is conveniently located in Minnesota this season. No team has ever played in the big game in its home stadium.

"Everything we want is still out in front of us," Keenum said.

That's why the Vikings, though they proudly wore their gray division champion hats after the game, were relatively restrained with their celebration.

"Because we have a lot of work to do," wide receiver Adam Thielen said.

That dream scenario of playing the entire postseason at home probably won't materialize. Philadelphia has a one-game lead on the Vikings and the tiebreaker edge, so one more win by the Eagles will give them the top seed. They host Oakland (6-8) and Dallas (8-6) in their last two games. A loss by the Vikings to the Packers would also seal home-field advantage for the Eagles.

The Eagles, now playing without starting quarterback Carson Wentz, could always lose their first playoff game, though. That would create an opportunity for the Vikings to host the NFC championship game, an event that hasn't been held in Minnesota since the 1998 season.

Even if the Vikings beat the Packers on Saturday night, they'll have to wait until Sunday afternoon to learn whether or not they've wrapped up a bye. If Carolina (10-4) wins the NFC South, that would require the Vikings to finish ahead of the Panthers because of their loss to them on Dec. 10. The Panthers host Tampa Bay and play at Atlanta to finish their schedule.

Where the Vikings would get a break if they were to lose to the Packers is from New Orleans (10-4), the team they beat in the season opener. The Saints beat the Panthers twice and would thus win a tiebreaker for the division title, so if they win out against Atlanta and at Tampa Bay they'll relegate the Panthers to a wild card spot.

The bye isn't a prerequisite for a super Bowl appearance, but it's an important ingredient. Baltimore in 2012 was the last team to reach the final game without one of the top two seeds in its conference. The previous two champions, the New York Giants in 2011 and the Packers in 2010, also needed four wins for their rings.

Keenum is 9-2 and will start against the Packers. But there's a chance Bridgewater, who mopped up Sunday in his first action since his devastating knee injury in August of 2016, could start against the Bears if the Vikings have nothing to play for in Week 17.

Bridgewater only attempted two passes in his return, one of which was a tipped pass intended for McKinnon that resulted in an interception. Nonetheless, it didn't matter what his stat line was in his first game back after all this time. What's important is Bridgewater finally made an appearance in 2017.

Remember: Keenum had one of the quietest 138.4 passer ratings you'll ever see. He threw only three incompletions in 23 attempts for 236 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers before Bridgewater replaced him. The Bengals played with an embarrassing disinterest.

Adam Thielen posted a season-low 30 yards on just five targets, which also tied for his lowest single-game total of the year. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, the star wideout fell victim to game script, as the Vikings creamed the Bengals. Their quarterbacks only needed to throw 25 passes. Stefon Diggs escaped with a touchdown and six targets.

Running back Jerick McKinnon was left uncovered several times while posting the first 100-yard receiving game (114) by a Vikings running back since 2004.

The Bengals were allowing 150 yards rushing since their bye week, so it was expected that McKinnon and Murray would have big performances. McKinnon led the Vikings in receiving with 114 yards while Murray totaled 76 yards rushing and a touchdown. Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph each connected with Keenum for a touchdown.

Rudolph surprisingly played after being listed as doubtful on Friday. He was upgraded to questionable on Saturday. The veteran tight end was not on the field for Tuesday's practice.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford
RBs: Latavius Murray, Jerick McKinnon, Mack Brown, C.J. Ham
WRs: Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Laquon Treadwell, Michael Floyd, Jarius Wright, Rodney Adams, Stacy Coley
TEs: Kyle Rudolph, David Morgan, Blake Bell

New England Patriots

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2017

As ESPN.com's Mike Reiss noted, all last week, Patriots players talked about the energy that tight end Rob Gronkowski brought to the team upon his return after serving a one-week NFL suspension.

That energy carried right into Sunday's AFC showdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers, with Gronkowski turning in one of the best performances of his eight-year career in a stunning 27-24 victory.

Gronkowski had nine catches for 168 yards, with a two-point conversion, saving some of his best work for the team's remarkable game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter, in which he had receptions of 26, 26 and 17 yards. On Wednesday, he was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week.

It took a wild finish to seal the win, with the defense somehow holding on, but if not for Gronkowski where would the Patriots be?

They improve to 11-3 with the win, clinch the AFC East, and keep alive their hopes of home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs as they now own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Steelers (11-3).

With home games to close out the season against the Bills and Jets, the Patriots -- who looked vulnerable at various points of Sunday's game -- are now in the AFC driver's seat.

And they very well could see the Steelers again, only the next time coming at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.

A game between the AFC's two top teams lived up to billing and came down -- as Bill Belichick said it would earlier in the week -- to the final minutes of the fourth quarter.

For a long stretch, it looked like the Patriots were cooked, their inability to get off the field on third down brewing into a big storyline. The Steelers owned third down and held a 35:07 to 24:53 time-of-possession edge in the game, keeping the ball away from Tom Brady and the New England offense.

But the Patriots came up with the stops in the clutch -- and then found a way to recover from a near catastrophic breakdown on the Steelers' final drive (with a call from referee Tony Corrente on replay review helping the cause) -- to secure the result.

Gronkowski was immense, as he was Brady's go-to guy on the final touchdown drive, which began at the New England 23-yard line with 2:06 remaining.

So Gronkowski is back, and so are the Patriots atop the AFC.

Just barely.

Still, from Brady to head coach Bill Belichick, all those in the celebratory visitors locker room at Heinz Field agreed that Gronkowski was the story.

Fantasy owners would agree.

A day later, after breaking down film of the key win's key plays, Belichick reiterated something he said in the immediacy of the victory in Pittsburgh - Gronkowski is really open even when he's not. Belichick emphasized that point discussing that 17-yard catch to set up the touchdown, his final reception of the day.

"His catch radius is outstanding. His hands and his catch radius are two of the things that make him so difficult to cover that even when a defender is on him and he can be draped all over him, there's some place where the ball can be located that Rob can get it and the defender can't," Belichick said. "Tom does a good job of putting it there and Rob does a good job of catching it."

New England will always be about team accomplishments as long as Belichick is running the show, but every once in a while all involved note the contributions of an individual like Gronkowski, who now leads the team with 64 catches, for 1,071 yards with seven touchdowns despite missing a pair of games. ...

Meanwhile, running back Rex Burkhead's knee injury might keep him out of action in the coming weeks, but because it is not of the "major variety," according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, he could still return this year.

That's good news for the Patriots, as Burkhead is a dual threat who also is part of the kickoff coverage and punt rush/return teams.

In the meantime, the injury might open the door for the return of Mike Gillislee to the 46-man game-day roster. Gillislee has been inactive for each of the last six games -- five as a healthy scratch and one because of illness (he likely would have been inactive regardless).

The trickle-down effect of Burkhead leaving Sunday's win over the Steelers early in the third quarter was seen with Dion Lewis' snap count rising. Lewis finished with 33 snaps, which was a season-high. Indeed, Lewis bounced back from a bad week as the lead back picked up 67 yards on his 13 attempts (5.2) average, including what ended up the game-winning score on an 8-yard run.

The Patriots will likely want to keep Lewis' snaps at a lower level, which could lead Gillislee back to the game-day roster.

In addition, James White might also show up on the injury report this week as he left the game in the first half for evaluation after coming up limping a bit after a reception. But he played through it. The Patriots ran 10 plays with two running backs on the field at the same time, as the "pony" grouping has become a bigger part of Josh McDaniels' plan in recent weeks. ...

Chris Hogan (shoulder) was inactive a week after returning following a month-plus absence due to the injury. Hogan played 55 snaps (90 percent) in last Monday night's return to action in Miami and practiced on a limited basis all week, but was held out against Pittsburgh.

I'll have more on Burkhead, Gillislee and Hogan via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

One few final notes here. ... Kenny Britt made his Patriots debut in Pittsburgh, just days after signing with New England. The veteran receiver played two snaps.

On Britt's first snap, he ran an out and caught a 7-yard pass from Brady. His second snap came close to the goal line (incomplete pass to Gronkowski from the 4-yard line).

After the game, Britt said, "Just walking out there pregame, it was just something amazing."

Receiver Matthew Slater was integrated into the mix on running plays, as he brings a physical blocking approach with his special-teams background. Slater has played just 11 offensive snaps this year. Brandin Cooks is at 92.9 percent playing time this year and remains a viable fantasy play on a weekly basis based on that alone.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer
RBs: Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, James White, Mike Gillislee, James Develin
WRs: Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Kenny Britt, Phillip Dorsett, Malcolm Mitchell, Matt Slater
TEs: Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen

New Orleans Saints

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2017

As ESPN.com's Mike Triplett reported it, "The guy known as 'Can't Guard Mike' couldn't be denied for the entire day. ..."

Michael Thomas had two touchdown passes overturned by inches on instant replay Sunday. And the Saints' offense turned the ball over three times in a game that was threatening to go horribly awry for about two quarters. The offense had grown so sluggish and sloppy during the middle of Sunday's 31-19 victory over the New York Jets that the home fans started to boo during the third and fourth quarters.

So quarterback Drew Brees eventually just started firing away at Thomas.

A 17-yard pass on third-and-7. A 20-yard pass on the next play where he simply let Thomas go and fight for it at its highest point. A 9-yarder for another first down. Then a 4-yard slant for a touchdown that essentially put the Jets away.

"Enough became enough," Thomas said. "I mean, the team needed me. I had gotten them excited a couple times already when we thought I scored ... so it became a time where they needed me. And just enough was enough, and I had to go make plays and get us down there and put points on the board."

Thomas finished with nine catches for 93 yards and a touchdown. In the process, he became just the second receiver in NFL history with 90-plus catches in each of his first two seasons, joining Odell Beckham Jr.

When asked if he likes seeing Brees put that kind of trust in him, Thomas didn't even wait for the question to finish.

"I love it. I love it," Thomas said. "That's what I want. That's the situation I want to be in. That's when I want to rise to the occasion."

"It was superb," Brees added. "Really that entire drive, I mean, you could see it in his eyes. He wanted the ball and he wanted to make the plays."

Thomas has 92 catches for 1,085 yards and five TDs this season. He is on pace to shatter the franchise record of 98 catches in a season, set by Marques Colston in 2007. And as I wrote earlier this week, he should become the first Saints receiver to make the Pro Bowl in the 12-year Brees-Sean Payton era.

A lot has been made of the Saints' dynamic backfield duo of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram -- and justifiably so as they are threatening to become the first pair of running backs to each surpass 1,500 yards from scrimmage in a season. (Ingram and Kamara both scored TDs again in the first half Sunday before the Saints' offense fell flat, then Ingram added a 50-yard exclamation point in the final minutes.)

But Thomas is every bit as much of a go-to guy.

And the big, physical, 6-3, 212-pounder is absolutely the one Brees goes to when he needs to get the ball downfield -- whether Thomas is high-pointing the ball, shielding defenders or finding a pocket in zone defenses.

"Mike is a beast, man. He's one of the best receivers in this league by far," Ingram said. "He catches everything. Making contested catches, run after catch. He's just an animal, he's a dog."

Thomas' first two "touchdown" catches Sunday were huge plays (until they weren't). The first was an apparent 7-yard TD catch when the Saints made the call to go for it on fourth-and-2 in the first quarter. Thomas eventually was ruled down on the half-yard line, setting up Ingram's 1-yard TD run.

Then in the third quarter, Thomas appeared to catch a beautiful 32-yard deep ball from Brees before officials ruled that his toes barely touched out of bounds in the back of the end zone.

"You know, you want to score. You want to put points on the board. Especially when it's like you do everything right and then one little itty bit gets in the way," Thomas said. "So it's a little frustrating just being a competitor, being the type of player I am, me liking to score and add value to this team. But it is what it is. I got in there later when they needed me, and that's a blessing."

Thomas was hardly the only standout for the Saints on Sunday in what could have been an easier win if Brees hadn't thrown an interception in the second quarter and receiver Brandon Coleman hadn't fumbled twice in the third and fourth quarters. Brees described the offense as "self-destructive" during that span.

They'll need to tighten up that aspect of their game as things won't get any easier for the 10-4 Saints as they prepare to host the rival Falcons (8-5) in a critical NFC South rematch. The Saints can't afford another sloppy performance like Sunday's.

But in general? Things are going well.

As Profootballtalk.com's Darin Gantt noted, the Saints are hard to stop on offense, because you can't worry about focusing just one guy. Or two.

That truth was underlined Sunday, when Thomas became third Saint to hit that 1,000-yard mark this season, as Ingram and Kamara had each previously topped 1,000 yards from scrimmage.

Ingram is fifth in the league with 1,420 yards (Ingram also has a career-high 11 touchdowns) and Kamara seventh with 1,336.

That makes the Saints the only team in the league with three such players, with two weeks left in the season.

So far, just 23 players have topped 1,000 yards from scrimmage this season, a list topped by Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell (1,849). Along with teammate Antonio Brown (who's fourth on the list with 1,533), they're one of seven teams with at least a pair of players to reach that level, along with the Saints, Chiefs (Kareem Hunt and Tyreek Hill), Chargers (Melvin Gordon and Keenan Allen), Falcons (Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman), Texans (DeAndre Hopkins and Lamar Miller), and Patriots (Rob Gronkowski and Brandin Cooks).

The Chiefs are close to adding their third, with tight end Travis Kelce two yards short of joining the club.


Ted Ginn, who missed Sunday's game with a rib injury, was limited Wednesday; I'll have more on his status via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...

The biggest concern for the Saints heading into this weekend?

The makeup of the offensive line is again uncertain because of injuries. Senio Kelemete started at left guard because Andrus Peat has a groin injury and was limited to a few snaps as a third tight end. Right guard Larry Warford suffered a concussion during the game and was replaced by Josh LeRibeus. New Orleans hopes to at least have Peat back this week, but the line will be worth monitoring throughout the week.

The Saints have had to make changes at every line position except center because of injuries.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Drew Brees, Chase Daniel
RBs: Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara, Daniel Lasco
WRs: Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, Willie Snead, Brandon Coleman, TommyLee Lewis
TEs: Josh Hill, Michael Hoomanawanui

New York Giants

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2017

As ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan framed it, the scoring averse New York Giants scored three touchdowns on their first three possessions. Quarterback Eli Manning threw for 252 yards in the first half alone, the most he's ever had in the first half of his 214 regular-season starts, and 434 yards in the contest.

Under most circumstances, this would lead to a positive result. Except these are the 2017 Giants. They find new and innovative ways to mess up just about anything.

They did it again on Sunday in a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, where they came up 11 yards short in the final seconds. They made backup quarterback Nick Foles look like injured MVP candidate Carson Wentz. They had an extra point blocked that later led to a missed two-point conversion, had a punt blocked, a field goal blocked and wasted Manning's second 300-plus-yard passing game of the season.

The Giants (2-12) are a bad team. And bad teams seemingly find new ways to lose every week, whether it be by a defensive collapse, special-teams blunder or final-minute fumble deep in their own territory.

Still, from a fantasy perspective, there weren't many complaints as the Giants finished with 504 net yards and 29 points against the NFC's top seed in a 34-29 loss.

What changed?

Well, for starters, interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo believes that having a full week of preparation, which the team didn't have the prior week following the abrupt dismissals of head coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese, helped because it afforded offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan a chance to really sit down and plan things out without the obvious distractions and emotions of the week prior.

"It was a full week," Spagnuolo said. "Kind of got into a flow of being that same kind of flow here this week."

Spagnuolo also said that Sullivan, who has full control over the offense, also implemented a few tweaks that paid dividends.

But as the Sports Xchange notes, the biggest thing for the offense was the fast-paced tempo they operated under. In the past, the offense seemed to lag and fail to get into any kind of groove. As a result, opposing defenses could dictate to them.

Not this time as the Giants turned the tables. And as a defensive coordinator who has had that happen to his units over the years, Spagnuolo said that was a big factor in the Giants being able to compete the way they did on offense.

"I think we've executed that pretty well," Spagnuolo said. "I do think it is challenging for being on the defensive side of the ball because no matter what, you can't simulate it in practice.

"You can yell and scream at the guys all you want 'Be ready for the next play, it's going fast!' but you saw Philadelphia was struggling a little bit to get lined up. So, anytime you can run a play and the other 11 guys on defense are not all lined up, that should be an advantage."

Manning, who had his best statistical game of the year, liked the game plan.

"I thought (Sullivan) did a good job of kind of mixing it up and doing all the consecutive plays and just having different ways of doing things," Manning said. "So, it was productive. The fast play we were able to get some big plays off it."

Besides jump-starting the offense, which ran 81 plays to the Eagles' 66, the performance, even though it was a loss, drove home an important point to the players.

"We still got a good team. We got enough players to play well and to compete with anybody," Manning said. "It's just a matter of going out there, executing and we were able to make some great plays, great individual efforts by some guys and that's what you want to see.

For what it's worth, Spagnuolo said after Sunday's game it was a pretty good assumption Manning will start this week against the Arizona Cardinals. As long as he's standing, the Giants appear destined to keep him as their starter this season.

It could be for even longer.

Manning has two years remaining and a no-trade clause in his contract, and might not be going anywhere. Co-owner John Mara said last week he wants the two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback to return next season.

"Yeah, I did see that," Manning said after completing 37 of 57 passes. "I want to be back next year as well. So again, I love playing for the New York Giants. I love this organization. I appreciate everything they've done for me and I try to give back everything that I have to this organization and this team. So I'd like to be back as well."

Of course, there will be a new general manager and coach sometime early next year.

Raanan suggests it might benefit everyone involved for the new regime to start fresh with its own quarterback (preferably with the No. 2 overall pick). Why waste time investing in an aging quarterback learning a new system and being the leader of the team when the new GM and coach can make the change at the start, rather than sometime during the season or in the next few years?

But the answers to those questions won't likely come until the season is over. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Receiver Sterling Shepard and tight end Evan Engram accounted for the bulk of Manning's passing yards, 139 and 87 respectively, while Roger Lewis and Tavarres King combined for 144 receiving yards and two touchdowns (both by King).

Given the state of the receivers after the Week 5 disaster that wiped out the starting receivers, Manning appears to have settled with down the replacements to where they are now productive.

Unfortunately, King (concussion) is in the league's protocol. His status for this week's game against the Cardinals is in doubt.

Meanwhile, the cream is starting to rise to the top for the Giants in their running game. According to the Xchange, that would be rookie Wayne Gallman, who racked up 39 yards on eight carries for a team-best 4.9 average. Gallman seems to be the only running back who can make something out of nothing outside the tackles. He also caught six out of his seven pass targets for 40 yards, proving himself to be the most complete back this week.

As a result, Orleans Darkwa's star is beginning to fade after he recorded seven yards on nine carries with one touchdown.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Eli Manning, Geno Smith, Davis Webb
RBs: Orleans Darkwa, Wayne Gallman, Shane Vereen, Paul Perkins
WRs: Sterling Shepard, Roger Lewis, Tavarres King, Travis Rudolph, Ed Eagan
TEs: Evan Engram, Jerell Adams, Rhett Ellison

New York Jets

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2017

As ESPN.com's Rich Cimini framed it: "You know it, they know it, everybody knows it: The New York Jets have a major void at quarterback."

That sobering reality never was more apparent than Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, where head coach Todd Bowles gave a tepid postgame assessment of Bryce Petty and proceeded to confirm that Petty will start again next week.

What does that tell you?

In Bowles' view, the gap between Petty and Christian Hackenberg is vast. This means the Jets' quarterback pipeline is just about dried up. When your best hope for 2018 is a 38-year-old with a broken hand in Josh McCown it's time to start over.

According to Cimini, Petty's performance against the New Orleans Saints reaffirmed what the Jets have known: They love his moxie and character, but they don't envision him as a future starter. Making his fifth career start and first of this season, Petty failed to deliver in key situations. On his first three trips to the red zone, he completed 2 of 5 passes for zero yards, a big reason why the Jets managed only 13 points on those possessions. He left too many points on the field, contributing to the Jets' 31-19 loss.

"He just didn't make any plays," Bowles said of Petty in the red zone. "Plays that we needed to make to win the game, he didn't make. He'll get better at that."

Petty's passing numbers were ugly (19-for-39, 179 yards) and he threw two interceptions, including a desperation heave at the end of the game. Petty was tough-minded, which surprised no one, but he lacked that special quality that separates marginal talents from starting-caliber players. The Jets made three takeaways yet only converted them into three points -- and a lot of that falls on the quarterback.

"Some plays he would like to have back, obviously," Bowles said. "He was a little high on some balls and a little low on some others. Poise-wise, he was into the game. He tried to execute the game plan. I think it was a good experience for him."

Petty was upbeat after the game, saying he did "good things, bad things." He blamed some of the errant throws on poor footwork, which he believes can be cleaned up. He threw a late 2-yard touchdown pass to running back Elijah McGuire, but his best pass was a 38-yarder to McGuire. In reality, Petty missed too many gimme throws. He was only 5-for-12 when targeting wideout Robby Anderson.

Petty also had a serious Cameron Jordan problem, as four of his passes were tipped at the line by the Saints defensive end. Petty caught one of the deflections and foolishly tried to throw another forward pass, resulting in an embarrassing penalty.

In the locker room, Petty's teammates praised his effort, but the words sounded forced. Wide receiver Jermaine Kearse refused to give his opinion of Petty's performance, and that was telling.

"I don't like to give assessments without looking at the tape," Kearse said.

This had been billed as Petty's last audition. He insisted he hadn't approached it that way; but, he acknowledged, "Every time I get in there, I feel like it's a chance for me to prove that I do belong and can be a starting quarterback."

By default, Petty will start this week at home against the Los Angeles Chargers. McCown is done for the year, and the coaching staff is deathly afraid of playing Hackenberg.

Petty needs a strong running game to have a chance, and the Jets had that for only one series -- 12 plays, 17 yards, culminating with a touchdown run by Bilal Powell.

In fact, as has been the case most of the season, if you combine the numbers for Powell, Matt Forte and Elijah McGuire, you get a solid, if unspectacular, rushing effort.

On Sunday, they combined for 92 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries (3.8 per attempt). The game plan was to stick with the running game in an attempt to keep the Saints' offense off the field, and it worked on scoring drives of 12 and nine plays, but it wasn't consistent enough in the red zone, where the Jets only converted two of their four trips into touchdowns. ...

Also of interest. ... The Jets waived veteran wide receiver Jeremy Kerley on Monday.

Kerley was eligible to return from a four-game suspension for Sunday's game, but the Jets declined to activate him. He was on a one-week roster exemption, which expired Monday afternoon.

The 29-year-old, who last week blamed ghosts for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, had 22 catches for 217 yards and a touchdown in eight games this season.

Kerley signed with the Jets five days before the regular season after spending the 2016 season with the 49ers. Kerley played five seasons for the Jets from 2011-15 after they drafted him in the fifth round out of TCU.

He has 14 career touchdowns, 13 receiving and one on a punt return.

Rookie Chad Hansen, a fourth-round pick out of Cal, has been getting the bulk of the playing time as the Jets' No. 3 receiver. He only has five catches for 46 yards in Kerley's absence, but two were key third-down conversions in the win over the Chiefs, and Sunday he had a 24-yard catch on third-and-7 on the Jets' fourth-quarter scoring drive that got them within five.

And finally. ... Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, who was suspended for Sunday's game for reportedly being late to a team meeting for the second time in two weeks, was at the Jets' team facility on Monday, according to head coach Todd Bowles. Whether that means he will play this week against the Chargers is unknown.

"I didn't say (he'd play), I said he was in the building," Bowles said. "We're still working through things."

When pressed on the topic, Bowles said "it's an internal thing," and that "a lot of people will be involved" in the determination to play Wilkerson or not.

Defensive Leonard Williams suffered a concussion in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game and is in the concussion protocol, Bowles said Monday. Bowles added that Williams is "doing fine so far, so we'll see how the week goes."

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Bryce Petty, Christian Hackenberg
RBs: Matt Forte, Bilal Powell, Elijah McGuire
WRs: Robby Anderson, Jermaine Kearse, Neal Sterling, Chad Hansen, ArDarius Stewart
TEs: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Eric Tomlinson, Will Tye, Jordan Leggett

Oakland Raiders

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2017

As ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez framed it: "Derek Carr surveyed the field.

"It was third-and-3 at the Dallas 8-yard line and muscle memory kicked in. The Oakland Raiders quarterback, under duress, rolled to his right and sprinted to the right pylon.

"He picked up the first down, but in stretching for the pylon and in getting hit by Cowboys safety Jeff Heath, he fumbled the ball. And because it went through the end zone, it was a touchback; the Cowboys got possession with 31 seconds on the clock.

"Cowboys 20, Raiders 17. ..."

Even with a partial return of that vaunted Carr magic from 2016, when he engineered seven comeback wins in the fourth quarter or overtime, it wasn't enough on Sunday night.

"I left it all out there," Carr said. "I'm just trying to win for my teammates. No excuse, I have to hold onto the ball."

Alas, after having picked up just 52 yards of offense with two minutes to go in the first half, it was too little, too late.

Indeed, it was a card trick -- a piece of paper, really -- that helped decide the Cowboys' victory in the Raiders' regular-season home finale. Referee Gene Steratore pulled out a folded piece of paper to measure to see if the nose of the football had reached the first-down chain marker after a Cowboys fourth-and-1 play at the Dallas 39-yard line with about five minutes to play.

Dallas was awarded the first down and continued its drive for an eventual game-winning field goal.

And it was inches that decided Carr's game-sealing fumble that dropped the Raiders' record to 6-8. Kicker Giorgio Tavecchio missing a 39-yard field goal as time expired in the first half did not help, either.

Earlier in the game, Carr began using his legs like he had not done since suffering a soul- and season-crushing broken right ankle in Week 16 last season.

He lowered his head and ran upfield, and then, downfield.

Thirty-two yards later, Carr had his longest run since his rookie season of 2014 and then finally, mercifully, exhaled as he took a knee and signaled a first down.

This was the Carr the Raiders had invested that gargantuan five-year, $125 million contract extension in this past offseason: A fearless field general who inspired not only his teammates, but the fans.

Not a skittish pocket passer who was content to throw a 3-yard pass on third-and-5.

Carr finished with 171 yards passing in completing 21 of 38 attempts.

He had two touchdown passes against the blitz on Sunday after having had one against the blitz in his previous six games combined.

He also became just the ninth quarterback in NFL history to throw at least 100 TDs in 60 games, joining Dan Marino (145), Johnny Unitas (111), Andrew Luck (111), Matthew Stafford (108), Kurt Warner (106), Peyton Manning (105), Aaron Rodgers (104) and Carson Palmer (101). Carr is the fifth-fastest player to reach 100 after Marino, Manning, Russell Wilson and Luck.

Plus, Carr joined Ken Stabler (150), Daryle Lamonica (148) and Rich Gannon (114) as the fourth Raiders QB to throw at least 100 TD passes.

For the record, Del Rio still doesn't understand how Dallas got a first down by the width of an index card. "Nothing really surprises you after 32 years, things happen in this league," head coach Jack Del Rio said Monday. "But, that was unusual."

Steratore said after the game he had decided it was a first down before the odd measurement, but Del Rio isn't buying it.

"I thought everything was in place to get an accurate call and I saw space and in my opinion, it should have gone the other way and a turnover on downs. I'm sure there will be some kind of explanation, but whatever it is, I'm going to disagree with it," Del Rio said. "It's not like we're making something up. The guy with the camera was right there. So how you can look at that and then get up with a smirk. I don't know, that's hard to take."

The Raiders head into the final two games with only the slimmest of postseason chances. They must win at Philadelphia and the Chargers, then hope Buffalo and Tennessee each lose twice, Miami wins twice and Baltimore gets at least one tie or win in the final two games to get in as the sixth seed in the AFC.

Oakland's playoff odds are estimated at less than 1 percent, according to fivethirtyeight.com. Still, Del Rio doesn't plan to shift playing time with an eye on evaluating younger players ahead of next season.

"We're going to play to win," he said. "We're just going to play to win. We're going to do everything we can to get over this 'close but no cigar' finish we had."

One lineup change Oakland has to make this week is at left tackle, where Donald Penn went down with a right foot injury that will require surgery Wednesday. Penn has appeared in all 174 regular-season games since making his debut as an undrafted free agent with Tampa Bay in 2007. Penn became a starter that season and has started 170 straight games, the longest active streak of any offensive lineman.

Penn did miss Oakland's playoff game last year against Houston with a knee injury but has otherwise been an ironman at a grueling position.

Del Rio said he hadn't decided whether to start rookie David Sharpe next Monday at Philadelphia or use the same alignment he did after Penn got hurt in Sunday's loss to Dallas with Marshall Newhouse moving from right to left tackle and Vadal Alexander coming in to take Newhouse's spot.

Del Rio had no update on the status of injured receiver Amari Cooper, who missed the game with an ankle injury. I'll have more on his status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

Worth noting. ... The Raiders got a break when Rams cornerback Jourdan Lewis blatantly interfered with Michael Crabtree on a fourth-and-10 play for a 55-yard penalty to the Dallas 15-yard line. On second-and-3 from the 8, Crabtree was hit on an incomplete pass and removed from the game by the officials to be evaluated for a concussion.

He was in the tent being evaluated when Carr fumbled the ball into the end zone on the play that decided the game.

"We had a play called, a certain play called on the other side, and then the refs made us take him out, and we had to change our call," Carr said.

Crabtree was angry after the game.

"I just don't understand why they took me out," Crabtree said. "I'm lost. I don't understand."

Crabtree said he was fine, and a Raiders official said he was evaluated, but not placed in concussion protocol.

"I'm good. Of course, I was pissed off because it's the last play of the game and I'm trying to help the team win," Crabtree said. ...

And finally, as the Sports Xchange notes, Marshawn Lynch continued his solid play with 76 yards on 16 carries. The Raiders finished with 122 yards on 23 carries, a 5.3 average. No rushing touchdowns, though.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Derek Carr, E.J. Manuel, Connor Cook
RBs: DeAndre Washington, Jalen Richard, Marshawn Lynch
WRs: Michael Crabtree, Amari Cooper, Seth Roberts, Cordarrelle Patterson, Johnny Holton
TEs: Jared Cook, Lee Smith, Clive Walford

Philadelphia Eagles

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2017

According to ESPN.com's Tim McManus, "That should calm some nerves. ..."

Nick Foles threw four touchdown passes with no interceptions in his first start replacing the injured Carson Wentz, leading the Eagles to a 34-29 comeback win over the New York Giants. The Eagles are the first team since the 2011 Green Bay Packers (Aaron Rodgers and Matt Flynn) to have different starting QBs throw four-plus passing TDs in back-to-back weeks, according to stats provided by the NFL.

"I thought he played well -- really well," said head coach Doug Pederson. "I'm sure there's some things he'd like to do over obviously, each game is going to be that way, but I thought he handled himself extremely well."

Fantasy owners who wound up rolling with Foles as their starter couldn't be happier.

While the defense came up short, the Eagles escaped with a victory and captured a first-round bye in the process. A win in either of their final two regular-season games -- they close with home games against the Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys -- would ensure they'll have home-field advantage throughout the postseason.

To take advantage of that playoff positioning, the Eagles can't afford a dramatic drop-off in quarterback play.

Foles offered some assurance in that regard, even if it was against the league's 30th-ranked defense. Foles, after all, was coming in relatively cold. He hadn't started a game since November 2016 and hadn't played any meaningful snaps in over a year outside of last week's relief appearance against the Los Angeles Rams when Wentz was lost to an ACL tear.

Yet Foles came off as generally poised and in command of Pederson's system. That was evident from the jump. He led Philly on a scoring drive on its opening possession, which he finished off with a TD pass to Alshon Jeffery in the back of the end zone. Jeffery said he was Foles' last read on the play.

"We didn't play our best. We didn't play up to how we normally do, come out and dominate, but at the same time it's the Giants and Eagles rivalry," said Jeffery. "Things get a little tough and hectic. But Nick did a great job. He played a hell of a game."

Foles showed good awareness and movement in the pocket, including a nice sidestep of defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul to evade the rush on a pass downfield to Torrey Smith that drew a pass-interference penalty.

"I channeled my inner Carson Wentz right there," Foles said with a smile.

According to McManus, one of Foles' top highlights came late in the third quarter, as he lofted a 10-yard pass into the left corner of the end zone for receiver Nelson Agholor, who reached over corner Darryl Morris to secure the catch.

"He talks about getting the ball to the playmakers and we trust him," said Agholor of his conversations with Foles during the week. "I want to make sure he is comfortable doing whatever he wants to do and I'm at the right place for him. We talk about whatever windows I need to be in, how he wants to do certain things and we just try to execute it."

It wasn't perfect. There were times when the QB was out of sync with his receiver, and there were some missed opportunities. But overall, it was encouraging, given the circumstances.

To put it another way, Foles was down on the list of concerns coming out of Sunday's game.

Jim Schwartz's defense yielded 29 points and 504 yards to a depleted Giants offense that entered the contest ranked second-worst in the NFL in both total offense and points per game (15.3). For a third straight week, this defense looked vulnerable. Not coincidentally, it faced three good quarterbacks over that stretch in Russell Wilson, Jared Goff and Eli Manning.

If not for three big special-teams plays -- a field goal block, a punt block and an extra point block -- and a late defensive stand, the Eagles would have coughed up a game against one of the worst teams in football.

But they survived. And while the playoffs will tell the real story of whether Foles is good enough to make up for Wentz's absence, he has gotten off to a strong start. Going up against a Raiders defense that hasn't impressed much this season should add to the comfort level of those heading into fantasy championships with Foles as their QB -- except for one thing.

Since the Vikings play the Packers on Saturday night and the Eagles don't play the Raiders until Christmas (Monday) night, a loss by the Vikings could make both of the Eagles' final two games absolutely meaningless.

Asked whether he would rest many of his starters Monday night if the Vikings lose, Pederson wasn't ready to go there.

"I've begun thinking (about resting players), but my focus is on winning the game on Monday night. Because that to me is the most important thing."

So, you are going to play your starters against the Raiders regardless of whether the game is meaningful to your playoff situation?

"I'm not going to cross that bridge because you're asking a question I don't know the answer to yet," he said.

If the Vikings lose Saturday night, it's likely that Pederson still would play his starters a good portion of the game. The Dallas game would be an entirely different story.

Also of interest. ... The Eagles didn't have a rushing touchdown for the fourth straight game and had just five rushing first downs for the second straight week. Jay Ajayi had a 22-yard run on a third-quarter TD drive and finished with 49 yards on 12 carries.

LeGarrette Blount, who played just 15 snaps last week against the Rams, played just 17 snaps Sunday against the Giants. He had seven carries for just 21 yards.

Zach Ertz, who missed last week's game with a concussion, had six catches for 56 yards and a touchdown Sunday against the Giants.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Nick Foles
RBs: LeGarrette Blount, Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood, Kenjon Barner
WRs: Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins, Shelton Gibson
TEs: Zach Ertz, Trey Burton, Brent Celek

Pittsburgh Steelers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2017

As Associated Press sports writer Will Graves laid it out: "Maybe Mike Tomlin called it.

"Maybe it was Todd Haley.

"Maybe Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Rogers went rogue. ..."

The chaos surrounding Pittsburgh's decision to go for the win instead of force overtime late in a 27-24 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday doesn't lead to easy answers.

Roethlisberger initially said he was told to run a play rather than spike the ball to set up an easy field goal.

Roethlisberger later backed off, offering "maybe I should have clocked it" regardless of what was going on.

"We're not going to look back and second guess anything or anybody," Roethlisberger said.

Whatever the case, during his weekly appearance on "Cook and Poni" on 93.7 The Fan, Roethlisberger said that in hindsight he wishes he had stuck to his gut and clocked the ball in order to stop the clock. The Steelers ran a play, although only Rogers seemed to realize there wasn't going to be a spike and Roethlisberger's attempt to get the ball to him through traffic ended with an interception.

Roethlisberger said he'll "take the blame" for throwing that pass rather than throwing the ball away to preserve a chance to tie the game. The confusion about what to do may have been lessened had the Steelers called two plays before a short completion to Darrius Heyward-Bey, but the quarterback said the Steelers only called one despite the long review of tight end Jesse James' attempt to score a touchdown.

The initial ruling on the field was that James scored, but the play was changed to an incompletion because a review showed James failed to complete the catch after going to the ground. Roethlisberger said he disagrees with the call because he feels that James made a football move to reach the ball across the goal line, but that wasn't the only missed opportunity for the Steelers as time ran out.

As Graves suggested, ultimately, it doesn't matter.

Pinning a fifth straight loss to the Patriots on everything that wrong for the AFC North champions in the final 35 seconds -- from James overturned TD to the fake spike turned into a game-ending pick -- the Steelers are aware they had plenty of chances in the first 59 minutes to end years of frustration at the hands of Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and company.

The Steelers outgained New England 413-360, picked off Brady for the first time in 12 years, held the ball for 35 minutes and did it all without much from wide receiver Antonio Brown.

The only player to have five consecutive 100-catch seasons left in the second quarter with a left calf injury and didn't return.

The initial word on Brown's calf injury was that he'd be shooting for a return for the postseason and Tomlin confirmed Brown will be missing at least one of the team's final two regular season games.

Tomlin also appeared on 93.7 The Fan on Tuesday and confirmed that Brown will be out for Monday's game against the Texans with what he deemed a "significant" contusion. The Steelers close out the regular season against the Browns in Week 17 and they may still be fighting for a first-round bye depending on how they and the Jaguars do in Week 16.

Tomlin also confirmed that rookie running back James Conner will have knee surgery and was placed on injured reserve. They signed veteran Stevan Ridley to work behind Le'Veon Bell and Fitzgerald Toussaint.

Beyond that, Pittsburgh has an extra day to recover emotionally before going to Houston to face the Texans on Christmas Day.

A victory and another over Cleveland on New Year's Eve would secure a first-round playoff bye and maybe home-field advantage if the Patriots stub their toe at home against Buffalo or the Jets.

It's possible. It's just not likely. ...

Other notes of interest. ... As ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler notes, Bell was a physical presence all night, finishing off his 16 first-half touches for 94 yards with forearms, shoulders and helmets. With 117 yards on the ground (and 165 yards total), Bell became the first Steeler to rush for 100-plus yards and a score against the Patriots since Merril Hoge in 1990.

Martavis Bryant had his biggest game since Week 2 -- reminding everyone why the Steelers never traded him -- thanks to big playmaking, including a diving 39-yard catch down the sideline and a brilliant, one-handed touchdown catch from 4 yards out with a Patriots cornerback draped over him.

With Brown out, JuJu Smith-Schuster, a rookie, had 114 receiving yards, and Bryant, Rogers and Bell helped picked up the slack, too. They will have to continue doing that.

"With a guy of that caliber, the best receiver in the world, when he goes out you have to step up as a receiving corps," Rogers said.

Bryant hasn't had the type of season he expected, but he will have the chance now to prove his worth. It might be something be something fantasy owners can cash in on.

Bell needs 112 yards to become the third-leading rusher in franchise history. Bell has 5,267 yards, 111 behind Willie Parker. Franco Harris and Jerome Bettis own the top two spots. Bell became the first player in franchise history to reach 1,800 scrimmage yards in consecutive seasons.

Smith-Schuster recorded the second 100-yard receiving game of his career. He had been questionable to play in the game with a hamstring injury.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones, Josh Dobbs
RBs: Le'Veon Bell, Terrell Watson, Stevan Ridley
WRs: Martavis Bryant, Eli Rogers, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Justin Hunter, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Antonio Brown
TEs: Jesse James, Xavier Grimble, Vance McDonald

San Francisco 49ers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2017

As the Associated Press understated, "The San Francisco 49ers' long-term rebuilding project looks like it's accelerating with the addition of Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback. ..."

San Francisco has won four of its last five games for the first time since 2013 and Garoppolo's play has been the key.

His 1,008 yards passing are the most by a 49ers quarterback in his first three starts in team history.

Finding a potential franchise signal caller gives head coach Kyle Shanahan and first-year general manager John Lynch a chance to address other areas of the roster that need upgrades in the spring. For now, the team is coming off its first victory over a playoff contender on Sunday when Robbie Gould hit a game-winning field goal as time expired to beat the Titans, 25-23.

"I am very excited with how we're playing. It makes it a whole lot more exciting going into the offseason, because you can see it in the players," Shanahan said. "But I also know we got a lot of work to do."

The 49ers (4-10) have two games left, including Sunday against AFC South leading Jacksonville (10-4), which boasts one of the NFL's most ferocious defenses. The Jaguars entered Week 15 leading the NFL in opponents scoring, takeaways and sacks, which hasn't been done throughout an entire season since the 1970 merger.

San Francisco, after starting the season 0-9, has long been eliminated from playoff contention. But Shanahan is using the end of the regular season as a measuring stick. After the Jaguars, currently the No. 3 seed in the AFC, the 49ers will travel to play the division leading Rams (10-4) on New Year's Eve.

"When you look at teams that have those type of numbers, they have as good a chance as anyone to go all the way," Shanahan said. "So I know it'll be a huge challenge for us and hopefully we'll heal up this week and look at the tape and have a plan to try to get after them on Sunday."

A winning performance from Garoppolo against the Jags might lift expectations even higher. He set career-highs in back-to-back weeks by throwing for 334 and 381 against Houston and Tennessee, respectively. And he's engineered fourth-quarter game-winning drives in two of his three starts.

But the real test, according to Shanahan, will be how Garoppolo handles adversity. He mostly avoided it while going 5-0 as a starter dating back to last season when helped the Patriots win two games during Tom Brady's suspension to start the year.

"I'm sure some day he will lose and guys have rough games," Shanahan said. "I don't care how good you are or if you're the greatest quarterback of all time. ... In order to see how guys are doing, you've got to see how they respond to adversity and how they can do it over the long haul. Jimmy is going to get that opportunity and we'll see, and I feel pretty confident he'll handle it the right way."

It's safe to assume the Jaguars will make things difficult for him this weekend.

As ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner pointed out, Garoppolo started twice and faced very different pass rushes in each game. Against Chicago, Garoppolo was barely touched, allowing him to sit in the pocket and deliver passes at all levels of the defense. Against Houston, Garoppolo was under fire for most of the day and took his share of hits, though he made it through without any real scares.

The Titans dialed up the blitz even more, with left tackle Joe Staley and Shanahan saying it was the most they can remember being blitzed in an NFL game.

Still, the Niners held up for the most part as Garoppolo was sacked three times and hit just four. The Niners would like to do better there, but all things considered, it was a solid performance in terms of pass protection against a ferocious defense.

According to Profootballfocus.com, the Titans blitzed Garoppolo on 26 of his 46 dropbacks (56.5 percent). Garoppolo was 16-of-23 for 214 yards for a 98.8 passer rating when blitzed.

The ability to produce under pressure will certainly come in handy when the Jaguars visit this weekend. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Receiver Marquise Goodwin continues to be the beneficiary of the Niners' upgrade at quarterback. He was targeted 13 times and finished with 10 catches for 114 yards. Goodwin has played his best football over the past three weeks with Garoppolo at quarterback and is suddenly in realistic striking range of his first 1,000-yard season.

For the year, Goodwin has 51 catches for 897 yards.

Receiver Kendrick Bourne recorded season-bests in receptions (four) and receiving yards (84) in Sunday's win while tight end Garrett Celek caught a touchdown pass for the second week in a row. Celek has now recorded four TD receptions this season, a career-best.

Aldrick Robinson (concussion) had to leave Sunday's game in the first quarter after taking a hard fall while pursuing a pass. He also suffered a sprained wrist on the play. He entered the NFL concussion protocol Monday and is questionable for this week's game.

Gould tied a 49ers franchise record for field goals in a game Sunday with his 6-for-6 performance against the Titans. Ray Wersching (at New Orleans in 1983) and Jeff Wilkins (vs. Atlanta in 1996) had done it previously.

Gould has made 15 field goals in the last three games, a first in NFL history. He has made his last 20 field-goal attempts, seven shy of Phil Dawson's franchise record of 27.

He's now made 36-of-38 field goal attempts on the season and has hit 20 in a row.

On Wednesday, the veteran kicker was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, C.J. Beathard
RBs: Carlos Hyde, Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, Kyle Juszczyk
WRs: Marquise Goodwin, Aldrick Robinson, Trent Taylor, Kendrick Bourne, Victor Bolden
TEs: George Kittle, Garrett Celek, Logan Paulsen

Seattle Seahawks

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2017

Pete Carroll was notably somber on Monday and understandably so. Even a day later, the most lopsided loss of his Seattle Seahawks tenure was still stinging.

"A difficult day yesterday that didn't get anywhere near the expectations that we had," Carroll said. "We ran into a day, like some of us know, our hard days, they don't always go like you like."

Seattle has generally thrived in important games with something at stake. In this case it was the NFC West lead and a much easier path toward a sixth straight playoff appearance. And it was coming two weeks after one of Seattle's more complete performances in recent seasons with a convincing 24-10 win over Philadelphia.

All of those factors made the 42-7 blowout loss to the Rams so shocking, and tough for the Seahawks to accept. There were few answers, other than it was a complete thumping by the Rams.

"I think that's why our expectations were so high and why we're so disappointed about it today," Carroll said. "But we have to move on from it."

Seattle's offense knew they would have to carry some additional load on Sunday with four defensive starters out and a fifth playing at half strength.

They came out of the gates with a turnover and two possessions moving backward in their first three drives Sunday against the Rams.

"Obviously, that was not the game we wanted to play or expected to play," quarterback Russell Wilson said. "They did a great job, they played way better than us today."

Tanner McEvoy fumbled on what would have been an early third-down conversion to give the Rams field position at the Seattle 40-yard line. A pair of holding penalties on the team's next two drives forced the Seahawks to lose 10 yards on each possession, which enabled more positive field position for the Rams.

"We were backed up and we were behind the sticks constantly," Carroll said. "That's not how we wanted to play this game."

Seattle quickly found themselves in a 13-0 hole and had to play from behind.

While Wilson wasn't directly at fault for some of Seattle's errors offensively on Sunday, his collective poor play this season in the first quarter is staggering. Wilson has completed less than 60 percent of his passes in the first quarter this year with just four touchdowns and three interceptions. He's been sacked 12 times and has a passer rating of just 77.0 in the opening quarter.

Wilson's passer rating steadily improves as the game goes on. He has a 79.2 rating in the second quarter, 80.9 rating in the third and then explodes to a 130.9 rating in the fourth quarter.

"I thought we missed opportunities, right from the first play," Carroll said. "We missed some stuff and just chances got away from him."

The Seahawks ran the ball just 12 times for 39 yards with their running backs. Being backed up and in long-yardage situations often forced Seattle away from their rushing attack. Wilson scrambled for 39 yards.

Moving on was a theme for Carroll on Monday and he's right in trying to be optimistic. The Seahawks (8-6) still have fleeting playoff hopes, but have no room for error the rest of the way if they intend on finding their way to the postseason. Wins over Dallas and Arizona seem like absolutes, and the Seahawks will likely need help from others.

But as Associated Press sports writer Tim Booth noted, that only addresses the now. Sunday's loss to the Rams felt like a tipping point for the finest era in Seahawks history. According to Booth, they are becoming less the brash, unapologetic bullies of the NFC West and more an older, expensive roster likely in need of some remodeling.

It's big picture stuff that the Seahawks will need to address in the offseason but was on everyone's mind in the aftermath of such a deflating loss to the new upstarts in the division.

There were many reasons why the Rams were so dominant but none appeared more bothersome to Carroll than Seattle's inability to slow down Todd Gurley and the Rams' run game. Seattle held Gurley to 43 yards rushing in its Week 5 victory and believed even with the losses on defense due to injury they could keep the Rams' run game in check.

But Seattle's defensive front was out of position on too many plays in the first half and watched Gurley run wild. Gurley had 144 yards rushing in the first half and found huge running lanes as Seattle failed to stay disciplined up front and didn't tackle well in the back end.

The Rams finished with 244 yards rushing, the second-most allowed since Carroll arrived in Seattle. Only Kansas City's 270 yards rushing in 2010 -- led by 173 yards from Jamaal Charles -- topped the Rams' performance.

"We got a little bit anxious, tried to get at the quarterback too much, got out of our run lanes and gave them some stuff," Carroll said.

Other notes of interest. ... According to USA Today's Liz Mathews, running back Chris Carson has been nearing a return to practice. Carson was placed on the injured reserve after fracturing his lower leg and injuring his ankle in the Seahawks Week 4 battle with the Colts.

Carroll had been recently optimistic that Carson's return was imminent, but the running back apparently suffered a setback in his recovery and the date had been pushed back. Carson resumed running last week.

"He's running and doing all the rehab stuff and he may have had a chance to be a little bit. ... I don't know if he would have been able to play this week anyway, but he had a chance," Carroll said Wednesday before the Rams matchup. "We were entertaining the thought. So that probably goes to next week is how we think of it."

Now that week has come, but Carroll isn't calling anything certain just yet.

"We'll see," Carroll said Monday afternoon. "I don't have the final from his workouts today, but we'll know by Wednesday if he is practicing."

Carroll did confirm Carson would not be available this Sunday against Dallas. ...

Tight end Nick Vannett left Sunday's game with a shoulder injury and did not return. He is expected to be OK this week as exams came back clean. ...

Carroll expects LB K.J. Wright to be cleared from the concussion protocol and return to practice on Wednesday. Wright suffered the concussion in the Week 14 loss to Jacksonville and was not cleared in time to play on Sunday. Bobby Wagner (hamstring) was pulled late in the third quarter, while the rest of Seattle's defense remained in the game well beyond that. Wagner reportedly avoided suffering a setback.

Carroll did not believe there would be lingering friction between Wagner and Thomas after the pair exchanged words in different forums on Sunday. Thomas questioned after the loss whether Wagner should have been playing while injured. Wagner responded on Twitter before later deleting the tweets.

"I think Bobby was a little upset, but I think we'll be fine," Carroll said.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Russell Wilson, Austin Davis
RBs: J.D. McKissic, Mike Davis, Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls, Tre Madden
WRs: Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Paul Richardson, Tanner McEvoy, Amara Darboh
TEs: Jimmy Graham, Luke Willson, Nick Vannett

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2017

As ESPN.com's Jenna Laine put it, "His receivers were dropping like flies. His defense was too. If the Bucs had lost any more players, they might have had to seriously consider plucking some retired players, who were out in full force for Jon Gruden's ring of honor induction, from the stands.

"In spite of it, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston -- finally healthy himself after suffering a sprained AC joint in his throwing shoulder -- reminded us what he is capable of, even in a 24-21 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football. ..."

This after Winston completed 27 of 35 passes for 299 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions (no fumbles, either) against the Falcons. He completed 16 of the first 18 passes he attempted. His 130.5 passer rating wasn't just a season high, it was the second-highest of his career, even as his receiving options and protection dwindled throughout the game.

"Talk about 'next man up.' I mean, good Lord, we had so many injuries," Winston said.

Tight end O.J. Howard had a 30-yard catch-and-run in the first quarter, but he was injured on the play when he was hit in the ankle by Brian Poole and did not return. Howard was placed on season-ending IR on Wednesday, ending his rookie season early. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson left with an ankle injury. Right guard J.R. Sweezy also left with a lower leg injury, with the Bucs' offensive line having already lost two starters -- right tackle Demar Dotson and center Ali Marpet -- for the season.

In fact, 10 players were announced with injuries during the game and only tight end Cameron Brate (knee) was able to finish.

That's when Winston found a familiar face, wide receiver Mike Evans, and delivered a 42-yard bomb, the type of play these two should routinely make but hadn't come to fruition this season. In fact, it was the first time Winston had found Evans in the end zone since Week 7 against the Buffalo Bills.

"You guys can shred me up for the whole year for not giving him that chance," Winston said. "I will take it because that's the truth. Sometimes it's concepts, but in that situation, when Mike is one-on-one or no one is around him, I've got to give him a chance. That is really on me."

All that changed Monday Evans was targeted eight times, catching five passes for 79 yards, including a 43-yard touchdown. Two other receptions were called back for offensive pass interference.

Evans added: "We had one earlier that got called back, but he was just trusting me today, he was throwing it up. We've got nothing to lose so we were just locking in today."

With 4 minutes, 16 seconds to go in the fourth quarter, Winston scrambled to his right and found slot receiver Adam Humphries in the back of the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown to make it a three-point game.

"One of the things Jameis does best is scramble. He's so good at keeping plays alive," Humphries said. "For him to find me in the back of the end zone was pretty sweet."

His efforts fell just short, though, with kicker Patrick Murray's 54-yard field goal attempt sailing wide right as the clock expired, something Winston said was the result of them not giving him enough time to get set.

As Laine went on to suggest, if Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers' three-interception performance against the Panthers on Sunday taught us anything, it's that injuries can do a number on quarterbacks, and rust is a real thing, even for great ones. Perhaps that's all Winston needed: to shake some of it off and remind us what he's capable of.

"I think this [was] Jameis at his best," head coach Dirk Koetter said. "We've seen him at his best for parts of several games, but this was probably his best and most complete game. I've seen it over the last three years at different times. Our division is loaded with excellent quarterbacks and I think Jameis, with more experience, is going to be right there with them."

At 4-10 and 0-4 in the division, there's no mistaking that this season has been a disaster for the Bucs, and Koetter's chances to return as head coach next season are growing slimmer and slimmer with each loss. Nothing this season has seemed to go right for Winston, either, between the injury and the Uber allegations and reports of a rift with Koetter and some untimely turnovers.

"I [couldn't] let my team down," Winston said. "I know I've let them down a couple of times this year, but I [had] to compete. It's Monday Night Football. We are the only game on TV -- why not compete? It's just unfortunate."

But this isn't really about now. Not for Winston. Koetter might be fighting for his job, but this is about the future for Winston.

Whoever is coaching him next season will see that he does, in fact, have the tools to be successful. ...

Other notes of interest. ... The Buccaneers put running back Doug Martin on the inactive list for Monday night's game against the Falcons and announced before the game that the move resulted from a violation of team rules.

Koetter didn't provide any information about the nature of the violation in his postgame press conference and said the team was moving forward.

"That was a violation of team rules and it's done," Koetter said, via Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times. "It's done. That's just one of those things that unfortunately has to happen from time to time. It's behind us now, and that's all I'm going to say about it."

Martin got benched after fumbling in Week 14 and has generally struggled since returning from the suspension that kept him out of the first three games of the season. The sluggish play was enough reason to expect a parting of the ways this offseason and Monday's benching probably makes it just a matter of time before Martin is on the open market.

Peyton Barber got the start and rushed 13 times for 53 yards, but lost a fumble at the Atlanta 5-yard line.

As for the injuries. ... Jackson had a walking boot on his right ankle after the game. He didn not practice Wednesday. Brate was able to finish Monday night's game, but he was limited in Wednesday's session and his status bears watching.

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

Meanwhile, in addition to Howard, the Bucs placed CB Vernon Hargreaves on injured reserve with a hamstring injury, ending his season.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jameis Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Griffin
RBs: Peyton Barber, Jacquizz Rodgers, Charles Sims, Doug Martin
WRs: Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries, Chris Godwin, Bernard Reedy
TEs: Cameron Brate, O.J. Howard

Tennessee Titans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2017

As ESPN.com's Cameron Wolfe suggested, it's often hard to watch the Tennessee Titans' offense. But when it's clicking, like it was Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers for three consecutive scoring drives beginning late in the second quarter and going throughout the second half, the Titans look like the talented, diverse offensive team we thought they would be at the start of the season.

As fantasy owners we need to see more of that. The Titans need to see it even more.

It's the difference between a playoff team and one that is sitting at home to start January. The Titans' offense played well enough to win in their 25-23 loss to the 49ers. Jimmy Garoppolo going wild on the Titans' defense played a big role in the defeat, but the game wouldn't have been that tight if the up-tempo, no-huddle offense Tennessee featured in the second half had been the focus in the first half.

Why is the no-huddle an underutilized subpackage when Marcus Mariota seems to excel in it? Receiver Rishard Matthews has a similar question.

"I'd rather have Marcus calling the shots," Matthews said. "There's proof in the success when that happens. I'd like to do no-huddle more. I know we'd all like to do it more. We definitely talk about it a lot. Sometimes we go into it a lot. Sometimes we don't. This game we stayed in it, and I feel like we were pretty good when were in it."

Multiple Titans offensive players agreed with the general basis of Matthews' assessment. There also was some agreement with Matthews' saying that the Titans got too conservative on their final offensive possession, particularly on a third-and-2 on which they essentially settled for a go-ahead field goal.

It will be interesting to see how much the Titans' coaching staff is willing to adjust with the playoff hunt becoming much more difficult.

The Titans scored three points and accumulated 72 yards on 18 plays in three drives to start the game before they switched to the no-huddle. In the three subsequent drives after they switched primarily to a no-huddle offense, the Titans put up 17 points and gained 225 yards on 32 offensive plays.

"That's just something we felt like going in was a good way to attack them," Titans head coach Mike Mularkey said of the success in the no-huddle. "That was part of the game plan."

Mariota, who played well in the loss, has some audible control, and the coaching staff thoroughly discusses the game plan with him every week. It largely remains consistent with the scheme along with some package plays sprinkled in. Mariota calls all the plays when the Titans go no-huddle or up-tempo, per left tackle Taylor Lewan.

"We were very efficient," Mariota said. "It's a package we practice every single day. Guys trust it, and I thought we did a good job being able to execute."

No-huddle certainly won't become a full-time feature of the Titans' offense. We've seen that sort of plan flame out with Chip Kelly in Philadelphia and San Francisco. But there is potential for more use of it, particularly when Mariota looks so comfortable in that position.

"If that's getting the offense going and moving the ball and putting points on the board, why not," tight end Delanie Walker said.

Meanwhile, the Titans have frittered away their margin for error by dropping back-to-back games on the road to teams with losing records. Now the task at hand to end the franchise's playoff drought dating back to the 2008 season is simple: Win their final two games.

As Associated Press sports writer Teresa M. Walker noted, that's the easiest math for the Titans (8-6), currently in the first wild-card spot as the AFC's No. 5 playoff seed.

Buffalo and Baltimore Ravens, also at 8-6, are nipping at the Titans' heels, though Tennessee has a better AFC record than the Bills and also beat Baltimore 23-20 on Nov. 5.

Luckily, the Titans also are back home where they have won five straight and nine of their past 10 going back to last season.

"You've got two games here to go where we want to go," head coach Mike Mularkey said Monday. "If you'd said that back in July, I think they'd all have taken that. ..."

All that said, it won't be easy.

It starts this week with the Los Angeles Rams on Christmas Eve. They'll finish the regular season against the playoff-bound Jaguars. ...

Other notes of interest. ... As Wolfe pointed out, Matthews was the big winner of the day with six catches for 95 yards and a touchdown in San Francisco. Matthews had some extremely clutch catches for the Titans. He's known for his consistency and he may have helped a fantasy owner make it further in the playoffs with his big day.

The Titans managed to run for 90 yards on Sunday, but the thought that this is a dominant run team is no more. That much was evident on the third-and-2 call where DeMarco Murray was stuffed for a 1-yard loss, forcing Ryan Succop to kick from 50 yards.

It left 1:07 on the clock, whereas a first down would have probably allowed Tennessee to run out the clock and not allow the 49ers to win it on their final drive.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Marcus Mariota, Matt Cassel, Brandon Weeden
RBs: Derrick Henry, DeMarco Murray, David Fluellen
WRs: Rishard Matthews, Eric Decker, Taywan Taylor, Eric Weems, Corey Davis
TEs: Delanie Walker, Luke Stocker, Jonnu Smith, Phillip Supernaw

Washington Redskins

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2017

According to Associated Press sports writer Stephen Whyno, with no playoff hopes to fight for, the Washington Redskins have developed an approach of 8-8 or bust.

"We're just trying to finish out the season strong because we know 8-8 looks a lot better than whatever other record we could have," linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said.

Though heady coach Jay Gruden joked that he never wants to use 8-8 as motivation, winning the final two games against the Denver Broncos and at the New York Giants would be something of a historical accomplishment. Gruden would be the first Redskins coach to post three consecutive .500 or better seasons since Super Bowl winner Joe Gibbs from 1989-1991.

Washington hasn't had three seasons in a row at .500 or better since 1999-2001 under a combination of Norv Turner, Terry Robiskie and Marty Schottenheimer. The Redskins won't get to the postseason like they did two years ago, but there's value in not being 6-10 or 7-9.

But Gruden understands it would be somewhat of a hollow achievement with no postseason on the horizon, but it is also a chance for players to make a statement.

"I don't know what the perception is or will be if it's 7-9 or 8-8 or whatever it is," Gruden said Monday. "I know the perception is it probably wasn't a good enough year for anybody. But to finish strong and get to 8-8 says a lot about the character of these guys and their ability to continue to work hard through tough times."

Injuries have helped bring about those tough times and should be justification enough to make Gruden's job safe. Beating the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday to improve to 6-8 has at least temporarily quieted any speculation stemming from back-to-back blowout losses at the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Chargers.

Reaching 8-8 would mean beating the NFL's top defense in Denver and then the rival Giants in what could be Eli Manning's final game with them. Neither of those teams has anything tangible to play for, so the Redskins are finding inspiration where they can get it.

"It doesn't feel good to lose," said linebacker Preston Smith, who had an interception and fumble recovery against Arizona. "We got the monkey off our back. We have got to keep rolling the ball forward. We have to make sure we finish the season strong and try our best to finish out 8-8."

The defense didn't allow the Cardinals into the end zone and excelled on third down, but the offense and special teams left a lot to be desired. A botched kickoff that Arizona recovered at the Washington 22, a leverage penalty on a field goal and a 1 of 9 offensive showing on third down are on Gruden's must-improve list for the final two games.

Special teams units particular have been a sore spot in recent weeks, something Gruden explained was a result of roster turnover.

"We talk about some of the changes we've made on offense and defense, but that's true for special teams also," Gruden said. "I think it's just a matter of trying to get some consistency in the guys who are playing and making sure we coach them up a little better."

Kirk Cousins rebounded from an off game against the Los Angeles Chargers with an efficient one against the Cardinals.

Washington barely had the ball in the first half. Cousins completed 18 of 26 passes for 196 yards with two touchdowns. The offensive line gave him time with one sack allowed. Seven different receivers, tight ends or running backs caught balls from Cousins. Jamison Crowder (five catches, 55 yards, touchdown) had a nice game.

Meanwhile, with two starters (Rob Kelley, Chris Thompson) on injured reserve, the Redskins just need their backs to be passable. According to the Sports Xchange, that's about the right description for their play Sunday.

Samaje Perine had 14 carries for 37 yards. But Kapri Bibbs, just off the practice squad, did have four catches, including one he took 36 yards for a touchdown. Perine also had a 23-yard catch in the second half. It was enough to buy Washington some precious balance.

As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich suggested, Bibbs might be a hot waiver-wire name this week, but he'll be tough to trust against Denver.

On the injury front. ... OT Trent Williams has missed four games with a knee injury. Gruden said a decision has not been made "quite yet" about whether to shut Williams down. ... LB Zach Brown will have treatment on his hip, toe and Achilles tendon injuries and is a candidate to practice Wednesday. ... Gruden said S Montae Nicholson still has concussion symptoms and that LB Ryan Anderson (knee) and CB Bashaud Breeland (shoulder) are day-to-day.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Colt McCoy
RBs: Samaje Perine, Kapri Bibbs
WRs: Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson, Ryan Grant, Brian Quick, Terrelle Pryor
TEs: Vernon Davis, Jeremy Sprinkle, Niles Paul