Team Notes week 18 2020

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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Baltimore Ravens

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 January 2021

As ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley put it, "Lamar Jackson made NFL rushing history, and the Baltimore Ravens are headed back into the playoffs on a full sprint. ..."

Jackson became the first quarterback in NFL history to record multiple 1,000-yard rushing seasons Sunday as the Ravens clinched a wild-card berth with their fifth straight victory, a 38-3 rout of the Cincinnati Bengals.

"We still got things that we want to finish," Jackson said. "It's just the beginning for us, to be honest with you."

The Ravens (11-5) secured the No. 5 seed in the AFC and will play at the AFC South champion Tennessee Titans this weekend in the wild-card round of the playoffs.

Jackson's 97 yards rushing and record-setting performance was only part of Baltimore's dominant rushing attack. With 404 yards rushing, the Ravens became the seventh team in NFL history to run for over 400 yards in a game and the first since the 2000 Bengals to do so.

Rookie running back J.K. Dobbins gained 160 yards, including a 72-yard touchdown run. Gus Edwards added 60 yards rushing.

"It's a bunch of guys that are happy, but we're still hungry," Dobbins said. "We're glad to get this win to get in. But we know what the ultimate goal is. That's what's on our minds right now."

Jackson, who also threw three touchdown passes, became the second quarterback to reach the playoffs in his first three seasons in the league and win an NFL MVP award, joining Dan Marino. He now will seek his first postseason victory after consecutive one-and-done playoff appearances.

"People doubted us throughout the season because we weren't having the season we had last year," Jackson said. "Our team fought through that, and we showed the world that we're here to play."

Jackson's rushing milestone -- as well as Baltimore's playoff fate -- was settled quickly Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium. Needing 92 yards to reach 1,000, Jackson reached the NFL record book with a 7-yard scramble to convert a third down with eight minutes left in the third quarter. He was pulled before the start of the fourth quarter.

The only other quarterback to surpass 1,000 yards rushing in a season was Michael Vick in 2006. Jackson has eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing in two of his first three NFL seasons, setting the single-season record for quarterbacks last season with 1,206 yards.

In making NFL history, Jackson said, "I don't know about the record part, but the offensive line did a great job. ... And receivers blocking downfield and the tight ends doing their job. It's a team breaking that record, not just me out there."

It was a year ago when the Ravens clinched the top seed and rested their starters in the season finale. Baltimore got upset by the Titans, becoming the first No. 1 seed to fall to a 6-seed since 2010.

This season, the Ravens had a must-win mentality since early December, and they knew a victory Sunday was needed in order to reach the postseason.

"I like where we're at right now," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I love where this team is right now. I love us going into the playoffs in this scenario at this time. I'm excited about it."

This game will match the NFL's top rushing team (Baltimore) against the NFL's rushing leader (Titans' Derrick Henry). According to ESPN Stats and Information research, it will be only the fifth such matchup in the Super Bowl era. Unfortunately for the Ravens, the team with the rushing leader has won the previous four. ...

Other notes of interest. ... The Ravens head into the playoffs hopeful that they will be healthier than they have been in a long time.

Head coach John Harbaugh gave updates on several injured players after Sunday's game and more on Monday.

After the game in Cincinnati, Harbaugh said pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue (thigh) and cornerback Jimmy Smith (ribs/shoulder) could return to face the Titans.

"I do think there's a good chance we get both of those guys back," Harbaugh said. "I can't say for certain, but I think there's a good chance for those guys to play."

On Monday, Harbaugh said he believes wide receiver Willie Snead (ankle), who also did not play Sunday in Cincinnati, has a chance to return to the lineup. Snead is third on the team in receptions (33) and receiving yards (432).

"Willie's a good option (to play)," Harbaugh said. "It's not a given. I got the report today. I'm really hopeful for Willie to be back."

Harbaugh expects to have punter Sam Koch (Reserve/COVID-19) available by Sunday's game. Recently-signed Johnny Townsend punted twice (50.0 yards per punt) on Sunday, and Koch's streak of 239 consecutive games came to an end.

There is also a chance that backup quarterback Robert Griffin III (hamstring) returns to practice this week. Griffin was placed on injured reserve after being hurt Dec. 2 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. With backup quarterback Trace McSorley (knee) also on the injured list, undrafted rookie Tyler Huntley has backed up Lamar Jackson the past two games and seen action both times.

"He's done a good job of the rehab, he's in a good place," Harbaugh said of Griffin. "Talked to him once or twice a week as he rehabs. He's doing well. We'll see how it goes. A lot of that stuff is roster decisions, too. That will be up to (general manager) Eric (DeCosta) and the front office. We'll try to make the best decision for our roster going forward and we'll see how it plays out. ..."

You'll want to watch the daily postings of the NFL Injury/Practice report and the News and Views section of the site for any pertinent developments in coming days. ...

One last note here. ... Kicker Justin Tucker will forever be the Ravens' secret weapon, or perhaps their most unique weapon. It's an incredible end-game advantage for the Ravens to know that if they can just get him within 60 yards of the uprights, they have a genuine chance to win. The most recent example came in Week 14, when he drilled a 55-yard field goal to beat the Browns with 2 seconds left.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Lamar Jackson, Tyler Huntley, Trace McSorley, Robert Griffin III
RBs: J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill, Mark Ingram
WRs: Marquise Brown, Dez Bryant, Willie Snead, Miles Boykin, Devin Duvernay, James Proche
TEs: Mark Andrews, Eric Tomlinson

Buffalo Bills

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 January 2021

Is it a sure bet that Josh Allen won't be the NFL's Most Valuable Player?

As ESPN.com's Marcel Louis-Jacques noted, the Bills quarterback put one final stamp on the greatest regular-season statistically in franchise history during a 56-26 rout of the Miami Dolphins on Sunday in Week 17, eclipsing Drew Bledsoe's record for passing yards in a single season. Allen holds single-season franchise records for passing yards (4,544), touchdowns (37) and completions (396) in his third NFL season for the Bills, who enter the playoffs as the AFC's No. 2 seed and will play host to the Indianapolis Colts (11-5) in the wild-card round.

It is essentially a three-horse race for MVP between Allen, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes, with Rodgers the front-runner. But Allen's credentials for the award can't be ignored.

He finishes with just 10 interceptions, and had another 418 yards and eight scores on the ground. Although he doesn't lead the trio in any of the major passing categories, he's put up similar stats against a tougher schedule (the Bills played the 14th-hardest schedule in the NFL this season; the Chiefs and Packers have played the 18th- and 24th-hardest schedules, respectively).

He is also the most prevalent reason the Bills' offense has improved from 24th in 2019 to fourth in 2020. Their passing offense, specifically, improved from a paltry 26th last season to second this season. Allen had more passing touchdowns this season than his previous two combined; if he's not the league MVP, he's a candidate to be its most-improved player.

But Allen isn't the only Bills player deserving of an award. Wide receiver Stefon Diggs continued his career season with 76 yards on seven catches, improving his season total to 127 catches and 1,535 yards -- both tops in the NFL. For a player without a Pro Bowl selection entering the 2020 season, Diggs could bring home a Pro Bowl selection, an All-Pro nod and an AFC Offensive Player of the Year award.

His presence will be particularly valuable in the playoffs, where he has already demonstrated the kind of competitiveness and nerve to make game-changing plays in the highest-pressure moments (see the Minneapolis Miracle in the 2017 playoffs.) If the Bills need a play to win a game, they can count on Diggs helping Allen to get it done.

Beyond the accolades, Buffalo's big win Sunday ensured its playoff games would be at Bills Stadium unless it matches up with the No. 1-seeded Chiefs -- and would give the Bills home-field advantage throughout the playoffs if the Chiefs lost prior to the AFC Championship Game.

And Bills Stadium will offer little comfort for any visiting team, as the Bills are arguably the hottest team in the league right now.

They've won nine of their past 10, losing only on a Kyler Murray-to-DeAndre Hopkins Hail Mary in Week 10. Since returning from their Week 11 bye, the Bills have outscored their opponents 229-110 and have registered eight straight multiple-score wins dating to Week 9. They're also about as healthy as they could ask for with the exception of slot receiver Cole Beasley, who is considered week-to-week with a knee injury.

Bills players and coaches insisted all season that they want to be playing their best football come January. Well, it's January, and Buffalo looks like a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

The Bills have a lot of advantages here, including playing in front of about 6,700 fans who can't wait to see a home playoff game. But this game could hinge on whether the Bills' defense, which ranked in the bottom third in rushing yards per attempt this season, can check the Colts' Jonathan Taylor.

Other notes of interest. ... After visiting with the Bills last week, Kenny Stills signed with Buffalo's practice squad. The team announced the move on Monday.

Stills appeared in 10 games for the Texans this year, making 11 catches for 144 yards with one touchdown. Originally a Saints fifth-round pick in 2013, Stills has 310 receptions for 4,843 yards with 37 touchdowns in 117 career games.

Though Buffalo's Cole Beasley is week-to-week with a knee injury, head coach Sean McDermott said last week the Bills had been eyeing Stills for a while.

Buffalo also added former XFL receiver Tanner Gentry to its practice squad on Monday. Gentry played with Allen at Wyoming.

As corresponding moves, Buffalo released wide receivers Gary Jennings and J.J. Nelson from its practice squad.

The Bills will have tight end Tyler Kroft back for Saturday's wild-card matchup with the Colts, as the club activated him from the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Meanwhile, if Beasley continues to be sidelined, McDermott said, via Matt Parrino of Syracuse.com, that wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie is "very capable" of playing slot receiver. McKenzie had 30 receptions for 282 yards with five touchdowns this season, scoring two of them in Sunday's game. He also returned a punt 84 yards for a TD in the blowout win over Miami.

But there's more.

Diggs was limited in the team's Tuesday walkthrough with an oblique injury. Beasley did not practice. McKenzie was limited with an ankle injury.

Their status will bear watching the rest of the week. You'll want to watch the daily postings of the NFL Injury/Practice report and the News and Views section of the site for any pertinent developments in coming days.

Beyond that, the Bills listed quarterback Jake Fromm as limited, but not for injury. Fromm spends time working out away from the team in case of a COVID-19 outbreak within the position.

Offensive lineman Jon Feliciano (knee) and tight end Reggie Gilliam (knee/hamstring) were full participants.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Josh Allen, Matt Barkley, Jake Fromm
RBs: Devin Singletary, T.J. Yeldon, Taiwan Jones, Devonta Freeman, Zack Moss
WRs: Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, John Brown, Gabriel Davis, Isaiah McKenzie, Andre Roberts
TEs: Dawson Knox, Tyler Kroft, Lee Smith, Reggie Gilliam

Chicago Bears

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 January 2021

As ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson framed it, "The Chicago Bears (8-8) live to fight another day. ..."

Despite suffering yet another lopsided 35-16 loss to Aaron Rodgers and the archrival Green Bay Packers, the Bears backed into the seventh and final NFC playoff spot by virtue of the Los Angeles Rams knocking off the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

The Bears travel to No. 2 seed New Orleans for the opening round of the playoffs. The Saints beat the Bears 26-23 on Nov. 1 at Soldier Field.

The Bears would have preferred to punch their own postseason ticket, but getting there alone carries with it a certain degree of significance.

Chicago has now reached the playoffs two of three years under coach Matt Nagy, which is no small feat when you consider the organization's spotty postseason history. The Bears have only one playoff victory since 2006, and prior to Nagy's arrival in 2018, the Bears spent four consecutive years in the basement of the NFC North.

Nagy's job is probably safe. General manager Ryan Pace can probably breathe a little easier.

The fate of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is unknown. Trubisky managed Chicago's relatively conservative and balanced offensive attack fairly well versus Green Bay, but the former second overall pick is obviously in a class way lower than the game's elite quarterbacks.

Against the Packers, Trubisky played a mostly mistake-free game until a late interception. His best throw came when he heaved a 53-yard bomb to Darnell Mooney. The Bears need more of those deep strikes if they hope to upset the Saints -- although Mooney's status for this week is uncertain after he suffered a fourth-quarter ankle injury.

Beyond that, David Montgomery (22 carries, 69 yards and a touchdown) continues to run hard. The Bears had nowhere near the amount of rushing yards as in previous weeks, but the commitment to the run kept Rodgers off the field for long stretches (really, the only hope to contain Rodgers is to keep him on the sidelines).

Expect that to continue.

Montgomery averaged 95.3 yards per game over the final seven games of the season and is the best option for alleviating pressure on Chicago's passing game.

Worth noting: The Bears haven't played a road playoff game in 26 years. And they have a total of three road playoff victories in the Super Bowl era. There are a lot of reasons for that, and this season's team actually earned five of its eight wins on the road. But the history doesn't bode well for going into New Orleans and pulling off the upset.

That said, Dickerson points out Chicago has won three of their past four and battled Green Bay until the wheels fell off late in Week 17.

It might be a stretch to call the Bears dangerous, but Nagy's team has played mostly resilient football since snapping a six-game losing streak.

At the very least, the Bears should make it somewhat interesting. ...

For what it's worth, Trubisky completed 33 of 42 passes for 252 yards but ended the day with no touchdowns and one interception.

In five trips to the red zone, the Bears reached the end zone once.

Trubisky accepts the blame for the Bears' inefficiency in the red zone while also giving credit to the Packers' defense for their execution. However, the team won't face porous defenses in the playoffs, and Trubisky knows that they won't make it out of New Orleans if they have to settle for short field goals.

"When we get down to the red zone," said Trubisky, "the most important thing for us is coming away with a touchdown. So we've got to definitely look at this game and see what we did in the red zone and see what we can do better this week and have a great red zone study going into our playoff game because staying on the field is important, keeping our defense off the field and letting them rest."

The Bears converted five fourth-down attempts in the game, but the lone failed conversion loomed large. With the team well-positioned to take the lead in the fourth quarter, the Bears called a rollout pass on and 4th-and-1 deep in Packers territory. No receivers were open, and Trubisky's pass intended for Allen Robinson fell incomplete.

Nearly three-fourths of Trubisky's passing attempts went to three players: Mooney, Montgomery and tight end Cole Kmet.

The Bears' coaching staff should be pleased in the performance of their two rookies. Mooney finished with 11 catches for 93 yards, and Kmet finished with seven catches for 41 yards.

The bigger issue was the absence of Robinson from the offense. The team's leading receiver was targeted five times in the game and only once in the first half. Robinson finished with two catches for 37 yards.

On the injury front. ... Beyond Mooney, inside linebacker Roquan Smith left the game because of an elbow injury. Smith is one of the Bears' best defenders, and they missed him sorely in pass coverage. Not having Smith would be a huge blow against the Saints.

You'll want to watch the daily postings of the NFL Injury/Practice report and the News and Views section of the site for any pertinent developments in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Mitchell Trubisky, Nick Foles, Tyler Bray
RBs: David Montgomery, Ryan Nall, Artavis Pierce, Tarik Cohen
WRs: Allen Robinson, Darnell Mooney, Anthony Miller, Cordarrelle Patterson, Javon Wims, Riley Ridley, Alex Wesley
TEs: Cole Kmet, Jimmy Graham, Demetrius Harris, J.P. Holtz

Cleveland Browns

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 January 2021

Sunday, the Browns finally ended the NFL's longest playoff drought with a 24-22 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, catapulting Cleveland into the postseason for the first time in 17 seasons.

"I'm really just happy for our fans," said first-year head coach Kevin Stefanski. "They deserve this. And we're happy to deliver this to them."

Baker Mayfield, who three years ago at the NFL combine declared he could be the quarterback to finally turn the Browns around, was the last player to leave the field. He blew a kiss to the fans with both hands while exiting through the tunnel.

"It's a moment I'll definitely never forget," Mayfield said. "The feeling of walking off the field, the energy in the stadium, they're playing 'Cleveland Rocks' ... For it to be that loud with a limited amount of fans, it was a special moment for us."

Cleveland's victory sets up a first-round rematch with the Steelers next weekend in Pittsburgh. Cleveland's only other playoff appearance this century also came in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers won 36-33.

"We're not satisfied," Mayfield said. "We expected to be here. We worked extremely hard to get here and we're excited to have the chance to be in the playoffs."

The Browns prevailed in Sunday's make-or-break showdown against the Steelers despite battling issues related to COVID-19 all week.

Now they'll have to do the same this week -- except the issues are even bigger.

This time, they'll play without Stefanski and many other key members of the coaching staff and at least one Pro Bowl player sitting at home watching it on television because of COVID-19.

Stefanski, two members of his coaching staff and two more players tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday and won't be able to participate in the Wildcard Playoff game against the Steelers on Sunday night.

Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer will serve as the acting head coach for the game, marking the second time he's served as head coach for an NFL game.

The other coaches who tested positive today are tight ends coach Drew Petzing and defensive backs coach Jeff Howard. The two players are Pro Bowl left guard Joel Bitonio and receiver KhaDarel Hodge.

According to Cleveland Plain Dealer staffer Mary Kay Cabot, Stefanski is currently asymptomatic and will continue to work virtually from home to prepare for the game. He's feeling fine and plans to be involved in all preparations for the game. However, he is not permitted to be involved on game day. Offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt will call the plays.

The Browns also currently have six other players and three other coaches who are isolating from the team because of COVID-19 protocols -- for a total of eight players and six coaches currently out. Some of those players and coaches will also have to miss the game. That makes for a total of eight players and six coaches.

The other coaches already isolating because of COVID-19 protocols are offensive line coach Bill Callahan, receivers coach Chad O'Shea and assistant offensive line coach Scott Peters. Callahan tested positive on Saturday and will also have to sit out the game. O'Shea tested positive last Wednesday.

The players currently on the list are Denzel Ward, B.J. Goodson, Andrew Sendejo, Malcolm Smith, Kevin Johnson and Harrison Bryant.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the game is still on for 8:30 Sunday night because the positive tests are believed to be from community spread and not from inside the facility.

The NFL believes that there's no risk of further transmission inside the facility.

The Browns facility is closed while contact tracing is underway. More players and coaches could be added to the list by the end of the day, but they will be able to participate in the game because they only have to isolate for five days.

Don't underestimate Stefanski's effort in getting the team to this point.

As ESPN.com put it, "In his first season with the Browns, Stefanski has done more than redirect Mayfield's career and offer up some clever play calling and game plans. He has extended a canopy of calm around the most dysfunctional organization in the league."

The Browns would be excused for overexcitement as they enter their first postseason since 2002, but Stefanski's presence gives them a good chance to meet the moment.

It's also worth noting Mayfield was the most accurate deep ball passer in the NFL this season.

Mayfield's adjusted completion rate on throws more than 20 yards downfield was 51.9 percent, according to Pro Football Focus (via Rotoworld.com). He attempted 54 deep shots on the season, the 16th most in the league. Deshaun Watson had the second best adjusted completion rate on downfield passes. Mayfield's success on deep passes brought a much-needed element to the Cleveland offense, which began the season as a conservative, run-heavy unit seemingly uninterested in big plays.

Nearly 13 percent of Mayfield's throws beyond 20 yards over the season's final six weeks compared to a 10 percent deep throw rate in the season's first six weeks.

That said, it should be noted that Mayfield is a volatile player and a playoff unknown. He has made unquestioned progress under Stefanski this season, but he hasn't been asked to carry the team as quarterbacks often need to in the playoffs.

The Browns' defense allowed at least 30 points in seven games this season.

Mayfield might well be ready for the challenge if the Browns get into a postseason shootout, but it's fair to wait until he performs under that kind of pressure before feeling confident in it.

Each team could look a little different from a personnel standpoint -- the Steelers almost certainly more so than the Browns -- but there's only so much a team can adjust or change at this stage of the season.

"A lot of the presentations we are going to give the players will be very fresh," said Stefanski, who experienced a similar scenario with the Vikings in 2012, when they played the Packers in back-to-back games to close the regular season and open the postseason.

"They will have seen a lot of these plays already so you coach them off of your previous game a lot, and they are doing the same."

For the Steelers, the biggest change will come at quarterback, as veteran Ben Roethlisberger will reclaim his spot after backup Mason Rudolph's admirable performance Sunday. On defense, the Steelers will have Defensive Player of the Year candidate T.J. Watt and veteran DT Cameron Heyward back on the field. Maurkice Pouncey will be back at center.

They comprise four of the most important players on the Steelers roster, but there are so many more on the field. Nearly all of the others held down significant roles and played from start to finish Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.

"I think we expected it to look different with the change in quarterback, and we expect it to look different again this week," Stefanski said. "That is part of their job is to play to their players' strengths. We understand that may change. It is our job to put ourselves in their building, think like them and try and get a feel for what they may do this week.

"There is the game theory in trying to understand what they are doing and how it informs your decisions and game planning."

Other notes of interest. ... Kareem Hunt said he wasn't disappointed to fall short of 1,000 rushing yards for the 2020 regular season. He was, however, pumped to see his running mate, Nick Chubb, clear the mark for a second consecutive year.

Chubb blew past 1,000 in grand fashion, rushing for a 47-yard touchdown on the Browns' opening drive.

"Before the game I told him, 'Go get it, you deserve it for sure.' And he went right ahead and did it," Hunt said. "Nick is a heck of the back, talented, and I love working with him because he has the drive to win just like I do, so it is a lot of fun seeing him run the ball and make big plays."

Chubb (1,067) and Hunt (841) finished seventh and 16th, respectively, among the NFL's rushing leaders. They were the only two running back teammates to land in the top 20. Hunt finished tied for the league lead in receiving touchdowns for RBs with five.

"At the end of the day, the biggest thing to me is the wins and losses and now we have a chance for the second season," Hunt said. "We have a lot of football left to play and that is bigger than getting 1,000 yards, I think. As long as I can continue making plays and helping our team win and find a way to win I am good with it."

On the injury front. ... Receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones is in the league's protocol after suffering a concussion during Sunday's first half. A sixth-round rookie, Peoples-Jones caught 14 passes for 304 yards and two touchdowns during the regular season.

You'll want to watch the daily postings of the NFL Injury/Practice report and the News and Views section of the site for any pertinent developments in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Baker Mayfield, Case Keenum
RBs: Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, D'Ernest Johnson
WRs: Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Marvin Hall, Derrick Willies, KhaDarel Hodge, Ja'Marcus Bradley, Odell Beckham
TEs: Austin Hooper, David Njoku, Stephen Carlson, Harrison Bryant

Green Bay Packers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 January 2021

Aaron Rodgers might finally get his wish: an NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field.

All the Green Bay Packers have to do is win one more game and that becomes a reality.

Rodgers ensured that in Sunday's regular-season finale thanks in part to a perfect first half on the way to a 35-16 win over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.

It gave the Packers (13-3) the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. With that comes a first-round bye -- the only one in the conference thanks to the expanded playoff field -- and home games between now and the Super Bowl. While the other six NFC playoff teams play next weekend, the Packers are off until the divisional round on either Jan 16 or 17.

As ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky reminded readers, Rodgers has played in four NFC Championship Games, winning only one -- 10 years ago at Soldier Field. After last year's NFC title game loss at the 49ers, the Packers' third straight loss in the conference title game after the 2014 conference championship game at Seattle and the 2016 game at Atlanta, Rodgers spoke longingly about wanting one at Lambeau.

"I've said this before: We've got to get one of these at home," Rodgers said after the 37-20 loss to the 49ers last January. "It's a different ballgame. It's different playing in 20-degree weather and snow. Cold and wind is a different type of game than playing here."

The Week 16 game against the Titans showed that. The Packers blew out Tennessee 40-14 on a snow-covered field and they excelled on a 32-degree afternoon in Chicago on Sunday.

The Packers last had the No. 1 seed after their 15-1 regular season in 2011, but they lost to the Giants 37-20 in an NFC divisional playoff game at Lambeau Field.

The Packers ran 21 plays in the first half and scored 21 points. Rodgers completed his first 11 passes, starting 10-for-10 for 155 yards and three touchdowns, including a 72-yarder to Marquez Valdes-Scantling in the second quarter. It should have been his first 12 and with four touchdowns, but Valdes-Scantling dropped a 53-yard touchdown on the opening drive of the third quarter.

After a slow start to the second half, the Packers sealed things when Aaron Jones scored on a 4-yard touchdown run with 3:47 left. On that same drive, Davante Adams broke Sterling Sharpe's franchise record for single-season receptions (112). On the very next drive, he matched Sharpe's single-season franchise record for touchdowns, too, with his 18th. That also tied for the third most in a season in NFL history. Only Randy Moss (23 in 2007) and Jerry Rice (22 in 1987) caught more. And Adams missed two full games -- and half of another -- because of an early-season hamstring injury.

The touchdown to Adams was Rodgers' fourth of the game, giving him a career-best and franchise-record 48 touchdown passes for the season (and only five interceptions), wrapping up his case for a third MVP.

Rodgers completes one pass to Adams for roughly every four routes that Adams runs, by far the highest rate for any NFL receiver. That helps illustrate not only how well he gets open, but how often Rodgers throws him open. It will be tough to stop them in the playoffs.

Although he hasn't scored nearly as often as he did during his 16-touchdown performance in 2019, Jones remains a game-changing player who helps the Packers extend drives and keep their defense off the field. He has had a few injury nicks but should be ready for a normal workload in the playoffs.

The win at Chicago came only three days after the Packers lost All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari to a season-ending knee injury. Billy Turner moved from the right side to replace Bakhtiari, and Rick Wagner came in at right tackle. Rodgers was sacked only once.

What's more, the Packers feel better about their defense, which got run over by the 49ers in the championship game last season.

Remember, the Packers are the only NFC team to have a wild-card bye week, and they will face the lowest remaining seed in the divisional round. That could be Washington, the Buccaneers, the Rams or the Bears.

By the time Saturday's wild-card games are done, the Packers' possibilities will be narrowed to two.

At that point, the studying will begin in earnest on the one remaining possibility from the Saturday group with the second option, the Bears -- whom the Packers just faced -- playing late Sunday afternoon.

In the meantime, head coach Matt LaFleur wants the coaches doing some self-scout work and the players healing up.

Everyone is off on Tuesday, and the players will have their film review of the previous game on Wednesday before practicing on Thursday and Friday. Then the Packers will learn their opponent next weekend and go into full-fledged prep mode from then on.

"I think this week's a really good opportunity to recharge the battery," LaFleur said Monday. "It's been a long season. It's been a long time since we've had a bye week.

"I do want the guys to take care of themselves, not only our players obviously but our coaches as well, kind of get recharged and ready to go hopefully here on a nice run. You need guys fresh. You need people sharp."

The Packers' regular-season bye was back in Week 5, almost three full months ago, so it's easy to understand LaFleur's approach. Every precaution with the coronavirus will continue to be taken and stressed as well.

Indeed, Rodgers had apt advice for his teammates that summed up the times for the 2020 NFL season.

"Don't get COVID," the quarterback said when asked what message he had for the team as it heads into its first-round playoff bye, per Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Aaron Rodgers, Tim Boyle, Jordan Love
RBs: Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, A.J. Dillon, Tyler Ervin
WRs: Davante Adams, Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown, Malik Taylor, Reggie Begelton
TEs: Robert Tonyan, Marcedes Lewis, Jace Sternberger, Josiah Deguara

Indianapolis Colts

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 January 2021

The Colts are going back to the playoffs.

But as ESPN.com's Mike Wells notes, they didn't make it easy on themselves in getting there, as Indianapolis didn't put the Jaguars away until less than five minutes remained in a game in which rookie running back Jonathan Taylor set a franchise rushing record in the Colts' 28-14 victory.

This will be just the second playoff appearance for the Colts since 2014, when they reached the AFC Championship Game.

As good as it feels to finish with an 11-5 record, their best since 2014, the Colts are heading into the postseason not as a team that should strike fear in contenders like Kansas City or Buffalo, but more like a team that has issues that need to be resolved.

But it's the playoffs, where anything can happen.

The Colts will be on the road playing a scary Buffalo Bills team. The Tennessee Titans (11-5) won the AFC South with a 41-38 victory over Houston.

Sunday's victory wasn't supposed to be this close, not against a Jacksonville team that had only one win, albeit against Indianapolis, and is on its way to the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft.

It didn't seem like it was going to be that tough when the Colts jumped on the Jaguars 20-0. But, again, Indianapolis doesn't know how to make things easy.

The Colts didn't completely fall apart the way they did when they blew a 17-point lead in their loss to Pittsburgh in Week 16.

In addition, Taylor became just the fifth rookie in team history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season when he had the above-mentioned franchise-record 253 yards Sunday. He finished his first NFL season with 1,151 rushing yards.

The 253 yards surpassed Edgerrin James' previous franchise record of 219 yards set against the Seattle Seahawks on Oct. 15, 2000. James had the two previous 200-yard rushing games in franchise history.

Things were going so well for Taylor that he nearly topped his career high in rushing in the first half. He didn't reach it, but Taylor rushed for more yards -- 137 -- than the Jaguars had total yards -- 136 -- in the first 30 minutes of the game.

Taylor is heading into the playoffs averaging 123.5 yards (488, 5 games) in the final six games of the regular season.

Meanwhile, Philip Rivers has mostly behaved himself this season, cutting his interception total in half from last season. But as good as he has been in 2020, do you trust him to not to give playoff opponents a few extra possessions and/or scuttle a few scoring drives?

This will be in the back of many minds when the Colts take the field Saturday.

It's going to be interesting to see if the Colts' defense can slow down the Bills' offense, which has been the league's most dominant in the second half of the season. The Colts' pass defense ranked among the NFL's top 10, based on QBR, for the majority of the season.

Other notes of interest. ... Rivers' six-yard touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton in the first quarter gave him sole possession of fifth place in NFL history in touchdown passes, as he officially moved past Dan Marino (420). Rivers also passed Eli Manning (8,119) for the sixth-most passes attempted in NFL history.

Kicker Rodrigo Blankenship, who hit two field goals and two extra points on Sunday, passed Raul Allegre (30) for the most field goals made by a rookie in franchise history.

On the injury front. ... The Colts issued their first practice report of Wild Card week, but they didn't actually have a practice on Tuesday.

Indianapolis held a walkthrough and their report is an estimation of what players would have done under regular circumstances. Or, in the case of defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and Rivers, what they wouldn't have done.

Neither Buckner nor Rivers would have practiced, although that probably won't impact their availability against the Bills on Saturday. Buckner has been resting his ankle and River has been resting his toe in early practices in recent weeks. Neither one has missed game action.

Tackle Will Holden (ankle) and cornerback Rock Ya-Sin (concussion) would have been out as well. Cornerback T.J. Carrie (ankle, shoulder) and Taylor (shoulder) were listed as limited.

You'll want to watch the daily postings of the NFL Injury/Practice report and the News and Views section of the site for any pertinent developments in coming days. ...

And finally. ... Matt Eberflus is a popular guy these days. Multiple teams have reached out to the Colts to request permission to interview their defensive coordinator. The teams that have made formal requests so far are the New York Jets (as first reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter), Houston Texans (NFL Network's Tom Pelissero) and Los Angeles Chargers (Ian Rapoport of NFL Network).

That doesn't mean Eberflus might not also have an opportunity to interview for one of the other three head coaching vacancies (Detroit, Jacksonville, Atlanta).

By rule, Eberflus cannot interview for another job until after the Colts' Wild Card game Saturday. The Colts cannot deny the requests following the game.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Philip Rivers, Jacoby Brissett, Jacob Eason
RBs: Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins, Marlon Mack
WRs: T.Y. Hilton, Zach Pascal, Michael Pittman Jr., Ashton Dulin, Dezmon Patmon, Parris Campbell
TEs: Trey Burton, Mo Alie-Cox, Jack Doyle

Kansas City Chiefs

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 January 2021

The Kansas City Chiefs finished the regular season 14-2, best in team history, courtesy of their 38-21 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. Until Sunday, the Chiefs hadn't lost a game by a double-digit margin since Week 9 in 2017, when they fell to the Dallas Cowboys 28-17.

Since then, the Chiefs have lost 14 games, counting the playoffs, but none by more than eight points.

Of course, they had a 10-game winning streak snapped but only after resting many of their key regulars. They won the AFC West championship for a fifth straight season.

All of that might be nice, but it will be quickly forgotten if the Chiefs don't win three more games in the postseason and repeat as Super Bowl champions. This season's Chiefs will be judged not for what they've done so far, but what's to come from this point forward.

If the Chiefs get those three additional victories, they'll have the NFL's first back-to-back Super Bowl championships in 15 years. If the season ends without a second consecutive championship, it will be looked at as a failure. This season was always about repeating for the Chiefs. They re-signed many of their own players, quarterback Patrick Mahomes included, and returned all but three of their starters from Super Bowl LIV.

It was all done with an eye toward repeating. The Chiefs' motto this season is: "Run It Back."

The Chiefs, as the AFC's No. 1 playoff seed, will receive a bye this weekend and open their postseason in the divisional round either Jan. 16 or 17.

They will face the lowest remaining seed in the divisional round. That could be the Titans, Ravens, Browns or Colts.

Of course, some would say the bye week is actually a two-week thing. The Chiefs gave many of their top players the week off against the Chargers. Mahomes, tight end Travis Kelce, wide receivers Tyreek Hill (hamstring) and Sammy Watkins (calf), running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (hip, ankle) and defensive back Tyrann Mathieu were just a few of the regulars who didn't play.

With Mahomes out, veteran backup Chad Henne replaced Mahomes and made his first start since 2014, when he played with Jacksonville. Other than some mop-up duty in two games this season, Henne hadn't played since the preseason in 2019. He finished 23-of-32 for 218 yards and two touchdowns. While nobody wants to see Henne again this month, getting him a taste of action heading into the postseason isn't the worst possible idea.

Reasons for concern?

The Chiefs have struggled to put teams away in the second half, especially since a Week 8 thrashing of the Jets. Their ensuing seven games were all victories, but they have come by an average of 3.7 points, and none has been by more than six. Two required fourth-quarter comebacks.

An optimist would argue the Chiefs are battle-tested for the kind of close games they could encounter in the postseason. On the other hand, top teams that struggle to put opponents away face a heightened risk of a postseason upset. ...

Reasons for optimism?

By some measures, Mahomes played better in 2020 than he did in either his 2018 MVP year or in leading the Chiefs to Super Bowl LIV last season. He set career highs in QBR (82.7), yards per game (316) and completion percentage (66.3 percentage). Quarterbacks drive the playoffs, and no one in the AFC has a better one than the Chiefs.

Other notes of interest. ... Edwards-Helaire is dealing with hip and ankle injuries, but even if he were not, ESPN.com's Adam Teicher believes Bell's veteran presence and flexibility would still be a significant boon for a playoff run. He has been used relatively sparingly since joining the Chiefs in Week 7, getting fewer than 10 touches in seven of nine games.

But it wouldn't be shocking to see him and the Chiefs shift into a higher gear in the postseason. ...

The Chiefs have a bye this week, but COVID-19 testing is continuing and a member of the coaching staff has reportedly tested positive.

Tom Pelissero of NFL Network reports that strength and conditioning coach Barry Rubin had the positive test. As in all cases of positive tests, contact tracing is underway and anyone deemed to be a high-risk close contact will have to isolate away from the team for five days.

With a game well over a week away and the Chiefs out of the building the last two days, anyone in that category will be able to return in time to play in the divisional round as long as they continue testing negative.

The Chiefs are due back in their facility Thursday, although any plans for this week will obviously be contingent on whether Rubin's case is an isolated one or not. ...

And finally. ... For the third consecutive season, offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy is up for a head-coaching position. Virtual interviews for head coaching candidates with a bye week in the playoffs (such as Bieniemy) can begin taking place this week. So far, Bieniemy has had interviews with the Falcons, and Lions. The Jets have requested an interview. The Texans, Jaguars and Chargers have not reached out yet.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne
RBs: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Le'Veon Bell, Darrel Williams, Darwin Thompson
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson, Marcus Kemp, Byron Pringle, Sammy Watkins
TEs: Travis Kelce, Deon Yelder, Nick Keizer

Los Angeles Rams

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 January 2021

The Los Angeles Rams clinched a playoff spot with an 18-7 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at SoFi Stadium.

With the win, the Rams finish 10-6 and earn the No. 6 seed, marking their third playoff berth in four seasons under coach Sean McVay. They will play the NFC West champion Seattle Seahawks in the wild-card round.

The Rams entered Week 15 a virtual lock to reach the playoffs. But lost back-to-back games to the New York Jets and Seahawks, which saw their playoff chances diminished entering Sunday's regular-season finale.

With quarterback Jared Goff sidelined after undergoing thumb surgery on his throwing hand after Week 16, backup quarterback John Wolford made his first NFL start against the Cardinals and completed 22 of 38 passes for 223 yards with an interception.

Head coach Sean McVay said after the game that he thought Wolford "did a great job."

"He made plays," McVay said. "I know there is guys around him that are capable of making some of those and I expect those guys to be able to do that but I thought that he really gave us a chance offensively with the amount of plays that he made in the pass game with his legs, athleticism, being able to extend things, I thought he was outstanding against a really tough defense that came ready to go. I was really pleased with John."

Even if he returns quickly following surgery for a broken thumb on his throwing hand, Goff hardly inspired confidence this season that he can lead another Super Bowl run. He was not nearly as productive as in recent years, with 20 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions in 15 games. That touchdown-interception ratio of 1.54-1 ranked in the bottom third of the league.

In fact, Goff didn't play well while the Rams were losing in Weeks 15 or 16 and that might factor into the Rams' decision of which way to go for their third meeting of the year with the Seahawks.

Whatever the case, we aren't going to get a quick resolution on the starting QB for this one.

"I'm not going to make an announcement on who is starting this week," McVay said, via NFL Media. "I'm not going to answer that question."

McVay said his timetable to determine a starter is "Saturday at 1:39" p.m. PT, one minute before kickoff.

But McVay reiterated that if Goff is healthy to go, he's getting the nod.

"Jared is our starting quarterback," he asserted.

Goff and Cam Akers, who returned much more quickly than expected from a high-ankle sprain to play against the Cardinals last Sunday, were both listed as limited participants on Thursday.

McVay said Akers is "feeling good."

Offensive lineman David Edwards (ankle) and defensive lineman Aaron Donald (rest) were non-participants. The Rams listed offensive lineman Joe Noteboom (back), linebacker Micah Kiser (knee), quarterback Jared Goff (right thumb) and outside linebacker Natrez Patrick (groin) as limited.

McVay expects Noteboom and Edwards' injuries shoudn't affect their status for Saturday.

Also, McVay confirmed both Cooper Kupp and Michael Brockers would come off the reserve/COVID-19 list this week, with Kupp returning Wednesday. Brockers can come back a little later in the week provided both continue to be asymptomatic.

You'll want to watch the daily postings of the NFL Injury/Practice report and the News and Views section of the site for any pertinent developments in coming days. ...

Meanwhile, the Rams' defense has carried them for much of the season and is difficult to attack, with the league's most unblockable player up front (defensive tackle Aaron Donald) and one of its few shutdown corners in the back end (Jalen Ramsey). The Rams had a top-three defense against both the run and pass, based on yards allowed per rush and QBR, respectively.

The Rams' return to the postseason avenges a disappointing 2019 season when the Rams finished 9-7 and were the only team with a winning record to not earn a playoff berth, while also becoming only the second team since 2009 to lose in the Super Bowl and then miss the playoffs the following season.

The good news?

The Rams know how to beat these Seahawks. In a Week 10 victory, they harassed Russell Wilson into two interceptions and a fumble. But in a Week 16 loss, Wilson did not commit a turnover. The Rams are going to have a hard time on Saturday if Wilson plays a turnover-free game.

And finally. ... Defensive coordinator Brandon Staley has been the subject of head coaching rumors for weeks now, but he won't be a part of any this week. Instead, Staley will be solely focused on how to stop the Seahawks in Saturday's wild card game so that the Rams can advance to the divisional round of the postseason.

By rule, teams can begin interviewing head coaching candidates this week -- so long as they are not currently employed and alive in the playoffs.

Teams known to be looking for a new head coach includes the Texans, Lions and Falcons, based on midseason firings, as well as the Jets, Jaguars and Chargers based on moves made this past weekend and on Monday.

The Chargers and Jets have requested interviews with Staley.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: John Wolford, Jared Goff
RBs: Cam Akers, Malcolm Brown, Raymond Calais, Xavier Jones, Darrell Henderson
WRs: Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Josh Reynolds, Van Jefferson, Nsimba Webster, Trishton Jackson
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett, Johnny Mundt, Brycen Hopkins

New Orleans Saints

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 January 2021

The New Orleans Saints didn't get the perfect storm they needed Sunday to land the NFC's No. 1 seed.

But they certainly did their part with a 33-7 road rout of the Carolina Panthers while settling for the No. 2 seed and a home date with the Chicago Bears (8-8) next weekend. The Saints (12-4) became the first team ever to sweep the NFC South, going a perfect 6-0 against their division rivals this season.

At least the Saints will now enter the playoffs with some serious momentum after they also trounced the Minnesota Vikings 52-33 last week. Quarterback Drew Brees' performance was the most encouraging on Sunday, as he seems to have regained his rhythm in his third start back from 11 broken ribs and a punctured lung. He completed 22 of 32 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns.

But the entire Saints team was impressive Sunday, considering they were playing without running back Alvin Kamara (reserve/COVID-19 list), wide receiver Michael Thomas (ankle injury), safeties Marcus Williams (ankle) and C.J. Gardner-Johnson (reserve/COVID-19) and several other key backups.

The defense came up with a whopping five interceptions, including one from cornerback Grant Haley in the end zone in his 2020 debut. And the offense leaned heavily on wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, WR/RB Ty Montgomery and versatile backup QB Taysom Hill -- who ran the ball seven times for 41 yards and a TD before walking to the locker room in the fourth quarter with an unspecified injury.

According to ESPN.com's Mike Triplett, several guys came up clutch for the Saints in bigger roles than they have been used to playing this season -- but perhaps none bigger than Montgomery and Haley.

Montgomery, who began his career as a receiver and running back with the Green Bay Packers, ran for 105 yards on 18 carries. It was the first time he had double-digit carries in a game since 2017 and his first 100-yard game since 2016 with the Packers. Haley, a third-year undrafted pro, spent his first two seasons with the New York Giants before spending most of this season on New Orleans' practice squad. He played a key role in the slot throughout Sunday's game in addition to the clutch interception.

The Saints' other interceptions were snagged by safety Malcolm Jenkins, cornerback Marshon Lattimore, safety P.J. Williams and cornerback Ken Crawley.

Because of playoff expansion, the Saints won't get a playoff bye this season despite earning the NFC's No. 2 seed.

They also made history in both 2011 and 2019 by winding up as the No. 3 seed in the NFC despite a 13-3 record. That has happened a total of only three times since the NFL expanded to a 16-game schedule. The good news is they will be hosting a Bears team they beat in Chicago earlier this season -- 26-23 in overtime in Week 8.

The better news is Kamara could make his return in the wild-card round of the postseason.

The NFL scheduled the Saints for a Sunday game, which is the first day Kamara is eligible to come off the COVID-19 reserve list.

Kamara could not have returned for a Saturday game as league rules require a minimum of 10 days after a positive test for players who are asymptomatic.

As Profootballtalk.com notes, head coach Sean Payton is the master at not giving away anything about injuries or illnesses, so it should come as no surprise that he wasn't committing to Kamara's return during his media session Monday.

"We'll see," Payton said, via Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times. "I think it would depend on the player and the situation. A lot of that will be our decision based on where we think we are with the week, the player. We've got to be smart."

The Bears surely are planning for Kamara, who had 67 rushing yards and 96 receiving yards against the Bears on Nov. 1, to play this weekend.

In his last game, Kamara set an NFL record with six rushing touchdowns and ran for a career-best 155 yards against the Vikings.

Kamara, though, isn't allowed to practice this week. He can attend virtual meetings.

The Saints also could see the return of Thomas. Thomas went on injured reserve Dec. 19 with an ankle injury.

It has been a really weird season for the NFL's 2019 Offensive Player of the Year, from injuries to a disciplinary benching. In all, he played in only seven games and finished with a career-low 40 catches without a single touchdown.

But the Saints believe he will be close to 100 percent healthy for their first playoff game, and it's tough to overestimate the impact of getting a fresh All-Pro receiver back on the field.

You'll want to watch the daily postings of the NFL Injury/Practice report and the News and Views section of the site for any pertinent developments in coming days. ...

One last note here. ... The Saints spent the majority of the season ranked among the NFL's top teams in forcing turnovers. They'll have ample opportunities playing against Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who tends to force the ball when he is in pressure situations.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Drew Brees, Taysom Hill, Jameis Winston
RBs: Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray, Ty Montgomery, Dwayne Washington
WRs: Michael Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Deonte Harris, Marquez Callaway, Juwan Johnson, Tre'quan Smith
TEs: Jared Cook, Adam Trautman, Josh Hill

Pittsburgh Steelers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 January 2021

The rivalry between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns will get a third installment this year.

The Browns' 24-22 victory over the Steelers on Sunday, coupled with wins by the Baltimore Ravens and Buffalo Bills in the early games, sets up a meeting between the No. 3-seeded Steelers and No. 6 Browns in the wild-card round of the playoffs at Heinz Field next week.

With the AFC North locked up a week ago, the Steelers rested quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and five other starters as the Browns earned their first playoff berth in 18 seasons.

And now? Another meeting against the Browns -- the most important one of the season -- looms large.

As ESPN.com's Brooke Pryor reminded readers, the Steelers blew out the Browns 38-7 in the regular-season meeting at Heinz Field in Week 6, ending a four-game win streak by the Browns. Though the Steelers played without Roethlisberger, center Maurkice Pouncey, tight end Eric Ebron, outside linebacker T.J. Watt, defensive tackle Cam Heyward and cornerback Joe Haden, along with a couple of other starters, they kept Sunday's game close through the fourth quarter.

They got a strong performance by Mason Rudolph, who stretched the field with deep, accurate throws and set a career high with 315 passing yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

"We were playing and playing to win," head coach Mike Tomlin said. "Pressure is ever present -- you are either feeling it or applying it. It was our goal today to apply it so that was to be aggressive, particularly with the downfield throws. I thought Mason's performance was great."

Rudolph pulled the Steelers within two points with a 47-yard touchdown throw to Diontae Johnson with less than two minutes remaining, but the ensuing two-point conversion throw was too high and went out of the back of the end zone. Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield picked up a first down with a minute remaining to seal the win.

Even with a loss, the Steelers got a strong performance by their backup quarterback, who still has a strong shot to be the future of the organization. And they escaped without any significant injuries -- though the availability of Haden, Ebron and Cassius Marsh is in doubt with the trio being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Saturday.

Fortunately, the now-rested Roethlisberger has made 21 playoff starts, and the departure of Tom Brady to the NFC makes him the dean of AFC playoff quarterbacks. Wherever you stand on his arm strength and effectiveness, he'll bring a level of understanding that no other AFC team will have the benefit of having.

The next-most experienced AFC quarterback is the Colts' Philip Rivers. That should bring some level of advantage to the Steelers.

Still, the Steelers have played one half of playoff-caliber football since the start of December. That came in the second half of their Week 16 victory over the Colts, when they overcame a 24-7 deficit to win 28-24. Otherwise, they barely beat a severely undermanned Ravens team in Week 12 and lost three consecutive game before ending with Sunday's meaningless matchup (for them) against the Browns.

That's pretty much the opposite of how you would want to enter the postseason, in part because of the poor play and largely because of the deficiencies it exposed with Roethlisberger and the passing game in general.

It would help if they could get the running game on track.

James Conner got off to a better start against the Browns on Sunday, carrying the ball four times for 22 yards in the first quarter -- eclipsing his total in each of the past two games. Conner finished with nine carries for 37 yards -- still a low total -- but he showed some stronger runs, including a 9-yard carry.

The Steelers need more of that against the Browns this week.

Bigger picture, the Steelers beat the Browns by 31 points in the teams' first matchup this season, and their backups played the Browns pretty tough in Week 17. ...

Also of interest. ... If he experienced any rookie wall this season, Chase Claypool proved he's well through it with a five catch, 101-yard, one-touchdown game Sunday. Claypool disappeared for a stretch late in the season as Tomlin limited his snaps to keep him from getting too worn out with the playoffs on the horizon. Sunday marked Claypool's first 100-yard game since he put up 110 receiving yards and scored four touchdowns against the Philadelphia Eagles on Oct. 11.

Claypool scored his ninth receiving touchdown of the season, most among all rookies, on the 28-yard grab in the fourth quarter -- also good for his 11th score of the season, which is tied for most among all rookies, regardless of position. The 11 scores are tied for sixth by a rookie receiver since 1970, and the touchdown grab tied him with Louis Lipps (1984) for first among Steelers rookie single-season receiving touchdowns.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Josh Dobbs
RBs: James Conner, Benny Snell, Anthony McFarland Jr., Jaylen Samuels, Wendell Smallwood
WRs: Diontae Johnson, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool, James Washington, Ray-Ray McCloud
TEs: Vance McDonald, Zach Gentry, Eric Ebron

Seattle Seahawks

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 January 2021

According to ESPN.com's Brady Henderson, the obvious caveat to the Seahawks' defensive turnaround is that it has come against below-average or backup quarterbacks, raising questions of how real it is and what will happen if they run into Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers or New Orleans' Drew Brees in the 2020 NFL playoffs.

But Henderson was quick to add none of that will matter unless Seattle's offense can hold up its end of the bargain.

A lot has changed since quarterback Russell Wilson and Co. began the season on fire, carrying the Seahawks for the first two months while their defense set or threatened records for futility.

That role reversal continued for much of Sunday's regular-season finale at State Farm Stadium, where the Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers slugged their way through a defensive battle for three and a half quarters before Seattle pulled away late for a 26-23 win.

The Seahawks will head into the playoffs as the NFC's No. 3 seed and will host the Los Angeles Rams in the wild-card round at Lumen Field.

With quarterback Jared Goff's thumb injury keeping him out Sunday and threatening his availability for next weekend, the rubber match of Seahawks vs. Rams looks to be more of a challenge for Seattle's offense than its resurgent defense.

Remember, the Seahawks had the highest-scoring offense over the first nine weeks at 34 points per game. But entering Sunday, they were 16th since then at just over 22 points per game. Seattle had only 108 net yards midway through the third quarter before its offense came alive in the fourth quarter with two Wilson touchdown passes to Tyler Lockett and an Alex Collins rushing TD.

Wilson finished 20 of 36 for 181 yards and no turnovers while adding 29 yards in five carries.

Among the major factors in the Seahawks' cooldown was a surprising run of mistakes from quarterback Russell Wilson. Since Week 7, he ranked among the league's five most likely players to commit a turnover. As a testament to his odd season, Wilson finished his ninth NFL season with career highs in touchdown passes and interceptions.

Suffice it to say, the Seahawks need him at his best to make a deep playoff run.

They'll need Wilson to be on point against the sixth-seeded Rams on Saturday. Much of the pregame attention will be on whether Rams quarterback Jared Goff starts. But when the game begins, one of the keys will be how well Wilson handles the Rams' pass rush. He has handled pressure well this season, throwing 18 touchdown passes when under duress -- six more than any other quarterback has thrown since ESPN Stats and Information began tracking it in 2009.

And despite a perception that they were collapsing after a 5-0 start, the Seahawks' big picture never dramatically changed.

They entered Week 17 on a 5-1 run and move into the playoffs as one of NFC teams with the best chance to advance to the Super Bowl. And in a season when NFL road teams had the highest winning percentage in decades, the Seahawks managed to go 7-1 at Lumen Field -- despite not having paid attendance for a single game this season.

Also of interest. ... DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett each set a franchise record on a Seahawks drive early in the second quarter in Sunday's game against the 49ers.

Metcalf set a new record for single-season receiving yards with his four-yard catch on third-and-1 to move the chains. Metcalf now has 1,291 yards receiving -- besting Steve Largent's record of 1,287 yards in 1985.

Lockett got his 95th reception to set a new single-season franchise record. Doug Baldwin (2016) and Bobby Engram (2007) shared the previous record at 94. ...

Kicker Jason Myers hit 24 field goals this season on as many attempts, making him just the third kicker in NFL history to have 20 or more field goal attempts in a season without a miss, joining Indianapolis' Mike Vanderjagt, who went 37 for 37 in 2003, and Minnesota's Gary Anderson, who went 35 for 35 in 1998. Myers has made a team-record 35-consecutive field goals dating back to last season.

On the injury front. ... Pro Bowl safety Jamal Adams left midway through the fourth quarter because of a left shoulder injury and didn't return. Adams has been dealing with a shoulder injury since Week 10.

"We are going to have to wait all the way up to game day to figure that out," Carroll said Tuesday, via Gregg Bell of the Tacoma News Tribune. "Just judging from my general outlook, I'm positive."

Given the impact he has made on their defense in general and their pass rush in particular, Adams is one of the players the Seahawks can least afford to lose for the playoffs. His 9.5 sacks led the team in the regular season and were the most by a defensive back since sacks became an official stat in 1982.

Running back Carlos Hyde will be back this week after missing the 49ers game with a non-COVID-related illness, per Carroll. "Fresh legs," he said.

And finally. ... The Seahawks will have their right tackle back for Saturday's playoff game.

Seattle activated Brandon Shell off the reserve/COVID-19 list on Tuesday. Shell missed Sunday's victory over the 49ers, but was a close contact.

"He looks great, should be full speed and ready and we love having him back out there," Carroll said Tuesday, via Curtis Crabtree of Profootballtalk.com.

Shell has played only 11 games this season while dealing with an ankle sprain. He last played in Week 14 against the Jets, but played only 23 snaps before re-aggravating the injury. Shell was on track to return in Week 17, but was then put on the COVID-19 list.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Russell Wilson, Geno Smith
RBs: Chris Carson, Carlos Hyde, Rashaad Penny, DeeJay Dallas, Travis Homer
WRs: DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, David Moore, Freddie Swain, Penny Hart, Phillip Dorsett
TEs: Will Dissly, Jacob Hollister, Greg Olsen, Colby Parkinson

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 January 2021

With a 44-27 win over the Falcons, the Bucs won their fourth-straight game to clinch the fifth seed in the NFC with an 11-5 record. That's just the fourth 11-win season in franchise history. They'll play the winner of the NFC East, the Washington Football Team.

The Wild Card game will he played on Saturday night.

The Buccaneers will be without star inside linebacker Devin White at Washington because the NFL scheduled their game for Saturday and not Sunday, head coach Bruce Arians said Monday.

Arians also delivered some encouraging news on Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans, whom he called "day-to-day."

White was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Friday.

"It looks that way right now," Arians said of White not being able to play. "Was not overly excited about that. It could potentially cost us a couple players that would play on Sunday. We're still hoping."

The "hope" Arians is referring to does not include White -- as league rules make it impossible for him to be eligible to play -- but other players with injury, like Jeremiah Ledbetter, may be affected by the shortened timeline. He believes starting cornerback Carlton Davis will be back after missing the last two games with a groin injury. He indicated Shaq Barrett, who was deemed a close contact of White, will return, as Barrett has one more day left of his five-day testing and self-quarantining window and is eligible to return as long as he has continued to test negative.

But because of league rules, White, the Bucs' fifth-overall draft pick in 2019, who led the Bucs with 9.0 sacks this year, will be unable to play in the Bucs' first playoff game in 13 years. A league spokesperson told ESPN.com's Jenna Laine that any player who tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday and then again Friday would need 10 days of displaying no symptoms as well as clearance from a doctor before he can return.

The league spokesperson said the earliest that player could return, assuming there are no symptoms, would be Sunday, Jan. 10.

When he initially learned of the test result, White tweeted that he would be back for the playoffs, but he deleted the tweet shortly after, likely realizing that the NFL playoff scheduling might make that impossible.

Regarding Evans -- Arians said he experienced minimal swelling on his hyperextended left knee. He'll run in the pool today and Arians is hopeful that Evans can practice Thursday. Arians blamed the slick field conditions for Evans' injury but said the playing surface won't dictate the Bucs' decision this week for Evans. Washington's FedEx Field had a notoriously bad playing surface but was re-done this year.

"You're gonna play on whatever field they put you on, so you'd have to fight Mike to keep him [from playing]," Arians said. "If he can go, he don't give a crap about the field. But it's gonna be wet. It's gonna be in the high 30s. The ground will be slick, so it'll be moist like it always is up north this time of year."

Arians praised Evans' ability to play through an ankle injury earlier in the season.

"If he's 80 percent, we'd have to fight probably to keep him off the field," Arians said. "Him at 80 percent is probably better than a lot of guys at 100 so we'll see what he is and how he feels. But his leadership and his toughness -- when Chris Godwin was down, there was no way he was gonna stay out. He went out there on one leg and played about three games on one leg and still performed well."

Godwin agrees.

"I would not want to be the one telling Mike he can't go," Godwin said, via Greg Auman of The Athletic.

That said, if Evans can't play Saturday, Antonio Brown could have a much larger role in the Bucs offense.

Brown stepped into Evans' X receiver role Sunday and delivered his best game as a Buccaneer, catching 11 passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns -- earning himself a $250,000 bonus for reaching 45 receptions in the process.

Godwin picked up the pace as well. He caught five passes on seven targets for 133 receiving yards and two touchdowns Sunday.

What was most impressive about both Godwin and Brown is that with 8:00 left and the Falcons pulling within three points, they each scored touchdowns to put the game out of reach. Godwin's ability to concentrate and make plays against tight coverage, which you could see on his 29-yard touchdown catch against Foyesade Oluokun with less than 1 yard of separation between the two, is where he shines.

In addition, Laine notes that offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich loves to pair Godwin and Brown using the scissors and rub concepts and will often have Evans isolated on the other side of the formation. But we saw Scott Miller getting more involved on both ends of that Sunday in Evans' absence. Miller stepped into the Bucs' fourth receiver role this year and stands to get the most opportunities should Evans not be available, although Arians said it would take more than one guy to replace Evans.

Laine went on to stress that Just don't let Miller's diminutive size (5-f9, 174 pounds) fool you -- he's not Julian Edelman. He's a vertical guy who lines up outside and can blow by defenders. He clocked 20.84 miles per hour on his 48-yard touchdown grab against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 14, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, the second-fastest of any Bucs receiver this season.

The area where the Bucs would miss Evans most is in the red zone. With Tom Brady's precision as a thrower and Evans' monster catch radius and ability to make contested catches, those two took it to another level this year. Nine of Evans' franchise-record 13 touchdown catches came in the red zone. But that's where Rob Gronkowski can show his value.

The tight end is 3-of-4 on fade routes thrown to the end zone this season, with an average of 6.33 yards per reception on those plays. Gronkowski also has 11 postseason touchdown catches in the red zone since 2010, more than any other player in that span. He's been particularly valuable over the years on crossing routes.

Of course, Brady is the central figure here.

The quarterback has guided his teams to 30 playoff wins in his career, nearly twice as many as any other QB in NFL history. Brady has also won six Super Bowls. That experience seems pretty important for a franchise that is making its first playoff appearance in 13 years and doesn't have much institutional knowledge.

And by the way, Brady closed out the regular season on a high note. During the Buccaneers' 3-0 performance in Weeks 14-16, he ranked fourth in the league in QBR (84.2) and first in passing yards (934).

He also tied for first with eight touchdown passes.

Brady will have to deal with the type of defense that has given him fits in previous trips to the playoffs. Washington's defensive front has a chance to knock him off balance.

In addition, White's absence is definitely a concern.

But beyond that, even though the Buccaneers' defense has been the leverage point between winning and losing this season, it struggled in recent outings.

Through 16 weeks, it ranked No. 7 in the NFL by allowing 21.9 points per game. But that broke down to an average of 29.2 points per game in losses and 18.2 points per game in victories.

Which defense will show up in the playoffs?

For the record, the Buccaneers held a walkthrough rather than a full practice session on Tuesday and Arians said that Evans was a full participant. Arians also said that Evans would not have practiced if the team had been working as usual.

Arians said the same was true of Davis. Davis has missed the last two games with a groin injury.

The team remained without White and Barrett and defensive tackle Steve McLendon. Again, White won't be back this week while Barrett and McLendon likely will be.

You'll want to watch the daily postings of the NFL Injury/Practice report and the News and Views section of the site for any pertinent developments in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Tom Brady, Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Griffin
RBs: Ronald Jones, Leonard Fournette, LeSean McCoy, Ke'Shawn Vaughn, Kenjon Barner
WRs: Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Scott Miller, Justin Watson, Tyler Johnson, Jaydon Mickens
TEs: Rob Gronkowski, Cameron Brate, Antony Auclair, O.J. Howard

Tennessee Titans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 January 2021

The Titans on Sunday captured the AFC South crown with a heart-stopping 41-38 win over the Texans on a day when running back Derrick Henry eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark while establishing himself as the NFL's rushing leader for the second year in a row.

The Titans did it in dramatic fashion, winning on a field goal on the final play of the game.

"I'm just happy to be a part of this team, a part of this organization, be with my teammates, with the guys on this team," Henry said after the game. "They're my brothers. Great accomplishment for us collectively, and just glad we were able to finish with a W in the division, be able to keep playing. It got shaky at the end, but we all stuck together and was able to get it done."

It was a crazy ending for sure.

The Titans took the lead on a five-yard touchdown run by quarterback Ryan Tannehill with 1:42 left, but Texans kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn kicked a 50-yard field goal with 18 seconds left in regulation to make it 38-38.

Instead of taking a knee and playing for overtime, Tannehill connected on a 52-yard bomb to receiver A.J. Brown with just 10 seconds left. It set up Sam Sloman's 37-yard field goal on the final play of regulation to cap a wild ending. It gave the Titans their first AFC South title since the 2008 season.

"Our guys are a very resilient group," Tannehill said. "Been a bunch of games all year where we fought through adversity. It's nothing new for us. Obviously you don't like to let the lead go, but we were able to fight through. Guys believe in each other, this team, and as long as there is some time left, we're going to keep playing our tails off and try and win the game. That's when we did, and fortunately enough we were able to come away with the win."

Henry ran for 250 yards and two touchdowns in the contest, and he finished the season with 2,027 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Not since Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson with the Chargers in 2006-07 had a running back recorded back-to-back rushing titles. Henry had already realistically sewn up the rushing title, though, as he entered Sunday with 1,777 yards, which was 220 yards more than his closest competition, Minnesota Vikings standout Dalvin Cook. Cook missed Week 17 due to a family tragedy.

It was the third-straight game in which Houston allowed Henry to top 200 yards against it. In the Super Bowl era, no team had allowed one player to run for 200 yards versus them on three occasions, per NFL Research, before the Texans relinquished Henry's history-making performance.

King Henry has conquered another milestone and long will live the king in NFL lore.

Meanwhile, Tannehill threw for 216 yards and two touchdowns in the win, and Brown finished with 10 catches for 151 yards and a touchdown.

Even before kickoff, the Titans had clinched a playoff berth as a result of Miami's loss at Buffalo.

As a result of Sunday's win, they'll host the Ravens Sunday in the playoffs at Nissan Stadium. It will be the first home playoff game for the Titans since the 2008 season.

The Titans will look to follow the same approach that pushed them to the 2019 AFC Championship Game. They can pursue an early lead with the passing game -- which now boasts two big-play receivers in and Corey Davis -- and then use Henry to hold possession and maintain that lead.

The Titans ranked among the NFL's top five teams in scoring for most of the season using a similar method.

But they need their defense to show up.

The Titans are averaging 34.6 points in their past seven games, and the Ravens are averaging 37.2 in their past five. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Brown finished the 2020 season with 70 receptions for 1,075 yards and 11 touchdowns. He tied Drew Bennett (11 touchdowns in 2004) for the most touchdown catches in a season in the team's "Titans era" (since 1999), and in recording his fourth 100-yard game of 2020, he also became the 11th player to reach 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first two NFL seasons. He also became just the fifth NFL player since 1970 with at least 2,000 receiving yards and 19 receiving touchdowns in their initial two seasons.

On the flip side, Sunday was a undoubtedly a disappointing day for receiver Corey Davis, who battled, but dropped a handful of passes while catching five passes for 39 yards.

Davis finished the season just 16 yards short of 1,000 yards, and his impressive year-end totals look like this: 65 catches, 984 yards, five touchdowns.

"My stomach is sick for Corey," Tannehill said. "I really wanted him to reach his mark as well, but it doesn't take way what a season he's had. ..."

And finally. ... The game-winning field goal, of course, was made by the unheralded Sloman. By now, you probably know a little more about Sloman, who was signed to the practice squad in November.

Up until last week, Sloman hadn't practiced with the team. Instead, he worked out on his own while the rest of the team practiced. He was isolated for safety reasons, just in case kicker Stephen Gostkowski got injured, or got COVID-19.

Well, Gostkowski did end up on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.

So, Sloman practiced with the team a few days leading up to the game, but he didn't get a chance to work with his holder, punter Brett Kern, because he just came off the Reserve/COVID-19 list himself on Saturday.

On Sunday, Sloman kicked the game-winner from 37 yards out as time expired, and he was perfect on the day -- 2-for-2 on field goals, and 5-of-5 on PATs.

Sloman admitted after the game he still hadn't met some of his teammates. "It's been awesome to see everybody so excited for me after that last kick," Sloman said.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Ryan Tannehill, Logan Woodside
RBs: Derrick Henry, Jeremy McNichols, Senorise Perry, Darrynton Evans
WRs: A.J. Brown, Corey Davis, Kalif Raymond, Nick Westbrook_Ikhine, Cody Hollister, Adam Humphries
TEs: Jonnu Smith, Anthony Firkser, Geoff Swaim, MyCole Pruitt

Washington Football Team

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 January 2021

Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera has a short message for anyone upset that Philadelphia benched quarterback Jalen Hurts in the fourth quarter of a close game: Tough.

While some have said the move helped Washington beat the Eagles 20-14 on Sunday night to clinch the NFC East and prevent the New York Giants from winning the division, Rivera said he doesn't want to hear any such talk.

"You play who's out there," he said. "I'm not apologizing for winning."

Washington won the division with a 7-9 record, finishing a game ahead of the Giants. The Eagles, already playing without 10 starters for various reasons, took out Hurts to play seldom-used Nate Sudfeld with Washington ahead 17-14.

After the game, Eagles coach Doug Pederson said, "That was my decision solely. Nate has been here for four years and I felt he deserved an opportunity to get some snaps. If there's anything out there that thinks I was not trying to win the game ... [Zach] Ertz is out there, Brandon Graham is out there, Darius Slay is out there. All of our top guys are still on the field at the end."

The move led to others criticizing Pederson. But Rivera does not want Pederson's decision to detract from what Washington accomplished, needing to win five of its last seven games to earn the title.

"Nobody complained when Pittsburgh did what they did against Cleveland," Rivera said, referring to the Steelers' decision to rest starters, including Ben Roethlisberger, in a game that had playoff implications for others. "It's been a hard road for us and nobody seems to care about that. Nobody cared two weeks ago when we didn't have some of our best players. Nobody cared last week when we didn't have them, so why should we be concerned if a coach decides to do something that's best for his team?"

As ESPN.com's John Keim noted, Washington quarterback Alex Smith had to miss two games because of a strained right calf, leading to consecutive losses. Rivera benched Dwayne Haskins against Carolina in Week 16, turning to Taylor Heinicke, who last played in 2018 and was out of the league until Washington signed him on Dec. 8.

Receiver Terry McLaurin missed the Panthers game with a sprained ankle. Rivera endured seven weeks of cancer treatments during the season, leaving him fatigued and often needing to leave the facility several hours earlier than usual.

So the Eagles pulling Hurts in favor of Sudfeld wasn't the thing Rivera focused on.

"A lot of people are happy about [the move], a lot of people aren't happy about it and that's just tough," Rivera said. "So many things have happened in this world that are tough, that are hard. This is just a game that we're playing, and we play the game as it comes to us. And I'm not going to apologize.

"You apologize for losing in the playoffs, but you don't apologize for getting in."

Washington will host the fifth-seeded Buccaneers in the wild-card round. This game appears to be a mismatch on paper. With Chase Young, Montez Sweat and Jonathan Allen making it difficult for opponents to maintain a clean pocket, Washington is built precisely like some of the teams that have given Tom Brady trouble in his career.

Among other things, the Football Team is ranked in the NFL's top-10 defense in contact against opposing quarterbacks. The front four is the strength of the team, and we all know if you hit Brady a few times early, the game can be much different.

Despite all that, Washington was a seven-win team that beat only one team with a winning record: the Steelers in Week 13.

Worse, it seems inordinately reliant on Smith, whose mere presence in the lineup seems a miracle. There is just such a small margin of error for this team.

Washington is the lowest-scoring team in the playoffs, but catching the Buccaneers before linebacker Devin White can return from the reserve/COVID-19 list is a plus.

Worth noting. ... With Smith still not at full speed, Rivera said they might turn to a unique solution: Rotating their quarterbacks.

The calf injury clearly limited Smith's mobility against Philadelphia. If that happens Saturday, Rivera said the team will consider using two quarterbacks. That would mean alternating Smith with Heinicke.

"We have to definitely look at that," Rivera said. "The truth of the matter is we play a very aggressive defense this week; it's something we most certainly have to look at."

As Keim notes, Tampa has blitzed 262 times, second most in the NFL behind Baltimore, according to ESPN Stats and Information. The Bucs have recorded 24 of their 48 sacks via blitzes, while also causing 10 of their 25 takeaways. They've also surrendered a league-high 14 touchdowns against the blitz.

Heinicke has played in this system for three years with two other teams -- Minnesota and Carolina. He showed the ability to move around in his appearance against Carolina, which might come in handy Saturday.

Rivera said that if they went this route, they wouldn't need two game plans.

They originally valued Heinicke because of his knowledge of this system. However, Rivera said, they might tap into different aspects of the plan for each quarterback.

"To have two separate game plans, you're asking for way too much of your team," Rivera said. "That's why it's important to have quarterbacks that know your system, understand your system and have been a part of your system.

"I couldn't tell you whether we want to do it or don't want to do it," Rivera said. "I couldn't tell you if there's value to doing it. I just know we'll address it when it happens."

Worth noting, they wouldn't have rotated them at Tuesday's practice.

That was the word from the team as Smith was listed as a non-participant due to the calf injury. The caveat to Tuesday's listing is that there wasn't actually a practice session. Washington stretched and then had a short walkthrough as they kicked off preparations for Saturday's game against the Buccaneers.

Running back Antonio Gibson (toe) and McLaurin (ankle) were also estimated to sit out practice, although reporters at the open portion of the session noted that both men stretched with the team.

Linebacker Thomas Davis (knee) and defensive tackle Jonathan Allen (not-injury related) were also listed as out of practice. Linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis (ankle) and guard Brandon Scherff (shoulder) would have been limited participants.

You'll want to watch the daily postings of the NFL Injury/Practice report and the News and Views section of the site for any pertinent developments in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Alex Smith, Taylor Heinicke, Kyle Allen
RBs: Antonio Gibson, J.D. McKissic, Peyton Barber, Javon Leake, Lamar Miller, Bryce Love
WRs: Terry McLaurin, Cam Sims, Isaiah Wright, Steven Sims, Antonio Gandy-Golden
TEs: Logan Thomas, Jeremy Sprinkle