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Team Notes week 18 2016
NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS AND OTHER GOOD STUFFDirectly 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. ... Team Menu
Atlanta FalconsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 January 2017
According to ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure, Julio Jones was clearly pleased as he talked about his Atlanta Falcons securing a first-round playoff bye and earning the NFC's No. 2 seed.
"We're going take this bye week and get healthy, and then we'll see how everything pans out," Jones said.
Certainly the Falcons need a little a rest and recovery before they begin their playoff journey Saturday, Jan. 14. Jones has dealt with a toe sprain for weeks now and continues to progress. Fellow wide receiver Taylor Gabriel missed Sunday's regular-season finale, nursing a foot injury. Rookie tight end Austin Hooper continues to recover from an MCL sprain. All three players are key factors for the league's top scoring offense heading into the postseason.
"It's [important] for us to get this bye week and get guys back out there on the field," Jones said. "Myself included. I got nicked up early on, so this week right here will do me some good."
According to the Sports Xchange, Jones didn't appear limited by his bothersome toe against the Saints. Still, Jones said he looks forward to the postseason bye week the Falcons earned by winning 38-32 at the Georgia Dome.
Jones had seven catches for 96 yards and a touchdown against the Saints. It was his second game back since missing two because of the toe injury that he suffered during a game against the Chiefs on Dec. 4. Jones played 39 offensive snaps in the victory over the Carolina Panthers the previous week.
In addition, Quinn expects Hooper and Gabriel to practice this week (and Gabriel was on the field Wednesday).
Defensively, NFL sack champ Vic Beasley Jr. has an MRI scheduled for Monday after feeling his left shoulder pop out during Sunday's 38-32 win over the Saints. He'll welcome the week off, provided the exam doesn't reveal any serious damage.
"Definitely time to recover and get my injury in better health," Beasley said. "So, we're looking forward to this bye week."
The Falcons survived key injuries throughout the season and still finished 11-5 and won the NFC South. Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant was lost to season-ending pectoral surgery, but Jalen Collins has stepped in and performed admirably in his place. The loss of productive veteran tight end Jacob Tamme was minimized as players such as Levine Toilolo, rookie Joshua Perkins and long shot D.J. Tialavea contributed touchdown receptions from the position. And the vocal leadership provided by veteran linebacker Sean Weatherspoon before going down to a season-ending Achilles tear was missed, but rookie Deion Jones started raising his voice.
Now the Falcons just have to maintain a good bill of health for the next month or so. Fans certainly cringed watching Beasley exit to the locker room Sunday. Then rookie strong safety and first-round pick Keanu Neal exited and was evaluated for a head injury after a crushing hit on Saints receiver Willie Snead.
"I felt fine," Neal said. "I was a little dizzy, but that's part of the game. They went through safety precautions and took me in, but that's part of it. They're big on safety, particularly head injuries. And the bye is huge because it allows us to recover."
The other injuries to monitor before the Falcons host a game in the second round are cornerback Robert Alford's knee and the leg injury to nickel back Brian Poole.
"Essentially it's like a playoff win today, getting us to the second round," quarterback Matt Ryan said. "As far as time off, we will see what [coach] Dan [Quinn] has scheduled for us. It will be a good chance for us and the guys who need rest to get healthy."
Meanwhile, as NFL.com's Chris Wesseling put it, "Ryan directed one of the most extraordinary first-half eviscerations in recent memory, reaching the end zone on the opening drive for the sixth consecutive week -- the longest stretch of the Super Bowl era" in the team's 38-32 win over the Saints on Sunday.
Clicking on all cylinders, Ryan's juggernaut racked up 18 first downs on 28 plays en route to five touchdowns on the first five possessions.
How impressive was Atlanta's onslaught?
At one point in the second quarter, Ryan, who was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts, had faced just one third down on four touchdown drives while the Falcons had yet to possess the ball for more than four minutes in the game. It was fitting that the home crowd erupted in "MVP" chants as Ryan's offense exploded for 35 first-half points -- the most allowed by the Saints in the opening half during the Sean Payton era.
Leading the highest-scoring attack in the league, Ryan finished with an NFL-best 117.1 passer rating to go with the highest yards-per-attempt figure (9.26) ever by a quarterback with 400 or more passes in a season.
As for the rushing attack?
On their second possession Sunday, Devonta Freeman broke open off the right side of the line, bounced outside and out-raced cornerback Sterling Moore to the end zone for a 75-yard touchdown run. Mohamed Sanu, who was in the backfield inside of the tight end and right tackle Ryan Schraeder, picked up the key block. Saints safety Roman Harper was in the box to stop the run, but Sanu punished him and allowed Freeman to scoot outside and break Moore's containment.
It was the fifth time this season that Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for 200-plus yards in a game and third game in a row. They had 223 yards against the Panthers and 221 against the 49ers in the two previous games. They combined for 20 rushes for 140 yards and eight catches for 96 yards against the Saints.
Meanwhile, it was fair to question Atlanta's apparent defensive improvement after limiting the lifeless offenses of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Carolina to an average of 14.3 points over the past three weeks. Although the Falcons deserve credit for keeping the Saints' high-powered offense in check until garbage time, the red-zone defense is among the worst in the league and remains a concern entering the postseason.
Still, somebody is going to face a tall task when they take on the Falcons in Atlanta next Saturday. ...
Also of interest. ... Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, expected to be one of the top targets for teams looking to replace head coaches, could be available for interviews late this week.
Quinn said Monday "I'm sure he will be contacted by some teams." Quinn wouldn't confirm any teams which may hope to interview Shanahan.
Denver and the Los Angeles Rams are among teams which could have interest in Shanahan.
Quinn has scheduled practices on Wednesday and Thursday. He said Shanahan or any other assistant would be available "at the end of the week" to speak with another team.
Ryan obviously flourished in Shanahan's offense.
Ryan completed 373 of 534 passes (69.9 percent) for 4,944 yards with 38 touchdowns and seven interceptions for a 117.1 passer rating, the fifth-highest single-season passer rating in NFL history.
Ryan believes that Shanahan could be a fine NFL head coach in the future.
"Oh yeah, I think so," Ryan said when asked recently on his weekly radio show 680 The Fan if Shanahan would make a good head coach. "I think whenever he does get an opportunity, he'll do a great job. I hope it's not for a while because we've got a good thing going on. Whenever he gets his opportunity, he'll do a great job."
Shanahan is the son of former NFL coach Mike Shanahan, who guided the Broncos to two Super Bowl titles, including Super XXXIII over the Falcons. The Broncos requested an interview after Gary Kubiak resigned on Monday. Shanahan is also scheduled to interview with the 49ers, Jaguars and Rams.
"I think he's a good leader," Ryan said. "I think he's got a good feel for talent evaluation and getting the guys that he wants to make it work for him. I think if he ever gets that chance, he'll do a great job."
QBs: Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub
RBs: Devonta Freeman, Ito Smith, Brian Hill, Qadree Ollison, Kenjon Barner
WRs: Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Mohamed Sanu, Justin Hardy, Russell Gage
TEs: Austin Hooper, Luke Stocker, Jaeden Graham
Dallas CowboysCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 January 2017
As ESPN.com's Todd Archer noted on Monday, head coach Jason Garrett couldn't say it during the week leading up to Sunday's season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles, but he could after.
"We had different objectives coming into the game," Garrett said. "There were going to be certain guys who weren't going to play this game because of injury. We held a couple guys out, a guy on each side of the ball. And then we had a plan for a few other guys about how much we wanted them to play."
Ezekiel Elliott never got the chance to go after Eric Dickerson's rookie rushing record. Sean Lee, the team's leading tackler, was active but did not see a snap. Neither did Ronald Leary, who did not practice during the week because of a back injury.
"Sean's been doing a helluva job all year long dealing with some different injuries," Garrett said, alluding to a knee injury that has limited his work in practice the last three weeks. "Obviously he's as productive a player as we have on our team, fought through some things a lot during the last couple of weeks. It just felt like it was the right thing to do with him, to keep him out. Obviously Zeke has gotten a tremendous workload over the course of the year, been a really important player for us. I thought this was a good opportunity to keep him out, freshen him up and also give some of the other guys an opportunity to play."
Dak Prescott played two series. Jason Witten and Dez Bryant played three series. In the second half, cornerbacks Orlando Scandrick and Brandon Carr and safety Barry Church were held out. Byron Jones saw action only in the sub packages in the second half.
"Everybody wanted to play," Garrett said. "Even the guys we took out at different parts of the game wanted to stay in, that's the nature of them. They're competitors, but they understood what the objectives were."
Tyron Smith (knee, back), Morris Claiborne (groin), Justin Durant (elbow), Tyrone Crawford (shoulder, hamstring), DeMarcus Lawrence (back), Cedric Thornton (ankle) and Terrell McClain (ankle) were inactive and did not even make the trip to Philadelphia.
Garrett said they would all be available when the Cowboys play in the divisional round.
And perhaps more importantly there were no injuries from those who did play Sunday.
"It seemed like from the information I've gotten that we are doing OK on the injury front," Garrett said.
That is more important than a victory on the field.
Meanwhile, seeing his first action of the season, Tony Romo completed 3 of 4 passes for 29 yards, ending his only drive of the season with the 248th touchdown pass of his career.
Nobody should get too excited, however. Romo's performance won't spark a quarterback controversy.
If something happens to Prescott in the playoffs -- or maybe even if he struggles wildly -- then the Cowboys were at least able to give Romo six snaps of work to shake off the rust since his last regular-season appearance -- Thanksgiving 2015.
Romo's return from a compression fracture in his back that he suffered on Aug. 25 made a meaningless Week 17 game at least somewhat meaningful for six plays. He came in after two series for Prescott and took a deep shot to Williams on his first pass. The ball was long but Romo hung in the pocket and showed he still can sling it.
Looking for his 51st career touchdown pass to Bryant, Romo went long, but Bryant was interfered with by Nolan Carroll at the Philadelphia 3. Williams caught his 14th career touchdown pass from Romo a play later, delaying his release off the line and catching the ball at the back pylon for the score.
Romo nonchalantly shot his index finger in the air to celebrate and jogged to the sideline with a 10-3 lead. Ho-hum. One of the first players to meet him was Prescott.
What happened the rest of the way really didn't matter.
Mark Sanchez did not help his case for being the backup quarterback next season by completing more passes to Eagles linebacker Jordan Hicks than to Cowboys teammates in the first half. The defense was without linebacker Sean Lee (a healthy scratch) and defensive linemen Tyrone Crawford, DeMarcus Lawrence and Cedric Thornton (inactive), but the unit did an adequate job considering the amount of backups seeing meaningful snaps.
The next time we see the Cowboys will be in the divisional round of the playoffs.
As Archer summed up, "Who knows the next time we see Romo. If all goes to plan, Romo will be a spectator again in the playoffs, but he at least showed he still has something left."
Also of interest. ... As noted above, with 1,631 yards, Elliott finished 177 yards short of Dickerson as the Cowboys valued resting him for the playoffs rather than putting him in harm's way in a meaningless final game. Elliott, however, did enough during the first 15 games to claim the NFL rushing title on his day off.
Elliott's finished 318 yards ahead of Chicago Bears rookie Jordan Howard, who notched 1,313 yards.
Elliott is the fifth rookie since 1970 merger to lead the NFL in rushing, joining Earl Campbell, George Rogers, Dickerson and Edgerrin James.
As the Sports Xchange suggested, considering that Elliott also led the league in carries, limiting his wear and tear just made sense for the Cowboys in their pursuit of much bigger goals in the postseason. ...
The Cowboys expect left guard La'el Collins to return for the playoff run, strengthening the depth of their already dominant offensive line.
Collins, a second-year veteran, injured his right big toe in the first quarter of the Week 3 victory over the Bears. An MRI revealed a ligament tear, and after consultation with specialist Dr. Robert Anderson, Collins underwent surgery Oct. 4. The Cowboys placed Collins on injured reserve Oct. 5. Having missed the required eight weeks, he is eligible to return to the active roster as Dallas has not played its one designated-to-return card yet.
Collins said last week that rehab was going well and that he expected to be an option for the divisional round playoff game on Jan. 15. ...
Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones said he expected to know about defensive end Randy Gregory's availability for the playoffs next week.
Gregory, who recorded the first sack of his career Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles in a 27-13 loss, is appealing a potential year-long suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy.
"My understanding is in the next week to 10 days [he'll have his appeal hearing], and then a final decision will be made," Jones said. "If he doesn't win it, then he's suspended."
Gregory missed the first 14 games of the season for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. He has played in the past two games. ...
One last note here. ... The Cowboys' bye week schedule includes an off day Tuesday, running, lifting and film work Wednesday, short practices on Thursday, Friday. The players will be off Saturday-Monday and get back on a normal schedule next Tuesday for the divisional round.
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush
RBs: Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Alfred Morris
WRs: Amari Cooper, Randall Cobb, Devin Smith, Tavon Austin, Michael Gallup
TEs: Jason Witten, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz
Detroit LionsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 January 2017
The Lions advanced to the playoffs on Sunday, not that you would have ever known it by stepping foot into their locker room.
According to MLive.com's Kyle Meinke, they said all the right things following a 31-24 loss Sunday night against Green Bay in the NFC North championship game. But they clearly understood an opportunity slipped through their fingers.
"Of course there's disappointment. We had a great opportunity to bring a division title here, and we did not take advantage of that. But we can't afford that woe-is-me mentality right now."
That was Jim Caldwell's message to the team after the game, as he tried to make sense of these dueling emotions. The high of taking a two-game lead with three to go, and the low of losing all three of those games. The high of making the playoffs, and the low of doing it on such a rotten night.
"Move onto the next one," he told them. "It's a new season."
Meinke went on to remind readers that Caldwell does have experience dealing with this sort of thing before. He was in Baltimore when the Ravens lost four of their last five games in 2012, then took out Indianapolis, Denver and New England -- the latter two on the road -- en route to the Super Bowl.
The good news?
For as solid as the Seahawks (10-5-1) have been, they've looked beatable too. They split against the Rams, whom Detroit beat, and went 0-1-1 against the Cardinals. They also lost to the Saints, whom Detroit throttled in New Orleans, and lost to the Packers a lot worse than Detroit did (38-10).
Even Seattle's vaunted defense hasn't been the same since losing All-Pro safety Earl Thomas in Week 13. They're just 2-2 following the injury, allowed 38 points against Green Bay, 34 against Arizona and barely edged two-win San Francisco 25-23 on Sunday.
The Seahawks can't run the ball, either, and their offensive line is playing poorly. But what they do have is Russell Wilson. He is their key, and stopping him is Detroit's.
His numbers are down almost across the board -- he's 10th in yards, 13th in accuracy and 14th in QB rating -- but can still win games, especially at home. He's 38-6 at CenturyLink Field since turning pro in 2012, tops in the league. And he's 4-0 there in the postseason.
Detroit's had issues defending mobile quarterbacks like him too, including two weeks ago with Dak Prescott and again Sunday night with Rodgers. Those guys combined for 42 of 59 passing (71.2 percent) for 512 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions, plus 77 yards rushing on 14 carries.
And a Lions defense that had held each of its previous eight opponents to fewer than 21 points was pounded for 73.
Caldwell, though, insisted his team won't be affected by its late-season collapse.
"It's very difficult to get into the playoffs," he said. "There's only 12 teams working tomorrow morning, and we're one of those 12. If you're in, you've got a chance."
It would help if Matthew Stafford could get back on track.
As Profootballtalk.com noted on Monday, three-quarters of the way through the season, Stafford was often named as a candidate for the NFL's Most Valuable Player award. That's not longer the case.
Early in the Lions' 13th game of the season, Stafford suffered an injury to the middle finger on his throwing hand. Since then he has been wearing a splint on the finger and experimenting with different gloves to keep the splint in place, and his passing statistics have declined considerably.
Before his finger injury, Stafford had completed 67.2 percent of his passes and thrown 21 touchdown passes and five interceptions, and the Lions were 8-4.
Since his finger injury, Stafford has completed 60.2 percent of his passes and thrown three touchdown passes and five interceptions, and the Lions are 1-3.
"I think I've said all along, this guy has thrown millions of balls without a glove on his hand or without an apparatus on his finger," Caldwell said. "It's naive for me to think that doesn't have some kind of an effect. It does. But does it keep us from winning? No. Did he throw a lot of great balls? Absolutely. He moved the ball down the field and did some things nice, but you've got to overcome some things. I think that's just the way the game is."
It should be noted that the Lions' schedule got tougher at the end of the season. So some of Stafford's decline may simply be a matter of the Lions playing against tougher opponents.
But, of course, now that the Lions are in the playoffs, there are no easy games left. They need Stafford to get better in a hurry, or else their season is going to end on Saturday night in Seattle.
For the record, Stafford said Sunday that he plans to continue wearing a splint and modified glove on his throwing hand during the playoffs.
Meanwhile, receiver Marvin Jones, who was enjoying one of his best performances of the season before taking a big shot in the fourth quarter, was taken to the locker room to be evaluated for a brain injury. He had five catches for 76 yards -- the most yards he's had with at least that many catches since Week 3.
He's the third receiver to suffer an injury in the final two weeks of the season, joining Anquan Boldin, who wasn't using his left hand in practice last week to protect a busted finger, and Andre Roberts, who practiced only once last week while nursing a shoulder injury.
Up front, Detroit has played without center Travis Swanson (concussion) the final month of the season, then lost right tackle Riley Reiff to a hip injury he apparently suffered sometime after practice Friday and the walk-through Saturday. Corey Robinson took his place against Green Bay and struggled, including allowing a sack to Nick Perry.
Caldwell declined to comment about the status of Reiff.
"You know I don't talk about injuries," he said.
On defense, The Lions did get good performances from cornerbacks Darius Slay, in his return from a hamstring injury, and Nevin Lawson. Slay shut down Jordy Nelson for most of the first half, but the Lions once again struggled at the slot cornerback position.
They lost nickel Asa Jackson early in the first half to an ankle injury. With Quandre Diggs out for the season and Adairius Barnes on the practice squad, special teams ace Don Carey was pressed into duty, and then he suffered an injury of his own. Crezdon Butler replaced him after being signed last week, allowed a 31-yard pass, and then he suffered an injury too.
Carey wound up finishing the game in the nickel and played 50 snaps. He played 21 snaps of defense in the first 15 games combined.
On Tuesday, the team announced they signed offensive lineman Garrett Reynolds and promoted cornerback Adairius Barnes from the practice squad. Jackson and Robinson were placed on injured reserve. This after Reiff didn't take part in the portion of practice open to reporters. ...
Zach Zenner earned a second straight start for the injured Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick, and played all 64 running back snaps against Green Bay. He played all but two of the offense's snaps overall, plus four more on special teams. Zenner used the expanded role to set career highs for rushing yards (69) and total offense (110) for a second straight week.
There was a lot to like about Zenner's performance once again.
As Meinke pointed out, he spends very little time dancing in the backfield. Once he takes a handoff, he finds a hole and then just barrels through it. And that economy of movement helps make up for what he lacks in speed. He gets north-south as quickly as anybody, and certainly better than the demoted Dwayne Washington.
Zenner opened the season as Detroit's fourth tailback and didn't even dress for a game until Abdullah was lost for the regular season. Then he coughed up a costly fumble three weeks ago against New York.
But he has put that decidedly behind him by setting new career highs in rushing and total yards in back-to-back weeks. He's rushed for 136 yards the last two weeks, which is nearly what he had the first 14 games combined (198). He also scored three touchdowns the last two games, after scoring just one in the first 18 games of his career.
And as long as he's good physically, he figures to carry the load again Saturday night in Seattle. With Abdullah and Riddick on IR, Washington falling out of favor and even fullback Michael Burton not dressing against Green Bay, the club has few other options.
Still, the Lions rank 26th in rushing efficiency, while the Seahawks' defense is second against the run.
As ESPN.com's Sheil Kapadia notes, Seattle is stout up front, and Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright have played at a consistently high level all season. Wagner finished the season with 167 tackles, tops in the NFL.
It would be a stunner if the Lions were able to run the ball effectively against the Seahawks.
But the Seahawks' defense hasn't been the same without safety Earl Thomas, who is out for the season with a broken leg. From Weeks 12 to 17 (a span in which Thomas played only one quarter), the defense has allowed opposing quarterbacks to average 7.73 yards per attempt (29th) and post a passer rating of 96.1 (25th). ...
A few final notes of interest. ... Stafford became the fastest player in NFL history to eclipse 30,000 yards passing, doing so Sunday in his 109th career game. Dan Marino and Kurt Warner held the previous record of 114 games. Stafford finished this year with 4,327 yards passing, his highest total since 2013.
Golden Tate joined Herman Moore as the only players in Lions history with three 90-plus catch seasons. Tate led the Lions with 91 catches for 1,077 yards this year. Jones was second with 930 yards. ...
Matt Prater missed a field goal for the second straight week against Green Bay, pushing an easy 39-yarder wide left. Prater did drill a 54-yarder later in the game, his seventh make of 50-plus yards this year.
On the coaching front. ... Caldwell declined on Tuesday to say today whether general manager Bob Quinn or Lions ownership had told him whether his job is safe.
"Just to be direct, I wouldn't tell you if they did, because I'm not focused in on that," Caldwell said.
On Wednesday, however, the Lions confirmed Caldwell will return for 2017 on Twitter.
Through three seasons as the Lions' head coach, Caldwell is 27-21 in the regular season. The Lions are also 0-1 in the playoffs under Caldwell heading into Saturday's game.
On the other hand, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin will interview with both the Rams and the Chargers, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports. The interviews are expected to take place on Sunday or Monday.
QBs: Matthew Stafford, Tom Savage
RBs: Kerryon Johnson, Ty Johnson, J.D. McKissic, Paul Perkins
WRs: Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola, Jermaine Kearse, Brandon Powell, Chris Lacy, Travis Fulgham
TEs: T.J. Hockenson, Jesse James, Logan Thomas
Green Bay PackersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 January 2017
As the Associated Press framed it, "Aaron Rodgers danced all over the Ford Field turf, avoiding sacks, keeping plays alive and eventually lifting Green Bay to the NFC North title. ..."
The Packers' quarterback certainly looks healthy, and there wasn't much the Detroit Lions could do to stop him.
Rodgers threw for 300 yards and four touchdowns, and Green Bay beat the Lions 31-24 on Sunday night to edge Detroit by one game for the division. The Packers finished the regular season on a six-game winning streak, and Rodgers threw for 18 touchdowns with no interceptions in the final seven games.
Detroit is also headed to the playoffs as a wild card.
When his team was 4-6, Rodgers said he thought Green Bay could "run the table" -- and the Packers did just that for the rest of the regular season.
"That's what you have to do sometimes as a leader. You have to exude confidence even in a situation where it seems to the outside world that confidence shouldn't exist, and that's kind of what I did," Rodgers said. "I believe in myself and my abilities, but I also believe in this team."
Rodgers finished the regular season with 4,428 yards passing, with 40 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He's dealt with a sore right calf but showed no ill effects while smoothly eluding Detroit's pass rush all night.
Green Bay (10-6) will open the playoffs at home against the New York Giants Sunday.
Green Bay's offense is operating at a very high level. The Packers have scored at least 30 points in four straight games, and they finished with 448 yards and 28 first downs against the Lions.
Meanwhile, as ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky pointed out, Rodgers never actually defined what "run the table" meant. The last six games of the regular season to ensure another playoff berth? Or all the way to Houston for Super Bowl LI?
The Packers have momentum, and Rodgers called that "contagious."
Several times during the streak, Rodgers has praised his teammates for not "making comments [or] being an unnamed source or saying derogatory things about teammates," and head coach Mike McCarthy last week described the team had "a little bit of an edge to them" that he noticed even before the streak began.
It was at the very least noteworthy -- if not telling -- that McCarthy described the reaction in the postgame locker room after winning the NFC North this way: "It wasn't the best celebration we've ever had."
"But this team has an energy, has an edge, has a confidence that was evident very early in our preseason," McCarthy added. "And I've always believed in that and they believe in that. So maybe that's why we're not doing cartwheels right now because we have, like I said, our plan's to try to win it all. We're one of six that gets to go battle it out in the NFC and we'll tighten our focus to the Giants. But we never lost sight of where we wanted to go."
The number of players still around from the Super Bowl XLV team dwindles each year, but there are some key components of that team still around, Rodgers and Clay Matthews among them. And this team, the No. 4 seed in the NFC, might be similar to the 2010 wild-card club in at least one way.
"I don't know if in 2010 we had all the pieces," Matthews said. "I just think we got hot and no one wanted to play us then. Hopefully that's the case this year.
"You need to be playing well toward the latter part of the season, and that's exactly what we're doing. I feel like we're capable of getting back to where we want to go, and that's the Super Bowl. So hopefully that's the case."
It would take a 10-game winning streak to do so. The six already off the table might have been the easy part.
"We have bigger aspirations," McCarthy said, wearing an NFC North Champions hat. "So this is the first step. ..."
Other notes of interest. ... After 117 regular-season games (59 with the Tennessee Titans, 48 with the St. Louis Rams and 10 with the Packers), Jared Cook finally will play in his first postseason game on Sunday.
As Demovsky noted this week, Cook's impact on the Packers has been noticeable, especially since he returned in Week 11 from an ankle injury that cost him six games. Although he finished the regular season with 30 catches for 377 yards and one touchdown, his presence down the middle of the field has altered the way defenses have played the Packers.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, Rodgers has 17 touchdown passes and just one interception with Cook on the field this season.
The Lions held Jordy Nelson to six catches for 66 yards (with a long gain of just 20 yards), but Davante Adams caught a pair of touchdown passes while Cook and Geronimo Allison had the two longest receptions of the game, for 24 and 39 yards, respectively.
Meanwhile, McCarthy said he's "hopeful" veteran wide receiver Randall Cobb can play Sunday against the Giants.
"I know the medical staff feels much better about his chances this week," the coach added.
Cobb was slated to practice Wednesday.
Cobb, who had just 60 catches for 610 yards and four touchdowns this season, missed the last two games because of a lingering ankle injury.
Allison, an undrafted rookie, has emerged as a late-season contributor in Cobb's absence.
"It's been great to see him playing the way he's played the last couple of weeks," Rodgers said of Allison. "The key for him, as with any young player, is you've got to do it in practice and you've got to be mentally sharp. And, he does both of those things. He makes plays in practice, and mentally, he's come a long way. And, he's been very sharp."
Though Allison has provided a hot hand on the receiving end of Rodgers' throws, McCarthy wouldn't say whether the young wideout would remain a focal point in the offense if Cobb is OK to play Sunday.
"We really don't play that way," McCarthy said. "We play personnel groups. There's things we're going to do differently each and every week, and Aaron throws it to the guy that's open. We don't really hunker down and try to feature just one player and so forth. So, we'll continue to do that. If Randall Cobb is in the game, obviously it's important for us to get him some opportunities.
And finally. ... A scary situation Sunday night took a turn for the better in less than 24 hours.
McCarthy said starting cornerback Quinten Rollins returned to Green Bay on Monday. The second-year pro was hospitalized overnight in Detroit with a neck injury he sustained on an awkward landing out of bounds while defending a completed deep ball.
"Everything is progressing in a positive manner," McCarthy said Monday afternoon. "We still have some things we have to test, but everything, so far, is going very well."
McCarthy noted that Rollins was walking around the team's facilities at Lambeau Field after his return. That was promising news after Rollins had to be taken off the field on a stretcher and promptly transported to a Detroit hospital after he tumbled hard to the turf.
His status for Sunday won't be known until later in the week. ...
A few final notes. ... Rodgers finished the regular season with 40 touchdown passes, second highest in his career, to lead the NFL for the first time in his career. Rodgers finished fourth in the league with 4,428 passing yards and also was fourth with a passer rating of 104.2.
Nelson didn't have a touchdown reception at Detroit, but the ninth-year pro led the league with 14 touchdown catches, one shy of his career high. Nelson also finished the season one reception short of his personal best of 98. He ranked fifth in the league for catches with 97 and sixth for receiving yards with 1,257.
QBs: Aaron Rodgers, DeShone Kizer, Tim Boyle
RBs: Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, Dexter Williams
WRs: Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Geronimo Allison, Jake Kumerow, Trevor Davis, Darrius Shepherd
TEs: Jimmy Graham, Marcedes Lewis, Jace Sternberger, Robert Tonyan
Houston TexansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 January 2017
Houston will host the Oakland Raiders in a wild-card playoff game on Saturday. The No. 4 Texans will play the No. 5 Raiders after the Kansas City Chiefs leapfrogged Oakland to win the AFC West after the Chiefs beat the San Diego Chargers, 37-27, and the Raiders lost to the Denver Broncos, 24-6, on Sunday.
The Raiders and Texans also met in Week 11 in Mexico City, when Oakland rallied late to win 27-20.
The Texans had wrapped up the AFC South and No. 4 seed after they beat the Cincinnati Bengals on Dec. 24, so the loss to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday did not have an effect on the playoff race. By the time the game ended, the Miami Dolphins were eliminated as a possible opponent for the first playoff game.
The Texans did not know who they would play, but did know that it would be a rematch either way.
Left tackle Duane Brown said the familiarity of playing the same opponent can be beneficial, but at the same time, "we're both different teams since we played them the first time," so there are some adjustments to be made.
In that Week 11 game, the Texans led for most of the game before Derek Carr and the Raiders' offense, which had been held to 120 yards through three quarters, exploded to score two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
But the Raiders are without Carr after he broke his leg in the Raiders' Week 16 victory. Matt McGloin started at quarterback for the Raiders in Week 17, but left the game with a shoulder injury and was replaced by backup Connor Cook.
Brock Osweiler started that Nov. 21 game at quarterback for the Texans and went 26-for-39 for 243 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Osweiler was benched four weeks later for Tom Savage, but played in Sunday's loss after Savage left with a concussion.
Osweiler was 21-of-40 for 253 yards and a touchdown. He did not throw an interception and also ran for a 1-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
And now he'll get another shot at the Raiders.
Osweiler will get the start, head coach Bill O'Brian announced Tuesday. Brandon Weeden will dress as the backup if Savage doesn't clear concussion protocol, O'Brien added.
Savage remained in the protocol as of Wednesday afternoon.
Osweiler started the first 14 games of the season for the Texans, but he was benched for Savage in Houston's Week 15 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars after he threw two first-half interceptions. Sunday's loss was just Savage's second career NFL start.
The Texans signed Osweiler to a four-year, $72 million contract during the offseason, but he struggled this season, entering the game with 14 touchdowns and 16 interceptions in 14 games this season.
The Raiders are 24th against the pass in terms of total yards but are ninth in interceptions. Boasting one of the league's best pass rushers in Khalil Mack, this will be a handful for any quarterback trying to advance in the playoffs. For someone who is simply trying to win back the trust of his head coach, it could be a steep mountain to climb.
The good news?
Houston Chronicle staffer Aaron Wilson reports that starting running back Lamar Miller is set to return for Saturday's game after missing the final two games of the regular season with an ankle injury.
Miller has been running and has made steady progress in his recovery. Miller rushed for 1,073 yards and five touchdowns during the regular season after signing a four-year, $26 million contract in March to leave the Miami Dolphins as a free agent.
During Miller's first game against the Raiders this season, he rushed for 104 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.
"I think he's feeling better," O'Brien said. "I think it will be great. It will be good to have him back. He's been a very productive player for us this year. ..."
Indeed, Miller, who was on the practice field Wednesday, admits he's refreshed after spending the past few weeks getting his ankle rehabbed and getting treatment and massages.
"I think it helped me out a lot," Miller said. "I feel fresh right now. I feel good. Missing my first two games, it was kind of tough. It was different for me, but I'm happy I'm back and I'm looking forward to helping this team."
Meanwhile, ESPN.com's Sara Barshop noted this week that even though the offense has struggled at times this season, there is one area where they have seen success: Running the no-huddle offense.
After Sunday's loss to the Titans, Osweiler said he feels very comfortable when he can run a fast-paced offense.
"It allows me to get to the line of scrimmage, run through cadence, see what the secondary is doing, see what the linebackers are doing, get us into the proper protection and really at the end of the day just go play backyard football," Osweiler said. "Say, OK, it's going to be this coverage [and] who's going to be open."
"I really think what it is, you are not dictating the tempo to the defense. They're not dictating anything to you."
Earlier in the season, O'Brien said that while the Texans have used it in places, they "probably haven't used it as much as [he] would like to."
"[We] probably need to use it more," O'Brien said in late November. "When we have used it, it's worked out well. It's been pretty productive for us. We're always going to go into a game with some type of no-huddle, whether it's two-minute or whatever the no-huddle mode might be for each game. But it's probably a good idea to try to use it some more."
Since then, O'Brien and offensive coordinator George Godsey have used the hurry-up offense to help get Savage and Osweiler going when the offense is struggling to get into a rhythm.
When Savage replaced Osweiler in Week 15 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Texans went no-huddle to help him jump into the offense. They did the same when Osweiler replaced Savage in Week 17. And when Savage had completed two passes for 13 yards in the first half in Week 16 against the Cincinnati Bengals, Houston opened the second half with a no-huddle offense, and the Texans scored its first points of the game on the opening drive.
Of course, there have been times when the Texans have gone no-huddle and have not succeeded, especially in the red zone.
But some of Houston's best offensive drives have come playing an up-tempo style. In the Texans' Week 4 victory over the Titans, they went no-huddle and Osweiler threw touchdowns on each of the first two drives. When Houston was trailing the Indianapolis Colts in Week 6 late in the fourth quarter, Osweiler used the two-minute offense to lead the Texans to a comeback victory in overtime.
One challenge to going no-huddle more often is playing on the road due to crowd noise. O'Brien said another challenge is that in order to run an up-tempo offense well, everyone has to be in sync.
"[It's] little things -- everybody is set, everybody is getting the proper communication, the right signal, the right route, the right run or whatever it is," O'Brien said. "Everybody being on the same page."
And part of that is developing the chemistry as the season goes on.
"I think you start working on that during OTAs, into training camp," O'Brien said. "It takes a lot of work."
O'Brien said Monday that the coaching staff has been and would be looking at film and preparing a game plan for Saturday's AFC wild-card game against the Oakland Raiders. With the season on the line in every game now, Houston may have to use whatever means necessary to find success on offense.
Based on the preferences of both potential starting quarterbacks, that may include more drives featuring the no-huddle offense.
"I'm extremely comfortable with the no-huddle offense," Osweiler said. "It's something I've done since I was in high school. I ran a no-huddle system in college, so it's something I'm very comfortable with. But once again, I don't make those decisions. I just try to execute the play that's put into my helmet when I'm on the field."
Although the Texans are the fourth seed in the AFC playoffs, they rank first in total defense.
Behind the strength of a defense that played nearly the entire season without star defensive end J.J. Watt after he underwent back surgery for the second time this year, the Texans won the AFC South division title for the second consecutive year.
They allowed 301.3 yards of total offense per game, ranking ahead of the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals gave up 305.2 yards per game.
Other notes of interest. ... The uptick in wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins' production coincided with several factors Sunday. The Pro Bowl alternate was involved more heavily, targeted 11 times overall as he caught seven passes for a season-high 123 yards.
Hopkins got the football on time and in space from Osweiler. That included a 51-yard catch-and-run by Hopkins.
It's a welcome development for the Texans.
And finally. ... O'Brien addressed national speculation that he and the Texans might part ways if the team has another early ouster from the playoffs.
The Texans were eliminated in the wild-card round last season in a 30-0 shutout loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
"I mean, I don't think about that," O'Brien said. "I just think about this team and concentrating on the Oakland game and how far we've come. I don't know. Again, I don't address those things. I just talk about where we're at right now. I mean, I don't even know if that's even worthy of an answer."
QBs: Deshaun Watson, AJ McCarron
RBs: Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson, Buddy Howell, Taiwan Jones
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Keke Coutee, Kenny Stills, DeAndre Carter
TEs: Jordan Akins, Darren Fells, Kahale Warring, Jerell Adams, Jordan Thomas
Kansas City ChiefsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 January 2017
As ESPN.com's Adam Teicher noted this week, the Kansas City Chiefs have reached the postseason in three of the last four seasons, so they're not playoff newbies.
But this time they have their best record in four seasons under head coach Andy Reid at 12-4 and their first AFC West championship since 2010. Because of that, Teicher reports this trip to the playoffs has a distinctly different feel.
"Without a doubt," tight end Travis Kelce said after the Chiefs' won the AFC West with a 37-27 win over the Chargers. "We won the division. We have a better record. We've been more consistent in our play. We have a lot more confidence going into the playoffs. I can say that."
Teicher reminded readers the Chiefs have always set lofty goals for the postseason but for many years have been unable to realize them. They haven't reached the Super Bowl since 1970. They've been so bad in the playoffs in recent years -- they broke a 22-year postseason losing streak covering eight games last year by beating the Texans -- that merely advancing a round made it seem like a successful season.
There's no such feeling this year. The Chiefs, as the AFC's No. 2 playoff seed, aren't the conference favorites to reach the Super Bowl. That burden falls to the top-seeded New England Patriots.
But the Chiefs carry plenty of expectations from within. Quarterback Alex Smith said some of the scars inflicted on the Chiefs, including those generated by recent playoff losses to the Indianapolis Colts and the Patriots, have made this year's team stronger.
"We've played in some big games," Smith said. "Been in all types of battles. All that stuff helps you moving forward.
"Every opportunity and challenge is different. This year is no different and we'll see what lies ahead of us."
The Chiefs, as the No. 2 seed, have a first-round playoff bye. Their first postseason game will be played at Arrowhead Stadium on Jan. 15 at 1:05 ET. The opponent will be Pittsburgh if the Steelers win their opening round game next weekend against the Miami Dolphins.
Otherwise, the Chiefs would face the winner of next weekend's game between the Houston Texans and Oakland Raiders.
The Steelers crushed the Chiefs in Pittsburgh in early October, jumping to a 22-0 lead in the first quarter and coasting to a 43-14 win.
But the Chiefs were a wobbly team not only on that Sunday night but for most of the season's first month, when they were fortunate to emerge 2-2. They're playing with a confidence they didn't have back then.
"This team understands how far we've come from that game," Smith said. "Obviously, we'll get the chance, if that's the case, to learn from it and look at it. It's a different scenario. We could potentially get them at our place and a lot's gone on since then.
"We always talk about the process and growing and the journey and embracing that. For us, we're certainly not the same team and every week is different."
The Chiefs are getting contributions from all three phases, something that happened infrequently early in the season. The Chiefs finished the season with back-to-back games with at least three offensive touchdowns for the first time this season.
The Chiefs, as is their custom, allowed a lot of yards on Sunday. The Chargers gained almost 400 yards. But they didn't amount to much in part because the Chiefs intercepted quarterback Philip Rivers twice.
On special teams, the Chiefs got a 95-yard punt return from rookie Tyreek Hill, his fourth return for a touchdown this season.
But as NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal noted, the Chiefs' formula has been upgraded lately because of their increasingly explosive offense. They scored on six of their first seven possessions against the Chargers last Sunday, with the one Chargers stop coming on an interception that was tipped at the line of scrimmage. Reid is on a play calling roll, with Smith finding receivers wide open on play after play.
They were third among all NFL teams over the last four games in yards-per-play, and that should only go up after this game. This dominance came despite missing starting running back Spencer Ware.
With Ware out, Charcandrick West caught all five passes that Smith threw his against the Chargers. Two went for touchdowns. His 28-yard catch in the first quarter wasn't a touchdown, but it allowed the Chiefs to extend what would become a scoring drive. His 18-yard catch in the second quarter helped set up another Chiefs touchdown.
West emerged as a viable receiving threat for the Chiefs last year, when as a part-timer he caught 20 passes for 217 yards and an 80-yard score that helped break open a big win over the Broncos.
As an indication of what the Chiefs think of him as a receiver, West had been playing mostly this season as a third-down back. His stats going into Sunday's game -- 23 catches for 130 yards -- weren't very good, but the Chiefs also hadn't been featuring him a lot.
But West was the featured back Sunday. The Chiefs went to West often, and they were reminded why they liked him so much in the first place.
"He's got quick feet (and) his hands were obvious," Reid said. "To play running back in this offense, you have to have the ability to catch a football and he's very talented at that."
Other notes of interest. ... Hill finished the regular season with 1,826 all-purpose yards on 138 rushes, catches and returns, an average of 13.2 yards every time he handled the ball. His per-game average was 8.6 touches for 114 yards.
"He could probably use the week off here and give those legs a rest," said head coach Andy Reid of the team's upcoming weekend with no game.
On Wednesday, Hill was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week. He becomes the first rookie to win three AFC Player of the Week awards since Chiefs wide receiver Tamarick Vanover in 1995. ...
Kelce spent the first quarter on the Chiefs sideline in San Diego. Why the team's leading receiver did not participate until the second quarter of K.C.'s 37-27 victory over the Chargers remained under wraps after the game, but it appeared to be some sort of punishment for Kelce.
"You know what, I'm just going to go ahead and leave it at what it was," Kelce told the Kansas City Star. "I was ready to rock and roll and whenever I got in, I was ready to go. I'll leave it at that."
Reid fielded two questions in the postgame about Kelce's situation.
"Yeah, I'm not going to get into all that," said Reid. "All that stuff stays in (house.)"
Kelce ended up catching just one pass for eight yards and finished the season with 85 catches for 1,125 yards. He led all NFL tight ends in receiving yards, but he dropped behind Baltimore's Dennis Pitta in catches. Pitta caught 11 for 91 in the Baltimore Ravens' final game to finish with 86 receptions. ...
A few final notes. ... While Ware didn't play against the Chargers, Reid sounded optimistic that with a bye week, Ware would be ready to play on Jan. 15 in the divisional-round game. "I think we will be all right there," Reid said.
Linebacker Justin Houston (knee) was declared inactive against the Chargers as he dealt all last week with continued inflammation of his surgically repaired knee. Reid expects Houston to return after the bye as well.
Jeremy Maclin (ankle) suffered a sprained ankle early in Sunday's game against San Diego, but ended up returning to the action in the second half. Maclin finished with four catches for 53 yards against the Chargers.
Safety Eric Berry (Achilles) was pulled from Sunday's game early because of a sore Achilles.
"I took E.B. out relatively early," said Reid. "His Achilles was a little tight."
Berry played in 36 of the defense's 66 snaps.
And finally. ... According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Chargers have requested to interview Chiefs special teams coach Dave Toub and the Broncos are expected to do the same.
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Matt Moore, Chad Henne
RBs: Damien Williams, Darwin Thompson, Darrel Williams, LeSean McCoy
WRs: Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson, Gehrig Dieter, Tyreek Hill, Byron Pringle
TEs: Travis Kelce, Blake Bell, Deon Yelder
New England PatriotsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 January 2017
As ESPN.com's Mike Reiss framed it, "The Patriots clinched home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs with their 35-14 victory over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, and unveiled their new offensive weapon in the process.
"Hello, Michael Floyd. ..."
The wide receiver made his presence felt in multiple ways -- first on an impressive touchdown catch in which he powered through four defenders on a 14-yard first-quarter score, and then with a thunderous downfield block to help Julian Edelman race away on a 77-yard touchdown in the second half on a game-turning play.
"Obviously the touchdown was huge, but that block he made, everyone on the bench went crazy," safety Devin McCourty said.
This was the definition of sudden impact, considering Floyd has been with the Patriots for only 18 days, his story well-documented as the Arizona Cardinals waived him Dec. 14 following a DUI arrest in which police recorded his blood alcohol level at 0.217 percent.
"I'm in a good place. I'm not looking back at the past. It's all about moving forward and I'm glad that I'm here, with the people around me," Floyd said after the game. "I feel wanted and that's a good feeling."
By playing 50 of 69 snaps against the Dolphins on Sunday and finishing with three catches for 36 yards, the 6-2, 220-pound Floyd showed that he can be a significant contributor for the Patriots in the postseason.
"He's tough. He's physical. He can be in the room any time I'm here. I like him," Edelman said. "He has been here for two weeks and to make an impact like he has just shows that he's a mentally tough guy."
Floyd's presence was especially important against the Dolphins because top-three receiver Malcolm Mitchell (knee) was out, as was No. 4 pass-catcher Danny Amendola (ankle) for the fourth straight week.
That left the Patriots with just Edelman, Chris Hogan and Floyd as pure receivers on their roster, and that has been a position in which the club has been thin all season, carrying just four players.
This is why some in the Patriots' organization were so excited when Floyd unexpectedly became available in mid-December, as it was a position of need, and Floyd was probably going to be on their free-agent target list after the season anyway, even given a legal situation with the DUI arrest. So the Patriots' thinking essentially was, "Why not start the process now?"
We saw the reason why on Sunday. ...
Meanwhile, Brady finished the regular season with the best touchdown-to-interception ratio in NFL history, as he fired 28 touchdown passes against just two interceptions.
The previous record was held by Nick Foles, who threw 27 touchdowns and two interceptions in 2013 with the Eagles.
Brady's knack for avoiding the turnover has been a big part of the Patriots' success, as he capped his 12-game regular season by going 25-of-33 for 276 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions in Sunday's win over the Dolphins.
Brady now owns two of the three best seasons when it comes to touchdown-to-interception ratio (minimum 300 attempts). In 2010, he threw 36 touchdowns and four interceptions. In 2014, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had 38 touchdowns against five interceptions.
In addition to Brady's touchdown-to-interception record, the Patriots also shattered the record as a team for fewest interceptions in a season (2). Backups Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett, who played the first four games of the year while Brady served a suspension as part of the NFL's Deflategate penalties, contributed to that by not throwing a pick.
According to ESPN's Stats and Information, the previous NFL record for fewest interceptions thrown in a season is five, shared by six teams (including the 2010 Patriots).
In addition, Brady passed Dan Marino for fourth on the all-time passing yardage list on Sunday. He needed 56 entering the game.
Worth noting. ... More of a complementary player while rounding into form following offseason foot surgery, Edelman was targeted on 26 percent of Brady's attempts through Rob Gronkowski's lung injury in Week 10. Since losing the All-Pro tight end, Brady has run his aerial attack through Edelman, increasing his target rate to roughly 40 percent.
Edelman is averaging 7.1 receptions and 93.5 yards over the past eight games compared to 5.1 and 44.8 in the first eight and on Wednesday he was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his effort against the Dolphins. ...
Mitchell and Amendola both merit watching coming off the bye. Amendola is now walking without the aid of boot on his injury and he was on the practice field when the Patriots hit it on Wednesday. Reports of the high ankle sprain, originally suffered Dec. 4 on a punt return against the Rams, indicated that Amendola was aiming to return for playoff action.
Worth noting, Mitchell and Brady (thigh) were not practicing Wednesday.
Stay tuned. I'll have more on both in this spot next week (and likely in the News and Views feed on the main page of the site). ...
And finally. ... As Reiss put it, "'Next man up' doesn't just apply to New England Patriots players. It includes coaches and personnel executives, too."
That was the theme that dominated Twitter mentions on Monday as it was learned that three key members of Bill Belichick's inner circle -- offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and director of player personnel Nick Caserio -- have drawn interest for head-coaching and general-manager openings around the NFL.
The San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Rams and Jacksonville Jaguars have requested permission to speak with McDaniels. The Rams and San Diego Chargers have done the same with Patricia. And the 49ers put in their request for Caserio for their GM post. All those interviews will take place this weekend.
So if any of them departs, the question is who is the "next man up"?
Reiss notes that such hires are usually made from within, as the system trumps all. Thus, tight ends coach Brian Daboll likely would be the leading in-house candidate to elevate to offensive coordinator. Having gotten his start in New England (2000-2006), he has experience as a coordinator with the Cleveland Browns (2009-2010), Miami Dolphins (2011) and Kansas City Chiefs (2012).
Another factor to consider: If the Houston Texans and O'Brien don't make it to a fourth year together, as some have speculated, he'd have to be on the list as well, assuming of course that he willing to take that step back.
On defense, the path seems clear for linebackers coach Brian Flores to step up. The Boston College alum (Class of 2003) is taking a similar path to Patricia -- starting as a coaching assistant, briefly focusing on offense, before working on multiple levels on defense with safeties and linebackers. He is highly regarded as a coach on the rise.
And similar to when Scott Pioli departed in 2009 to become Kansas City's general manager and Caserio essentially replaced him as an in-house promotion, current director of college scouting Monti Ossenfort would likely be next in line now. This is his 12th year with the Patriots. He's worked his way up the ranks from scouting assistant to area scout, national scout, assistant director of college scouting and now director.
QBs: Tom Brady, Jarrett Stidham
RBs: Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden, James Develin
WRs: Julian Edelman, Antonio Brown, Josh Gordon, Phillip Dorsett, Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski
TEs: Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo, Ben Watson
New York GiantsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 January 2017
Whatever the Giants were trying to accomplish on the road Sunday in a regular-season finale that had no playoff implications for them, consider it mission accomplished.
Head coach Ben McAdoo played most of his starters for the entire game, and the Giants beat the Washington Redskins 19-10 at FedEx Field. More importantly, their offense, defense and special teams can head into the postseason happy with the direction they're headed.
The Giants (11-5) are the fifth seed in the NFC. They were locked into that position heading into Sunday's game. Now they'll face the Packers in the wild-card round Sunday.
Green Bay won the NFC North title in the final regular-season game of the season this Sunday night.
The Packers (10-6) already beat the Giants earlier this season, 23-16, in Green Bay. The game wasn't as close as the final score indicates. Odell Beckham caught a late touchdown pass to get the Giants within one score.
But the Giants have reasons for optimism.
As ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan noted, their running game showed signs of life with rookie Paul Perkins inserted as the starter. He had 44 yards on seven carries in the first quarter and finished with 102 yards rushing.
Raanan went on to suggest that given the way things have unfolded and the progress Perkins has made -- he's increased his yardage total each of the past six games and shown improvement with his blocking -- it's hard to imagine he won't be starting against the Packers.
Whatever the case, the offensive line held up well for most of the first three quarters with Marshall Newhouse at right tackle in place of Bobby Hart. They provided quarterback Eli Manning time in the pocket and consistently opened holes for Perkins and Rashad Jennings.
The offense as a whole didn't put many points on the board, but they did enough that they should finish on a positive note. They had 238 total yards before Beckham was placed in protective glass early in the third quarter to avoid the shenanigans of Redskins cornerback Josh Norman.
In addition, they're coming off another dominant defensive performance. The Giants held the NFL's fourth-ranked offense to 10 points. Washington had just 73 yards in the first half, unable to run the ball at all.
Star cornerback Janoris Jenkins (back) returned after missing a game and played the first half seemingly without incident. The Giants need him healthy if they're going to make a playoff run.
And they appeared to have escaped without any major injuries or incident. This was paramount with more important games on the horizon and with Norman trying to incite Beckham.
At first glance, the New York Giants' performance on offense in Sunday's 19-10 win over Washington seems about as unimpressive as all the others the team posted this season.
Also worth noting is the fact the Giants had no turnovers for only the third time this season (they didn't have any giveaways in a Week 11 win over Chicago despite putting two balls on the ground).
That improved ball security, along with the improved running game, is a big reason why, despite having six three-and-outs in the game (out of 12 possessions), the Giants were able to win the time of possession battle, 35:52 to 24:08.
"I thought we did some good things," Manning said after the game. "We've got to build off that and we'll hopefully have some opportunities to hit some big plays in the passing game as well."
By being able to run the ball, the Giants finally got Washington to back away from playing a two-high look against Beckham and to bring one of those defenders down closer to the line of scrimmage. That helped to open things a little bit for the passing game to dink-and-dunk its way down the field.
Moving ahead to the Wild Card round, Manning believes that the Giants finally have the formula in place to make some noise in the postseason.
Of course, the Giants have some history with Green Bay in post-season play.
As Raanan reminded readers this week, the Giants went on the road in the '07 and '11 playoffs and beat the Packers on the way to a Super Bowl title. And Manning played brilliantly on both occasions to help pull the massive upsets. As Raanan suggested, it's not impossible for him to do it again. It's not impossible for the Giants to go into Lambeau and do it again.
"Except," Raanan added, "almost nothing is the same. Not for Manning or the Giants."
Raanan went on to point out that Manning turned 36 on Tuesday, and he just completed an underwhelming regular season that may just be part of his late-career decline. Manning is not the same player he was when he was a young pup in his first Super Bowl run. Or the same as when he was in his prime in '11, coming off the best regular season of his career.
Manning threw 26 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions this season. The Giants failed to top 30 points in a game this season and haven't even topped 20 since late November.
Still, at least Manning is the only notable common denominator in the comparisons to '07 and '11. Just about everything else has changed, including the offense he runs and his head coach. McAdoo, was on the opposing sideline as a young assistant with the Packers during both those Giants runs.
The only other remaining players from the '11 Giants team are either injured (Jason Pierre-Paul), long snapping (Zak DeOssie) or playing minuscule or greatly reduced roles (Mark Herzlich, Will Beatty and Victor Cruz).
If the Giants win Sunday in Green Bay, it will have almost nothing to do with what happened in '07 and '11, and everything to do with a defense that is currently led by a safety in Landon Collins, who was 10 days past his 13th birthday when Manning and the Giants went into Lambeau Field and beat Brett Favre and the Packers in January 2008.
It will have everything to do with a vastly different team that has won nine of its last 11 games entering the postseason.
Even McAdoo, who pounded Giants history into his players during the offseason, doesn't think what happened the past two playoff meetings between the teams will have any effect on Sunday's outcome. ...
The Giants receivers were apparently given permission to not return with the team via train from Landover, Md., where Washington plays its home games.
Instead the four receivers caught a flight to Miami, where they were spotted partying at a popular Miami Beach nightclub called LIV, along with a celebrity group that included pop star Justin Bieber.
McAdoo didn't seem to have any problem with the players' excursion, which also included a group shot taken on a boat.
"Players are off until (Tuesday) morning," McAdoo said, repeating the statement when asked if discipline was in store for the foursome. ...
There have been a wide range of reactions to the players' decision to celebrate the win in such fashion and, despite McAdoo saying it was much ado about nothing, some of them have been negative. More of them have fallen into the humorous category and Manning came down on that side with some Grade A dad jokes about being "a little disappointed" about the whole thing.
"They didn't pack accordingly. They didn't have any shirts," Manning said. "I was telling people I'm the one who took the picture. They just wouldn't let me in with my shirt off."
As Profootballtalk.com's Josh Alper, there probably won't be the same amount of joking should the Giants lose to the Packers in Green Bay this Sunday. ...
And finally. ... According to the Sports Xchange, Jenkins was sore after returning to action Sunday following a bruised back suffered in the Week 15 game. Jenkins missed the Giants' Week 16 game against the Eagles and was limited as far as his snap counts against Washington. Head coach Ben McAdoo said Jenkins will be limited in practice this week.
QBs: Daniel Jones, Eli Manning, Alex Tanney
RBs: Saquon Barkley, Wayne Gallman, Elijhaa Penny
WRs: Sterling Shepard, Cody Latimer, Bennie Fowler, Russell Shepard, Cody Core, Darius Slayton, Golden Tate, TJ Jones
TEs: Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison, Garrett Dickerson
Oakland RaidersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 January 2017
As ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez framed it, "To paraphrase Dean Wormer of 'Animal House' fame, flat, sloppy and slow is no way to enter the playoffs -- let alone without a quarterback. ..."
Yet here are the Oakland Raiders, who responded to the challenge of being able to clinch the AFC West by beating the Broncos at Denver with their worst first half of football in recent memory.
In fact, the lack of a quarterback, an anemic running game and the defense's failing to step up cost the Raiders the No. 2 seed in the AFC and could portend an early exit from the postseason.
The Raiders could not climb out of a 24-point hole and fell to the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos 24-6, dropping to second place in the division and No. 5 in the conference. Now they limp -- literally and figuratively -- into the playoffs as a wild card, with the Kansas City Chiefs winning the division by beating the San Diego Chargers.
One potential saving grace?
They will play a team that has looked just as inept the past month or so as the Raiders did Sunday: The Houston Texans (9-7). What's more, the Raiders already beat the Texans 27-20 on Nov. 21 in Mexico City.
But that was with league MVP candidate Derek Carr under center, and really, as Gutierrez suggested, with the way the Raiders looked Sunday, he might have picked up some more MVP votes in his absence.
Therein lies the Raiders' problem as they enter the playoffs for the first time since 2002: Carr is out with a broken right leg, backup Matt McGloin was ineffective in Denver before getting knocked out of the game with a shoulder injury on a late hit by Jared Crick in the second quarter, and rookie Connor Cook is untested.
In fact, Cook, the Raiders' fourth-round pick out of Michigan State, had never dressed for an NFL game before replacing McGloin.
Overall, the Raiders have played roughly five quarters since Carr broke his right fibula. They've been outscored 35-6 in that span.
As CSNBayArea.com's Scott Bair pointed out, the Raiders offense never got rolling due in large part to an inept passing game. Cook and McGloin threw for 171 yards, a touchdown and an interception on 32 attempts.
Bair went on to suggest the defense is also entering a new world order, one where adequate is no longer acceptable. The Raiders won't be scoring at their usual clip without Carr, meaning points and yards allowed must come down to compete.
The defense fell behind early in Denver and the offense never found a rhythm. That made for one bad day at the office. The Raiders seemed sluggish, without the energy typical of this year's team. That begs one obvious question: Are the Raiders still reeling over Carr?
"I think you leave yourself open to those kinds of questions for sure," head coach Jack Del Rio said. "We're big boys. We can take it like men and move on. It's not what we wanted by any stretch. In a lot of different areas, we can be a lot better. As a team, we are better than that. We need to just put this behind us and move on."
This week, they'll move on with Cook.
The team announced on Wednesday that the rookie will start Saturday's game with the plan being to try and get McGloin healthy enough to be the backup.
“We trust him to go out there and lead us,” Del Rio said in announcing Cook as the starter on Wednesday.
Whatever the case, the Raiders didn't want to use Carr's loss to excuse poor play. They didn't tolerate failure just because McGloin started, got hurt and then Cook took over. This quarterback mess could well be their undoing, but the Raiders don't want to go out with a whimper.
"You have to improvise and overcome," receiver Amari Cooper said. "Everybody should be ready to play."
Indeed, with the issues at quarterback, Del Rio said the key will be getting improved play from the rest of the roster.
Neither quarterback got much help from a running game that produced 218 yards in the first meeting with the Broncos. Oakland ran for just 57 yards on 16 carries. Leading rusher Latavius Murray ran just five times for 11 yards, prompting second guesses from Del Rio.
"How does that happen?" he asked. "It wasn't a great job of executing by the Oakland Raiders. That's what it is. We own up to it, and we're going to put it behind us as quick as possible and move forward."
They have little time to dwell on the loss with a short week and several banged up players, including McGloin, Penn, guard Kelechi Osemele and safety Nate Allen.
But Del Rio sees no reason for Oakland's confidence to be shattered despite the loss of Carr and the lopsided defeat.
"There are too many great examples of us being just a little bit away from it being a whole lot better," he said. "I think when you watch the tape the way we do and show our players in the morning I think they'll come away with confidence of what it can be. And that starts to me in the run game and obviously, run the ball and be able to stop the run, those are the two number one things."
Worth noting. ... The Raiders signed quarterback Garrett Gilbert to the practice squad ahead of their first playoff game in 14 years.
Gilbert spent time on the Raiders practice squad last season and was cut by the team in the offseason. ...
According to Gutierrez, rookie strong safety Karl Joseph said on Tuesday he expects to play this weekend. The Raiders first-round draft pick has missed four straight games with a left big toe injury. Nate Allen, who started in his place, is in the concussion protocol....
One last item here. ... Michael Crabtree finished the season with 89 receptions and 1,003 yards receiving, the first time he's broken that barrier since 2012. Crabtree, however, was upset after Sunday's game that cornerback Aqib Talib ripped a chain from his neck and was not penalized. Cameras even caught Talib bragging about it to teammates.
Crabtree said Aqib Talib is "fake" as a football player.
"You hard? You tough? You snatch a chain in front of the police and run off?" Crabtree said of Talib. "I could have cut (block) him. I could have hurt him." Crabtree said he made a "business decision" by not reacting.
"I react, they kick me out of the game." Crabtree also said officials were "disrespectful " to him, "talking to me like I'm a criminal."
QBs: Derek Carr, Mike Glennon, Cody Kessler
RBs: Josh Jacobs, Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington, Doug Martin
WRs: Tyrell Williams, Hunter Renfrow, J.J. Nelson, Ryan Grant, Dwayne Harris
TEs: Darren Waller, Derek Carrier, Foster Moreau
Pittsburgh SteelersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 January 2017
According to ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler, the Pittsburgh Steelers left Heinz Field with (mostly) good health, their stars upright and convenient talking points for coaches, who saw their first-team defense look shaky against the Cleveland Browns.
In a game that was, at times, brutal to watch, consider this an optimal outcome.
With the No. 3 AFC playoff seed locked up, the Steelers had left their edge at home for much of a 27-24 overtime win against Cleveland -- complete with a Landry Jones-to-Cobi Hamilton walk-off touchdown connection, naturally. After winning six straight games of meaning before this, though, the Steelers could play this one however they wanted.
And they love beating Cleveland at home, which they did for the 13th straight time.
How's this for a coaching juxtaposition: Mike Tomlin called his team's performance "ugly" and "quite beautiful."
"The fight is real. The fight has been on display all the way back to Latrobe with this bunch," Tomlin said. "Respect that element of it. That can only carry you so far. We have to execute better moving forward."
Tomlin said after the game that he didn't have a 70-man roster, so he played the players "available to us." That included an offensive line battery that gave up four sacks Sunday after averaging about 1.3 per game through the first 15. The performance knocked them out of contention for the franchise record for fewest allowed.
The day was not without its injury issues. In the fourth quarter, defensive tackle Javon Hargrave was evaluated for a possible concussion but returned. Hargrave missed a December game while in the concussion protocol, so the Steelers will want to keep him healthy. Defensive end Ricardo Mathews hurt his right ankle. An already-thin defensive line needs bubble wrap this week.
The Steelers got key contributions from several role players who will be needed against Miami. Darrius Heyward-Bey's 46-yard catch downfield showcased speed that could help the Steelers on the outside. Heyward-Bey missed most of the past two months with a foot injury. Eli Rogers, Demarcus Ayers and Hamilton combined for 14 catches.
Jones, a soon-to-be free agent auditioning for the rest of the league, was about as expected, shrugging off a few curious decisions with some accurate passing late. He finished 24-of-37 for 277 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. DeAngelo Williams found the end zone twice, proving once again he's a viable option behind Bell.
But the Steelers can -- and should -- be glad this is over.
The first half was uninspiring, with the defense giving up a 10-yard draw to a third-string tailback and the offense backed into its own territory. The Steelers' 52 yards of offense in the first half was their fewest before halftime since 2008.
None of that matters now, because it's on to Miami.
Tomlin hadn't sparked this week's game plan and declined to comment on facing the Dolphins when asked after the Browns game. But players have embraced a Miami rematch for a few days now.
During the week, cornerback Ross Cockrell said he'd like the Steelers to "redeem our performance" from the 30-15 loss in Week 6 -- a game in which Jay Ajayi ran for 204 yards.
Some openly talked about Miami, knowing their No. 3 AFC playoff seed was cemented.
Pittsburgh jumped from the low 20s to No. 6 overall in rushing defense before Sunday, but the Ravens nearly derailed the Steelers' playoff plans with 122 rushing yards on 26 carries in Week 16. Couple those numbers with the Browns' 231 rushing yards Sunday, and the Steelers know they must tighten up -- quickly.
With Roethlisberger, Brown and Bell in the same playoff lineup for the first time, the Steelers feel they can move the ball on anybody. But to advance in the postseason, they might want to make this first matchup a little personal.
Another factor working in their favor, the Steelers should get some needed help for the defensive line with the return of starting defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who missed the past two games with a sprained knee. He is expected to practice this week and play against the Dolphins. The Steelers had played much better against the run in the second half of the season.
In addition, receiver Sammie Coates, who did not play the past two weeks due to a hamstring injury, said he is feeling better and is expected to be available for the Dolphins game. Tomlin said Ladarius Green is still in the concussion protocol but has a chance to play this week.
Both Green and Tuitt both worked fully on Wednesday as did Coates and Xavier Grimble (ribs). I'll have more as needed in the News & Views section of the site between now and game time. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Brown became the first player in NFL history to lead his conference in catches in four consecutive seasons.
And finally. ... Wide receiver Markus Wheaton, who's currently on Injured Reserve, underwent surgery to repair his labrum. The recovery time is about three months. Wheaton is scheduled to become a free agent this offseason.
QBs: Mason Rudolph, Devlin Hodges, Ben Roethlisberger
RBs: James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, Benny Snell
WRs: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Donte Moncrief, James Washington, Diontae Johnson, Ryan Switzer
TEs: Vance McDonald, Xavier Grimble, Zach Gentry
Seattle SeahawksCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 January 2017
The Seattle Seahawks enter the postseason as the No. 3 seed in the NFC and will host the Detroit Lions on Saturday at CenturyLink Field.
The passing attack has been inconsistent for much of the season, but if the Seahawks are going to go on a playoff run, ESPN.com's Sheil Kapadia believes this is where they'll have to make up for deficiencies elsewhere.
Russell Wilson suffered three injuries in the first six games of the season and has never looked completely healthy. He deserves credit for the work he put in to stay on the field (Wilson didn't miss a start) and still completed 64.7 percent of his passes while averaging 7.73 yards per attempt with 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
His favorite targets -- Doug Baldwin (94 catches, 1,128 yards, seven touchdowns) and Jimmy Graham (65 catches, 923 yards, six touchdowns) -- both had great seasons and will present matchup problems against a Lions defense that went into Week 17 allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete a league-high 72.9 percent of their passes.
Pass protection is always a question with the Seahawks, but the Lions produced pressure on just 19.8 percent of their opponents' dropbacks, the worst percentage in the NFL. Detroit's sack percentage (4.6) ranked 29th. The Lions had one sack and four hits on Aaron Rodgers on Sunday, but the Green Bay Packers' offensive line is superior to the Seahawks' line.
The good news?
ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein pointed out the Lions set an NFL record this season by allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 72.7 percent of passes against them. It broke a record established by another team coached by Jim Caldwell -- the 2011 Indianapolis Colts. They allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 71.2 percent of passes against them.
The Lions were a full percentage point worse.
Now, the Lions have to face one of the game's more accurate quarterbacks in the playoffs in Wilson, who has completed at least 63 percent of his passes in every season of his career -- including the above-mentioned 64.7 percent this season.
Unlike many other quarterbacks Detroit has faced, the rushing potential for Wilson is something that makes him even more dangerous.
"You just have to get them down enough times," Caldwell said. "We just didn't get him down enough times. You're not going to completely stop Russell Wilson. No one has at this point throughout his career.
"So you've just got to get him down enough times to be able to stall the drives and be able to answer with points. That's the real key."
And the last time the Lions faced Wilson, he was insanely accurate against Detroit. He completed 20 of 26 passes (76.9 percent) against the Lions last season in a nationally televised Monday night game in Week 4. He also took more shots downfield in that game than others, averaging 11.04 yards per attempt and 7.46 yards per dropback against Detroit.
The way the Lions have played against opposing quarterbacks this season, though, that would be close to average.
As for the run?
According to ESPN Stats and Information, from 2012 to 2015, the Seahawks had nine games in which they failed to rush for 100 yards. That happened in 10 of 16 games during the 2016 regular season.
Against a shaky 49ers run defense, the Seahawks totaled just 87 yards on 25 carries. Thomas Rawls has battled through injuries and struggled to build from his rookie season, finishing with 349 rushing yards on 109 attempts (3.20 yards per carry).
Wilson's 259 rushing yards are the lowest total of his career. The run-blocking has been an issue throughout the season.
The Lions rank 22nd against the run, according to Football Outsiders. The Packers ran for 153 yards against them and averaged 4.9 yards per carry.
The Seahawks want to find balance whenever they can, but at this point, they know the run game is not the strength it has been in previous years.
Meanwhile, head coach Pete Carroll said on Monday that rookie running back C.J. Prosise, who has missed the last six games with a fractured scapula is "getting close now," though it sounds like a return this week is not in the cards.
But if the Seahawks advance to face the Atlanta Falcons next week, Prosise will have a chance of being available.
"A very encouraging report today," Carroll said on Tuesday. "He had a CT scan that was really positive. He's working hard and running hard. We're going to see what happens. If we have the good fortune of winning this week, we'll take a look at next week. He's going to run really hard this week with the thought that he's going to practice next week. If we can give him that opportunity it would be great."
The Seahawks will have a new long snapper for Saturday night's Wild Card game against the Lions.
The team announced on Tuesday that they have placed Nolan Frese on injured reserve as a result of the ankle injury that he suffered in Week 17. Frese played the entire game, but had a bad snap that went over punter Jon Ryan's head for a safety in the third quarter of the 25-23 victory.
"He couldn't run at all, so he was just clomping around on a totally casted foot to get through the game," Carroll said of Frese.
Seattle signed Tyler Ott to take Frese's place on the roster and take over the snapping duties. Ott played three games for the Bengals earlier this season and saw action in one game for the Giants last year.
It's not the only issue Seattle's special teams have had. Frese has had poor snaps while healthy too. Kicker Steven Hauschka has missed 10 kicks this year -- six extra points and four field goals -- and six of the misses were due to blocked kicks.
"There's just some funky kicks we've made," Carroll said. "(Hauschka) hit four great field goals yesterday and did a great job but there was an extra point that was low.
Also. ... Veteran return man Devin Hester is signing with the Seahawks for the playoffs, Jay Glazer of FOXSports first reported Tuesday night.
The Ravens cut Hester, 34, in December. He handled their return duties for 12 games this season.
The Seahawks needed a returner after losing speedy second-year man Tyler Lockett to a Week 16 broken leg. They open the playoffs Saturday night vs. the Lions.
Hester is a four-time Pro Bowler and a three time first-team All-Pro. He played eight seasons for the Bears and the last two for the Falcons before signing with the Ravens in September.
QBs: Russell Wilson, Geno Smith
RBs: Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny, C.J. Prosise, Travis Homer
WRs: Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf, David Moore, Gary Jennings Jr., Malik Turner, John Ursua
TEs: Nick Vannett, Ed Dickson, Will Dissly