Team Notes week 17 2016

By Bob Harris
Bob Harris<

NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS AND OTHER GOOD STUFF

Directly from the desk of FlashUpdate Editor Bob Harris. The good; the bad; and yes. ... Even the Bears. There is no better way to jump start your weekend than browsing these always educational -- often irreverent -- team-by-team, Fantasy-specific offerings. ...
Access specific teams by clicking on a team name in the schedule appearing directly to your left or by clicking on a helmet below; return to the helmets by hitting the link labeled "Menu" following each teams notes. ...

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Arizona Cardinals

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2016

As ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss put it, "Another week, another record-setting game for David Johnson. ..."

Johnson's record-breaking season continued Saturday, when he etched himself into the Arizona Cardinals' record books three times.

He tied Hall of Famer Barry Sanders for the all-time record with a 15th straight game with 100 yards from scrimmage on the Cardinals' game-winning drive. He eclipsed the mark with a 13-yard catch and added a 33-yard reception that helped lead the Cardinals down the field for a 43-yard game-winning field goal by Chandler Catanzaro to give the Cardinals a 34-31 win over the Seahawks.

His first touchdown, which came on a 2-yard run in the first quarter, gave Johnson 18 total touchdowns on the season and broke the Cardinals' franchise record in that category. John David Crow held the record, scoring 17 in 1962. On that score, Johnson also tied Crow for the most rushing touchdowns in a season with 14 -- also set 54 years ago.

He broke that record early in fourth quarter.

A 1-yard run to put Arizona ahead 21-10 was Johnson's 15th rushing touchdown of the season, propelling him into first on that list.

Later in the fourth quarter, Johnson broke a 33-yard run that put him over 2,000 yards from scrimmage this season, the first time a Cardinal has eclipsed that mark. Johnson capped that possession with his third touchdown of the game on another 1-yard run, giving him 33 career touchdowns in the first 31 games of his career. Only three other players in NFL history have scored more touchdowns in their first 31 games than Johnson: Jim Brown (38), Gale Sayers (37) and Edgerrin James (34). Brown and Sayers are Hall of Famers.

Earlier in the week, Seattle linebacker K.J. Wright said he believed Johnson should be the league's offensive player of the year. Johnson now has 1,233 yards rushing and 841 yards receiving. Johnson needs 159 yards receiving in the season finale against Los Angeles to be the third player ever to have 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in the same season.

"It does really mean a lot," Johnson said of the records. "All the success is due to, tribute to, the guys up front and Carson Palmer believing in me and throwing me the ball or (Arians) putting me in those situations where I could help out the team."

As fantasy owners will attest, Johnson helped out a lot of teams this year. ...

Meanwhile, Larry Fitzgerald had four receptions against Seattle to give him 102 for the season, making him one of just seven players in history to record 100-plus catches in at least four different seasons. Only Brandon Marshall (6), Andre Johnson (5) and Wes Welker (5) have more 100-catch seasons than Fitzgerald.

He also passed Reggie Wayne (14,345) for ninth place on the NFL's all-time receiving yardage list.

Fitzgerald attempted his first pass of the season and it didn't go so well. Carson Palmer lateraled to the receiver, but Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett quickly was bearing down on him and Fitzgerald flung the ball well short of his intended target, Johnson.

"You know, I realized I'm a clean pocket passer," Fitzgerald said, jokingly. "I was asking Carson, 'How do you keep your eyes downfield when you see a guy barreling down on you?' I've never been in that position before. IU went form looking up to looking down and just tried to chuck it out there. It wasn't good."

In addition, as the Sports Xchange notes, J.J. Nelson continues to tear it up during the second-half of the season, as he now has caught six touchdowns in his last eight games. He had posted just two TD catches in his first 17 career games. Counting his rushing touchdown against Miami, Nelson has tallied seven touchdowns overall in his last eight games.

Against Seattle, had three receptions for 132 yards and a career-long, 80-yard touchdown catch. He has at least one TD in each of his last four games. ...

Catanzaro got some much-needed redemption with his game-winning, 43-yard field goal as time expired against the Seahawks. Of the four games where special teams cost the Cardinals a victory this season, he was largely responsible for three of them with missed kicks against the Patriots, the Seahawks in October, and the Dolphins.

He's gone through three different holders and two different snappers, which hasn't helped matters. But to come through in the clutch with his fourth game-winner in two years might have saved his job for next season.

"A lot of guys would have buckled by now," Palmer said. "What makes great kickers, in my experience and I don't know that much about it but it's like being a quarterback. When you throw an interception, you have to come back down the next time and throw a touchdown pass. That's the way I was brought into the game. It's one of the lessons that I learned early and a kicker has to do the same thing."

And finally. ... Head coach Bruce Arians could end up becoming the Cardinals' all-time leaders in wins at some point next season. With a victory on Saturday at Seattle, Arians posted his 40th career win with the Cardinals, breaking a tie with Jim Hanifan for third place on the club's all-time list. Up next for Arians is Don Coryell, who notched 42 wins from 1973-77 and Ken Whisenhunt, who tallied 49 wins from 2007-12

Considering they didn't have anything to play for against Seattle last week, don't expect the Cardinals to make any notable changes for this week's finale against the Rams.


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

Atlanta Falcons

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2016

The 10-5 Atlanta Falcons wrapped up their first NFC South title since 2012 with a 33-16 win over Carolina on Saturday, coupled with Tampa Bay's 31-24 loss to the Saints.

The Falcons, who won their fourth straight game in division play after losing the season opener to the Buccaneers, hadn't made the playoffs since the 2012 season and now are headed back in Dan Quinn's second season as head coach. The Falcons have won three straight overall.

Atlanta can clinch the No. 2 seed with a win Sunday against the Saints or a Seahawks loss or tie and a Lions loss or tie.

"It means a lot," Falcons right tackle Ryan Schraeder said upon hearing the news of the division crown. "I get to go out and play the game I love with my teammates for a chance to be great."

It certainly would be a great season if the Falcons are able to make it all the way to Houston to the Super Bowl. The odds of such happening might have increased after Seattle (9-5-1) lost to Arizona (6-8-1), meaning the Falcons now are the No. 2 seed in the NFC behind top-seeded Dallas.

The Falcons have to close out the season with a win over the rival Saints (7-8) next week at the Georgia Dome to secure a first-round bye.

The Falcons certainly look playoff-ready, with MVP candidate Matt Ryan playing at another level, Julio Jones getting healthier, and the young defense starting to put it all together. Ryan is 1-4 in the playoffs and looks to shake off any negative vibe coming from his postseason history.

"It's just another step," Jones said of the NFC South title. "We're not finished after we're NFC [South] champions. We're definitely not finished. We just keep our heads down and keep working."

Meanwhile, as the Associated Press suggested, "Maybe you too can catch a touchdown pass from Ryan. It's beginning to seem like everyone else."

Ryan has set an NFL single-season record by throwing TD passes to 13 different players.

Five of those players are tight ends, including Joshua Perkins and D.J. Tialavea, who caught TD passes on Saturday in a 33-16 win over Carolina, that helped the Falcons clinch their first division title since 2012.

"I can name all my tight ends," Ryan joked. "It's good to know your teammates."

"It shows he really trusts his training," Quinn said of Ryan, who came into the game with a league-best 114.8 passer rating. "It goes deeper than that, with the personnel staff to keep finding the right answers, the right guys."

Ryan's TD pass distribution this season: Taylor Gabriel (6 TD receptions), Jones (5), Mohamed Sanu (3), Jacob Tamme (3), Austin Hooper (3), Justin Hardy (3), Devonta Freeman (2), Tevin Coleman (2), Aldrick Robinson (2), Levine Toilolo (2), Patrick DiMarco (1), Perkins (1) and Tialavea (1).

The Falcons got 135 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown from Coleman and 88 yards from scrimmage from fellow running back Devonta Freeman on Saturday.

According to the Sports Xchange, it was the fourth time this season the two combined for more than 200 yards from scrimmage. Coleman's 55-yard touchdown run was the tandem's 18th score of the season, the most of any running back tandem in the league. The offensive line helped to power the rushing attack, which averaged 6.3 yards per carry as the Falcons rushed for 152 yards on 25 carries.

"You can see the genuine excitement they have for one another when they make plays," Quinn said. "Honestly, when either of them are in, the expectation for them making plays and taking care of things. ... Both of them were disappointed they had to put the ball on the ground last week and that was a real part of their intent, you could see how hard they ran today."

Of course, the Falcons didn't need Jones to go for 300 yards against the Panthers this time. So their star wide receiver was a little more mindful of saving himself for bigger games in the future.

Jones said the toe injury which has bothered him lately caused him to self-limit his snaps in Saturday's win over the Panthers, playing just 39 snaps and catching four passes for 60 yards.

"I was good throughout the whole game, but I was just trying to be careful," Jones told Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com. "I was just in and out, not trying to let that flame up. I wasn't [on a limit]. It was just how I felt. I'm not going to put myself in a situation to hurt the team. ...

"I just kept coming out. I just took myself out. It was nothing on [the coaches]. Like I said, I didn't want to put the team in a difficult situation while I'm out there on the field."

The Falcons would need Jones in some capacity this week against the Saints, so he can be closer to 100 percent later.

In addition, Hooper (knee) does not have a "long-term" injury, but did not play against the Panthers. According to ESPN's Adam Caplan, the rookie's injury is a sprained MCL. Quinn said he hopes to have him back for the regular season finale.

Gabriel (foot) was held out of Wednesday's practice while Jones (toe) was limited; I'll have more on the Falcons' walking wounded when Late-Breaking Updates commence early Thursday. ...

As Profootballtalk.com noted, the Falcons have the highest-scoring offense in the league, and kicker Matt Bryant is a big part of that.

The kicker was named NFC special teams player of the week after hitting several long field goals last week against the Panthers.

Bryant was 4-of-5 on field goals, getting one blocked. But he hit from 48, 50 and 51 yards, showing the kind of deep-ball ability that makes him fit in with his offensive teammates.

He's 33-of-36 on field goals this season. ...

One last note here. ... Ryan has completed 346 of 498 passes for 4,613 yards, 34 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He has a passer rating of 115.5.


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

Baltimore Ravens

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2016

As Associated Press sports writer David Ginsburg reminded readers, from the moment they arrived at training camp in July through the waning seconds of their game in Pittsburgh on Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens worked in unison to achieve one overriding goal: qualify for the playoffs.

A sobering 31-27 defeat to the Steelers ended the Ravens' bid to reach the postseason, and it was evident Monday that it's going to take a lot longer than 24 hours to ease the feeling of disappointment.

"We wanted to win the game," head coach John Harbaugh said. "When you put that much into it — heart, soul, effort, believe in one another, a lot of hard work — it's going to sting."

The Ravens (8-7) needed to beat both the Steelers and Cincinnati in the finale to win the AFC North. The first part of that equation seemed well in hand when Kyle Juszczyk scored on a gritty 10-yard run with 1:18 left for a 27-24 lead.

But Pittsburgh answered with the game-winning touchdown with 9 seconds to go, leaving Baltimore out of the playoffs for the third time in four years.

"Very disappointing," safety Lardarius Webb said afterward. "We worked our butts off all year to be at this point and have a chance."

There will plenty of time after the season for the Ravens to dissect what went wrong, determine who's to blame and decide which players (and coaches) won't be back.

For now, however, Baltimore must focus on playing one final game. The re-adjusted goal, like it or not, is to finish with a winning season.

"We do want to be 9-7. It's important to have one more win," Harbaugh said. "That's what we do this for, that's what it's all about, and our guys are going to be fired up to do it. I would never question their resiliency."

The team's ability to bounce back was tested much earlier this season, after Baltimore lost four straight to fall to 3-4.

The Ravens responded with a 21-14 win over Pittsburgh on Nov. 6, and they stayed in contention until the penultimate game of the season.

"We feel very excited about where we are as a football team," Harbaugh said. "I know we're a very good football team. That's evident in the way we play."

The Ravens put up a heck of a fight in a hostile environment, but couldn't close the deal.

"Our guys handled it very well. There's just no denying that," Harbaugh said. "(The Steelers) just made another play in the end when it was all said and done."

Harbaugh said he will use his starters against the Bengals (5-9-1), including linebacker Terrell Suggs and guard Marshal Yanda, both of whom have been playing through injuries.

But cornerback Jimmy Smith won't suit up, missing a third straight game with a high ankle sprain. The Ravens sure could have used him against Steelers receiver Antonio Brown, who had 10 catches for 96 yards and scored the game-winning touchdown.

Harbaugh was hoping to have Smith back for the playoffs. Naturally, the coach wasn't counting on losing to Pittsburgh.

"That's the nature of football and that's the nature of life," Harbaugh said. "We have a week of football left to play and we intend to make the most of it. I know all of our players feel the same way."

Steve Smith does. As ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley reported, Smith told reporters this will be his 219th and final game.

"Tough season highs and lows but we will not give up or play dead!," Smith wrote on his Instagram account. "One more Game, The game of heart, No quit."

Smith, 37, the oldest receiver the NFL, has not shown any signs of a major decline. Here is how he ranks statistically on the Ravens this season: 67 receptions (third); 765 yards receiving (second); five touchdown catches (first); and 12 catches over 20 yards (first).

In Sunday's loss to the Steelers, Smith finished with seven catches for 79 yards. He had one touchdown and a two-point conversion. Smith also moved past Isaac Bruce for 12th place on the NFL's all-time receptions list.

Smith initially announced the 2015 season would be his last one, but he changed his mind after suffering a season-ending Achilles injury in the middle of the season. Last month, Harbaugh said he would absolutely welcome back Smith if he changed his mind and wanted to play another season.

For now, the assumption is Smith will suit up for the final time Sunday.

"For Steve, it's going to be a big deal for him," Harbaugh said Monday. "But he's been that way all year. I think he'll approach it the same way he has all year -- as a pro. It'll be very meaningful, certainly. How could it not be?"

A few final notes of interest. ... The Ravens once again did not commit to the run but still finished with 122 yards on 26 total carries. NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted that -- as we've seen happen before, one week after Terrance West seemed to be taking over the lead role in this backfield, Kenneth Dixon jumps back into the mix. The rookie out-snapped West and out-produced him on the same number of touches, but it was Juszczyk who found his way into the end zone.

The biggest problem for the running backs is obvious: Baltimore has simply not been able to strike a balance on offense. ...

Tight end Crockett Gillmore has been able to practice after suffering a thigh injury, but he was inactive for the seventh consecutive game. Gillmore entered the season at the top of the depth chart but has had trouble staying on the field. He has caught eight passes for 71 yards with a touchdown.

As NFL.com's Matt Harmon pointed out, Dennis Pitta is unlikely to lose his job as the starting tight end in Baltimore, and we shouldn't expect his role to change next year either. Despite cracking 100 targets for the season, Pitta averages just 8.5 yards per reception. He mostly sticks near the line of scrimmage as Flacco's trusted security blanket.

And finally. ... Every year it seems there's a surprise firing in the NFL. Some have speculated that Harbaugh could be this year's candidate for a bolt-from-the-blue termination.

But a source told Profootballtalk.com's Mike Forio there's "no chance" Harbaugh will be let go by Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti. Via Hensley, Harbaugh quietly has received at some point a contract extension that gives him security beyond 2017. Previously, Harbaugh received a new contract prior to the 2013 season, after winning a Super Bowl.


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

Buffalo Bills

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2016

Appearing emotionally spent, Rex Ryan was left second guessing himself two days later over what went wrong in a loss that formally eliminated the Bills from playoff contention.

It's one that will likely go down as the defining moment of his two-year tenure as coach.

Because Ryan is no longer the head coach of the Buffalo Bills.

Buffalo announced Tuesday that Ryan and his twin brother Rob Ryan (Bills assistant head coach) were relieved of their duties. Offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn was named the team's interim head coach.

"I spoke with Rex earlier today and we mutually agreed that the time to part ways is now. These decisions are never easy. I want to take this opportunity to thank Rex for all his efforts and wish him all the best moving forward," Bills owner Terry Pegula said in a statement Tuesday.

"Kim and I and our entire Bills organization share in the same disappointment and frustration as our fans, but we remain committed to our goal of bringing a championship to Western New York.

"Anthony Lynn will serve as our interim head coach to lead us through the Jets game."

Ryan finished his first season 8-8, a record which he could have achieved again this year. The Bills (7-8) finish their 2016 campaign against Ryan's former team, the New York Jets, this weekend.

Ryan is now 61-66 as a head coach over eight total seasons. His two playoff appearances with the Jets in his first two seasons (2009 and 2010) stand alone as his only trips to the postseason in his time in charge. The Bills are pivoting toward the offseason early in an effort to find their next head coach.

That starts with a look at Lynn, who was mentioned by NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport as a potential head coaching candidate elsewhere this offseason. Lynn, 48, has been a running backs coach in the NFL since 2003. He was elevated to offensive coordinator of the Bills earlier this season when the team let go of Greg Roman.

But the changes won't end there.

As Adam Schefter of ESPN first reported, the Bills, who will bench Tyrod Taylor in favor of E.J. Manuel. Per Schefter, the reason is not performance related.

Even though the Bills did not win Saturday, Taylor bounced back from a shaky first quarter to post statistically his best game of the season. Although he got a boost from overtime, it was the first time Taylor -- who completed 26 of 39 passes for 329 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions -- surpassed 300 passing yards in a game since joining the Bills.

The problem, however, is that Taylor's contract calls for the Bills to make a decision about picking up an option that would guarantee him over $30 million and that money would become guaranteed if Taylor suffered a serious injury against the Jets.

As a result, they won't be running the risk on being on the hook for a quarterback that their next coach may not want at a salary that they may not want to pay.

As Profootballtalk.com notes, Taylor's second season as the team's starter wound up looking a lot like his first, although whether it is enough to build the offense around for years to come is still a question mark. His fate will be one of many things that the Bills will be talking about with the candidates to replace Ryan as their head coach.

In a related note. ... The team announced on Tuesday that general manager Doug Whaley will be leading the search for Ryan's successor.

It will be the third head coach that Whaley has had at least a hand in hiring since joining the Bills. He was working under former GM Buddy Nix when they hired Doug Marrone in 2013 and became general manager a short time later, which left him in charge when Ryan was hired before the 2015 season.

Whaley had his contract extended after last season and shortly after reports of friction in his relationship with Ryan. That subject has bubbled up now and then during this season The Bills' decision to fire Ryan and have Whaley lead the search for his successor indicates which party they thought had a better chance to move the team in the right direction. ...

One last note on this. ... Bleacher Reports Jason Cole advised his Twitter followers that based on people Pegula talks to regularly, the top candidates to replace Ryan are Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin or Tom Coughlin with Lynn staying as offensive coordinator. ...

Other notes of interest. ... The No. 1 rushing team in the league had another huge day as LeSean McCoy gained 128 yards, Mike Gillislee 91 and Taylor 60.

The Bills averaged 5.6 yards per carry and 14 of their 30 first downs were achieved via the rush as Buffalo finished with 272 yards, the fourth time it has gone past 200 yards this season.

McCoy topped 100 yards for the seventh time this season and scored his 13th touchdown. Gillislee averaged 8.3 yards per attempt. The 91 yards were a season high for Gillislee, who also has seven rushing TDs.

Tight end Charles Clay set season highs with eight catches, 85 yards and two touchdowns. According to the Xchange, it was arguably his best game as a Bill and came against his former team.

Sammy Watkins enjoyed his first 100-yard receiving game of the season. He had 154 yards on seven catches, one of which was a 38-yard TD.

McCoy (illness) and Watkins (foot) didn't practice Wednesday; I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as needed. ...

And finally. ... Dan Carpenter missed two field goals, including one in overtime. Carpenter has now missed six field goals and five extra points this season.


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

Carolina Panthers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2016

Ron Rivera wants to get through Carolina's season finale at Tampa Bay on New Year's Day before he reflects on what went wrong in 2016.

The Panthers coach on Monday, however, did drop a couple of hints that changes will be coming in 2017.

"You have to evolve. Things are going to change after six seasons," Rivera said. "When this is all done, we'll take a look back at some things and see what we've got to do as we go forward."

Among those in need of some change? Cam Newton.

"He's getting older and he's going to be a different style player," Rivera noted.

Newton hasn't been himself this season.

Whether it has been his up and down play, his dress code fiasco or his beef with officiating, there's frequently been something to do with the star quarterback in a season that has been one to forget for Carolina. He had one of his worst games Saturday in a loss to Atlanta, completing just 18 of 43 attempts for 198 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

In the first half, Newton had a passer rating of 3.7.

NFL.com's Nick Shook doesn't believe we can overlook the shoulder injury he's been battling through, which could have been responsible for his afternoon filled with errant passes and below-average play. Ron Rivera thinks that might be the case, saying the injury -- which the Panthers have been reluctant to disclose additional information on -- "probably" had a negative effect on Newton's play.

Cam won't accept that crutch.

"It's all right. There's no need to dwell on something," Newton told the Charlotte Observer. "I'm not gonna blame nothing but my production. Production hasn't been solid, and that's me. I can't point to something and say, well, this is the reason more so than it just hasn't been carrying over to the game."

Shook went on to suggest that Denver created the blueprint to bottle up Brett Favre back in Super Bowl XXXII, and soon, the rest of the league was playing copycat to limit the Hall of Famer. Perhaps the Broncos have done the same to Newton, who has seen more pressure and frequent hits from defenders in 2016 in the aftermath of Super Bowl 50, a game in which he was almost constantly harassed by defenders.

Newton didn't get help in that game from his receivers, whose drops short-circuited Carolina's formerly potent offense. Newton got a quick reminder of that loss in Week 1 of the 2016 season, in which Denver repeatedly hit the quarterback, starting a string of games in which he was abused by defenders. The increased pressure and contact even had Newton calling for closer officiating, and might have been a sign the opposing defenses were getting into his head.

That kind of harassment, the off-field drama and the weight of attempting to repeat as NFC champions has taken a toll on Newton, who said "it's time for guys to have a sabbatical."

Fortunately for the Panthers, they're a week away from the offseason.

Meanwhile, ESPN.com's David Newton believes Saturday's 33-16 loss highlighted much of what has been wrong with the Panthers (6-9) a year after having an NFL-best 15-1 regular-season record and ultimately going to the Super Bowl. Specifically, Cam Newton's poor play and the offense, in general, often looked broken with dropped passes, missed assignments and miscommunication on routes that made Newton look even worse.

Now, for the first time since 2012, the Panthers are out of the playoffs. ...

Other notes of interest. ... The Panthers fell behind quickly in this one, limiting opportunities in the ground game. As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, while Jonathan Stewart showed us his ceiling last week, he reminded us in Week 16 that his floor is frighteningly low. If he doesn't get into the end zone, he's essentially useless in fantasy. ...

Rivera said wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin played one of his best game of the season, catching four passes for 63 yards and touchdown. It's been a trying season for the third-year pro, coming back from a torn ACL that kept him out of last season while also battling shoulder and back injuries.

"This was probably the best week he had," Rivera said. "It really was and that is what he is capable of. I would love to see it every week."

Tight end Greg Olsen just doesn't seem to be slowing down.

Olsen grabbed a 17-yard completion from Newton to become the first NFL tight end to record three straight 1,000-yard seasons.

"It encompasses a lot of things that I have tried to pride myself on," said Olsen, who led the team with 59 yards on 12 receptions, despite wearing a bulky brace on his injured right elbow. "I'm never the flashiest guy or anything like that, but just try to be productive."

Legendary tight ends have just missed the mark. Tony Gonzalez spent 17 years with the Chiefs and Falcons. He had four 1,000-yard seasons overall. The Cowboys' Jason Witten had a chance for three straight, but fell short by 58 yards in 2011.

The Patriots' Rob Gronkowski was on pace this season for his third straight with 1,000 yards. Injuries cut his season short at a total of 540.

On the injury front, Rivera said he concerns about the availability wide receiver Devin Funchess (knee) for Sunday's game at Tampa Bay. Funchess played a season-low 15 snaps after tweaking his right knee in the first half of Saturday's loss.

Funchess did not practice Wednesday; also sitting out were Newton (shoulder), Stewart (foot) and Olsen (elbow).

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

Luke Kuechly will not play in the regular season finale. Rivera confirmed the decision during a radio interview with Pat Kirwin of "Movin' the Chains" on SiriusXM.

The star linebacker has not played since suffering a concussion in Week 11. He cleared the protocol on December 17 and expressed his desire to return to action when he met with the media.

"Going forward, it's what's best for him," Rivera said, "it's what's best for the organization."

And finally. ... According to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com, Panthers special teams coach Bruce DeHaven has passed away at the age 0f 68.

DeHaven moved into an advisory role with the Panthers this season as he focused on his health. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2015 and continued to coach the team last season amidst ongoing treatments.


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

Chicago Bears

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2016

As ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson noted, "Many praise John Fox for motivating his Chicago Bears no matter the circumstances.

"The narrative died on Saturday. ..."

Fox's team committed countless blunders as the Washington Redskins bulldozed the Bears 41-21. Name the mistake, and it probably happened to the home team -- busted coverages, blown assignments, questionable play calling, poor decision-making, missed tackles, turnovers, untimely penalties ... the list keeps going.

The effort was there, but mentally the Bears (3-12) looked unprepared from the opening kickoff.

The good news for the Chicago Bears: Only one game remains.

They will try to finish a rough season on a strong note when they visit Minnesota. Then they can address a long list of issues after taking a big step backward.

"As a team, we don't care what our record is, we might be losing, but we're going to come back and fight and give it our best shot," running back Jordan Howard said. "We don't have a 'don't care' mentality. We are all going to fight to the finish."

A 41-21 loss to Washington on Saturday was as ugly as any this season. It guaranteed the Bears (3-12) will at best match their worst record in 14 years and left open the possibility they will equal their lowest win total in a non-strike year in more than four decades.

Those are striking numbers for a team that insists it is better than the record indicates and it is closer to a turnaround than people realize.

Still, what is the future of quarterback Jay Cutler? And there is no shortage of holes on the roster. Changes might also be in store for the coaching staff.

The fact Chicago was brutalized by injuries, with 19 players on injured reserve, sure didn't help.

Even so, six of the Bears' losses were by a touchdown or less despite all the lineup juggling. Before getting dominated by Washington, they dropped the previous two games by three points, even wiping out a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter against Green Bay last week.

"I think better days are going to come," head coach John Fox said. "We see improvement. It's not maybe in our record, but I think we're closer than people think."

The Bears went 6-10 last year in Fox's first season in Chicago. The best they can hope for now is to finish 4-12 and match their worst record since 2002. If they lose to the Vikings, they'll finish with three wins in a non-strike year for the first time since the 1973 team went 3-11.

That's not what the Bears envisioned. And even some of the bright spots are looking a little dimmer these days.

A defense that came in ranked ninth in the NFL gave up a season-high in yards for the second straight week, with the Redskins going for 478 after Green Bay finished with 451.

Meanwhile, quarterback Matt Barkley had his worst game. He threw five interceptions to match the second-highest total in franchise history — the most by a Chicago quarterback since Cutler threw five against San Francisco in 2009. Barkley has been picked off eight times over the past two games. That gives him 12 interceptions and eight touchdowns over six appearances and five starts. It's fair to wonder if he's playing his way out of Chicago just when it looked like he was making a case for a roster spot with the Bears or another team next season.

"I think I was standing in my way today, just in my own head, of trying to do too much and trying to win the game when we were down," Barkley said. "You just gotta treat it as a 0-0 game, make smart decisions with the ball and give our guys a chance to win."

So, as Dickerson noted, Barkley's emergence is a positive story, but he is a backup. If Barkley -- a restricted free agent -- returns next year and has to play because of injuries, then so be it. The Bears can do/have done much worse.

Barkley is a No. 2 or No. 3 in a perfect NFL world. The Bears have to do better at the league's most important position.

Other notes of interest. ... Cameron Meredith has taken over the Bears receiving yardage lead from Alshon Jeffery after having his team-best fourth 100-yard game this season. Meredith had nine catches for 135 yards Saturday.

Jeffery has 827 yards this season.

"I wanted to become a starter in the league," Meredith said. "I got an opportunity to do that so I can check that off the list.

"A thousand yards, getting close there. There are little step-by-steps to take to being a great player in this league. I'm just trying to take one week at a time. ..."

According to the Sports Xchange, Howard's 119 yards on 18 carries for a 6.6-yard average proved once again how insignificant the running game can be in the pass-heavy NFL. Howard probably will become the team's all-time leading rookie rusher and it's made virtually no impact on a 3-12 record.

He has, however, had an impact on his fantasy teams. It's something that will be reflected in his draft value next year. ...

Tight end Daniel Brown (shoulder) left Saturday's game and did not return. His status is day to day and it's uncertain if he'll be able to play Sunday. Rookie Ben Braunecker and veteran Logan Paulsen would be Brown's replacement. Running back Ka'Deem Carey (shoulder) did not dress for Saturday's game due to an injury sustained the previous week, and his status for Sunday's game is uncertain.

Linebacker Leonard Floyd (concussion) left Saturday's game and Monday there was no word on his medical condition other than a statement that he is in the NFL concussion protocol. It is Floyd's second concussion in five weeks.


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

Cincinnati Bengals

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2016

As ESPN.com's Katherine Terrell framed it: "The Cincinnati Bengals aren't walking to the finish line. They're practically crawling. ..."

Head coach Marvin Lewis talked about finishing the season on a high note to create some momentum for next season.

That momentum ground to a halt in NRG Stadium on Saturday night in a 12-10 loss to the Houston Texans.

Bengals kicker Randy Bullock, who was signed late in the season after the team cut Mike Nugent, didn't fare much better than his predecessor, missing a 43-yard kick as time expired that would have won the game.

What was billed in the offseason as a potentially important prime-time matchup instead became a showcase for the Bengals' struggles on offense. The Bengals (5-9-1), who were eliminated from the playoffs last week, showed exactly why they're missing the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

The Bengals were without their two best offensive weapons, having made a last-minute decision not to bring back wide receiver A.J. Green. Tight end Tyler Eifert also sat out this game with a back injury, and guard Clint Boling didn't play, either.

As Terrell put it, "What followed was not pretty."

For three quarters, the Bengals' offense went nowhere. Only Brandon LaFell's 86-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter gave the Bengals any signs of life, and while Margus Hunt's blocked PAT opened the door for a game-winning drive, Cincinnati couldn't finish the job.

The Bengals essentially used the game as an experiment, starting Andrew Whitworth at guard and Cedric Ogbuehi at left tackle. They threw to rookie Cody Core early and often, targeting him 12 times for a total of 35 yards in the first half before abandoning that idea completely in the second half.

If the Bengals were looking for answers in a modified lineup, they aren't going to find any. The same problems they had on offense in September were the same problems displayed on Saturday night.

Ogbuehi, a 2015 first-rounder who was benched as a right tackle earlier in the season, struggled on the left side as well. On the right side, 2015 second-round tackle Jake Fisher didn't fare much better. Quarterback Andy Dalton was sacked three times, bringing his season total to 40.

While LaFell's touchdown was probably one of his biggest highlights of the season, he hasn't been reliable from game to game. The Bengals still haven't found someone to step up on offense outside of Green, and on Saturday the run game was as bad as it has been all season, registering just 50 yards on 19 carries. Cincinnati still doesn't have a reliable kicker.

Jeremy Hill, hindered by a sore knee, rushed only seven times for 8 yards, and although he made several plays to help drive down the field toward the end of the game, Rex Burkhead didn't fare much better for most of the game. He finished with 12 attempts for 42 yards and caught four passes for 25 yards.

The bright side? The defense played well for three quarters, taking advantage of Tom Savage's inexperience and sharing the wealth on sacks, with four players getting in the sack column.

STill, as Terrell summed up: "The story of the 2016 Bengals has been their inability to put together a complete game. And while there were few answers to be found on Saturday night, it's clear they have a lot of work to do in the offseason. ..."

Meanwhile, the Bengals placed Eifert and Boling on the injured-reserve list Monday.

Eifert missed this season's first six games due to an ankle injury and a back strain. He finished the season with 23 receptions for 394 yards and five touchdowns. Boling started every game prior to last week.

The Bengals could wait until later in the week to make moves, which might be dependent on availability of players at certain positions for Sunday's season finale vs. the Ravens.

One who will be unavailable is Green.

Lewis announced on Wednesday that Green won't play against the Ravens this Sunday, a decision that comes as no surprise given how they chose to handle things last time out.

Green said last week that he would play in Week 16 against the Texans, but wound up missing a fifth straight game due to a hamstring injury.

That decision didn't come to light until the day of the game and it didn't sit well with Green. Bob Holtzman of ESPN reported that Green was held out at the behest of team ownership because they didn't want to risk Green making the injury worse with the Bengals out of contention for a playoff spot.

Green, who is expected to be healthy when the Bengals return to work next year, has 66 receptions for 964 yards and four touchdowns in 10 games. He was hurt in the Nov. 20 game against Buffalo while making a sliding catch near the sideline on the first series. The injury was first described as a strain but later Green said it was a "50-percent tear."

And finally. ... Lewis is under contract for next year, and he won't be voluntarily walking away from it.

In response to a report from former Washington tight end and current team employee Chris Cooley that Lewis is planning to retire, Ed Werder of ESPN reports that Lewis will not be leaving on his own.

According to Profootablltalk.com's Mike Florio, the situation suggests a game of contractual chicken, with owner Mike Brown potentially inclined to move on from Lewis but not inclined to pay him not to coach the team in 2017. So Brown hopes Lewis will walk away on his own, forfeiting his right to be paid next year.

As PFT explained it last month, it's believed Lewis hopes to coach long enough to allow his son, Marcus, to establish a foothold in the profession. Marcus Lewis, who currently serves as a defensive assistant/quality control for the Bengals, is in his third year with the team.

Mike Brown is notoriously careful with money, which makes a parting of the ways after the 2016 season less likely, since he'd have to pay Lewis not to be the coach and pay someone else to handle the job. It also makes local chatter of Lewis leaving on his own somewhat understandable, even if it's simply the product of wishful thinking.


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

Cleveland Browns

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2016

Hue Jackson wants more of this feeling.

Coming off Saturday's emotional 20-17 win over the Chargers -- a victory that saved the Browns from a winless season -- Cleveland's head coach pointed to the triumph as a jumping-off point for the franchise.

"This might be the start of something really good for us," Jackson said Monday, per Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer.

Jackson has grown emotional more than once this season, but Saturday was different. Instead of facing the mounting pressure of going 0-16, the first-year Browns coach stood with his players in the afterglow of their first win.

Veteran tackle Joe Thomas was seen wiping tears from his eyes as the team shouted at Jackson: "We love you, coach!"

Barely able to speak, Jackson quietly pumped his fist, whispering to his charges: "I'm proud of you."

Asked if he saw Thomas, the consummate pro, shedding tears, Jackson acknowledged: "I cried like a baby with him, to be honest with you."

Of course, a loss to the Steelers on Sunday would still make this the ugliest season in Browns history, but one that comes with the hint of a silver lining: This time around, the entire organization believes in their head coach.

Instead of heading toward another top-to-bottom blow-up, the Browns are poised to dig into Year 2 of their rebuilding plan with a bushel of high draft picks and a leader in Jackson who has weathered this storm admirably.

It's a start. Where the Browns go from here will be fascinating to watch.

Meanwhile, San Francisco's win later in the day means the Browns still have the first pick in the draft. Cleveland and San Francisco had been in contention for the pick, and for a while Saturday it appeared the Browns might have won themselves into the second pick -- depending on tie-breakers of course.

But when the 49ers won for the first time since Week 1, it gave them one more win than the Browns and put the Browns in position to keep the top pick.

It all could change in the final weekend of course and the news on Saturday wasn't all good.

Robert Griffin III was taken out of the huddle and to the sideline with 10:30 left and was diagnosed with a concussion on Saturday.

Griffin was hit high by linebacker Korey Toomer as he was being tackled by Darius Philon. Griffin returned to the huddle, but it appeared officials signaled for Cleveland trainers to check on Griffin.

He was taken to the sideline and trotted into the locker room soon after with trainers to be checked for a concussion.

Cody Kessler replaced Griffin for the remainder of the game. Griffin completed 17 of 25 passes for 164 yards in the Browns' first victory of the season, but was also sacked seven times.

The head injury will likely force him to miss the season finale Jan. 1 at the Pittsburgh Steelers. Kessler would start in his place.

It would be an unfortunate ending for Griffin, who missed 11 games this season with a fractured left shoulder he suffered Sept. 11 in the regular-season opener and returned to start the past three games. With a $750,000 roster bonus due to Griffin on March 11, his future with the Browns is uncertain.

Griffin has thrown 107 passes in four starts this season and still hasn't thrown for a touchdown.

"He made some plays," coach Hue Jackson said of Griffin. "He made some plays with his legs, made some plays with his arm. He has to continue to grow that way. In the second half, we got slowed down a little bit, and I think he can still do some things better, but he did show me some things today. He has to keep working. We all have to keep working."

Kessler went 2-of-3 passing for 11 yards with a rating of 72.9. He took two sacks.

Kessler was thrilled to see Griffin improve to 1-3 as a starter this season.

"Robert played a great game," Kessler said. "He did such a good job, and I told him after the game, ‘I was happy I could come in there and fortunate enough to finish it off for you.' He put us in a great position to win that game."

Griffin was not practicing Wednesday; I'll have more on the quarterback situation via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...

Other notes of interest. ... With scoring runs of 8 and 4 yards, running back Isaiah Crowell recorded his fourth career multi-touchdown game and ran his TD total to seven. His 19 rushing touchdowns are the third most by a Brown in his first three seasons, trailing Jim Brown (40) and Kevin Mack (22).

Duke Johnson caught two passes for 21 yards, giving him 514 receiving yards. He became the first Browns running back to total 500 receiving yards in his first two seasons and the third in team history to do it in back-to-back seasons, joining Dub Jones (1951-52) and Earnest Byner (1987-88).

Johnson left late in the game with an ankle injury that bears watching this week; he was not practicing Wednesday. ...

Wide receiver Terrelle Pryor caught three passes against the Chargers and now has 70 on the season. Only three players in team history have had more productive seasons Josh Gordon with 87 in 2013, Kevin Johnson with 84 in 2001 and Braylon Edwards with 80 in 2007.

The difference between the other three and Pryor is that this is his first season as a wide receiver after converting from quarterback. He played against the Chargers with torn ligaments in the knuckle at the base of his right middle finger and plans on playing against the Steelers on Sunday.

"I owe it to our organization to go out there and give it my best," Pryor said. "I owe my teammates that. It's important to me, no matter the circumstance, that I go out there and get that done."

Pryor said the finger will be surgically repaired soon after the season ends.

Gary Barnidge caught five passes against the Chargers. That ties for his second most productive day of the season. He caught six passes against the Bengals on Oct. 23 and seven against the Redskins Oct. 2.


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

Dallas Cowboys

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2016

As ESPN.com's Todd Archer suggested, if Jason Garrett chooses to sit some starters Sunday against the Eagles, the coach will feel pretty good about how his offense is playing entering the playoffs.

The Cowboys dismantled the Detroit Lions 42-21 Monday night, showing the offensive diversity that should make them the most feared team in the NFC.

Dak Prescott had his fourth game of the season with three touchdown passes and completed 15 of 20 passes for 212 yards. Ezekiel Elliott had two touchdown runs and finished with 80 yards on 12 carries. Things went so well he did not get a fourth-quarter carry. Dez Bryant matched a season high with two touchdown catches and threw a touchdown pass to Jason Witten.

As a result, the Cowboys have won 13 games in a single season for just the third time in franchise history. In 1992, they won 13 games before winning Super Bowl XXVII, starting a dynasty. In 2007, they won 13 before losing to the New York Giants in the divisional round, missing a potential championship window.

This could be the start of something great, especially if the offense clicks as it did from the middle of the second quarter through the early part of the fourth quarter Monday.

Trailing 21-14 with 7:40 left in the first half, the Cowboys scored on four straight true possessions. The only non-scoring drive was a one-play, end-of-half run by Elliott.

After an early-December hiccup against the Minnesota Vikings (17 points) and New York Giants (7 points), the Cowboys made it look as easy as it looked earlier in the season.

Prescott threw his first touchdown pass to Bryant, who made a difficult catch seem easy. Prescott threw his second touchdown pass to Bryant on a back-shoulder throw from 19 yards out with 12:12 left in the fourth quarter to give the Cowboys a 42-21 lead.

Elliott showed his speed to the corner on a 1-yard run the way he did on a 55-yard scoring run in the first quarter. It was his 15th rushing touchdown of the season. Only Emmitt Smith has had more in a season in team history. (Smith surpassed that mark three times with single-season totals of 18, 21 and 25 touchdowns).

Elliott scored two touchdowns against the Lions, giving him 16 this season. He passed Herschel Walker (14 in 1986) to establish a team rookie record for most total scores in a season.

On the next drive, Terrance Williams caught three straight passes for 55 yards. He had eight games without that many catches or yards in a game. The drive ended with Bryant taking a flip from Prescott on a reverse and floating a pass to Witten for his 63rd career touchdown catch, fourth-most in NFL history by a tight end.

Bryant became the first Cowboy since Danny White in 1985 to throw and catch a touchdown pass in the same game.

The Cowboys' fourth straight touchdown drive started with an 18-yard run by Darren McFadden, last year's leading rusher playing in just his second game of the season, and ended with Prescott's second TD to Bryant. WR Cole Beasley was the go-to guy on that drive with two first-down catches.

As Archer went on to understate, what makes the Cowboys difficult to defend is their multiplicity. If defenses want to stack the line, Prescott can beat a defense deep or with a midrange game. If defenses want to play coverage, the line can dominate with Elliott, the league's leading rusher.

Whether or not Garrett plays his starters for a full game next week, Monday's win over the Lions was the night they got their groove back.

But don't expect Tony Romo to get his feet wet against the Eagles this weekend. Owner and general manager Jerry Jones does not want Romo to take a snap in Sunday's Week 17 finale.

"Because I don't like the circumstance it would come under, which would be injury," Jones said before stepping on to the elevator to his suite after the game.

Prescott will start against the Eagles, and it is possible the team could activate all three quarterbacks, with Romo and Mark Sanchez backing him up.

Jones has said he does not believe Romo needs a few game snaps to shake off the rust after not playing in a regular-season contest since Thanksgiving last year. He does not want Romo to play behind an offensive line that could have two backups playing meaningful snaps.

He said there was no plan to play Romo on Monday against the Lions.

"We don't feel like that any game we'd get for him that him stepping out there running a few plays or series would be worth the risk," Jones said.

The only time Romo had not seen the field in any sort of role was during his rookie season in 2003, when he was the No. 3 quarterback behind Quincy Carter and Chad Hutchinson.

Jones believes Prescott needs all the work possible, even with the success the rookie has had. Prescott has 23 touchdown passes and just four interceptions and has thrown for 3,630 yards, fifth most in NFL history by a rookie. His 13 wins tie Ben Roethlisberger for the most by a rookie in NFL history.

"Look at what Dak Prescott learned tonight and what's now in his computer that wasn't there before tonight in terms of working with Dez in terms of executing the offense," Jones said. "With him being a rookie, we really need all these reps he can get, including any reps we get this week and next week, because we want him to be as educated and as well-prepared and have as much as experience as he can when we get in the playoffs."

"I want to play every game," Prescott said. "I want to keep the momentum going. Any reps I can get is making myself better."

For what it's worth, Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports there's a chance the Cowboys would activate third quarterback Mark Sanchez this weekend, keeping Romo tucked safety away behind glass in the event of a playoff injury.

The Cowboys have sufficient injuries on both lines to make giving Sanchez a jersey a possibility.

Left tackle Tyron Smith left Monday night's game with a knee injury that Jones indicated wasn't particularly serious after his team beat the Lions, but it looks like it will be enough to keep him out of Week 17.

Garrett said defensive linemen Terrell McClain is also expected to miss practice Wednesday after hurting his ankle against Detroit.


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

Denver Broncos

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2016

According to ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold, the Broncos will start their work on the 2017 season this week as they prepare for a regular-season finale with no playoff trip on the docket.

And that could mean a bit of a youth movement here and there on the depth chart as the Broncos take a look at some of their younger players.

Including at quarterback.

Head coach Gary Kubiak said on Monday that he wasn't ready to name either Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch the starting quarterback for Sunday's game against the Raiders.

He's reportedly made that call, although it is one that will allow him to take a look at both quarterbacks in the team's final game of the season.

Mike Klis of 9News.com reports, via a player source, that the Broncos will stick with Siemian as their starter in Week 17 and that Lynch will also see playing time. Siemian has started 13 games this season and Lynch has started twice when injuries kept Siemian out of the lineup.

As a first-round pick selected this year with the knowledge that it might be a while before he was ready to play, it would seem to be almost certain that Lynch will be back with the Broncos next year. Siemian's spot may not be as secure in the event the Broncos decide to bring in a veteran from elsewhere in hopes of improving an offense that collapsed along with Denver's playoff hopes over the last few weeks.

Playing Sunday in a driving rain at times, against a Kansas City Chiefs team still in the hunt for a division title, in a stadium where the Broncos are 3-14 in December, Siemian finished a shaky 17-of-43 passing for 183 yards with an interception on the game's last play.

The Broncos' lone touchdown drive went for all of 6 yards as they rushed for just 63 yards and punted seven times. He failed to find Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, completing just four of 11 passes targeted for his top two receivers. Just seven of Siemian's 17 completions were to wide receivers, and without a vertical or outside passing game, the Broncos couldn't move the football.

The result made it the first time since 1966 that the Broncos have scored 10 or fewer points in three consecutive games.

"That was obviously not one of his best outings," Kubiak said Monday of Siemian. "That's a great experience for him. That's as tough a place as there is in football to go play as a quarterback."

But as Klis put it, "This is not an indictment on Siemian."

With the exception of Sunday's game, Siemian earned the Broncos' No. 1 quarterback job. But if Lynch isn't ready to play in a meaningless regular-season finale against the Raiders, then public perception will be the Broncos should have considered selecting someone else with that first-round pick.

Even if Lynch doesn't play well against the Raider, any experience he gets, good or bad, only figures to make him better.

Klis went on to suggest that even as he faded in the final week or so, Siemian was still the Broncos' most pleasant surprise this year. He has thrown for nearly 3,200 yards in 13 games and recorded nearly twice as many touchdowns (16) and interceptions (9).

But the Broncos' offense scored just two touchdowns in their previous three games – on drives of 6 yards and 26 yards.

And Siemian's banged up body doesn't need to endure any more punishment in a meaningless game.

In Lynch's start Dec. 4 in Jacksonville, he finished 10-of-24 for 104 yards, and while he avoided a turnover in the Broncos' win, he looked unsettled much of the time against a team with far less to play for than the Raiders will on Sunday.

Asked if there were drawbacks to either playing Lynch or holding him out Sunday, Kubiak said, "There's no drawbacks to anything. ... We'll see, we'll see what happens."

Kubiak added he would consider playing some young players at other positions as well depending on the Broncos' injury situation through the coming week.

To that end, Kubiak said tight ends Virgil Green and A.J. Derby, as well as safety T.J. Ward -- none of whom played against the Chiefs -- still were in concussion protocol. Cornerback Kayvon Webster, the Broncos' special teams captain, now is in concussion protocol as well after suffering a concussion against the Chiefs.

Defensive end Derek Wolfe (neck) also is being evaluated this week after he left Sunday's loss just before halftime. Kubiak said Wolfe injured his neck "in a different spot" than the neck injury he was getting treatment for last week.

I will, of course, be following up on the quarterback and injury situations via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

One last note here. ... Devontae Booker, Juwan Thompson and Justin Forsett averaged 4.4 yards per carry, but just three of their 13 attempts moved the chains. Booker was responsible for one of three Broncos' giveaways when he held the ball out, allowing for an easy strip and recovery for the Chiefs in the fourth quarter.


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

Detroit Lions

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2016

The Detroit Lions came into Monday night with a chance to clinch a playoff berth and show they were true NFC contenders.

According to ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein, they displayed one thing in their loss to the Dallas Cowboys: They aren't ready for prime time.

The second half of the Lions' 42-21 loss to the NFC top seed in front of a national television audience proved that. This was a game that mattered a whole deal to Detroit. It would have given the team its second playoff berth in three seasons. It would have almost certainly ensured that Lions coach Jim Caldwell would return for another season.

It appears that's changed and it's now fair to wonder if Caldwell could be down to his final game with the team.

Caldwell danced around that subject Tuesday, and for now team brass remains mum about his future as the Lions prepare for a game against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday that will decide the NFC North.

"It's all about the team," Caldwell said. "It's the team, the team, the team, period. Coaches don't worry about themselves or anything of that nature. This is a big game for our entire organization. It's huge."

At one point this season, Caldwell looked like he might be a viable candidate for NFL Coach of the Year. He helped dig the Lions out from a 1-3 start and has had them alone in first place or tied atop the division for more than a month despite a dearth of playmakers on both sides of the ball.

But the Lions also have lost their last two games, on the road to the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys, and another defeat Sunday would likely mean they miss the playoffs after holding a two-game lead in the division with three weeks to play.

Caldwell has a 27-20 record in Detroit, the best winning percentage (.574) among Lions coaches in the modern era, and led the team to the playoffs in his first season in 2014.

However, complicating matters is the fact that the general manager who hired him (Martin Mayhew) was fired last fall and Caldwell has one season left on his original four-year contract.

Caldwell declined to say what if anything has been conveyed to him about his job security, or what he needs to do in the coming weeks to return for a fourth season. But he said he understands why questions about his future are being asked even with his team in playoff contention.

If the Lions win Sunday, they'll host a playoff game for the first time in 23 years. If they tie, they'll be in as the sixth seed and second wild card. If they lose to the Packers, they'll need Washington to lose to the New York Giants in order to make the playoffs.

"I think the job questions come no matter what in our business," Caldwell said. "That's just kind of the way it is. They happen to you when you're winning it all, they happen to you when you're struggling. That's just kind of the nature of the business so you have to understand that they're going to come. But our real focus is on this ballgame, trying to get ready."

In Dallas, Matthew Stafford, who had played smart football for much of the season, appeared to force some passes and make bad reads. It didn't help that he was pummeled like he had the Lions' 2014 and 2015 offensive lines blocking for him instead of the one that had mostly held together well this season.

The Lions' coaching staff also left Stafford in down 21 points late in the fourth quarter, with him being hit nine times by Dallas' suddenly vicious defense.

But the coaching issues went beyond that.

Detroit went away from its most productive offensive game plan for no real reason. Zach Zenner had 10 carries for 64 yards in the first half, averaging 6.4 yards per carry for a run game that had been invisible for weeks.

He touched the ball only twice in the second half when it mattered, despite looking like the best back Detroit has had since Ameer Abdullah got hurt in Week 2.

After the game, Caldwell said "things change" regarding why Zenner had only two second-half carries, noting that the Lions were adjusting to what they saw, which was "a little bit more pass than run." Yet the Lions seemed uninterested in trying to beat Dallas the way they had so many other teams, with sustained drives that involved moving the chains incrementally.

Zenner had been a big part of that in the first half.

All in all, it was a meltdown by the Lions, who looked overmatched against Dallas.

Detroit has now lost two consecutive games and might be in a win-or-season-over situation in less than a week against its biggest rival, Green Bay, at home.

And it left the Lions searching for answers in a game that could have sealed a playoff berth. And it opened the door to even more questions. ...

Other notes of interest. ... While Dwayne Washington is the more explosive option in the backfield, Zenner could remain the starter for Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers if Theo Riddick (wrist) can't play. Zenner is solid in pass protection and typically ball secure, though he did lose a goal-line fumble against the New York Giants.

"They call it, we haul it," Zenner said. "That's my mentality. ..."

I'll follow up on Riddick's status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days, but he was not practicing Wednesday. ...

Stafford has committed five turnovers in the 11 quarters since he sprained the tip of his middle finger on his throwing hand, more than he had in all of October and November combined (four).

But Stafford said his interception Monday, a tipped pass on the opening drive of the second half with the Lions backed into second-and-31 after a holding penalty and sack, was due to him trying to do too much and had nothing to do with his finger injury.

"Wasn't pretty," Stafford said. "Probably too aggressive trying to make a play out of the pocket. I probably should have just run for 10 and gone for third-and-10, whatever that it. I was just a little bit too aggressive."

Stafford also lost a fumble in the red zone Monday when he was sacked from behind in the fourth quarter. ...

Eric Ebron (eight catches, 93 yards) was the Lions' most productive receiver, though both he and TJ Jones had drops.

Anquan Boldin caught five passes for 33 yards Monday to move into ninth place on the NFL's all-time receptions list. Boldin already has hit two $500,000 incentives in his contract, according to the Detroit Free Press one for catching five or more touchdowns passes (he has seven) and another for catching 40-plus passes and the Lions winning at least eight games.


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

Green Bay Packers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2016

As ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky suggested, the way Aaron Rodgers played in Saturday's win over the Vikings, he might not need the chants of "MVP, MVP" that were heard during the game to influence the balloting. Rodgers was equal parts technician and magician in the Green Bay Packers' 38-25 Christmas Eve win.

He carved up the Vikings with some pinpoint throws on the way to three first-half touchdown passes and also somehow escaped pressure on the way to a 6-yard touchdown scramble. Only four other quarterbacks have thrown three touchdown passes and rushed for another in a single half in the past five seasons.

And his toughness was on full display as well when two Vikings -- linebacker Eric Kendricks and defensive end Danielle Hunter -- sandwiched Rodgers in the third quarter, leaving him on the ground. Rodgers, however, returned without missing a play until head coach Mike McCarthy pulled him late in the fourth quarter after he threw for 347 yards and four touchdowns.

Perhaps Rodgers' early-season struggles will keep him from winning the NFL's highest individual honor for the third time in his career, but even if he's not the MVP, there may not be anyone playing any better at the most critical time of the year.

"I think he's an MVP," McCarthy said. "There's no question about it. He's been playing at an MVP level for a number of years, and that was an MVP performance. There's no question about it. I don't want to disrespect the other players who are having great years but he's the best player in the National Football League, in my opinion."

What's more important than that, as the Packers are 9-6 and a win away from the NFC North title? They will secure it -- plus the home playoff game that goes with it -- if they beat the Detroit Lions in Sunday's regular-season finale.

Saturday was Rodgers' fifth 300-yard passing game of the season, and it was the first time anyone has done that against Vikings coach Mike Zimmer's defense this season. He surpassed the 4,000-yard passing mark in a season for the sixth time -- a franchise record -- and also set the team record for completions in a season when he connected on his 373rd pass midway through the fourth quarter.

On Wednesday, Rodgers was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week.

In the Packers' current five-game winning streak, Rodgers has thrown 11 touchdowns without an interception and has 1,367 yards while completing 71.4 percent of his passes. That's a passer rating for 119.8.

Back to what Rodgers did, specifically, for his MVP chances Saturday.

He had just as many touchdown passes in the first half as he did incompletions. He was 19-of-22 for 268 yards. He threw one ball away on purpose, Davante Adams dropped one and Ty Montgomery couldn't handle another.

When he found Richard Rodgers for a 13-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, he became just the second quarterback with four passing touchdowns and a rushing score in a game this season (Drew Brees was the other).

He threw two first-half touchdown passes to Jordy Nelson -- Nos. 58 and 59 of their careers together. They came into the game tied with Brett Favre and Antonio Freeman for the most touchdowns by a quarterback-receiver combination in Packers history.

The master of the back-shoulder throw, Rodgers placed one perfectly to Adams for a 20-yard touchdown.

"The guy's playing banged up and he's playing even better since he's been banged up," Adams said. "He's turned this thing around. ..."

Other notes of interest. ... Randall Cobb practiced on a limited basis last week but was a last-minute scratch before the Vikings game.

"It was just really the fact of just having to tell him no," McCarthy said when asked about the decision to hold out Cobb against Minnesota. "Let's be honest, you're going to have to chain him down to keep him off the 46-[man active roster]. But, hopefully, we can get him ready for Detroit."

The Packers took Cobb off punt returns against the Bears, a week after he sustained the injury against the Seattle Seahawks, but they still played him 51 of 61 snaps in Chicago. However, he did not catch a single pass, marking the first time since his rookie season of 2011 that he failed to record a reception in a regular-season game that he played in.

When asked whether he felt like he wasn't his usual self against the Bears, Cobb said: "Yeah, obviously. Obviously. Again, just trying to go out there and give everything I've got.

"I want to be out there every opportunity that I can to be able to fight with my brothers," Cobb added. "But they made a decision that was best for the team and best for myself."

Cobb said Monday the plan is for him to progress throughout this week to be well enough to play at Detroit on Sunday night. He worked on a limited basis Wednesday.

With Cobb out, the Packers opened Saturday's game with a three-receiver set of Nelson, Adams and Geronimo Allison. It was the first start for Allison, an undrafted rookie who started the season on the practice squad. Allison responded by matching his season total of four catches and totaling 66 receiving yards with a long gain of 32.

James Starks missed a second straight game Saturday because of a concussion. Montgomery and Christine Michael continued to work as the halfbacks in the win over Minnesota.

As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, after a monstrous performance in Week 15, Montgomery came crashing down to Earth, but through no fault of his own. This game was all about Rodgers and the passing attack.

In fact, the best run of the game for the Packers came from Rodgers on the touchdown scamper as he escaped pressure in a passing situation and ran for considerably more than the official six yards on the touchdown. Rodgers also juked approaching cornerback Xavier Rhodes just before reaching the end zone.

A week after the former receiver rushed for 162 yards and two touchdown in 16 carries, Montgomery had a team-high nine carries Saturday but mustered all of 23 yards (long of six) for a woeful per-carry average of 2.6 yards. Michael was held to four yards in four carries. The Packers finished with but 40 yards on the ground, averaging only 2.7 yards per attempt.


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

Houston Texans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2016

After their 12-10 division-clinching victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday night, the Texans broke out their AFC South title hats and started taking pictures together, celebrating the division crown.

And though most players and head coach Bill O'Brien spoke about how much it meant to win the AFC South for a second consecutive season, ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop notes that quarterback Tom Savage's up-and-down play showed the Texans still aren't sure what they have at the quarterback position.

Savage, who replaced Brock Osweiler after Osweiler threw two first-half interceptions in the Week 15 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, started off slowly Saturday night. Savage had just two completions for 13 yards in the first half and a quarterback rating of 39.6.

Savage improved as the game went on, finishing 18-of-29 for 176 yards, without a touchdown or an interception. Savage said he felt more comfortable going into the second half, in part because he realized how well Houston's defense was playing, and that he just needed to protect the ball and find a way to win.

The other change the Texans made in the second half was to go no-huddle. Savage said he thought that helped him find a groove.

"He's a passer," O'Brien said. "You've got to get him into a rhythm, and I felt like we got him into a rhythm."

Added Savage: "The first half I was just missing some people, missing some reads here and there, and that's unacceptable. I'm going to work on it and try and build from the second half, and let's see if we can put some more points on the board."

One area in which Savage continued to do well was securing the football: In two games, he has not turned it over. Osweiler, meanwhile, had 16 interceptions in 14 games.

"It's a good thing that we protected the ball [and didn't] put the defense in a tough situation," Savage said.

Last week, O'Brien said one facet of the game he told Savage he could improve on was playing faster. After the game, O'Brien said he thought Savage was "able to get rid of the ball a little bit quicker."

Savage was sacked four times, including three times in the first half. He said some of the hits he took were "self-inflicted" but that "it's the least we can do as a quarterback to try and sit in there and deliver a good ball and let those guys make a play."

As NFL.com's Matt Harmon reminded readers, Savage came and just rifled the ball at DeAndre Hopkins without reservation when he took over for Osweiler in Week 15.

He did not follow the same approach in this game.

Against the Jaguars last week Hopkins owned a 47.5 percent share of Savage's intended air yards, but that dropped back down to 27.4 percent in Week 16. The Bengals were able to fluster Savage a bit with pressure, as he completed just four of his seven passes when facing a blitz and was sacked three times. Despite Osweiler's outing as the starter, C.J. Fiedorowicz still led the team in targets, as the middle of the field remained a big part of the Texans' game plan.

The good news with Savage is providing sound ball security so far. He hasn't committed a turnover through two games whereas Osweiler threw 16 interceptions until he was benched against the Jaguars.

Of course, we don't have a lot of data to work with when it comes to how the offense will operate under Savage. He has completed 41 of 65 passes for 436 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions through two games for an 82.6 passer rating.

But we'll add to our knowledge on Sunday. The Texans are sticking with Savage for Week 17.

O'Brien said early last week that Osweiler would remain on the bench, but wouldn't say then if Savage would start the rest of the season. On Monday he said that Savage would start in the regular-season finale against Tennessee, but didn't say anything about Houston's playoff game.

Meanwhile, the Texans will be the fourth seed in the AFC regardless of what happens when they face Tennessee Sunday, but O'Brien said that won't impact their decisions about which players will fill out the lineup.

"We're playing to win. We're not even talking about that," O'Brien said. "We've got a chance to win 10 games. I don't know how many double-digit win seasons the Texans have had, but I think that's important. I think every win counts. I don't really care. I think anytime you line up in this league, it's out of respect for the National Football League, you play to win. We're going to do our best to try to win."

While O'Brien is planning to approach the game as usual, it's not clear if running back Lamar Miller will be part of the mix. Miller didn't play against Cincinnati because of an ankle injury and O'Brien said he's feeling better, but the bigger picture may still win out when it comes time to making out the lineup.

"I'm not sure," Miller told the Houston Chronicle's Aaron Wilson when asked if he'll play against the Titans. "It's out of my hands."

Miller acknowledged his ankle isn't a long-term injury and said, "Of course," when asked if he could return as soon as next week.

Miller did not practice Wednesday; I'll follow up on his status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

Meanwhile, it's worth noting that Alfred Blue rushed for just 73 yards on 21 carries in Miller's absence, but scored the game-winning touchdown on a 24-yard run in the fourth quarter.


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

Indianapolis Colts

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2016

According to ESPN.com's Mike Wells, it was only fitting that the Indianapolis Colts' playoff aspirations came to an end this way.

The Colts took the field at the Oakland Coliseum on Saturday knowing they could remain in playoff contention with a victory over the Raiders because Tennessee was on its way to losing to Jacksonville.

But in typical fashion, of the sort that goes back to the 2015 season, the Colts couldn't handle the pressure. And for the second consecutive season, they'll start their offseason in the first week of January.

The Colts put on the type of performance that should have everybody in the organization feeling ashamed in a 33-25 loss to the Raiders that eliminated them from the playoffs. The Colts trailed by as many as 26 points before getting back to within eight with less than three minutes remaining in the game.

This is the first time that the Colts (7-8) will miss the playoffs in back-to-back seasons since the 1997-98 campaigns. The Colts wrap up the 2016 campaign against Jacksonville on New Year's Day, but it's already time to start thinking about which direction the franchise is headed.

Saturday's play -- or lack of play -- was the type that should have owner Jim Irsay wondering whether he has the right group leading his team despite giving contract extensions to coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson 11 months ago. Saturday's result goes with 35-point losses at Pittsburgh and Jacksonville and a home defeat versus Houston when the Colts still had a chance to win the division in 2015. This season, there were two losses to Houston and a blown game against Detroit in Week 1. Without them, the Colts would have been in position to win the AFC South.

According to Wells, "The Colts aren't tough enough -- mentally or physically -- to face their challenges head-on."

Simply having Andrew Luck at quarterback is no longer good enough for the Colts. That's definitely the case when Luck is part of the problem, as it was Saturday, when he threw two interceptions. The personnel on Indianapolis' roster is not talented enough, and the rest of the AFC South has closed the gap or passed the Colts.

The only thing the Colts have done consistently this season is be inconsistent. They won consecutive games only once, and they will not have a better-than-.500 record at any point this season. The distance between the Colts and the legit teams in the AFC couldn't be more evident than it was Saturday against the Raiders.

While the Colts were trying to be cute with fake field goal attempts and Luck was throwing interceptions, the Raiders went through a stretch where they scored five straight touchdowns to blow open what was, momentarily, a close game. Oakland already had more than 400 yards of total offense and was 7-of-10 on third down by early in the fourth quarter before the Colts' frantic comeback to make the game closer than what it really was.

Maybe next season for the Colts, because this season -- like last -- will end at the conclusion of Week 17.

On Monday, Pagano said that he takes "full responsibility" for the team falling short of expectations.

"The record is what it is, I can't change history," Pagano said, via the Indianapolis Star. "All we can do is keep moving forward and try to rectify what's taken place. It's not this organization. It's unacceptable. Every man and coach up and down these hallways will tell you that. The standard is the standard. We know what the expectations are and that is to win. That's what everybody came here to do."

The coach also believes there are plenty of reasons to play hard Sunday against Jacksonville.

"The name on the back of your jersey, the decal on the side of your helmet, pride, respect, winning. It's unacceptable where we're at, we all know that," Pagano said.

"That's not us. That's not this culture. That's not what was developed here a long time ago. That, that is what's at stake."

So the Colts will not be resting any players that are not injured against the Jaguars on Sunday.

That means you'll see Luck, receiver T.Y. Hilton, running back Frank Gore along with the other key players against the Jaguars despite the Colts already being eliminated from making the playoffs.

"Why would we?" Pagano said. "We play to win the game."

There's a chance you won't see receiver Donte Moncrief, who reinjured his left shoulder and underwent an MRI on Monday. Pagano said he would have the results later this week but Moncrief was not on the practice field Wednesday.

Gore and Hilton both have something at stake against the Jaguars. Gore is 36 yards shy of his ninth 1,000-yard rushing season of his 12-year career. He could also become the first Colts running back to rush for at least 1,000 yards in a season since Joseph Addai did it in 2007. Gore would be the first to do it at age 33 in more than three decades. (John Riggins, 1984).

Gore did set an NFL record as he eclipsed 1,200 yards from scrimmage for 11 straight seasons. If Gore rushed for 37 yards against Jacksonville on Sunday, he'll become the first Colts player to reach 1,000 in nine seasons.

Hilton had 105 receiving yards in the loss to the Raiders. Hilton has set a season career high with 1,353 yards, which surpassed his 2014 total of 1,345. Hilton is leading New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham by 30 yards for the league lead in receiving yards.

One lasted note here. ... Owner Jim Irsay said earlier this month that he wasn't anticipating any major changes, although he said that before the Colts were officially out of the playoff picture and he also noted that could change. As Profootballtalk.com suggested, if he shares Pagano's feeling that this year's results were unacceptable and that Pagano was responsible for things ending up that way, that change could come after Week 17 comes to an end.


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

Jacksonville Jaguars

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2016

According to ESPN.com's Mike DiRocco, when general manager Dave Caldwell said he wasn't going to mandate that the team's new head coach stick with quarterback Blake Bortles, it was done to avoid limiting the pool of potential candidates.

There also was a subtle message for Bortles: In the final two games of the season, you need to prove you're better than the way you've played this season and can indeed be a building block for the franchise going forward.

Apparently Bortles got the message.

In helping the Jaguars end a franchise-record nine-game losing streak on Saturday, Bortles passed for 325 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions while finishing with a season-best passer rating of 103.5. A year ago Bortles topped the century mark in five contests, including three of his final five games.

His mark against Tennessee represented the first triple-digit rating of the season for the Jaguars quarterback.

In large part due to Bortles' season-long struggles, Allen Robinson looked nothing like the receiver that had caught 11 passes for 105 yards and one touchdown in his previous five games.

In this game, he got loose for nine catches (on 12 targets) and a season-high 147 yards. No one seemed to mind that none of his receptions ended in the end zone. What was more important was that Robinson looked like the Robinson of 2015, when he went high to out-jump defenders for passes.

The Bortles-to-Robinson combo was as impressive as it had been in 2015.

"It was about time. Unfortunately it was late (in the season)," Robinson said. "But for us, we've got to get it rolling."

According to the Sports Xchange, Robinson's inability to create separation from the defense is partly why Bortles has struggled so much this year, especially when making throws in Robinson's direction.

A year ago, even if Robinson wasn't open, Bortles put the ball where his talented receiver could make a play against tight coverage.

"It was like the two or three inches we were missing on all season came together today," Bortles said. "He had some unbelievable releases at the line to get off press coverage and then made some unbelievable catches. I was really excited for him to have a big day."

The win prevented Jacksonville from posting its first winless season ever at EverBank Field.

The 38 points the Jaguars scored on Tennessee rank as the most since the 51-16 win over the Colts in that December game a year ago.

Few anticipated a Jaguars victory against a Tennessee team that needed a win to stay alive for the AFC South Division title. The margin of victory was even more unexpected.

It raised a question: Why had the Jaguars not performed like this earlier in the 2016 season?

Was the dismissal of head coach Gus Bradley the reason for the improvement? Was the pressure off after trying to win for a coach that the players liked and supported?

A number of players gave the credit to Bradley, claiming it was only a matter of time until things started clicking.

Of course, Saturday's performance doesn't magically mean Bortles is fixed. He has still thrown 11 pick-sixes in his career and has more turnovers (60) and more interceptions (51) than any quarterback since he entered the league as the third overall pick in 2014.

He wasn't very good this season, entering the game completing a career-low 57.8 percent of his passes and had 20 turnovers. He played the worst game of his career against Houston the previous Sunday: 12-for-28 for 92 yards and an interception and a career-low 36.6 passer rating.

According to DiRocco, Bortles needs to follow this performance with another good one against Indianapolis in the season finale.

Bortles has won his past two meetings with the Colts and has played well in those games: five touchdown passes and no interceptions. If he plays well again, it doesn't erase his poor season but it does give potential head coaching candidates some reassurance that Bortles is not a liability and can still develop into a more-than-quality starter.

Other notes of interest. ... The Jaguars placed running back T.J. Yeldon on injured reserve because of an ankle injury he sustained last Saturday. It is the second year in a row in which Yeldon has failed to finish the season healthy. He missed the final three games of his rookie campaign because of a knee injury.

Yeldon is the Jaguars' leading rusher (465 yards) but has run for only one touchdown and is averaging just 3.6 yards per carry.

He does play a vital role in pass protection, though, so the Jaguars will miss his absence there, too.

Chris Ivory is expected to handle most of the work against the Colts. But Ivory re-injured a strained right hamstring against the Titans. It's the same injury that caused him to miss two games earlier this month.

Denard Robinson was inactive for a third straight week due to a high ankle sprain but he thnks he could return this week.

"Looks like I'll be able to go," Robinson said Tuesday. "It's been tough [not playing]. I hate just watching. I want to go out there with the team and try to at least help out. So it's been tough, but it's football. You've got to keep going and bounce back."

Corey Grant carried the ball nine times for 27 yards against Tennessee. Prior to that game, Grant had just five carries for 27 yards. The team added running back Joe Banyard to their active roster on Tuesday. They also added free agent Daryl Richardson.

Allen Hurns missed his third consecutive game due to a hamstring issue. Hurns has not played since the Buffalo game in Week 13 when he had one catch for 12 yards. In the four games prior to going down with the injury, Hurns had just four total catches for 34 yards.

Ivory, Ben Koyack (hip), Marqise Lee (hip) and Robinson were limited Wednesday; Hurns and tight end Neal Sterling were held out.

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

And finally. ... Jason Myers has experienced the ups and downs of an NFL kicker's life. Myers missed an extra point in six of the Jaguars 16 games last season, finishing 32 of 39 in the point-after department, an 82.1 percent rate. Yet Myers only missed field goals in three games, finishing 26 for 30 (86.9 percent).

In last Saturday's game with the Tennessee Titans, Myers hit on all four of his field goal tries, but missed two extra points. Three of the four field goals were from distances of 48, 50 and 56 yards, well beyond an extra point try.

"I want to be the best, so to do that, you have to make everything," he said. "It doesn't matter if it is a 50-yarder or an extra point. We'll get it corrected and finish strong next week. That's all you can do."


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

Kansas City Chiefs

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2016

As NFL.com noted, since Andy Reid and Alex Smith arrived to jumpstart a new era in 2013, the knock on Kansas City has been a lack of explosive playmaking ability offense.

With dynamic rookie Tyreek Hill joining stud tight end Travis Kelce as the twin centerpieces, that skepticism is fading.

This performance stands as the high-water mark for an offense steadily growing more dangerous throughout the season. For the first time in nearly 50 years, the Chiefs had two offensive scores of 70 or more yards in the same game.

The Broncos defense has not allowed a 100-yard rusher and 100-yard receiver in the same game since November of 2014. By halftime of Sunday's tilt, Kelce was over 100 receiving while Hill was sitting on 99 rushing yards.

The scoring ended with 350-pound nose tackle Dontari Poe tossing a short touchdown pass to Demetrius Harris out of the "Wildcat" formation.

By game's end, the Chiefs had gashed Denver's normally stout defense for a season-high 484 yards. This was one of most lopsided AFC West matchups of the season.

The Chiefs still have a shot at the AFC's No. 2 seed and a first-round bye if they win in San Diego and the Matt McGloin-led Raiders lose in Denver to close out the regular season. Should the Chiefs and Dolphins each finish 11-5, per NFL Research, Miami will nose out Kansas City for the No. 5 seed by virtue of a superior record versus common opponents.

Meanwhile, ESPN.com's Adam Teicher, Kelce wasn't completely satisfied with his play in Sunday night's win.

"There were a couple of blocks where it was 'Bad News Bears' out there for me," Kelce said. "I've got to keep working on it."

The Chiefs can live with a missed block here and there from Kelce because otherwise he was the best player on the field in an important Chiefs victory. Kelce had career highs in catches (11) and yards (160) and had an 80-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown early in the game.

Despite his protests about his blocking, Kelce actually made the key blocks on two other Chiefs' touchdowns, runs by Smith and Hill.

Teicher went on to suggest it's no coincidence the Chiefs had their best offensive game of the season when Kelce was at his best.

"That's a pretty good defense," Smith said. "To have the balance we did tonight, to run and pass for whatever it was, 230 [yards] each, I think that says a lot about where we want to be as far as balance, spreading the ball around, keeping them on their heels, different types of runs, different types of passes."

Reid said Kelce saw fewer double-teams against the Broncos than he normally does. But Kelce didn't agree and Smith said it was only partially the case.

"In the slot he got doubled all day there," Smith said. "They weren't going to let him be one-on-one. Inside, though, we were able to kind of get some matchups there, especially on third down."

The Chiefs may be even more difficult to beat if Kelce can be this type of threat every week. He has had big games for the Chiefs before. He had his sixth game with 100-plus yards, tying a team record. Kelce has 1,117 yards this season, marking his first season with more than 1,000.

But he was a different kind of presence against the Broncos, the kind capable of carrying his team to places it wasn't sure it could go.

"He's the premier catching tight end in the league," Smith said. "To have two huge blocks like that to spring guys ... he does a lot for us. Obviously catching the football is the main thing but helping us win any way he can, that's just the kind of team we have."

As for Hill?

With his 68-yard TD last week and 70-yard score against Denver, the speedy rookie made another place for himself in the NFL record books. He became the first player since Lenny Moore of the Baltimore Colts to have back-to-back games with 60-plus yard rushing touchdowns. Moore did it in 1956. Hill also finished the season with four touchdowns against Denver, becoming the first Chiefs player to score that many times against the Broncos since wide receiver Otis Taylor in 1967.

Moore, Taylor, Gale Sayers, Bobby Mitchell -- those are the names that Hill is finding around him in this remarkable rookie season where he's touched the ball 129 times as a runner, receiver and returner, and averaged 13 yards on those opportunities.

Also worth noting. ... The Chiefs rolled up 238 rushing yards against the Broncos with running back Spencer Ware playing a leading role.

Ware ran 13 times for 62 yards in the game, but has an injury concern heading into Week 17.

Reid said Ware wanted to finish the game after suffering a rib injury, but he didn't let him. Ware had an MRI.

"He could have played," Reid told Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star. "I decided to keep him out. He was sore."

Ware was on the practice field Wednesday.

Ware leads the Chiefs in rushing this season with 921 yards on 214 carries. Sitting out the final game of the regular season would cost him a shot at his first 1,000-yard season, although the Chiefs have other ambitions now that they have locked down a playoff spot.

Chris Conley (ankle) left Sunday night's game with a sprained ankle. Conley eventually returned to the game and ended up with two catches for 14 yards.

The other big injury question for the Chiefs this week and into the playoffs will center on linebacker Justin Houston. Houston didn't play against Denver because of swelling in his surgically-repaired knee during the week. Reid said the Chiefs' approach last week was to "rest him and get it right," so we'll see where things stand when they resume practicing.

I'll follow up on Ware, Conley and Houston as needed in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more.


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

Los Angeles Rams

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2016

The San Francisco 49ers have two wins in 15 games this season, and both of them have come against the Los Angeles Rams.

According to ESPN.com's Alden Gonzalez, a new low was reached on Christmas Eve.

Leading by two touchdowns with just over 10 minutes remaining in the game, the Rams' defense -- dominant all game -- allowed back-to-back touchdown drives to a flawed offense. The last one came with 31 seconds left, on a 7-yard slant route by Rod Streater that cut the 49ers' deficit to one point. They then went for two, and Colin Kaepernick got to the edge and dove into the end zone, giving San Francisco a 22-21 lead it would not relinquish.

The Rams have now lost 10 of their past 11, falling to 4-11 -- and they have not won a game at home since Sept. 18.

Their latest loss was a stark reminder of the home game they dropped to the Miami Dolphins on Nov. 20, when the offense did nothing and the defense got tired, allowing the late drives that dealt the team a demoralizing defeat. This game followed a very similar script. The Rams, their offense last in the NFL in every major category, went up against the game's worst defense and did nothing, gaining only 177 yards from scrimmage.

At one point, the two teams punted to end 14 consecutive drives, with the exception of a kneel-down seconds before halftime.

The Niners had allowed more rushing yards than anybody in the NFL, but Todd Gurley gained only 67 yards on 23 carries. And Jared Goff couldn't do much of anything, giving himself six consecutive losses to begin his NFL career. Goff went 11-of-24 for 90 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. The last one sealed the game. It was a pass to the outside, picked off by Rashard Robinson.

The Rams blew their biggest lead of the season, to one of the NFL's worst teams.

As the Sports Xchange suggested, in so many ways it was a microcosm of the Rams frustrating season, shedding poor light on the offensive woes, lack of discipline and overall talent deficiency.

Goff is helpless playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league and with wide receivers among the most incapable in the league.

Gurley has been negated to an afterthought for the same reasons after producing an NFL Rookie of the Year season in 2015.

And a defense that's played well for the most part ultimately gets exposed by playing too many snaps thanks to a morbid offense.

With one week left in the season, the Rams can't possibly address any of those issues, let alone all of them. Which sets up a critical offseason in which they must find a new head coach and upgrade the talent across the offensive board.

"I'll say this -- to all the fans and everybody that came out today, we're appreciative and understand where we are," Goff said. "We know that they understand where we are. It's just hard, I know they see it -- it's hard in the locker room, it's hard for all of us. But I promise you guys it will get fixed -- [I'll give] everything in my heart and soul to get it all fixed."

Goff has plenty of strides that he needs to make to live up to his first-overall pick status, but the Rams' issues go well beyond their quarterback.

It should be encouraging, though, to see the rookie taking ownership so early in his career.

Also worth noting, receiver Kenny Britt reached a milestone nobody in this franchise has even come close to in nine years, and punter Johnny Hekker set an NFL record in Saturday's loss.

With a 15-yard catch on the Rams' very first drive, Britt, in his eighth year in the NFL, surpassed 1,000 yards for the first time. He became the first Rams receiver to reach that mark since Torry Holt in 2007. The Rams amazingly went eight consecutive years without a 1,000-yard receiver, a time that saw the NFL produce 174 1,000-yard receivers.

The Rams didn't have so much as an 800-yard receiver during that time.

"It means everything to me," Britt told the Rams' public-relations department before leaving Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday. "After eight years in the NFL, I finally get my first 1,000-yard season. It's special, even though it comes from a season that we weren't expecting."

Britt was not allowed to speak with the media because he exited the game early with a shoulder injury that had been ailing him of late.

While he watched, Hekker continued to add to his new benchmark.

The Rams' star punter downed four punts inside the 20-yard line in a game that at one point saw both teams punt the ball to end 14 consecutive drives (minus a kneel-down at the end of the first half). Hekker now has 50 punts downed inside the 20-yard line, breezing past the previous NFL record that was held by Arizona's Dave Zastudil in 2012. Zastudil had 46 downed inside the 20 that year, one that saw him punt 112 times.

Hekker, on his way to his third Pro Bowl, has punted 91 times this season, second-most in the NFL.

"I'm proud of Johnny," said interim coach John Fassel, the Rams' special teams coordinator since 2012. "He's a leader, he's tough, he's good, and the guys respect him. I love him, and I'm proud of him."

A few final items. ... Tavon Austin rushed 30 yards and had his first rushing touchdown of the season against the 49ers. Austin has four touchdowns this season. Austin's career scores total 23 (eight rushing, 12 receiving and three on punt returns).

Pharoh Cooper returned a kickoff 51 yards, the second longest of the season for the Rams. Cooper finished the game with four returns for 129 yards, a 32.3-yard average.

Rookie tight end Tyler Higbee registered his first career touchdown pass on a two-yard pass from Goff.

And lastly. ... Gurley seemed in line to finally have a breakout game considering the difficulties the 49ers have had stopping the run. Instead, he ran for only 67 yards on 23 carries for a lowly 2.9 per carry average. Worse, when the Rams absolutely needed to the run the ball to move the chains and run some clock late in the game, but they were incapable of doing that.

All of which adds to the believe Gurley will be a draft-day bargain next summer. But assuming he'll regain his rookie form isn't a foregone conclusion.

As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, "The talent is there, but he's developed some bad habits in a bad offense and will need to correct those this offseason."


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

Miami Dolphins

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2016

According to ESPN.com's James Walker, if Jay Ajayi has his choice, he'd probably prefer to play the Bills every week of the season.

Exactly two months after rushing for 214 yards against Buffalo, Ajayi added another 206 rushing yards and a touchdown to his season total in Miami's 34-31 overtime victory over the Bills on Saturday. Ajayi's 57-yard dash in the extra period set up Miami's game-winning field goal by Andrew Franks.

The game marked Ajayi's third 200-yard rushing game of the season and first 100-plus-yard game since Nov. 6. Buffalo was the ideal opponent to jump-start Ajayi, who earned AFC Offensive Player of the week honors for the performance.

Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore improved to 2-0 as a starter, but overall wasn't able to duplicate his hot streak in his second start in five seasons. After throwing four touchdowns last week, Moore started slowly Saturday with just 57 passing yards and an interception in the first half. He had his best play to start the third quarter with a 56-yard touchdown pass to receiver DeVante Parker on a crossing route. Moore finished with 233 passing yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

The Dolphins certainly received some help from the Bills and embattled head coach Rex Ryan. Buffalo burned two timeouts, committed a delay of game penalty on offense, failed on a fourth-down try and missed a field goal attempt in the first half, giving Miami a 14-7 halftime lead and early momentum.

Buffalo got hot in the second half with 24 points, but the Dolphins were able force overtime with a 55-yard field goal by Franks with six seconds left in regulation. Miami continues to find various ways to win, as evident by its 9-1 record in its past 10 games. The Dolphins are 2-0 in overtime games this season.

After a couple of his late runs in Saturday's win, Ajayi seemed to be favoring his left shoulder and had it checked out by members of the team's medical staff.

Ajayi kept going back into the game, though.

On Monday, head coach Adam Gase said that Ajayi is "a little banged up," which segues into the topic of how the Dolphins will approach Week 17.

Gase said he spoke to executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum and General Manager Chris Grier about whether the team would rest any players against the Patriots and said the team will approach this week like any other.

"We need to do everything to make sure we are 1-0 at the end of this week," Gase said, via the Miami Herald. "I talked to [owner Stephen] Ross last night and Mike and Chris. We were talking about our plan going forward this week. We have an opportunity to play after Week 17 but our main focus is this week. We are going to stick to plan and not look ahead. This is a team if you look past them, they will embarrass you."

There's a chance that the team can move up from the sixth to the fifth seed in the AFC if they beat the Patriots and a trip to Houston would seem to be preferable to facing the Steelers, even with a win over Pittsburgh under their belts this year.

For the record, Ajayi said his shoulder is fine. He said it may be an AC joint but didn't seem sure. Ajayi did say he will be ready for this week's game.

For what it's worth. ... The Dolphins are playoff-bound even though they have been outgained by 682 yards and have scored only four more points than their opponents this season. In games decided by a touchdown or less, they've won nine in a row, but they haven't beaten a team that's above .500 since Week 6. ...

Other notes of interest. ... As NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted this week, Kenny Stills has led the Dolphins in targets in three of the last four weeks. He scored his touchdown this week from inside the red zone, too, rather than on his usual long bomb. He was the only pass-catcher to garner a target inside the 10-yard line on Saturday.

Parker is still playing fewer snaps than Stills, as he was on the field for just 77 percent compared to 86 percent for Stills and 96 percent for Jarvis Landry.

Parker scored on a long catch and run where multiple Bills defenders whiffed on tackling him. ...

And finally. ... According to Herald staffer Adam Beasley, Ryan Tannehill is no longer wearing a cast on his injured left leg, which the quarterback said was "great news" as he walked through the Dolphins' locker room after Miami's 34-31 victory here Saturday.

Tannehill missed his second straight game with the sprained ACL and MCL, but there is real reason for optimism that he'll be back at some point if the Dolphins reach the postseason. He walked without the use of crutches Saturday, albeit with a limp.

Tannehill last week visited venerable surgeon James Andrews in Pensacola, Fla., to receive treatment on the knee. Tannehill is making every effort to return in time for the postseason.

Moore went 16 of 30 for 233 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in his second straight emergency start.


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

Minnesota Vikings

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2016

After a 5-0 start, the Vikings (7-8) have collapsed, losing eight of 10 games. They were eliminated from the playoff race with a 38-25 defeat Saturday to Green Bay at Lambeau Field.

"I need to do a better job," head coach Mike Zimmer said. "I haven't done a good enough job this year. After the season, I'm going to sit down and evaluate everything, not just the players, not just the evaluations that we do on players, everything, and myself included. Offense, defense, special teams, everything."

Minnesota closes the regular season Jan. 1 against Chicago at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Of course, the big story came with the Vikings not matching cornerback Xavier Rhodes one-on-one with Packers receiver Jordy Nelson at the start of Sunday's game, even though head coach Mike Zimmer wanted Rhodes on Nelson. But the details of the issue remain unclear.

Initial reports indicated that the Vikings' defensive backs had mutinied against Zimmer and the coaching staff. Since then, the Vikings have tried to downplay the matter.

That includes Rhodes, who after claiming otherwise immediately after the game, later insisted the team didn't mutiny against its coach.

"It was just a miscommunication during the first series," Rhodes said, via Brian Murphy of the Pioneer Press.

Asked to clarify, Rhodes repeated that it was just a miscommunication. Rhodes also took to Twitter and suggested the story was overblown.

"It amazing that ppl believe everything they hear," Rhodes wrote. "It's more to the story. To all who knows me knows I obey authority."

Some reports have indicated that cornerback Terence Newman was the ringleader in the players deciding to disregard the coaches' game plan, which is surprising because Newman is a longtime favorite of Zimmer's who was brought to the Vikings specifically because Newman thought he could be a good veteran leader in Minnesota.

Zimmer said Monday that he spoke to Rhodes and that he doesn't believe "that's what he meant to say" about what happened early in the game because "it was one series." Zimmer also said that late changes made by the coaching staff might have led to the aforementioned miscommunication.

"We changed a couple calls later in the week," Zimmer said, via the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "I probably wasn't specific enough in the things I was asking them to do."

Which is a big vague in its own right.

And as Profootballtalk.com suggested, until the Vikings explain exactly what happened, questions will linger. If it was just a "miscommunication," the Vikings should communicate with the rest of us about what really happened.

Meanwhile, Zimmer said he's not planning on resting players in the finale. When asked if running back Adrian Peterson will play, he said, "I don't know."

Peterson (knee, groin), guard Brandon Fusco (concussion), fullback Zach Line (concussion) and wide receiver Laquon Treadwell (ankle) sat out Saturday with injuries. Safety Harrison Smith returned after missing two games with an ankle injury.

Peterson and Stefon Diggs (hip) were held out of Wednesday's practice.

Meanwhile, as Pioneer Press staffer Chris Tomasson noted, the Vikings' dink-and-dunk attack might land Sam Bradford in the NFL record book.

The quarterback has completed 71.6 percent of his passes this season. That's on pace to break the mark of 71.2 percent set by Drew Brees of New Orleans in 2011.

Bradford, who completed 65 percent of his throws last season for Philadelphia, is an accurate guy. But his run to the record book really started because Pat Shurmur took over for Norv Turner as offensive coordinator on Nov. 2 and went to a short passing game to limit pressure on Bradford behind a porous and injury-riddled offensive line.

In six games under Turner, Bradford completed 66.5 percent of his passes. In seven games with Shurmur, he has completed 75.6 percent.

"It's probably a little bit of both (accuracy and the change)," Bradford said Tuesday. "Obviously, that's kind of where our offense has shifted and kind of what we have been doing as of late."

In addition, the seven-year veteran is ninth in the NFL with a passer rating of 97.0. Bradford has just four interceptions in 469 attempts, making him and New England's Tom Brady (two in 372 attempts) the only NFL quarterbacks with four or fewer interceptions with more than 300 attempts.

Bradford has passed for 3,245 yards with 14 touchdowns. His limited downfield throwing is reflected in his average gain per attempt of 6.92, which ranks just 22nd in the league.

"As far as my season and how's that gone, until the season is over that's not something I'm going to put a lot of thought to," said Bradford, 6-7 as a starter since being acquired Sept. 3 from the Eagles.

Bradford will have competition in his quest to set the completion percentage record from Brees himself. The Saints star has completed 71.1 percent of his passes, putting him in position for his third season of 70 or better.

Other than Brees, who also did it in 2009, the only players to have completed 70 percent or better in a season have been Washington's Sammy Baugh in 1945, Cincinnati's Ken Anderson in 1982, San Francisco's Joe Montana in 1989 and the 49ers' Steve Young in 1994. Bradford is likely to at least join that elite group.

"Obviously, he's a really talented guy, a hard-working guy," said wide receiver Adam Thielen. "From Day One he's been in here, he's been grinding, trying to get us all together and just making sure that we're ready each week. So it's impressive what he's been able to do this year, and we're lucky to have him."

By the way, Thielen caught 12 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns, the first Minnesota wideout to combine for that feat in a game in 40 years. Sammy White did it in 1976, Paul Flatley in 1965.

Thielen now has 68 receptions for 960 yards, leapfrogging Diggs in production among Vikings wideouts this season despite having 16 fewer catches.

"His effort was unbelievable," said Bradford. "Some of those catches he had were incredible, but really it doesn't surprise me because he's been doing it all year for us."

With Peterson out, Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata stepped up with a combined 84 yards on 17 carries. McKinnon averaged 4.5 yards on 11 carries, while Asiata averaged 5.7 on six carries. It was Asiata who was hurting the Packers late in the second quarter. He had back-to-back runs of 9 and 2 yards and a 9-yard reception before the Matthews strip-sack.

Getting back to Peterson, assuming he doesn't play this weekend, he very well could have played his last game as a Viking.

He spent 11 weeks on injured reserve after having surgery to repair the meniscus in his right knee. He returned against the Colts on Dec. 18, played only 12 snaps and was ineffective as Indianapolis jumped ahead 27-0 at the half.

Go ahead and prepare yourself for considerable off-season drama surrounding Peterson.

Peterson has a year left on his contract. But it's for $18 million, a sum the team won't pay. Peterson is unlikely to take less money to stay in Minnesota, where he has one playoff victory in his 10 seasons.


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

New England Patriots

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2016

Shortly after Tom Brady made like Doug Flutie midway through the third quarter Saturday, circling back in the pocket to keep the play alive before finding receiver Julian Edelman down the field for a 28-yard gain, the home fans began to cheer "MVP! MVP! MVP!"

According to ESPN.com's Mike Reiss, it was a fitting chant because on a day in which the Patriots routed the New York Jets 41-3, Brady might have put the MVP race to bed in the process.

He was on the bench by the end of the third quarter, giving way to backup Jimmy Garoppolo, which was the perfect scenario in a week in which Brady didn't practice much because of a thigh injury.

Brady finished the day less than three quarters of action completing 17 of 27 passes for 214 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 124.6 rating. He spread the ball around to nine different targets, led by Edelman's five catches for 89 yards. Tight ends Martellus Bennett and Matt Lengel and running back James White hauled in the three touchdowns.

On the season, Brady is now 266-of-399 with 25 touchdowns and two interceptions, and the Patriots are 10-1 in games he's played.

Brady will have a chance to add on to those numbers next week on the road at Miami, a game that still has meaning for the Patriots in terms of earning the AFC's No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

As for the MVP, if not Brady, then whom?

Quarterbacks Matt Ryan (Atlanta), Derek Carr (Oakland), Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay), Dak Prescott (Dallas) and Matthew Stafford (Detroit), as well as running back Ezekiel Elliott (Dallas), have been in the discussion in recent weeks.

One factor that some believe works against Brady is that he missed the first four games of the season, when the Patriots still went 3-1. Add in the possibility that he doesn't play in the season finale, and is an 11-game sample size enough to award a player MVP?

There will be no such argument about that in New England.

"Without a doubt he should be in the race, and to me I think he is the MVP," Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount said. "That's my quarterback, and I'm playing with the greatest quarterback of all time. Even though he missed games, he's the best quarterback in the league, easily, hands down."

Of the many impressive aspects of Brady's season to date is that he's thrown just two interceptions, which coupled with the work of backups Garoppolo (0 INTs) and Jacoby Brissett (0 INTs) in Weeks 1-4, has the team on the brink of smashing the NFL record for fewest interceptions in a season (five, shared by six different teams).

Furthermore for Brady, his 18-yard touchdown strike to tight end Matt Lengel (raise your hand if you asked "who's that?") against the Jets marked the 64th different player he's connected with for a touchdown in his career, which is the second-highest mark in NFL history behind Vinny Testaverde's 70.

So could a third NFL MVP award (2007, 2010) be far behind?

Brady took a decisive step in that direction against the Jets.

Meanwhile, the Patriots have won eight straight AFC East titles and they regularly draw byes past the first round of the playoffs, so head coach Bill Belichick has plenty of experience with decisions about resting players in the final week of the regular season.

He explained during a Monday conference call that those years of experience have led him to the conclusion that it's not a conversation worth having.

"Right. I mean look, I don't really understand that question," Belichick said. "We have — I don't know how many starters we have — but we have a lot more than — we can only inactivate seven players. This isn't like a preseason game where you have 75 guys on your roster. This is a regular season game. I don't really understand that whole line of questioning. I'm not saying I'm a great mathematician or anything but the numbers just don't add up for that type of conversation so there's no point in even getting involved in it."

With 53 players on the active roster, there's obviously no way to play without exposing some of a team's regulars to possible injury in Week 17. The Patriots could pick some of those key players and remove them from the equation, although Belichick isn't likely to share any of those plans with the top seed in the conference still undecided.

But as the Sports Xchange reminded readers, a year ago, the Patriots lost three of their final five games including dropping division battles with the Jets and Dolphins that had the team uncharacteristically limping into January action. There was a clear focus on that not happening in Saturday's home finale again the Jets and will be once again in Sunday's season finale in Miami. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Save for a pair of rushing touchdowns by Blount, who increased his team-record total to 17 ground scores on the year, it wasn't an overly efficient day for the ground game. New England piled up 40 carries for 114 yards for just a 2.9-yard average. The attempts were again split between Blount and Dion Lewis.

The latter led the way with 52 yards on his 16 attempts (3.3 avg.), while the former had 20 carries for 50 yards (2.5 avg.) and his two scores.

New York's big defensive front gave the New England offensive line all it could handle in the trenches and Lewis, in particular, had to work hard to even get back to the line or fight out short gains at times. Still, there were enough rushing attempts to balance out the offense on the way to the blowout success. ...

Wide receiver Michael Floyd made his Patriots debut, finishing with one catch for six yards in a limited role that was acknowledged by fans who twice gave him loud ovations.

"To have support from the crowd and teammates, it means a lot," Floyd said after the game. "It feels great."

In all, Floyd was charted on the field for 18 snaps, two of which came in the first half. Most of his action came on the Patriots' final three non-kneel-down drives when the game was all but over.

Floyd said playing under former Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis at Notre Dame provided him a head start in New England, even though that was seven years ago. Floyd estimated about 60 percent of the offense is something he remembers.

On the injury front, Brady didn’t seem to be too affected by the thigh or knee issues that have landed him on the injury report in recent weeks and the Pats seem to be doing what they can to ensure things remain that way.

Brady was not present at the portion of practice open to the media on Wednesday in what’s likely a rest day as the Patriots get ready for Sunday’s game against the Dolphins. Brady was limited in practice all last week and listed as questionable with a thigh injury before playing well against the Jets.

He wasn’t the only offensive player who played last week missing on Wednesday. Wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell and Lewis were also off the field while wide receiver Danny Amendola remained out after missing the last three games with an ankle injury. Reports at the time of Amendola’s injury had him aiming for a return in the postseason.


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

New Orleans Saints

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2016

According to ESPN.com's Mike Triplett, Mark Ingram was happy because he was scoring touchdowns again.

Unfortunately, Saturday's 31-24 victory won't be enough to get New Orleans (7-8) into the playoffs. But it was a nice redemption win all around, just 13 days after the Saints destroyed their fading playoff hopes with their biggest flop of the year -- a 16-11 loss in Tampa.

"I know that we've had some tough moments this year that have prevented us from being in a playoff position, but I also believe that you go through a lot of those things for a reason, and that you learn along the way, and it's what enables you to have success in the future," said quarterback Drew Brees, who threw for 299 yards and a touchdown, redeeming his ugly performance at Tampa Bay two weeks ago (three interceptions and zero TDs). "I feel like we're right there, knocking on the door, and we've got a lot of the right pieces in place."

Triplett added that Saturday's performance also won't guarantee that coach Sean Payton will stay in New Orleans beyond this season. But it was a reminder of what I wrote about the annual Payton coaching rumors on Saturday morning: that the Saints aren't eager to let him go because they genuinely feel like this team is pointing in the right direction and has shown more potential than the previous two 7-9 campaigns.

Ingram had a monster day on Saturday, with 90 yards on 18 carries, including touchdown runs of 14 and 6 yards. He also had a two-point conversion run and a game-clinching 10-yard run on third-and-1 with less than two minutes remaining, allowing the Saints to take a knee to run out the clock.

Ingram's performance was perhaps the most noteworthy on Saturday, because it came just six days after his sideline tirade and shouting at Payton when the running back was upset that he didn't get two goal-line opportunities in the fourth quarter.

Ingram explained at the time that he is always competitive but needs to control his emotions better. That's exactly what he appeared to be doing with several hard runs and broken tackles on Saturday. Ingram insisted the two weren't related, though.

"It was done after the game, [it's] a new week, a new game. And I just tried to keep my same mentality like I always do -- to run physical and bring a spark to my team," said Ingram, who credited the offensive line first and the receivers, tight ends and fullback John Kuhn -- who was jokingly prodding Ingram from the next locker. "They blocked their butt of for me today."

Ingram now has a career-high 1,230 yards from scrimmage this season. He needs 60 rushing yards next Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons to achieve his first 1,000-yard rushing season. He has nine total touchdowns on the year, matching his career high.

"Man, I thought he ran well," Payton said of Ingram. "I thought it was noticeably different in the first half with a few of our handoffs and how we blocked them. I think we averaged 10 yards a carry on just a power play, which is always a tough play in our league. But those guys up front did a really good job. I'm proud of 'em."

In addition, Saturday's victory was redemption for Brees. Two weeks ago in Tampa, Brees had his worst passer rating in four years (48.5). His passer rating was 104.9 on Saturday.

"The big emphasis for us the last two weeks has just been, 'Back to our standard,'" Brees said. "Back to our level of execution in both the run game and the pass game."

Worth noting. ... Brees came up just 1 yard shy of another 300-yard passing game in the victory over the Bucs, but he did extend another personal streak in the process.

Brees, who completed 23 of 34 pass attempts, has thrown for at least 200 yards in 50 consecutive games.

The 200-yard streak began on Dec. 8, 2013, when he threw for 313 yards against the Carolina Panthers. That came six days after Brees was held to 147 passing yards by the Seattle Seahawks.

Brees is the only player in NFL history to pass for 5,000 yards in a season more than once. This year, Brees is likely to do it for the fifth time.

Brees has an NFL-high 4,858 passing yards this season, meaning he'll almost certainly top 5,000 yards for the season in Week 17. Brees leads the league in passing by more than 200 yards over Washington's Kirk Cousins, who has 4,630 passing yards this season, meaning Brees is a virtual lock to finish as the league leader for the seventh time in his career.

The rate at which Brees puts up yardage is unprecedented in NFL history: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Dan Marino and Matthew Stafford have each reached 5,000 yards once, and no one else has ever done it at all. If the 37-year-old Brees stays healthy for two more years, he's likely to pass both Brett Favre and Manning and move into first place all-time in total passing yards.

It's been a disappointing season for the Saints, who are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, but Brees has added another strong season to his Hall of Fame résumé.

Meanwhile, receivers Michael Thomas and Brandin Cooks each had 98 receiving yards, with Thomas, who had a long gain of 46 yards, catching six balls and Cooks five with a long of 42.

Coby Fleener had two receptions for 30 yards.

As NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, Cooks and Thomas figure to be one of the best one-two punches in the NFL for the next few years. Thomas currently averages 7.6 targets per game, Cooks 7.4 and both have scored eight times. Thomas has been a touch more consistent in his week-to-week production, but has maintained high-levels of efficiency with a 76.6 catch rate. According to Harmon, "Thomas fits in the Michael Crabtree role of possession receiver that gets the high-value red zone targets and feasts in the short-areas of the field."

Harmon added that "Cooks has been a bit streakier this year, but is a week-winning asset as a big-play hammer."


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

New York Giants

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2016

As ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan noted, the drought is over just a few days shy of the five-year mark. The New York Giants have finally returned to the playoffs with a much different team than the last time they qualified for the postseason.

The Giants (10-5) weren't able to secure their spot last Thursday night, when they lost 24-19 in Philadelphia. They needed help Saturday, and it came from Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints to make for a joyous Christmas Eve.

The Saints beat the Bucs 31-24 to guarantee the Giants a wild-card spot.

The Giants are now locked-in as the first wild card and the No. 5 seed in the NFC. Their opponent in the postseason remains to be determined, with the Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons all possible.

Right now that is inconsequential. After four straight seasons out of the playoffs it's an accomplishment for the Giants to return to the postseason, whether they clinched it themselves or not.

"As long as we get in, I don't care which way, shape or form we get in," veteran wide receiver Victor Cruz said Thursday night. "We just want to get into the dance and see what happens."

The Giants now have little to play for on the road Sunday in their regular-season finale against the Redskins.

So will the Giants play to win on Sunday? According to running back Rashad Jennings, that's the plan.

"Yes. Everyone is going to play Sunday," Jennings said, via ESPN.

Guard Justin Pugh added that all the game planning the Giants did on Tuesday was for Washington, with no discussions of preparing for a potential first-round playoff opponent.

So as Profootballtalk.com suggested, it appears that head coach Ben McAdoo thinks the risk of his players getting rusty if they take their feet off the gas pedal is greater than the risk of his players getting injured if they play. That means the Giants will try to win on Sunday.

One thing that might be wise is at least backing off Eli Manning's workload.

The 36-year old threw the ball 63 times last Thursday, five days after he threw 28 times in a win over the Lions.

Manning finished Thursday night 38 of 63 for 356 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. As the Sports Xchange notes, several of his incomplete passes seemed to come up short, which raised questions about the wisdom of putting so much on Manning's shoulders.

"When you look at it, we had 22 third-downs and a few two-minute drives, about 40 of those snaps (out of 88 plays)," said McAdoo. "We got a lot of plays, 40 of the snaps were either third down or two-minute drives."

Still, the notion of asking Manning to throw almost 100 passes in a span of five days seems to be a bit extreme, though McAdoo did reveal that they played it smart with Manning in the days leading up to the Eagles game.

"We take precautions there in our Wednesday practice; we're smart with what we ask him to do," McAdoo said. "We minimize the throws there, he doesn't throw on Friday and we cut down what we do on Saturday as well as Thursday.

"And last week he didn't throw a ball after the (Lions) game until we got to the game (against the Eagles) Thursday."

When asked if such a tactic is normal, McAdoo said, "Yeah, especially going in and it's your 15th game of the season. You're not doing a lot of full speed work or full speed activity. You have to be smart with all your players on how much full speed stuff you ask them to do."

Regardless of the reasoning, Manning was not sharp with throwing the ball or with his decision making, which would understandably call into question the decision to not only rest him during the practice week but to ask him to throw the ball 63 times, a new career high for the veteran quarterback.

Manning, as he has always done in his career, didn't complain after the game about his workload or the effect his arm.

"It feels fine," he said of his arm after the game. "(I'm) just disappointed that we weren't able to pull it off. (We were) a couple plays away from winning that football game."

According to Raanan, it might be a dilemma about how much Manning should play on Sunday afternoon. What won't even be a debate is that Manning should start. Even if it's for one play, McAdoo has to put his starting quarterback behind center to continue his streak. It will be Manning's 199th consecutive regular-season start.

Since Nov. 21, 2004, no quarterback other than Manning has started a game for the Giants. It's the third-longest streak in NFL history, and only Brett Favre (297) and Peyton Manning (227) have done better.

It's also perhaps the younger Manning's most impressive professional accomplishment aside from the two Super Bowl wins and two Super Bowl MVPs.

The other three NFC East teams have started 34 different quarterbacks during that time.

Manning insists his streak won't factor into whether McAdoo elects to play some of the Giants' most valuable players on Sunday in a game that has no playoff implications for them.

"No, it doesn't play in," Manning said. "I'm going to do whatever Coach McAdoo thinks is best for the team, best for me, best for us going forward, and that won't play a factor."

It's typical Manning, self-deprecating as always. He will put the team first and not complain. As Raanan suggested, everyone else would do that for him if, for some reason, McAdoo puts an end to the impressive streak.

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

Also worth noting. ... Odell Beckham dominated a weak Eagles secondary on Thursday night handling a whopping 20 targets. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon pointed out, all of the target totals of the Giants' players are inflated as the team ran a whopping 63 passing plays. Victor Cruz saw 13 total targets but was on the field for just 59 percent of the offensive plays.

The only true negative about the Giants running game was that it was limited to nine carries in the second half of the game despite Paul Perkins and Jennings both having their best games of the season while averaging close to five yards per carry.


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

New York Jets

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2016

Bryce Petty has been placed on injured reserve, ending the second-year quarterback's short stint as the starting quarterback.

Petty tore the labrum in his left shoulder Saturday against New England while tackling Malcolm Butler following a second-quarter turnover. He went on IR on Monday, and the Jets claimed outside linebacker Corey Lemonier off waivers from Detroit.

Petty made four starts this season and appeared in five contests, completing 56.4 percent of his passes for 809 yards with three touchdowns and seven interceptions. Starter Ryan Fitzpatrick was benched so the Jets (4-11) could take a look at Petty, but they didn't win any of his starts.

Fitzpatrick is expected to start Sunday's finale against Buffalo, with second-round draft pick Christian Hackenberg likely to be active for the first time.

Head coach Todd Bowles told reporters, "We're not going to gain or lose nothing by looking at Christian in this game."

Meanwhile, Bowles met with his doctors on Monday after being hospitalized late last week.

He was hospitalized Friday and missed the team flight for Saturday's 41-3 loss. He flew the day of the game and was on the sideline for the team's sixth loss in seven games.

Bowles, 53, told reporters after the game the problem was "kidney stones, gall stones, gall bladder" and that he wasn't certain he would be able to make the game at all.

Bowles, who is in his second season with the Jets, also had a health scare in February when a benign mass was removed from his throat.

The Jets (4-11) host the Bills on Sunday to end the regular season with plenty to consider -- most of it off the field.

According to ESPN.com's Rich Cimini, a sense of hopelessness has enveloped the Jets, a feeling straight out of the Rich Kotite era.

Owner Woody Johnson, who rarely misses a game, was conspicuously absent Saturday. A team spokesman said Johnson had a family obligation. Last week he left the stadium early, fuming. His team has lost the past two games to divisional foes by an aggregate score of 75-16, imperiling Bowles.

Actually, the Jets have been embarrassed in three of the past four games, losing by 31, 21 and 38 points. It's a bad look, a really bad look, and now the spotlight shifts to Johnson.

On the day the owner was a no-show, so was his team.

"There's no explanation, we're playing bad," Bowles said. "... We aren't doing anything right right now."

But it's safe to say quarterback play has been an issue.

Fitzpatrick and Petty have combined for 24 interceptions this season.

Against the Patriots, Petty (0 of 3, one interception) was awful before getting hurt for the second straight week and Fitzpatrick (8 of 21, 136 yards, two interceptions) was not much better in relief.

The Patriots turned all three interceptions into touchdowns. Only Brandon Marshall (two catches for 28 yards) and Bilal Powell (two catches for 14 yards) had more than one reception. Austin Seferian-Jenkins committed a brutal drop in the end zone.

No team is good enough to overcome that kind of incompetence at the game's most important position, but the question is: Will Johnson consider that when deciding Bowles' fate?

Will he weigh the inordinate amount of injuries?

In addition, there were signs of dissension in the Jets' locker room, as Sheldon Richardson ripped Marshall, who played just 52 percent (29-of-56) of the Jets' offensive snaps and sat out most of the fourth quarter with a hip injury.

It started when Marshall said the 41-3 loss was "embarrassing."

When Richardson was asked if he felt the same way, he fired back, "He should be embarrassed. No reason. He just should be. He knows what he did."

Richardson declined further details. The two players have a history of friction. ...

Meanwhile, with Matt Forte sidelined by knee and shoulder injuries, Powell (15 carries for 60 yards) was solid, but game flow and Bill Belichick's schemes meant he had no chance of becoming only the third Jets player ever with 150 yards from scrimmage in three straight games.

Khiry Robinson (eight carries for 22 yards) ran with impressive fury in his season debut but fumbled on the play in which Petty was injured. The Patriots, of course, turned that turnover into a touchdown.

Robinson, however, was placed on injured reserve on Wednesday fter breaking his leg for a third time during Saturday's game.

Forte, Marshall and Powell (undisclosed) did not practice Wednesday; I'll have more on their status when Late-Breaking Updates commence early Thursday.

For what it's worth. ... In discussing Bowles' future with the team, a well-placed Jets source told Daily News columnist Gary Myers on Wednesday, “I don’t anticipate changes.”

But Myers immediately hedged by writing: "Can Johnson change his mind between now and Black Monday? He is known to be unpredictable and listen to the last person who has his ear."


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

Oakland Raiders

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2016

The Raiders' playoff fortunes took a turn for the worse after quarterback and NFL MVP candidate Derek Carr suffered a broken fibula Saturday.

Carr was injured on a fourth-quarter sack by Indianapolis Colts outside linebacker Trent Cole. Cole grabbed Carr by the ankle and rolled over him.

Matt McGloin replaced Carr and hit Amari Cooper for a much-needed third-down conversion to ice the game as the Raiders survived 33-25, after leading 33-7.

"It obviously is a blow," Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said. "That's what teams do; teams have to find a way to pick up and move on. We'll rally around the next guy as best we can. That's what you do."

As ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez reminded readers, McGloin has started six games in his career, though none since 2013. He has a career passer rating of 76.2 with 1,818 passing yards while completing 58.2 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 11 career games.

"I'm ready to go," said McGloin, a former Penn State quarterback. "I feel great and it has been great working with Derek Carr the past few years and working together and seeing what he has done on the field, trying to learn from that."

Besides Carr, receiver Michael Crabtree and running back Jalen Richard were also knocked out of the game.

Carr's injury came on a play with 10:55 remaining in the game when he stepped up in the pocket to avoid the rush. It was the first sack of the year allowed by Pro Bowl left tackle Donald Penn.

"I slip on one play ... I ain't never got a quarterback hurt in my whole career and I'm just upset right now," Penn said.

Before Carr's injury, the main question was whether the Raiders might be peaking too soon. That's how well they were playing in building a 26-point lead -- no "Ghost to the Post" heroics needed on this Christmas Eve against the Colts.

After the Raiders had an NFL-high seven Pro Bowlers named this week to the league's all-star game, no one should have been afraid to say that Carr was back in the conversation for NFL MVP. Or that after forcing a pair of Andrew Luck interceptions with pressure, Khalil Mack should be honing in on the league's Defensive Player of the Year award. Or that Del Rio should be in the running for NFL Coach of the Year. Same with general manager Reggie McKenzie and the league's Executive of the Year honor.

Before any awards get handed out, however, the Raiders will be attempting to capture the AFC West Sunday with a win over Denver Broncos. That would assure a first-round bye and a home playoff game the following week.

If a win over Denver is coupled with a loss by New England against Miami, the Raiders would be the top seed and the Super Bowl LI representative from the AFC would go through Oakland.

If the Raiders lose to Denver and Kansas City closes with a win over San Diego, the Raiders would be the No. 5 seed as a wild card and open on the road at Houston, champions of the AFC South.

It may, though, all come down to how well the Raiders adjust to McGloin at quarterback.

Houston is the site where McGloin had his first start, throwing three touchdown passes and completing 18 of 32 passes for 197 yards in a 28-23 win. ...

In a few related notes. ... There was some chatter after the game as to whether the Raiders, who had already clinched a playoff spot, should have been more cautious about having Carr in a game they led by three scores. Del Rio got a question on that topic during his Monday press conference and said he wasn't second-guessing himself.

Del Rio pointed to Luck's ability to put up points quickly, something he did to cut the score to 33-25 before the game was over.

"We felt we had to keep the pedal down on that opponent and that quarterback in that game," Del Rio said. "You're talking about a team facing elimination. We knew they were going to get everything they had to close the game any way they could. And we were prepared for that. The question would be a little different if it was like, ‘Coach, don't you think you got a little conservative there? What the heck, you let them come back.' And we'd be sitting here with a frown on our face because we wouldn't have won our 12th game. So I think. ... I'll just leave it at that."

For the record, Carr underwent surgery in Los Angeles on Tuesday. The QB said via Twitter the "surgery couldn't have gone better" and he "received great news."

According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the amount of ligament damage Carr suffered from the injury will determine his recovery timeline. But a six-to-eight week period is expected.

Yes. The Super Bowl will be played in six weeks. So Rapoport further noted that Carr would be considered an "extreme long-shot" if the Raiders are able to make it there.

Other notes of interest. ... DeAndre Washington, a fifth-round draft pick and a healthy inactive for Weeks 12 through 14, had a season-high 12 carries for 99 yards and two 22-yard touchdown runs when the Raiders were taking charge against Indianapolis in the third quarter.

"It felt good to finally break the seal and get into the end zone," Washington said. "Hopefully this is the first of many."

Del Rio went out of his way to say Washington hadn't done anything wrong while being inactive. Washington's teammates told him to stay ready.

"A couple of guys talked to me," Washington said. "I was a little down. They told me it's a long season. You never know when you're going to be needed. Today we were all needed as a group. I'm glad we had good success running the ball."

All told, the Raiders rushed for 210 yards on 37 carries, the second-highest rushing output of the season. Richard added 66 yards on six carries and jump-started the running game in the second quarter after a slow start. Latavius Murray added 40 yards on 15 carries. The Raiders did have some issues on goal line short-yardage runs, hence three short touchdown passes.

Crabtree played 39 snaps before leaving for much of the second half because of an undisclosed injury. I'll be watching for more on the veteran wideout and Richard in coming days; keep an eye on the Late-Breaking Updates section for more.

Tight end Clive Walford played 64 of 76 snaps against Indianapolis and caught his third touchdown pass of the season.


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

Philadelphia Eagles

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2016

As ESPN.com's Tim McManus reported, running back Ryan Mathews suffered a herniated disk in his neck against the New York Giants on Thursday, an injury that coach Doug Pederson labeled "a pretty major deal."

"I don't think it's career[-threatening]," Pederson said. "I don't have all the information. What I got from our doctors this morning is that it looks like surgery is in the near future. It just has to get fixed."

Pederson said Mathews will not play in Week 17 against the Dallas Cowboys. Indeed, Mathews was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday.

On third-and-goal from the Giants' 5-yard line during the third quarter, Mathews took a handoff out of the shotgun and drove forward, colliding with defensive tackle Damon Harrison at the end of a short run. Mathews stayed in the game and carried the ball on fourth down as well -- a run that came up short of the goal line.

Harrison was also hurt on the play.

Mathews, a seven-year veteran, had an up-and-down season due in part to injury, finishing with 661 yards and eight touchdowns. He was coming off one of his best outings of the year against Baltimore, when he posted 128 rushing yards and a touchdown.

"These last couple weeks, he has kind of been our workhorse at the running back position and did some really good things for us," Pederson said. "This obviously is unfortunate now that he can't finish the season for us."

Mathews is entering the final season of a three-year contract and is scheduled to make a base salary of $4 million in 2017. Pederson would not discuss whether Mathews will be back with the team, keeping the rest of the 2016 season and Mathews' health as the top priorities.

"I'm not going to speculate on that kind of stuff right now," Pederson said. "We'll save all those for the offseason and wait until that time to make any decision."

Darren Sproles will be the starter with Mathews out and Byron Marshall should see an expanded role for Eagles as per Pederson.

Quarterback Carson Wentz left the game briefly late in the third quarter Thursday after getting hit by Giants defensive end Olivier Vernon.

Wentz went through concussion protocol, was cleared and returned to the game on the Eagles' next series.

Shortly after returning, Pederson called a reverse.

The 6-5, 235-pound Wentz threw a body block on the play. On Friday, Pederson was asked for his thoughts on a rookie quarterback who had just been checked for a head injury blocking on a play.

"I didn't have a problem with it," he said. "He's supposed to block on that play. He was cleared (by the neurologist). He went in (to the locker room), came out. We talked on the sideline and we talked before the play. We talked before the series. He was good. He was cleared, so I had no hesitation."

Wentz's 24 pass attempts were his second-fewest of the season. He had a 40-yard touchdown throw to Nelson Agholor, but completed just 13 of 24 passes and had an interception.

That said, the Eagles only ran 55 total plays in this game and their offense overall was limited.

According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, Jordan Matthews doesn't look completely healthy. He went out for just 69 percent of the team's plays. He was effectively erased in coverage by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Harmon added that Agholor appears to be in good standing with the team once again, as he went out for 96 percent of plays run.

He dropped his first pass in brutal fashion, but h rebounded by scoring the touchdown later.

Matthews (ankle) was not on the practice field Wednesday; I'll follow up on via Late-Breaking Update in coming days, but there doesn't seem to be any major concern about his availability this weekend. ...

And finally. ... Lane Johnson played in his first game in more than 2 1/2 months. The right tackle had served a 10-game PED suspension. He showed very little rust. He had a key block on Sproles' 25-yard touchdown run, and helped give Wentz the time to deliver on the scoring toss to Agholor.

"It just felt good to be back out there on the field," he said. Johnson understands what he cost this football team by getting suspended. He hopes to make it up to his teammates and the organization one day. "I've just got to be more responsible," he said. "I can't be as careless as I've been. I've got to mature and grow up. We've got Dallas next week. It doesn't mean a lot to them, but it'll mean a lot to us."

There's no doubt Johnson makes a difference when he's on the field.


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

Pittsburgh Steelers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2016

According to ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler, winning six straight games affords the Pittsburgh Steelers a few late-December luxuries that Ben Roethlisberger hopes his team takes.

"If we've got a spot and the 3[-seed] clinched up, I think a lot of guys should get healthy," Roethlisberger said about playing the one-win Cleveland Browns in Week 17 at home.

That's wise advice for a team that's secured that 3-spot and has several injuries to heal.

Considering the Steelers' 4-5 start through Week 10, their late-season positioning couldn't be stronger.

Fowler went on to explain that after knocking out the Ravens in a wild 31-27 game in Heinz Field, the Steelers have become the team no one wants to face in the playoffs. And the road to the AFC Championship Game won't get much smoother than this, potentially -- the No. 6 seed Miami Dolphins at home in the wild-card round, the No. 2 seed Oakland Raiders in Oakland for the divisional playoff.

Both teams have injured quarterbacks, Ryan Tannehill and Derek Carr. And both probably won't be back in time for those playoff games. The Kansas City Chiefs could still unseat Oakland in the AFC West, but that's hardly a guarantee.

Meanwhile, the Steelers feel they are making plays they weren't two months ago -- so much so that Le'Veon Bell is ready to "get that W" if the starters play against Cleveland in a meaningless game.

"As the season goes on, we're continually getting better," said Bell, who has 1,091 rushing and receiving yards in his past six games. "That's what it's going to take."

The Steelers feel emboldened after capping a six-game winning streak with a win over a quality Ravens team that threw everything at Pittsburgh, including 122 rushing yards on 26 carries and an offense that possessed the ball for nearly 35 minutes.

Perhaps the Steelers finally cracking the Ravens' seal after four straight losses to them will catalyze the team come January. Until Sunday, Roethlisberger had never beaten Baltimore when throwing multiple interceptions.

Fowler added an Antonio Brown-Roethlisberger explosion could be on the way. The duo hasn't had the 200-plus-yard games that were always a threat last year, but they caught fire late against one of the game's best defenses with six connections for 73 yards in the fourth quarter against Baltimore.

Brown feels something heating up. Roethlisberger and the offense went no-huddle, and Brown went to work.

"Once you get in that zone of being unstoppable, you just feel special," Brown said. "I love when [me and Big Ben] get in that zone."

The Steelers feel they are responding to adversity in critical games, and with nothing to prove from now until the playoffs, a little Week 17 rest might do Pittsburgh some good. Head coach Mike Tomlin -- whose players defended him after Terry Bradshaw's criticism this week, with several citing his inspired fourth-quarter coaching -- must weigh whether breaking up a winning streak will affect the team's rhythm.

But staving off injuries to his star players is paramount. As Fowler suggested, give the ball to Landry Jones and Fitzgerald Toussaint.

The Steelers feel they've already built up enough resolve and could use a second bye -- enough so that Tomlin confirmed on Tuesday -- and more explicitly on Wednesday -- that Roethlisberger, Bell and Brown won't see any action in this one.

Other notes of interest. ... In getting a handle on just how productive Bell has been, remember the Steelers were one of the worst rushing teams in the NFL at the season's midway point. After was held to 32 yards on 14 carries in an early November game in Baltimore the Steelers had the league's 25th-ranked rushing attack.

But after Bell averaged 127 yards rushing per game over the past seven games the Steelers own the league's 11th-ranked rushing attack heading into the regular-season finale against the Browns.

Bell has rushed for 100 yards or more five times in those seven games and the Steelers are riding a six-game winning streak as a result. Bell said the reason for the late-season turnaround is a better sense of rhythm with the offensive line.

"It's just detail," Bell said. "It wasn't all them. We weren't on the same page. There were some times there was a crease there, but I wasn't trusting it to be there. As a collective group, the offensive line, the fullbacks, tight ends, we all got on the same page week by week. I think we'll be better next week. Those guys have done a great job all year. I'm ecstatic with the offensive line I got."

Left guard Ramon Foster said the Steelers found their identity in late November when they started running the ball with more frequency, and that's been the biggest reason for the success.

Bell now has 1,884 yards from scrimmage even though he missed the first three games of the season. That's good for third-most in team history.

Roethlisberger's three touchdown passes against the Ravens to give him 29 for the season. It's the third-most touchdown passes he has thrown in a season. He threw 32 in 2007 and 2014.

Brown became the second player in NFL history to record four consecutive 100-catch seasons. Marvin Harrison was the only other player to achieve the feat. Brown has 481 receptions in the past four seasons, the most in a four-year stretch in NFL history. Harrison had 469 from 1999-2002.

Slot receiver Eli Rogers had four receptions for 83 yards, including a diving catch on the final drive that set the Steelers up at the Ravens 19-yard line.

Although both men practiced on a limited basis Wednesday, Ladarius Green (concussion) and Sammie Coates (hamstring) sat out against the Ravens and it won't be a surprise if they miss this week as well.


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

San Diego Chargers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2016

As ESPN.com's Eric D. Williams framed it, "With an already miserable season winding down, the San Diego Chargers reached a new depth of ineptitude in losing to the Cleveland Browns, 20-17, at FirstEnergy Stadium. ..."

But Mike McCoy remained the Chargers coach on Monday and asked if he expected to return next Monday after Sunday's season finale against the visiting Chiefs, McCoy's reply was short.

"Yes," he said.

But McCoy knows what everyone else does: NFL coaches are judged on wins and losses, and on that count, the Chargers are 9-23 in their last 32 games. And as the Sports Xchange suggested, one doesn't lose to a team that has dropped 24 of their last 25 outings without raising the bosses' eyebrows.

"The only time I think about this is when you ask me the question," said McCoy, who is signed through next season. "I'm not worried about (my job). I'm worried about this week and playing Kansas City."

But Chargers fans are absorbing a 1-2 punch. The Chargers (5-10), missing the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years, will finish in last place in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2000-01.

Then there's chatter of the Chargers relocating to Los Angeles, which could mean Sunday's game is the final one in San Diego. The Chargers have until Jan. 15 to decide if they want to join the Rams in the nation's second-largest city.

McCoy, though, is attempting to push the positive. It's an effort that grows more difficult with each disheartening defeat.

"Give our football team a ton of credit in how they have come in every week," McCoy said. "We've had an opportunity to win every game we have been in. Unfortunately, there is a different reason each week for the losses that we have had.

"But we got to figure out a way how to beat Kansas City and finish the season the right way."

It's been a year ruined by one wrong turn after another. The Chargers have let six fourth-quarter leads slip away. They've won but twice on the road. They had losing streaks of three and four games, with the current skid showing five losses in the last six outings.

"It's a humbling business," McCoy said. "It's a tough business and we all knew that when we got into it. It's never easy losing. It's been tough."

Saturday might have brought a new low. Not only did the Chargers become the Browns' lone victim this season, but they had a shot at winning in the final seconds.

Kicker Josh Lambo had a chance to tie Sunday's game, but his 45-yard field goal went wide right. The Chargers had to hurry onto the field for the last-second effort, but Lambo had enough time to get set and go into his kick. He was well-aware of what his misfire meant.

"I let down my teammates," Lambo said. "I let down my organization and let down our fans, and that weight is going to be heavy on me. But I'm going to do what I know to do this week and get back to work. And I'll do everything I can to fix that."

"Look at. ... The way that game ended," McCoy said. "You think you have an opportunity to go into overtime and win the game. Then we missed the kick. Something comes up where we don't get it done. It was another brutal loss."

McCoy, a head coach for the first time at any level, gets another chance for win No. 6. But playing the Chiefs, an AFC West rival, isn't a good sign: The Chargers have dropped 12 of their past 13 games in the division.

"My No. 1 focus is getting our team ready to play," McCoy said. "That is the most important thing. We are playing a hot team right now in Kansas City so I better go out there and get this team ready."

It won't be easy.

Philip Rivers continued to struggle, throwing his 19th interception on the season, the most in the NFL and one shy of matching his career high (20 in 2011). Rivers has 24 turnovers on the season -- more than 25 teams.

The Chargers did have a few highlights. Rivers topped 4,000 passing yards in a season for the eighth time, tying Tom Brady for third most in NFL history.

Antonio Gates caught a 1-yard pass for a touchdown, putting him within one of tying Tony Gonzalez's record for touchdowns for tight ends of 111.

Gates caught nine balls for 94 yards in Cleveland. "He was good," Rivers said. "Shoot, we got him that first one early. We had a few other chances, a few other times we got down there we had some things called to try to get him to tie it. We just couldn't get in there, but he was big."

Gates led the team in targets and Hunter Henry did not make a dent in the distribution. According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, the rookie was on the field for just 29 percent of the team's plays compared to 83 percent for Gates. Dontrelle Inman continued to lead the way as the team's possession receiver, but Tyrell Williams saw more high-value targets in the red zone.

In addition, Travis Benjamin continued to show a pulse for the second straight week.

Rookie Joey Bosa had two sacks for the third time this season and now has at least a half of a sack in five straight games. Bosa leads the Chargers with 9.5 sacks on the year and is three sacks away from Leslie O'Neal's franchise record for rookies (12.5) set in 1986.

On the injury front, the Chargers lost another player for the season, backup running back Kenneth Farrow, who sustained a shoulder injury against the Cleveland Browns and has been placed on injured reserve.

McCoy said Farrow dealt with a similar shoulder issue during the preseason. With Farrow out, the Chargers have just one healthy tailback on the active roster, Ronnie Hillman, although there's a chance Melvin Gordon returns to the lineup this week.

Gordon missed last week's game against the Browns with a hip strain and left knee sprain.

"He's worked extremely hard," McCoy said about Gordon. "I know he wants to get out there and play. But like I've said all along with all of the players, not just Mel, we're going to look out for the best interest of the individual first."

Gordon did not practice on Tuesday, but told reporters he intends to give it a go if at all possible. He was subsequently on the field Wednesday.

"It'll probably be a game-time decision," the second-year man said. "I've been getting after it. ... If I can (play Sunday), I will."

The Chargers promoted Andre Williams from the practice squad to the active roster on Tuesday to provide depth behind Hillman.

Also, McCoy said inside linebacker Denzel Perryman (knee), center Matt Slauson (foot), tackle King Dunlap (knee) and guard Orlando Franklin (shoulder) are day-to-day with their respective injuries this week.

I'll be following up on the injury situation -- with the focus on Gordon and the plans at running back -- via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

And finally. ... Gates said on Wednesday that he feels like he wants to come back for a 15th NFL season rather than retire.

"This is not the way I expected to be done. I'm definitely leaning toward coming back," Gates told Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Gates said something very similar at the end of last season as well, although he didn't have a contract for 2016 at that time.

Gates is now signed through next season with a base salary of $4.5 million in 2017. There would be some dead money left on the cap if the Chargers opted to part ways with him, but that seems unlikely. Gates remained productive with 48 catches for 493 yards and six touchdowns in 13 games this year and Henry has shown enough promise that they won't have to rely too heavily on a player who will turn 37 before the start of next season.


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

San Francisco 49ers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2016

As ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner framed it on Tuesday: "Armed with good health, a running-back-friendly new offense and the undisputed role as the San Francisco 49ers' offensive focal point, Carlos Hyde entered 2016 with everything in place for a breakout season. ..."

And it was going well until Sunday, when Hyde suffered a sprained left MCL in the win over the Los Angeles Rams. He will not play in the season finale against the Seahawks this Sunday. Hyde was placed on IR Tuesday but the injury will not require surgery.

Since he'll be out, Wagoner believes it's not too early to assess how he fared relative to the high hopes that he and the Niners had for him this season.

In the grand scheme of things, Hyde's year can best be summed up as such: He fell short of some of the lofty projections and goals he set for himself but he still had his best season and is clearly one of a small group of players the organization can be excited about moving forward.

"[I've been] just trying to finish the season strong, just continue to run hard, be decisive and just taking what the defense gives me," Hyde said. "I feel like I'm getting more confident in the offense, more comfortable. Just have a good feel about it, a better understanding of it, especially with the running scheme."

As far back as the summer, Hyde had made it clear that his goals for the season went beyond what even the most optimistic of fans or fantasy players could project. Hyde said then his two primary individual goals were to stay healthy and rush for 1,500 yards. If he could accomplish the first, he believed the second would follow.

Neither worked out exactly how he'd have liked, though. Hyde suffered a shoulder injury in Week 6 against Buffalo, and it cost him two games in the middle of the season. When he returned in Week 10 against Arizona, Hyde was clearly not himself, finishing with 13 carries for 14 yards.

Hyde recalibrated his expectations after the shoulder ailment.

My goal was to get over 1,000 yards," Hyde said last week. "I don't like to think ahead. I just try to focus on winning and just doing my job as best I can, and let the yards come to me. I don't try to really focus on it too much."

Unfortunately for Hyde, he came up 12 yards short of that amended goal because of the knee injury he suffered against the Rams. Before taking a hard hit to the knees from Rams cornerback E.J. Gaines, Hyde had been playing the best and most consistent football of his career.

In the five games after struggling against Arizona, he averaged 101.4 yards per game and 6.18 yards per carry to go with the first two receiving touchdowns of his career. That period included a career-high 193 yards on 17 carries in a loss to the New York Jets in Week 14.

Before his latest injury, Hyde said he was running more decisively and had a much better understanding of Chip Kelly's scheme, which mixes zone-read concepts with more traditional runs out of spread looks.

"I just think that's a byproduct of experience," Kelly said. "It doesn't matter who you are. The longer he gets to play and more comfortable, more reps he gets doing the same thing -- you could be a golfer, the more you're out on the practice range and you're swinging, you groove your swing.

"So, I just think he's gotten better over time. A very talented player. The more reps he gets at it, the more he sees it, the more comfortable he feels with it."

Wagoner went on to point out that part of Hyde's improvement before the injury was also a result of quarterback Colin Kaepernick's success running the ball.

It's not hard to find correlation between Hyde's rushing numbers making a leap and Kaepernick's taking a step back. During that aforementioned five-game stretch of success, Hyde had 507 yards on 82 carries. During that same period, Kaepernick had 26 carries for 209 yards, though if you take away the Miami game, he had 96 yards on 16 carries.

To be sure, those are still good numbers from Kaepernick, but his rushing attempts dipped some while Hyde carried the load. That's the kind of offense Kelly would like to see, where defenses have to account for the threat of the quarterback running and opening space for the running back to go.

With Hyde out, expect DuJuan Harris and Shaun Draughn to handle the bulk of the backfield duties, though the going won't be easy against a tough Seattle defense. ...

Meanwhile, Saturday's victory -- their first since Week 1 -- included things the Niners hadn't offered all season, such as a dominant defensive performance and a finishing flourish from an offense that has repeatedly failed in the second half of games. It also provided the continued work of a team that is often overmatched in terms of talent but rarely when it comes to effort.

Whether the Niners can build on Saturday's win remains to be seen. But if you're looking for hope, it can be found in the idea this was a victory that, if nothing else, can help prevent a 13-game losing streak from happening again. That it could be a step, however small it might be, in the right direction.

Other notes of interest. ... Kaepernick scored the game-winning points on a two-point conversion run in Saturday's win. Kaepernick also scored a touchdown on a 13-yard run earlier, and set up the game-winning two-pointer with a TD pass to Rod Streater with 31 seconds left. Kaepernick's 99.2 quarterback rating was his second best of the season.

Streater's TD catch was his second in two weeks, and the 10th of his career.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, C.J. Beathard
RBs: Carlos Hyde, Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, Kyle Juszczyk
WRs: Marquise Goodwin, Aldrick Robinson, Trent Taylor, Kendrick Bourne, Victor Bolden
TEs: George Kittle, Garrett Celek, Logan Paulsen

Seattle Seahawks

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2016

The Seahawks put together an improbable comeback against the Cardinals, but in the end, they came up short and wasted a golden opportunity to firm up playoff positioning in the NFC.

Cardinals running back David Johnson did a brilliant job coming back to the ball against Kam Chancellor for a 29-yard completion down the left sideline with under a minute left, and Arizona kicked a field goal as time ran out for a 34-31 victory on Saturday.

The Seahawks knew going into their final two regular-season games that if they just took care of business against a pair of teams that were a combined 6-21-1, they would have a bye in the first round of the playoffs.

Now, the potential path to the Super Bowl looks a lot more challenging.

For the time being, the Atlanta Falcons take over the No. 2 spot in the NFC, which means the Seahawks would have a home game in the first round and potentially two road games to get to Houston for Super Bowl LI. If the Detroit Lions beat the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night, the Seahawks would slide down to the No. 4 seed.

And it's tough to blame Saturday's loss on any one thing.

In the first half, the offense was a complete disaster. Inconsistency on that side of the ball remains the Seahawks' biggest issue. Russell Wilson was sacked six times and hit on 14 more occasions.

Wide receiver Tyler Lockett left the game in the first half with a right leg injury and running back Thomas Rawls exited after hurting his shoulder.

But in the second half, the offense caught fire, and Wilson finished 29-for-45 for 350 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. Doug Baldwin was brilliant with 13 catches for 171 yards. And Jimmy Graham had a key 37-yard touchdown. Facing a 31-18 deficit with 4:10 left, the offense did its part.

The defense, though, faltered down the stretch, allowing the Cardinals to score on four of their final six possessions. Carson Palmer completed 16 of 26 passes for 284 yards and a touchdown.

Earl Thomas' absence at safety was a big deal for the Seahawks. Cornerback Jeremy Lane was beaten for an 80-yard touchdown to J.J. Nelson in the first half, and it looked like Thomas' backup, Steven Terrell, failed to provide the proper help on the play.

In the second half, Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman was beaten by Nelson on a slant and Terrell took a bad angle, resulting in a 41-yard completion.

The Seahawks pride themselves on being able to overcome obstacles, but there might be too many this season. Wilson has played through three different injuries. The offensive line has struggled. Seattle lost C.J. Prosise (and now Lockett and potentially Rawls) on offense.

During his weekly appearance on ESPN 710, head coach Pete Carroll said he's not sure Rawls will be able to play Sunday against the 49ers because of a shoulder injury.

Carroll said "I don't know that yet," when asked if Rawls could play, and that he hasn't had an MRI yet to determine how severely he's injured.

"I don't think it's bad," Carroll said, via Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times. "But he did get banged (on the shoulder)."

Alex Collins replaced Rawls Saturday, and would start if Rawls is unable to go.

In addition, ESPN's Adam Schefter reports the Seahawks worked out a collection of running backs including Stevan Ridley, Jonas Gray, LaMichael James, Dominique Williams, and Daniel Herron on Tuesday.

I'll have more on Rawls via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses -- although he was on the practice field Wednesday.

In addition, Carroll said on Monday that Lockett broke both the fibula and tibia. Had surgery late Saturday night.

Lockett didn't have ligament damage. "Just" a broken leg, so good chance to come back without issue for training camp.

The Seahawks will be without their dangerous returner and speedy wideout, instead turning to a greater reliance on Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and Paul Richardson.

Richardson played a season-high 49 snaps in place of Lockett against the Cardinals. He'll take over much of Lockett's role moving forward. Seattle elevated Kasen Williams off the practice squad to fill Locket's roster spot.

Seattle will also have to replace Lockett in their return game. Richardson took over kickoff duty while Richard Sherman handled punts against Arizona. J.D. McKissic, who had been inactive against the Cardinals, could also be an option.

Worth noting: The Seahawks got a little help with playoff positioning Monday night as the Dallas Cowboys beat the Detroit Lions.

Depending on what happens in Week 17, the Seahawks could finish as the second, third or fourth seed. And if they have to play in the wild-card round, Seattle's opponent at CenturyLink Field could be one of four different teams: the New York Giants, Washington Redskins, Green Bay Packers or Lions.

The Seahawks will be the No. 2 seed if they beat the 49ers Sunday and the Falcons lose to or tie the Saints.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Russell Wilson, Austin Davis
RBs: J.D. McKissic, Mike Davis, Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls, Tre Madden
WRs: Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Paul Richardson, Tanner McEvoy, Amara Darboh
TEs: Jimmy Graham, Luke Willson, Nick Vannett

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2016

According to ESPN.com's Jenna Laine, if the news that Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin was a healthy scratch Saturday against the New Orleans Saints came as a surprise to fans, it was for his teammates, too. The Bucs rely heavily on their ground game to set up play-action, and Martin's been a central part of that for five seasons.

"I found out before the game like everyone else," said quarterback Jameis Winston. "Of course, I wanted him out there. But I have nothing more to say about that."

Head coach Dirk Koetter called it a "coaches' decision," and said that it boiled down to special teams. The team needed Charles Sims and rookie Peyton Barber on special teams, which meant room for only more running back -- Martin or Jacquizz Rodgers, who was a healthy scratch last week against the Cowboys, when they mustered just 52 rushing yards.

"We really only have room for one primary ball carrier right now," Koetter said. "I felt like it was better for us this game to go with Jacquizz."

The end result?

According to Tampa Bay Times staffer Rick Stroud, Martin's season appears to be over and his future with the Bucs is in doubt.

Martin, was excused from Wednesday's practice, Stroud reported. The team also placed Sims on the injured reserve list for a second time -- with Wednesday's move officially ending his season.

NFL Networks' Ian Rapoport subsequently reported that Martin is stepping away from the team to take care of a personal issues. Martin subsequently announced he's been suspended four games for violating the leagues' substance-abuse policy and he's entering a rehab facility.

I'll have more details when Late-Breaking Updates commence early Thursday.

All this comes two days after the Bucs signed rookie Russell Hansbrough to their 53-man roster from the Giants' practice squad, a move that would point to one of their existing running backs not playing in Sunday's season finale against Carolina. Martin is not injured, so his absence points to some level of disconnect between Martin and coaches over the decision to bench him for a game that had major ramifications on the Bucs' playoff hopes.

Bucs players, asked in the locker room Wednesday about Martin's absence, offered their support and hope that he could return to his Pro Bowl levels next season.

"Doug's a great player," receiver Mike Evans said. "I don't know what he did, but I'm sure he'll come back strong next year."

Martin had rushed 119 times for 336 yards (2.8 per carry) and three touchdowns over the previous six games, and though the Bucs went 5-1 during that stretch, their running game disappeared. The decision to start Rodgers was surprising only because two weeks earlier, Koetter gave an impassioned defense of Martin.

"I'll stand by the defense. He is running hard and we do need to give him more lanes," Koetter said Monday. "But again, I made the decision that I thought Quizz would give us a better opportunity last week and Quizz did a good job when he was in there. People can say whatever they want about how Doug would've been, we don't know because he wasn't in there. I'm not trying to confuse anybody. That's not my intent. I'm trying to put the Bucs in the best position to win games."

Monday, Koetter declined to say whether Martin would be inactive again this week. But that was before the Bucs arranged for Hansbrough to travel to Tampa, Sims went on IR and Martin announced his suspension.

An undrafted free agent from Missouri, Hansbrough has had three stints on the Bucs' roster this season and been released by the club five times.

Rodgers started in place of Martin on Saturday and rushed for 63 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries.

Martin signed a five-year, $35.75 million contract last March, including $15 million guaranteed.

We'll see how the Bucs handle things this offseason because Martin has a $7 million cap hit and the Bucs will be on the hook for all of it whether he's on the team or not. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Winston felt the pressure to do it all last Saturday against the Saints. He passed for 277 yards with two touchdowns, but his two interceptions were a killer. He also was sacked twice. Evans bounced back with seven catches for 97 yards and a score.

Evans had gone three games without a touchdown until he caught his 11th of the season against the Saints.

One last note here. ... Cameron Brate was forced out of Sunday's game with a back injury. The tight end, who's only catch of the day in New Orleans went for a touchdown, was placed on injured reserve Tuesday.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jameis Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Griffin
RBs: Peyton Barber, Jacquizz Rodgers, Charles Sims, Doug Martin
WRs: Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries, Chris Godwin, Bernard Reedy
TEs: Cameron Brate, O.J. Howard

Tennessee Titans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2016

Marcus Mariota is out and so are the Titans.

Mariota broke his right leg in a 38-17 loss at Jacksonville on Saturday, a crushing setback for a team that had so many things go right while winning three in a row and seven of 10 previously.

"That breaks my heart, man," Titans offensive tackle Taylor Lewan said. "Love him. That guy's an awesome dude. For that to happen to him, it's unfair."

A few hours later, the Titans (8-7) were eliminated from playoff contention when Houston beat Cincinnati to win the AFC South for the second straight season.

Tennessee needed the Bengals to win to set up an AFC South title game next week against the Texans. Instead, head coach Mike Mularkey's team will play a meaningless home finale — without their star QB.

With the Titans trailing 25-10 late in the third quarter, Mariota was carted off the field with an air cast on his fractured fibula. Rookie Sheldon Day sacked Mariota as he scrambled on first down and grabbed him around the lower legs. Mariota signaled to the sideline as he pounded the ground. Trainers rushed to his side, put on the air cast and lifted Mariota onto a cart. Teammates and even some Jaguars patted Mariota on the shoulders before he excited.

"We didn't protect him — offensive line, running backs — we didn't protect him all day," running back DeMarco Murray said.

Mariota was hurried early and often, leading to errant throws all over the field. He completed 8 of 20 passes for 99 yards, with a touchdown and two sacks.

As Associated Press sports writer Teresa M. Walker noted, the Jaguars (3-12) played inspired football, partly because popular coach Gus Bradley was fired six days earlier and partly because the Titans embarrassed them on national television in late October. Mariota was a prime target, along with Murray and fellow running back Derrick Henry.

The Titans were held to 58 yards on the ground in the game.

"It's the first time this season we have been beaten like that," said Mularkey. "It's a bad time for it."

Journeyman Matt Cassel replaced Mariota and completed 13 of 24 passes for 124 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. His 14-yard score to Delanie Walker made it 25-17 in the fourth quarter, but Jacksonville answered on the ensuing drive and then sealed the victory when rookie Jalen Ramsey returned an interception 30 yards for a score.

Cassel will be the starter for the finale, Mularkey said.

"Cassel is a guy who's been around a long time and has won a lot of games," Murray said. "He's the next guy up and he prepares every single day, every single week like he's the starter, so I know he'll be ready to play."

Maybe, but he's unlikely to give the Titans the same passing-running combination Mariota did.

The second overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft, Mariota completed 61.2 percent of his passes this season for 3,426 yards with 26 touchdown passes and nine interceptions. He also ran for two scores.

Although he hadn't thrown a TD pass in two straight games entering Saturday, he threw at least two in a franchise-record eight straight before that. His 107.2 passer rating over the previous 11 weeks was third behind Atlanta's Matt Ryan and New England's Tom Brady during that span.

"I think everybody to a man went to see him in the training room and wished him well," Cassel said.

Meanwhile, Jim Wyatt of the team's official website reports that Mularkey said on Monday the estimated timetable for Mariota's return was four or five months, which could have him back on the field for OTAs this offseason. Mularkey said he didn't think there would be any loss of mobility for the second-year quarterback.

Noted foot and ankle specialist Dr. Robert Anderson was scheduled to perform the procedure Wednesday in Charlotte.

Overall, the Titans, who had won five games combined in the previous two seasons, far exceeded the expectations of nearly every onlooker. Eight wins, and the chance to post their first winning season since 2011, is a much better showing than most anyone would have predicted for a team entering the season in flux in a number of areas.

Conversely, of course, the Titans' expectations were greatly re-calibrated when they played some of their strongest football in the first two weeks of December, gaining improbable wins over defending Super Bowl champion Denver and playoff qualifier Kansas City in back-to-back weeks to move into a tie for their division lead.

As it unfolded, the Titans never learned how to take care of business inside their own division, weak as it was, despite going 7-3 outside of division play this season. Their porous 1-4 record inside the AFC South is the primary reason they are sitting out this postseason rather than participating.

"We know what we're capable of doing, but we've got to win the games we have to win," Mularkey said. "Again, is that part of the learning process? Yeah, that's part of it, but it's a tough lesson to learn. You have to wait a year to build off of it, but I think we will take something from that and build off of it.

One last note here. ... Mariota was placed on injured reserve and Alex Tanney was promoted from the practice squad to serve as Cassel's backup for the season finale against the Texans. It's the second year in a row that Tanney has been on the active roster for the final week of the year and he went 10-of-14 for 99 yards and a touchdown against the Colts in Week 17 last year.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Marcus Mariota, Matt Cassel, Brandon Weeden
RBs: Derrick Henry, DeMarco Murray, David Fluellen
WRs: Rishard Matthews, Eric Decker, Taywan Taylor, Eric Weems, Corey Davis
TEs: Delanie Walker, Luke Stocker, Jonnu Smith, Phillip Supernaw

Washington Redskins

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 December 2016

The Redskins had no shot at the postseason if quarterback Kirk Cousins threw the ball the way he did against Carolina in Week 15, but as ESPN.com's John Keim advised readers, the thing to know about Cousins is that when he's doubted, he comes through. Or when he struggles, he knows how to recover.

Indeed, Cousins responded after perhaps his worst game of the year with one of his best in the Redskins' 41-21 win over Chicago on Saturday. It happened at just the right time, when a loss would have eliminated them from playoff contention. Instead, the Redskins stayed alive as Cousins completed 18 of 29 passes for 270 yards and a touchdown. He did this with tight end Jordan Reed sidelined by a shoulder injury. But when you have a DeSean Jackson (five catches, 114 yards), you can overcome such absences.

With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers losing this past weekend, the Redskins make the playoffs with a win against the Giants Sunday unless Lions/Packers ends in a tie.

If the Giants, who may rest their starts with nothing to gain, win Sunday, Washington is eliminated.

"We're building something special here," head coach Jay Gruden said.

Part of what they're building goes back to quarterback. He felt good enough after the game to don a Christmas jacket his wife packed for him, without his knowledge of course. It was a dark green coat with gingerbread cookies and colored lights and candy canes throughout. As he walked through the locker room wearing the coat, teammates perked up and shouted their approval.

"I like that," Redskins end Ricky Jean Francois said.

"Good and terrible, man," Redskins left tackle Trent Williams said.

But there was no debating Cousins' performance.

It was silly to dismiss Cousins after a bad game against Carolina and you can't go overboard just because he played another good game. But it's what the Redskins needed, heading into the regular-season finale versus the Giants. Washington's defense intercepted five passes, but that's not going to happen two weeks in a row. The Redskins' running game was a difference-maker with 208 yards. You can't underestimate what that means, but it helps when you can gain more than 2 yards a carry. The Redskins stuck with the run, it created positive opportunities and it mattered a whole bunch.

Here's something else that helped: The Bears' man coverage. It's a mystery why they would want to play a lot of man versus Washington, though it is what they do. However, it's what the Redskins devour and Cousins took advantage, showing once more how this offense can operate when it has some semblance of balance. Cousins even ran it in twice, once on a 9-yard run around the end -- again, man coverage opened up a lane once he got around the end -- and another on a sneak.

"At times it was just the coverage they played," Cousins said. "Other times they had to honor the run. There's a lot there to have eye control with."

It's not that Cousins was perfect, it's that he did what he needed to do -- and he did it well. Sometimes it was just showing patience, as he did on Chris Thompson's 17-yard screen pass for a touchdown. Cousins was about to be drilled by a free blitzer, but he waited long enough for Thompson to clear and let it go. Sometimes it was about making a long connection -- he had completions of 57, 25 and 29 yards in the first half, along with another ball that drew a 28-yard pass interference penalty.

"Those guys had some sensational results," Gruden said. "The receivers were winning one-on-one battles. Kirk was finding holes in the zones. It was very crucial for us and those guys were excellent."

This has never been all on Cousins, but when he's on target, the Redskins have one of the most dangerous offenses in the NFL. It's why they still have a pulse with one week left.

And the Redskins now are in good shape to make the postseason. With Detroit losing to Dallas, if the Redskins beat the New York Giants Sunday then they'll get in -- as long as the game between Green Bay and Detroit does not end in a tie. ...

Meanwhile, running back Robert Kelley predicted Saturday that his knee would be fine for the finale. An MRI on Monday confirmed his optimism.

Kelley remains sore and probably won't do much this week (he was limited Wednesday), Gruden said. But the coach added Kelly should be "OK" for Sunday's game.

Kelley sprained his knee in the second half of Saturday's win. He managed to keep playing, though he rotated with Mack Brown. Kelley rushed for 76 yards on 19 carries.

"He could have kept going," Gruden said. "He wanted to keep going, but I wanted to see Mack Brown. Robert is a tough guy. He didn't want to come out, but you could see he was in pain."

Gruden said he wanted to get Brown some carries in case he needs to play a bigger role against the Giants. Brown has served as the No. 3 back since Week 8 because of his special teams ability. That left former starter Matt Jones inactive.

But Brown had not carried the ball until Saturday when he gained 82 yards on eight carries, though 61 yards came on a third-down touchdown run when the Redskins were running out the clock.

"We saw what he can do, the confidence he has in the line and seeing holes," Gruden said. "We feel good about those two guys, and obviously Chris Thompson."

Thompson continues to have a strong season. He has rushed for 351 yards and caught 43 passes for another 312 yards. Thompson scored twice Saturday, on a run up the middle and on a well-executed screen.

The Redskins still aren't sure what to expect from Reed this week, although CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora reported on Tuesday that the tight end will suit up in a must-win game.

Reed played in the Dec. 19 loss to Carolina, but was in clear discomfort after taking shots to the shoulder during the game.

"Wednesday will be a big day for him," Gruden said. The tight end subsequently worked on a limited basis Wednesday.

Reed did not practice last week and there wasn't much hope all along that he'd be ready to go for the Bears.

In other injury news: Jackson is considered day-to-day.

Jackson injured his jaw in the second half and did not continue, though he said he could have if the game had been close. Gruden said he felt Jackson would be OK, and the wideout was working fully on Wednesday.

"Maybe it will quiet him down this week," Gruden said jokingly of Jackson's jaw injury.

Stay tuned. ... I'll be following up on all the walking wounded via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Colt McCoy
RBs: Samaje Perine, Kapri Bibbs
WRs: Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson, Ryan Grant, Brian Quick, Terrelle Pryor
TEs: Vernon Davis, Jeremy Sprinkle, Niles Paul