Team Notes week 16 2023

By Bob Harris
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Directly from the desk of FlashUpdate Editor Bob Harris. The good; the bad; and yes. ...  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 18 December 2023

Trey McBride had just finished with his second 100-yard game of the season -- something that had never happened for a Cardinals tight end since they moved to Arizona -- while his team posted a season-high in total yards and rushing yards.

Yet McBride was blunt in his one-word assessment: "Frustrated."

As Darren Urban of the team's official website suggested, such a reaction wasn't surprising, not after a 45-29 loss at State Farm Stadium to the San Francisco 49ers.

The 49ers (11-3) clinched the NFC West, while the Cardinals (3-11) were left irritated.

While the Niners are trending toward an NFC championship game appearance (at the least), the Cardinals don't feel like a three-win team, at least not one that has been seen around these parts. Allowing 45 points to a team doesn't mesh well with "progress," but Sunday's result also felt like it fell along the lines of where each roster sits at currently -- and Cardinals GM Monti Ossenfort hasn't had enough time to build what he envisions.

Still, fantasy managers had to be impressed.

The Cardinals had 436 total yards and 234 yards rushing. James Conner had 86 yards rushing, including a run of 44 yards, and a score on 14 carries, a nice pairing with McBride's 10 catches for 102 yards.

But the 49ers had notable numbers themselves, like Brock Purdy throwing four touchdown passes and running back Christian McCaffrey totaling 187 yards rushing and receiving and adding three touchdowns (after scoring four against the Cards earlier this season.)

"That wasn't winning stats," head coach Jonathan Gannon said. "We lost the takeaway battle two-nothing, and that's what you get against a good football team."

The first turnover was painful, the Cardinals going for it on fourth-and-3 at the San Francisco 42 in a 7-7 game. Quarterback Kyler Murray tried to find McBride; instead he found cornerback Charvarius Ward, who sprinted right up the middle of the field for a 66-yard touchdown return, and the 49ers never trailed again.

It wasn't because the Cardinals couldn't move the ball. They could. But they ended up with field goals on each of their next possessions, and against the Niners, that simply won't work.

"We moved the ball but they are a good team," Murray said. "Against a good team like that, you've got to put the ball in the end zone."

Murray helped the run game with 49 yards on six carries, but he was only 26-of-39 for 211 yards, one TD and two interceptions in a game in which his wide receivers had just four receptions.

"You've got to be a team that gets better as the year goes on, you know?" Conner said. "I just don't know if we. ... We've got guys that don't understand that yet. You know, they're still trying to figure it out. As a team, we're in this together though. We're not singling nobody out, but more sense of urgency, you know, attention to the details. It's a real fine line for mistakes, make too many mistakes and you're not going to win."

McBride lamented that he didn't come back for the ball enough on the Murray pick-6 -- Murray took the blame for the turnover -- as one of the "little things" the Cardinals let slide.

There are three games left to go from being "close" -- McBride's words -- to all the way there.

The Cardinals are on the road the next few weeks, starting with the Chicago Bears next Sunday. Arizona did well in its latest cold weather game, beating the Steelers 24-10 on Dec. 3. Arizona has three games remaining and arguably the most interesting storyline for the franchise is where it will pick in the upcoming draft. The Cardinals have plenty of needs and a top-five pick would be useful.

Still, Urban reports the suggestion of letting up at this point may as well have been foul language when it was brought up.

"I know that's not this team," Murray said. "Me personally, offensively, we won't allow it. Defensively I know the guys over there won't.

"We've said all along our record isn't going to determine how we play football."

Other notes of interest. ... According to Urban, there is a flip side to McBride's breakout season.

The Cardinals wide receivers aren't in a good spot.

Out of Murray's 26 pass completions Sunday, only four were caught by receivers, and those gained a combined total of just 20 yards.

All three tight ends (McBride, Elijah Higgins and Swaim) finished first, second and third on the team in receiving yards.

Greg Dortch led the wide receiver room with two receptions for 15 yards.

"Keep trying to find ways to get those guys the ball," the quarterback said of the wideouts. "We have to go back, and that's something I can get better about, and as a whole with the offense, find ways to get those guys the ball.

"I know it's frustrating. Hell, I'm frustrated for them."

Michael Wilson was back in the lineup, but he had no catches on three targets. Marquise Brown, who said the plan was for him to play intermittently anyway with his bad heel, eventually had to shut it down and wasn't targeted at all.

"If I can go, I'll go," Brown said. "If I can't, I can't."

As good as McBride has been -- and he's been really, really good -- the Cardinals need production from a wideout or two. ...

McBride officially broke the franchise record for tight end catches in a season with his first on Sunday. Then he added nine more, putting him at 66 with three games left.

"That's really cool," McBride said. "Like I said, there are a lot of great tight ends that have played in the organization and to be up there with those guys and break the record is very cool. Very special to me.

"But really, that's not what I'm focused on. I could care less about that, truthfully. I just want to win. ..."

On the injury front. ... In addition to Brown's setback with his heel, it was a rough departure from the game by veteran tight end Geoff Swaim, who was carted to the locker room with a calf injury that looked non-contact when it happened. Swaim has been excellent in the run game this season and is a nice compliment to McBride.

Gannon wasn't sure if either will be available for the next game, but didn't expect either player to go on injured reserve. ...

McBride left the game briefly with a shoulder injury, but he was able to continue and finished the game with the aforementioned 10 catches for 102 yards.

Murray left the game for a handful of plays when he was hit on a throw and took a hard elbow. ... Right where a guy doesn't want to take a hard elbow. So of course I wanted to ask him about it.

"I don't wish that on anybody," Murray said. ...

I'll follow up on Brown, McBride and the rest via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Finally. ... Some usage notes of interest:

Per Late-Round Fantasy's JJ Zachariason, Conner played just 47 percent of Arizona's snaps against the 49ers after hitting a 77 percent snap share the last time we saw him.'s Nathan Jahnke notes that Arizona started with their normal running back rotation, with Conner taking early-down snaps and Emari Demercado taking third downs.

Michael Carter played just six snaps in the first three quarters. The Cardinals were down by a lot in the fourth quarter, so they used that as an opportunity to get Carter more experience in the offense.

While Demercado put up big numbers, it was almost all from a 49-yard touchdown run while the team was down by 19 in the fourth quarter. We shouldn't expect an increased role for him going forward.

Jahnke added Conner is quietly having an excellent season. He's averaged at least 4.2 yards per carry in all 10 of his games. No other starting running back is at 100 percent. Jahmyr Gibbs, Christian McCaffrey and James Cook are the only running backs who have averaged over 4.2 yards per carry in at least 60 percent of their games.

QBs: Kyler Murray, Desmond Ridder, Clayton Tune
RBs: James Conner, Michael Carter, Emari Demercado
WRs: Zay Jones, Michael Wilson, Rondale Moore, Greg Dortch, Zach Pascal
TEs: Trey McBride, Geoff Swaim

Atlanta Falcons

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 18 December 2023

The Falcons started Taylor Heinicke at quarterback in a couple of games in the middle of this season, but went back to Desmond Ridder after their Week 11 bye and head coach Arthur Smith said he didn't want to play musical chairs at the position for the rest of the year.

As's Josh Alper reported Monday, it may be time to strike up the band, however.

Ridder threw a brutal interception inside the Panthers' 5-yard-line in the fourth quarter to set up Carolina's game-winning drive on Sunday and that may have been enough for head coach Arthur Smith to turn to Heinicke.

Smith said at a Monday press conference that he is still considering what direction to go at quarterback for their Week 16 matchup with the Colts. Logan Woodside is also on the roster, but Smith said that Heinicke is the only choice other than Ridder for this week.

Josh Kendall of The Athletic reported on Tuesday that Heinicke will get the call.

The team then released an updated depth chart for Week 16 on Tuesday and it shows Heinicke on the top rung at quarterback. Ridder is now the No. 2 and Woodside remains in the third position.

As's Josh Alper suggested, that Smith is forced to change his plan to go with one starter the rest of the season and benching Ridder twice means the Falcons will likely be making new long-term quarterback plans once the offseason arrives.

Heinicke is 12-14-1 as a starter. For his career, he has completed 63.2 percent of his passes for 6,243 yards, 37 touchdowns and 25 interceptions with Washington, Atlanta, Carolina and Houston.

Atlanta entered Sunday with playoff aspirations, tied atop a subpar NFC South with everything in the Falcons' control. By the end of a 9-7 loss to the Carolina Panthers, owners of the worst record in the NFL, the Falcons were left needing help to make the postseason and with legitimate questions about the futures of Smith and Ridder.

Smith was asked bluntly: "You have three games left, [but] on what basis do you believe you're the right coach for this team?"

Smith's answer essentially came down to belief in himself and what he has been building in Atlanta. His players backed him, too.

"In any job you take, you gotta have a lot of self-belief. You know, this is the cycle of it. There's consequences when you lose so these are natural questions, right," Smith said. "It's NFL 101. Your job is to win games. There's a lot of things that. ... Everybody's situation is different. There's a lot of things that we've dealt with early on but ultimately, you know, the job is to win games and get into the playoffs.

"We'll still have that opportunity. It'll look like a long shot but each one of these years has been different. We've got three different teams. Movement at some critical spots, but your job is to win. We've made a lot of good. ... But I've got a ton of self-belief."

According to's Michael Rothstein, for 10 minutes Smith answered questions while his boss, owner Arthur Blank, sat in the third row of the postgame news conference. Blank attends every postgame presser, win or lose.

His head coach was asked about everything -- his job security, whether Ridder was still his starting quarterback, turnovers at critical times and a failure of the defense to stop a game-winning drive.

Had Smith been told anything about his future?

"Not like a state of the union," Smith said. "Every day you go in there, try the best you can at your job. And that's all we work on. It's improving, trying to win games."

That's been the question for Atlanta. Has the improvement come? If it has, has it been enough? The majority of Atlanta's losses this season have come from a combination of two things: Bad turnovers at critical times and the defense allowing a late, game-winning drive.

Both occurred Sunday against Carolina.

The defense didn't allow a touchdown, but the Panthers' last two drives led to field goals.

Seven points scored on offense. A seventh win not attained. Far too many questions unanswered, where Smith once again said they'll be evaluating everything, including whether Ridder will remain the starting quarterback.

They've done this before. For every positive thing that happens with the Falcons, a negative seems sure to follow.

In two weeks, Atlanta went from controlling its fate to having a 17 percent chance of making the playoffs and a 12 percent chance of winning the NFC South. Now, the Falcons will be dependent on others as much as anything they do to make the postseason.

Remember, when Smith came to the Falcons, he was hyped as an offensive innovator.

But as Associated Press sports writer Charles Odum suggested, the play-calling against the Panthers was baffling, even given the rainy conditions. Smith failed to take advantage of his playmakers, relied heavily on an ineffective running game and put too much faith in Ridder at the worst possible time.

The biggest indictment of the supposedly offensive-minded coach: The Falcons have scored more than 30 points only one time in Smith's nearly three full years at the helm. ...

Again, the Falcons face must-win games the rest of the season, beginning with Sunday's contest at Mercedes-Benz Stadium against the Indianapolis Colts (8-6). This is Atlanta's last home game before closing the season at Chicago (5-9) and New Orleans (7-7). ...

Other notes of interest. ... In a game that appeared to set him up for huge success, Bijan Robinson struggled.

According to's Nathan Jahnke, Robinson played his lowest snaps share (58.8 percent) outside of his headache game in his career.

In fact, as Late-Round Fantasy's JJ Zachariason pointed out, Robinson's 26.9 percent running back rush share was also a season low.

Indeed, it was clear the Falcons planned to use Tyler Allgeier more than they in recent games from the first drive, as he ran four times to Robinson's three. Robinson ran four more times after the first drive during the first three quarters, but he only gained 11 yards on those seven carries.

On his final carry of the game, he lost a fumble.

He was still on the field for six-of-11 fourth-quarter plays, but he wasn't given the ball or targeted on a pass on any of those six plays.

This all came after his highest snap share in a Falcons' Week 13 win (75 percent of Atlanta's snaps) and his second-best snap share of his career last week at 78 percent.

With games against the Colts and Bears over the next two weeks, it should be noted they both rank in the top eight at allowing fantasy points to running backs. Chances are one of Robinson and Allgeier will put up big numbers in those games, but Jahnke adds we might not know which back it is until it's too late.

In a related note. .. Running back Cordarrelle Patterson finished with minus-2 yards rushing on five carries. It was the first time in his 11-year career he finished with negative yardage with more than one carry. ...

Drake London brought in two of three targets for 24 yards on Sunday.

As suggests, London's day was disappointing under any context for fantasy managers rolling with him in their playoff games or critical late-season contests, but it was additionally alarming when considering the receiver's season-best 10-172 line on 11 targets in Week 14.

London now has his two least productive games since a catchless opener in the last three contests. ...

Finally. ... Tight end Jonnu Smith led the team in receiving with two receptions for 61 yards while Kyle Pitts finished second with three receptions for 37 yards.

On paper, the Falcons have two great matchups remaining, but Jahnke contends we can't trust Smith, who was running a route on 40 percent of Atlanta's pass plays and has been well under 50 percent of the team's offensive snaps in four of the last five games.

Pitts could be a borderline fantasy starter in those lineups but as always he will come with a lot of risk.

QBs: Taylor Heinicke, Logan Woodside, Kirk Cousins
RBs: Bijan Robinson, Tyler Allgeier, Cordarrelle Patterson
WRs: Drake London, Darnell Mooney, Mack Hollins, KhaDarel Hodge, Van Jefferson, Scott Miller, Jared Bernhardt, Josh Ali
TEs: Kyle Pitts, MyCole Pruitt, John FitzPatrick

Baltimore Ravens

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 18 December 2023

In becoming the first AFC team to clinch a playoff berth, the Baltimore Ravens lost another offensive playmaker toward the end of Sunday night's 23-7 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Big-play running back Keaton Mitchell sustained a serious left knee injury in the fourth quarter and was carted off the field. Mitchell, an undrafted rookie, was tripped up by safety Andrew Wingard, causing his left leg to bend awkwardly after he landed on it.

"It looks like he won't be back for the rest of this season," head coach John Harbaugh said.

NFL Network's Ian Rapoport first reported Monday that an MRI confirmed Mitchell suffered an ACL tear. His season is indeed over but he should make a full recovery.

As's Jamison Hensley notes, this is the third significant player that Baltimore's offense has lost. Starting running back J.K. Dobbins sustained a season-ending Achilles injury in the season opener, and tight end Mark Andrews will miss at least the rest of the regular season after injuring his ankle in Week 11.

Now, the Ravens will be without Mitchell, who started Sunday and totaled 73 yards on nine carries (8.1-yard average) before the injury.

"It's heartbreaking," Harbaugh said. "He's just got a great attitude and demeanor about him, and it's a guy that he wants to do well. He deserves to do well."

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson thought Mitchell was on his way to scoring a touchdown before going down on that 13-yard run.

"He's lights out," Jackson said. "He was starting to get started. So that's tough to see."

The Ravens lost Mitchell on a night when they dominated running the ball. Baltimore gained 251 yards, which marked the 12th time the team has surpassed 250 yards on the ground since Jackson took over as the starting quarterback midway through the 2018 season. No other team in the NFL has more than five such games over that span, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

With Mitchell out, the NFL's No. 1 rushing attack will rely on Gus Edwards and Justice Hill. Baltimore promoted two-time Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon from the practice squad to fill Mitchell's spot on the 53-man roster, according to Harbaugh.

"He's been working super hard," Harbaugh said of Gordon. "He's in great shape and he'll be ready to go."

Gordon has appeared in two games for Baltimore this season, taking 13 carries for 53 yards. He also caught three passes for 46 yards.

"It's almost kind of shocking that we're going to have the opportunity to put him into the mix right now, and he's been wanting to be into the mix," Harbaugh said on Monday. "I'm sure he was champing at the bit and wanting to get out there and contribute, so his opportunity comes, and he's been there before. He's a high-pedigree, great player."

A Chargers first-round pick in 2015, Gordon has rushed for 6,515 yards and 55 touchdowns in 110 career games. He played 10 games for the Broncos last year but was released after fumbling five times. He spent the rest of the season on Kansas City's practice squad and won Super Bowl LVII with the group -- though he never appeared in a game.

Additionally, the Ravens signed running back Jake Funk to their practice squad to take Gordon's place.

With the help of the run game, the Ravens reached the playoffs for the fifth time in the past six seasons, although the team's expectations go beyond making the postseason. Baltimore (11-3) maintained a one-game lead over the Miami Dolphins (10-4) for the AFC's No. 1 seed and a two-game advantage over the Cleveland Browns (9-5) for first place in the AFC North.

According to ESPN Analytics, the Ravens have a 92 percent chance of winning the AFC North and 63 percent chance of finishing with the top seed and a first-round bye.

Jackson ramped up his Most Valuable Player campaign by eluding pass-rushers and scrambling for long runs. He finished with 171 yards passing and one touchdown as well as 97 yards rushing.

This was Jackson's 23rd game with at least 75 yards rushing and one touchdown pass, which are 10 more than any other quarterback in NFL history.

"I believe he's the best quarterback in the National Football League," Harbaugh said.

The MVP race may be decided in the next two weeks during head-to-head matchups.

The Ravens will face the 49ers and current MVP odds leader Brock Purdy on Christmas night. Purdy has San Francisco in the NFC's top seed, the second-most passing yards in the league (3,795) and leads the league in passing touchdowns (29).

Sunday night, Purdy campaigned for teammate, running back Christian McCaffrey, to win the MVP after McCaffrey, who has 1,801 total yards and 20 touchdowns, put up 187 total yards and scored three times.

After that, the Ravens host Tyreek Hill and the Dolphins as Hill, who missed yesterday's game due to injury, tries to reach 2,000 receiving yards in a single season for the first time in league history.

Having both postseason seeding and Jackson's MVP campaign factoring in for the Ravens is great news for fantasy managers invested in the veteran signal caller and his associated pieces. ...

Also of interest. ... Isaiah Likely continues to step up in place of Andrews, scoring the game's first touchdown with a 16-yard catch. In three games since replacing Andrews, Likely has totaled 193 yards receiving and two touchdowns.

Meanwhile, Odell Beckham Jr. He finished with as many catches (one) as drops and got held to 14 yards receiving, his second fewest of the season. Beckham averaged 82.3 yards in his past three games.

Rookie receiver Zay Flowers had only one catch for a season-low 7 yards. He was targeted just twice.

QBs: Lamar Jackson, Josh Johnson
RBs: Derrick Henry, Justice Hill, Melvin Gordon, Keaton Mitchell
WRs: Zay Flowers, Rashod Bateman, Nelson Agholor, Tylan Wallace
TEs: Isaiah Likely, Charlie Kolar, Mark Andrews

Buffalo Bills

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 18 December 2023

As's Alaina Getzenberg reported, the Bills' running game had its best performance under coach Sean McDermott in the 31-10 win over the Cowboys.

The team finished with 266 rushing yards and 179 of those came from James Cook.

He finished with 25 carries (averaging 7.2 yards per attempt) with the rushing score, in addition to two receptions for 42 yards with a receiving touchdown.

"Everything," tight end Dawson Knox said when asked what Cook did to be successful. "He's just a hell of a player, so giving him any space, giving him matchups on the outside in the pass game. [Interim offensive coordinator] Joe Brady does an awesome job, scheming that up, and then the o-linemen do a fantastic job, open up the holes for him. He's got crazy vision, too, so he's going to bounce it wherever he sees it."

The Bills' playoff odds moved to 62 percent with Sunday's win, per ESPN Analytics. A short week awaits with a trip to play the Los Angeles Chargers on Saturday night), followed by games against AFC East rivals the New England Patriots and at the Miami Dolphins.

After a stretch of the season when the playoffs seemed out of reach for this team, the path and ability to make it there has never been clearer.

Winning out gives the Bills (8-6) the best chance at making the playoffs, with a chance at catching the Dolphins (10-4) still intact. Getting there will require Buffalo building off this performance, including a Cook-led running game that has jumped significantly since the team changed coordinators over a month ago.

"We understand what position we're in right now," Josh Allen said. "We gotta win games. It doesn't matter how we get them done.

"We just trusted our guys up front and trusted our backs to make plays and they did."

While Allen said it wasn't necessarily the team's plan entering the week to run it at that level, rookie right guard O'Cyrus Torrence noted that the Bills were aware of how good the Cowboys' pass rush is, and that staying out of third-and-long situations would be important.

Once the game started, the Bills realized they could run the football against Dallas and kept pushing it. Buffalo was able to put together a 12-play drive, two 11-play drives, a 15-play drive and then the final six-play touchdown drive, controlling the time of possession for 35:05.

Getzenberg went on to acknowledge the season has been far from perfect for Cook, 24. Veteran Latavius Murray has started over him at times and drops have been an issue in the passing game for Cook, including on a likely touchdown catch vs. the Cowboys. But with Brady taking over the playcalling, an increased emphasis on getting the ball in Cook's hands is clear and has meant good things for this team.

Cook is averaging 141 scrimmage yards in the four games since McDermott fired offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey. His touches have increased from 14.4 per game to 21, with his rushing yards per game up to 88.3 from 61.5 with Dorsey calling plays. Cook's touchdowns have doubled from two in the first 10 games to four in the last four.

"Give Joe credit there, too," McDermott said. "Stick with it and when it's working -- why get away from it, right? Whether it's the pass or the run. The run was working for us."

Cook is the first Bills running back with receiving touchdowns in back-to-back games since Thurman Thomas in 1995, and is now third in the NFL in scrimmage yards per game (100.1).

Per Next Gen Stats, the Bills have the 11th-highest run rate over expected (+5.7 percent) since Week 11 (Weeks 1-10, -2.7 percent, 28th).

The Bills ran by design Sunday on 71 percent of their plays (excluding kneel downs), the highest rate in the NFL this season and the team's highest rate since 2017. Relying on Allen's arm wasn't needed, with just 15 passing attempts tied for his second-fewest in a game.

Not needing to run the football in turn helped the Bills defense, which was without safety Micah Hyde and defensive end AJ Epenesa. Playing from behind, the Cowboys were forced to throw the ball more to stay in the game.

Will the Bills be able to use this as a formula going forward?

Perhaps not to this extent, with Allen expected to remain at the center of the offense, but the establishment of the running game is an encouraging sign. ...

Worth noting. ... Stefon Diggs' and Dalton Kincaid's snap counts fell considerably as the Bills focused entirely on running the ball.

The Bills ran 15 plays out of 21 (2-RB, 2-WR, 1-TE) personnel. According to's Nathan Jahnke, Quintin Morris took most of the snaps at tight end while Trent Sherfield and Khalil Shakir were the leading wide receivers in that personnel grouping.

Diggs played only half of the 12-personnel snaps. Buffalo passed four times and ran 18 times from that personnel grouping, and Diggs was on the field for all of the passing plays.

Buffalo ran nearly half the time from 11 personnel, too. Kincaid took 11 snaps out of 11 personnel as did Knox. Even Morris played five snaps in 11 personnel.

There is probably nothing to worry about for Diggs, as this was likely a one-time thing. There might be some reason for concern for Kincaid.

As Jahnke explained, last week, Knox returned from injury, but that had little impact on Kincaid's playing time. This week, it seemed like we saw more of Knox because of his run-blocking ability, but it's also possible the team eased Knox back into action last week.

Meanwhile, there's not much to pick at with this Bills performance, but dropped passes are something to watch going forward.

Cook dropped a likely touchdown in the third quarter, something he also did against the Eagles, and Diggs appeared to come up short on a third down play early in the game. ...

One other thing. ... Allen has had 10 games this season with a TD passing and rushing to break the NFL record of nine set by Kyler Murray in 2020. ...

On the injury front. ... The Bills have a lengthy injury report as they begin their on-field preparation for the Chargers on Saturday.

But Buffalo conducted a walk-through on Tuesday, so the team's practice participation levels are an estimate.

Defensive end Leonard Floyd (wrist/rib) was an addition to the report, listed as limited for the session.

After missing last week's win over the Cowboys, safety Micah Hyde (neck stinger) and defensive end A.J. Epensea (rib) remained limited. Running back Ty Johnson (shoulder), Kincaid (shoulder), and defensive tackle DaQuan Jones (pectoral) were also limited. Jones just began his 21-day practice window after being designated to return from injured reserve.

Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (wrist) and edge rusher Von Miller (personal) did not participate on Tuesday. Phillips underwent wrist surgery and is aiming to return if the Bills make the postseason.

While Allen continues to be listed with a right shoulder issue, he was a full participant.

Cornerback Kaiir Elam (ankle), long snapper Reid Ferguson (right thumb), Knox (wrist), punter Sam Martin (knee), and receiver Justin Shorter (hamstring) were also full.

QBs: Josh Allen
RBs: James Cook, Latavius Murray, Ty Johnson
WRs: Khalil Shakir, Curtis Samuel, Trent Sherfield, Deonte Harty
TEs: Dalton Kincaid, Dawson Knox, Quintin Morris

Carolina Panthers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 18 December 2023

Bryce Young earned his second career NFL victory on Sunday, as the Panthers defeated the Falcons 9-7 on a rainy afternoon in Charlotte.

After the contest, Young said it felt great to get a win.

"Really, we're just all happy. There's a lot of joy for sure," Young said in his postgame press conference. "It really comes from us wanting to see each other succeed. We want to see each other win. We put the work in. We trust in each other, and we haven't been able to see a lot of those results this year, but it's always great when you get to see that and it actually gets to come to fruition on Sunday.

"Again, right now it's still fresh. Still enjoying it, but there's still a lot of stuff we want to get better at and want to improve on. So, feels great. We'll move on and file it away and take the good and the bad from it."

Young was 18-of-24 for 167 yards in Sunday's tough playing conditions (there was a constant downpour throughout the game). He engineered a 17-play, 90-yard drive that took up the last 7:35 of the game and set up Eddy Pineiro's game-winning 23-yard field goal.

"It's something for us to build off of," Young said. "Again, it hasn't gone the best before this, but we need a win every week. There's no week that we need one more than the other. And throughout all this, we never lose faith. Never lose confidence. Never lose trust in each other. There's no loss of fight.

"They're hard to come by, and they mean a lot. We've got to enjoy it and then file it away and take what we can from it and improve."

"He's a winner," said interim coach Chris Tabor, despite Young's 2-11 record as the starting quarterback. "Think about that drive he put together, that all those kids put together in those conditions. People might say, 'Hey, you have nothing to play for.'

"There's a lot to play for, because whatever is on tape, that is who you are. I thought he took another great step. ... I was really proud of him. The kid's a winner."

According to's David Newton, Young's teammates felt great for him.

They've heard the outside noise by those who believe Carolina made a mistake taking Young over quarterback C.J. Stroud, who went No. 2 to the Houston Texans. They've seen the hammering Young has taken on social media.

While it was just one drive, one sample in a season that has had few highs, they saw this as a little vindication for a quarterback they still believe in.

"People just don't know," tight end Tommy Tremble said. "I can't wait for him to show up and show out next year. He's a baller. I'm so excited that he got this win today. Outside noise is always going to be outside noise, but he's our leader.

"We've still got belief in the man. He's one of those 'one percent' quarterbacks that can do this stuff."

To keep this in perspective, Young's statistics this season remain as dreadful as Sunday's weather. He still hasn't called a play with the lead in the fourth quarter because both of his wins came on walk-off field goals.

But Young has proved he can take a beating on the field in sacks (51) and off the field in criticism. The final drive just showcased it.

"That's why he's here," wide receiver Adam Thielen said. "That's why he's the No. 1 pick, because of things like that. It's something in this league you can build off as a young guy.

"You kind of look at that moving forward and say, 'Hey, we just did that in probably the worst [weather] conditions possible. ... Literally the worst conditions for a quarterback or a receiver to complete those plays. It just says a lot about his skill level, his confidence and his ability to make big plays."

Wide receiver D.J. Chark Jr. suggested Young's effort Sunday reminded him of moments he saw when he played with 2021 No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence with the Jacksonville Jaguars during Lawrence' 3-14 rookie season.

"He had his growing pains," Chark said. "He had to deal with the media and fans, but he stayed in there, and now he's being who we all knew he was going to be."

Could the Panthers compete for the NFC South title next season?

Because the division is a mess with no team with a winning record entering Sunday and none with a franchise quarterback, even a 2-12 Carolina team should be somewhat optimistic for next season.

Next up the Panthers host the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. ...

Other notes of interest. ... As Associated Press sports writer Steve Reed points out, the Panthers are slowly figuring out they're a much better run-blocking team than a pass-blocking one.

The Panthers had another decent day running the football, picking up 129 yards on the ground on 36 carries led by Chuba Hubbard's 87 yards on 22 carries.

The Panthers effectively used some jet sweeps to wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette resulting in 31 yards on four carries. It was a nice change of pace and caught the Falcons off guard.

Hubbard has rushed for 80-plus yards in three-consecutive games, which is the longest streak of his career.

In an interesting aside, Late-Round Fantasy's JJ Zachariason notes that Hubbard's numbers without Frank Reich as head coach: 73 percent running back rush share per game.

With Reich: 50.3 percent. ...

The Panthers only had four active wide receivers with both Mike Strachan and Terrace Marshall Jr. being healthy scratches. This was likely due to the weather.

Tight end Hayden Hurst, who missed the last four games due to a concussion, was placed on injured reserve this past week, ending his season. Backup tight end Ian Thomas also missed this game due to an ankle injury, so Carolina mostly relied on Tremble. ...

Pineiro passed Joey Slye for third-most field goals made in Panthers history with 65. He connected on his second walk-off field goal of the season with one second left in the game to secure the Panthers victory. He has also made 30 consecutive field goals at Bank of America Stadium. ...

Finally. ... The Panthers parted ways with veteran outside linebacker Justin Houston Tuesday, granting his request to be released.

The 34-year-old Houston has been on injured reserve with a hamstring issue since Nov. 4, the week after the Week 8 win over the Texans. He played in seven games this year and had half a sack, three tackles for loss, and two quarterback hits. He had 111.5 sacks in 12 seasons before coming here, and the thought was he'd become a complement to Brian Burns on the other side of the 3-4 defense.

The move gives him a chance to latch on with a playoff contender for the final month of the regular season.

QBs: Bryce Young, Andy Dalton
RBs: Chuba Hubbard, Miles Sanders, Raheem Blackshear
WRs: Adam Thielen, Diontae Johnson, Jonathan Mingo, D.J. Chark, Terrace Marshall Jr., Laviska Shenault, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Mike Strachan
TEs: Tommy Tremble, Stephen Sullivan, Ian Thomas, Hayden Hurst

Chicago Bears

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 18 December 2023

The Bears were inching closer toward playoff contention with a 10-point lead and another win in sight.

That's one reason why a 20-17 loss at Cleveland stung so much. And a night to sleep on it didn't exactly ease the pain.

"I think it stings more," tight end Cole Kmet said Monday. "Felt pretty good that if you win out that we could do something here. I thought things were kinda coming together for us as a team and yeah, just disappointing to fall short there and especially feeling like we built some momentum in previous weeks."

The Bears were in position to win their third straight game and match their best streak since a three-game run late in 2020, only to squander a double-digit, fourth-quarter lead for the third time in a loss. They came up short when Darnell Mooney let a Hail Mary pass squirt through his hands as he fell backward.

"I tried to tip it and didn't hold onto it," Mooney said. "It hit my chest before I could [secure it]. I was already falling. It's tough. It would have been crazy. ... How many times do you see a Hail Mary work and then actually fall into being able to make a catch? It's tough. I wish I would have had it, but it is what it is."

Three of Chicago's losses this season have come from squandering double-digit leads in the fourth quarter.

On Sunday, the Bears led again 17-7 in the fourth, but couldn't hold on as Cleveland scored 13 straight points, capped with Dustin Hopkins' 34-yard field goal with 32 seconds remaining to give Cleveland its first lead.

But on the ensuing drive, quarterback Justin Fields found rookie wide receiver Tyler Scott for a 30-yard catch-and-run to Cleveland's 45-yard line. Two incomplete passes set the Bears up for a Hail Mary attempt. Fields made his way out of the pocket to his left before launching a deep ball into the end zone.

The pass was tipped and found Mooney as he was falling backwards. But Mooney couldn't finish the completion.

"I'm fine. Once again, it's a Hail Mary," said Mooney, who sat in the end zone for several moments as the Browns celebrated. "It's not like targeted for me. It just ricocheted and I just happened to be the guy in position right there to try to get the ball. It's a wild play. It could have been crazy. I wish I wasn't falling; it would have been easier to catch it.

"It's unfortunate. It shouldn't have to come down to those things just to throw the ball up in the air and make some things work. It's an unfortunate thing that I wasn't able to hold on to it."

At 5-9, Chicago's late push for a playoff spot seems all but over.

As's Courtney Cronin notes, Chicago's postseason chances would have increased to 9 percent with a win, per ESPN Analytics (it's now at 3 percent). But the defense's production -- Chicago now leads the league with 18 interceptions -- was the catalyst behind any whispers about a postseason push. Chicago sacked QB Joe Flacco three times, intercepted him three times (including a pick-six) and carried the load when the Bears' offense couldn't get out of its own way (3.4 yards per attempt, eight three-and-outs).

According to Associated Press sports writer Andrew Seligman, the Bears needed more from their quarterback even if they were going against the NFL's No. 1 defense. Instead they got shut out in another rough fourth quarter for Fields, who has a 62.4 passer rating in the final 15 minutes over 37 games.

It wasn't enough Sunday and it should end any talk of playoff football. But should it lead the team to make a quarterback change next season?

Fields threw two interceptions on Sunday, but his top target, wide receiver D.J. Moore, believes Fields has already earned the quarterback job beyond 2023.

"Bruh, where are ya'll seeing this?" Moore told reporters after Sunday's game, when asked about Fields' future in Chicago. "Like, what makes him not the quarterback for the Chicago Bears right now?"

The reality, of course, is the Bears are currently projected to own both the No. 1 and No. 5 picks in the 2024 draft, where top QB prospects like USC's Caleb Williams and North Carolina's Drake Maye figure to be available.

"I get ya'll got everybody coming out," Moore added. "What, it's like two of 'em? I don't think they're better than Justin."

As notes, Moore has certainly enjoyed a productive first season with the Bears while catching passes from Fields, eclipsing 1,000 yards for the fourth time in his NFL career. But the real question is, will Chicago's front office agree with his assessment of the 2024 prospects?

Fields has flashed his star talent in back-to-back seasons as the Bears' starter, particularly as a runner, but he's also logged more turnovers than games played, going 8-26 while under center in Windy City.

Williams and Maye, meanwhile, have each been popular projections to go No. 1 overall in the 2024 draft.

And current Bears general manager Ryan Poles notably was not part of the Chicago regime that spent the No. 11 pick on Fields in 2021.

So this will be a situation we'll all be watching closely over the coming months.

But first, we'll watch as the Bears host Arizona on Sunday. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Roschon Johnson led the Bears backfield with 36 snaps. Khalil Herbert was second with 17, and D'Onta Foreman was third with 16.

As's Nathan Jahnke noted, Foreman started the game as the early-down back, but Herbert started mixing in on the second drive.

Foreman ran the ball six times in the game but lost six yards on those carries. His longest run went for two yards.

This likely opened the door for Herbert to be more involved, but he wasn't any better with eight yards on his six carries.

Jahnke added that Johnson was the clear best running back for Chicago. He remained the receiving back as he's been all season, catching four passes for 24 yards. He was also able to run the ball five times and gain 36 yards on his carries.

A big reason Johnson had so many opportunities is because of how much time the Bears spent on third downs or in two-minute drills. He remains the third option on early downs.

Despite the dramatically different days for the running backs, Foreman might still be the player with the most fantasy points going forward because he's the goal-line back.

That said, murky three-man committees aren't ideal when we hit the fantasy playoffs. Be cautious going forward. ...

Equanimeous St. Brown was inactive for a second straight game due to a pectoral injury. This allowed Scott to be the third wide receiver and have his best game of the season with three receptions for 49 yards.

Finally. ... Kmet's 5-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter marked his 15th career score and allowed him to take sole possession of fourth on the Bears all-time tight end TD list.

The fourth-year pro also surpassed 200 career catches; his five receptions Sunday now put him at 204. Kmet also passed Emery Moorehead for fourth on the franchise's tight end receiving list.

QBs: Tyson Bagent, Nathan Peterman
RBs: Khalil Herbert, D'Andre Swift, Roschon Johnson, Travis Homer, Khari Blasingame
WRs: D.J. Moore, Keenan Allen, Tyler Scott, Trent Taylor, Velus Jones Jr., Equanimeous St. Brown
TEs: Gerald Everett, Cole Kmet, Robert Tonyan, Marcedes Lewis, Jake Tonges

Cincinnati Bengals

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 18 December 2023

Wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase is officially "day-to-day" with a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder, coach Zac Taylor said Sunday.

As's Ben Baby reported, Chase suffered the injury in the team's 27-24 overtime win against the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday.

Taylor said the prognosis that Chase will be evaluated on a short-term basis is in line with what was initially expected.

The coach added that it's too early to evaluate Chase's practice availability throughout the week ahead of the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday.

That said, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports that Chase separated his shoulder Saturday, which will keep Chase out for at least Sunday's game against the Steelers if not longer.

Taylor, however, claims Chase hasn't been ruled out for Saturday's game at Pittsburgh.

Asked Tuesday about Rapaport’s report, Taylor reiterated it's too soon to determine that.

"We'll see how the week goes," Taylor said.

The Bengals received bad news about two players, including one of their best defenders. Defensive tackle DJ Reader is out for the season with a set of torn quadriceps in his right leg, Taylor said Sunday. Reader tore his left quadriceps in 2020, his first season with the Bengals.

Reader, who is in the final year of his contract, was among the first players Cincinnati signed in free agency to revamp a franchise that finished with the league's worst record in 2019.

Cincinnati rookie cornerback DJ Ivey also suffered a season-ending ACL tear in his right knee, Taylor said Sunday. Ivey, who played some defensive snaps but was mostly used on special teams, suffered the injury while trying to make a tackle on a punt return.

Chase favored his right shoulder after he made a 24-yard catch on third-and-21 to extend a Cincinnati drive during the Bengals' comeback. He came in for two more snaps but was unable to finish the game.

"It was tough," Taylor said. "There was not much he could do. And you could tell him coming off the field after one of Tee [Higgins'] touchdowns, there was no way he was going to be able to play with that for the rest of the day."

Chase finished the game with four catches for a team-high 64 yards. Cincinnati (8-6) erased a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter to force overtime and eventually win its third straight game.

On the season, Chase has 93 receptions for 1,156 yards and seven touchdowns. With three games left in the regular season, Chase is 19 catches shy of tying T.J. Houshmandzadeh's team record of 112, which was set in 2007.

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

Meanwhile, Cincinnati's playoff outlook looked bleak at various points during Saturday's game.

A loss would have made it difficult for the Bengals to reach the postseason for a third straight season. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Cincinnati's playoff odds would have dropped to 9 percent with a loss. Instead, those chances rose to 34 percent after the Bengals overcame deficits of 14 and 7 points in the fourth quarter to extend the game.

Jake Browning won his third straight start and improved to 3-1 since Joe Burrow suffered a season-ending right wrist injury in a loss at Baltimore. This time, he threw for 184 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and overtime, becoming the fourth QB in the past two years to throw for at least that many yards and two or more scores after three quarters.

"I feel like I need a beer," said Browning, who beat a team that cut him from its practice squad two years ago.

Tee Higgins might have saved Cincinnati's playoff hopes.

With less than a minute left in regulation, Higgins caught a 21-yard pass from Browning that was essentially a jump ball. Not only did Higgins get both feet in bounds after making the catch near the sideline, but he had the presence of mind to turn and extend the ball over the goal line to complete the play and produce the game-tying touchdown.

Browning finished the day going 29 for 42 for 324 yards with two touchdowns -- both to Higgins -- and an interception. He completed passes to 11 receivers and has a 110.9 passer rating in his four starts.

Cincinnati (8-6) is still in the AFC playoff race as they prepare to face the division rival Steelers (7-7). The Bengals finish the regular season at Kansas City and at home against AFC North rival Cleveland.

Are they too banged up to keep the magic rolling?

We'll find out Saturday in Pittsburgh, but Browning's play is going to be a major factor. ...

Also of interest. ... Chase Brown spent most of the game leading the backfield in both carries and targets.

He ran the ball six times in the first three quarters, compared to four carries for Joe Mixon. Brown also led in targets, three to one.

Brown left for the blue medical tent late in the third quarter and didn't return to the game again until late in the fourth quarter. This led Mixon to finish the game as the team leader in carries.

Turns out it was a sternum issue and it resulted in Brown being limited in Tuesday's practice. I'll follow up on Brown along with Chase. ...

The Bengals face the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs over the next two weeks -- two average matchups.

As's Nathan Jahnke notes, assuming Brown's injury isn't too serious, he is worth a waiver wire target in case he continues his ascension next week.

That would make him a potential start option in Week 17.

QBs: Jake Browning, Joe Burrow
RBs: Zack Moss, Chase Brown, Chris Evans, Trayveon Williams
WRs: Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Trenton Irwin, Andrei Iosivas, Charlie Jones
TEs: Irv Smith Jr., Mike Gesicki, Tanner Hudson, Drew Sample, Mitchell Wilcox

Cleveland Browns

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 18 December 2023

As Doc Louallen of the team's official website reported, with Sunday's game tied 17-17, the Browns had the ball with 1:50 left in the game. Starting at their own 21-yard line, the Browns needed just a field goal. On the first play, Joe Flacco connected with David Njoku for 31 yards.

Three plays later, Flacco connected with Njoku again for a gain of 34 yards, which put the Browns in field goal range.

"The play to get us in field goal range was incredible," Flacco said. "It was a huge space, I was hot off the right side, and the fact (Njoku) got there so I could drop it over the top was a great feel by him."

Njoku has been on a tear for the Browns in the past two weeks. After scoring two touchdowns last week against the Jaguars, Njoku kept his momentum going into this week's game against the Bears. He finished with 10 catches for 104 yards, and his 10 receptions are a career high. He also scored a touchdown to bring his total to five for the year.

"I just thank God," Njoku said. "I am not going to question him or complain about it. Joe Flacco threw great balls. Nothing more to say."

The seven-year pro is having his best season in his career, with career highs in touchdowns, receptions and yards. This season, he has shown his physicality and how he's a complete tight end. He has five touchdowns, 69 catches and 704 receiving yards this season.

Njoku leads the team with the career-high five receiving touchdowns this season, the most by a Browns tight end since Gary Barnidge recorded nine in 2015. Njoku also ranks second in team history for receptions (275) and touchdown receptions (24) by a Browns tight end.

FantasyLife's Dwain McFarland notes that Njoku’s 22 percent target share ranks fourth in the NFL, but the Browns' run-first mentality and QB accuracy woes have kept the talented TE from accessing ceiling games.

All that has changed with Flacco at the helm. The Browns have morphed into a pass-first operation. Cleveland ranks No. 1 in time of possession (55 percent) for the season, and now those plays are pass plays more often than not, with a dropback rate of 68 percent with Flacco under center.

While the 38-year-old QB hasn't been hyper-accurate, his 58 percent completion rate is a sizable upgrade over P.J. Walker (49 percent) and Dorian Thompson-Robinson (54 percent).

In three games with Flacco, Njoku averages 19.1 fantasy points per game with 9.3 targets per contest.

After the Browns lost two games in a row during their West Coast trip, there was a lot of talk about their pass catchers dropping the ball.

Njoku was top on the list in the entire league with 10 drops on the season, according to FOX Sports. Since the trip, Njoku has caught 16 catches for 195 yards and two touchdowns.

"I just talked about David in that locker room," head coach Kevin Stefanski said. "I'm proud of Dave and the person he is and the player he is. He's one of the best teammates I've ever been around and the growth that he's made both as a person and a player. He's got that mentality where he fights for everything and I mean, he put it on display today. He really did. So, we needed him. He's a great leader for our football team. Proud of him."]

Meanwhile, Flacco passed for 374 yards -- 212 in the fourth quarter -- and set up Dustin Hopkins' 34-yard field goal with 32 seconds left before the Browns withstood a Hail Mary on the final play to beat the Bears. It's the most yards a Browns quarterback has thrown in a game this season.

The Browns stayed in the No. 5 playoff spot in the AFC.

It's a remarkable achievement considering they're without starting quarterback Deshaun Watson and star running back Nick Chubb, and they lost five regulars to season-ending injuries just this week.

"We've been through four quarterbacks," defensive end Myles Garrett said. "It's not going to shake us because we've literally been through it all with injuries and everything else. So this is just another step in our journey, another opportunity for us to write a very peculiar but great legacy. ...

Next up, the Browns travel to Houston to take on the Texans Sunday afternoon. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Flacco has quickly become a hero in Cleveland, his longtime rival when he played for Baltimore. The 15-year veteran has thrown for 939 yards in three games, the most for any quarterback in his first three starts for the Browns. Baker Mayfield had the previous high with 875 in 2018.

Last week, however, Flacco was both the starting quarterback of the Browns and not officially a member of the team.

Before the Browns signed Flacco to the 53-man roster, he had other opportunities.

He was not interested in any of them.

Flacco's agent, Joe Linta, told NBC Sports' Peter King that "two or three" teams asked about signing Flacco last Monday, after he reverted to the practice squad following the Week 14 win over the Jaguars.

"Joe didn't want to hear it," Linta said, via King's latest Football Morning in America column. "He absolutely wanted to stay in Cleveland. He loves the team. He really gets along well with the coach."

It's unknown what Flacco was offered by other teams, or if it even got to that point.

Flacco eventually agreed to a deal that included $4.05 million incentives based on regular-season and postseason wins. ...

Cooper finished the game with 109 receiving yards on four receptions and one touchdown. ...

The Browns ran the ball 18 times in total on Sunday. It's the lowest amount of attempts this season.

QBs: Jameis Winston, Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Tyler Huntley, Deshaun Watson
RBs: Jerome Ford, D'Onta Foreman, Pierre Strong Jr., Nick Chubb
WRs: Amari Cooper, Elijah Moore, Jerry Jeudy, Cedric Tillman, Marquise Goodwin, David Bell
TEs: David Njoku, Jordan Akins, Harrison Bryant

Dallas Cowboys

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 18 December 2023

As Associated Press sports writer Schuyler Dixon noted, the only thing that went right for the Dallas Cowboys in Buffalo came before the 31-10 loss to the Bills, when they wrapped up a third consecutive trip to the playoffs because of Atlanta losing.

The loss dropped the Cowboys to 10-4 and set them on a path that could see them need to win three playoff games on the road -- barring losses by the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers in the final weeks -- to get to Super Bowl LVIII.

"Didn't pay attention to that. Don't care, to be honest," quarterback Dak Prescott said of qualifying for the postseason. "Obviously, coming into this thing, the beginning of the year, that's one of the goals, but as we've gotten to the latter part of the year with the way we've been handling the season, we knew it was just a matter of time.

"So [we] can check it off, but we've got other things to focus on. I've continued to tell you all in different times this is about us putting our best performances out each and every week, and today we simply didn't do that. So that's where the concern and that's where the focus is right now, much more than us getting to the playoffs."

The Cowboys can still win the NFC East but will need the Eagles (10-4), who lost to the Seahawks Monday, to lose one of their final four games while not dropping one of their own.

If the Cowboys and Eagles finish with the same record, Philadelphia could claim a division title -- and at least one home playoff game -- based on a better conference record. Because of the Cowboys' Week 5 loss to the 49ers, the Cowboys need San Francisco to also lose two of its final three games in order for them to earn home-field advantage for the playoffs.

How stark is the difference between home and road?

As's Todd Archer reminded readers, the Cowboys are 7-0 at AT&T Stadium this season, averaging 39.9 points and 431.7 yards per game. They are 3-4 on the road, averaging 21.7 points and 304.6 yards per game. They have outscored opponents by 171 points at home and are minus-4 on the road. They are plus-10 in turnover margin at home and minus-1 on the road.

"It's a gap," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "That was part of my message. We've played so well at home, and there's just too big of a gap on the road games. We're conscious of it."

On Sunday, the Bills ran for 266 yards on 49 carries, led by James Cook's 179 yards and a touchdown. He also had a touchdown reception. Before Sunday, the most rushing yards the Cowboys had allowed this season was 170 in their loss to San Francisco.

Next week, the Cowboys are at the Miami Dolphins, who entered Week 15 with the second-ranked rush offense. Six days later, Dallas will play the Detroit Lions, who have the third-ranked run offense, at AT&T Stadium.

If they are to make a postseason run, they could play the Eagles, whose run offense ranks eighth, or the Niners, who are No. 4.

Prescott was held without a touchdown pass for just the second time this season. He entered with at least two touchdown passes in seven straight games. He also had his first interception in five games. The Cowboys converted just 5 of 13 third-down opportunities.

"We needed to put points on the board for our defense," McCarthy said. "Our defense needed help and we didn't give it to them."

Reasons for optimism?

In what will now be three playoff seasons under McCarthy, the Cowboys are 11-1 coming off losses. If they're going to have any hope of a playoff game at home, where Dallas has won 15 consecutive games, they'll have to make it 12-1 against the AFC East-leading Dolphins.

Other notes of interest. ... McCarthy said the Cowboys were hopeful six-time All-Pro right guard Zack Martin wouldn't miss any more time after leaving in the first half against the Bills with a quadriceps injury.

Dallas went nowhere offensively without him until the game was out of reach.

The Cowboys had 80 of their 195 total yards on their only touchdown drive, when they were down 31-3 in the fourth quarter.

Prescott's scramble game has been good most of the season, and was again in Buffalo. He had 24 yards on seven carries, and a first-quarter scramble led to an unnecessary roughness call against Taylor Rapp.

Rapp dove at and went over the top of Prescott, who clearly had started sliding. That penalty was negated by a matching roughness call against Martin, who flattened Rapp to send a message about taking a shot at the Dallas quarterback.

One thing the Cowboys can count on regardless of game site is kicker Brandon Aubrey.

He has made 31 straight field goal attempts to open his career. He drilled a 32-yarder in the second quarter that cut the Buffalo lead to 14-3 and set a Cowboys record for most consecutive made field goals. Dan Bailey made 30 straight over the 2013-14 season.

QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Trey Lance
RBs: Ezekiel Elliott, Rico Dowdle, Deuce Vaughn, Hunter Luepke
WRs: CeeDee Lamb, Brandin Cooks, Michael Gallup, Jalen Tolbert, KaVontae Turpin, Jalen Brooks
TEs: Jake Ferguson, Luke Schoonmaker, Peyton Hendershot

Denver Broncos

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 18 December 2023

Head coach Sean Payton screamed at quarterback Russell Wilson on the sideline and anyone watching on TV, or witnessing the game at Ford Field, could see the animated exchange in Detroit's 42-17 victory Saturday night.

Payton insisted he was simply upset about an offside penalty in the third quarter that negated a touchdown that would have cut Denver's deficit to 14 points.

"That's all," he said. "Simple."

If Payton's rant was related to the flag, why was he yelling at Wilson?

"Listen, what I talk to Russell about is none of your business," Payton said curtly to a reporter.

On Monday, Payton said he didn't need to hash things out with Wilson or address the blowup with his team.

"Not at all," the Broncos' first-year head coach said two days after the defeat at Detroit. "First off, we haven't had a team meeting and Russ and I have a great relationship. No, not at all."

Payton said he didn't challenge the spot on the two plays before the penalty because that's difficult, and stood by his decision to kick a field goal instead of going for a touchdown on fourth-and-5 from the Detroit 5 while down by 21 points.

"I think it made sense," he said.

Denver (7-7) had won six of its previous seven games to pull within a game of AFC West-leading Kansas City before losing to the Lions (10-4) to hurt its chances of making the playoffs for the first time since the 2015 season when the franchise won its third Super Bowl.

"They kicked our butts," Payton said after facing one of his mentees, Detroit coach Dan Campbell said. "They outplayed us and outcoached us."

The potentially pivotal series in the third quarter started at the Denver 25 and was stunted when running back Javonte Williams was stopped for no gain at the Detroit 1 on third down.

On the next play, fullback Michael Burton ran up the middle into the end zone only to have the score nullified by an offsides penalty on offensive lineman Quinn Meinerz.

"That would've given us a chance to keep the game close," Wilson said

Denver's offense struggled, especially early, and could never find a rhythm, in part due to the Lions' defense which had sputtered in recent games.

At the half, the Broncos had 75 total net yards while the Lions had 279. Denver was 1 of 6 on third-down attempts over the first two quarters and finished 5 of 13 on third down.

Wilson, who was 18 of 32 for 223 yards with a passing and rushing touchdown, was mercifully taken out of the game with less than two minutes remaining.

"We can play a little cleaner, a little sharper," Wilson said.

Even when Wilson has struggled this season, he has closed the deal in the red zone -- he came into the game tied for fifth in touchdown passes and his third-quarter scoring pass to Lil'Jordan Humphrey was his 26th -- but the Broncos couldn't get him into the red zone enough to make a difference.

A first-quarter fumble seemed to unsettle him and the Lions were able to dial up consistent pressures.

It was a tough enough night as Broncos kicker Wil Lutz lined up a 23-yard field goal attempt late in the third quarter, when Payton was making his displeasure known to Wilson on the Broncos' sideline.

The Broncos started the season 1-5 and bounced back well enough to get into playoff contention.

"We've got to keep believing," Wilson said. "We've done it before."

The Broncos' defense was a big reason they had won six of seven games entering Saturday night's game, but they had no answer for the Lions through the air or on the ground.

While Denver's defense did give up 70 points to Miami in Week 3, the unit had not given up more than 22 points since Oct. 8 in a loss to the New York Jets.

Jared Goff matched a career high with five touchdowns and Detroit ran for 185 yards, gaining 7 yards per attempt.

Denver, which led the league in fumble recoveries and takeaways, did not force one turnover against a team that had given up the ball eight times over the previous four games.

"There wasn't a lot positive for us," Payton said. "Frustrating night. It's tough to have one of these nights, obviously, with a lot at stake. ..."

Can a gassed Broncos team pick itself up -- again -- for one last playoff push?

The Broncos played their third road game in 13 days and looked every bit travel-weary. It was an NFC loss, so not too damaging in the wild-card hunt, but the Broncos need to find a finishing kick with two consecutive games at home and can't lose again if they want a wild card.

That starts with Sunday night's game against the Patriots in Denver. It's a winnable game. ...

Other notes of interest. ... As's Jeff Legwold notes, the Broncos spent much of the first half of the season as one of the most explosive run teams in the league. For weeks, only the Miami Dolphins had a higher percentage of explosive runs -- 10 yards or more -- but they had dropped to seventh in that category going into Saturday night's game and what happened in Ford Field won't help.

When the game was still somewhat in the balance, Samaje Perine's 6-yard run on his only carry before halftime was the longest by a Broncos running back until his 12-yarder with 6:28 to play. When the Broncos don't create in the run game, opponents crank up the pressure on Wilson and they find holes in the pass protection.

Jaleel McLaughlin started over Williams for the second time this season, the first time coming when Williams first returned from injury.

In a negative game script, Williams played just 48 percent of Denver's offensive snaps. According to Late-Round Fantasy's JJ Zachariason, that's his lowest snap share since Week 6. His 60 percent running back rush share was his lowest since Week 6, too.

That said, Williams was still the clear top running back throughout the game. ...

Jerry Jeudy missed some time in the fourth quarter after taking a big hit, but they put him back on the field for the last two minutes despite the Broncos having no chance of winning, so he is likely fine. ...

Finally. ... Payton said he still expects TE Greg Dulcich to play at some point over the next three weeks. Hamstring issues have limited Dulcich to parts of two games this season. He returned to practice for one day last week but the Broncos subsequently shut him down with a sore foot.

QBs: Zach Wilson, Jarrett Stidham
RBs: Javonte Williams, Jaleel McLaughlin, Samaje Perine
WRs: Courtland Sutton, Marvin Mims Jr., Lil'Jordan Humphrey, Brandon Johnson
TEs: Adam Trautman, Chris Manhertz, Greg Dulcich

Detroit Lions

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 18 December 2023

Jared Goff and the Detroit Lions bounced back and took a step toward ending a six-season playoff drought.

As Associated Press sports writer Larry Lage noted, Goff matched a career high with five touchdown passes, three to rookie tight end Sam LaPorta, and Detroit routed the Denver Broncos 42-17 on Saturday night.

"Our superpower is how we respond as a team," Goff said.

With Minnesota, Green Bay and the Bears all losing, the Lions (10-4O suddenly have a three-game lead in the NFC North with three games left.

They could have clinched a spot in the postseason for the first time since the 2016 season with a loss or tie by Seattle against Philadelphia on Monday night.

That didn't work out, but there are other avenues.

If Detroit wins a division title for the first time since 1993, it would host a playoff game. The Lions have only one playoff victory since the franchise won the NFL title in 1957.

"It would be fun, but we've got work to do," Goff said.

Goff joined Houston's C.J. Stroud as the only QBs to throw for five TDs in a game this season. The Broncos had given up just four touchdown passes over the previous six games.

LaPorta, a second-round pick from Iowa, became the first rookie tight end to have at least 70 receptions, 700 yards and nine touchdowns -- the franchise mark for most receiving touchdowns by a rookie tight end.

St. Brown had seven catches for 112 yards and a score after totaling five receptions in the previous two games.

The Lions leaned on a strong running game with Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomery combining for 185 yards and 27 carries. Gibbs' 12-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter put them ahead 35-10. It was Gibbs' second touchdown of the game.

Goff struggled with nine turnovers over a four-game stretch entering Saturday but stepped up on the prime-time stage. He was on fire with three touchdown passes in the second quarter, ending with 278 passing yards while going 24-for-34 with the five scoring strikes. As's Eric Woodyard suggested, the veteran signal caller needed this caliber of performance.

After a 13-point performance that St. Brown described as "disappointing" and "frustrating" during the previous week's loss to the Chicago Bears, the Lions responded.

Now, though, the Lions face an odd finish to the season. They finish the season with games in Minnesota and Dallas before finishing the regular season at home against the Vikings.

Two games against Minnesota in three weeks is unusual, but there are scenarios where the Lions and Vikings could face off again in the wild-card round -- a third meeting in four weeks.

"We know they are a very dangerous team, but we haven't seen them since last season, and honestly, they are a different team than they were then," Campbell said. "The personnel is different and the scheme is different. This is entirely new, so we have to put together the best possible game plan. ..."

Worth noting. ... Goff's 31-point (standard scoring) outing against Denver was his highest of the season. According to Late-Round Fantasy's JJ Zachariason, it was also the first time he scored 20 fantasy points since Week 10. ...

Also according to Zachariason, despite the awesome game script for Detroit, Montgomery played just 2 more offensive snaps than Gibbs. Gibbs only hit a 6.3 percent target share, tied for his lowest mark of the season.

Meanwhile,'s Nathan Jahnke notes that Jameson Williams is becoming more involved.

Williams returned from his suspension in Week 5. By Week 10, he was consistently playing over 50 percent of the offensive snaps, typically rotating with Josh Reynolds and Kalif Raymond for the second, third and fourth wide receiver spots behind St. Brown.

His target share was 12 percent or less in five of the eight games in which he ran at least 15 routes.

Against Denver, Williams played 73 percent of offensive snaps in the first three quarters. He suffered an injury at the start of the fourth quarter and was able to return, but it likely impacted his playing time.

Jahnke acknowledged the second-year receiver still shouldn't be in line for a starting spot in 2023, but it's at least good to build some positive momentum for 2024. ...

Finally. ... Rookie quarterback Hendon Hooker is now on the Lions' 53-man roster.

Hooker tore his ACL in his final game at Tennessee and the third-round pick has been on the non-football injury list for the entire regular season. He was designated for return a few weeks ago in order to allow him to practice with the team and the Lions announced his activation on Tuesday.

As's Josh Alper notes, Goff and Teddy Bridgewater are still ahead of him on the depth chart, but the move will allow Hooker to continue practicing through the rest of the season. With Bridgewater planning to retire, Hooker would presumably be line for the No. 2 job next year.

Kicker Riley Patterson was waived in a corresponding move. Michael Badgley was elevated from the practice squad last Saturday and is set to continue as the team's kicker.

QBs: Jared Goff, Teddy Bridgewater
RBs: David Montgomery, Jahmyr Gibbs, Craig Reynolds, Zonovan Knight
WRs: Amon-Ra St. Brown, Josh Reynolds, Kalif Raymond, Jameson Williams, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Antoine Green
TEs: Sam LaPorta, Brock Wright, James Mitchell

Green Bay Packers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 18 December 2023

As's Rob Demovsky reminded readers, Matt LaFleur has fired three coordinators during his nearly five seasons as the Green Bay Packers' coach.

If Joe Barry is going to be No. 4, LaFleur is going to need some more time to think about it, even after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers "shredded" and "outcoached" -- LaFleur's words -- his defense Sunday.

During his post-game press conference, LaFleur was peppered with questions about the defensive performance in the 34-20 loss and Barry's status after Baker Mayfield turned in one of the most dominant performances by a visiting quarterback ever at Lambeau Field.

"Uh yeah, now's not the time for that, to be honest with you," LaFleur said when asked whether he would consider a change at coordinator.

When asked why not, he repeated: "Because now's not the time. I'm trying to find solutions and I got to go back and take a look at the film."

Perhaps LaFleur meant that immediately after the game wasn't the time to consider that.

But it's also possible that LaFleur meant he wouldn't consider taking action until after the season. It wasn't until after past seasons when he moved on from defensive coordinator Mike Pettine (after the 2020 season) and special teams coordinators Shawn Mennenga (after 2020) and Maurice Drayton (after 2021).

Whatever the case, it won't be this week.

"If I thought that was the best solution today, then we'd make that decision," LaFleur said when asked about relieve Barry of his duties on Monday, after having some time to process.

LaFleur told reporters he "absolutely" will take on a bigger role in assisting the Packers' slumping defense as they try to boost their fading playoff hopes.

Barry's hire in 2021 was panned in large part because of his previous stints as a defensive coordinator in Washington and Detroit. His defenses finished ranked between 28th and 32nd (last) in the NFL.

In Green Bay, however, Barry was supposed to have better talent than in his previous stops. The Packers have had as many as eight first-round picks playing on that side of the ball at various times during his tenure.

Typically during Barry's tenure, the defensive problems have been more with stopping the run. The Packers ranked 31st in the NFL in rushing yards allowed coming into Sunday but were a respectable eighth against the pass despite playing most of the season without All-Pro cornerback Jaire Alexander, who has been healthy enough to practice despite a shoulder injury but was inactive for the sixth straight game Sunday.

This time, however, it was mostly in the passing game. Barry committed to playing a heavy amount of zone defense against the Bucs, and Mayfield picked it apart. He completed 22 of 28 passes for 381 yards and four touchdowns. While the Packers sacked Mayfield five times, the coverage had too many holes. Receiver Chris Godwin, who had 10 catches for 155 yards, averaged 4.06 yards of separation on all of his targets.

That's compared to the league average of 2.95, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.

Meanwhile, Jordan Love continues to show he can be a long-term solution at quarterback.

Love has thrown 11 touchdown passes and only one interception over his last five games. He has completed 68.9 percent of his passes during that stretch.

Against Tampa, Love went 29-of-39 for 284 yards with two TDs and a 111.5 passer rating, including an impressive 17-yard scrambling TD pass to rookie receiver Jayden Reed on a third-and-long that broke down.

But going three-and-out to start the second half, and settling for a field goal early in the fourth quarter to only get within 27-20, were the minimal openings the Buccaneers needed to put the game away.

If there was a bright spot or two beyond Love, it was the play of running back Aaron Jones and rookie receiver Dontayvion Wicks.

Jones returned from a three-game absence to post 13 carries for 53 yards, plus four receptions for 16 more. He dominated the first drive with eight carries for 44 yards, but LaFleur regretted not giving him more work in the second half with the game still in reach.

"I think a lot of guys wouldn't even been out there today, quite honestly," LaFleur said, referring to Jones' knee injury. "He means a lot to this football team, this football team means a lot to him.

"It was good to see him out there. I think he did give us a boost, no doubt about it, just his presence on the field."

Wicks was questionable all week due to an ankle injury from last Monday night and set a career high with 97 yards on six receptions.

"That's what you want, you want guys to go out there and battle," Love said. "It's not easy playing when you're injured, when you're banged up. It just shows how much these guys care."

Any hope of the playoffs almost certainly requires winning out at this point.

The Packers aren't giving up, but their play the last two games brings into question whether they can regroup soon enough to put together the winning streak needed.

At 6-8, Green Bay is just one game out of the last two NFC wild-card spots, but there are a total of six teams at either 7-7 or 6-8 in the mix for those two playoff berths.

"All I know is this: We've got three weeks left. We've got three games and every game is a playoff mentality," LaFleur said. "Who knows what will happen? But we can't get it all back at once, you've got to earn it every day. You've got to get back to practice and just give it our best shot from here on out."

Added Love: "It's the same thing we've talked about in the weeks before. We've got to win every game.

"Been a lot of adversity. It's all about how we finish the season at this point, with these three games that we've got."

The Packers leave Wisconsin for their next two games as they visit Carolina (2-12) on Sunday and Minnesota (7-7) on Dec. 31. ...

Other notes of interest. ... In Reed, the Packers have a playmaker.

The rookie's toe-dragging touchdown in the third quarter was just another example. The 17-yarder was his sixth touchdown catch of the season. With a pair of rushing touchdowns, his eight total touchdowns make him the second straight Packers rookie with at least eight touchdowns (Christian Watson did it last season). A Packers rookie had not done that since Max McGee in 1954.

Watson didn't practice all week due to a hamstring injury and was ultimately inactive.

That being the case, it's worth noting -- as Late-Round Fantasy's JJ Zachariason pointed out, that Reed's target share per game with Watson: 14.6 percent.

Without him: 23.1 percent. ...

Wicks replaced Watson in the lineup as he's done at several points during the season even though he never had a full day of practice this past week due to the aforementioned ankle injury.

Reed went to the blue medical tent after a third-down catch late in the second half. He sat out the rest of the half but was back for the start of the third quarter. Still, he only played one snap in the fourth quarter and then was out due to a toe injury.

I'll be watching for more on Reed, Watson and A.J. Dillon, who missed Sunday's game with a fractured thumb, in coming days; check the Late-Breaking Updates section for the latest. ...

In a related note. ... Jones ended the game with just four more snaps played than Patrick Taylor. Per Zachariason, Jones' 86.7 percent running back rush share, though, was by far a season high.

Kenyan Drake also made his Packers debut, taking a few snaps on early downs and rushing once for no gain.'s Nathan Jahnke notes the Packers backfield hasn't been at 100 percent all season and it could look very different in 2024. Dillon will be an unrestricted free agent while Jones is 29 years old and could be released.

Finally. ... Rookie tight end Tucker Kraft scored Sunday and has eight catches for 121 yards over his last two games.

QBs: Jordan Love, Sean Clifford
RBs: Josh Jacobs, A.J. Dillon, Patrick Taylor
WRs: Jayden Reed, Romeo Doubs, Christian Watson, Dontayvion Wicks, Samori Toure, Malik Heath
TEs: Tucker Kraft, Ben Sims, Josiah Deguara, Luke Musgrave

Houston Texans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 18 December 2023

The Houston Texans gave themselves a confidence boost winning without injured quarterback C.J. Stroud and several other key players.

In the process, the Texans took a step toward possibly ending their playoff drought under first-year coach DeMeco Ryans.

Ka'imi Fairbairn kicked a 54-yard field goal as time expired in overtime and the Texans -- with backup Case Keenum at quarterback -- rallied from a 13-point deficit to beat the Tennessee Titans 19-16 Sunday.

"Man, we know Kai can kick it, so that's all we were preaching," said running back Devin Singletary, whose 34-yard touchdown in OT was wiped out by a holding call. "Just get across midfield. If we can't get a touchdown, give him a chance. And we gave him a chance and he came through for us."

Houston (8-6) entered the day one spot outside of the AFC's seven-team playoff field. The Texans kept pace with AFC South rival Indianapolis (8-6), who they visit in the regular-season finale.

The Texans host the Browns (9-5) on Sunday, when they hope to get Stroud back as they try to halt Cleveland's two-game winning streak and improve their playoff chances. But there the rookie's return is not certain.

Ryans said Monday that Stroud remains in the concussion protocol, and they'll see how he progresses throughout the week.

But Stroud is likely to miss a second straight game, sources told's DJ Bien-Aime.

"He should miss another game," a source told Bien-Aime Tuesday, while still acknowledging they'll continue to monitor Stroud's progress before making a final decision.

Stroud isn't expected to practice Wednesday as he continues to work through the protocol.

Others missing included top receiver Nico Collins, right tackle George Fant and a pair of defensive starters including end Will Anderson Jr., the No. 3 overall draft pick.

The Texans are signing free agent quarterback Tim Boyle to their practice squad, according to multiple reports.

Boyle worked out for the team Tuesday.

As's Charean Williams suggests, the move lends further credence to Bien-Aime's report.

The Texans put in a waiver claim for quarterback Nathan Rourke, who instead went to the Patriots off waivers.

Boyle, who entered the league as an undrafted free agent from Eastern Kentucky, has played for the Packers, Lions, Bears and Jets.

He started two games for the Jets this season and played in another, completing 62.3 percent of his passes for 360 yards, a touchdown and four interceptions for a 56.2 passer rating. The Jets went 0-2 in his starts. ...

I'll be watching for more on Stroud and Collins as the week progresses; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more in coming days. ...

Meanwhile, Sunday was Keenum's first start since Week 17 of the 2021 season for Cleveland. He filled in for Stroud and shook off an early pick-6 by Elijah Molden and four sacks. Keenum threw for 229 yards and a touchdown. Keenum helped Houston outgain the Titans 340-204.

He also won his third straight start for Houston, counting the final two games of the 2014 season. This is the 35-year-old veteran's second stint with the Texans among the seven NFL teams in his career, and he said he's built for this.

"I've been in a lot of situations," Keenum said. "I've been in a lot of systems, been in a lot of different games and God's made me who I am for this, for moments like this. I'm just trying to make sure that I'm ready when my number's called. Like I said before, you don't have to get ready if you stay ready."

Fairbairn had just missed the last five games with an injured quadriceps muscle, and he helped the Texans claw back. He made field goals of 23, 27 and 53 yards as the offense stalled close to the goal line.

Keenum drove the Texans to their lone touchdown with 3:03 left, helping tie it at 16 and force overtime. He found Noah Brown for a 3-yard TD pass.

Singletary ran for 121 yards and nearly finished the game with a 34-yard TD run in the final seconds of overtime. His run was wiped out by a holding call on John Metchie, setting up Fairbairn's field goal.

Other notes of interest. ... Dameon Pierce only played four offensive snaps in this one. It followed a trend as his playing time has generally been declining for about a year now.'s Nathan Jahnke reminded readers that in Week 13, he was surprisingly the lead rusher with 15 carries despite Singletary's good play the weeks prior, but he only averaged 2.7 yards per carry.

This led Singletary to take the lead-back role again last week and dominated that role even further this week.

Singletary ran 26 times which was the second-most for him in a game in his career. The only time he ran for more was Week 10 this year where he ran 30 times.

Pierce, a fourth-round pick last year, had 939 yards rushing as a rookie but lost the starting job after missing three games with an injury in early November. He's had just 68 yards rushing combined in limited action in the four games since his return and had a career-low three yards rushing on one carry Sunday.

At this point, Pierce can be dropped in fantasy leagues. ...

Also worth noting. ... Brown saw 11 targets for the Texans. Three players (Dalton Schultz, Singletary, Robert Woods) tied for second on the team in targets with 5 each.

As's DJ Bien-Aime notes, the Texans signed Woods in the offseason to boost the passing game, and with their top two receivers sidelined, he finished with 30 yards.

Woods has had over 60 receiving yards in a game only once this season.

QBs: C.J. Stroud, Case Keenum, Davis Mills
RBs: Joe Mixon, Dameon Pierce, Mike Boone, Dare Ogunbowale
WRs: Nico Collins, Stefon Diggs, Noah Brown, Robert Woods, John Metchie III, Xavier Hutchinson, Tank Dell
TEs: Dalton Schultz, Brevin Jordan

Indianapolis Colts

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 18 December 2023

As Associated Press sports writer Michael Marot reminded readers, starting quarterback Anthony Richardson hasn't played since Week 5.

Jonathan Taylor, the 2021 NFL rushing champ, missed his third straight game Saturday.

So when the Colts lost their leading rusher, Zack Moss, and leading receiver, Michael Pittman Jr., in the span of three second-quarter offensive plays, they didn't fret.

They excelled.

Short-handed Indy erased a 13-0 deficit by scoring the final 30 points to keep its hold on the AFC's No. 7 seed for one more week and eventually move into a three-way tie for the AFC South lead.

With the playing status of Taylor (right thumb surgery), Pittman (concussion protocol) and Moss (shoulder) still unclear, Indy may need similar efforts from its backups to beat Atlanta on Sunday.

"I had a chance to talk to him (Saturday) night. He's doing good," head coach Shane Steichen said Sunday, referring to Pittman. "We will see how the week progresses. Same with Zack, he's doing all right."

Steichen and Colts players have been reluctant to criticize the hits that knocked out Moss and Pittman, both of which drew personal foul penalties.

Gardner Minshew even seemed to partially blame himself for the scariest play of the game.

Steelers safety Demontae Kazee launched himself into the diving, unprotected Pittman who remained on the ground for several minutes as players from both teams took to a knee before Pittman walked off the field.

Kazee was ejected from the game and has been suspended for the rest of this season.

"I wish I wouldn't have put Pitt in that position, honestly," Minshew said. "So you always try to do your best to protect your guys, but sometimes unfortunate things just happen in the game."

Whether Kazee's hit or Mykal Walker's horse-collar tackle on Moss as he fought his way to a 16-yard TD catch, were intentional didn't matter to the Colts (8-6). They've been playing this way all season.

Moss emerged as one of the NFL's top rushers when Taylor opened the season on the physically unable to perform list. Minshew has proven himself to be one of the NFL's most capable backup quarterbacks.

Center Wesley French and rookie tackle Blake Freeland have been solid when asked to replace injured starters Ryan Kelly and Braden Smith.

Even linebacker Ronnie Harrison Jr. has two interceptions, including a pick-6, since stepping in following the release of three-time All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard.

On Saturday, Trey Sermon, Tyler Goodson and D.J. Montgomery -- who spent most of this season on the practice squad -- added their names to the growing list.

And to make the playoffs for the first time since 2020, Indy may need to keep playing this way for three more weeks.

"Guys have to step up and go make plays when their number is called," Steichen said. "You never know when that's going to happen. Obviously, (Saturday) was that day for those guys and they made the most of it."

For what it's worth, Moss plans to try to play Sunday at Atlanta, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter. X-rays on the shoulder were negative and Moss must, in the words of Schefter's source, "see how [he] progresses through the week."

Sermon went into Week 15 with 11 carries this season, Goodson had none. They sure didn't play like backups. Sermon logged 17 carries and 88 yards on the same field he rushed for an Ohio State-record 331 yards three years earlier. Goodson rushed 11 times for 69 yards. Sermon out-snapped Goodson 28 to 18.

Goodson teamed with Sermon to split 13 consecutive carries during a 70-yard fourth-quarter drive that demoralized the Steelers' defense.

The Colts called Goodson up from the practice squad for each of their last three games, but they announced a different transaction involving him on Tuesday.

Goodson could not return to the practice squad again without being exposed to waivers, so the Colts signed him to the 53-man roster instead perhaps suggesting the team isn't as confident in Moss' availability as Moss is.

Whether Moss is available or not, getting Taylor back this week, as the Colts were hoping by not putting him on injured reserve, would be a big boost. But the loss at Cincinnati and the slow start against Pittsburgh have raised more questions about the defense than the offense.

If Indy is going to make the playoffs, the defense needs to be more consistent.

But they have one thing going their way: Steichen saw what Minshew could do when they worked together in Philadelphia the previous two seasons, and the backup QB has been worth every penny. He's matched a career high in wins (six) and tied his career high with three TD passes Saturday.

Minshew had seven completions of 10 yards or longer, a good sign for a passer who has been a little on the lower end when it comes to yards per attempt this season. He surpassed his 6.7-yard average entering the game with a 7.7-yard effort against the Steelers. He also avoided any turnovers.

On a less positive note. ... Matt Gay is the league's highest-paid kicker and early this season, he played like it -- making his first six field-goal attempts, four from 50 or more yards. But Gay missed two field goals against the Steelers, is 10 of his past 15 and has at least one miss in four of the Colts' past five games. Pittsburgh also blocked a punt.

In addition, from Weeks 5-11, Josh Downs looked like a breakout rookie.

Over the past three weeks, though, his productivity has decreased. He has nine receptions for 65 yards during the span, including three catches for 19 yards last weekend. ...

Finally. ... The Colts announced Tuesday that cornerback Tony Brown and wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie are suspended for three games for conduct detrimental to the team.

There's been no word about what Brown and McKenzie did that was detrimental to the team. Both were surprise healthy scratches for Saturday's game against the Steelers, and the Colts haven't explained why they didn't play.

McKenzie has played in every game this season other than the Steelers game, and Brown had played in every game but one until the Steelers game. Both are backups and core special teams players.

The Colts signed defensive end Zach McCloud, wide receiver Jaydon Mickens and wide receiver Juwann Winfree to the practice squad and released guard Lewis Kidd from it.

Worth noting. ... The Colts worked out a group of wide receivers that led to the signing of Mickens.

According to ESPN's Field Yates, that group included veteran wideout Jarvis Landry, who spent last season with the Saints.

QBs: Joe Flacco, Sam Ehlinger, Kellen Mond, Anthony Richardson
RBs: Jonathan Taylor, Trey Sermon, Evan Hull
WRs: Michael Pittman Jr., Josh Downs, Alec Pierce, Isaiah McKenzie, D.J. Montgomery
TEs: Mo Alie-Cox, Kylen Granson, Will Mallory, Andrew Ogletree, Jelani Woods

Jacksonville Jaguars

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 18 December 2023

Trevor Lawrence was placed into the concussion protocol after Sunday night's 23-7 loss to the Ravens at EverBank Stadium.

Head coach Doug Pederson said Lawrence was hurt on one of his three scrambles on the Jaguars' final possession but was unsure which one. This puts his status for Sunday's critical game at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in jeopardy.

The Jaguars, Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts are tied atop the AFC South at 8-6.

As's Mike DiRocco notes, Lawrence has started every game since he was drafted first overall in 2021, a streak of 48 consecutive starts. C.J. Beathard would start if Lawrence is unable to play against the Bucs.

Lawrence completed 25 of 43 passes for 264 yards and a touchdown against the Ravens but also lost two fumbles that the Ravens turned into 10 points. He also allowed time to run out at the end of the first half with the Jaguars inside the Baltimore 5-yard line.

The Jaguars got down to the 5-yard line on Lawrence's 36-yard completion to receiver Zay Jones, and Pederson said the offense was supposed to run a play instead of spiking the ball to stop the clock. The Jaguars snapped the ball with 11 seconds remaining and Lawrence threw a quick pass to receiver Parker Washington near the numbers, but Ravens safety Marcus Williams tackled Washington in bounds and the clock ran out before the Jaguars could get lined up to snap the ball.

"We're going to stay aggressive," Pederson said. "We've scored before in those situations. It was just a mistake by Trevor, obviously knowing the situation and knowing how much time is left right there. It's a great learning experience for us from the standpoint of don't throw it inbounds to be tackled in that situation.

"We'll learn from that one, but just another great opportunity for us to try to get in the end zone."

When asked if Lawrence should be beyond making that kind of mistake in his third season, Pederson responded, "You can put it on us, too. Put it on us as coaches. Coach that situation a little bit better."

Had the Jaguars been able to kick a field goal, they would have trailed the Ravens 10-3 at the break. Instead, they became the first team in the past two seasons to get shut out in a first half despite four drives inside the opponents' 40-yard line.

That play was the capper of an ugly first half for the Jaguars. Kicker Brandon McManus had a 50-yard field goal attempt hit the right upright and pulled a 55-yard attempt wide left. Lawrence's first fumble came when he inexplicably dropped the ball on a scramble at the Baltimore 20. The Ravens turned that into their only touchdown of the half.

Lawrence lost his second fumble in the third quarter when he was sacked by defensive tackle Justin Madubuike at the Jaguars' 19. Four plays later Justin Tucker kicked a 34-yard field goal to put the Ravens ahead 23-7.

Meanwhile, as Associated Press sports writer Mark Long put it, "The Jaguars are good at a lot of things and great at nothing."

That has become clear during the team's three-game losing streak to AFC contenders. Jacksonville simply has more holes than heroes and they've yet to deliver one in December.

The Jags gave up 491 yards to Jake Browning and Cincinnati on "Monday Night Football" two weeks ago and then allowed way too many explosive plays to fellow backup Joe Flacco and Cleveland six days later. Against the Ravens -- Jacksonville's first appearance on "Sunday Night Football" since 2008 -- it was a comedy of errors for the home team.

McManus had the two missed field goals. Washington extended his streak of games with a costly miscue to three. Lawrence fumbled twice -- including once in the red zone with no one around him -- to go with his other, previously-mentioned shortcomings.

"Obviously, losing three in a row, we put ourselves in a little bit of a tricky situation," receiver Jamal Agnew said. "We've got to be more urgent and just more consistent. ... We've been here before. We know how to get ourselves out of situations. The urgency's just got to pick up."

Going on the road to the in-state Buccaneers might be the best scenario for reeling Jacksonville, which is 6-1 away from home this season. ...

Also of interest. ... As FantasyLife's Dwain McFarland notes, after steaming up fantasy draft boards last summer, Calvin Ridley hasn't paid off, with just 12.3 points per contest. However, Lawrence is playing his best football of the year, averaging 281 yards and 1.8 TDs per contest since Week 11 -- and Ridley's target competition has depleted.

In two games without Christian Kirk, Ridley has 24 percent and 29 percent target shares -- 11.5 looks per game.

Ridley averages 142 air yards per contest (33 percent) and has three end zone targets in two games without Kirk. McFarland acknowledges it's a small sample, but this all adds up to WR1-worthy utilization.

With Jones considered week-to-week after injuring his hamstring late against the Ravens, McFarland believes the Jaguars passing attack could further consolidate with Ridley and Evan Engram as the primary beneficiaries. ...

Agnew returned after missing four games and made an immediate impact. He caught a 65-yard touchdown pass from Lawrence that provided a spark after a scoreless first half and had 178 more yards on four returns. The Jaguars need to get him more involved with Kirk on IR and Jones dealing with injuries. ...

McManus has missed four of his last five field-goal attempts, a surprising slump for a veteran who made 20 in a row between late September and late November. But none of his misses was a gimme.

He also missed from 48 yards against Cincinnati in Week 13 and from 55 yards the previous week at Houston. ...

Finally. ... With Lawrence in concussion protocol and Nathan Rourke claimed on waivers by the Patriots, the Jaguars have added a quarterback.

E.J. Perry is joining Jacksonville's practice squad, according to agent Sean Stellato.

Perry was with the Jaguars during the 2022 offseason program and training camp before spending the season on the practice squad. When Jacksonville waived him in March, he was claimed off waivers by the Texans. He was subsequently waived again in May.

Perry, who played his college ball at Brown, has also spent time with the USFL's Michigan Panthers.

QBs: Trevor Lawrence, Mac Jones, C.J. Beathard, Nathan Rourke
RBs: Travis Etienne Jr., Tank Bigsby, D'Ernest Johnson
WRs: Gabe Davis, Parker Washington, Tim Jones, Jamal Agnew, Christian Kirk
TEs: Evan Engram, Brenton Strange, Luke Farrell, Elijah Cooks

Kansas City Chiefs

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 18 December 2023

The Kansas City Chiefs beat the New England Patriots on Sunday in spite of themselves.

As Associated Press sports writer Dave Skretta suggested, it's a trick they can pull off against a three-win team, even on the road. But probably not one against a team in the postseason.

Skretta added: "So that is where the Chiefs -- that equally befuddling and beguiling Super Bowl champions -- finds themselves with three games left in the regular season."

They improved to 9-5 with their 27-17 win on Sunday in Foxboro, Massachusetts, but still find themselves staring up at Miami (10-4) and Baltimore (11-3) in the AFC playoff picture with three regular-season games to go.

They also find themselves making the same mistakes that have cost them all season: Penalties, dropped passes, turnovers and mental errors, and often several of them happening on a single disastrous play.

That was certainly the case for Kadarius Toney, whose offside penalty cost them so dearly the previous week against Buffalo, taking away a go-ahead touchdown with just over a minute left. For the second time this season, Toney not only dropped a pass but had it picked off, and just like Detroit in the opener the Patriots turned the turnover into points.

He wasn't the only issue Sunday, though. Right tackle Jawaan Taylor, who has been penalized six more times than any player in the NFL, was flagged again for a false start. Rashee Rice, one of their rare offensive bright spots, fumbled again but was able to get back on it. And drop-prone Skyy Moore was fortunate to have a lost fumble wiped away by a penalty.

The same culprits that have made the same mistakes all season.

"We've had great spots and we've had spots where we've struggled," quarterback Patrick Mahomes said. "We've just got to continue to make it a full game. I think that's the biggest thing."

Still, the Chiefs had lost two straight and were in desperate need of a win, and they got it. And they have three winnable games to finish against the Raiders, Bengals and Chargers -- three teams with backup QBs and two of them led by interim coaches.

"When you're as close as the AFC is right now, wins are hard to get and you better enjoy each one," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "They're very important, and so this one (against New England), no different than that because of the situation."

Meanwhile, the Chiefs played without Isiah Pacheco for the second straight week after their leading rusher had "a cleanup" procedure on his ailing shoulder. And their ground game has gone nowhere without him. Clyde Edwards-Helaire carried 11 times for 37 yards, even though he made some big plays in the passing game, and Kansas City finished with 43 yards on 20 total carries.

In fact, both CEH and Jerick McKinnon caught touchdown passes in New England and McKinnon also threw for a score against the Patriots.

The good news?

Pacheco will be back in the Chiefs' lineup for their Week 16 game after sitting out the past two weeks because of shoulder surgery, coach Andy Reid said Monday.

"He'll be good to go this week unless there's further setback," Reid said. "Right now, everything's positive for him to go and he really had a clearance last week from the fellow that did the surgery to go, so it was just a matter of being [cautious] on it."

The Chiefs will play the Las Vegas Raiders on Christmas Day at Arrowhead Stadium.

Pacheco had surgery on the same shoulder during the offseason. He was with the Chiefs last week for walk-through practices and meetings.

Before missing the past two games, Pacheco was fifth in the NFL in rushing with 779 yards. He also has caught 33 passes and scored seven touchdowns.

Travis Kelce had an elbow "stinger" but should be OK.

I'll obviously be watching for more on Pacheco in coming days and report back as needed via Late-Breaking Update. ...

Also on the injury front. ... The Chiefs placed wide receiver Skyy Moore on injured reserve Monday, ending what had been a disappointing second season for the 2022 second-round draft pick.

Reid said earlier in the day that Moore had some swelling in his knee, which caused him to play limited snaps in New England. The Chiefs were hopeful that Moore could improve upon a rookie season in which he caught 22 passes for 250 yards but began to show promise late in the season and into the playoffs.

Instead, Moore caught just 21 passes for 244 yards and a touchdown while ceding playing time to other wide receivers.

Meanwhile, Rice has become Mahomes' go-to target, even ahead of Kelce. The rookie had a career-best nine catches for 91 yards and a touchdown, the fourth time in six games he has reached the end zone. Rice has had at least seven receptions in four straight games and could hit 1,000 yards by the end of the season.

"You know, his game just keeps going up, man," Kelce said. "I'm proud of the way he's been able to handle the ups and downs of the season. Right now, he's playing great ball."

As's Nathan Jahnke summed up: "Rice is a must-start player for the rest of the season, and his draft stock for 2024 fantasy drafts just keeps getting higher."

QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Blaine Gabbert, Carson Wentz
RBs: Isiah Pacheco, Clyde Edwards-Helaire
WRs: Marquise Brown, Rashee Rice, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Justin Watson, Kadarius Toney, Richie James, Justyn Ross, Skyy Moore, Mecole Hardman
TEs: Travis Kelce, Noah Gray, Blake Bell, Jody Fortson

Las Vegas Raiders

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 18 December 2023

In case you missed it, four days after bottoming out with a 3-0 loss to the Vikings in the lowest-scoring indoor game in NFL history, the Raiders balled out against the Chargers, beating their AFC West rival 63-21 last Thursday night while setting a franchise record for points scored in a game.

The 63 points were the third most by a team in the Super Bowl era and the second most in NFL history by a team that was shut out in its previous game, one behind the 64 points the 1934 Philadelphia Eagles scored against the Cincinnati Reds.

The Raiders also scored the most points in a prime-time game since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.

"I was into it," interim coach Antonio Pierce said of the blue mood that enveloped the team after Sunday's loss. "I had to slap myself to get out the funk, and [the players] got me out of the funk. They brought me along, and hell, we kicked some ass today.

"It became a frenzy."

As's Paul Gutierrez characterized it, this was "a complete demolition" as the Raiders ended a three-game losing streak to improve to 6-8 while scoring seven touchdowns on offense and two on defense.

They had five takeaways, scoring a touchdown after each one. The Raiders' 35 points off takeaways are tied for the most this century, equaling the 2013 Kansas City Chiefs at the Raiders and the 2012 New England Patriots at the New York Jets in the infamous "Butt Fumble" game.

The Raiders led 42-0 at halftime.

When wide receiver Jakobi Meyers hit Davante Adams for a 3-yard touchdown pass to put the Raiders up 49-0 in the third quarter, Meyers became the first non-quarterback this century to throw a pass with his team up by at least 40 points. Meyers also became the second Raiders player in franchise history with a passing touchdown and receiving touchdown in the same game, joining Hall of Fame running back Marcus Allen in 1983 against the Seattle Seahawks.

The Raiders' two defensive touchdowns -- a 44-yard fumble return by defensive tackle John Jenkins and an acrobatic 16-yard pick-six by Jack Jones -- were their first pair in a game since 2006, when Nnamdi Asomugha and Chris Carr returned interceptions for scores against the Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger.

With Raiders interim offensive coordinator Bo Hardegree moving up to the press box from the field, rookie quarterback Aidan O'Connell threw deep and excelled.

"Obviously, after last week's performance, we had to make a change," Pierce said of moving Hardegree to a higher vantage point. "And I think it worked out well for us."

O'Connell, who entered the day 5-for-20 with one touchdown and two interceptions on passes of 20-plus air yards, went 3-of-4 with three touchdowns on such passes in the first half. He is the first Raiders quarterback to throw three touchdowns of at least 20 air yards in a game since ESPN began tracking air yards in 2006.

He finished 20-of-34 for 248 yards and a career-high four touchdowns. He said the short week helped the Raiders get over the shutout loss to the Vikings because they could not dwell on it.

"It was fun to watch and fun to be a part of," said O'Connell, who posted a career-best 120.7 passer rating after he had a 66.0 passer rating against the Vikings. "Sometimes, the stars just align."

Las Vegas, which had scored 20 points or fewer in 11 of 13 games, had eight players score touchdowns. Including the playoffs, that is tied for the second most in a game in NFL history and is the fifth time that has happened overall.

The Raiders were without All-Pro running back Josh Jacobs (quad), left tackle Kolton Miller (right shoulder) and center Andre James (right ankle) and have enjoyed a lengthy break before facing the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on Christmas Day.

Raiders right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor said there was "a lot of pent-up aggression" after being shut out on Sunday.

"Last week sucked, losing 3-0," said Eluemunor, who shut out Chargers edge rusher Khalil Mack after he got six of his league-leading 15 sacks against the Raiders in Week 4. "That's f---in embarrassing. ... And everyone just wanted to come out here today and just ... let it all out. Especially on a short week like this."

Adams agreed.

"Obviously, we still got things to play for, but you've got to have that pride of your last name and the team you play for, and we all had that on our mind today," he said after catching a game-high eight passes for 101 yards and the touchdown. "We rallied and figured out a way to do it the right way. Started out great, defense got on the field and got them right off, and I think we've just been kind of snowballing off what they've been doing all year and we've got to find a way to be a little bit more consistent on offense."

With the Miami Dolphins beating the Denver Broncos 70-20 in Week 3, this is the first season in which multiple teams have scored at least 60 points since 1972.

"We was on the other side of [a shutout] last week, and it felt a certain way," Pierce said. "No apologies here. Sorry."

Associated Press sports writer Mark Anderson believes the difference in the attitude of the teams was quite clear Thursday night.

Los Angeles didn't look like it was all that interested in fighting for coach Brandon Staley. On Friday, the Chargers fired him after one of the worst losses in franchise history.

Las Vegas played as if it was fully invested in making sure Pierce keeps his job,

Pierce could feel his players' support during the week. He was as down as anyone after the embarrassing loss to the Vikings, but said the players never wavered in their professionalism and commitment.

"I had to slap myself and get out of the funk, and they got me out of the funk," Pierce said. "I told them that on Tuesday, I told them that again (Thursday), hats off to our players because that's what leaders and real men do. They bring others along with them, they brought me along and, hell, we kicked some (butt)."

Whether Pierce eventually gets the job remains to be seen, and certainly history and a daunting remaining schedule that includes two road trips don't help much.

Odds are owner Mark Davis will look for a splash hire, similar to two years ago when he went with Josh McDaniels rather than stay in-house even after Rich Bisaccia led the team to the playoffs.

Pierce still has time to make his case, and he doesn't have to worry about whether he has his players' support. ...

One last item here. ... Jacobs' future is an issue because he's out with a quadriceps injury. The Raiders gave the other backs a lot more touches -- and they delivered. Zamir White rushed for 69 yards on a 4.1-per-play average, and Ameer Abdullah averaged 5.3 yards while gaining 32 yards. Brandon Bolden also scored on a 26-yard run out of the wildcat formation.

It was always doubtful Jacobs would return next season anyway, but the play of those backs has to ease the minds of management.

I'll have more on Jacobs' chances of returning this week via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

QBs: Aidan O'Connell, Gardner Minshew, Brian Hoyer
RBs: Alexander Mattison, Zamir White, Ameer Abdullah, Brandon Bolden
WRs: Davante Adams, Jakobi Meyers, Tre Tucker, Hunter Renfrow, DeAndre Carter, Kristian Wilkerson
TEs: Michael Mayer, Austin Hooper, Jesper Horsted

Los Angeles Chargers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 18 December 2023

As's Kris Rhim reported, Chargers president John Spanos said the team would have "no limitations" on its next head coach and general manager pairing, from experience to salary, attempting to dismiss the narrative that the organization is unwilling to spend for coaches and executives.

"I think sometimes it's maybe the misses that help you grow the most -- that you can learn from the most," Spanos said Monday, speaking for the first time since the team fired coach Brandon Staley and GM Tom Telesco last week. "And I think we always have to be pushing ourselves as an ownership to get better, to be better."

Spanos declined to discuss the specifics of why he and his father, owner Dean Spanos, fired Staley and Telesco during the season, but the decision came one day after the Chargers lost to the Las Vegas Raiders 63-21 on "Thursday Night Football." It was one of the most embarrassing losses in NFL history, not only because of the margin, but also because it came against a Raiders team without much to play for -- a team that had already fired its own head coach and general manager.

Thursday's defeat encapsulated three seasons under Staley and 11 seasons of disappointment for Telesco. John Spanos -- who began working for his father's team in 1995 as a seasonal assistant, was promoted to vice president of football operations in 2013 and then president in 2015 -- has had a hand in all of the Chargers' shortcomings.

Spanos' first major hire in 2013 was Telesco, and then together they hired Mike McCoy as head coach six days later. Since then, the Chargers have fired McCoy, then hired and fired Anthony Lynn and Staley.

In total, the three coaches and Telesco produced two playoff wins over 11 seasons.

"In my opinion is everything starts with ownership, so I think ultimately we're responsible for everything," Spanos said.

When asked why fans should have faith in the Spanos family to make the right hires this time around, Spanos said that he "empathizes" with the feelings of anger, frustration and disappointment that fans may be feeling. But said that they have learned from past errors.

"When I looked at these last two hires, we did some good things," Spanos said. "We didn't get where we ultimately wanted to go, but I know that we're all going to learn from it, and we're going to do even better the next time. The commitment to winning and the commitment to do whatever it takes to get there is as strong as it's ever been and really will not waiver."

Spanos explained the commitment to winning as "providing the resources" and supporting whatever the next front office needs. It was a noteworthy point from Spanos because resources and money, particularly for coaches, have been a critique of this organization.

Lynn, who coached the Chargers from 2017 to 2020, said in a Los Angeles Times article in 2022 that the "resources" at his new position as assistant head coach and running backs coach with the San Francisco 49ers were "different" compared to his time with the Chargers.

Spanos dismissed that narrative, however, pointing to their new facility set to open in El Segundo next spring and their investment in players. He said that he's "never felt any or seen any limitations because of cash or any other reason."

"I think if you look at the last three coach hires that we've made, all three of them are coaches that were sought after to the point where they were going to get other jobs if we didn't step up and get them, right?" Spanos said. "So we've competed for players, we've competed for the staff, you know, we're competing for a new facility."

When asked if the franchise would be willing to spend $20-25 million on a coach, Spanos said in part, "I can tell you that there have been no discussions internally about there being a max."

Despite the Chargers projected to be $34.8 million over the salary cap next year, their coach and general manager openings are expected to be among the most desirable of this cycle partly because of quarterback Justin Herbert. It's a point Spanos recognized but said isn't his focus.

"I've been very fortunate in the [coaching] searches that I have been a part of what has come through during the process is that ... this has been a very desirable place to be," Spanos said. "... And I can tell you already in two days, that's been expressed to me on more than one occasion by outside contacts. And I'm grateful for that."

As for Staley and Telesco, Spanos said that there was never any consideration to firing them before Thursday, including after the Chargers' playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, when the team blew a 27-point first-half lead, the third largest in playoff history. Spanos said he felt the team was still headed in a positive direction despite the loss.

He also said he had no regrets about keeping Telesco as general manager for 11 seasons.

"I think hindsight's always going to be 2020," Spanos said. "... Never before did we feel making a change was in the best interest of the team; otherwise, we would have."

The Chargers' next three games are against teams all looking to make a playoff push: the Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs. The Chargers will be led by interim coach Giff Smith, who was the outside linebackers coach, and Jojo Wooden, who was director of player personnel. Spanos said that the next three games will be "business as usual" for this team.

"We're not worried about getting a high draft pick," Spanos said. "We want to go win these next three games."

Spanos declined to comment on whether Smith, Wooden or any of the Chargers' current staffers would have a chance at becoming the head coach or general manager.

"Right now, to decisively say yes or no to any candidate would be a big mistake," he said. "I'm not going to limit the search in any way."

Whatever the case, Thursday night's loss was one of the most embarrassing in NFL history. It reflected dysfunction at every level and fantasy managers should keep that in mind when they're setting lineup.

While the focus will be on Smith, Associated Press sports writer Joe Reedy believes it should also be on offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley.

Moore's stock as a future head coach has taken a hit due to the offense's inconsistency. He was brought in to marry the run and pass games, but the gulf between the two remains wide. The Chargers are ranked 17th in overall offense and have the fifth-worst run game.

The offense, though, is without quarterback Herbert (broken finger) for the rest of the season. Wide receiver Keenan Allen was inactive against the Raiders due to a heel injury.

Austin Ekeler had a 19 percent running back rush share against the Raiders, when, as Late-Round Fantasy's JJ Zachariason notes, his season low entering Week 15 was 50 percent (Week 1). His 19.4 percent target share was his highest since Week 9, though. In his return from injury, Josh Palmer ran the second-most routes for the Chargers but had just a 12.9 percent target share.

Ekeler has become a dicey flex option; even with Easton Stick at QB, Allen will be a viable play if healthy; Palmer and Gerald Everett are streamable options.

In other words, you're probably taking your chances if you rely heavily on this unit for fantasy production in one-and-done playoff situations.

Worth noting. ... Allen did not practice on Tuesday due to the same heel injury.

Edge rusher Khalil Mack was also out of practice, but he was listed as resting rather than sitting due to injury. Defensive back Deane Leonard (heel) was the only other non-participant.

Cornerback Essang Bassey (concussion), linebacker Tanner Muse (knee), linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga (hamstring), tackle Trey Pipkins (wrist), and defensive lineman Nick Williams (shoulder) were all limited participants. ...

Finally. ...Per Tom Pelissero of NFL Network, the Chargers have signed Will Grier off of the Patriots' practice squad. Rookie QB Max Duggan was waived to make room for Grier.

QBs: Easton Stick, Justin Herbert
RBs: Gus Edwards, Joshua Kelley, Isaiah Spiller, Elijah Dotson, J.K. Dobbins
WRs: Josh Palmer, Quentin Johnston, Jalen Guyton, Derius Davis
TEs: Donald Parham, Stone Smartt

Los Angeles Rams

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 18 December 2023

As Associated Press sports writer Greg Beacham reminded readers, the Rams began the year in a self-described franchise remodel.

With three games left in the regular season, Beacham believes it's clear this particular construction project is ahead of schedule.

It might even be ready for a grand unveiling in the playoffs next month.

With four wins in five games since their bye week, the Rams (7-7) have surged into NFC playoff position heading into a short week of preparation for a high-stakes game against New Orleans (7-7) on Thursday night.

A win would bring significant wind into the sails of either team's postseason chances. A loss wouldn't be debilitating, but given how close the fight for those Wild Card spots is, it's ground that would be difficult to overcome over the final two weeks.

The game is Los Angeles' biggest since Super Bowl 56.

Meanwhile, both offenses have found their stride in recent weeks, New Orleans putting up 24 or more points in three straight games, Los Angeles 28 or more in four straight games, potentially setting the stage for a high-scoring contest.

The Rams were considered maybe a borderline postseason contender by most prognosticators four months ago after they parted ways with a major amount of talent in their bid to alleviate their salary cap crunch. They were a disappointing 3-6 when they hit their bye week in mid-November, but they've earned a clear opportunity to get a wild-card spot with impressive play ever since.

"I think we've put together a pretty good five weeks," coach Sean McVay said Monday. "It's always about how you continue to move forward, and we get a chance to do that in a short week. And so we're looking forward to swinging, man."

The decisive factors in the Rams' 28-20 win over Washington on Sunday were the same things that have gone well for them throughout this stretch: A balanced offense led by a sharp Matthew Stafford; a defense that continues to overachieve with a relatively modest level of talent; and impressive coaching decisions on both sides of the ball -- aside from a few play-calls in the red zone here and there, McVay acknowledges.

"It's a lot more fun when you're getting the results that you want," McVay said. "But I really appreciate a lot of the things that we learned in spite of coming up short, especially early on in the season, and what I'm so proud of is the way that these guys have responded and really reset after the bye."

Left tackle Alaric Jackson also tied the Rams' stretch success to the bye, which came after blowout losses in Dallas and in rainy Green Bay, where they played without Stafford after he hurt his thumb near halftime against the Cowboys

The week off healed Stafford's thumb and arrested Los Angeles' negative momentum, and a one-point comeback victory over Seattle right after the bye catalyzed the Rams' current roll.

Jackson said the secret to the Rams' improvement is "probably the bye week, honestly. Going back home for a little bit, getting fresh, taking time off. Come back here and hitting our stride in the run game, pass game. Everybody is playing well, confidently."

Then there's Kyren Williams.

The second-year running back's 152-yard, one-TD rushing performance lifted the Rams all the way up to 11th in the league in rushing offense. They were down in 20th just four weeks ago when Williams returned from his ankle injury. Williams has five 100-yard outings in his past seven games, topping 88 yards in six of those.

Williams' athleticism and the offensive line's blocking have transformed Los Angeles' ground game, which was 28th in the NFL last season.

That said, Williams lost two fumbles in the first half. There's no doubt he is still the Rams' lead back, but it was an uncharacteristic lack of ball security from Williams.

Meanwhile,'s Sarah Barshop believes Cooper Kupp's resurgence makes the Rams a contender.

After a slow stretch when he played through an ankle injury, Kupp has had back-to-back 100-yard receiving games for the first time since Weeks 5 and 6. Kupp looks like the receiver the Rams had become used to, and Sunday he had his 23rd career game with 100 receiving yards and a receiving touchdown, which is tied for the fifth most through a player's first 100 career games in NFL history.

Sunday was Kupp's 90th career game.

By the way, Puka Nacua and Kupp led the Rams with eight targets each.

As Late-Round Fantasy's JJ Zachariason notes, Kupp had the bigger day, but it extended Nacua's streak of seeing at least a 20 percent target share in every game this season.

The Rams' offense is thriving thanks to those key contributors. It'll be the defense -- which played well against the Commanders -- that determines their playoff fate. ...

A few final notes. ... According to's Nathan Jahnke, Tyler Higbee played 100 percent of snaps in the first quarter Sunday, but it was a 50/50 split with rookie Davis Allen over the rest of the game.'

Higbee caught four passes for 36 yards, while Allen caught his only target for 14 yards.

This will be a situation to avoid going forward.

Higbee is under contract for two more years, and it might not make much sense to cut him this offseason. He turns 31 in two weeks, so this could become a committee for all of next year. ...

Tutu Atwell was inactive with a concussion. Demarcus Robinson completely took his spot (as expected), scoring a touchdown on one of his two receptions. Robinson had just three targets, but he did run as many routes as Kupp and Nacua. ...

Lucas Havrisik's fourth missed field-goal attempt in six games was from just 43 yards, and it's clear Los Angeles can't be particularly confident in its kicker with a game on the line. The Rams stuck with Havrisik last week instead of going to veteran Mason Crosby, and McVay preached patience Monday: "I think you want to be careful (not) to overreact to one kick. But it was a big kick. ..."

On the injury front. ... McVay on Monday said defensive back Ahkello Witherspoon will be good to go for Thursday night's game against the Saints after sustaining a groin injury late in Sunday's game against the Commanders.

"His groin got tight during the game, and so don't expect it to affect his status for this week," McVay said during a video conference with reporters Monday morning.

Additionally, offensive tackle Rob Havenstein -- who missed the Commanders game with a groin injury -- is expected to return for Thursday night's game against the Saints. McVay also said Atwell has cleared the concussion protocol and is expected to play against the Saints. Atwell worked fully Monday and Tuesday.

Meanwhile, McVay said defensive back Tre Tomlinson "felt a little bit in his thigh and wasn't able to return," but didn't have any additional clarity on his status for Thursday beyond that.

Finally. ... The Athletic's Jourdan Rodrigue reports the Rams have designated Ronnie Rivers to return from IR. He practiced fully Tuesday.

QBs: Matthew Stafford, Jimmy Garoppolo, Stetson Bennett
RBs: Kyren Williams, Royce Freeman, Zach Evans, Ronnie Rivers
WRs: Cooper Kupp, Puka Nacua, Tutu Atwell, Ben Skowronek, Demarcus Robinson
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Brycen Hopkins, Colby Parkinson, Hunter Long, Davis Allen

Miami Dolphins

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 18 December 2023

According to's Marcel Louis-Jacques, Mike McDaniel saw this coming.

In the weeks leading up to his team's 30-0 shutout win over the New York Jets, the Miami Dolphins coach had a feeling wide receiver Jaylen Waddle was in for a big performance.

He was correct.

Waddle finished with a season-high 142 yards on eight receptions Sunday, including a 60-yard touchdown that nearly doubled his longest catch of the season. The third-year receiver served as Miami's No. 1 option in the passing game with Tyreek Hill sidelined with a left ankle injury, and he delivered with his best game of the season.

"For the last three weeks probably, I thought that [Waddle] was going to have a performance like this today," McDaniel said. "I think he had his best route-running game the week previous against the Titans. Then he just continued that in the week of practice, so there was some stuff that we had up that I knew [quarterback Tua Tagovailoa] was supremely confident in because he watched the tape, too, and watched the same progression.

"So, when you have players who are very confident, one running the route and one throwing it to him. ... You know that's what leads to some special stuff on Sunday, for sure."

Waddle's day got off to an inauspicious start when he briefly left the game after a hard landing knocked the wind out of him. He returned on Miami's next drive to a collective sigh of relief from the home crowd at Hard Rock Stadium.

That same crowd wasn't sure what to expect out of a Dolphins offense that struggled to move the ball in a loss to the Tennessee Titans just six days prior.

Hill, the NFL's leading receiver, did not participate in any of the Dolphins' three practices during the week after suffering the ankle injury in that loss to the Titans -- forcing Miami to prepare for a scenario that it hasn't faced since trading for Hill last offseason.

Sunday marked the first game Hill has missed as a member of the Dolphins, shining a spotlight on Waddle as the team's next-leading receiver. McDaniel said Waddle "rose to the occasion when the team absolutely needed it," but Waddle shifted the credit to Miami's entire offense.

"When a guy like Tyreek's out, it's not just one person that has to step up," he said. "It's the whole team, the whole unit when you have a caliber guy like Tyreek Hill, a Hall of Fame guy like 'Cheetah,' that's missing. I think collectively we did a good job. It's good. That's a good defense ..."

Hill's absence directly addressed a narrative about whether the Dolphins' offense could produce without him.

Miami didn't turn in its best offensive performance of the season -- 290 total yards while averaging 5.1 yards per play -- but it didn't have to in a game dominated by its defense.

Tagovailoa finished with 224 yards and a touchdown on 21-of-24 passing. He said that while Sunday's game spoke volumes about what Miami's offense is capable of, he and his teammates weren't focused on what skeptics had to say about their potential.

"I mean, that's what everyone is going to say. Everyone is going to have their own deal with how they feel," Tagovailoa said. "But it's a team sport. Like with '10' (Hill) being down - I went out there when '10' was warming up ... I went up to him, and I told him, 'Dude, if you can't go, we got you, brother. It's a team sport. It's going to take all of us.'

"With not having him and to be able to put 30 points and have a shutout by our defense should tell you a lot about the team, really, the guys on all three aspects and three phases of the game."

According to Associated press sports writer Alanis Thames, Tagovailoa said he felt the offense was a bit disoriented with Hill limited to 34 snaps against the Titans because of an ankle injury, but getting reps without Hill in the week leading up to Sunday's game helped with Miami's production.

"It's tough not having one of your star guys out there," Tagovailoa said. "But as a collective group, it's like, well, what are we going to do? Are we going to run the ball the entire game or are we going to do action game the entire game?

"No, we shouldn't change who we are as an offense because one guy is out. We've got a lot of other guys that we trust, that we believed in, to keep on the team, and that's what happened out there."

Raheem Mostert had two rushing touchdowns, giving him franchise bests of 20 total TDs and 18 on the ground.

"Tyreek, it sucks that we didn't have him (Sunday) because he's a hell of a player, definitely a gold jacket guy, and I say that with full conviction," Mostert said. "It's hard to shut out a team, especially a divisional opponent like the Jets and we swept them this year. It just shows you the type of characters that we have in this locker room."

The Dolphins remain two games ahead of the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East standings and host the Dallas Cowboys in Week 16. If the Dolphins win out (including their game vs. Buffalo), they will clinch the top overall seed in the AFC, a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

After hosting the Cowboys on Sunday, the Dolphins will travel to face the Ravens, who are currently the top team in the AFC.

Again, all three remaining foes have winning records, and Miami hasn't beaten a team all season that entered the game over .500. Ending that trend without its No. 1 deep threat in Hill would be tough, but the good news is that the Dolphins got production from almost everywhere on Sunday.

One issue: The Dolphins were 2 of 5 in the red zone for the second straight week.

Miami drove inside the Jets 14 in the first quarter but was penalized three times, including an offsides call against receiver Robbie Chosen, and settled for a field goal. Penalties and negative plays also stalled momentum on a drive into the red zone in the fourth quarter, which ended in a sack of Tagovailoa and another field goal. ...

Other notes of interest. ... With Waddle and Mostert feasting, De'Von Achane was held under 10 PPR points.

As's Nathan Jahnke notes, Achane has been the primary receiving back when healthy but has also gained plenty of fantasy production in the second half of games when the Dolphins have been winning. In this one, Mostert played 22-of-31 first-half snaps, leaving Achane with 10-of-31.

Last week, the Dolphins ran several plays with both running backs on the field but that didn't happen much in this game.

Miami was ahead 24-0 at halftime but Mostert still played in over half of the offensive snaps in the third quarter.

The Dolphins pulled their starters by the middle of the fourth quarter but at that point it was Jeff Wilson Jr. taking most of the snaps.

Remember: Achane was dealing with a toe injury which led him to miss practice for most of the week which likely had some impact on his role in the second half.

Jahnke went on to suggest that we're unlikely to see a lot of garbage-time Achane with the Cowboys and Ravens, two of the top four teams in the NFL, on the horizon. Both have been good at preventing receiving yards to running backs. We might not see Achane as a fantasy starter again in 2024. ...

Tagovailoa's 3,921 passing yards this season lead the NFL. He's poised to join Dan Marino and Ryan Tannehill as the only players in Dolphins history to throw for 4,000 or more in a season.

With three games remaining, Hill needs 458 yards to reach 2,000 -- all coming against teams with top-10 pass defenses.

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

Finally. ... The Dolphins added to their offense Tuesday when they activated rookie running back Chris Brooks off injured reserve at the end of his three-week practice window.

To make room for Brooks on the 53-man roster, the Dolphins waived newly signed veteran Jason Pierre-Paul.

Brooks will become the fourth running back on the active roster, joining Mostert, Wilson and Achane.

Brooks looked impressive in his limited work before his injury, rushing for 94 yards on 15 carries, including a 52-yard gain in the rout of the Broncos in Week 3, though the bulk of his work came on special teams.

It probably should be expected that Brooks still will mostly be used on special teams upon his return.

Pierre-Paul's departure wasn't surprising, given that he was a healthy scratch for the game against the New York Jets on Sunday after playing only five defensive snaps in his two appearances -- against the Washington Commanders in Week 13 and the Tennessee Titans in Week 14.

QBs: Tua Tagovailoa, Mike White, Skylar Thompson
RBs: Raheem Mostert, De'Von Achane, Jeff Wilson, Salvon Ahmed, Christopher Brooks
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, Odell Beckham, Braxton Berrios, Cedrick Wilson, Chase Claypool, River Cracraft
TEs: Durham Smythe, Jonnu Smith, Julian Hill, Tyler Kroft

Minnesota Vikings

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 18 December 2023

As Associated Press sports writer Dave Campbell noted, the Vikings have stumbled down the stretch of this most unpredictable -- even by NFL standards -- season.

Their recent defeats have mirrored the bigger picture, with multiple failures in favorable situations to close the deal.

After all those clutch late-game plays last season, some narrow losses seemed inevitable for these Vikings. That hasn't made it any easier for them to stomach, or to excuse.

"We feel like every time we lose it's self-inflicted," wide receiver Justin Jefferson said after the 27-24 overtime decision in Cincinnati. "It's not something we're getting physically out-beat on, so we just need to fix the few things we need to fix on offense, defense and special teams."

Most clubs in the league could earnestly and accurately draw the same conclusion in defeat, considering how close the standings have been in the salary cap era. Sure enough, despite losing three of their past four games, the Vikings (7-7) remain in control of the second wild-card spot in the NFC.

They can realistically defend their division title, too, by winning each of their last three games -- two against NFC North leader Detroit -- and the Lions losing Dec. 30 at Dallas. They could have made this process much less stressful, though.

The Vikings were ahead after the two-minute warning Nov. 19 at Denver, Nov. 27 against Chicago and Saturday at Cincinnati and lost all three times by a total of six points.

"Putting ourselves in position to win the football game, but just unable to finish," head coach Kevin O'Connell said Monday, still sounding downcast two days after the loss to the Bengals.

The season-long trend of turnovers is the simplest explanation, whether squandering scoring chances early or ruining rallies late.

Despite two costly interceptions in Cincinnati, Nick Mullens will start again at quarterback this week against the Lions.

Mullens completed 26 of 33 passes for 303 yards and two touchdowns against the Bengals. He threw two interceptions in the second quarter to end scoring threats, but largely adhered to O'Connell's philosophy of getting the ball downfield to wide receivers.

Rookie Jordan Addison bounced back from a rocky stretch with six receptions for 111 yards and two touchdowns on six targets, while Jefferson snagged seven passes for 84 yards in his first full game since Week 4.

"I thought Nick did a lot of really good things in the football game on Saturday," O'Connell said Monday, via's Kevin Seifert. "Nick knows that we also need we need to try to limit and eliminate those critical, critical errors where we turned the football over in the red zone with the chance for points twice there in the football game. Nick will continue to work toward that, but I think with another good week of preparation, and building upon the positive things he did last Saturday, my expectation is that Nick is going to go out and play really well for us this weekend."

More importantly, Mullens is the most experienced in Minnesota's offense and the most polished option on the roster with Kirk Cousins on the mend. The fact that O'Connell made the announcement Monday speaks to the true one-week-at-a-time mode the Vikings have been since the October injuries to Jefferson and Cousins.

One factor that can't be overlooked -- especially by fantasy managers, Ty Chandler had a career-high 132 rushing yards and a touchdown on 23 carries, plus four receptions for 25 yards in Cincinnati.

The presence of Josh Dobbs at quarterback in the previous four games helped create more room to run, and Dobbs brought his own ability to move the ball with his feet. Keeping the ground game going with Mullens behind center was a promising sign.

Chandler moved into the lead role with Alexander Mattison sidelined by a sprained ankle, a job he might not give back once Mattison is cleared to play.

O'Connell said he remains impressed with the 2022 fifth-round pick.

He cited Chandler's reliability as a pass catcher and in pass protection. Chandler also popped two runs of 20-plus yards and gained several chunk plays.

"Ty is absolutely a guy that is going to continue to see a feature role in our offense. What that looks like moving forward as far as who gets the first touch of the game and all those things, we'll continue to work through," O'Connell said.

The Vikings have struggled to find their rhythm in the running game since parting ways with Dalvin Cook in the offseason -- in fact, Cook had the Vikings' last 100-yard game: in Week 10 of the 2022 season.

Chandler could be the missing piece here. ...

The Vikings put themselves on solid tiebreaker footing with a 6-3 record in NFC play and wins over wild-card competitors New Orleans (7-7), Atlanta (6-8) and Green Bay (6-8). They can likely afford one more loss and still make the playoffs without help elsewhere. ...

Other notes of interest. ... According to Seifert, it might seem incredible, but before Saturday, the Vikings hadn't scored a touchdown on their opening possession all season. But in a purposeful, 75-yard march downfield, the Vikings called nine running plays and only three dropbacks. That approach made sense for Mullens, who hadn't started a game in two seasons, and it was rewarded when Chandler scored on a 1-yard run.

It was out of character in multiple ways; the Vikings had entered the game with only two rushing touchdowns by running backs this season, the fewest in the league.

Finally. ... Mattison did not practice during the shortened week following the Raiders game. It's not clear he's ready to return this week.

"Mattison is going to continue progressing. He has been getting treatment around the clock to see if he can work himself to being available this week," O'Connell said. "Alex is going to try to work himself back this week. We will see how he does throughout the week."

I'll have more via Late-Breaking Update in advance of Sunday's game.

QBs: Nick Mullens, Jaren Hall, Sam Darnold
RBs: Aaron Jones, Ty Chandler, C.J. Ham, Kene Nwangwu, Cam Akers
WRs: Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, K.J. Osborn, Brandon Powell, Jalen Nailor
TEs: Josh Oliver, Johnny Mundt, Nick Muse, T.J. Hockenson

New England Patriots

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 18 December 2023

As Bill Belichick finishes up what could be his final month as the New England Patriots coach, he's drawing some effusive eulogies from the opposing sideline.

Kansas City's Andy Reid took time out after beating the Patriots 27-17 on Sunday to praise the six-time Super Bowl champion, who trails only Don Shula on the NFL's career list for coaching victories.

"He's done an unbelievable job. Best in the business -- ever. That's what you're talking about," Reid said after the defending NFL champs beat the team whose dynasty they supplanted. "I don't question it. I know how great he is, and I've got to deal with him by playing against him. So, nobody better. Not that I've gone against. Nobody better."

The Patriots won six Super Bowls and 17 AFC East crowns in a 19-year span under Belichick. Tom Brady also had something to do with that, and since he defected to Tampa Bay, New England fans have been angrily taking sides over who deserves the most credit.

As Associated Press sports writer Jimmy Golen notes, some reports say owner Robert Kraft has already made up his mind to part ways with Belichick after the season; others report the owner hasn't made up his mind yet.

What isn't in doubt is that the Patriots (3-11) are on track for the worst season in Belichick's tenure. They have the worst record in the AFC and are potentially one loss away from overtaking Carolina for the No. 1 overall draft pick.

Still, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce says the 71-year-old coach hasn't slowed down.

"I've just got all the respect in the world for that guy," Kelce said. "Every single time I go up against him -- it's the toughest job in the NFL, to go up against a Bill Belichick defense.

"He throws so much at you. He always has a lot of guys that can play smart," added Kelce, who was limited to five catches for 28 yards Sunday. "So hats off to Belichick for today, for making my life tough, that's for damn sure."

Since taking over the Chiefs, Reid has won five of six regular-season matchups against Belichick; New England has won both playoff games. (When Reid was with the Eagles, Belichick beat him four times out of five.)

Among those wins for Reid was a 41-14 loss in Kansas City that famously left Belichick with nothing left to say except, "We're on to Cincinnati."

But given the opportunity to pad the score Sunday, Reid showed his respect. After the Patriots went for a fourth down from their own 7-yard line and failed, the Chiefs kneeled out the clock instead of running up the score.

"It was the right thing to do," Reid said.

"This Patriot team is so close," Reid said, adding that New England's seven one-score losses is "crazy." "They've done a nice job with that defense. They're salty. And offensively, they had a nice plan there coming out."

And there were positives.

The defense held the Chiefs to 2.1 yards per carry, the third game in a row and the sixth time this season the opponent has averaged less than 3 yards rushing. In all, Kansas City picked up 43 yards on 20 carries.

But the list of New England's weaknesses still starts at quarterback.

Bailey Zappe was inconsistent again as a starter in place of 2021 first-round draft pick Mac Jones. Zappe was 17 for 19 for 141 in the first half, throwing for seven first downs. He was 5 for 12 for 39 yards in the second half, throwing an interception on New England's first play of the third quarter to set up a Chiefs touchdown.

According to staffer Evan Lazar, the offense ran a ton of quick-game to slow down the Chiefs pass rush and still allowed nearly a 50 percent pressure rate. 20 of Zappe's 31 attempts came in under 2.5 seconds, using the quick game as an extension of the run game -- they still had blocking issues.

Due in large part to that particular weakness, the Patriots have scored 21 points or less in 13 games. That's the worst in the NFL and two shy of a franchise record set by the team that went 1-15.

Meanwhile, the Patriots are eliminated from playoff contention, but they can play spoiler at Denver and Buffalo before finishing out the season against the New York Jets.

Other notes of interest. ... While the team hasn't fared much better with Zappe behind center than Jones, there's been no indication that New England has any intention to go back to Jones before the end of the season.

Offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien was asked on Tuesday if there's anything Jones can do to get another opportunity in 2023.

"I think everybody's gotta be ready to play -- especially in the situation that we're in," O'Brien said, via Dakota Randall of NESN. "I really do. I think that everybody has to be ready to go. Anybody that's on the 53-man roster really has to go out on the practice field and practice well and earn a shot to play.

"So, and I know that you've heard that from Bill [Belichick] -- but that's the truth. Like, you have to be ready to go. Because if you practice really well, you're gonna have a real shot to play. So, I think that goes for every position."

New England went 2-9 in games Jones started this year. The quarterback completed 64.9 percent of his throws for 2,120 yards with 10 touchdowns and 12 picks. ...

As he said after the game, the Chiefs game-planned to stop Ezekiel Elliott and the Patriots running game. New England has gotten a lot of aggressive front mechanics in their run game lately, whether that's run blitzes, slanting the D-Line, or upfield edges to counter gap schemes. The Chiefs’ safeties were run-blitzing all game long.

As for Elliott himself, this was a step back after his best game as a Patriot in Pittsburgh. Elliott struggled to run through contact, mainly on a low red zone carry where Chiefs S Mike Edwards chopped him down. There was a hole there to score, but Elliott couldn't break the tackle, and the Pats eventually settled for a field goal.

According to Lazar, Elliott also allowed a team-high four QB pressures as he was on the scene for several breakdowns in blitz pickup. They need more from Zeke.

Still, the volume was there.

Elliott played nearly every offensive snap for a second-straight week with Rhamondre Stevenson out. And, as Late-Round Fantasy's JJ Zachariason notes, the veteran running back has now seen target shares of 20.8 percent, 30.8 percent and 19.4 percent over his last three games. ...

Ty Montgomery was the backup last week, but he was released. This week, Kevin Harris was the backup and managed a touchdown run on one of his few snaps. ...

Hunter Henry, who had seven catches for 66 yards and a TD, was the Pats only consistent threat in the passing game. O'Brien did a nice job of using heavy personnel groupings and formations to get Henry on linebackers, and Henry took advantage. It was a good game for Henry, who also had a second touchdown negated by a penalty.

Beyond that, it was a typical gamescript for the Patriots wide receivers: One contested catch by DeVante Parker, a few flashes of burst from Demario Douglas, and the operation not allowing the QB to push the ball deep to Tyquan Thornton (who may or may not catch it, anyway).

Chad Ryland missed another short-ish field goal, yanking a 41-yard attempt wide to the left. The rookie fourth-round draft pick is 13 for 20 for the season.

On the injury front. ... Henry appears to suffer a knee or thigh injury; he downplayed the issue after the game. I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as need in advance of Sunday night’s game in Denver.

Finally. ... The Patriots are expected to sign former Bucs RB Ke'Shawn Vaughn to their practice squad, sources told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Some additional depth from a former third-rounder.

QBs: Bailey Zappe, Jacoby Brissett
RBs: Rhamondre Stevenson, Antonio Gibson, JaMycal Hasty
WRs: DeVante Parker, Demario Douglas, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Tyquan Thornton, Kayshon Boutte, Matt Slater, Kendrick Bourne
TEs: Hunter Henry, Pharaoh Brown

New Orleans Saints

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 18 December 2023

As's Katherine Terrell reported it, the Saints looked like they were having fun again Sunday.

The Saints (7-7) poked fun at New York Giants quarterback Tommy DeVito and piled up defensive sacks in a 24-6 win.

They celebrated offensive touchdowns and heard more cheers than they had in the prior two weeks during a three-game homestand.

Derek Carr said that the Week 15 win was the kind of performance he envisioned from the team when he signed with New Orleans in the offseason.

Now the Saints will try to keep the positive momentum going in what could be a pivotal NFC matchup on "Thursday Night Football" against the Los Angeles Rams (7-7).

The Saints remain tied with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-7) at the top of the NFC South with both getting wins Sunday, but the Atlanta Falcons (6-8) fell one game behind in the race after falling to the 2-12 Carolina Panthers. Things can be simple for the Saints: win their last three games (including contest with the Bucs and Falcons), and they win the division with a matchup in Week 17 against the Bucs looming.

The Rams game becomes crucial because there's still the opportunity to get a wild-card spot in the playoffs if they don't win the division as well, and a win would also give them a three-game win streak for the first time this season.

It would also validate an opinion several Saints players expressed Sunday: They're getting better at the right time.

"These are when the wins kind of count," running back Alvin Kamara said. "We need to be playing our best ball right now, so I think that's what's going on a little bit."

The Saints know that any momentum gained in those wins would come to a quick halt if they can't prove themselves Thursday night.

"To get that validation from us working hard -- knowing it's not just going to happen overnight even though we all felt confident -- it feels good, and it feels good that we're improving, getting healthier, all those things," Carr said. "It's all going in the right direction, but like [linebacker Demario Davis] said, if we don't take care of business on Thursday, it won't feel good again."

Carr's idea of the offense from the outset was to run an efficient unit that spread the ball around like some of the highly successful teams that future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees led.

That plan hasn't worked as well as Carr might have hoped, but Sunday they were without leading wide receiver Chris Olave -- who was out with an ankle injury.

Carr passed to 10 different players, had a season-high three touchdown passes and finished with a passer rating of 134.8. His three scores came from wide receiver Keith Kirkwood, who hasn't scored a touchdown since 2018, and tight ends Jimmy Graham and Juwan Johnson.

Without Olave, Rashid Shaheed ran the most routes for the Saints at 23. No player was really close, with Johnson and A.T. Perry ranking second with 15 routes run, per Next Gen Stats.

Still, as Late-Round Fantasy's JJ Zachariason notes, Carr scored 20-plus fantasy points for the first time all season against the Giants.

"It wasn't perfect, but guys were making catches, guys were running their routes, the efficiency and the timing, when we needed them to be there, they were there," Carr said. "This is what I dreamed of. I know a lot of people want the stats for one guy and all that kind of stuff, but I've always felt the best football teams always spread it out and whoever could have a big day, whoever can have the touchdowns. It's good for the team."

Allen said that Olave was a game-time decision, but his health and the looming short week caused the Saints to rule him out.

"I don't think he felt like he was going to be able to do the things he needed to do to be effective, particularly with us playing a Thursday night game," head coach Dennis Allen said. "Trying to get him healthy and get him back in for that game kind of went into that decision a little bit."

The Saints are also eligible to open the practice window for wide receiver Michael Thomas this week, but If Olave and Thomas remain out, that'll leave the door open for players like Kirkwood -- who touted the offense's growing confidence as a reason for their success against the Giants.

"I don't think anybody in this offense lost faith in what we have," Kirkwood said. "There were ups and downs, and obviously we want to continue to climb the hill, but at the end of the day we all stuck together. ... That's what happened today, and that's why we were able to be successful."

For the record, the Saints didn't practice Monday, but with a Thursday Night Football game looming, they had to issue an estimated report.

The team listed defensive end Isaiah Foskey (quadriceps), safety Lonnie Johnson (knee), running back Kendre Miller (ankle), Olave and right tackle Ryan Ramczyk (knee) as non-participants.

Defensive end Cam Jordan (ankle), defensive end Carl Granderson (shoulder) and defensive end Payton Turner (toe) were listed as limited.

Olave was upgraded to limited participation Tuesday and a source told NewOrleans.Football's Nick Underhill the second-year wideout is expected to play against the Rams.

Miller was also upgraded to limited Tuesday. ...

Although Thomas and defensive back Marshon Lattimore are eligible to return from injured reserve this week, neither sounds ready to get back to practice.

"They're both in the rehab process," Allen said. "I can't tell you exactly where they're at. I don't expect the practice window to open, so we'll just keep going through the rehab process and see how it goes."

I'll have more on Olave in advance of Thursday night's game.

QBs: Derek Carr, Jake Haener
RBs: Alvin Kamara, Jamaal Williams, Kendre Miller
WRs: Chris Olave, Rashid Shaheed, A.T. Perry, Keith Kirkwood, Lynn Bowden, Michael Thomas
TEs: Juwan Johnson, Taysom Hill, Foster Moreau, Jimmy Graham

New York Giants

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 18 December 2023

As Associated Press sports writer Tom Canavan suggested, the hope that the Tommy DeVito feel-good story recently injected into Brian Daboll's dismal second season with the New York Giants is about to be extinguished.

New York's three-game winning streak ended with Sunday's 24-6 loss at New Orleans, leaving the Giants (5-9) with a very slim chance of making the playoffs for a second straight season.

DeVito went 20-of-34 passing for 177 yards with no touchdowns and interceptions as the Giants were kept out of the end zone.

As's Jordan Raanan pointed out, a good chunk of his yards came late in the contest when the game was out of reach.

"Average" was DeVito's assessment of his play.

He added: "Two throws I want back for sure. Just need to be that spark for the offense and just get us to score points more."

Still, Daboll committed to the undrafted rookie as his starting quarterback again against the Eagles on Christmas Day.

"He believes in me," said DeVito, who missed several plays at the end of the first half after he was checked for a concussion. "I'll continue to try to earn his trust each play that I'm on the field."

It has been quite the ride for the quarterback who had ascended from practice squad to starter and thrown seven touchdown passes and just one interception in his first four starts prior to Sunday. The DeVito craze has been highlighted by his now trademark pinched-fingers celebration that represents his Italian heritage. It had caught fire and been adopted by pretty much the entire team during the recent three-game winning streak.

The Saints clearly noticed, and they had some fun with that. Defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon did it after sacks. Special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi, a New Jersey native who went to Bergen Catholic High School, a rival of DeVito's Don Bosco Prep, wore a T-shirt from his alma mater pregame.

Rizzi also copied DeVito's celebration after punter Lou Hedley pinned the Giants at the 8-yard line in the fourth quarter (and got Hedley to do it, too).

Saints rookie DT Bryan Bresee, who had a career-best two sacks, came up with the idea for the celebration.

"I can't take credit for it," Kpassagnon said. "I'll give it to our rookie, he definitely had the idea of putting the Italian fingers up and I think it definitely worked out."

DeVito noticed Kpassagnon. He had three sacks in the game. The Saints had seven as a team. But DeVito didn't notice the Saints using his pinched-fingers celebration while lying on his backside.

"I didn't know until you just said it," he told reporters after the game. "But it comes with it. You see it in all sports. Anytime someone does something and something else happens, they are going to retaliate.

"It's fun and games. Part of the game."

What seemed to irk DeVito more was the offense's lack of energy, beginning with him.

The Giants had just 193 total yards in the contest. The Saints dominated throughout.

"We just lacked execution on offense. We weren't good on third downs. We have to be better," DeVito said. "I don't think we played with enough swagger. I put that on me because I take that personally as far as playing with energy, playing with juice. So I need to be better with that."

It didn't help that the Giants couldn't get their running game going against a Saints defense that had allowed at least 120 yards rushing in seven of its past eight games. New York finished with just 60 yards on the ground.

Standout running back Saquon Barkley had just 14 yards on nine carries on Sunday.

"You can't get your swag on when there is nothing you can do [well]," Barkley said. "You're losing. Personally, I know this for a running back, you're not able to get into a flow. I think they did a really good job with me personally and not letting me get into a flow and build confidence. I don't even know if I had a run that broke past 5, 6, 7 yards. That is part of the game. You can't play with swag, with confidence, when you're getting beat. That's all of us."

The team's wideouts, Darius Slayton, Jalin Hyatt and Wan'Dale Robinson combined for three catches and 9 yards in the first half. They also had three drops.

New York has three games left and needs to win them all and get a lot of help to get back to the postseason. That's unlikely with two games against the defending NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles and one against the playoff-contending Los Angeles Rams (7-7).

It seems the best the Giants can do is play spoiler. It's not a fun role and beating Philadelphia will not be easy.

The Eagles beat the Giants three times last season, including an embarrassing 38-7 decision in the divisional round of the playoffs.

This was supposed to be the year New York closed the gap on the Eagles and Cowboys in the NFC East.

Instead, it has grown. ...

A few final notes. ... Darren Waller ran the fourth-most routes for the Giants in his return from injured reserve, and he saw the second-most targets (17.6 percent target share).

This despite the fact he played only 25 of a possible 62 snaps, bringing in four passes for 40 yards. He finished second on the team in receiving yards.

As's Nathan Jahnke notes, the Giants play the Rams next week. Both the Eagles and Rams should be two very good matchups for Waller. If he can be a full participant in practice all week, that will help reassure fantasy managers considering starting the athletic tight end. ...

Barkley failed to reach a 10 percent target share for the first time this season. He was at just 5.9 percent.

QBs: Tommy DeVito, Drew Lock, Daniel Jones
RBs: Devin Singletary, Matt Breida, Gary Brightwell, Eric Gray
WRs: Darius Slayton, Wan'Dale Robinson, Jalin Hyatt, Parris Campbell, Isaiah Hodgins, Sterling Shepard
TEs: Darren Waller, Daniel Bellinger, Lawrence Cager, Chris Myarick

New York Jets

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 18 December 2023

The New York Jets are eliminated, and it appears Aaron Rodgers' desire to return this season has gone by the wayside with it.

With the clock ticking on a decision, Jets coach Robert Saleh indicated Monday the four-time MVP wants to play again this season, but the coach adamantly refused to comment on whether Rodgers will see the field again.

"Aaron wants to play; let's not confuse that one," Saleh told reporters. "That's why he's been working so hard to get back. His willingness to play, even if he's not 100 percent, is at the forefront of his mind. He wants to go, but ... until he's actually cleared, I'm not going to talk about it with anybody."

Rodgers did, however.

During a Tuesday appearance on The Pat McAfee Show, Rodgers said that he would be pushing to play if he was 100 percent but that he has not reached that point in his recovery from a torn Achilles. Rodgers intimated that there would be a conversation about playing without reaching that point if the Jets were still alive, but they were officially eliminated from playoff contention last Sunday and Rodgers has shifted his attention toward the future.

Rodgers said he thinks that future will see him playing for the Jets beyond the 2024 season.

"I don't think so," Rodgers said when asked if next season will be his final one. "I felt like when I came here that I got a renewed passion and love for the game. Everything has been amazing here. . . . I wanted at least two years. I feel like this year is kind of a lost year now that I only played a couple of snaps. Wasn't able to go out there and prove what I'm capable of, what we're capable of as a team. I don't think next year will be my last year."

Rodgers said he thinks the Jets need to "reload a little bit," but that they have talented players on both sides of the field and that he's a believer in head coach Robert Saleh, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and General Manager Joe Douglas.

"The night is always darkest before the dawn and we're gonna rise again and it's going to be exciting," Rodgers said.

That rise was the hope for the 2023 Jets and it looks like they'll be trying to do it all over again in 2024.

Again, the Jets (5-9) were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs with Sunday's 30-0 loss to the Miami Dolphins.'s Rich Cimini believes the Jets might activate Rodgers on Wednesday, but not play him in a game. It would allow him to keep practicing with the team. The downside is that he'd take up a spot on the 53-man roster.

In the meantime, the Jets still don't have a starter this week. The job belongs to Zach Wilson, but he's in the concussion protocol after suffering a head injury on Sunday, the team said. If Wilson isn't cleared, the Jets will start Trevor Siemian against the Commanders.

Siemian replaced Wilson in the second quarter, with the Jets down, 24-0, and struggled to move the offense.

He threw two interceptions and completed 14 of 26 passes for 110 yards. Brett Rypien would be the backup.

I'll have more on Wilson and the QB situation via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...

Meanwhile, Associated Press sports writer Dennis Waszak Jr. reports the cries from frustrated Jets fans are getting louder.

They're all over social media and sports talk radio, letting everyone who'll listen know -- including owner Woody Johnson -- they're tired of all the losing.

Many insist changes need to be made, and now.

A season that began with Super Bowl hopes has deteriorated to the point the seats under Saleh and Douglas are getting uncomfortably warm.

"Two types of coaches," Saleh said Monday. "Those who have been fired and those who are about to get fired, my man. We coach in the moment. We coach to win a football game."

The problem is the victories have been too few and far between.

The Jets will miss the postseason for the 13th straight season, the longest drought among the four major North America professional sports leagues. They also have eight consecutive losing seasons.

Saleh is 16-32 as the team's coach since being hired in 2021. Douglas is 25-55 since taking over for the fired Mike Maccagnan in 2019.

The latest loss, a 30-0 drubbing at Miami on Sunday, stoked the flames even more -- with some wondering if Saleh is in danger of losing the locker room.

"I think this team is still bought in," the coach insisted. "I think this team still plays for one another. I think this team still loves one another. And I'll speak for everyone in that we are frustrated that we haven't been able to string together some wins. But I do appreciate the way we go out and fight. We've just got to find a way to be successful."

Nonetheless, the Jets are playing out the string.

Three more games to try to provide some optimism heading into the offseason. And perhaps the jobs of Saleh and Douglas hanging in the balance.

"Just coaching to try to beat Washington," Saleh said. ...

The game against Washington at MetLife Stadium on Christmas Eve is the home finale before the Jets end the season on the road at Cleveland and New England.

"I've got a lot of things that I want to accomplish and I think a lot of our team feels that way," tight end Tyler Conklin said. "We've all got a lot of pride and everybody has their 'why.' So I think as individuals, we'll be able to get up for these last three games. ..."

Other notes of interest. ... As's Nathan Jahnke pointed out, Israel Abanikanda played significant snaps for first time.

In fact, the fifth-round rookie played more offensive snaps in this game than all other weeks put together.

Abanikanda started the season as a healthy inactive each of the first 10 weeks and started to be active once the team released Michael Carter. Carter's release allowed Breece Hall to play more in passing situations and Dalvin Cook to run the ball more, but Cook averaged less than three yards per carry over his previous three games.

The Jets continued their split of Hall and Cook in the first half, but Cook only ran the ball once for four yards.

Hall took all three plays on the Jets' first drive of the second half. After that point, Abanikanda started to play and took 22 of the remaining 28 snaps. Hall played three more snaps over the rest of the game while Cook didn't receive a single snap over the second half.

Now that the Jets are eliminated from playoff contention, Jahnke believes it's possible we continue to see Abanikanda play over Cook. ...

One thing to keep in mind: The 103 total yards on offense for the Jets at Miami tied for the fourth-lowest output in franchise history. Set your fantasy expectations accordingly.

QBs: Trevor Siemian, Tyrod Taylor, Aaron Rodgers
RBs: Breece Hall, Israel Abanikanda
WRs: Garrett Wilson, Xavier Gipson, Jason Brownlee, Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, Mike Williams, Charles Irvin
TEs: Tyler Conklin, Jeremy Ruckert, C.J. Uzomah, Kenny Yeboah

Philadelphia Eagles

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 18 December 2023

For most of the night, Jalen Hurts played better than how he looked or likely felt while dealing with an illness.

But as Associated Press sports writer Tim Booth suggested, the fourth quarter will leave Hurts and the Eagles feeling sick about their missed opportunity to retake control in the NFC East and keep alive home-field advantage for the playoffs.

Hurts watched as Drew Lock and the Seattle Seahawks rallied in the final minutes for a 20-17 win over the Eagles on Monday night that handed Philadelphia (10-4) a third straight loss.

It was a fourth quarter to forget for Hurts. He threw an interception in the end zone with 8:08 left trying to hit Quez Watkins on a deep shot that could have extended Philadelphia's 17-13 lead. He was unable to convert a third-and-7 at midfield with a little over 2 minutes remaining that likely would have meant Seattle never got the ball back.

And in his final desperation effort, Hurts was intercepted for a second time by Julian Love in the quarter trying to hit A.J. Brown down the sideline in the final seconds.

"Was trying to be aggressive in that moment. We had multiple opportunities in the game to open it up and we didn't do that. I didn't do that. I didn't do my job good enough," Hurts said.

Most of the blame the past couple of weeks has been placed on Philadelphia's defense after blowout losses to San Francisco and Dallas. But Hurts and the Eagles' offense is far from blameless, especially after failing to score an offensive touchdown last week in Dallas.

A trip to Seattle and playing the leaky Seahawks defense was supposed to be the elixir.

And it looked that way early on after the Eagles jumped to a 10-0 lead with a pair of long scoring drives in the first half.

But that lead was gone early in the third quarter and failed to be extended after Philadelphia retook a 17-10 lead on Hurts' second touchdown run midway through the third quarter.

"Really wanted to be able to get up two scores on them and we weren't able to," Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said. "I thought the defense was hanging in there and doing some really nice things. We just needed to pull away in that game and we didn't."

Hurts finished 17 of 31 passing for 143 yards and added another 82 yards rushing on 13 carries. He didn't want his illness to be an excuse, but Hurts missed practice on Saturday and flew separately to Seattle a day later to stay away from his teammates because of how he was feeling.

If Hurts was affected by his illness, it may have been the fourth quarter when it showed up. He was 2 of 6 passing for 25 yards and two interceptions on Philadelphia's final three possessions.

"He's a warrior. He's a competitor. Obviously the game didn't go our way, but he made some outstanding plays for us for sure," center Jason Kelce said.

Philadelphia is riding a tenuous line. They've already clinched a playoff spot, but the defending NFC champs have looked anything but Super Bowl ready the past few weeks. Their point differential of plus-18 is tied for the third-worst of any team with at least 10 wins through the first 14 games of a season.

They have time to get it corrected and the schedule over the final three weeks is favorable with two games against the lowly New York Giants sandwiched around a visit from even worse Arizona. The Eagles should have every chance to finish with 13 wins, but it may not be enough to even win their own division.

"We still have our goals ahead of us. We know we clinched playoffs this week. We're not really looking at that. We know what we want to do," Sirianni said. "We want to win this division, but that's the last time you'll hear me say that. We got to go win a game this upcoming week."

Worth noting. ... Hurts was asked during his post-game press conference a specific question about the performance of the two-minute offense.

Hurts' response contained a more general observation.

"I've been talking about execution all year," Hurts said. "Being on the same page, everyone being on the same page. We didn't execute. I don't think we're, we're all, we're committed enough. Just got to turn it around. You know, it's a challenge that we have to embrace. Just continue to see it through."

Hurts was asked what he means by that.

"Commitment," Hurts said. "I don't have a dictionary on me now. ... I don't know how else to say that."

"How are you seeing that present itself?" he was asked.

"It's a matter of being on the same page," Hurts said. "It takes everyone being all in, in all aspects. And it starts with me."

Hurts continued to emphasize that it starts with him. But's Mike Florio contends the QB's words carried a clear undercurrent. He's trying to get everyone on the same page. He's trying to get everyone committed. Something is missing.

It wasn't obvious during an 11-1 start. It is obvious now, with three straight losses.

They have a chance to turn it around. Philadelphia faces Tommy DeVito and the New York Giants (5-9) on Christmas Day and once again in the final week and the Arizona Cardinals (3-11) in between.

The question is whether the Eagles will be ready when the time comes to play single-elimination football against some of the better teams in the conference. ...

There wasn't a ton of passing bandwidth (see the aforementioned 143-yard total Hurts posted), but D'Andre Swift rushed 18 times for 74 yards and brought in two of three targets for one yard in this one.

Swift had only five more carries than Jalen Hurts, but the running back's tally still tied for his second highest this season.

His yardage haul was his third time over 70 in the last five games as well.

It was enough for's Dave Spadaro to write: "Game ball shoutout for Swift, who ran hard and was elusive and had power. ... He looked terrific as the Eagles had 178 rushing yards on 38 carries.

Swift next takes aim at the porous Giants run defense on Christmas Day, one he'll enter 104 rushing yards shy of his first 1,000-yard campaign.

QBs: Jalen Hurts, Marcus Mariota, Kenny Pickett, Tanner McKee
RBs: Saquon Barkley, Kenneth Gainwell, Boston Scott, Rashaad Penny
WRs: A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Julio Jones, Olamide Zaccheaus, Quez Watkins
TEs: Dallas Goedert, Jack Stoll, Grant Calcaterra, Albert Okwuegbunam

Pittsburgh Steelers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 18 December 2023

Searching for a yet another spark this season, the Pittsburgh Steelers are turning to Mason Rudolph.

According to's Brooke Pryor, Rudolph, who is set to make his first start in nearly two seasons, said Tuesday he's "battle-tested" and prepared for the opportunity to start against the Cincinnati Bengals.

"I think as the third-string quarterback, you feel like, 'Are you really earning your paycheck week to week?'" Rudolph said with a laugh. "And so I get to finally earn it this week and put my hand in the pile and go fight for a victory together."

Selected in the third round of the 2018 NFL draft, Rudolph started his first career game in Week 3 of the 2019 season after Ben Roethlisberger suffered a season-ending elbow injury. Rudolph went on to start eight total games that season, but it was a tumultuous stretch.

Not only did Rudolph get benched for former practice squad quarterback Devlin Hodges at halftime of a game in Cincinnati, he was at the center of a massive brawl a week earlier in Cleveland, where defensive end Myles Garrett tried to hit Rudolph in the head with his own helmet, sparking an on-field melee that resulted in fines and suspensions.

After a brief benching, Rudolph bounced back to replace Hodges against the New York Jets, but injured his shoulder in the loss and didn't play in the season finale.

"We've all had adversity no matter if you're in the media or you play football, but I think I've had a fair share, and I think it's made me better, and it's made me a better person," Rudolph said. "And I think about some of the things that happened in '19 -- and it was quite a lot -- but I'm grateful for that. I think it's made me a better man and a better leader. And it makes you more battle-tested."

The next year, Rudolph saw clean-up action in three games before starting a meaningless Week 17 game against Cleveland. Though the Steelers lost, Rudolph had his most complete performance, throwing for 315 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.

Since then, Rudolph has only started one game -- a 2021 tie against the Detroit Lions when Roethlisberger went on the Reserve/COVID-19 list the night before the game. In that game, Rudolph completed 30 of 50 attempts for 242 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He also got garbage time snaps in the Week 16 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

The next time Rudolph got on the field was last week against the Indianapolis Colts, when Mike Tomlin pulled Mitch Trubisky for Rudolph just before the two-minute warning.

"We didn't do enough of anything well today," Tomlin said explaining the decision to bench Rudolph in Saturday.

Wide receiver Diontae Johnson, who was drafted a year after Rudolph, praised the quarterback for his resilience.

"He brings that grit that you're looking for, that he's not going to give up," Johnson said. "He's going to come in and do his job at a hundred percent. I have full confident in Mason that he's going to come in and do his job and get everybody the ball. It is our job on the outside to just rally around them."

Though he's started 10 games, Rudolph hasn't had much recent experience with this group of offensive skill players because he's largely been the scout team quarterback.

Though Tomlin didn't officially name Rudolph the starter on Monday -- and also left the "door ajar" for Kenny Pickett to return from the TightRope ankle surgery -- Rudolph got first-team reps on Tuesday for the first time in more than two years, while Pickett was a limited participant.

Worth noting. ... The Steelers beat the Bengals, 16-10, in Cincinnati in late November. The Steelers lead the all-time series, 69-39, but they have lost the past two to the Bengals at Acrisure Stadium.

But their current three-game skid has been rough. In those losses, the Steelers are averaging 13.7 points per game. Since firing offensive coordinator Matt Canada following the 13-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns in Week 11, the Steelers have scored more than 16 points just once -- 18 in the loss to the New England Patriots in Week 14.

In addition, even if the Steelers beat the Bengals and the Seahawks and Ravens in the next three weeks, they'll still need some help on the final weekend of the regular season to get into the playoffs.

The situation has led to conversations we don't often hear in Pittsburgh.

As Associated Press sports writer Will Graves contends, a new offensive coordinator is coming in the offseason. That's a given. The bigger question -- theoretical as it may be at this point -- is whether there will be a new coach too.

It's hard to imagine for a myriad of reasons, from Tomlin's resume to Pittsburgh's deeply held belief in stability to the fact he's under contract for 2024 and the list of people the Steelers pay to not work for them is incredibly short.

Yet the club is also in the midst of its longest drought between playoff wins -- six (likely soon to be seven) years and counting -- since Chuck Noll got the "Super Steelers" dynasty rolling in the 1970s.

It could serve as tangible evidence that Tomlin's message might not resonate in the locker room the way it used to.

He talked before facing the Colts about passing along a sense of urgency to his team as things got "thick." And it responded by getting drilled.

While Tomlin took responsibility in the aftermath, he also acknowledged his words are essentially meaningless.

"It's not about what we say at this juncture. It's not about what anybody says at this juncture," Tomlin said. "The road is getting narrow. And so what you do when you step in stadiums speaks a hell of a lot more than what comes out of your mouth. That's my mentality."

That's the problem. Pittsburgh's play is saying a lot. And none of it is good.

For its players. For its management. And certainly not its coach. ...

One example of Tomlin's voice not being heard?

George Pickens' attitude.

The second-year wide receiver has been inattentive at best and negligent at worst on plays where he's not directly involved. That trend has now trickled over to plays in which he is directly involved.

The talented but mercurial Pickens barely bothered to give chase after Julian Blackmon's interception on Saturday on a pass that sailed over Pickens' head.

Pickens actually ran -- well, he jogged -- away from Blackmon after the pick.

Beyond that, the second-year receiver lamented his lack of targets and running shallow routes prior to the Colts game, and yet, on his first deep target, a Colts cornerback was able to wrestle a 50/50 ball away from him. Afterward, Trubisky said Pickens took a different angle than he was expecting.

On another play, Pickens gave no effort to block for Jaylen Warren, resulting in the running back being tackled near the goal line instead of scoring a touchdown.

As Late-Round Fantasy's JJ Zachariason noted, Pickens saw his highest single-game target share (26.9 percent) since Week 7.

He's scored double-digit PPR points in just one of his last eight games.

Meanwhile, for the first time in his career, Johnson has touchdowns in three consecutive games. Against the Colts, he finished with four catches for 62 yards and a touchdown. ...

On a more positive note. ... Najee Harris received more playing time than Warren in recent weeks, but's Nathan Jahnke notes that trend reversed in Week 15.

Warren racked up 230 yards and two touchdowns across 24 carries from Week 10 to Week 11. After the firing of Canada, he seemed destined for a larger role. But instead, he was clearly behind Harris in Weeks 12 and 13. He played 53 percent of the offensive snaps last week, the highest mark of his career and only his third game above 50 percent-plus snap share. He averaged 1.6 yards per carry in that game but caught four passes for 29 yards.

Against the Colts, Warren played well over 53 percent of the offensive snaps. He led the team in rushing yards and yards per carry and he led the team in receptions.

Jahnke added the game script was in favor of Warren receiving a lot of snaps, but the Steelers have been in this game script before and he's never played this frequently.

The remaining games against the Bengals and Seahawks should be competitive. We should see a lot of Warren and both of those teams have allowed a decent amount of production to running backs. This could push Warren to being a fantasy starter in some leagues. ...

Harris (knee) did not practice on Tuesday, something that's become the norm in recent weeks; tight end Pat Freiermuth (knee) was limited. I'll follow up on both (and Pickett) as needed via Late-breaking Update. ...

In other injury news, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick has been ruled out of the Bengals game with a knee injury he suffered in the loss to the Colts. Tomlin did not say how long Fitzpatrick is expected to be out of the lineup.

Safety Trenton Thompson is dealing with a stringer and safety Elijah Riley, who hasn't played in the past four games due to an ankle injury, could come back for Saturday's game.

Defensive lineman Cam Heyward is in the NFL concussion protocol. ...

Finally. ... Safety Damontae Kazee was suspended for the remainder of the season by the NFL on Monday for repeatedly violating rules designed to protect player safety.

The final straw came against the Colts when Kazee made contact with the head of diving Indianapolis wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. Referees immediately ejected Kazee, who is out roughly $208,000.

QBs: Justin Fields, Russell Wilson, Mason Rudolph, Mitchell Trubisky
RBs: Najee Harris, Jaylen Warren, Anthony McFarland Jr.
WRs: George Pickens, Allen Robinson, Calvin Austin III, Miles Boykin
TEs: Pat Freiermuth, Darnell Washington

San Francisco 49ers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 18 December 2023

After Christian McCaffrey had finished shredding the Arizona Cardinals for the second time this season to clinch the Niners' second consecutive NFC West division crown, he received a significant show of support in the race for the league's Most Valuable Player award.

Roughly 30 minutes following the Niners' 45-29 throttling of the Cardinals to improve to 11-3, quarterback Brock Purdy was asked what the case would be for McCaffrey to win MVP. Instead of offering arguments, Purdy provided an endorsement.

"I think Christian should be MVP," Purdy said. "I really do believe that. He does everything for us. ... And so in my eyes that's an MVP."

As's Nick Wagoner noted, Purdy is always quick to deflect praise for others. But in this instance, it was more notable given that Purdy himself is considered one of the top contenders to win the award. And though Purdy had also just put the finishing touches on another big day, it was McCaffrey who once again shined brightest against the Cardinals.

Despite briefly departing the game in the second quarter with a knee issue, McCaffrey posted 18 carries for 115 yards and a touchdown on the ground and five catches for 72 yards and two touchdowns through the air. In two games against the Cardinals this season, McCaffrey has 364 scrimmage yards on 50 touches to go with seven touchdowns.

Those seven touchdowns are tied for the most by any player against a team in a season in the Super Bowl era.

"Sometimes it's just the way it goes," McCaffrey said. "You don't really know what games you're going to have big games."

For McCaffrey, the big games have seemingly come just about every week as he continues to etch his name into San Francisco and NFL record books.

With a receiving and rushing touchdown Sunday, McCaffrey has 15 career games in which he has scored both ways. That ties him with Marshall Faulk for the most such games in NFL history.

With 1,292 rushing yards and 509 receiving yards on the season, McCaffrey is the fourth player in NFL history to record at least 1,000 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in four or more season in his career, joining Faulk, Thurman Thomas and Tiki Barber.

McCaffrey's 6,018 rushing yards and 4,265 receiving yards since entering the NFL in 2017 make him the third player ever -- along with Faulk and Roger Craig -- to hit those marks in his first seven seasons.

Wagoner went on point out all of those milestones are coming in the midst of a season in which McCaffrey, 27, might be the best he has been in his career.

On the year, McCaffrey has 20 total touchdowns, tied with Miami's Raheem Mostert for most in the league, and his six 100-yard rushing games are the most of any player in the league. He has also posted 100-plus yards from scrimmage in 11 games this year, tied with Craig for the most in a season in franchise history.

Suffice to say, all of that contributes to a compelling MVP case for McCaffrey even if head coach Kyle Shanahan prefers not to choose between his two in-house candidates.

"I don't have to differentiate, thank goodness," Shanahan said. "But I've been around a couple MVPs probably in my career and. ... This is the most obvious thing to me. I might be biased being on their team but I don't think so."

While McCaffrey was racking up more big numbers Sunday, Purdy wasn't exactly hurting his case. He finished 16-of-25 for 242 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 135.3.

It's the third game this season Purdy has thrown at least four touchdowns with no picks, tying him with Steve Young (1994) and Jeff Garcia (2000) for the most in a season in franchise history. His 29 touchdown passes on the season are the most by a Niner since Garcia had 32 in 2001.

Purdy's latest efficient outing came on a day when, like McCaffrey, he also had to depart for a short time with injury. With 4:13 left in the second quarter, Purdy took a hit to the helmet from Cardinals pass rusher Dennis Gardeck that drew a penalty for roughing the passer.

The hit left Purdy on the field in pain for what was later diagnosed as a left shoulder stinger. He slowly walked into the blue medical tent before being cleared to return three snaps later.

Purdy said after the game it was the first time he's had a stinger in his career.

But based on what teammates have told him about the injury, he said the key is to let it play out because it's possible the pain will subside quickly.

"I just laid there for a sec, let it calm down," Purdy said. "Literally as time went on, it just started going away and that's why I was able to get back in there. ..."

San Francisco hosts Baltimore on Dec. 25 in the latest matchup between teams with the best record in each conference since Seattle beat Indianapolis 28-13 in Week 16 of the 2005 season.

The Niners have won six straight games by more than 10 points for the third time in franchise history after previously doing it in 1987 and 1993. The last team in the NFL to do it was the 2009 Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints. ...

Other notes of interest. ... It was a quiet day for some 49ers. Specifically, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle combined for five receptions for 91 yards and no touchdowns despite the team scoring 45 points.

The totals notwithstanding,'s Nathan Jahnke notes that player usage remained unchanged -- McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, Aiyuk and Kittle usually play the vast majority of offensive snaps, and they all played over 80 percent of snaps in this game.

The problem was that the 49ers didn't run that many plays.

The Cardinals had three drives of 11 or more plays, and the 49ers didn't have any. Arizona also had only two three-and-outs, so they won the time of possession battle. Typically, three of the four 49ers stars can put up big numbers, but McCaffrey and Samuel combined for five touchdowns.

There isn't much reason for concern about Aiyuk or Kittle. ...

The Niners almost had a major special teams mishap when receiver Ronnie Bell appeared to fumble on a punt return late in the first half that the Cardinals returned for a TD. Instant replay overturned the play, ruling that Bell was down before losing the ball, but it was the second time he had mishandled a punt in the past three games. ...

Elijah Mitchell missed his second consecutive game with a knee injury. This allowed Jordan Mason to be the primary backup again. Ten of his 13 snaps occurred in the last 10 minutes of the game.

Mitchell could return this week along with DT Arik Armstead (foot, knee), DT Javon Hargrave (hamstring), TE Ross Dwelley (ankle) and Oren Burks (knee).

CB Deommodore Lenior (bruised ribs) is day to day. ... DT Kalia Davis (high ankle sprain) will miss a few weeks ... WR Jauan Jennings (concussion) and DE Clelin Ferrell (ankle) are day to day. ... RG Spencer Burford (knee) should return this week.

QBs: Brock Purdy, Josh Dobbs, Brandon Allen
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Elijah Mitchell, Jordan Mason, Kyle Juszczyk
WRs: Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, Jauan Jennings, Ray-Ray McCloud, Ronnie Bell, Danny Gray
TEs: George Kittle, Charlie Woerner, Brayden Willis, Ross Dwelley, Cameron Latu

Seattle Seahawks

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 18 December 2023

According to Associated Press sports writer Tim Booth, amid the flood of emotions that continued long after he walked off the field a winner, Drew Lock paused briefly to reflect.

Rare is the chance to have a moment like what the Seattle Seahawks' backup quarterback experienced on Monday night.

"I think it was just the over-the-top of feeling of you don't get very many moments, you don't very many opportunities in this league," Lock said. "And with every opportunity you get, you need to be as ready as you can be."

Lock threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Jaxon Smith-Njigba with 28 seconds left to cap a 92-yard drive, and the Seahawks stunned the Philadelphia Eagles 20-17, ending a four-game skid and getting back into NFC playoff contention.

Seattle (7-7) rallied behind Lock, who moved the team the length of the field for its longest touchdown drive this season and found the Seahawks' rookie first-round pick for the biggest catch of his young career.

On third-and-10, Smith-Njigba beat James Bradberry off the line and Lock's throw was perfect to cap an unlikely comeback from an early 10-0 deficit. Lock, who made his second straight start in place of the injured Geno Smith, connected with DK Metcalf three times on the decisive drive, including much-needed chunk plays of 18 and 34 yards.

Seattle moved into a logjam with four teams currently at .500 that are battling for the NFC's last two playoff spots, while Philadelphia (10-4) lost its third straight and wasted a chance to move a game ahead of Dallas in the NFC East. The defending NFC champion Eagles have already secured a playoff spot.

Philadelphia had one last opportunity, but Julian Love made his second interception of the fourth quarter, picking off Jalen Hurts' deep pass intended for A.J. Brown and just getting his feet down inbounds.

"I was watching (Brown) that entire play. I was in the post, I saw a double move, I just took off. I saw the ball floating and I must be living right because I got my feet in, thankfully," Love said.

Love also picked off Hurts in the end zone on a deep shot for Quez Watkins with 8:08 remaining to prevent the Eagles from extending their 17-13 lead.

Lock's touchdown pass to Smith-Njigba was a play Seattle ran earlier in the game, and Lock knew if he got single coverage again, the throw was headed to the rookie.

"Sure enough, they gave us one-on-one. It was kind of the perfect look," said Lock, who finished 22 of 33 for 208 yards.

It was the second game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter for Smith-Njigba, who had one against Cleveland. And it looked awfully familiar to a catch he made for Ohio State in the Rose Bowl against Utah.

"Definitely kind of similar. Same kind of corner. I've been making catches like that for a long time," Smith-Njigba said.

Lock was also the lead blocker on Kenneth Walker III's 23-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that pulled Seattle even at 10-10. Walker finished with 86 yards rushing.

Pete Carroll said the decision to start Lock was made about 90 minutes before the game.

Lock didn't put up big numbers, but he avoided major mistakes and was great on the final drive, when he completed 5 of 10 passes and accounted for all 92 yards.

"It's a memory you're never going to lose. He's going to hold on to this Monday night forever," Carroll said. "He earned it, he deserved it. He played up to the great moments in the game and came through."

Smith was listed as questionable due to the groin injury that kept him out of Week 14 and kept him from doing full practice work last week. Carroll said on Seattle Sports Tuesday that Smith looked better than expected during a pregame warmup, but medical personnel thought it was better for Smith to wait another week to play if possible.

Lock is expected to be back on the bench in Week 16.

Carroll said Smith is "going to practice all this week and play in the game and away we go."

"He might have done great, but at least we bought him another week and now he's ready to go. He'll have a full week of prep," Carroll said.

Monday's win leaves the Seahawks in the No. 8 position in the NFC playoff picture, so they'll need wins in order to make it back to the playoffs for the second year in a row. If all goes according to plan, Smith will be the guy trying to lead them there. ...

Worth noting. ... Walker rushed 19 times for 86 yards and a touchdown while catching all three of his targets for 26 yards against the Eagles.

Walker looked like his old self after shaking off the rust in his return from injury against San Francisco in Week 14. The 23-year-old teamed up with Lock to score the pair of touchdowns that helped the Seahawks upset the Eagles on the national stage.

Walker finished with 22 touches to backup Zach Charbonnet's five, reinforcing the former's status as the lead back.

Expect Walker to continue leading Seattle's backfield in a road matchup against the Titans on Sunday.

QBs: Sam Howell, Geno Smith
RBs: Kenneth Walker III, Zach Charbonnet, DeeJay Dallas, Kenny McIntosh
WRs: DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Jake Bobo, Cody Thompson, Dareke Young
TEs: Noah Fant, Will Dissly

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 18 December 2023

According to's Jenna Laine, for years, Baker Mayfield idolized Green Bay Packers Pro Football Hall of Famer Brett Favre -- even donning a pair of jean shorts to re-create Favre's iconic 1991 NFL draft day photo when Mayfield was selected first in the 2018 draft.

But, as Laine added: "On Sunday, in the Bucs' 34-20 victory over the Packers, one of Mayfield's career-best performances, he did something not even the ol' gunslinger managed to do: Post a perfect passer rating of 158.3 at Lambeau Field. ..."

Mayfield threw for 381 passing yards and four touchdowns, becoming the second quarterback in NFL history to post a perfect passer rating at Lambeau Field, joining former Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who did so against the then-Oakland Raiders in 2019.

Mayfield's performance, punctuated by a 52-yard touchdown throw to wide receiver David Moore with 6:40 to go, lifted the Bucs to a 7-7 record and their third straight win. Coupled with a loss by the Atlanta Falcons, the Bucs now have a 69 percent chance of reaching the playoffs, according to ESPN Analytics.

Mayfield is the third player to have at least 375 passing yards, four touchdown throws and a 158.3 rating in a road game in NFL history, joining Nick Foles (Nov. 3, 2013 at Oakland, with Philadelphia) and Ken O'Brien (Nov. 2, 1986 at Seattle, with the New York Jets).

"He's meant everything," head coach Todd Bowles said of Mayfield, who last week orchestrated a game-winning touchdown drive to defeat the Falcons on the road 29-25. "From a mental standpoint to a quarterback standpoint, making plays. From a toughness standpoint. From a leadership standpoint. He's done everything. He's checked all the boxes. He's doing all the right things now and I can't say enough about him."

In two other trips to Green Bay as a member of the Cleveland Browns in 2021 and the Los Angeles Rams in 2022, Mayfield went 0-2 and threw five interceptions, completing fewer than 60 percent of his passes. But Sunday, he completed 78.6 percent of his passes and threw 16 yards shy of his personal-best 397 passing yards against the Houston Texans in 2018.

"Third time's a charm, that's for sure," Mayfield said with a smile. "Our team was really prepared to come in here. Just liked we talked about that mentality, the playoff mentality, to come in here with one job in mind and just find a way to win, and we did that. So just couldn't be happier with this group. We will enjoy it, but then hit the reset button onto next week."

The 2023 season has been Mayfield's chance to hit the reset button on his career. He signed a one-year deal with the Bucs in March -- his third team since the Browns traded him away 17 months ago -- for $4 million with incentives that push it to $8.5 million.

He has helped position them toward their third straight NFC South title and fourth consecutive trip to the postseason but their first without Tom Brady.

"He's gritty and he's a baller -- he's as fiery as they come," said wide receiver Chris Godwin, who caught 10 of 12 targets for 155 receiving yards. "And you want that. You want your guy to be out there and to compete. Like there's no flinch in him. He gets banged up. He gets hit. And he's right back in it. Like there's never any hesitation in him.

"We love that. We respect that in him. I'm happy for him. He came out here and found a way to ball."

Evans was one of four different receiving targets who hauled in a touchdown -- the most in a Bucs game since 2021 and one shy of the franchise record of five in 2015 and 2020.

The others?

Running back Rachaad White, who had a 26-yard catch-and-run that with the point after made it 20-10. Then came a 2-yard touchdown pass to Ko Kieft in the flat, set up by a 22-yard pass to tight end Cade Otton over the middle.

Then came Moore, who hadn't scored an NFL touchdown since 2020, on third-and-4, to seal the victory. Kieft's touchdown was just the second of his career and his first catch of the season.

"Impeccable. It was just amazing," Moore said of Mayfield. "He didn't let anything get in the way. He didn't let anything get in his mental. He just kept putting his foot forward and kept pushing, leading our team."

Mayfield downplayed the significance of his performance, choosing instead to focus on the team and what's ahead.

The Bucs next host the Jacksonville Jaguars on Christmas Eve.

The Falcons' loss to the Carolina Panthers gave them some breathing room in the NFC South, but the New Orleans Saints beating the New York Giants means they are 7-7 too, and the Bucs host them Dec. 31.

"I'll be honest. December games are all important," Mayfield said. "This one was very important, but this one won't matter unless we hit the reset button and move on to next week. It can't be more special than any other. It is the most important one now, but enjoy it, and then we will move on to next week. That is the mentality we have to have as a unit."

A few final notes. ... According to's Nathan Jahnke, White was held to fewer than 80 rushing yards in each of his first 10 games of the season but has gained more than 80 rushing yards in each of his last four games. This was also the first game of White's career with 50-plus rushing yards and 50-plus receiving yards.

Also worth noting. ... Late-Round Fantasy's JJ Zachariason notes that Godwin has target shares of 37.9 percent and 44.4 percent over his last two games. He's still scored just once through the air this season despite 108 targets.

QBs: Baker Mayfield, Kyle Trask
RBs: Rachaad White, Chase Edmonds, Sean Tucker, Ke'Shawn Vaughn
WRs: Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Trey Palmer, Kaylon Geiger, Deven Thompkins, Rakim Jarrett, Russell Gage
TEs: Cade Otton, Ko Kieft, Payne Durham

Tennessee Titans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 18 December 2023

The Tennessee Titans dodged a bullet during the Week 15 loss to the Houston Texans after quarterback Will Levis went down with an ankle injury in overtime, Mike Moraitis of USA Today's Titans Wire reports.

Per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Levis is believed to have suffered a sprained ankle, which is good news considering how serious it looked initially.

As of now, it doesn't appear to be of the high-ankle variety, so there's a shot we see Levis again this season.

If it does turn out to be a high-ankle sprain, the rookie will likely miss the remainder of the season.

Head coach Mike Vrabel said Levis was sore Monday. The rookie quarterback has been on the injury report for the same foot or ankle since early November, and he got a ride on a cart to his car from the stadium on Sunday after talking to reporters following a 19-16 overtime loss to the Texans.

According to Associated Press sports writer Teresa M. Walker, the bigger challenge is how Vrabel and the Titans (5-9) handle three games that mean nothing beyond the franchise's draft status for April and jobs past this season.

This is the earliest Tennessee has been eliminated from playoff contention in Vrabel's six seasons and its second straight year missing the postseason. The franchise hadn't been eliminated this early since 2015, when the Titans finished 3-13 and got the No. 1 overall draft pick.

Even despite a seven-game skid, the Titans were still playing for a third straight AFC South title into the final minutes of the 2022 regular-season finale.

Tennessee also missed the playoffs in Vrabel's debut season with a berth on the line in the regular-season finale.

"It's a new experience for me, you know?" Vrabel said. "So I have to give it some thought and try to make sure that we're doing everything that we can do to continue to try to teach them, to develop them, inspire the ones the best that we can."

Meanwhile, Derrick Henry had his worst game as a starter against a team he had rushed for 1,018 yards against in his past five games. He had just 9 yards on 16 rushes. Henry was hit for an easy tackle behind the line when left tackle Jaelyn Duncan and left guard Peter Skoronski both chipped the defender, then released, looking to block someone else.

"I don't really have no words," the two-time NFL rushing leader said of his worst game as a starter in his eight-year career.

In fact, Henry had the fewest yards from scrimmage for a player with at least 20 touches in an NFL game since 1948.

Asked if Henry's days as an elite running back are over, Vrabel said he doesn't think so. Henry will be a free agent after this season and turns 30 on Jan. 4.

"We understand that Derrick's got a certain running style and great skill set," Vrabel said. "We have to be able to get him going and give him space and get him to the second level. He in turn has to be able to help the line, help the receivers."

Henry, however, acknowledged he is pondering his future after the Titans were officially eliminated from playoff contention.

"Yeah, definitely today you had that feeling [that it could be the end of my career with the Titans]," said Henry, who is normally one to stay in the moment. "I had hope of kind of slipping in there [the playoffs], and then being eliminated with three games left. I've been here my whole career. Definitely wanted to go out strong, which that isn't the case."

As's Turron Davenport notes, the Titans will make a decision regarding the 29-year-old Henry, who is set to become a free agent after the four-year, $50 million contract he signed in 2020 runs out after this season.

Tennessee is projected to have $91.8 million in cap space this offseason, so signing Henry is a possibility.

However, rookie Tyjae Spears' 410 snaps are just one less than Henry this season.

In 14 games this season, Henry has 214 carries for 875 yards and 10 touchdowns. His 9,210 career rushing yards are the second most in Oilers/Titans history behind Eddie George, and his 88 career rushing touchdowns are No. 1 in franchise history.

The Titans have a home game against the Seattle Seahawks next week followed by a trip to Houston before wrapping up the season at home vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"I'll try to give it my all in these last three games and leave it all on the field," Henry said.

In the meantime, the team will figure out if Levis can move around enough to play this weekend against Seattle. See who has recovered from the flu making it ways through the locker room. Try to be a spoiler with a visit to Houston on Dec. 31 before hosting Jacksonville in the finale. ...

Treylon Burks has been relatively nonexistent on offense, but he bounced back against Houston with three receptions for a team-high 62 yards -- including a 37-yard catch that helped set up a touchdown on the opening drive. ...

One last note here. ... Veteran kicker Nick Folk has stabilized a position that had been a revolving door since the start of the 2019 season. Yet his only missed extra points have come in regulation during the past two home games -- the difference between being eliminated instead of potentially 7-7 and still chasing a wild-card berth.

QBs: Will Levis, Malik Willis
RBs: Tony Pollard, Tyjae Spears, Julius Chestnut
WRs: Calvin Ridley, DeAndre Hopkins, Treylon Burks, Nick Westbrook_Ikhine, Tyler Boyd, Kyle Philips, Colton Dowell, Chris Moore
TEs: Chigoziem Okonkwo, Josh Whyle, Trevon Wesco

Washington Commanders

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 18 December 2023

As Associated Press sports writer Joe Reedy noted, Jacoby Brissett provided a spark that the Commanders' offense has been lacking the past few weeks.

Despite that, head coach Ron Rivera said after Sunday's 28-20 loss to the Los Angeles Rams that Sam Howell will remain the starting quarterback.

The Commanders have dropped five straight and were officially eliminated from playoff contention with Sunday's loss. Howell had his worst game of the season. He went 11 of 26 for 102 yards with one touchdown and an interception.

In the past two games, Howell is 23 of 49 for just 229 yards.

"If we knew what the issue was we'd fix it. We have to execute better and it starts with me," Howell said. "All we can control is how we move on from this point and finish the year."

Howell was pulled after being intercepted by John Johnson early in the fourth quarter. Rivera said the main reason he pulled the second-year quarterback was to avoid further hits from Los Angeles' defense.

Howell has been sacked a league-leading 59 times in 14 games, including once by the Rams.

"Just wanted to take care of him a little bit," Rivera said. "In a situation with their ears pulled back like that, I didn't want to see anything crazy."

Brissett came in with 9:05 remaining and directed two scoring drives. The eighth-year quarterback, who has started 48 games in his career, completed eight of 10 passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns.

It was only the second game in which Brissett has seen action this season. He took three snaps -- all handoffs -- late in the fourth quarter of a 45-15 loss to Miami two weeks ago.

Brissett signed with the Commanders during the offseason after starting 11 games for Cleveland last season during Deshaun Watson's suspension.

"I was just trying to make the most of my opportunity," Brissett said. "It's the NFL, you can't be surprised. It's my job to be ready to go at any time. I haven't been playing in a long time, but once you get your blood going it felt good after a little run. I was just trying to go out there and make plays."

Despite not throwing a pass in a regular-season game in over a year, Brissett completed his first seven. That included a 29-yard touchdown pass to Terry McLaurin. He also had a 48-yard strike to McLaurin to the Rams 1-yard line on the next drive that was Washington's first pass play over 40 yards this season.

However, it took 181 seconds and eight plays before the Commanders got into the end zone on Curtis Samuels' 3-yard reception.

Washington attempted an onside kick, but the Rams recovered and ran out the clock.

"(Brissett) came out slinging it, just trying to give his guys an opportunity," said Johnson, who played with Brissett in Cleveland. "And they've got some good receivers, that whole group."

Brissett wasn't fazed by Rivera's declaration about Howell remaining the starter.

"He's a good player. It was just that point in the game where it's like, just get ready for next week," Brissett said. "I was talking to him because I know how this moment could feel. I've been in similar situations, and the key is you can't get discouraged."

McLaurin, who had six receptions for 141 yards and a touchdown, said he would be ready if Howell gets the start next week against the New York Jets.

"Sam's still doing a good job of growing and learning and giving us chance to make plays down the field," he said. "We're still rolling with him. We've just got to continue to support him, make the tough plays, kind of like we did at the end, and make his job a little easier."

Meanwhile, the Commanders are now 4-10 could soon be facing major changes.

Two games into Rivera firing defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio and taking over the play-calling duties, the defense is still broken. The Commanders allowed 445 yards to go with the 28 points yielded to the Rams, who seemed to even take it easy on them late rather than run up the score.

The Commanders are guaranteed their fourth non-winning season under Rivera, who along with general manager Martin Mayhew and most of the staff, could be dismissed by the new ownership group run by Josh Harris.

They visit the New York Jets (5-9) before finishing the season with home games against San Francisco and Dallas. ...

It probably goes without saying, but Howell's play continues to raise questions as to whether he's actually the franchise's QB of the future. He now has 19 TDs, 15 interceptions and has been sacked a league-high 59 times.

One of the latest issues is batted-down passes, which at 6-1 explains one reason Howell fell to the fifth round of the 2022 draft. ...

On the injury front. ... Running back Brian Robinson Jr. could return after missing the Rams game with an injured hamstring.

With Robinson out, the Commanders went with a three-man approach at running back. Antonio Gibson has served as the passing down back all season, but he became the early-down back and remained the two-minute-drill back.

Gibson ran the ball only four times and caught five passes. In the end, his stat line was not that different from what it usually is.

Rookie Chris Rodriguez Jr. also played significant snaps on early downs and in goal-line situations. He led the team in rushing attempts (10), gaining 35 yards. Despite all of the snaps at the goal line, he didn't end up with any touchdowns.

Jonathan Williams, who was activated off the practice squad, served as the team's third-down back.

Unless Robinson returns, expect a murky three-man committee that will make fantasy production unpredictable.

RBs: Brian Robinson Jr., Austin Ekeler, Chris Rodriguez
WRs: Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson, Dyami Brown, Jamison Crowder, Byron Pringle, Mitchell Tinsley
TEs: Logan Thomas, Cole Turner, John Bates