Team Notes week 17 2019

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 24 December 2019

Kenyan Drake rushed for 166 yards and two touchdowns, Larry Fitzgerald added a 21-yard TD reception, and the Cardinals stymied Russell Wilson and the injury-depleted Seattle Seahawks in a 27-13 win on Sunday.

Drake had an 80-yard TD run in the first quarter and provided the capper with a 3-yard TD with 4:18 remaining to take a 27-13 lead. Drake's 166 yards were a season high against Seattle.

Arizona (5-9-1) lost No. 1 overall draft pick Kyler Murray to a hamstring injury midway through the third quarter. Murray was tended to on the sideline after leading a drive that finished with Zane Gonzalez's 46-yard field goal that gave Arizona a 20-7 lead early in the third quarter.

Murray scrambled on the final play of the drive for 4 yards and never returned.

Murray was walking with a slight limp on the sideline in the fourth quarter and eventually had the hamstring wrapped.

"We didn't want to put him in harm's way if he couldn't be him, so we decided to sit him," head coach Kliff Kingsbury said.

Brett Hundley replaced Murray and completed 4 of 9 passes for 49 yards and ran for 35 yards on six carries. He led a touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter to put the game out of Seattle's reach.

Murray had looked commanding before his injury, going 11-for-18 passing for 118 yards and a touchdown, and running six times for 40 yards.

The rookie showed his versatility time and time again against the Seahawks, evading sacks and tacklers by scrambling, which led to his making plays with his arm, as well.

Murray put the Cardinals ahead in the second quarter with a dynamic play that highlighted his mobility and throwing ability. He scrambled left, away from pressure, and then cut left, running parallel to the line of scrimmage. He then hit wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald on a sidearm pass, and Fitzgerald powered his way to the end zone for the touchdown, to put Arizona up 14-7.

Hundley, a former Seahawk, had attempted one pass this season before Sunday's game. He was 0-for-1 in three snaps in the Cardinals' loss to the New Orleans Saints on Oct. 27.

Kingsbury said he didn't know if Murray could play this week in Los Angeles.

"I couldn't make a guess," he said. "We obviously won't put him out there if he wasn't a hundred percent."

The good news?

An MRI on Murray's injured hamstring showed no tear, Ian Rapoport of the NFL reports. It's "just a regular, minor hamstring pull."

That means Murray is day to day, needing to get some practice reps this week in order to start his 16th game.

"If he's able to play, he's going to play," Kingsbury said at a press conference prior to the MRI.

Kingsbury said that the game reps are important for the first overall pick in this year's draft and there's little point in arguing the value of experience, although it won't mean as much if Murray should make a minor injury worse and possible miss time in the offseason.

Murray said he wants "to finish the season out strong," but isn't "dying over it" because he knows that he isn't going to do himself or the team much good if he's playing in a compromised state.

"I'm going to be smart, regardless of the situation, understanding that if I can't be myself, I'm not going to put myself out there," Murray said, via the team's website. "I'm not going to hurt the team in that way. But if I can go, I'm going to go."

So Kingsbury said the Cardinals want to be smart. Murray, who was listed as a limited participant Wednesday, said he wants to be smart. Darren Urban of the team's website notes that Murray has nothing left to prove his rookie season.

"I won't be surprised if Hundley gets a start," Urban added.

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

For the record. ... Murray has a 5-9-1 record with 3,397 passing yards, 18 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and an 87.9 passer rating. He also has run for 544 yards and four touchdowns.

He has not lost a fumble this season.

The Cardinals' final game is on the road against the Rams, who won't make the playoffs after advancing to the Super Bowl last season. If Murray doesn't play, the task is obviously more difficult, but a three-game winning streak to end the season would give the franchise six wins, which would double its win total from 2018. ...

Meanwhile, the Cardinals were excited about the addition of Drake when they traded for him in midseason to join a crowded running back room that already included David Johnson and Chase Edmonds. Drake got a chance as the lead back when they were injured and never relinquished it.

"We predicted, as the No. 1 back, what he could do," Kingsbury said. "That's why we made the trade. We wouldn't have traded, at that point in the season, if we didn't think he could play at a high level if he was made the guy. Getting those number of touches, he's stepped up and answered the bell."

Drake had the long run on his second carry of the game and continued to rack up the yardage. He sealed the win with a three-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to make it a two-possession game.

The Cardinals carried the ball 40 times for 253 yards in total, averaging 6.3 yards per carry. Murray and Hundley combined for 75 rushing yards and the offensive line again did a solid job of paving the way, which Drake noted after the contest.

"I'm just a piece of the puzzle in this great cog we have going," Drake said.

From a fantasy perspective, of course, he's the piece of interest. Don't expect that to change materially in the finale. ...

Fitzgerald was a big part of the offense, leading the team with seven targets, four catches and 48 receiving yards. His 21-yard receiving score was an interesting one, as Murray looked like he was about to scramble for yardage before flipping the ball to Fitzgerald.

"I was playing volleyball out there," Fitzgerald said. "I tipped it to myself."

Fitzgerald had a second touchdown overturned later when his catch in the end zone was ruled to hit the ground.

"They stole a touchdown from me," Fitzgerald said.

Bigger picture, Fitzgerald became the second player in NFL history to top 17,000 yards receiving in a career. Fitzgerald reached the mark on his TD catch in the second quarter. Fitzgerald entered the day with 16,990 yards receiving; he trails only Jerry Rice (22,895) on the all-time list. ...

The past five games have been slightly disappointing for second-year receiver Christian Kirk, who caught six balls for 138 yards and three touchdowns in Week 10 against the Buccaneers. Since then, he's caught just 21 total passes and hasn't found the end zone. He had no catches against the Seahawks after dealing with an ankle issue all week leading up to the game. ...

Tight end Charles Clay had a 16-yard catch early in the game but injured his knee on the play and didn't return. Fellow tight end Maxx Williams was second on the team with 36 receiving yards, including a key 28-yard grab on a pass from Hundley.

Clay was listed as a nonparticipant in Wednesday's (non)practice.

Dan Arnold followed up his touchdown catch last week against the Browns with a 20-yard grab. Darrell Daniels was also active, and every tight end played on offense.

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

Atlanta Falcons

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 December 2019

As Associated Press sports writer Paul Newberry reported, if this was Dan Quinn's final game in Atlanta as the Falcons coach, at least he went out in style.

Devonta Freeman scored two touchdowns before Jacksonville took a snap, and that was enough to send the Falcons past the woeful Jaguars 24-12 Sunday in a match-up between teams long since eliminated from the NFL playoff race.

Matt Ryan threw for 384 yards and Julio Jones had his biggest game of the year, hauling in 10 catches for 166 yards.

Before thousands of empty seats at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Falcons won their third straight game while holding the Jaguars to 288 yards in the home finale.

Atlanta piled up 518 yards.

"We wanted to close out our season at home for our fans and certainly represent the way we could," Quinn said.

Quinn's future has been the subject of feverish speculation in Atlanta. In a season of high expectations, the Falcons got off to a 1-7 start and are headed to the second straight losing record.

The Falcons are now 6-9 and sit in third place of the NFC South. The Saints sit atop the division at 12-3 and next week's opponent, the Buccaneers, are 7-9 and in second place. The Panthers are currently in fourth at 5-10.

The only solace for Quinn is another strong finish. In 2018, the Falcons closed with three straight wins. Now, they've got another three-game run that is largely meaningless in the grand scheme of the season.

It may not be enough to save Quinn's job after five years as the Falcons coach, even though he guided the franchise to only its second Super Bowl appearance during the 2016 season.

"It's been a tale of two halves," Ryan said. "The first half (of the season) is not what we wanted. But in this league, the margin of error is small. The difference between being in the mix with a handful games going different in the first half is not much. But you have to be on right side of it."

We'll see if they can remain on the positive side to close things out on Sunday. ...

Other notes of interest. ... AtlantaFalcons.com's Matt Tabeek wrote, "Let's face it, the Falcons' running game has been inconsistent in 2019, and that's probably being kind."

It's a fair point.

Freeman, Atlanta's top back who entered the season healthy again, hasn't had a single 100-yard game all season long.

But when the Falcons can run, their offense is much more effective. And on Sunday, the Falcons' running game had some giddy-up its step, combining for 135 yards on 27 carries and a pair of touchdowns. Freeman finished with 53 yards on 13 carries but three of his runs -- for 18, 9 and 18 yards -- were called back due to penalties.

Brian Hill led the way with 66 yards on seven carries.

Again, it wasn't a dominant performance on the ground, but it was good enough to help the Falcons outgain the Jaguars in first downs (28 to 17), in time of possession (33:07 to 26:53) and total yardage (518 to 288).

Meanwhile, another Sunday, another milestone for Ryan and Jones.

The Falcons signal caller surpassed 4,000 passing yards for the ninth-consecutive season. That streaks now the second-longest in NFL history breaking a tie with Peyton Manning, who had 4,000 passing yards in eight-straight seasons. Ryan trails just Drew Brees, who reached that total for 12-straight seasons between 2006-17. Brees did not reach 4,000 passing yards last season, and he had only 2,447 passing yards entering Sunday's games, making it extremely unlikely he will do so again.

Jones became the fastest receiver in NFL history to reach 12,000 career receiving yards during the third quarter, surpassing Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, Jones did it in his 125th career game, in 17 fewer games than Rice did.

Jones was listed as a nonparticipant on Wednesday's estimated practice report due to a knee issue. I'll follow up as neeed via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

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

Baltimore Ravens

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 December 2019

As ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley reported, Lamar Jackson rewrote the Ravens' record book and set a new course on the NFL postseason map.

For the first time, the road to the Super Bowl in the AFC now goes through Baltimore.

Jackson carried the Ravens to the first No. 1 seed in their 24-year existence on Sunday, throwing for three touchdowns and running for 103 yards in a 31-15 victory over the Cleveland Browns. Baltimore (13-2), one of three AFC teams that had never previously captured the top spot, now has home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

"It is a great accomplishment," head coach John Harbaugh said. "It's something that I'm sure people will always take pride in. It's something we'll look back on at some point. But right now, we're looking forward."

Jackson made history of his own, establishing a team record for touchdown passes in a season. He recorded the milestone with his 34th touchdown of the season, which came when he hit uncovered tight end Mark Andrews down the seam for a 39-yard score late in the first half. That ignited a stretch in which Jackson threw touchdown passes on three straight drives.

Jackson surpassed former Ravens QB Vinny Testaverde, who threw 33 touchdown passes in the franchise's inaugural 1996 season. Coincidentally, Jackson recently became the Ravens' first Pro Bowl quarterback since Testaverde, ending the second-longest current drought by one team. (The Miami Dolphins have the longest.)

Asked if he enjoys having this record, Jackson said: "I've been throwing them and not running them. You know, 'Mr. Running Back.' My guys are doing a great job catching the passes. We've just got to keep it going. I'm happy with the regular season, but we've got bigger fish to fry."

It was not all celebration for Baltimore.

Pro Bowl running back Mark Ingram limped off the field early in the fourth quarter with what has been described as a calf strain, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter. He left the locker room in a walking boot and is scheduled for an MRI. He told ESPN's Josina Anderson that the boot is "helping me not to push off my foot and put pressure on my calf."

"I don't believe it's anything. ... There's no kind of structural issues or anything like that," Harbaugh said. "His calf was cramping. We'll just have to see [Monday] to what degree, to what extent that means."

But we won't learn much this week.

Harbaugh confirmed on Monday that Sunday's win was the last time we'll Jackson, Ingram, safety Earl Thomas and Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda play until Jan. 11 or 12. Baltimore finishes the regular season Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers and then enjoys its third first-round bye in team history. Not only are the Ravens one of only two teams headed to the postseason not playing for playoff positioning (the Bills being the other), Jackson sitting won't hurt his MVP bid, which is all but cinched with a week left.

He also bested Michael Vick's record for most rushing yards by a QB, so that's already on the shelf.

Robert Griffin III will start at quarterback for the Ravens on Sunday. It will be the first start for RGIII since 2016, when he started five games for the Browns.

As NFL.com suggested, Ingram's calf injury Sunday should be a reminder to the Ravens that anything can happen at any moment in an NFL game, especially one against a bruising division rival.

Jackson will finish the 2019 regular season with 36 touchdown passes (the most by a player before his 23rd birthday, according to ESPN Stats and Information) and six interceptions.

Asked about those scintillating numbers, Harbaugh asked Yanda whether he should deliver Jackson's now-famous comeback line.

"Not bad for a running back," Harbaugh said in ending his postgame news conference. ...

By the way. ... Ingram's 15 touchdowns this season are tied with Ray Rice (2011) for most in a season by a Ravens running back. ...

A few final notes. ... Andrews had another sensational day, catches six passes for 93 yards and two scores against the Browns.

The former third-round pick out of Oklahoma leads the Ravens with 64 catches, 852 yards receiving and 10 TDs.

Wide receiver Willie Snead was targeting only once and held without a catch. Over his past two games, the former New Orleans star has one reception for 15 yards.

Though Snead has scored five touchdowns this season, his 28 receptions pale against the team-leading 62 he had last year. Over the first 15 games, he's twice been held without a catch and caught just one pass on three occasions.

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

Buffalo Bills

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 December 2019

As ESPN.com's Marcel Louis-Jacque framed it, "Those footsteps the New England Patriots have heard from atop the AFC East this season? They reached the door during Saturday night's 24-17 win over the Buffalo Bills, who nearly escaped Gillette Stadium with their first road win over Tom Brady in which the quarterback played the entire game.

"Buffalo (10-5) rebounded from a putrid offensive performance in the first half, tying the score with one second left in the second quarter and taking the lead midway through the third. Ultimately, the Patriots (12-3) did what they've done best for the better part of two decades, scoring the go-ahead score with just under five minutes left."

Still, it's been a solid season for Buffalo.

The loss locks the Bills into the AFC's fifth seed and a likely matchup with the Houston Texans in the wild-card round. While they had a slim chance at a division title if they won their final two games of the season and the Patriots lost theirs, Saturday's result might be a blessing in disguise for the Bills.

Instead of playing a must-win game against the Jets this weekend, Buffalo can give their starters a break -- including Josh Allen, who has taken the second-most hits of any quarterback this season.

Along the way, Allen has clearly earned the respect of teammates

Cole Beasley spoke with reporters at his locker Saturday night, roughly 30 minutes after Allen's fourth-down heave was deflected by New England Patriots defenders to end Buffalo's upset bid.

Beasley turned in his second 100-yard receiving game of the season (a career best) in the loss to New England but he wasn't focused on that; he did, however, have plenty to say about the team's second-year quarterback.

"That dude's gonna be one of the best quarterbacks in the league," Beasley said.

Allen overcame a dreadful start that saw him throw for 19 yards in the first 29:30 before salvaging his first half with a 34-yard pass to Dawson Knox and a 1-yard touchdown pass to Dion Dawkins. He finished by going 13-of-26 for 206 yards and two touchdowns -- a stark difference from his three-interception performance against the Patriots in Week 4.

As he has done relatively often throughout his first two seasons, Allen put his team in position to score with the game on the line. His last-ditch throw to Beasley did not connect but his play in the second half is part of the reason why the Bills and their fans are shedding the familiar pit in their stomachs associated with playing the Patriots.

"I would say that every week, Josh's captain's 'C' just gets darker and darker -- as in bolder and bolder for people to see it," Dawkins said. "Josh continues to put the team on his back and you guys see it. [In the] fourth quarter, Josh does what Josh does. We love him and we're thankful for him. That's our quarterback and that's my 17."

Since a pedestrian start to the season that saw Allen throw seven interceptions in the Bills' first five games, he has thrown 15 touchdowns to two interceptions, adding another six scores on the ground. It hasn't always been pretty -- he has completed 56 percent of his passes in that span and is averaging fewer than 200 passing yards per game.

But his proficiency in the fourth quarter generally masks the warts of his game.

In the fourth quarter this season, Allen's 8:0 touchdown-to-interception ratio is the best in the NFL, his 109.7 passer rating ranks sixth and his 11 rushing first downs rank second among quarterbacks. His eight game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime since the start of last season trail only Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson and Drew Brees.

He has showcased an ability to elevate his play in the biggest moments.

"He's a dog, man. He's a gamer," Beasley said. "When the game's on the line, he's going to do everything he has to do and put his body on the line for his team. When you've got a guy like that, good things are going to happen."

Head coach Sean McDermott said on Monday that he had not decided whether to play the team's starters against the Jets in Week 17, but he subsequently made some decisions.

McDermott said at a Tuesday press conference that the majority of the team's starters will play in the regular season finale. There was a question about the team's plans because they can't move out of the No. 5 seed in the AFC.

One of the starters that will play is Allen. The QB will make all 16 starts this season after starting 11 times as a rookie. He did not start the opener, but played in the game, and then missed four games with injuries later in the season.

McDermott added that not all players are going to play the same amount and said that backup quarterback Matt Barkley could play in the event the team decides to pull Allen early in order to ensure he's healthy for the Wild Card round. ...

A few final notes. ... Beasley had seven catches for 108 yards against the Pats, his second 100-yard game in four weeks and the third-most yards in his career. He had 110 yards in the Thanksgiving win over Dallas. His career high is 112. ...

Frank Gore, the NFL's third all-time leading rusher, didn't have a carry for the first time in his 15-year career, a span of 225 regular-season games. Gore has carried 65 times for just 151 yards over his past eight games. ...

On the injury front. ... RT Ty Nsekhe missed his fifth straight game with an ankle injury. C Mitch Morse's status is uncertain after he hurt his lower right leg and did not return. McDermott on Monday also listed DE Shaw Lawson and WR Andre Roberts as being hurt, without disclosing the nature of their injuries.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Josh Allen, Matt Barkley
RBs: Devin Singletary, Frank Gore, T.J. Yeldon
WRs: John Brown, Cole Beasley, Isaiah McKenzie, Andre Roberts, Duke Williams, Robert Foster
TEs: Dawson Knox, Tyler Kroft, Tommy Sweeney, Lee Smith, Jason Croom

Carolina Panthers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 December 2019

Christian McCaffrey broke one NFL record and put himself in position to tie an even bigger one during Sunday's 38-6 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

McCaffrey broke the record he set last year for the most catches by a running back in a season. His 15 catches gave him 109 for the year, two more than he had in 2018.

As ESPN.com's David Newton notes, that set the stage for this week.

The 2017 first-round pick out of Stanford needs 67 yards receiving in the season finale against New Orleans to become the third player in NFL history to have 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in the same season.

The only members of the 1,000/1,000 club are Roger Craig and Marshall Faulk.

But as much as McCaffrey might want to join them, he wants to end Carolina's seven-game losing streak more.

"Those things are cool, but it doesn't matter if you're not winning," McCaffrey said of records. "I just want to win. If those things can help winning, it would be great."

McCaffrey had 119 yards receiving against Indy to go with 54 yards rushing for his 16th game with at least 50 yards in both categories. That tied him for the most by a player in his first four seasons, and McCaffrey is in only his third.

McCaffrey said winning should be Carolina's first objective, reiterating records mean something only when the team is relevant. He said everyone needs to elevate their game against the Saints.

"Because collectively, we're just not getting it done," McCaffrey said. "That's just the facts."

McCaffrey's accomplishments aside, Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen called this season that cost head coach Ron Rivera his job a few weeks ago a "collective failure."

If Olsen decides to hang up the cleats and head to the TV booth after this season, he's already got practice giving an honest assessment of the team he's covering.

"In 13 years, I've never been a part of what these last weeks have been like," Olsen said. "It's just s---ty. We took a lot in building this thing the right way. A lot of guys are trying to finish this chapter out. We failed. We failed collectively. It's a tough pill to swallow riding this thing out.

"We just failed. Overall we failed. As players and all the people that are involved in how this game goes. It's about as rock bottom as it gets."

McCaffrey didn't point fingers, "Because it's not what I do."

"But I can tell you this, though," he said. "We have a lot of guys on this team who are fighters and it's a shame we're not getting it done for each other. Everyone deserves better."

That's why McCaffrey's focus against New Orleans will be on victory, not joining the 1,000-1,000 club.

"It's a blessing to play in the NFL," he said. "All of us have talent. It would be a shame to waste that talent."

Sunday's blowout defeat came with rookie Will Grier under center behind an offensive line that couldn't block traffic with a bulldozer. The third-round pick threw three interceptions, and outside of the short passes to McCaffrey, the Panthers' offense was abysmal.

"(Grier) was thrown into an impossible situation," Olsen said, defending the young quarterback. "Two games left in a season where there's been countless issues and now, throw him out there, play incompetent football around him -- it's impossible to get any sort of judgment based on his performance today."

Olsen's criticism wasn't of the young players that have struggled in the recent weeks, but of the organization's issues from the top down.

"There were failures all around (Grier). Failures leading up to it," Olsen said. "I hope no one passes any judgment on Will's abilities as a player, in the future going forward. There were a lot of things at play he had to suffer the consequences of."

No one expected the Panthers to go on a run after Rivera was fired, but the epic collapse is an indictment of everyone left.

For what it's worth, the Panthers officially wrapped up last place in the NFC South, so their opponents for next season are set. Home -- Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Oakland, Arizona, Atlanta, New Orleans, Tampa Bay. Away -- Minnesota, Green Bay, Kansas City, Los Angeles Chargers, Washington, Atlanta, New Orleans, Tampa Bay.

The coming days, weeks and months will tell us who the next coach is, whether Olsen will be around and what Cam Newton's future holds.

The one certainty?

Anybody interested in drafting McCaffrey in 2020 best have the first pick overall. ...

Wait, there's another shorter-term certainty: Interim coach Perry Fewell said on Monday that Grier would continue to start in Sunday's finale against the Saints.

The rookie from West Virginia was 27-of-44 for 224 yards, with three interceptions, and he was sacked five times.

As rough as the game was for Grier, it wasn't that much worse than the man he replaced, Kyle Allen, who threw 15 interceptions and was sacked 35 times in his last eight games.

The Panthers have lost seven in a row. ...

On the injury front. ... Receiver D.J. Moore left in the first quarter with a concussion and did not return. As Associated Press sports writer Steve Reed suggested Monday, it would seem unlikely the team will rush Moore back into the lineup for a meaningless game against the Saints in Week 17, meaning his season is likely over.

Before Sunday, Moore had averaged more than 100 yards receiving over the previous seven games and posted his first 1,000-yard receiving season.

Curtis Samuel caught two passes (on five targets) for 17 yards after he was limited by a knee in practice last week.

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

As for the whole coaching search thing, it's started. NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reported the Panthers interviewed former Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy on Sunday.

McCarthy was fired by the Packers near the end of a disappointing 2018 season that was fraught with difficulties in communication with quarterback Aaron Rodgers. McCarthy has spent 2019 out of football.

The coach posted a 125-77 regular-season record in 13 seasons with the Packers and a 10-8 mark in the playoffs, including a run to a victory in Super Bowl XLV in the 2010 season.

Critics of McCarthy claimed the coach's offensive strategies became antiquated as the rest of the league continued to push forward with popular spread concepts. His success with the Packers cannot be denied, though, as he'd owned a 114-61 mark before his final two campaigns produced an 11-18 record.

How McCarthy would potentially approach a marriage with 30-year-old Newton, should he be retained in 2020, is among the most important questions that would need to be answered before making the hire.

Panthers owner David Tepper is embarking on his first full coaching search since taking over control of the team in 2018, meaning he'll likely spend quality time vetting candidates before making a decision. How he'll view McCarthy is unknown, but one fact remains true: The coach carries a past filled with success.

Another candidate is Fewell, who said he's been asked to interview for the permanent post, and he will interview.

Fewell said he had thoughts about his potential staff, but didn't want to elaborate.

"My focus is to win on Sunday right now," he said. "I have not and will not talk about what I plan to do, how I plan to approach that situation, just because I want to stay focused on the job at hand."

Fewell was also a finalist for the job when Rivera was hired in 2011.

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

Chicago Bears

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 December 2019

As Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky cruelly reminded the world on Wednesday, there are no do-overs for Chicago's inexplicable decision to draft Trubisky ahead of Patrick Mahomes (or Deshaun Watson, for that matter) back in 2017.

What Sunday night presented Trubisky was an opportunity to slightly change the narrative with a respectable showing against Mahomes and the playoff-bound Chiefs in front of a national audience.

Unfortunately, as ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson put it, "Trubisky failed to seize the moment.

Chicago's 26-3 loss to Kansas City magnified many of the 25-year-old quarterback's shortcomings. Trubisky's most costly mistake came when he overshot a wide-open Allen Robinson for what should've been an easy 46-yard touchdown completion. Trubisky's lack of downfield accuracy is a well-documented problem, but that's a throw every NFL starting quarterback should make, especially a guy drafted second overall. Trubisky finished with a paltry 157 passing yards.

For Chicago to win Sunday, it would have required the offense and quarterback to have breakthrough performances.

Neither, of course, happened.

"We just didn't play our game today," Trubisky said after the Bears fell to 7-8. "It was tough. They came to play, we didn't, and we got behind early. You just can't play catch-up against a team like that. You can't play sloppy, either."

The quarterback wasn't the only culprit. Chicago's entire offense did nothing to help.

Trubisky finished the game completing 18 of 34 passes for 157 yards, his lowest output since Week 9 in Philadelphia. In the last six weeks, Trubisky and the Bears offense seemed to find life, making a spirited final charge to earn a spot in the playoffs.

Now, the Bears will now need a win this week in Minnesota to avoid a losing season.

With only one game remaining in his third professional season, Trubisky can't spend too much time dwelling on the loss, but he may use to the disappointment to drive him forward.

"We've just got to be better," Trubisky said, "We've just got to dig deeper and find a way to finish strong."

Worth noting. ... The Bears were in the midst of a productive opening drive -- primarily because of Trubisky's legs -- until a gimmick fumbled handoff to wide receiver Anthony Miller resulted in a 10-yard loss.

Why?

As Dickerson suggested, there is just no rhyme or reason to this offense.

On the rare occasions when the Bears are moving the football, they almost inevitably end up self-sabotaging with penalties, questionable play calling or poor execution.

Head coach Matt Nagy understands the perception that the Bears are an undisciplined team. He just doesn't agree.

"I don't think that anybody is wrong saying that," Nagy said Monday. "The frustration part for me is I know we're a disciplined team, but when you have some of the things that happened yesterday in the game it's very easy to say that we're undisciplined. And that's the part that when I talk about reflection moving forward here, and when I step back and look at everything big-picture wise, that's my job.

"I need to make sure that that part gets fixed."

The Bears have plenty to fix, particularly on an offense that ranks near the bottom of the NFL. A top-10 defense has shown more vulnerability than it did a year ago, when Chicago won the NFC North at 12-4.

There certainly wasn't much that worked against the Chiefs. And the result was their most lopsided loss in Nagy's two seasons.

Other notes of interest. ... Kicker Eddy Pineiro appears to be finishing an inconsistent year on a stronger note after enduring a midseason slump. He is 7 for 7 on field goals the past five games, including a 46-yarder against the Chiefs, after missing 4 of 7 the previous four weeks. Pineiro made 9 of 10 in the first six games.

"I like what he has done all year long," Nagy said. "I think moving forward here, going into it, I think we know who he is and what we have."

On the injury front. ... Taylor Gabriel missed his fourth-straight game with a concussion; his status for this week remains uncertain. ...

Finally. ... With the Giants' beating the Redskins in overtime Sunday to clinch third-place in the NFC East, all of the Bears' opponents have been finalized for next season. In addition to home and away games against NFC North rivals the Packers, Vikings and Lions, the Bears will host the Saints, Buccaneers, Texans, Colts and Giants; and visit the Panthers, Falcons, Titans, Jaguars and Rams.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Mitchell Trubisky, Chase Daniel
RBs: David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen
WRs: Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Cordarrelle Patterson, Javon Wims, Riley Ridley, Taylor Gabriel
TEs: Jesper Horsted, J.P. Holtz, Bradley Sowell, Eric Saubert

Cincinnati Bengals

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 December 2019

According to ESPN.com's Ben Baby, the Bengals officially hit rock bottom at Hard Rock Stadium.

And many fans couldn't be more thrilled.

Cincinnati secured the worst record in the NFL this season and the top overall pick in the upcoming draft with a 38-35 overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. The defeat ensures the Bengals will have the top pick for the first time since 2003, regardless of what happens in the final week of the regular season.

While it is the best thing to happen to a rebuilding franchise, head coach Zac Taylor said winning was the top priority in the aftermath of Sunday's game that featured a 23-point comeback to force overtime.

"We fight too hard and we work too hard," Taylor said. "If there's any competitive juices in you whatsoever, you can't go out on the field not trying your best to win the game."

Cincinnati was trending toward the ultimate prize for season-long futility long before its Week 16 trip to Miami. The Bengals lost their first 11 games, their worst start to a season since 1993. The drought ended following a 22-6 victory in Week 13 over the New York Jets, one of the other contenders for the league's worst record.

The Dolphins and Bengals were the last two teams to pick up a victory this season. But after Miami beat the Jets in Week 9 and the Indianapolis Colts in Week 10, Cincinnati took the lead in the race to the bottom. With their performance Sunday against the Dolphins, the Bengals eliminated the need for any more projections.

Miami scored touchdowns on its first two drives while Cincinnati's offense sputtered. The Bengals failed to pick up a first down on five of their seven drives in the first half. The Bengals couldn't score a touchdown on their only red zone possession of the first half and were 0-for-4 on third downs.

Andy Dalton was 33-for-56 passing for 396 yards and four touchdowns. Dalton was benched earlier this season and had a 36.2 Total QBR for the season, the lowest of his career. Dalton's six-year, $96 million contract is set to expire after the 2020 season.

In his latest projection, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has the Bengals taking LSU quarterback Joe Burrow with the top overall pick in the draft.

Burrow, an Ohio native, threw for 4,715 yards and 48 touchdowns and won this year's Heisman Trophy.

The last time the Bengals selected first overall, they selected USC quarterback Carson Palmer after he won the Heisman in 2002. He was the Bengals' starter from 2004 to 2010.

If the Bengals select Burrow and he turns into the franchise's next cornerstone quarterback, Sunday's loss will prove to be one of the most important moments in recent franchise history. But that wasn't top of mind for Cincinnati's players and coaches as the team is one more loss away from sealing the worst season in franchise history.

"Every time a player steps out on the field, they're not thinking about anything else but trying to win the game, trying to give their best effort and win," Dalton said.

Meanwhile, it's been clear for some time that Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green would not be playing football this season, but the team kept him on the active roster for the first 16 weeks of the season.

Now that there's just one game left, they'll make a move to open up that roster spot. Taylor said in a Monday press conference that Green will be placed on injured reserve. He injured his ankle during the team's first practice of training camp and practiced a handful of times without ever providing much hope he'd be back this year.

Green is set to become a free agent after the end of the regular season. He said last week that he would have "no problem" with a franchise tag, but would prefer a longer commitment from the team if he is going to stay in Cincinnati.

Green also called it "exciting" that the team was in position to add an impactful player at the top of the draft.

Beyond Green, WR Stanley Morgan and CB Tony McRae in concussion protocol after Sunday's game, Taylor said on Monday. CB William Jackson re-injured his shoulder and will have an MRI done. Guard John Miller is still in concussion protocol.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Andy Dalton, Ryan Finley, Jake Dolegala
RBs: Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard, Trayveon Williams
WRs: Tyler Boyd, John Ross, Alex Erickson, Stanley Morgan Jr., Damion Willis
TEs: Tyler Eifert, C.J. Uzomah, Cethan Carter, Drew Sample

Cleveland Browns

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 December 2019

There's one game left for these Browns, who guaranteed their fans a 12th straight losing season with their home finale defeat Sunday.

That's far from gracing the cover of leading sports magazines and television shows as the darling pick to make the playoffs. That dream is dead in 2019.

According to ESPN.com's Jake Trotter, Sunday's loss to Ravens was emblematic. "Clock mismanagement, questionable decision-making, missed opportunities and sideline shouting all defined Sunday's game, as they have this entire Browns season," Trotter wrote.

Indeed, one has to wonder if such failure will cost the team's head coach his job. Quarterback Baker Mayfield was asked about it after the Browns' 31-15 loss to the Ravens.

"That's not my decision to make, so whatever happens, happens moving forward," Mayfield said. "I know how I'm going to handle it: Getting whatever receiving corps and tight ends we have together in the offseason and making sure we're on the same page so we hit the ground running in the spring -- kind of like I hit on earlier in the week -- to where there's no room to be made up come training camp."

As NFL.com's Nick Shook noted, this Browns offense, which was supposed to be incendiary, never really heated up past lukewarm this season. The Browns' best performance of the season came at the end of the season's first month, back when the division rival Ravens last lost. Their rematch Sunday looked almost nothing like that first meeting and illustrated just how deeply into the ground this wagon's wheels have become entrenched.

We've since learned Odell Beckham hasn't been fully healthy for this entire season, an issue Mayfield said earlier this month should have been handled during camp. That same camp was spent attempting to get on the same page offensively, which never quite happened.

Beckham (groin) and Jarvis Landry (hip) could be facing off-season surgery for their respective issues.

As someone who watched every Browns camp practice intently, Shook can confirm that this offense never quite got on track. It was almost always just a little off, whether it was Mayfield's accuracy or a route not run quite as sharp as necessary, a target dropping an open pass or a blocker not doing his job. It was only a surprise the offense didn't turn around on the field because of how talented the group was on paper.

Mayfield's acknowledgement of this is crucial. The Browns have now burned a year of Mayfield's career with a lack of preparation and execution. There will be three years left with him on his rookie deal, meaning time is now of the essence.

Springs will need to be spent sharpening, not relaxing or shooting commercials.

"It leaves us a lot of room to work and improve," Mayfield said. "That's just the bottom line. There's a lot of room for improvement and progress to be made, so that's how we have to handle it."

The Browns have too often looked disorganized, rushed, frazzled and sometimes outright lost. Fans have griped about play-calling all season, as fans will always do when the wins aren't piling up, but there's at least some validity in their claims about specific key situations. In short, little of 2019 went as planned.

The silver lining exists in the stinging smack of reality hitting the collective face of these Browns, who won't spend an offseason talking about grand visions of Lombardi Trophies when they'll first need to find a way to just post a winning season for the first time since before the inception of the Obama Administration. Yes, it's been that long in Cleveland.

"In the big-picture mindset, it's a process to turn around what this once was to where we want to go and where we should be at right now," Mayfield said.

We'll see who sticks around long enough to see that process through.

On a more positive note, Cleveland's draft pick keeps looking better and better. The Browns desperately need help at left tackle. With a late-season swoon, they're almost in striking distance of having a chance to draft Georgia product Andrew Thomas, who is a projected top-10 pick and the top tackle in the draft.

Either way, Cleveland's pick will be a lot better than anyone would've guessed before the season. ...

On a more positive note. ... Nick Chubb's one game away from becoming the first Browns back to lead the league in rushing in 51 years.

Chubb gained just 45 yards Sunday, and has 1,453 this season -- the fourth most in team history. He heads into the finale leading Carolina's Christian McCaffrey by 92 and Tennessee's Derrick Henry by 124. The Bengals are giving up 153.9 yards per game and Chubb gashed them for 106 in a win on Dec. 8. ...

The Browns placed running back Dontrell Hilliard on injured reserve Tuesday. They promoted offensive guard Colby Gossett from the practice squad.

Hilliard left the Week 16 game against the Ravens in the second quarter with a knee injury and did not return.

He played 14 games, carrying the ball 13 times for 49 yards and two touchdowns. He also returned 17 kickoffs for 421 yards and 15 punts for 107 yards.

Hilliard played 129 snaps on offense and 221 on special teams. ...

And finally. ... David Njoku was a healthy scratch for a second-straight week. Demetrius Harris and Ricky Seals-Jones have locked in contributing roles with Njoku apparently falling out of favor after his return from injured reserve.

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

Dallas Cowboys

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 December 2019

As ESPN.com's Todd Archer framed it, "A season that has been among the most disappointing in Dallas Cowboys' history has reached its low point. ..."

Sunday's 17-9 loss to the Eagles does not cost the Cowboys a chance to win the NFC East, but for it to happen, they now need some help.

The Cowboys (7-8) will have to beat the Washington Redskins (3-12) in Week 17, and the Eagles, who have now won three straight, will have to lose to the New York Giants (4-11) for Dallas to advance in the postseason.

Even as they lost seven of 10 games after their 3-0 start, the Cowboys kept falling back on a familiar refrain of controlling their destiny within the division. The only reason why they maintained that chance was because of the struggles by the Eagles, Giants and Redskins.

Now all Dallas can do is hope.

This is the fourth time in head coach Jason Garrett's nine seasons the Cowboys lost de facto NFC East championship games in Weeks 16 or 17. In 2011, the Cowboys lost to the Giants. In 2012, they lost to the Redskins. In 2013, they lost to the Eagles.

Archer went on to explain that when they look back at Sunday's result, the Cowboys can blame:

A bad start for the defense, giving up 125 yards on the first two drives to fall behind 10-0 after giving up 120 yards in the first half of their Week 15 blowout win against the Los Angeles Rams. The Eagles did not have their best offensive target, Zach Ertz, for a stretch of the game, and their offense had been gutted by injuries, but the Cowboys could not get a takeaway.

A bad start for the offense with the unit gaining 14 yards in the first quarter, the Cowboys' fewest in an opening quarter since putting up 3 yards against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 3 of the 2017 season. Running back Ezekiel Elliott, who had at least 96 yards rushing in his five career contests against the Eagles, gained 9 yards in the first half, the second fewest of his career.

A bad decision in the third quarter that saw the Cowboys go to rookie Tony Pollard on third-and-1 from the Eagles' 25-yard line with an option run. The rookie fumbled on the play, ending a scoring threat. Elliott was off the field even though he had 20 yards on four runs on that drive.

Elliott (47 yards) was held under 100 for the sixth time in seven games. It was his fourth game with fewer than 50 yards. Elliott didn't have more than one such game in any of his first three seasons.

So a week after running for a season-high 263 yards in a 44-21 throttling of the Los Angeles Rams, Dallas had 54 against Philadelphia.

Just a reminder, the Cowboys made Elliott the richest running back in NFL history with a $50 million guarantee in September. In general, the team has built its identity around Elliott and the running game, and the inconsistency in that area has mirrored the team's hit-and-miss nature overall.

As a result of all these things, a bad season has one week left and Garrett's tenure might be entering its final week -- win or lose against Washington. ...

Also worth noting. ... All eyes were on Dak Prescott entering the game because of a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder that kept him from taking a meaningful snap in practice during the week. Prescott completed 56.8 percent of his passes -- his second lowest of the season.

Prescott said his injured right shoulder wasn't the problem, but he had several poor throws in critical moments against the Eagles, including an overthrow when the speedy Tavon Austin was behind the defense.

While he won't admit it, Archer contends the shoulder had to affect the quarterback's accuracy, but he wasn't helped by a few drops as well.

Given all this, it's noteworthy that Prescott was listed as a nonparticipant in Wednesday's practice. That would be the first missed practice of his career (last week he was limited for the first time in his career). It seems all but certain that Prescott was held out as a precaution, but it's equally certain I'll be following up on his status in coming days. Watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more. ...

Meanwhile, Amari Cooper should sign one of the richest deals for a receiver in the offseason, and if he could have produced better on the road everybody might feel a little bit better about it.

He was held to four catches for 24 yards against the Eagles, and unlike his low-production games against Detroit, New England and Buffalo, he was not facing cornerbacks Darius Slay, Stephon Gilmore and Tre'Davious White.

At crucial parts of Sunday's game, Cooper was not on the field.

And that was apparently not an accident.

Hard as it is to believe, with the Cowboys' season on the line on fourth-and-eight, their best receiver was on the sideline. With Cooper out of the game, Prescott threw incomplete on a pass intended for Michael Gallup in the end zone with 1:15 remaining.

Garrett explained after the game that Cooper and Randall Cobb weren't on the field for final fourth-down play because they "ran a lot of plays in a row."

Cooper ran a go route on the previous play.

Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that Cooper was not on the field because he wasn't playing well.

"They legitimately didn't think having him in on 4th and 8 have them the best chance to win," Hill wrote on Twitter. "If he is not hurt, this will be revisited in contract talks."

Cooper said postgame he is healthy, though he has had numerous injuries this season.

"I know I didn't play my best game at all. It was terrible," Cooper said Sunday night.

On Monday, Garrett was asked specifically whose decision it was to have Cooper off the field with the game on the line. He pointed to offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and receivers coach Sanjay Lal.

"In terms of the personnel group to have that be a 12 personnel play, that would be Kellen's decision," Garrett said on 105.3 The Fan. "That's a play that we liked in that situation for the variety of coverages that they were going to play. We felt like we had good answers with that. In regards to the receiver rotation, Sanjay Lal and. ... It's just the communication during those on-the-ball drives. Sometimes those guys work the rotation different ways based on the routes they run and plays they've run and all of that."

Cooper played 46 of 62 snaps, catching only four of 12 targets for 24 yards.

Even receiver Ventell Bryant, who has one career catch, got two offensive snaps on the final drive.

It seems obvious Garrett won't return next season, but Profootballtalk.com's Charean Williams believes Sunday's game suddenly casts doubt on Cooper's future in Dallas.

He is scheduled to become a free agent in March as is Prescott. So the Cowboys will have a long to-do list and lots of really big decisions to make in the offseason, which looks like it will come sooner than the team had hoped. ...

Gallup, on the other hand, has made significant development in his second season. He was the leading receiver for the fifth time this season with 98 yards against the Eagles. Gallup has his first 1,000-yard season and will likely more than double the 507 yards he had as a rookie. ...

According to Associated Press sports writer Schuyler Dixon, Kai Forbath might have earned a roster spot to start 2020, if not with the Cowboys then probably another team. He's made all six kicks in two games since Dallas cut the unreliable Brett Maher. Forbath played just one other game this season, two weeks before his Dallas debut. The 32-year-old hasn't kicked full time since 2017. ...

One last note here. ... Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch is set to have minimally invasive surgery in a few weeks to fix the nerve issue in his neck that has cut short his season, according to NFL Network's Jane Slater via an informed source. Garrett confirmed that Vander Esch will go on IR following the procedure, officially ending his season. Slater also added that he's expected to be back long before camp.

Xavier Su'a-Filo has a broken bone in his lower leg and had surgery on Monday. He's out for the season. The Cowboys will go with Joe Looney as their starting left guard.

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

Denver Broncos

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 December 2019

As ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold notes, Drew Lock hit a couple of more bumps on the learning curve Sunday but was able to get just enough done for the Broncos (6-9) to grind out a 27-17 victory over the Detroit Lions.

In his fourth career start, Lock struggled at times against a defense that has had issues defending the pass this season. The Lions were 31st in both overall defense and against the pass heading into Sunday's game -- they had surrendered at least 275 net yards passing in 10 games -- but they fared well against Lock.

The Lions doubled wide receiver Courtland Sutton much of the time and Lock tried to force the ball into that double coverage a little too often, especially in the first half. Lock finished 25-of-33 passing for 192 yards.

Lock's past two starts have provided a look at his offseason to-do list. The Kansas City Chiefs buried Lock with an aggressive pass rush last week, and the Lions took a more tactical approach in an attempt to take away Lock's favorite target. Lock didn't always adjust.

But he has shown composure so far in the rough spots and it showed in the second half Sunday.

"I thought Drew played well," head coach Vic Fangio said. "It's the first time he's had a comeback victory. He's had a lot of stuff happen here the last two weeks -- playing in the poor conditions against a really good team on the road, now getting down 10-nothing, not moving it very well offensively, having a punt return against you which can kind of deflate you. I thought it was a good game for Drew."

Lock still made plays in the passing game -- he completed four passes of at least 15 yards -- but he was also content to take high-percentage passes and avoid critical errors.

"We thought originally this defense was going to come out and play a lot of man and we were going to take big shots," Lock said. "They played a lot more zone than we thought, so we set guys up in the zone and picked them apart and took it down the field a bit. That's in my game, too. I'm happy you could see that a little bit. I can definitely be a gunslinger, but at the same time, I'll ding it down if I have to."

Points are points, no matter how you get them. And with Lock, the Broncos have gotten quite a few.

Lock still made plays in the passing game -- he completed four passes of at least 15 yards -- but he was also content to take high-percentage passes and avoid critical errors.

In fact, Lock found his rhythm a bit in the second half as the Broncos were able to carve out a little running room in some of their three wide receiver looks and as Lock was a little more willing to move the ball to other players like Tim Patrick and DaeSean Hamilton.

"We thought originally this defense was going to come out and play a lot of man and we were going to take big shots," Lock said. "They played a lot more zone than we thought, so we set guys up in the zone and picked them apart and took it down the field a bit. That's in my game, too. I'm happy you could see that a little bit. I can definitely be a gunslinger, but at the same time, I'll ding it down if I have to."

Points are points, no matter how you get them. And with Lock, the Broncos have gotten quite a few.

Since Lock assumed the starting role ahead of Week 13, the Broncos have found success that has eluded the team for much of the season.

Consider this: In 11 games without Lock under center, Denver earned just four wins and averaged just 15.9 points per game.

Before Lock took over, the Broncos ranked 27th in total offense, 29th in scoring offense and 29th in passing offense. They allowed the 25th most sacks in the league, had the third-worst third-down offense and were 27th in the red zone.

The above stats illustrate an uncomfortable reality for a Broncos offense that struggled as Denver lost five one-possession games and broke the 23-point mark in just three games.

Lock, though, has given the Broncos' offense a jolt.

In four starts, Lock has led Denver to at least 23 points in three of the games. He has completed 64.8 percent of his passes and been sacked three times. His completion percentage would rank 13th in the NFL among qualifying quarterbacks, and his sack rate would rank first.

He has also thrown six touchdowns after the Broncos had nine passing touchdowns in their first 11 games.

The team's third-down conversion rate (44.9 percent) and scoring offense (22.8 ppg) took jumps too; they would rank fifth and 17th, respectively.

Those numbers include a Week 15 game in the snow in Kansas City in which the Broncos mustered just three points in a loss. Exclude that performance, and the offense's numbers look even better.

It's early in Lock's career, but these results have his teammates believing in what could be next.

"He's going out there and he's proving himself," running back Phillip Lindsay said. "He's calm, cool and collected, and he understands what he needs to work on and what he's good at. The thing is, he can move out the pocket and he's a game-changer. He can make plays. We've got to ride around him, and help him out by getting open.

"All I can say for Drew is, he's doing a hell of a job and he's going to only get better."

Adding to the good vibes?

Since a tough drop on what would have been a touchdown in the season opener, Hamilton's 2019 season had been a bit of a struggle. The second-year receiver had no receptions in six of the 10 games that followed that opening week loss to the Raiders. But he continued to do some of the dirty work blocking in the run game and has steadily shown a little more confidence in the offense down the stretch.

In the win over the Lions, Hamilton had a career-best 65 yards receiving and his first touchdown of the season on six catches.

"Drew's got the confidence in him," Fangio said. "He's done a good job catching the ball of late."

Also worth noting. ... If it seemed like Lindsay has been finding yards harder to come by this year, it's because they have.

As an undrafted rookie surprise last year, Lindsay had 937 yards through 12 games. He finished with 1,037.

Now well known in defensive coordinator rooms, Lindsay had 766 yards through 12 games this year. He had a big 15th game Sunday, though, and now has 958 yards and one more game to become the Broncos' first running back since Clinton Portis in 2002-03 to begin his career with back-to-back, 1,000-yard seasons.

Expect coaches to do their part to see that Lindsay gets ample opportunity to hit that 1,000-yard mark. ...

According to 9New.com's Mike Klis, the Broncos' most creative play call came with a questionable statistical ruling. On fourth-and-1 from the Broncos' 49 late in the third quarter and trailing 17-13, Fangio decided to go for it.

Offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello devised a unique play in that quarterback Lock handed off to fullback Andrew Beck, who then pitched outside to Lindsay, who gained 6 yards for the first down.

It was initially ruled a 6-yard rush by Lindsay but the eyes in New York had different camera angles that determined Beck had tossed the ball forward.

Beck thus became only the second Broncos players in the past 11 years to have a rushing attempt (one for 3 yards), reception (one for 1 yard) and pass (one for 6 yards) in the same game.

The other player was Sutton against Minnesota last month. Sutton had two carries for 10 yards, one pass completion for 38 yards and five catches for 113 yards.

Sutton pulled off the hat trick his way, Beck did it his.

And finally. ... Fangio is giving his team off Wednesday to celebrate Christmas.

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

Detroit Lions

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 December 2019

Don't tell Matt Patricia his Lions have nothing to play for this week.

"I'd like to think that we're playing for something every game," Patricia said. "That's my mindset. We're trying to play to go win. Doesn't matter what the situation is, doesn't matter what the opponent is playing for, doesn't matter anything other than we're trying to go out there and do the best job we can to give ourselves a chance to win."

In reality, as Associated Press sports writer Noah Trister suggested, his Lions have been coasting to a stop for weeks, as Sunday's 27-17 loss to Denver was their eighth straight.

According to ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein, the most dramatic moments for the Lions on Sunday came hundreds of miles and two time zones away from Empower Field at Mile High. For the purposes of this flailing Lions season and everything that is to come in the future, what happened in Maryland and Miami mattered much more.

As games between fellow top-five draft contenders went to overtime -- actually overlapping with a quarter of Detroit's 27-17 loss to Denver on Sunday -- there were questions about how high or how low the Lions could go, at least in terms of the 2020 NFL draft.

As the Miami Dolphins kicked a field goal at the end of overtime to beat the Cincinnati Bengals and the New York Giants scored an overtime touchdown to best the Washington Redskins, the Lions moved from No. 5 in the draft to No. 3. And the chase for potential defense-changing Ohio State edge rusher Chase Young remains on in earnest.

At the time when those games ended, the Lions were actually leading Denver, 10-0, in an attempt to win their first game since Oct. 27. But that didn't last.

Detroit, as it has in almost every game this season, fought throughout the game, but as is typical with these Lions, it wasn't enough. They lost their eighth game in a row and their 11th in the past 12 outings to fall to 3-11-1.

The loss also gives the Lions a bit of history they don't want.

In the Super Bowl era, they now have the worst record of any team that went unbeaten in the team's first three games, snapping a 50-year-old mark held by the Bengals, who went 4-9-1 in 1969 after starting 3-0. Coincidentally, they lost at Denver in their season finale. While this isn't the last game for the Lions, the loss did lock up this mark for Detroit.

A loss Sunday in the season finale against Green Bay would give the franchise its worst season since a 2-14 record in 2009 -- one year removed from the franchise's winless 2008 season.

But a loss to the Packers on Sunday combined with a Washington win over Dallas would give the Lions the No. 2 overall pick and a really, really good chance at Young. ...

A loss on Sunday also would make it the franchise's longest losing streak since the winless 2008 campaign.

For that one, Trister believes the Lions could look to Kyle Sloter as their fourth starting quarterback of the season this week after David Blough's struggles continued at Denver.

"I'm ready whenever they need me," Sloter said. "I know I can be a starter in this league. Nothing so far in this league has told me that I can't be."

The team's 95 passing yards were a season- ow by nearly half and only Kenny Golladay had more than two catches. Stafford's been out since Nov. 3, with Jeff Driskel going 0-3 and then Blough going 0-4 as replacements.

The Lions couldn't realistically expect too much from Blough, an undrafted rookie quarterback. But after a strong debut against Chicago on Thanksgiving, Blough has sputtered and Sunday was his worst game. Blough completed 12 of his 24 passes for 117 yards and a touchdown. However, it was the first of his four starts when he didn't throw an interception.

Worth noting. ... The Lions activated starting running back Kerryon Johnson on Saturday and he ended up being a decent part of the team's game plan. He didn't take his first snap until late in the first series, but had 10 carries for 42 yards -- including the bulk of the work in the third quarter on a drive that ended with a Golladay touchdown.

It's still reasonable to question why Johnson was playing in a game with little meaning, but the duo of Johnson and Bo Scarbrough showed promise, combining for 76 yards and 4.2 yards per carry, their fourth-highest average in a game this season.

It was going to be interesting to see how the Lions distributed the snaps in the backfield. It turns out it was pretty even between Johnson (16), Scarbrough (14) and Ty Johnson (12).

We'll see Sunday against Green Bay if Kerryon gets a little more work with a game now under his belt. ...

Meanwhile, Mike O'Hara of DetroitLions.com, it seems like we make the same observation about Golladay every week, but it applies again.

"He keeps playing, no matter what," O'Hara wrote. "He caught the go-ahead touchdown late in the third quarter to give the Lions a 17-13 lead. It was his league-leading 11th TD catch. He'll probably do something similar on Sunday against the Packers. And we'll observe it again."

The Lions had a 73-yard drive to a field goal and 75-yard drive to Golladay's catch.

Otherwise, the offense didn't do much. The offensive had the ball for 11 plays on both drives and gained a combined 143 net yards. For the rest of the game the offense had a net gain of 48 yards.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: David Blough, Kyle Sloter
RBs: Kerryon Johnson, Bo Scarbrough, Ty Johnson, J.D. McKissic, Paul Perkins
WRs: Kenny Golladay, Danny Amendola, Chris Lacy, Travis Fulgham
TEs: Jesse James, Logan Thomas

Green Bay Packers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 December 2019

As NFL.com's Jelani Scott noted, they only needed one to get it done, and, now, the Green Bay Packers are once again the NFC North champions.

Entering Week 16, the Packers led the division rival Minnesota Vikings by one game, setting the stage for Green Bay to need one more win in its final two games to clinch its first division title since 2016 and the sixth of the Aaron Rodgers era. And they got it, topping Minnesota, 23-10, on Monday night.

With the victory, the red-hot Packers, winners of their last four contests, preserved their chances at sitting atop the NFC as the No. 1 seed. Should the current NFC top seed 49ers lose to the Seahawks in the final Sunday night matchup of 2019, all the Packers would need to do to usurp them is close their regular season with a win over the Lions.

It's been a whirlwind of a season in the NFC and, in a year during which offensive struggles plagued them early on, Rodgers and the Packers are still firmly in the mix with the likes of the 49ers, Seahawks and Saints as the playoffs quickly draw near.

Meanwhile, as NFL.com's Jeremy Bergman suggested, if you had concerns about the Packers' offense heading into Monday night, dynamic nights from Aaron Jones and Davante Adams might have changed your mind.

Jones ran through Minnesota's front line Monday night, picking up consistent chunk gains en route to 154 yards and two touchdowns, including a 54-yard game-clincher in the fourth quarter. Jones now owns a league-high 16 rushing scores and 19 total touchdowns with one week to go.

His receiving compatriot Adams went off against Xavier Rhodes, racking up 116 yards on a career-high 13 receptions.

"The Michael Thomas to Aaron Rodgers' Drew Brees," Bergman wrote, "Adams is Green Bay's only reliable receiving option."

It's hard to argue that point.

Allen Lazard was Green Bay's second-leading receiver Monday but suffers from the dropsies; Jimmy Graham saw just one target; and Marquez Valdes-Scantly, Geronimo Allison and Jake Kumerow combined for one catch on four targets.

It wasn't pretty until the fourth quarter, when Jones scored on the above-mentioned 54-yard score.

"Winning is always beautiful," Rodgers said after the game. "Defense wins NFC North championships."

Rodgers said two weeks ago that he "wouldn't mind winning ugly all the way to the Super Bowl."

The Packers turned the ball over three times in the first half. It was their second three-turnover game of the season. Both came on Monday Night Football, the previous being in Week 6 against the Lions.

Week 6 was when Rodgers last threw an interception before Monday. He had a streak of 277 straight passes without one until he badly underthrew Adams on a pass into the hands of Vikings safety Anthony Harris in the second quarter. That ended the second-longest interception-free streak of Rodgers' career. He once threw 402 passes without a pick, which remains the longest such streak in NFL history.

The Packers had allowed 29 points off turnovers entering the game, the second fewest in the league, behind only the Vikings' tally (26). Minnesota's first 10 points came off turnovers (Jones' fumble and Rodgers' pick).

Rodgers couldn't get much going deep, especially early. He completed just one of eight passes on throws of more than 10 yards in the first half, tied for his second-worst half since 2008 (minimum eight attempts), according to ESPN Stats and Information. The one he completed was fumbled away by Adams.

It was Rodgers' third game this season without a touchdown pass, though the Packers have won all three.

Entering this season, the Packers were 4-10 when Rodgers failed to throw a touchdown. Monday's game marked the first time Rodgers won a game in which he threw an interception and no touchdowns.

The Packers survived without the best day from Rodgers, thanks to Jones and Adams -- and thanks to Za'Darius Smith, whose monster season included a monster game Monday, with 3.5 sacks.

"Feels great to win these kinds of games. These are playoff-style games -- obviously, we're both going to the playoffs," Rodgers said. "But to be back on top of the North after a couple years of being down, [it] feels great to win it in this stadium, where a couple of years ago, I was jeered leaving the field after breaking my collarbone. Feels pretty good."

Still, as ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky suggested, the Packers will face questions about how much damage -- if any -- they can do in the postseason. As division champs, they are guaranteed at least one postseason game at Lambeau Field. If the season ends the way it stands now, the Packers would have the No. 2 seed in the NFC; with that comes a first-round bye and a divisional-round game at home.

Also, the Packers are still in play for the top overall seed in the NFC.

If they win the regular-season finale at Detroit and the San Francisco 49ers lose at Seattle on Sunday, the Packers would earn the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

As Demovsky summed up, "That's not bad for a team that wins ugly."

On the injury front. ... Running back Jamaal Williams (shoulder) was injured in the third quarter. More on his status for the finale via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses.

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

Houston Texans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 December 2019

According to ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop, as several Houston Texans players walked into the locker room after beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23-20 on Saturday to clinch the AFC South, they began singing Queen's "We are the Champions."

"We are the champions, my friend. And we'll keep on fighting to the end. We are the champions. We are the champions."

Houston (10-5), which only needed one more win or a loss by the Titans to win the division, forced four turnovers in the first half before taking the lead for good midway through the fourth quarter.

The Texans have won the division in four of the past five seasons and have finished with a winning record in all but one season -- including at least 10 wins in back-to-back seasons -- since coach Bill O'Brien took over in 2014.

"It's a good accomplishment," O'Brien said. "I think it shows some level of consistency, but obviously, we've got a long way to go. But it was a great accomplishment."

The Texans started the season 2-2 before winning six of eight games. After they were blown out 41-7 by the Baltimore Ravens coming off the bye in Week 11, they rebounded to beat the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots in back-to-back weeks.

After the game, several players in the locker room wore shirts celebrating the division title that read, "THE SOUTH IS NOT ENOUGH." And while quarterback Deshaun Watson said he certainly will enjoy the win before getting back to work Monday and preparing to play the Titans, he was clear that "this is not the ultimate goal" for Houston this season.

"This is one goal to get us to where we want to go," Watson said. "For the ultimate goal, we got our shot, we have our opportunities. So we definitely want to celebrate this and build on this one and then finish up next week and then get ready for the big show."

Watson said he's "fine" after spending time in the blue medical tent on the Texans sideline during the fourth quarter.

"I was just able to finish the game and deal with what I had to deal with, but I'm all good," Watson said.

Meanwhile, wide receiver Will Fuller is uncertain to play in the regular-season finale against the Titans because of a groin injury, a source told Barshop.

Fuller's status beyond Week 17 -- including the Texans' wild-card game in two weeks -- is also uncertain, Barshop's source said, after he suffered the injury in the first half Saturday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport subsequently reported that Fuller's injury will keep him off the field in Week 17 and is likely a three-week injury.

Fuller has an outside chance to play in their first playoff game and will likely be available if they win and advance.

Still, the Texans are holding out hope.

"I think he's making progress," O'Brien said Monday. "I would say right now, that's just. ... Day to day. I wouldn't be able to answer what's going to happen on Sunday, but I think he's definitely making progress."

As NFL.com suggested, "The wideout makes the Texans' offense worlds more explosive when he's on the field. Sans Fuller, the Houston offense is too often a compressed amalgam. When Fuller is available, a firework show has the potential to breakout."

For all of his importance, the receiver's injury history continues to be a major factor. In his fourth season, Fuller has yet to play in more than 14 games in a season. Missing Week 17 will mark his 20th missed regular-season bout in the past three years. Fuller already has missed five games this season because of a hamstring injury.

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

While the Texans have clinched the AFC South and are currently the No. 4 seed in the conference, they could move up to No. 3 on Sunday with a win and a Kansas City Chiefs loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.

The Chiefs game will be played before the Texans host the Titans, so Houston will almost certainly know if that possibility exists by the time their game kicks off at 4:25 p.m. ET.

On Monday, O'Brien was asked about resting starters if the team is locked into the No. 4 seed.

"Anytime we take the field, based on what we're all about, we're about trying to win," O'Brien said, via Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle.

Whoever is on the field for the Texans will surely be trying to win, but they have a bigger game the next week.

Sure, the Texans could use this game to clean up their mistakes on offense and get Watson back on track for the team to enter the playoffs on a good note. Houston finished with 229 yards, which is the second-fewest in a win under O'Brien, according to ESPN Stats and Information. But as Profootballtalk.com's Josh Alper suggested, the decision to rest starters might not win them any fans with the Steelers or Raiders, it may be hard to resist if the potential downsides are far greater than the potential upsides.

That being the case, it's worth noting Watson (back) was listed as a limited participant for Wednesday's practice; I'll have more on that via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

One last note here. ... According to NFL Network, the Texans designated three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt to return from injured reserve Tuesday.

Watt suffered a torn pectoral on Oct. 27, and has been rehabbing diligently to get back on the field this year.

The Texans adding a player of his caliber for the postseason is obviously a boost, so long as Watt hasn't rushed himself and created risk for the future.

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

Indianapolis Colts

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 December 2019

Individual accolades in football are rarely actually credited to a single player.

Case in point: With 16 rushing attempts for 95 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's Week 16 lopsided victory over the Panthers, Marlon Mack eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark on the year for the first time in his three-year career.

Mack became just the second Colts running back to rush for at least 1,000 yards since Joseph Addai did it in 2007. Veteran Frank Gore is the only Colts running back to rush for at least 1,000 yards since 2007. He did it in 2016.

Mack is proud of the accomplishment, for sure -- and said as much after the game. But he's just as happy for the offensive linemen, tight ends and wide receivers who have opened up the holes and worked to make blocks down the field play after play to help make it all possible.

"It's great. Happy for myself, happy for the team. I just appreciate the O-linemen, man," Mack said. "It's a crazy experience. I'm truly grateful for it, thankful for it. O-linemen pretty much got me there. The holes were amazing today -- wide open. So truly grateful for it, and thankful for them."

Playing on the Lucas Oil Stadium turf for the final time in the 2019 season on Sunday, Mack reached the milestone on a 30-yard run in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game with the Carolina Panthers.

Mack entered the game with 919 rushing yards, needing 81 more to reach break the 1,000-yard barrier for the first time in his three-year career.

"We're on the sideline counting up and after a while we were like, 'How much does Marlon need?" Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett said after Sunday's game. "It's special. No one deserves it more than him -- not just him, those guys up front. They've battled all year. That's one of the goals we set out this year was to have a 1,000-yard bag. They did that. They put us on their shoulders and carried the load. I tip my hat off to those guys."

After three consecutive games in which the Colts were unable to establish the run, there was no chance they were letting this opportunity get away from them with Mack in such close reach of his milestone heading into Week 16.

Utilizing Mack and the run game heavily was an obvious strategy for the Colts as the Panthers came into Sunday's game with the league's third-worst run defense, allowing an average of 140.2 yards per game on the ground.

By game's end, with Mack leading the way, the Colts racked up 218 rushing yards on 32 carries (6.8 avg.), their third 200-yard rushing performance as a team this season.

Head coach Frank Reich, who expressed his desire to feature a top-five rushing unit in the NFL coming into the season, said Mack getting to 1,000 rushing yards on the season "means a lot" as an offense.

"Obviously, it means a lot to Marlon, but it means a lot to the offensive line any time you get a guy going over 1,000," Reich said. "It's a real credit to all of those guys, our receivers and tight ends. It's a total offensive-unit effort there and the defense getting us the ball back and getting us some carries.

"I'm just happy for Marlon. He's kind of had to overcome some stuff the past couple of years with injuries so I was just happy he was able to get that today."

Despite missing two games with a fractured hand, Mack entered Sunday's game ranked 13th in the NFL rushing yards and 10th in rushing yards per game (76.6) as he keeps checking more and more career-bests off his list.

In the second quarter, Mack reached a new single-season career high in yards from scrimmage, eclipsing the 1,011 he had in 2018. Mack already reached a new single-season career highs in carries during Week 14's contest against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, surpassing the 195 carries that he had last season despite playing in the same amount of games.

But the fact Mack was able to cross 1,000 rushing yards on Sunday against the Panthers -- in a lopsided victory, no less -- is the icing on the cake.

"It was a definitely goal that now I can check off my sheet," he said. "And I'm truly proud of it and thankful for it. I'm just glad we got the W with it, so that's a good thing."

Meanwhile, second-year running back Nyheim Hines didn't return only one punt back for a touchdown against the Panthers.

He became the first player in Colts history to return two for scores in their 38-6 victory on Sunday.

Hines became the first Colts player to return a punt for a touchdown since T.Y. Hilton in 2012 with an 84-yard return that was capped off by him running through the tunnel before returning to the field. The Colts went into Sunday having gone 115 straight games without a punt-return touchdown, the fourth-longest active streak in the NFL.

The Panthers made the mistake of punting to Hines again in the fourth quarter. He started in the middle of the field before squeezing his way through a tight hole and bouncing to the outside. And just like the first return, Jonathan Williams provided the final block to spring Hines free the rest of the way on his 71-yard return. Hines imitated Deion Sanders by high-stepping the final 15 or so yards into the end zone for the touchdown.

Hines' 195 punt-return yards are the most since Eddie Drummond had 199 with the Detroit Lions in 2004. Hines is also the fourth player since the 1970 merger to have multiple 70-yard punt returns for a touchdown in the same game. ...

It's a good thing the Colts got huge contributions from their running backs; Brissett was an unimpressive 14-of-27 for 119 yards.

Reich wanted to get Hilton involved early and often Sunday. He wound up with three catches for 26 yards -- both team highs.

Indy's other outside receivers combined for three catches and 36 yards.

The Colts have already been officially eliminated from making the playoffs, but the final couple of weeks of the season are being used as an evaluation period for the front office and coaching staff. As ESPN.com's Mike Wells noted, there's no player who will be under the microscope more than Brissett. He went from looking like a solid fit as Andrew Luck's replacement earlier in the season to prompting questions about his ability going forward.

Brissett has gone three straight games without completing better than 52.9 percent of his pass attempts. That's not going to get it done, regardless of the Colts' injury issues at the skill positions.

There's little doubt that general manager Chris Ballard will be looking to bring in competition for Brissett during the offseason, whether it's through free agency, trades or the draft.

The highlight of Brissett's day was his work on the ground, as he showed elusiveness in running for 37 yards and a touchdown. But it's not about Brissett's running ability -- it's all about his right arm and being able to throw the ball down the field effectively.

And questions remain about him being able to do that. ...

And finally. ... On the injury front, star OG Quenton Nelson is in concussion protocol. His status bears watching in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jacoby Brissett, Brian Hoyer, Chad Kelly
RBs: Marlon Mack, Jordan Wilkins, Nyheim Hines, Jonathan Williams
WRs: T.Y. Hilton, Zach Pascal, Marcus Johnson, Dontrelle Inman, Ashton Dulin, Chad Williams
TEs: Jack Doyle, Mo Alie-Cox

Jacksonville Jaguars

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 December 2019

As ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco framed it, "The Employment Bowl goes to the Atlanta Falcons and coach Dan Quinn."

The loss makes Jaguars coach Doug Marrone's future murkier, though league sources told ESPN that team owner Shad Khan has confided internally that he'd prefer to see the return of Marrone and GM Dave Caldwell for the 2020 season.

Khan fired executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin earlier this week.

But it's Marrone's 21st loss in 31 games since leading the Jaguars to a 10-6 record, an AFC South title and an appearance in the AFC Championship Game in 2017. It also guarantees that the Jaguars (5-10) will finish the season with double-digit losses for the eighth time in the past nine seasons.

Beyond that, an ongoing theme repeated itself: Another week, another slow start.

As has been the case more often than not this season, the Jaguars couldn't overcome that start in the 24-12 loss.

"We can't just keep putting ourselves in that situation and expect to bail ourselves out," rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew II said Sunday. "We're searching every day for how we can fix it. That's frustrating.

"We're not going to let it get us down. We're going to attack every day."

The Jaguars (5-10), losers of six of the last seven games, haven't held a halftime lead since a Week 8 victory over the New York Jets. They have scored 22 first-half points in the last seven games.

Sunday's start against Atlanta was particularly damaging. The Falcons took a 7-0 lead when running back Devonta Freeman's 17-yard run capped the game's opening possession with 12:27 remaining in the first quarter. Rookie wide receiver Michael Walker fumbled the ensuing kickoff, with Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan capping a 25-yard drive with an eight-yard touchdown pass to Freeman 5:32 into the game.

The Jaguars trailed 14-0 at that point. The offense had yet to take a snap.

"When that stuff goes on, it's tough," Head Coach Doug Marrone said. "I look at that that's my responsibility, to make sure the players are ready. Obviously, we didn't do a good enough job."

Marrone said the Jaguars' offensive line struggled with the Falcons' line stunts Falcons early Sunday, causing Minshew to be under undue pressure early.

"That's never a good thing," Marrone said. "You always want to get a guy settled. We were just never able to really get anything done or really recover from that."

Marrone said the Jaguars' receivers also struggled to get separation early, and when the Jaguars tried to run play-action to create separation, "we weren't able to hold up protection-wise."

Minshew completed three of 10 passes for 21 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions in the first half. He completed 10 of 21 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown in the second half, and the Jaguars were inside the Falcons 10 trailing by 12 -- 24-12 -- when Minshew's fourth-down pass to wide receiver D.J. Chark Jr. fell incomplete in the end zone.

"We (the offense) didn't give us a chance today," Minshew said.

Defensive end Calais Campbell said the slow starts aren't just an issue of the offense struggling.

"We've given up a lot of touchdowns on the first drive," Campbell said. "We have to be better than that. That's not our style. We play much better with an early lead, pinning our ears back and going. It's hard to come from behind every week, but it seems like that's the task. ..."

Other notes of interest. ... Receiver Chris Conley has three touchdowns in the last two games, all in the fourth quarter. He scored twice in the final 5:15 at Oakland in Week 15, helping Jacksonville rally from a 13-point deficit and win 20-16. He caught a 42-yard pass early in the fourth quarter against the Falcons, giving Jacksonville a glimmer of hope on the road.

Chark finished with two catches for 18 yards, both season lows. The second-year pro was still hobbled by a left ankle injury that kept him out the previous week against the Raiders. He needs 26 yards receiving to become the fifth player in franchise history with 1,000 yards in a single season. Jimmy Smith, Keenan McCardell, Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns are the others.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Gardner Minshew, Nick Foles, Josh Dobbs, Phillip Walker
RBs: Leonard Fournette, Ryquell Armstead, Devine Ozigbo
WRs: D.J. Chark, Dede Westbrook, Chris Conley, Keelan Cole
TEs: Ben Koyack, Nick O'Leary, Seth DeValve

Kansas City Chiefs

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 December 2019

As ESPN.com's Adam Teicher framed it, "So maybe Patrick Mahomes does feel snubbed for being the 10th player and the second quarterback selected in the 2017 NFL draft."

This after Mahomes was seen counting to 10 on his fingers after throwing a touchdown pass to Travis Kelce late in the first half of Sunday night's 26-3 win over the Chicago Bears. Ten, as in the 10th player drafted, on the same night he and the Chiefs were facing the only quarterback selected ahead of him that year.

The Bears' Mitchell Trubisky was drafted second overall.

"I don't know if there was necessarily a meaning," Mahomes said later. "I was just kind of in the moment and just enjoying it. ... I knew it was a big moment in the game and you look to take advantage of it when you get that opportunity against that defense.

"I was just out there having fun. ... We had a big score before the half and I was just trying to enjoy it. You've seen me play. I play with emotion. I like to just go out there and have fun with my teammates."

Perhaps.

But the timing, with the Chiefs facing the Bears and Trubisky, seemed to make Mahomes' gesture more than a coincidence.

Even one of his teammates, running back Damien Williams, seemed to understand the significance. Williams offered Mahomes congratulations as the quarterback was heading off the field while counting and approaching the sideline.

"I did see him doing that," Williams said. "At first, I'm like, 'What are you doing?' He didn't say [anything]. He was just counting on his hands."

Mahomes was the clear winner in the quarterback battle with Trubisky. He completed 23 of 33 passes for 251 yards and two touchdowns and also ran for a score. Trubisky completed 18 of 34 passes for 157 yards.

Kelce said he didn't see Mahomes' 10 count.

"I can't really see Pat doing that," Kelce said. "He's a humble guy. You know what drives everyone sometimes is something deeper. I'm sure he's happy where he is, but that probably helped him in his early years. Kind of gave him some motive and gave him some fire.

"I think he's the type of competitor that he feels, every single game, every single time he touches the football he's trying to prove something. Well, not necessarily prove something but be the best he can and show the world that you know that he is the best."

That just hadn't been Mahomes' way, until Sunday night. He'll celebrate after a touchdown with his teammates, but is quick to deflect any credit to his coaches and teammates.

Mahomes, while not acknowledging the meaning of his 10 count, did indicate he remembered being the second quarterback drafted two years ago.

"I think anyone that goes about it as a competitor wants to be the first guy but you know that there's a process to it and not everyone can be picked first," he said. "I ended up in a great situation in Kansas City, a situation where I wanted to be at, an organization that's taken me and made me the best player I can be at this time."

He also said he carried no hard feelings with Trubisky.

"He's a good guy, a great guy who works extremely hard and so I respect him and his game and we see each other sometimes in the offseason and I'm sure to catch up with him then," Mahomes said.

"I don't know if there's necessarily a rivalry. Any quarterback you play with in this league you want to go out there and win of course. It's not a rivalry I would say, but it is competitive and you want to go out there and be the best any time you step out on the field."

Meanwhile, Teicher went on to suggest if momentum counts for anything, the Chiefs are in great shape for a playoff run. The 11-4 Chiefs won their fifth straight game and played perhaps their most complete game in beating the Bears.

They held the Bears without a touchdown, giving the Chiefs their first run of consecutive games without allowing one since 2006 -- they beat the Denver Broncos 23-3 last week. The Chiefs haven't allowed a touchdown since the third quarter of a Week 14 win over the New England Patriots.

That's nothing new. The Chiefs have played standout defense through the winning streak. They've allowed 48 points in the five games, or fewer than 10 per game.

The Chiefs were more efficient offensively on Sunday night than they've been for some time. They scored on each of their three first-half possessions and came away with touchdowns on three of their four drives inside the Chicago 20. They kicked a field goal on the last one, with less than two minutes remaining and the Chiefs in kill-the-clock mode.

Red zone efficiency had recently been a problem for the Chiefs.

For the record, the Chiefs can't be the AFC's No. 1 playoff seed, as they were last season.

But they would be the No. 2 seed and receive a first-round bye if they beat the Chargers next Sunday and the Patriots lose to the Dolphins. While a Patriots loss to the Dolphins seems far-fetched, it's still worthwhile for the Chiefs to play hard against the Chargers. The difference between the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds is that vast.

Worth noting, the Chiefs play the Chargers at the same time the Patriots play the Dolphins. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Kelce has been consistent this season, but as Associated Press sports writer Dave Skretta notes, the star tight end has been particularly good the past few weeks. He had 74 yards receiving against the Bears to reach 1,205 yards for the season. That made him the first tight end in NFL history to reach 1,200 yards receiving in consecutive seasons. ...

Running back LeSean McCoy was a healthy scratch for Kansas City on Sunday night. The Chiefs have been trying to manage the veteran's workload, but that means McCoy has had a mere six touches the past two weeks combined. Damien Williams returned to the lineup and rushed 16 times for 65 yards. He added three catches for 27 yards and a touchdown.

On the injury front. ... Running back Spencer Ware and cornerback Bashaud Breeland left briefly with shoulder injuries, but both of them were able to return to the game.

Still, Ware was placed on injured reserve Wednesday, ending his season.

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

Los Angeles Chargers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 December 2019

As ESPN.com's Eric D. Williams noted, with one game left in his 16th season and in the final year of his deal, Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers continues to field questions about his future.

As it stands now, Rivers, 38, appears to be making something pretty clear: He still wants to play.

"I'm capable enough physically and mentally, there's no question," Rivers said after Sunday's 24-17 loss to the Oakland Raiders. "Yes, I do want to play football. I do, and that's how I feel deep down as I stand here."

However, Rivers also went on to say he still wants to take some time after the season to discuss that decision with his family, and ultimately the Chargers' brass has to decide if the team wants him back.

"There's a lot of factors," Rivers said. "There's a personal side and family side to mine. I'm going to have a daughter in college as well, too. So time is ticking, and I've got a sixth-grade son that I've got to get ready to coach at some point, so there's all kinds of factors.

"But I know I can still do it, and I know I can still do it at a high enough level for us to win. I have not done it well enough this year, but I still do love to play, and love to lead these guys and this team. It's been an array of things that have compounded, to keep us from winning enough games to advance into the tournament."

Rivers said he sent Eli Manning a note to tell him how it awesome it was for him to get one last start with the New York Giants for fans to say a final farewell. However, Rivers doesn't see that same thing happening with him and the Chargers this season.

"I think that situation is different," Rivers said. "He's almost a year removed from this moment. He was coming back this year, and then you obviously had the draft and how that thing played out, and he handled it like a pro. So I think this is a complete different situation. I just don't think I'm done playing."

With his team at 5-10, Rivers also has heard the detractors this season.

His 18 interceptions this year is second only to the 28 by Jameis Winston of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Rivers has 24 turnovers on the season, the most turnovers he has had in a year since 2016.

"It's probably human nature when you're 38 and you throw some interceptions in games and they don't go the way you want them to, that it can become, and that's what people say: 'You can't make the throw you used to make' or 'You can't do this' -- arm strength and all of that," Rivers said.

"And just none of that is true. I've made some throws this year that have been as good as throws that I've made in any years of my career, but I'm not here to sell that. So physically and what I'm able to do is just what I was able to do last year when we were rolling and having one of our best years. Even in some of these games the last few weeks, we've had some really good plays offensively.

"But that doesn't meant that that's good enough for someone to want you to keep playing, because you have to maintain that consistency throughout games and do enough to win football games, which we haven't done, and I haven't done well enough this year."

It's not like he was alone in that. He was just the most noticeable. ...

The running game has regressed to its mid-season struggles. The Chargers have averaged only 2.1 yards per carry the past two games after averaging 5.2 in their first two games after the bye week.

As Associated Press sports writer Joe Reedy noted, four of Los Angeles' 16 carries lost yardage as it was held to 19 yards. Melvin Gordon had a pair of 1-yard touchdowns, but those were his only highlights as he gained only 15 yards.

On a more positive note. ... Austin Ekeler continues to pile up receiving yards. Ekeler finished with five catches for 58 yards. With 940 receiving yards, Ekeler has the second-most receiving yards by a running back in team history (Lionel James tops the Bolts with 1,027 in 1985).

Ekeler and wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams have now each eclipsed 900 yards receiving this season, becoming the first trio of teammates to do so since 2014 when New England had Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell each exceeded the 900-yard mark. ...

In addition, tight end Hunter Henry has established career highs in receptions (50) and yards (510) despite missing four games earlier this season due to a tibia plateau fracture to his left knee.

Henry missed all of the regular season last year due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament, but has come back to emerge as one of Rivers' more dependable targets. He had five receptions for 45 yards against the Raiders, which was his fifth game this season with five or more catches. ...

Gordon's pair of touchdowns brought him to 35 in his career, moving him past Natrone Means (1993-1999) for No. 4 on the franchise list for rushing touchdowns. Paul Lowe (1960-1968) stands three rushing touchdowns ahead with 38. Gordon also moved into sole possession of second place among Bolts running backs with 46 total touchdowns.

After Rams RB Todd Gurley, Gordon has scored the most TDs in the NFL over the past three seasons.

On the injury front this week, Rivers (thumb) was a limited participant for Wednesday's practice. I'll follow up as needed via Late-Breaking Update.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Philip Rivers, Tyrod Taylor, Easton Stick
RBs: Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, Detrez Newsome, Troymaine Pope
WRs: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Andre Patton, Jason Moore
TEs: Hunter Henry, Virgil Green, Lance Kendricks

Los Angeles Rams

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 December 2019

As ESPN.com's Lindsey Thiry noted, the Rams did not anticipate that their season would be cut short without a playoff appearance.

Not after a dominant run to Super Bowl LIII less than a year ago and not with a roster featuring three players who over the past two seasons have signed record-breaking deals -- quarterback Jared Goff, running back Todd Gurley and defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

Certainly not after adding cornerback Jalen Ramsey, whom the Rams acquired in October for two first-round picks and a fourth-round pick and who is soon expected to earn a record-breaking deal himself.

But, after winning consecutive division titles, the reigning NFC champions will finish third in the NFC West, becoming the fifth team in the past 10 seasons to miss the playoffs the season after reaching the Super Bowl.

"It's all been disappointing," head coach Sean McVay said Sunday about last season's 13-3 loss to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl and missing the playoffs this season. "They both hurt a lot."

The Rams will play a regular-season finale against the Arizona Cardinals at home on Sunday before entering the longest offseason in McVay's three seasons.

If there's any silver lining, it's that a win Sunday will allow the Rams to finish 9-7, earning them their third consecutive winning season for the first time since 1999-2001.

"It was just a bad year for us," Donald said. "We have to bounce back next year."

According to Thiry, there were plenty of reasons for the disappointing finish.

There's no question McVay experienced his greatest challenge in his third season. After turning a mediocre organization into a two-time division winner, McVay was forced to learn how to navigate a roller-coaster season. McVay proved himself as a motivator through the ups and downs, evident by bounce-back performances after lackluster losses to the Steelers, Ravens and Cowboys.

However, the 33-year-old McVay was unable discover the key to getting his team to consistently perform.

As the offensive play caller, McVay often struggled to find and sustain a rhythm. The offense, a juggernaut in 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end and three receivers) and masters of play action last season, never developed an identity.

On defense, Wade Phillips' unit played dominant at times but also was prone to total meltdowns. The Rams' defense gave up more than 40 points in three losses.

Beyond that, The Rams rolled the dice entering the season with only three experienced linemen after left guard Rodger Saffold departed in free agency and the Rams declined the option on center John Sullivan's contract. The impact of their departures can't be overstated.

A season after the line boasted the top pass block win rate in the league at 74 percent, Thiry notes this season's line ranks 23rd, winning their pass block at a rate of 56 percent, according to ESPN Metrics powered by NFL NextGen Stats.

In addition, it's difficult for McVay to sugarcoat Goff's inconsistencies after a game that showcased both his enormous talent and his capacity for game-changing mistakes. Goff went 27 of 46, making pinpoint throws and egregious errors in baffling succession.

At times, the fourth-year quarterback appeared unstoppable. At other times, Goff did not appear to play the part of a franchise quarterback. If anything was learned from Goff's season, it's that the former No. 1 pick, who signed a four-year extension worth $134 million last September, needs a strong supporting cast -- and a sturdy offensive line -- to have success.

Through Week 16, Goff completed 62.8 percent of his passes for 4,319 yards with 19 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. His total QBR of 47.5 ranks him 25th in the league, a season after he posted a total QBR of 63.7, which ranked 10th.

Goff is tied for 19th in the league in touchdown passes (19), but fourth in interceptions (16).

But the biggest storyline here centers on Gurley.

Coming off a disappearing act late last season, Gurley's situation was unsettled going into the season and created a dark cloud over the offense that never lifted. McVay was asked weekly about Gurley's situation and he continually denied that Gurley was on a load management program and went so far as to label himself an "idiot" for not getting Gurley more involved.

But there's more to the Gurley story.

As Thiry suggested, McVay is no fool and Gurley did not show the physical burst that made him a first-round pick and enabled him to perform among the NFL's best the previous two seasons. After rushing for more than 1,200 yards in each of the past two seasons, Gurley has rushed for 789 yards and 12 touchdowns in 14 games (inactive Week 6, thigh bruise).

Gurley does not have a 100-yard rushing game and the Rams have the NFL's 24th-ranked rushing offense (94 yards per game). Los Angeles was third in the league with 139 yards per game last season, and its yards per attempt is also down from 4.9 to 3.8.

The problems are numerous, and McVay must solve them to avoid wasting another year of his wealthy running back's career. ...

On a more positive note. ... As Associated Press sports writer Greg Beacham noted, tight end Tyler Higbee's late-season emergence as a receiver continued with his fourth consecutive 100-yard performance. That ties the franchise record for 100-yard receiving games in a tight end's entire career, and Higbee did it all in a row.

And finally. ... Rookie running back Darrell Henderson is done for the season due to a high sprain of his right ankle.

Ramsey played through pain in a strained knee ligament Saturday, but he won't this week. McVay said on Tuesday that Ramsey will be out this week due to the injury. McVay said, via Lindsey Thiry of ESPN.com, that Ramsey has a Grade 2 LCL strain.

The injury should not keep Ramsey from joining the Rams for their offseason program, although Ramsey opted to spend some voluntary portions of the offseason working out at home in Tennessee while he was with the Jaguars so we'll have to wait to find out what his plans are for this year.

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

Miami Dolphins

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 December 2019

According to ESPN.com's Cameron Wolfe, Ryan Fitzpatrick spent his Saturday night dressing up as Santa at the team's holiday party, then proceeded to use Sunday afternoon to deliver gifts to all of his receivers during a thrilling 38-35 overtime win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Fitzpatrick's dominant performance was nearly erased by a ferocious Bengals comeback in the fourth quarter, but in true Fitzpatrick fashion, his roller coaster had another loop. A strong overtime drive -- aided by a 28-yard Isaiah Ford catch-and-run -- led to Jason Sanders' game-winning field goal as time expired.

Sunday was a quintessential example of everything that is Fitzpatrick. He took pictures before the game with his seven kids. He ran to retrieve Myles Gaskin's first touchdown ball after it was discarded during a celebration. And he watched his team blow a 23-point fourth-quarter lead, sending the game into overtime.

If isn't wild, it's not Fitzpatrick.

He finished the day completing 31 of 52 passes for 418 yards, four touchdowns, one interception and a 103.0 quarterback rating. He's the first Dolphins quarterback to pass for 400 yards and four touchdowns since Dan Marino retired.

Fitzpatrick continues to excel in tight-window situations. He had two touchdowns on tight-window throws Sunday, giving him an NFL-best eight for the season. He also leads the team in rushing on the season.

The Dolphins -- somehow -- have won four games with what is likely the least-talented roster in the NFL. Fitzpatrick is a large part of that success. It seems clearer than ever that if Fitzpatrick wants to come back for Year 16 in 2020, the Dolphins will welcome him back whether as a bridge quarterback or a backup/mentor for the guy whom Miami selects as their future franchise quarterback.

Fitzpatrick, 37, has sidestepped questions about his future throughout the season, but there has been nothing but positive reviews from teammates and coaches about the veteran journeyman. He seems to have found a comfortable leadership role on a rebuilding Dolphins team.

In a week when head coach Brian Flores was bombarded with questions about why 22-year-old Josh Rosen wasn't playing, Fitzpatrick responded with his play.

Meanwhile, DeVante Parker's breakout season continued with another great game as he eclipsed 1,000 yards for the first time in his career (1,067 on the year). He had five catches for 111 yards and his ninth touchdown of the season.

Parker set individual goals for himself to play all 16 games and get 1,000 yards, and it looks like he will reach both. It's a triumph for Parker, who had to shake off talk of him being a bust after an injury-stricken and disappointing first four seasons in Miami. Parker is beginning to realize his promise in Year 5, and he looks like a key core member of the 2020 Dolphins.

This comes on the heels of Parker signing a four-year, $40 million contract extension with more than $20 million guaranteed earlier this month.

In addition, Wolfe notes that wide receiver Albert Wilson getting some of his juice back. Wilson now has back-to-back season-best performances and is getting healthy as the season nears its end.

Wilson had seven catches for a 79 yards Sunday and showed some of the yards-after-catch ability that made him so tough to stop in 2018 before a devastating hip injury.

Wilson has a $9.5 million non-guaranteed salary in 2020, and it might be a stretch to bring him back at that number. But his late-season promise could make the Dolphins think about whether it's worth trying to make it work with Wilson for one more season. ...

On Monday, the signed running back Samaje Perine off the Bengals' practice squad, Ian Rapoport of the NFL reported.

Perine played five offensive snaps and 104 on special teams this season for the Bengals.

The Bengals waived him Oct. 15 and re-signed him to the practice squad two days later.

The Dolphins, who traded running back Kenyan Drake to the Cardinals in October, have had a turnstile at the position this season. Fitzpatrick is their leading rusher with 228 yards and three rushing touchdowns on 49 carries. Patrick Laird is currently the starter, but his numbers haven't been impressive.

Gaskin, who led the team with 16 carries for 55 yards and a touchdown Sunday, has an ankle injury and was placed on IR to open a roster spot for Perine.

Perine ran for 603 yards as a fourth-round rookie in Washington in 2017. He played only sparingly in 2018 before Washington waived him and the Bengals claimed him at the end of the preseason this year. ...

The Dolphins have used an NFL-record 83 players, and that number could grow if they need more replacements this week. CB Jomal Wiltz (shoulder), WR Allen Hurns (shoulder), LB Vince Biegel (elbow) and Gaskin all left Sunday's game with injuries. ...

And finally. ... The 1-14 Bengals are officially on the clock with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft. Washington, at 3-12, is now in the driver's seat for the No. 2 pick after its loss to the New York Giants. A Dolphins loss against New England this week still guarantees Miami a top-five pick in the draft.

Beyond that?

The Dolphins can have a say in the playoff race at New England, which can clinch the AFC's No. 2 seed with a victory.

An upset would be monumental, and New England (12-3) is a 15-point favorite. Miami (4-11) has lost 10 consecutive games in Foxboro by an average score of 33-13.

But the Dolphins have nothing to lose, and as Associated Press sports writer Steven Wine noted, they're not quite the pushovers they were early in the season, when a 43-0 loss to New England in Week 2 helped propel them to an 0-7 start.

Miami has since gone 4-4 under their rookie coach.

"The Dolphins have certainly gotten a better handle on the system," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "We saw them a long time ago. That's a lot of water under the bridge. The second half of the season they've played very competitively against a lot of good teams. This will be a big challenge for us this week."

Last but not least. ... Here are the opponents for the Miami Dolphins for the 2020 regular season:

Home: Patriots, Bills, Jets, Rams, Seahawks, Chiefs, Chargers, Bengals; away: Patriots, Bills, Jets, 49ers, Cardinals, Raiders, Broncos, Jaguars.

One unannounced Dolphins home game will be played in London or Mexico City.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh Rosen
RBs: Patrick Laird, Samaje Perine
WRs: DeVante Parker, Albert Wilson, Allen Hurns, Isaiah Ford, Mack Hollins, Trevor Davis
TEs: Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe

Minnesota Vikings

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 December 2019

As Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio noted, Kirk Cousins now has a record of 0-9 on Monday Night Football.

"And no matter how hard folks like Booger McFarland try to pooh-pooh Cousins' responsibility for that level of futility," Florio wrote, "the reality is that, under the bright lights of prime time, Cousins more often than not plays like poo-poo.

"Some say wins are an appropriate quarterback stat. Others loudly and vehemently disagree.

"The truth is in the middle. ..."

Florio went on to explain a quarterback contributes significantly to potential victory by making good pre-snap decisions, good post-snap decisions, accurate throws, and minimal blunders. The accountability he instills during the days and weeks and months between games helps ensure that teammates will do their jobs well, too. And the leadership he brings to each and every game -- especially in key moments -- helps the whole become greater than the sum of the parts.

Head coach Mike Zimmer understandably wasn't in the mood to entertain the broad, intangible connection between quarterback and wins/losses after Monday night's loss to the Packers.

"I'm not going to get into this 'Cousins on Monday night' thing and all this stuff," Zimmer told reporters after the 23-10 loss to the Packers, which relegated the Vikings to the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoff field.

The question that prompted the response focused on whether Zimmer was surprised with Cousins' performance, given what was on the line. It wasn't about Monday night; it was about Cousins' play (which was poor) in a game with very high stakes.

There were bigger problems than Cousins.

The absence of Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison kept the offense from committing to the run that way it usually does, and the lack of punch in the running game kept Cousins from dialing up significant opportunities via play-action and bootlegs.

As NFL.com's Jeremy Bergman noted, though the Vikings entered halftime with a 10-9 lead, their offense had accumulated just two first downs and 68 yards at a rate of 2.7 yards per play. Cousins had thrown for just 39 yards, and Minnesota's two scores (a field goal and a TD dime to Stefon Diggs) had come on short fields (GB 10 and 26, respectively) that came as a result of Vikings takeaways.

Minnesota would not score in the second half, seeing four of its drives end with punts, one end with an interception and the Vikings' final possession end with a four-and-out.

Minnesota's final numbers are ugly, to say, the least: seven first downs, 2.6 yards per play, on 139 total yards.

The only other team to accomplish such a line this season?

The Luke Falk-led Jets against the Patriots in Week 3.

Despite the hype, Mike Boone's turn in the featured role was a underwhelming dud. The second-year back picked up 28 rushing yards on 11 carries and was spelled often by Lions castoff Ameer Abdullah.

For Cousins and the Vikings, there was no more dispiriting way for Monday's game to go.

Minnesota's offense, sans Cook and with a gimpy Adam Thielen, wasn't ready for prime time. Zimmer, offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski and company have less than two weeks to right this ship.

They realize this.

"Offensively we didn't play as well as we can play, I'll say that," Zimmer said. "And defensively we could have played the run better. So there's a lot of things that we need to clean up."

As Florio contends, the defense didn't play better because the defense spent most of the game on the field, with the Packers having a full 15-minute advantage in time of possession. And that happened because the
offense, which had no rhythm or flow (Florio stressed we should remember that when putting Stefanski on the short list of no-brainer head-coaching candidates for 2020), could do nothing.

On the injury front. ... Linebacker Eric Kendricks left in the second quarter with a quad injury and didn't return, and he said after the game he didn't know how serious it was.

"We'll see," Kendricks said, via Andrew Krammer of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "It's early, so we'll see as the week goes on."

Fellow linebacker Anthony Barr hobbled off the field following Packers running back Aaron Jones' 54-yard touchdown, but he said he was just cramping, and expected to be fine.

The Vikings were already playing without Cook and Mattison, so their health will be a primary focus for them in the coming days.

Since they're locked into the sixth seed in the NFC playoffs, they could choose to err on the side of caution with players Sunday against the Bears, as they wait to find out their opponent in the wild card round.

"I haven't really decided yet," Zimmer told reporters on Tuesday regarding whether players will be rested. "I don't know the answer to that yet."

As Florio noted, it's a tough call. On one hand, it's good to avoid injury and to keep the team's most important players fresh. On the other hand, it would be good to wash some of the stink off the starting lineup after Monday night's clunker.

That said, expecting Cook or Mattison back seems like a reach -- even though both were listed as listed participants in Wednesday's walkthrough practice. I'll obviously have more on that via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

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

New England Patriots

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 December 2019

Unlike some of their recent AFC East titles, the New England Patriots earned this one the hard way.

As ESPN.com's Mike Reiss, Tom Brady and the offense came to life with a fourth-quarter comeback Saturday, and the defense stiffened on a final drive, to help the Patriots defeat the resilient Buffalo Bills 24-17 and clinch their 11th consecutive AFC East championship.

"It's pretty cool," Brady said. "It's hard to do, and it's a lot of effort and hard work, and a lot of people are coming in day after day and sitting in these chairs and trying to do what's right for the team. It's a great reward, it's a great step for us and it's great to control the ability to do that, too. Happy for us, our team, our coaches, our families and our fans, and hopefully we can build on it and go play great next week."

The Patriots trailed 17-13 entering the fourth quarter, which marked the first time they were behind at home through three quarters against a division rival since the 2016 season.

They scored the game's final 11 points, sparked by Brady, running back Rex Burkhead and the return of wide receiver Julian Edelman, who had left the game in the third quarter to be evaluated for a concussion. Burkhead's 1-yard touchdown run with 5 minutes, 6 seconds remaining, followed by Brady connecting with Edelman on a 2-point conversion, put the Patriots ahead for good.

The crowd at Gillette Stadium serenaded the quarterback with chants of "Brady! Brady! Brady!" in what was an electric atmosphere. Soon, those chants turned to "Let's go defense! Let's go defense!" as the Patriots held off a late charge by the Bills, who drove from their own 25-yard line to the Patriots' 15 before they were stopped on a final fourth-and-15 play in the end zone.

Head coach Bill Belichick, who wore a white division championship hat to his postgame news conference, smiled when asked how he liked the fit.

"Love wearing this hat," he said, after noting, "It's a good feeling here. Great fourth-quarter drive offensively, and defensively big stop there at the end. ... There's a lot of mental toughness in that locker room, and they showed it."

Cornerback Stephon Gilmore wore a T-shirt that read "The East Is Not Enough," which was a theme throughout the locker room.

"They're all different, they're all hard, and I love winning the division. You never take that for granted," said Edelman, who has been a division champ in each of his 11 seasons. "But that's not the ultimate goal."

Edelman's return in the fourth quarter was one of the top storylines of the game. He had missed almost a full quarter when he returned to the huddle with 9:01 remaining in the fourth, and Brady connected with him on a 30-yard pass over the middle on the first play.

That started a seven-play, 59-yard touchdown drive, and then Edelman hauled in a 2-point conversion toss from Brady.

Patriots captain Matthew Slater jokingly compared Edelman to the biblical character Lazarus because he was "back from the dead."

Edelman was listed as a limited participant on Wednesday due to his ongoing knee and shoulder issues; like most teams, the Patriots didn't actually practice. I'll have more on his status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Brady and the offense had struggled the previous eight games. He snapped a string of nine straight games with a passer rating below 100 and five straight weeks with completing less than 55 percent of his passes -- both the longest of his career. Against Buffalo, he threw for 271 yards and a TD for a rating of 111, completing 26 of 33 passes (79 percent).

The key may have been a balanced attack: New England had 35 runs and 33 passes; 10 first downs on the ground and 11 by air; and scored one rushing TD and one passing.

Despite rocky stretches over the course of the season, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has stayed the course and is finally being rewarded for it.

Burkhead had the ball punched free after catching a pass on the Patriots opening drive, but McDaniel went back to him on the second play of the next possession. Burkhead set a career high for receiving yards, catching four passes for 77 yards. He also had 20 yards rushing, including the above-mentioned, 1-yard run for the go-ahead score.

"Josh does an outstanding job and always has," Belichick said. "He's a very smart guy, understands defenses, the things that create problems for the defense, and at the same time, he understands what we can do and what's out of our realm. I think he makes great decisions on that."

Noting that McDaniels and Brady work well together, Belichick also added: "Certainly with Tom having the ability to orchestrate a lot of things on the field, that's a big plus, too. I think we've all seen Tom play a lot of his best football in the most critical games of the year, in the most critical situations in those games."

Meanwhile, the Patriots improved to 12-3 and maintained their position as the No. 2 seed in the AFC postseason chase. If they beat the Miami Dolphins at home next weekend, they would earn a first-round playoff bye.

And Belichick made it clear how he plans to approach Sunday's game when he addressed players in the locker room after Saturday's victory.

It's all-in.

"Look, this is very simple now. Miami is a playoff game. If we beat Miami, then we get a bye. If we don't, then we'll be playing the next week. So, it's a playoff game," Belichick told players, as shown on NFL Network and Patriots.com. "We got to be ready to go here. We need our best week. Keep building on what we've been building here, and keep this thing rolling.

"This is a big week. We are in the playoffs. We are in the playoffs now."

Belichick could have taken it one step further by noting that every team playing in the Super Bowl over the past six seasons has had a first-round playoff bye. So the idea that beating the 4-11 Dolphins is a rare one-for-two situation should be all the motivation players and coaches need for the regular-season finale.

One last note here. ... The Patriots have won 12 games 12 times since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, and the franchise tied San Francisco for the most 12-win seasons over that span.

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

New Orleans Saints

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 December 2019

As ESPN.com's Mike Triplett noted, Marvin Harrison's NFL record of 143 catches in a season was so impressive that it stood for 17 years -- and no one came within even six catches of it.

Until Sunday, when Michael Thomas broke Harrison's mark with one game to spare.

Thomas is now up to 145 catches on the year after he caught 12 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's 38-28 come-from-behind victory over the Tennessee Titans.

Thomas caught his 143rd pass of the season with his 11th reception of the game.

It is the ninth time this season that "Can't Guard Mike" has caught double-digit passes in a game.

"To be honest, it doesn't really mean nothing," said Thomas, who has insisted all year that he is more concerned about getting to the Super Bowl than breaking records or earning league MVP votes. "I don't take it for granted. But the fact that we still have more goals as a team -- as far as not the individual stuff that comes along with it -- I would be selfish to be like, 'Oh, I just caught all these passes and did all this.' Ultimately I was catching the passes to win the game, to help my team be in the position we're in now.

"So I just want to keep catching passes and end up where we're gonna be. ... That's ultimately what I'm here to do, and I feel like if I continue to do that I'll get more passes and I'll break more records."

Speaking of more records. ... Profootballtalk.com pointed out that Thomas set another one on Sunday.

Those 136 yards mean Thomas now has 1,688 for the season, and 5,475 receiving yards for his four-year career. That's the most that any player has generated in his first four year, breaking the record set from 1998 through 2001 by Hall of Famer Randy Moss, with 5,396.

Thomas undoubtedly will push the record past 5,500 on Sunday against the Panthers, possibly past 5,600.

In the same game, he'll also be extending the single-season catch record beyond 145.

And while Thomas has a long way to go to approach the upper reaches of the all-time list, his production through four seasons and his ongoing partnership with coach Sean Payton lays the foundation for an eventual assault on the all-time catch and yardage records.

The Saints (12-3) are still stuck as the NFC's No. 3 seed despite their come-from-behind win on Sunday -- though they could potentially move up to No. 1 or No. 2 if the Green Bay Packers lose one of their final two games.

Thomas said he respects Harrison as a "tremendous player" and a "real professional, the way he went about his business."

And he actually knows Harrison's son, who is going to play for Thomas' former college team at Ohio State.

"Just to be in this position right now, it's a blessing," said Thomas, who also took time to credit each of the three quarterbacks who have thrown him passes this year (Drew Brees, Teddy Bridgewater and Taysom Hill) as well as each of New Orleans' offensive linemen, among others.

Brees, meanwhile, raved about Thomas' notorious level of passion and intensity -- laughing when asked if Thomas is as "laid back" about the record around his teammates as he is with the media.

"I wouldn't say 'laid back' is Mike T.," Brees said. "He's a fierce competitor, and I think there's a great sense of urgency with everything that Mike does. We see that on the practice field every day, see it in the locker room. He's also a fun-loving guy, loves his teammates ...

"He just has an engine, he's got a fire that I think is pretty rare."

The three-time Pro Bowler could become the first receiver to get NFL MVP votes since Moss in 1998 -- especially because his performance didn't drop off one bit when backup Bridgewater replaced Brees for five-plus games early in the season. Thomas' record-tying 143rd catch came from third-string quarterback Hill on Sunday.

Thomas is also a candidate to become the second receiver to win the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year award. (Jerry Rice won it in 1987 and 1993.)

However, Thomas has insisted throughout this historic season that, "I'm not really focused on that. I'm just trying to go to the Super Bowl."

"It's cool. I mean, it's a blessing, I guess, to be in that category," Thomas said of the MVP talk. "But the individual awards don't last as much as a championship and being able to celebrate with your team and just that whole experience.

"When you play at a high level, a lot of good things come with that."

Thomas, who was drafted in the second round out of Ohio State in 2016, briefly became the highest-paid receiver in NFL history this past summer when he signed a five-year extension worth between $19.25 million and $20 million per year.

Thomas has already shattered the NFL record for catches in the first four seasons of a career; he is now at 466 catches -- 66 ahead of Cleveland's Jarvis Landry in second place. In fact, Thomas needs just 16 catches to pass Landry for the most catches in the first five seasons of a career.

Thomas also passed Moss on Sunday for the most receiving yards through a player's first four seasons.

Thomas has led all NFL receivers in catch rate over the past two years, catching nearly 85 percent of the passes thrown his way.

The physical 6-3, 212-pounder has a great catch radius because of his size. He also has reliable hands -- as he has demonstrated with just one drop in his past 25 games.

Lost in all the Thomas-related excited, Alvin Kamara scored for the first time since Week 3 on a 40-yard run and punched in a second touchdown from a yard out. Brees said Kamara's production was gratifying to the Saints after seeing him go an unusually long stretch without scoring.

"It weighs on all of us because he is such a big part of this offense," Brees said. "Hopefully, there is a lot more where that came from."

Jared Cook was a big part of why the Saints came back at Tennessee. His touchdown catches gave him four in his last three games. Six of his eight TDs this season have come in the past six games. That's more like what the Saints expected when they signed him away from Oakland as a free agent last offseason.

"I had one of my best years last year in Oakland, so that success was something that kind of drove me to find a new home to where I could have the same or similar type of success," Cook said. "That's how you have fun in this game -- dominate."

Brees has passed for three or more touchdowns 92 times in his career.

New Orleans' offense as a whole appears to be peaking as the playoffs approach. The Saints have averaged 39.3 points and 422 yards during their past three games.

One problem?

The Saints still have yet to solve their season-long penalty epidemic. They were flagged 11 times for 70 yards. Four were holding calls; three false starts.

"We've just got to focus on attention to detail and clean up some of the messes we're creating on our own, because I feel like when we play clean nobody can stop us." Kamara said.

The Saints conclude their regular season at Carolina knowing that a victory gives them a shot at one of the top two seeds in the NFC playoffs, the benefits of which include a first-round bye and home game in the divisional round.

On the injury front. ... The Saints held a walk-through Wednesday instead of a full practice. But in their "estimated injury report" Brees (knee) and Thomas (hand) were listed as limited participants.

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

New York Giants

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 December 2019

As ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan suggested, Daniel Jones returned to the lineup Sunday better than ever.

He became the first rookie in NFL history with 350-plus passing yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions, per the Elias Sports Bureau data.

The performance came after Jones missed two games with a high ankle sprain, and it included his throwing the game-winning touchdown pass on the opening possession of overtime in a 41-35 win over the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. Jones also joined elite company alongside Deshaun Watson and Fran Tarkenton as the third first-year quarterback in NFL history to throw four touchdown passes three times in a season.

Jones finished 28-of-42 passing with 352 yards and five touchdowns and no interceptions.

"He played pretty heroic," head coach Pat Shurmur said after Jones played the first clean game of his career.

It came on an afternoon when running back Saquon Barkley also set the franchise record with 279 yards from scrimmage, including a career-high 189 yards on the ground.

Jones, the No. 6 overall NFL draft pick out of Duke in 2019, didn't have a turnover for the first time in his 11 starts this season. He now has 23 touchdown passes and can tie Baker Mayfield's rookie record with four more on Sunday in the season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Jones, 22, had his record-breaking performance Sunday with fellow first-round quarterback Dwayne Haskins on the opposite sideline. The Giants chose Jones over Haskins this past spring, and this was the first of what is expected to be many matchups between them as starters.

It was quite a duel before Haskins left with an ankle injury in the third quarter. Haskins went 12-of-15 passing for 133 yards with two touchdown passes and no interceptions.

Jones showed no ill effects of the ankle injury that forced him to miss the previous two weeks. He completed eight of his first nine passes (with the only incompletion being a drop by wide receiver Golden Tate) that included a pair of touchdown passes.

"Savage," wide receiver Sterling Shepard said of his rookie quarterback. "That dude is going to be something special."

Jones capped off the effort by hitting tight end Kaden Smith on third-and-goal from the 3-yard line less than six minutes into overtime. It followed a key throw earlier in the drive to Shepard when facing a third-and-long deep in the Giants' own territory.

It was the second game-winning drive of Jones' young career; he also led the Giants to victory late in his first career start in Tampa Bay. This one helped Jones snap an eight-game losing streak as the starter. He hadn't tasted victory since beating the Redskins in late September.

"You see it as a huge opportunity for the team, and you're excited for that," Jones said of leading the team down the field in overtime. "That's kinda what you look forward to and what you play for, is an opportunity to do that. To go down and win the game. I think that's how we all felt."

His teammates were impressed with the way it all went down. Jones didn't flinch late in the contest. They insisted he interacted in the huddle as if it were the third quarter.

The five touchdown passes, no turnovers and game-winning drive were further validation that Jones has made progress since the Giants made the significant investment in him earlier this year.

"Light years," Shurmur said of his progress. "He's going to have a moment in the middle of February somewhere, maybe back home or sitting on his couch here in Hoboken or Weehawken or wherever he lives, and goes, 'Holy smokes, what happened to me?'

"He'll have one of those moments because that is what happens to rookies. He's only going to get better. He's a very talented guy that works hard. He had a good performance [Sunday]."

Also showing great progress was Smith, a free-agent rookie from Stanford. The tight end tied his career high with six catches for 35 yards. He also caught a career-best two touchdowns, including the winner. He was outstanding with his blocking, helping Barkley.

For the record, the Giants gained 552 yards, their highest total since they ran and passed for 604 yards -- the second-highest total in franchise history -- in a 41-34 victory against Tampa Bay on Sept. 16, 2012. The 552 yards is the Giants highest total ever in a road game.

The Giants rushed for 206 yards -- 189 by Barkley -- their highest total since they ran for 227 yards in their victory in Washington last season.

The Giants' 346 net passing yards is their highest total since they threw for 372 yards at Atlanta on Oct. 22, 2018.

The Giants' 28 first downs is their highest total since they had 30 against Philadelphia on Jan. 3, 2016.

This is the second time in three games the Giants had zero turnovers (also at Philadelphia on Dec. 9).

It's the fifth time this season they had no takeaways. The Giants lost the first four of those games, most recently at the Jets. ...

On the injury front. ... The Giants didn't actually practice on Wednesday, but if they had Darius Slayton (knee) would have been limited (the Giants provided an estimated participation report).

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

The Giants will play their final game of the 2019 season on Sunday. They would like to force the Philadelphia Eagles to do the same.

But that will not be their overriding goal when the teams meet for the second time in four weeks, this time in MetLife Stadium. Yes, with a victory, they can contribute to their longtime rivals missing the playoffs. An Eagles loss combined with a Dallas win against Washington will hand the NFC East title to the Cowboys. Philadelphia can secure that crown simply by defeating the Giants.

According to Associated Press sports writer Tom Canavan, the game could turn out to be a job decider for Shurmur. He has been on the hot seat since early in the season. His resume shows nine wins in 31 games and no playoff berths. Shurmur's decision two weeks into the season to make Jones his starting quarterback over Eli Manning has worked out.

Co-owner John Mara has said he wants to feel the team has made progress this season when he walks off the field after the final game. Beating the Eagles with a playoff berth and closing the season with three straight wins might be the sign Mara needs to give Shurmur and general manager Dave Gettleman a little more time to turn things around.

Mara's patience is being tested. The Giants have made the playoffs once since the 2011 season, when they won the Super Bowl.

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

New York Jets

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 December 2019

Le'Veon Bell strolled into MetLife Stadium decked out in a bright yellow hoodie, and social media was immediately abuzz.

As Associated Press sports writer Dennis Waszak Jr. suggested, the star running back surely was trolling his old team, right?

The gold and black of the Pittsburgh Steelers?

"I wasn't doing it to be petty or nothing," a smiling Bell said. "I thought it would draw a little attention. That's all I did. That's all it was, though."

Then he went onto the field and helped his new team beat his former teammates 16-10 on Sunday, damaging the Steelers' playoff hopes in a big way in the process.

"The win felt great," Bell said. "Every win feels great, but this one had a little extra topping on it."

Bell ran for 72 yards on 25 carries and had four receptions for 21 yards in the victory. He also had one of the key plays late, running for 7 yards on third-and-5 and helping the Jets eventually move into field-goal range -- with Sam Ficken booting a 42-yarder to make it 16-10.

"He did a really good job this week of kind of staying level," head coach Adam Gase said. "I kept talking to him and asking him how he was and he was great all week long -- just focused on what he had to do."

Bell spent his first six NFL seasons with the Steelers, establishing himself as arguably the league's most versatile running back. But a contract dispute created a rift in the relationship that couldn't be salvaged.

The Steelers placed the franchise tag on Bell in 2017, and did so again last season -- but he refused to sign it a year ago and sat out the entire campaign. He became a free agent and ended up signing a four-year, $52.5 million deal with the Jets.

So, it's safe to say Bell had been looking forward to this game since NFL released the league schedule in the spring.

"Going against my old teammates, guys who could never really hit me in practice, we had an opportunity to really go at it today," Bell said. "It was fun, you know? I respect all those guys over there."

Bell even spent a few moments chatting with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, the first time the two have spoken since the running back left Pittsburgh.

"I saw him before and after the game," Bell said. "He showed respect, showed love. It was good seeing him, too. I understand how everything went on and things like that. It obviously wasn't his fault, but he respects me and I respect him."

As Waszak pointed out, it hasn't been quite the comeback season most expected of Bell, whose statistics aren't overly impressive. He has run for 748 yards and three touchdowns, and his 3.3 average per carry ranks as the worst of his career.

A few factors have contributed to those subpar numbers, including the fact the offensive line struggled with consistency and communication in front of him for much of the first half of the season. The overall offense was up and down, too. But Bell has often said this season that he has been doing a lot of the little things -- blocking, for instance -- that don't necessarily show up on the stats sheet.

He has also said he didn't think he was being given a full opportunity to really showcase his abilities. Bell had no qualms with how Gase used him Sunday.

"I loved it," Bell said with a big grin. "It felt good. I'm sore, and there's no better feeling. Coach Gase, he told me before the game, 'I got you today. I'm making sure you're getting the ball today.'"

Bell and the Jets were able to play spoiler for a day after an injury-plagued season for the team. New York has now won five of its last seven, and the way the team is closing the season has Bell optimistic about next year.

"Like I said weeks ago, we get a new program, new guys in, new faces and new coaches and injuries and all that," he said. "When all that happens, it's going to take time to get the ship sailing in the right direction.

"Now, we're starting to see the ship turn a little bit. That's all I've been preaching."

According to ESPN.com's Rich Cimini, Sunday was Adam Gase's signature win, and that's encouraging because the first-year coach is Public Enemy No. 1 among the fan base. He needed a feel-good moment. Clearly, the team hasn't quit on him, and that bodes well for the future.

They defeated a team that absolutely needed the game, and they did it in an ugly, grind-it-out fashion -- exactly what Gase told his team to expect.

The Jets won it with defense (two takeaways, four sacks) and they held on with Bell picking up some tough yards in the fourth quarter. Don't look now, but the Jets -- once left for dead at 1-7 -- could finish 7-9. They face the playoff-bound Buffalo Bills in the Week 17 finale, and the Bills -- locked into the No. 5 seed -- have nothing at stake.

The Jets, on the other hand, have a chance to avoid some dubious franchise history. A win at Buffalo would prevent a fourth straight season of double-digit loss totals, which would be a team record. A seventh victory would also mark just the third time the team finished 7-9 (1983 and '84); New York has gone 6-10 four times, most recently in 2012 under Rex Ryan.

Other notes of interest. ... This was a solid day for Sam Darnold (16-for-26, 183 yards), who played the role of game manager. Facing the turnover-minded Steelers (8-7), his job was to protect the football. He had one turnover, and it wasn't his fault -- a blindside strip sack by T.J. Watt, who beat right tackle Brandon Shell. Darnold threw one great pass -- a touchdown to wide receiver Robby Anderson -- but he didn't throw any interceptions.

This was a nice step for him against a very good defense.

By the way. ... Darnold has 35 touchdown passes in his first two seasons -- just two shy of Joe Namath's franchise record for a player's first two years.

On his 23-yard touchdown catch, Anderson beat double coverage and had 0.57 yards of separation (per NextGen Stats) when the ball arrived in the back of the end zone. Anderson, continuing his late-season salary drive before free agency, made a diving grab. It was a dime by Darnold, whose pass traveled 31 yards.

According to Cimini, plays like that will force the front office to think long and hard about paying Anderson, who is seeking about $15 million per year.

It would be a surprise if the Jets go that high. The reality is Anderson might have one game left in his Jets career.

On the injury front. ... Guard Alex Lewis injured an ankle against Pittsburgh and was limping through the locker room after the game. His status for the game at Buffalo is uncertain. ... OL Tom Compton (calf) and Demaryius Thomas (hamstring/knee) sat out against the Steelers and will evaluated through the week.

For the record, the Jets did not practice Wednesday but issued an injury report. The only surprise is Anderson being included as limited with a calf injury; I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

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

Oakland Raiders

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 December 2019

As NFL.com's Kevin Patra put it, "So you're telling Oakland there's a chance."

The chance for the Raiders to make the playoffs aren't even one in a million, even if they are long.

Following Oakland's win Sunday over the Los Angeles Chargers, in which Raiders fans infiltrated their opponent's stadium, Jon Gruden's squad still has a path to the playoffs.

Most were unaware faint hope was still alive.

"No one thought we'd be playing for the playoffs in Week 17, let's be real," quarterback Derek Carr told Peter King for his Football Morning in America column.

The door stayed open with the Titans and Steelers both losing Sunday, and several more matchups falling Oakland's way.

The Raiders still need a lot of help, but their path isn't impossible to fathom.

Per NFL Research, the Raiders would make the playoffs with a win over the Broncos and: a Tennessee loss, a Pittsburgh loss, an Indianapolis win, and Oakland beats Pittsburgh on strength of victory.

The Titans would win the final wild-card spot in the AFC with a victory over Houston, who already won the division. The Steelers would get with a win and a Tennessee loss. Given that the Baltimore Ravens are already locked into the No. 1 seed and should be sitting starters, it boosts Pittsburgh's chances.

For what it's worth, Gruden said that the team "can't control what's going on" with the Titans, Steelers and Colts, so they might as well keep their eyes on themselves and let the chips fall where they may.
"We're going to try to use this as an opportunity to. ... Hopefully continue to develop our roster and our team and try and win games," Gruden told the San Francisco Chronicle. "If we get some help, that'd be great. That would be awesome."

Running back Josh Jacobs, left guard Richie Incognito, cornerback Trayvon Mullen and defensive back Lamarcus Joyner are all dealing with injuries.

Jacobs, who has rushed for 1,150 yards despite missing two of Oakland's past three games with a fractured right shoulder, sat out the Raiders' win at the Los Angeles Chargers while Mullen was taken off the field on a stretcher with a neck injury late in the game and Joyner suffered a calf injury in the second half.

Jacobs went through the team's walkthrough on Tuesday and offensive coordinator Greg Olson said it "was encouraging."

Gruden said that all of them have a chance to play and that the outside shot of making the playoffs won't be part of the decision.

"We're going to play the best players that we have available and try to win the game," Gruden said. "We don't have enough bodies to rest players. We're going to try to win the game in spite of the circumstances."

More on Jacobs via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...

As Profootballtalk.com's Josh Alper suggested, finishing with a win over the Broncos probably won't mean a trip to the playoffs, but an 8-8 record would be a clear improvement over last year's 4-12 mark with five picks in the first two days of the draft to use toward pushing things even further in their first season in Las Vegas. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Carr took off for the right pylon late in the second quarter from 3 yards out and you could hear the collective voice of Raider Nation scream, "Don't dive!" or "Two hands!"

Indeed, Carr lost a fumble through the end zone at Green Bay this year and against Dallas two years ago.

Carr kept the ball tucked and won the race to the pylon for the go-ahead TD just before halftime. Carr, working behind a makeshift offensive line, operated as well as could be expected, despite being sacked three times in the first half. He passed for 291 yards in completing 26 of 30 attempts with a TD.

DeAndre Washington more than acquitted himself well in starting for Jacobs. Washington sealed the game with a tough 13-yard run on third-and-10 on the final play. Washington rushed for 85 yards on a career-high 23 carries, including a 5-yard TD run.

The Raiders will need more of that this week in Denver should Jacobs' injured right shoulder again keep him out. Jacobs was listed as a nonparticipant in Wednesday's estimated practice report. I'll have more on that via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

One last note here. ... In picking the game's most pivotal play, ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez went with the thing that got the offense rolling in the first half. Taking a simple slant pass from the left slot, rookie Hunter Renfrow bounced off Desmond King II and was gone, 56 yards to the house.

It was Renfrow's first catch in his first game back since he suffered a broken rib at the New York Jets on Nov. 24. It came with 10:57 to play in the first quarter, setting a certain tone for him.

Renfrow, a fifth-round draft pick, finished with a career-high seven catches for a career-best 107 yards. It was Renfrow's first career 100-yard receiving game in 65 games between his time in Clemson and Oakland.

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

Philadelphia Eagles

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 December 2019

As Associated Press sports writer Rob Maaddi framed it, "Carson Wentz ran off the field with his arms raised in triumph, a defining victory for a criticized QB that led an Eagles team limping toward the finish to first in the NFC East.

"His shaky receivers, suddenly sure-handed.

"The wins that got away, now sealed in crunch time. ..."

"You can see the sense of belief that each of these guys have," Wentz said.

Believe this, the Eagles need one more win to go from 5-7 to division champs.

Eagles cornerback Sidney Jones broke up Dak Prescott's fourth-down pass to wide receiver Michael Gallup in the end zone with 1:15 left in the game, and Philadelphia denied Dallas a division crown in a 17-9 win on Sunday.

The Cowboys (7-8) would have clinched their second straight NFC East title with a win in Philadelphia. And, they would have eliminated the Eagles (8-7), who only need to win their final game next week against the Giants to clinch the East. The Cowboys can still win the East with a win next week against Washington and an Eagles loss to the Giants.

Wentz was 31 for 40 for 319 yards and a touchdown, and Miles Saunders ran for a score to keep the Eagles' playoff hopes alive. Wentz gave the Eagles needed breathing room when he hit former college quarterback Greg Ward for 24 yards and Miles Sanders scored on a 1-yard run on the final play of the third quarter for a 17-3 lead.

This was the game Wentz needed to win, his spirit growing after the Eagles rallied on the final drive in two straight weeks to beat the Giants and Redskins and thrust themselves back into the playoff picture. He rallied the Eagles with a pep talk in the tunnel before they hit the field for perhaps the biggest game of the 26-year-old QB's career.

"We are built for this moment," Wentz said. "Play with so much confidence, so much swagger, that everyone in the stadium can feel you."

Perhaps fueled by the emotional edict, Wentz came out connecting on almost every pass, and a maligned wide receiver group that suffered a season-long case of the drops suddenly made plays.

Wentz hit JJ Arcega-Whiteside -- whose late-game drop cost them in a loss against Detroit -- for 27 yards on the first play on a drive that ended with Jake Elliott's 36-yard field goal.

He ended the second drive with an 6-yard TD pass to Dallas Goedert that had Eagles fans going wild. The home-town stadium was rocking, as Wentz started 9 for 11 for 107 yards and a touchdown.

"That playoff atmosphere, you can't beat it," Wentz said.

The Eagles couldn't keep it going, stymied in part by a questionable call from head coach Doug Pederson, who called a timeout on a fourth-and-1 on the Dallas 33-yard line, thought about the call, and drew up a pass play out of the shotgun that was incomplete.

Pederson also had Elliott try a 55-yarder early in the fourth that was no good and gave Dallas a short field that led to Kai Forbath's 49-yarder that made it 17-9.

Meanwhile, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Monday that tight end Zach Ertz suffered a fractured rib.

Ertz is undergoing further tests to determine the severity of the fracture. The Eagles are in wait-and-see mode to establish whether it's an injury the tight end could play through, or whether he'll miss action.

Ertz suffered the injury after taking a massive shot in the first quarter. After a lengthy stay in the locker room, Ertz returned but was clearly battling pain. He finished with four catches on six targets for 28 yards.

"He took the shot there in the first half. There is a rib that has been affected," Pederson said Monday. "I am waiting, from our doctors, a couple more tests. We'll all see later today. Should have something more tomorrow or Thursday."

Ertz leads the Eagles in both catches (88) and receiving yards (916) this season.

Given his importance to the offense, Ertz's status will be a major one to track as we move through the week. He was listed as a nonparticipant on Wednesday's estimated injury report.

On a more positive note, the Eagles are finally getting healthier at running back.

Jordan Howard, who has missed the last six games with a shoulder injury, will be back this week, and with Howard returning the Eagles are releasing Jay Ajayi, Adam Schefter of ESPN reports.

Howard arrived in a trade with the Bears this offseason and was playing well early in the year before suffering a shoulder injury. Having him back to team with Sanders and Boston Scott should give the Eagles' offense plenty of options at running back.

Ajayi played very sparingly for the Eagles, carrying just 10 times for 30 yards. He'll go on waivers, where the Seahawks are one team that might want to claim him.

CB Ronald Darby left the game with a hip flexor and the other CB Jalen Mills also left with an injured ankle. Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones took their spots.

Darby was placed on season-ending injured reserve on Tuesday.

Douglas will start in Darby's place with Jones also likely to see an uptick in playing time as long as Darby is out of the picture.

Beyond that, Pederson said offensive tackle Lane Johnson and cornerback Jalen Mills are day to day with ankle injuries, and that wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (foot) "should be OK" after exiting early Sunday. The status of Nelson Agholor, who missed another game with an ongoing knee injury, remains unclear.

Remember, Pederson told reporters last week the Eagles were having discussions about shutting Agholor down for the season. He was also listed as a nonparticipant Wednesday.

I'll have more on all these situations via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

One last note here. ... According to ESPN.com's Tim McManus, DeSean Jackson (abdomen) is expected to resume practicing next week should the Eagles advance to the postseason. If all the pieces fall into place, Jackson would be eligible to return for the Divisional playoff round -- should the Eagles make it that far.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Carson Wentz, Nate Sudfeld, Clayton Thorson
RBs: Miles Sanders, Jordan Howard, Boston Scott, Jay Ajayi
WRs: JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Greg Ward, Robert Davis, Nelson Agholor
TEs: Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, Josh Perkins

Pittsburgh Steelers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 December 2019

As ESPN.com's Brooke Pryor noted, the Steelers' offense, a unit that has struggled through a season marked by injuries and inexperience, took more hits in Sunday's 16-10 loss to the New York Jets as the team's playoff hopes dimmed.

To clinch the final AFC wild-card spot, the Steelers (8-7) must win the regular-season finale on Sunday in Baltimore. But that won't be enough.

They also need the Titans to lose to the Texans. If the Titans beat the Texans, the Steelers are eliminated -- even if they beat the Ravens. If Pittsburgh is eliminated, it would mark the second time in eight years the Steelers missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons.

Positives?

The defense has allowed fewer than 300 yards in six consecutive games and recovered nicely after allowing the Jets to go 75 yards on their opening drive Sunday, giving up just 186 yards the rest of the game. Barring a complete meltdown against the Ravens, the Steelers will finish in the top five in the league in yards allowed, points allowed, sacks and turnovers.

But did we mention the injuries?

The team announced Tuesday that quarterback Mason Rudolph was being placed on injured reserve, with last week's shoulder injury ending his season. To fill his roster spot, they promoted center J.C. Hassenauer from the practice squad as cover with Maurkice Pouncey set to miss this one with a knee injury he suffered against the Jets.

With Rudolph sidelined, the Steelers will stick with Devlin Hodges as the starter as they try to make the playoffs.

Paxton Lynch will be Hodges' backup.

The Steelers benched Hodges on Sunday against the New York Jets after he threw two interceptions in the first half, and put Rudolph into the game. Rudolph threw a touchdown pass near the end of the first half to tie the score but was injured on a hit in the second half, forcing Hodges back into the game.

Lynch, a former Broncos first-round pick, was signed to the team's practice squad in September before being elevated to the 53-man roster in October. He's been active for one game, against the Los Angeles Chargers when Rudolph was sidelined with a concussion.

"Week in and week out, even though there were weeks I didn't know if I was going to play or not, I've been preparing like I was going to play," Lynch said. "I know there was a week in Los Angeles that I got bumped up and was one play away from playing. That has been my mindset since I got here: Prepare and get up to speed as fast as I could if my number is called."

Meanwhile, running back James Conner, who left Sunday's game with a thigh injury, told reporters he had an MRI on the injured quad on Monday. He's awaiting results, and his status for Sunday's game hasn't been determined.

"I got an MRI on it," he said. "I got to wait and see what happened officially, but something didn't feel right on it. So I've got to wait and see what they say."

Conner said he was injured on his final carry, which went for a 1-yard loss in the second quarter. Conner took the handoff from Hodges and was promptly brought down by three defenders. He was tackled a little awkwardly as all three collapsed on him, and he knew shortly after that something was wrong.

After winning his first three starts, Hodges has struggled in his past two starts, throwing six interceptions in the two losses. The undrafted rookie has completed 67.4 percent of his passes but has thrown eight interceptions and just five touchdown passes in his five starts.

"I don't think I'm a bad player," Hodges said Sunday. "I've just been playing bad."

Rudolph, in his second season, has completed 62.2 percent of his passes in 10 games this season, for 1,765 yards with 13 touchdown passes and nine interceptions.

Prior to his exit, Conner had six carries for 32 yards, including a 15-yard gain.

Conner missed five games this season after injuring his shoulder against Miami on Oct. 28. He attempted to return Nov. 14 against Cleveland, but lasted only a quarter. After sitting out three more games, Conner played in 58 percent of the offensive snaps in the Steelers' loss to Buffalo last Sunday.

Conner, who spoke with reporters on Monday, appears to have a solid chance to play in Baltimore although Tomlin on Tuesday characterized his status as "very much in question" due to his thigh injury and that the coming days will determine if he's well enough to play.

Conner's injuries have led to a broader problem: Pittsburgh has just six rushing touchdowns on the season, which would set a franchise low if the Steelers can't produce two touchdowns on the ground against the Ravens.

Conner was listed as a nonparticipant in Wednesday's practice along with Pouncey.

In addition, JuJu Smith-Schuster's injury-marred season took another difficult step back against the Jets. He failed to come down with a late heave from Hodges -- the ball sailed over his head -- that would have given the Steelers the late lead. He hardly looked anywhere close to 100 percent while catching just two passes for 22 yards in his return from a knee problem.

According to Associated Press sports writer Will Graves, Pittsburgh will try to sign him to a long-term deal in the offseason, but the price appears to be dropping precipitously. ...

Tomlin said that he didn't know if Pouncey's injury would be an issue for the Wild Card round in the event the Steelers are still playing after this weekend. B.J. Finney replaced Pouncey last weekend and is set to start against Baltimore. Finney had a couple of shaky snaps after coming into the game and the Steelers will surely hope to clean that up before Sunday. ...

And finally. ... Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger underwent elbow surgery Sept. 23. Doctors reattached three tendons in his right arm.

But the Steelers are "now optimistic" Roethlisberger will fully recover, Chris Mortensen of ESPN reports.

Medical personnel have not cleared Roethlisberger to resume throwing yet, per Mortensen, but Roethlisberger is "tracking better."

Roethlisberger wants and expects to play in 2020, which is good news for the Steelers since neither Rudolph nor Hodges has done enough to inspire confidence that the team has its heir apparent.

Roethlisberger, who turns 38 in March, has made six Pro Bowls in his 16-year career with his last coming in 2017.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Devlin Hodges, Mason Rudolph, Ben Roethlisberger
RBs: James Conner, Benny Snell, Jaylen Samuels, Trey Edmunds, Kerrith Whyte
WRs: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, James Washington, Johnny Holton, Deon Cain, Tevin Jones
TEs: Vance McDonald, Nick Vannett, Zach Gentry

San Francisco 49ers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 December 2019

According to Associated Press sports writer Josh Dubow reported, the San Francisco 49ers would have it no other way.

The regular season has come down to this: Win the season finale at Seattle and the Niners will seize the top seed in the NFC playoffs and home-field advantage; a loss would send San Francisco on the road as a wild card.

"That is what you play football for," fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. "These are the kind of games that you dream about when you are a kid. We are really looking forward to that, and it would mean a lot to get the 'W.'"

It won't be easy as the 49ers (12-3) have lost eight straight games in Seattle since winning on Christmas Eve in 2011, including a defeat in the NFC title game following the 2013 season.

The only player left in San Francisco from that last win is left tackle Joe Staley.

But this year's version of the Niners is far different than past years as evidenced by a thrilling win earlier this month in New Orleans or the come-from-behind 34-31 victory Saturday night over the Los Angeles Rams that set the stage for this showdown against the Seahawks (11-4).

The 49ers overcame an 11-point deficit, two interceptions from Jimmy Garoppolo and some defensive breakdowns to win it on Robbie Gould's 33-yard field goal on the final play.

That kick came after Garoppolo converted a pair of third-and-16s on the game-winning drive with completions to Kendrick Bourne and Emmanuel Sanders.

"You just win, whatever it takes," cornerback Richard Sherman said. "Whether it's a point, half a point, quarter of a point, three points, 40, that's a win. That's what we need, especially going down the stretch, you got to win these weird games. You got to learn how to win every way you can. That's what you got to do in the playoffs. This was another great lesson."

Against the Rams, Garoppolo shook off an otherwise off-night by going 6 of 8 for 134 yards and a TD on the final two drives of the game. He drove San Francisco 91 yards to the go-ahead TD when he scrambled away from pressure to create time for George Kittle to break open for the touchdown catch.

He then set up the winning field goal with a 46-yard pass to Sanders despite getting hit on the arm as he threw. Garoppolo has led four fourth-quarter comebacks this season, also doing it vs. Pittsburgh, Arizona and New Orleans.

The next step?

Figuring out how to win in Seattle.

As ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner put it, "CenturyLink Field has been a house of horrors in recent years, as the Niners have lost seven straight and nine of their past 10 games there."

The Niners have been outscored by 17 points per game during their eight-game skid in Seattle.

The gravity of it all wasn't lost on the Niners, even in the moments after Saturday's emotional win.

"We love playing in Seattle," defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. "It's a big deal for us. We get this first-round bye, guys can rest up and then also we haven't beat Seattle in Seattle in a while. So, it's going to mean a lot to the organization to go up there and try to get this dub. We're all focused on it, and I can't wait to get up there."

While the division crown and top seed are nice carrots to chase, the biggest thing for these Niners might be landing the first-round bye. Over the past month and a half, injuries have mounted, as the 49ers have lost key starters like linebacker Kwon Alexander, defensive tackle D.J. Jones and center Weston Richburg, -- plus helpful depth like defensive ends Ronald Blair III and Damontre' Moore -- for the rest of the season.

That doesn't include shorter-term issues for guys like pass-rusher Dee Ford and safety Jaquiski Tartt, or the many 49ers playing through bumps and bruises and/or the fatigue that goes with playing so many snaps.

The toll of those injuries has had a trickle-down effect in which the defense has lost its dominant form and the offense has had to pick up the slack. A team that had the earliest bye possible (Week 4) and has only had a little extra time off after a Week 9 Thursday night game since could use some rest and relaxation to help refill a gas tank that has been hovering perilously close to "E."

Also, the past six Super Bowl winners have had first-round byes.

"You would always love the first-round bye, without a doubt," head coach Kyle Shanahan said. "You always would like two games instead of three to get to the big one and you'd always like to rest your guys if you could. But, everyone has done it every way possible, so you never know which way is going to be the best way until the season is over, then you can have hindsight. I think that's what everyone goes for, but if that doesn't happen we'll be excited with whatever situation we're in."

If the Niners can't beat the Seahawks, who won the first meeting 27-24 in overtime Nov. 11, they would drop to the No. 5 seed and have to go on the road to face the NFC East champion on wild-card weekend. It would mean an extra game and, potentially, a whole lot more traveling in a season in which they've already racked up the miles.

Which is why, even though Sunday's showdown in Seattle isn't technically a playoff game, it might as well be.

One thing that could help?

Improved play up front. ... With Richburg sidelined for the season with a knee injury, the Niners have struggled a bit in pass protection, especially on the interior. The Rams' Aaron Donald and Atlanta's Grady Jarrett had lost of success the past two weeks. The Rams put heavy pressure on Garoppolo, beating every lineman at times.

Garoppolo was sacked a season-high six times against the Rams and has gone down 22 times the past seven games. ...

On the injury front. ... Tartt has missed the last three games with injured ribs, but he was on the field Tuesday with the rest of the team as they started preparations for Sunday night's game against the Seahawks. Per multiple reporters at 49ers practice, Tartt was wearing a no-contact jersey as the team went through the workout. He has 48 tackles, a forced fumble and a half-sack in 12 games this season.

Defensive lineman Jullian Taylor was also practicing after missing the last three games with an elbow injury. Ford remained out with quad and hamstring injuries.

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

Seattle Seahawks

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 December 2019

The Seattle Seahawks will still win the NFC West if they beat the San Francisco 49ers this week.

As far as silver linings go, that's not a bad one. And it might be the only one after a disastrous 27-13 loss to the Arizona Cardinals that was hard to see coming.

It began so well Sunday for the Seahawks -- a three-and-out on defense, followed by an opening-drive touchdown -- but was all downhill from there. The Seahawks punted seven times after that, lost another fumble and lost their top two tailbacks -- Chris Carson and C.J. Prosise -- to injuries.

They struggled to get to Kyler Murray -- who entered Sunday having been sacked the most times of any quarterback in the NFL -- and didn't fare much better when Brett Hundley replaced him in the second half.

That's right, an 11-win contender that's in line for a division title and a first-round bye just lost to a last-place team that came to CenturyLink Field with four wins and lost its starting quarterback before the day was over.

The Seahawks would have assured themselves of no worse than the NFC's No. 2 seed by winning their final two games. The division title is still up for grabs, but this loss was costly -- and discouraging -- in more ways than one.

The question now is how they fill the void at tailback.

Head coach Pete Carroll confirmed Monday that Carson suffered a season-ending hip injury. Carroll said Carson has a fracture in his hip. Seattle also is without Prosise, who suffered a broken arm, and Rashaad Penny (knee), who are both out for the rest of the season. Both were placed on injured reserve on Tuesday.

What's next will be interesting, if nothing else. ... This after Marshawn Lynch signed a one-year deal with the Seahawks Monday night.

In addition to signing Lynch, the Seahawks also added former Seattle running back Robert Turbin, who spent three seasons with the Seahawks from 2012 through 2014 after Seattle drafted him in the fourth round of the 2012 draft. In those three years, Turbin logged 274 touches for 1,355 yards from scrimmage and two scores. Turbin was a member of Seattle's Super Bowl XLVIII champion team in 2013 and most recently played for the Indianapolis Colts in 2018.

Lynch last played for the Oakland Raiders in 2018, appearing in six games and rushing 90 times for 376 yards and three touchdowns before his season ended prematurely due to injury.

It seemed at the time to be the last time we'd see the 33-year-old Lynch on an NFL field.

That is, until Monday.

We'll see how quickly Lynch can get into game shape, as he's been without a team since the end of the 2018 season. But Carroll sounded optimistic after initial meetings with Lynch on Monday morning.

"He's been working really hard," Carroll said. "He's really excited about the chance to do something helping out, and I think it's freakin' great if he could get out there and tote the ball for us. The circumstances rolled just at this time, and he could have four or five games left in him. Maybe that's what we need."

Lynch has not filed retirement paperwork with the league, but he has not been linked with any team this season.

"He's had plenty of time to be working and get ready in case something came up, and I'm anxious to see him when we get him here," Carroll said Monday. "There's a lot of history here that's great history. There was nobody that ever amplified the kind of mentality and toughness that we like to play with, so if we get a chance to get the Beast back on the field, we'll see how that works out."

Lynch eclipsed 1,200 yards rushing in four consecutive seasons with the Seahawks from 2011 to 2014 and led the NFL in rushing touchdowns in 2013 and 2014.

Although neither have played this season, Lynch and Turbin are familiar with most aspects of the Seahawks' offense. Now they will be tasked with helping the team into the playoffs once again.

For what it's worth, even before the reality of Lynch returning to Seattle came into being, the idea was percolating.

In a video from "a few days ago" posted to Lynch's "Beast Mode Productions" YouTube channel on Monday night, Lynch discussed the potential of a return to the Seahawks and his desire to get back on the field again.

"I've been entertaining the idea of maybe going back to go play for Seattle for this playoff run," Lynch said. "A few things got to fall in order for some (expletive) to happen but if it do, that's great and I'm excited for the opportunity. ... But with this just being a run for the playoffs or whatever, it will be short-lived and (expletive) at my age, this is a great opportunity to come in, be able to help when needed. Get in, do my little thing and then get out. Hopefully be able to help them go and get the Super Bowl that they should be playing for."

If the video was filmed "a few days ago" as described, that means the idea of a reunion with Seattle existed even before the injuries sustained by Carson and Prosise. In fact, Lynch stopped by team headquarters two weeks ago after Penny was lost for the year. That meeting at the time was described as a personal visit.

However, because Lynch wasn't officially retired, it would need to be reported to league as an official free agent visit. While the visit may have been just to say hello, it also may have been the start of the process to get Lynch back in Seahawks' blue and green.

"They've got a great situation going on up there right now," Lynch said. "I like the guy (Carson) that they got running for them now. I don't see me coming in there to be the running back that they had five years ago or something like that but just to be able to come in, step in where it's needed, to be able to help when called upon."

The injuries to Carson and Prosise made the chances of a Lynch return exponentially greater. Lynch said that the time away from the game illustrated again how much he enjoys playing football. Additionally, he noted the death of former Raiders teammate and running back George Atkinson III along with other athletes dying young as reasons why he should still play now while he has the ability to do so.

"You hear about so many other athletes dying, and I mean at a young age and some of them go younger than me," Lynch said. "So while I'm in this position right now, I'm going to take every opportunity to go ahead and do what it is that I love. It just so happens that the opportunity to go back and play for Seattle right now so (expletive) I'm going to maximize my opportunity to the fullest."

Lynch was then asked why Seattle when he is a free agent that could sign with any team in the league.

"We got history there and we've got unfinished business," Lynch said.

Needless to say, this will be a huge storyline this week and I'll obviously have more on it via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses.

My immediate reaction would be to temper expectations; San Francisco's run defense has been increasingly effective down the stretch.

Beyond that, ESPN.com's Brady Henderson put it well when he wrote: "[Lynch is] 33, after all. That's old for an NFL player and ancient for a running back. He was running well with the Oakland Raiders last season before a groin injury landed him on IR, averaging 4.2 yards per carry with three touchdowns in six games. But it's been over a year since he has played. You might have last seen him using the Al Davis Torch to light what he later confirmed to be a blunt before the Raiders' Christmas Eve game last season, or more recently handing out tequila shots to tailgating Raiders fans before the team's last game at the Oakland Coliseum."

Also, did I mention Lynch hasn't played a snap since last year?

That's why Travis Homer is the name to know here -- at least this week.

On Tuesday, Carroll wasn't ready to say how much of a workload Lynch might be ready for given his long layoff. But Carroll did say the offense would "lean on" Homer, noting he's been here and with this offense the whole season.

Again, stay tuned. ...

Also Monday, Carroll said he expects Jadeveon Clowney to play against the 49ers after missing the Cardinals game with a core-muscle injury he's been dealing with since Week 10. That was the first meeting against San Francisco and Clowney's best game of the season.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Russell Wilson, Geno Smith
RBs: Travis Homer, Marshawn Lynch, Robert Turbin
WRs: Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf, David Moore, John Ursua, Malik Turner, Jaron Brown
TEs: Greg Olsen, Jacob Hollister, Luke Willson

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 December 2019

Bruce Arians sometimes jokes that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are one of the nicest teams in the NFL.

The team turns the ball over at an alarming rate, helping opponents build early leads and forcing Jameis Winston to play catch-up.

More often than not, it doesn't wind up being a winning formula for the Bucs, who erased a 14-point deficit in the final two minutes of the first half only to wind up losing to the Houston Texans 23-20 on Saturday.

Houston (10-5) clinched its fourth AFC South title in five years. Tampa Bay (7-8) had a four-game winning streak snapped and wasted an opportunity for what would have been a signature win in its first season under Arians.

"When we protect the football and I protect the football, we score points," Winston said. "No one has stopped us this year when I protect the football. No one."

Winston dug a hole from the start against the Texans, throwing an interception that Bradley Roby returned 27 yards for a touchdown on Tampa Bay's first play from scrimmage.

The fifth-year pro who leads the NFL in passing yards threw another pick on his team's second possession and finished with four -- boosting his season total to a league-leading 28 interceptions. Jahleel Addae's pick with 1:27 remaining, eliminated any realistic chances of the Bucs overcoming the quarterback's mistakes.

It was the fifth time in seven games that Winston tossed an interception on Tampa Bay's first possession. He's had six of his picks returned for touchdowns this year.

Peyton Barber also lost a fumble that Houston turned into a first-half TD.

"The defense, they played winning football," Arians said. "Our special teams and offense did not."

With Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Scott Miller sidelined by injuries, Winston played with a largely inexperienced group of receivers.

The quarterback refused to use that as an excuse for his performance. Nor did he blame a small fracture in the thumb on his throwing hand, an injury that didn't prevent him from throwing for more than 450 yards in each of the previous two games.

"It's broke. It's going to be broke," Winston said of his thumb. "Still can't turn the football over."

Breshad Perriman had seven receptions for 102 yards. Justin Watson had five catches for 43 yards and one TD.

Winston also completed passes to six other players, including newcomers Ishmael Hyman and Codey McElroy.

"They did an excellent job. They were ready. They came ready to play," Winston said. "I have to play better for them."

The Bucs outgained the Texans 435 yards to 229, but only managed to score three points after erasing a 14-point deficit to make it 17-17 at halftime.

The Bucs had been searching for a victory against an opponent with a winning record in this final stretch of the season, trying to prove wins over the Atlanta Falcons, Jacksonville Jaguars, Indianapolis Colts and Detroit Lions were no fluke.

They came close, but the mistakes they got away with against weaker opponents were too great to overcome. ...

To be clear, Perriman is making the most of an increase in playing time. He's topped 100 yards receiving the past two games after not having 100-yard performances during the first three seasons of his career with Baltimore and Cleveland.

In a related note, Godwin, who was inactive against Houston with a hamstring injury, has yet to be ruled out for this week. That said, he was listed as a nonparticipant in Wednesday's estimated practice report (the Buccaneers, like most all the league, did not actually practice Wednesday).

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

As for Hyman, he might have done an excellent job. But it wasn't excellent enough to stick around.

The Buccaneers used John Franklin as a stand-in for Deshaun Watson in last week's practices and his work in that role helped earn him a move to the active roster for Week 17.

Franklin and wide receiver Jaydon Mickens were both promoted from the practice squad on Tuesday. If Franklin plays on Sunday, he'll be the fifth Buc to make his NFL debut in the last three weeks. He spent the last two summers with the Bears. Franklin is listed as a cornerback, but he played quarterback and wide receiver in college. Arians said that the team is keeping their options open about where he will eventually line up.

"He gave our defense a tremendous look [last week]. [He] made me think about, 'Hmm, what do we want to do with him?' He's really a corner, but he's been a quarterback and he's been a receiver," Arians said. "He's a really good athlete -- it's just finding a niche for him."

Mickens had six catches for 77 yards and two touchdowns in 16 games for the Jaguars over the last two seasons.

The Buccaneers waived Hyman and tight end Jordan Leggett to make room for the new arrivals. ...

Also worth noting. ... Arians denied on Saturday that the team has decided to keep Winston next season.

While Winston leads the league with 4,908 yards passing and made a case for himself to remain in Tampa Bay beyond this year, his four-interception day against the Texans showed why many believe giving him a new deal is still a risky proposition.

Asked about a report by NFL Network's Ian Rapoport indicating the Bucs will keep Winston via either the franchise or transition tag, Arians said that's a decision for the offseason.

"There's been no decision on any player. We don't make those decisions until the end of the season," Arians said, via Jenna Laine of ESPN.com.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jameis Winston, Ryan Griffin
RBs: Ronald Jones, Peyton Barber, Dare Ogunbowale, T.J. Logan
WRs: Breshad Perriman, Justin Watson, Cyril Grayson, Spencer Schnell, Chris Godwin
TEs: Cameron Brate, O.J. Howard, Tanner Hudson

Tennessee Titans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 December 2019

As Associated Press sports writer Teresa M. Walker noted, the Titans know exactly what they must do to earn the first playoff berth of head coach Mike Vrabel's tenure and only the second in 11 years for this franchise.

Beat the Texans on Sunday in Houston.

"The focus and the mentality is now that we're playing playoff games," Vrabel said Monday. "When you win. ... In the playoffs you go find another game and when you lose your season's over. So that's really the mindset that we have to take and the approach that we have to take."

The Titans (8-7) have the simplest scenario to earn the AFC's sixth playoff spot as the second wild card thanks to Pittsburgh's loss to the Jets despite their own 38-28 loss to New Orleans.

First, the Titans have to clean up some things Tuesday before taking Wednesday off for Christmas.

They gave up five sacks to the Saints and were flagged six times for 56 yards. Tennessee gave up more sacks by halftime than the Titans had allowed in the previous two games combined. They hadn't had this many penalties in nearly a month.

Even coming off the loss, the Titans hope to be healthier in Houston after resting Pro Bowl running back Derrick Henry against New Orleans. He was downgraded after Houston clinched the AFC South with a win Saturday in Tampa Bay, and the Titans deactivated Henry on Sunday.

Henry ran for 86 yards Dec. 15 in a 24-21 loss to the Texans in Nashville, obviously limited by a sore left hamstring.

"Hopefully another week of rest will get him back close to 100 percent, and he'll be ready to go on Sunday," quarterback Ryan Tannehill said.

The offense managed to click well enough even without Henry to outgain the prolific Saints 397-377 in total offense. The Titans even found creative ways to run for 149 yards, averaging 5.7 yards a carry. Tannehill is back on top of the NFL with a 116.5 passer rating and also leads the league averaging 9.56 yards gained per attempt.

For what it's worth, ESPN.com's Turron Davenport offered the following prediction: "A rested Henry will return against the Texans and rush for more than 100 yards and score two touchdowns against the Texans, who will likely rest some starters, as they've wrapped up the AFC South title and could be locked into the No. 4 seed regardless of the Week 17 outcome."

That would be fantastic, and it's not necessarily farfetched.

NFL Network's Ian Rapoport chimed in the situation this week as follows: "The Titans did something very smart, resting Henry for a game that didn't mean anything and on Sunday, he'll be as healthy as he's been in a long time. ..."

For what it's worth. ... Tannehill held on to the ball too long as the pass rush closed on him a couple of times. He did find a way to buy time and connect with Tajae Sharpe on a broken play that resulted in a 36-yard catch and score in the fourth quarter. He stared down the pass rush and delivered a well-placed pass to Sharpe in the back of the end zone for another score.

Overall, it was a tough day for Tannehill, as he was under constant duress. He completed 17 of his 27 attempts for 272 yards and three touchdowns.

Sharpe, on the other hand, turned in his best game this season with a team-high five catches for 69 yards and two touchdowns. The Titans need Sharpe with Adam Humphries having missed three straight games with ankle injury.

Same goes for tight end Jonnu Smith, who caught 3-of-4 targets for 63 yards and a touchdown.

As Rotoworld.com notes, Smith has 60 yards and/or one score in three straight games and gets the Texans again in the Week 17 finale after putting up 117 yards against them in Week 15.

Beyond Henry, wide receivers Corey Davis and Kalif Raymond both are in the concussion protocol. Davis went to the locker room after a sideline catch attempt with 14 minutes left. Raymond was hit in the head by Saints rookie safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson as he made a 23-yard catch with 4:23 left.

"The first time I saw it I saw a defenseless receiver get hit in the head or neck area," Vrabel said of the hit to Raymond. "Again, it's what I saw the first time and third time and the fifth time."

The Titans added a pair of receivers Monday afternoon, bringing back Darius Jennings and promoting Rashard Davis from the practice squad. They waived linebacker Nigel Harris and running back Dawkins to make space.

Cornerback Adoree' Jackson has not played since Week 13 because of a foot injury.

But he appears to be tracking toward a return this week.

Jackson was present for the portion of practice open to the media, via Jim Wyatt of the team website.

Henry (hamstring), Humphries, Davis, defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons (knee) and linebacker Daren Bates (shoulder) were dressed for practice.

The only player not dressed was Raymond.

The Titans practiced Tuesday to give their players Christmas at home with their families.

"I'll let these guys spend some much-needed time with their families, and then be able to come back in on Thursday, Friday and Saturday to clean up, continue to game plan and prepare to win," Vrabel said, via Wyatt.

I'll have more on Henry and the rest via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Ryan Tannehill, Marcus Mariota
RBs: Derrick Henry, Dion Lewis, Dalyn Dawkins, David Fluellen
WRs: A.J. Brown, Corey Davis, Tajae Sharpe, Adam Humphries, Kalif Raymond
TEs: Jonnu Smith, Anthony Firkser, MyCole Pruitt

Washington Redskins

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 December 2019

The Redskins, a team that has many questions about its front office and coaching staff, can at least feel good about how rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins finished the 2019 NFL season.

Haskins left Washington's 41-35 overtime loss to the New York Giants because of a left ankle injury, but the Redskins loved what they saw before he departed. X-rays at the stadium were negative, but he was diagnosed Monday with a high ankle sprain and was ruled out for the regular-season finale in Dallas.

In his final two games, Haskins completed a combined 31-of-43 for 394 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. On Sunday, he was 12-of-15 for 133 yards and two touchdowns for a career-best 143.2 passer rating.

According to ESPN.com's John Keim, Haskins' confidence has soared.

"Once I get in a rhythm, I'm pretty hard to stop," Haskins said.

Unless, of course, he gets hurt. Haskins was injured on the first play of the second half, when he was sacked after a play-action fake. He was bent back on the sack, with linebacker Markus Golden at his feet and linebacker Lorenzo Carter high on the other side. Haskins eventually limped to the sideline and was then carted to the locker room.

It marked the second time in three weeks Haskins injured an ankle. He suffered what the team termed a mild sprain of his right ankle this month at Green Bay but did not miss any time.

Haskins, though, caused some consternation for the organization after Sunday's game, when he said owner Dan Snyder told him not to return after the injury. A Redskins spokesman later said Snyder told Haskins to listen to the medical team's advice, which -- per a statement from Dr. Robin West -- was to not return.

Another source told Keim that Snyder often goes to the locker room when a player gets injured and removed on a cart.

"He did come down from the box. He was concerned. That meant a lot to me," Haskins said.

Before he left the game, Haskins did a nice job running the offense. He's far more comfortable than he was when he started for the first time in Week 9 at Buffalo. That showed in his knowledge of where to go with the ball. The Redskins would send a man in motion, forcing the Giants to tip off whether they were playing man or zone.

That allowed Haskins to know where to go with the ball immediately. He has been sacked only three times in his past two games, compared to 18 in the previous four.

Haskins wants games such as Sunday's to become routine.

"That's what I want to do every game," he said. "I did it in college, and I know college is not the NFL -- the NFL is a much tougher game -- but I was in the rhythm and getting hot."

Backup quarterback Case Keenum, who rallied the Redskins from a two-touchdown deficit, said, "I hated to see Dwayne go down like that. He was absolutely dealing it. He was feeling it. He was seeing the field, going through his reads, getting to his checkdowns and making big plays down the field. It was impressive to see him and how he's progressed."

That's why the Redskins hoped Haskins could finish the season in Dallas this week -- so he could keep building momentum headed into the offseason. However, he'll still have some momentum based on his past two games.

He took greater command of the huddle. He improved with protection calls. He was throwing in rhythm, and that improved his accuracy.

In Haskins' first five outings, including two in relief, he completed 54.6 percent of his passes for two touchdowns and six interceptions. In his last four, he completed 63.2 percent with five touchdowns and one interception. He did it while throwing to three rookie receivers in the starting lineup.

Coaches and teammates said Haskins wasn't ready early in the season, but they like the late-season progress they saw.

"Had he started at the beginning, we probably could've caught up and gotten into that groove a lot earlier than we have," running back Chris Thompson said.

"He's getting more comfortable," rookie receiver Terry McLaurin said, "which we love to see."

Adding to the positive vibe, the Redskins' young receivers continue to make plays, which should provide some optimism for the future.

McLaurin (seven catches, 86 yards), Steven Sims, Jr. (six for 64; two touchdowns) and Kelvin Harmon (five for 58) all contributed in a big way. Washington will want to add more receiving help in the offseason, but the Redskins do have a good foundation to build upon with these three.

McLaurin heads the class and now has 919 yards for the season and will be a standout.

The future for the other two could depend on who becomes the next coach. But Sims offers quickness and playmaking ability; Harmon offers muscle. All three made pivotal catches on the game-tying drive.

On the injury front. ... McLaurin is in the concussion protocol. He suffered an injury after a late catch Sunday. He will be re-evaluated Thursday. I'll have more on that via Late-Breaking Update when more information is released. ...

And finally. ... Interim coach Bill Callahan said he "absolutely" would like to stay on as the permanent coach. He said he hasn't yet discussed his future with the organization. One goal, he said, was "trying to bring back a work ethic into the program I thought was lacking. I thought that our players could have been better fundamentally, still not there yet."

Callahan also said "I saw our players get better, compete for four quarters," something he felt was lacking before taking over for fired coach Jay Gruden.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Case Keenum, Colt McCoy, Dwayne Haskins
RBs: Adrian Peterson, Chris Thompson, Wendell Smallwood
WRs: Terry McLaurin, Steven Sims, Kelvin Harmon
TEs: Jeremy Sprinkle, Hale Hentges