AFC West

NFL Draft 2017: NFL draft capsules for AFC teams / NFL draft capsules for NFC teams

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1, 12. CLEVELAND BROWNS (1-15)

LAST SEASON: Following 0-14 start under first-year coach Hue Jackson, Browns barely avoided becoming only second team to lose all 16 games. Owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam vowed to be patient with new front office and coaching staff and were mostly true to word as team underwent minimal offseason changes. Cleveland’s biggest issue remains as it has been for 15 years, no long-term answer at quarterback. Defense isn’t much better, ranking 31st overall and lacking impact players. Fan base is disillusioned with front office’s plan.

THEY NEED: QB, DL, S, WRs.

THEY DON’T NEED: Another blown draft.

POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: DE/LB Myles Garrett, Texas A&M.

OUTLOOK: By shrewdly stockpiling assets, Browns control top of draft with two first-round picks and five in top 65. Cleveland is desperate to find franchise quarterback, but this might not be year to reach for one with early pick or by trading up. Unless they are blown away by deal, Garrett appears to be lock. There’s strong interest in North Carolina QB Mitchell Trubisky, local kid who could slip to 12 if he gets past Jets at No. 6. Browns have assets to be active, but more prudent approach this time would be to focus on picking quality players. Browns loaded up on offensive linemen in free agency to better protect passer. QB Brock Osweiler, acquired in trade at opening of free agency from Houston, could be dealt if team takes quarterback in early rounds.

4. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (3-13)

LAST SEASON: Finished with double-digit losses for sixth consecutive year and ended one of worst coaching tenures in NFL history by firing Gus Bradley with two games remaining. Jaguars hired interim coach Doug Marrone in January and brought back Tom Coughlin to oversee every aspect of football operations. Marrone, Coughlin and GM Dave Caldwell all got three-year contracts, a clear indication owner Shad Khan believes team is close to competing for playoff berth.

THEY NEED: RB, TE, OL, DL.

THEY DON’T NEED: CB, LB.

POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: RB Leonard Fournette, LSU; DE Jonathan Allen, Alabama; DE Solomon Thomas, Stanford.

OUTLOOK: Coughlin has final say in draft, and 70-year-old executive is expected to make bold picks that will help right away. Coughlin wants to fortify both lines of scrimmage and improve running game, which he believes will benefit embattled QB Blake Bortles. So Fournette makes sense. Jaguars whiffed repeatedly (DE Derrick Harvey, OT Eugene Monroe, DL Tyson Alualu, QB Blaine Gabbert, WR Justin Blackmon, OT Luke Joeckel, maybe Bortles, maybe DE Dante Fowler) while picking in top 10 in each of last nine years. But they hit on cornerback Jalen Ramsey with fifth overall pick in 2016 and hope to find similar success. Having added DE Calais Campbell, CB A.J. Bouye and SS Barry Church in free agency, Jacksonville appears poised to address offensive needs in draft.

5, 18. TENNESSEE TITANS (9-7)

LAST SEASON: In Mike Mularkey’s first full season as coach, Titans tripled win total and just missed first AFC South title since 2008. Marcus Mariota proved he was no one-year wonder with sixth-highest passer rating for quarterback in first two seasons. His 95.6 passer rating was third best in franchise history. With Pro Bowl running back DeMarco Murray, Titans ranked 11th in total offense and led NFL at scoring touchdowns inside 20. Yet, first-year coordinator Dick LeBeau couldn’t cover up poor secondary enough as Titans ranked 30th against pass. Titans also couldn’t overcome 2-4 record inside division.

THEY NEED: CB, WR, TE, S, LB.

THEY DON’T NEED: QB, RB, LT, RT.

POSSIBLE FIRST PICKS: S Jamal Adams, LSU; LB Reuben Foster, Alabama; S Malik Hooker, Ohio State; WR Corey Davis, W. Michigan; TE O.J. Howard, Alabama; WR Mike Williams, Clemson; WR John Ross, Washington.

OUTLOOK: Second-year general manager Jon Robinson made it very clear year ago by trading away No. 1 overall draft pick that he is open to dealing. That brought Titans fifth pick overall from Rams, and sliding down could allow him to get into second round, where Tennessee currently has no selections. Robinson already has bolstered secondary in free agency with CB Logan Ryan from New England, CB Demontre Hurst from Chicago, and S Johnathan Cyprien from Jacksonville. But CB Jason McCourty is gone from area that needs better depth and competition. Titans let WR Kendall Wright walk in free agency and need targets for Mariota. With Anthony Fasano leaving for Miami, Mularkey needs more tight ends.

6. NEW YORK JETS (5-11)

LAST SEASON: After promising first season under Todd Bowles in 2015 that ended win shy of playoffs at 10-6, Jets were mess last year, with poor quarterback play major reason. Ryan Fitzpatrick followed impressive 2015 season of team record 31 TD passes with brutal campaign in which he was benched twice and finished with 12 TDs and 17 INTs. He and Geno Smith are gone, Bryce Petty did little to establish himself in limited opportunity before shoulder injury ended season. As QBs struggled, passing game suffered as Brandon Marshall dealt with injuries and had fewest catches (59) since rookie season, and Eric Decker played only three games before shoulder injury. Stunning decline of Darrelle Revis led to extremely leaky secondary. Second-year DL Leonard Williams was one of team’s few bright spots, making first Pro Bowl after leading team with seven sacks.

THEY NEED: CB, QB, TE, LB, RG, LT, S.

THEY DON’T NEED: LG, DE, LS.

POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: CB Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State; QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson; RB Leonard Fournette, LSU; QB Mitchell Trubisky, North Carolina; QB Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech; S Malik Hooker, Ohio State; S Jamal Adams, LSU; TE O.J. Howard, Alabama.

OUTLOOK: With Jets in clear rebuilding mode and GM Mike Maccagnan looking toward future, Bowles in unenviable situation of coaching for present because of tenuous job situation, uncertain if he’ll be back if New York endures another lost season — despite lack of experience on roster. With so many needs, Maccagnan has said covets more picks and Jets could trade out of No. 6 spot. Despite signing well-traveled veteran Josh McCown, Jets still could draft quarterback in early or middle rounds to compete with Petty, McCown and Christian Hackenberg in camp. Side note: No. 6 spot has been mixed bag lately for Jets. In 2015 they took Williams, who has looked promising. But previous sixth pick came in 2008, when they selected DE Vernon Gholston — largely regarded as one of franchise’s biggest draft busts.

7. LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (5-11)

LAST SEASON: Chargers have won only nine games in two seasons, and now must try to stand out in crowded and competitive Los Angeles market after leaving San Diego because voters refused to help fund new stadium. Coach Mike McCoy was fired and replaced with Anthony Lynn from Buffalo Bills. There were few bright spots in 2016, such as DE Joey Bosa winning Defensive Rookie of Year Award and RB Melvin Gordon rebounding from miserable rookie season. But there are still problems on offensive line, and stars such as WR Keenan Allen and CB Jason Verrett can’t stay healthy.

THEY NEED: S, WR, DL, OL, QB

THEY DON’T NEED: TE, CB, K, P.

POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: S Malik Hooker, Ohio State; S Jamal Adams, LSU.

OUTLOOK: Noting that Rivers is getting “long in the tooth,” Lynn said he’d like GM Tom Telesco to draft quarterback so he can learn under Rivers, who is under contract through 2019. “Philip is the ultimate pro in my opinion,” Lynn said. “We have a good situation for a young quarterback that doesn’t have to come in and play right now. He can sit, watch.” Said Rivers: “We’re going to at some point. I’m not going to be here forever. … I certainly don’t fear that day when that comes whatsoever. I don’t take it as my role, ‘Oh, we drafted a young guy, your eventual replacement so get him ready.’ But at the same time I enjoy sharing both things I’ve learned and letting the young guy see how I’ve done things. At the same time, shoot, I’m always going to compete. All of us have to compete and never feel comfortable. Should this be the year there’s a young guy in here, he’ll come in here and be in what I would think would be a pretty good situation.”

9. CINCINNATI BENGALS (6-9-1)

LAST SEASON: Bengals’ run of five straight playoff appearances — and first-round losses — came to end. Offensive line struggled with Cedric Ogbuehi in first season at right tackle; he wound up benched for a while. Defense started showing some age, slipping to middle-of-pack status. Line suffered two significant hits in free agency when left tackle Andrew Whitworth and right guard Kevin Zeitler left. Bengals also declined to hold on to defensive tackle Domata Peko, but supported cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones after his latest arrest, which left him at risk of another suspension from NFL. Kicker job is open to competition.

THEY NEED: DE, LB, OT, OG, RB.

THEY DON’T NEED: QB, P, C.

POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: DE Jonathan Allen, Alabama; LB Reuben Foster, Alabama.

OUTLOOK: Coach Marvin Lewis is entering final year of contract — he and front office couldn’t reach accommodation on extension. Bengals plan to let young, inexperienced players take on bigger roles, which implies some growing pains. Offensive line is most glaring concern, with Ogbuehi expected to move to left tackle after rough season on other side of line. With OL struggling, QB Andy Dalton was under pressure and running game never developed any consistency. Offense should be better with A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard back from significant injuries, assuming line can hold its own.

10. BUFFALO BILLS (7-9)

LAST SEASON: Rex Ryan’s inability to build bully, particularly on defense, led to coach being fired in final week of second season. Behind LeSean McCoy, Buffalo led NFL in rushing for second consecutive year, but inconsistent and injury-depleted passing attack sputtered, contributing to franchise extending playoff drought to 17 seasons — longest active streak among North America’s four major sports. Bills turned to detail-oriented Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott to take over as first-time head coach.

THEY NEED: CB, WR, LB.

THEY DON’T NEED: S, DE, OL.

POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: WR Mike Williams, Clemson; CB Gareon Conley, Ohio State; LB Reuben Foster, Alabama; QB Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech.

OUTLOOK: Pressure on GM Doug Whaley to deliver after spotty drafting history and questions whether he’s had difficulty working with team’s two previous coaches, Ryan and Doug Marrone. Whaley’s public voice has been diminished with McDermott now mostly speaking on team-related issues, including draft. With only six picks, don’t rule out Bills trading down to add selections. Though QB Tyrod Taylor returns for third season as starter, difficult to envision Bills being in position to contend immediately under fourth coach in six seasons and introducing yet another new system.

15. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (8-8)

LAST SEASON: Andrew Luck fought through injuries for second straight season and even though he finished schedule, Indy still missed playoffs. Team owner Jim Irsay’s solution: fire general manager Ryan Grigson, hire Chris Ballard and focus more heavily on fixing defense. During coach Chuck Pagano’s five-year tenure, Colts’ defense has never been ranked in top half of NFL. Retirement of Robert Mathis, Colts’ career sacks leader, won’t help, either. But Colts’ revamped offensive line showed signs of progress in last month of season.

THEY NEED: DE/OLB, CB, RB, G.

THEY DON’T NEED: C, K.

POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: LB Haason Reddick, Temple; LB Reuben Foster, Alabama; G Forrest Lamp, Western Kentucky; OT Ryan Ramczyk, Wisconsin; DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee; CB Gareon Conley, Ohio State.

OUTLOOK: Ballard filled some holes by signing solid, mostly reasonably priced free agents. But Indy still needs defensive playmakers. Top priorities appear to be finding young, legitimate pass rusher and starting cornerback. That’s not all. Among other needs, Ballard needs successor for soon to be 34-year-old running back Frank Gore, and possible backup for Luck, still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. Colts should try to strengthen right side of offensive line and may add to linebacker group that already has four new faces. Deep defensive draft gives Ballard plenty of options, including trading back to collect more picks.

16. BALTIMORE RAVENS (8-8)

LAST SEASON: Baltimore won its first three games, then lost four straight and finished by dropping three of last four to miss playoffs for second year in row. Joe Flacco passed for career-high 4,317 yards but threw 15 interceptions and received little support from running game that ranked 28th. K Justin Tucker led team with 141 points, RB Terrance West was second with only 36. Defense ranked seventh but yielded 114 points over final four games, including 21 in fourth quarter of pivotal 31-27 loss to Steelers. Only six teams had fewer sacks than Ravens (31). Baltimore placed 18 players on injured reserve, including five CBs.

THEY NEED: CB, DE, WR, OT, C, FB.

THEY DON’T NEED: QB, TE, RB, S.

POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: WR Corey Davis, Western Michigan; WR John Ross, Washington; OT Ryan Ramczyk, Wisconsin; LB Charles Harris, Missouri; CB Marlon Humphrey, Alabama.

OUTLOOK: GM Ozzie Newsome has plenty of holes to fill, so he should have plenty of options with 16th overall pick. Retirement of Steve Smith leaves void at WR, but despite Newsome’s keen eye for talent on draft day he’s been off mark at that position with No. 1s (Travis Taylor, Mark Clayton, Breshad Perriman). Newsome fortified defensive backfield by signing free agents Brandon Carr and Tony Jefferson, but Ravens desperately need depth at CB because Jimmy Smith has had difficulty staying healthy. Release of LB Elvis Dumervil and advancing age of LB Terrell Suggs leaves Baltimore in dire need of someone who can hunt down quarterbacks.

20. DENVER BRONCOS (9-7)

LAST SEASON: For first time since John Elway returned as GM in 2011, Broncos failed to reach playoffs last season. He found himself conducting his third search for head coach after Gary Kubiak stepped down over health concerns just two years into job. Elway hired Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, who promoted secondary coach Joe Woods to replace D-coordinator Wade Phillips, and hired ex-Chargers head coach Mike McCoy to run offense. After dominating AFC West with five consecutive titles, Broncos slipped behind Chiefs and Raiders following Peyton Manning’s retirement. DeMarcus Ware retired this year but Denver is still loaded on defense. They have to fix offense that was inept much of last season.

THEY NEED: OT, LB, CB, RB, TE, WR, KR.

THEY DON’T NEED: C, QB, K, P, G, S.

POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: S Jabrill Peppers, Michigan; LT Garett Bolles, Utah; LT Ryan Ramczyk, Wisconsin; RB Christian McCaffrey, Stanford.

OUTLOOK: Elway whiffed on attempts to sign DT Earl Mitchell and DE Calais Campbell in free agency. But he did address run defense with additions of Domata Peko and Zach Kerr. On offense, he jettisoned LT Russell Okung and added some nastiness to O-line by signing free agents Ron Leary and Menelik Watson. Elway could land left tackle in first round but this draft is so deep on defense it wouldn’t be surprising if he scraps plans and grabs another highly rated defender like when Bradley Roby and Shane Ray slipped down in previous drafts.

22. MIAMI DOLPHINS (10-7)

LAST SEASON: New coach Adam Gase led Miami to first playoff berth since 2008, but 35-14 loss to Patriots in regular-season finale and 30-12 first-round playoff loss at Pittsburgh showed Dolphins are still far from championship. Offense began to jell in October, but defense allowed franchise-record 6,122 yards, and draft emphasis will be to find help for new defensive coordinator Matt Burke. There’s excellent core in middle with DT Ndamukong Suh and S Reshad Jones, but Dolphins are in dire need of defensive help on flanks. They had decent 2016 draft, first one with trio of Gase, vice president Mike Tannenbaum and general manager Chris Grier making decisions. Picks included top choice Laremy Tunsil, who looks to be anchor of OL for years to come. But to gain ground on Patriots, they’ll need to do even better this time.

THEY NEED: CB, S, LB, DE, G, DT, C.

THEY DON’T NEED: QB, T, TE, RB, WR.

POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: DE Taco Charlton, Michigan; S Jabrill Peppers, Michigan; G Forrest Lamp, Western Kentucky; LB Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt; CB Tre’Davious White, LSU; DT Malik McDowell, Michigan State.

OUTLOOK: Dolphins invested heavily in core this offseason. WR Kenny Stills and DE Andre Branch accepted offers to remain rather than test free agency, G Jermon Bushrod re-signed, and Jones signed $60 million, five-year extension. Miami acquired LB Lawrence Timmons, G Ted Larsen, TE Anthony Fasano and S Nate Allen via free agency, and added TE Julius Thomas and DE William Hayes in trades. With Tunsil moving from guard to left tackle to replace departed Branden Albert, Dolphins need help at guard, but otherwise they’ll focus on defense in early rounds. They have only three of first 165 picks, compounding challenge of filling multitude of needs. But with good draft, Miami might even win playoff game for first time since 2000.

24. OAKLAND RAIDERS (12-5)

LAST SEASON: Raiders ended 13-year playoff drought behind strong play of QB Derek Carr and DE Khalil Mack. Broken leg for Carr in penultimate game of regular season cost Oakland chance at division title and sent Raiders home early with first-round playoff loss at Houston. But there was enough progress before that for team to build on heading into 2017.

THEY NEED: CB, LB, RB, DT.

THEY DON’T NEED: QB, OL.

POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: LB Jarrad Davis, Florida; LB Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt; CB Marlon Humphrey, Alabama.

OUTLOOK: GM Reggie McKenzie has been mostly quiet this offseason, with most notable additions being TE Jared Cook, OL Marshall Newhouse and WR-KR Cordarrelle Patterson. Raiders have done little to address deficiencies on defense, which will likely be focus in draft. Top need will be finding linebacker who can shore up run defense and not be exploited in coverage. Improving interior pass rush and finding slot cornerback also will be high priority. One big need on offense is at running back, where starter Latavius Murray left in free agency and has not been replaced.

25. HOUSTON TEXANS (10-8)

LAST SEASON: Houston overcame J.J. Watt missing most of season with back injury to go 9-7 and win weak AFC South for second straight year. Emergence of 2014 top overall pick Jadeveon Clowney helped ease loss of Watt and allow Houston to lead NFL in yards allowed. After getting blown out by Kansas City in wild-card round in 2016, Texans were ousted in divisional round by New England largely because of another ineffective performance by quarterback Brock Osweiler. Osweiler was inconsistent throughout first season in Houston and after season team decided $72 million investment was mistake and shipped him to Cleveland.

THEY NEED: QB, RT, S, CB.

THEY DON’T NEED: RB, DE, WR.

POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: QB Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech; QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson; QB Mitchell Trubisky, North Carolina; QB DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame; OL Cam Robinson, Alabama.

OUTLOOK: When Tony Romo chose broadcasting over another NFL season, it left Texans in desperate need of another quarterback to compete with Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden for starting job. Many of quarterbacks that would be good in system, like Mahomes and Watson, could be gone when they pick, so they’d have to trade up to snag one. Houston did not sign any outside free agents, lost starting cornerback A.J. Bouye and safety Quintin Demps, leaving team with need in secondary. Could also use reinforcements at right tackle with starter Derek Newton recovering from injuries to both knees and unlikely to be ready for opener.

27. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (12-5)

LAST SEASON: Chiefs won AFC West for first time since 2010, then were dumped by Pittsburgh in divisional round of playoffs. Coach Andy Reid and GM John Dorsey shelled out big money in offseason to keep SS Eric Berry and solidify other spots, but salary cap problems mean they will turn to draft to fill in rest of holes. Chiefs believe they have window to compete for Super Bowl in next couple years, so look for Reid and Dorsey to seek immediate help.

THEY NEED: RB, LB, WR, CB, OL, QB.

THEY DON’T NEED: TE, DL, FB, S.

POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: LB Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt; RB Christian McCaffrey, Stanford; WR Zay Jones, East Carolina; QB Pat Mahomes, Texas Tech; CB Kevin King, Washington; LB Jarrad Davis, Florida.

OUTLOOK: Chiefs desperately need more playmakers after WR Jeremy Maclin underperformed last season. McCaffrey is ideal pass-catching RB for Reid’s modified West Coast offense, while Jones would give Chiefs vertical threat they haven’t had in years. But Chiefs also need potential replacement for LB Derrick Johnson, coming off second Achilles tendon surgery and nearing end of his career, though that may be available for Kansas City in later rounds. Dorsey and Reid have shown willingness to trade down, so that may be option if top targets are off board, but Chiefs have 10 selections and are prime candidates to move up this year.

30. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (13-6)

LAST SEASON: Steelers emerged from midseason malaise to rip off seven straight wins to capture AFC North for second time in three seasons and reach AFC championship. That surge was due in part to rapid maturation of rookies CB Artie Burns, S Sean Davis and DT Javon Hargrave, team’s first three picks in 2016 draft. Pittsburgh’s one-sided loss to New England in playoffs still much work to be done to break New England’s hammerlock on AFC. Tom Brady shredded Pittsburgh secondary (384 yards, three TDs) while getting sacked just twice.

THEY NEED: OLB, ILB, CB, S, TE.

THEY DON’T NEED: OL, QB.

POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: ILB Jarrad Davis, Florida; CB Marlon Humphrey, Alabama; ILB Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt); OLB Takkarist McKinley (UCLA).

OUTLOOK: Steelers need to produce pressure off edge — James Harrison isn’t going to play forever — and another big-time cornerback like Burns who isn’t afraid to be matched up one on one with other team’s top receiver. Upgrade at inside linebacker would help, too, after Lawrence Timmons left for Miami in free agency and New England outbid Steelers to hang on to Dont’a Hightower. They have eight picks in all, so finding depth lower in draft at running back and wide receiver shouldn’t be issue. Talent that can make immediate impact like top three last year is must. While QB Ben Roethlisberger hinted at retirement in offseason, finding his eventual replacement isn’t top priority when window to win with Roethlisberger is still open. If they take WR, it may be sign they don’t feel Martavis Bryant is long-term solution. Bryant remains suspended for violating league’s substance abuse policy, though he is eligible to seek reinstatement.

96. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (17-2)

LAST SEASON: Patriots won their second Super Bowl in three years, overcoming 25-point deficit in last 17 minutes to beat Atlanta. It was their 14th straight year with at least 10 wins and seventh in row with 12 or more. It also was eighth straight playoff appearance and 13th in 14 seasons. This was despite playing first four games without quarterback Tom Brady because of “Deflategate” suspension. Backup Jimmy Garoppolo was injured in second game, and third-stringer Jacoby Brissett started next two. They went 3-1 before Brady returned. Only game five-time Super Bowl champion lost was in Week 10 against Seattle in rematch of 2015 title game.

THEY NEED: To make decisions on whether to keep Garoppolo, RB LeGarrette Blount and CB Malcolm Butler; OL and DL help.

THEY DON’T NEED: QB, RB, WR, CB.

POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: No first- or second-round pick. OT Antonio Garcia, Troy; DT Elijah Qualls, Washington.

OUTLOOK: After sending No. 32 overall pick to New Orleans in trade for WR Brandin Cooks, and 64th overall pick to Carolina for Kony Early, acquiring TE Dwayne Allen in trade, and signing CB Stephon Gilmore as free agent and RB Mike Gillislee to offer sheet, defending Super Bowl champions can look at draft to build depth instead of plugging holes. Coach Bill Belichick likes it that way, anyway. Look for Patriots to trade Butler to New Orleans to get back No. 32 pick, then to trade down for more picks in later rounds when they can take complementary players and long-term projects. One of those could be another quarterback if Belichick decides to cash out on Garoppolo now rather than keep him around to sit while Brady continues to defy his age.

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NFL draft capsules for NFC teams

2. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (2-14)

LAST SEASON: 49ers tied franchise record for losses, leading to organizational overhaul. Longtime GM Trent Baalke was fired, along with first-year coach Chip Kelly, and replaced by first-time GM John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan. Team struggled just about everywhere in 2016. Blaine Gabbert or Colin Kaepernick failed to provide strong quarterback play, Niners lacked any big-play receivers, defense set franchise worsts for most points, yards and yards rushing allowed in single season.

THEY NEED: QB, CB, WR, OL, pass rusher.

THEY DON’T NEED: RB.

POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: CB Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State; DL Solomon Thomas, Stanford; S Jamal Adams, LSU.

OUTLOOK: Niners could go in any direction considering how many needs they have. Lynch was busy in free agency, but most acquisitions are placeholders rather than foundation pieces and shouldn’t alter draft strategy. With Brian Hoyer in place, San Francisco doesn’t need quarterback who can step right in as starter, will likely look for someone in first few rounds as future starter. Receiver also could be taken early, which would be change in strategy from Baalke’s approach when team rarely took skill position players in first three rounds. Other most pressing needs are on defense, where pass rusher and cornerbacks are in short supply.

3. CHICAGO BEARS (3-13)

LAST SEASON: Coming off its worst season in decades, Bears finished with lowest win total in non-strike year since 1973 team went 3-11 and posted their most losses since 1969. Also missed playoffs for ninth time in 10 seasons and took big step back in Year 2 under coach John Fox and GM Ryan Pace. Steady stream of players going down, with 19 finishing season on injured reason, exposed lack of depth.

THEY NEED: S, CB, QB, DL, TE, WR.

THEY DON’T NEED: RB, RG, LG, C.

POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: S Jamal Adams, LSU; DE Jonathan Allen, Alabama; CB Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State; S Malik Hooker, Ohio State; QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson.

OUTLOOK: Pace did not pick QB in first two drafts even though he talked about taking one every year when he got job. That figures to change this time. Question is in which round. Signing Mike Glennon to replace Jay Cutler gives Bears leeway to wait rather than draft QB with No. 3 pick. Bears could take safety or edge rusher early to boost middle-of-road defense that ranked 27th against run. Chicago also figures to look for more help at WR given Alshon Jeffery’s departure in free agency and Kevin White’s inability to stay healthy his first two seasons. Same goes for TE with Zach Miller’s long injury history.

8. CAROLINA PANTHERS (6-10)

LAST SEASON: Carolina failed to make playoffs one year after representing NFC in Super Bowl. Reasons included dramatic drop-off in production from 2015 MVP Cam Newton. Newton struggled behind unsettled offensive line; coach Ron Rivera suggested recently those hits took toll on QB’s confidence. Panthers have addressed need at left tackle by adding free agent Matt Kalil, with hope that Michael Oher can return from concussion that cost him 13 games and slide over to play right tackle.

THEY NEED: RB, WR, DE, RT, TE.

THEY DON’T NEED: QB, CB, C, G.

POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: RB Christian McCaffrey, Stanford; RB Leonard Fournette, LSU; WR John Ross, Washington; TE O.J. Howard, Alabama; RB Dalvin Cook, Florida State; WR Mike Williams, Clemson; QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson.

OUTLOOK: Carolina made host of moves on first day of free agency, filling number of holes and freeing it up to take best available player. GM Dave Gettleman said he doesn’t feel he has to draft for need like in 2016, when he selected cornerbacks with first three picks. Panthers could use more weapons for Newton, including young running back to take some pressure off him in passing game. Veteran RB Jonathan Stewart is back, but he’s struggled with injuries; it’s time Panthers address backfield. Gettleman loves “hog mollies” — his affectionate term for big offensive and defensive linemen — so wouldn’t be surprise if he goes that direction. Wild card here could be Watson, especially with Newton battling back from shoulder surgery. Newton has served as mentor of sorts for Watson for years.

11. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (7-9)

LAST SEASON: New Orleans remained mired in mediocrity for third straight season for familiar reason: deficient defense. After ranking second to last in 2014 and 2015, unit improved only moderately in 2016 to 27th out of 32. Lack of depth was exposed by injuries of various severity to CBs P.J. Williams and Delvin Breaux; club’s top 2016 draft choice, DT Sheldon Rankins; top LB Dannell Ellerbe; and speedy edge pass rusher Hau’oli Kikaha, whom Saints hoped would make big jump in second season. Offense, as usual, was exceptional, ranking first. Seemingly ageless Drew Brees led NFL in yards passing at age 37. Rookie receiver Michael Thomas’ quick adjustment to pro game and ability to make difficult catches were evident early and Brees took advantage.

THEY NEED: DE, CB, S, OL, DL.

THEY DON’T NEED: QB, WR, TE, LB.

POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee; CB Gareon Conley, Ohio State; DE Taco Charlton, Michigan; DE Takkarist McKinley, UCLA; CB Quincy Wilson, Florida.

OUTLOOK: Often-secretive Saints coach Sean Payton readily acknowledges top priority this offseason is improving defense. It’s that obvious. Likely early-round targets will be edge rusher or cornerback. Saints have addressed linebacker, defensive tackle and safety in free agency, but not with big names, so opportunities to upgrade those areas won’t be ignored. Payton also has demonstrated he’ll snag offensive skill players he likes, even when more practical choice or area of need might be another position. And with Brees entering final season under contract, Payton might be inclined to draft QB.

13. ARIZONA CARDINALS (7-8-1)

LAST SEASON: With nearly everyone returning from 13-3 team that made NFC championship game, Cardinals expected to be contender last season. Instead, they struggled out of gate and finished with first losing season in coach Bruce Arians’ four years in Arizona. Cardinals did get breakout performance from running back David Johnson, who led league in yards from scrimmage and set NFL record by gaining at least 100 yards from scrimmage in each of first 15 games. But QB Carson Palmer and rest of offense couldn’t repeat big-big play assault that was team’s hallmark in 2015. Cardinals won close ones that season and lost them last year.

THEY NEED: CB, QB, ILB, WR.

THEY DON’T NEED: RB, OLB, OT.

POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: LB Reuben Foster, Alabama; QB Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech; WR Corey Davis, Western Michigan; WR Mike Williams, Clemson.

OUTLOOK: It’s time for Arizona to address QB situation because this could well be 37-year-old Palmer’s last season. Not greatest quarterback crop, though, and Arizona has other needs it may address with No. 13 pick. In addition to Mahomes, Cardinals took close look at Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer, but 13th might be reach for him. Cardinals could try to trade down, still get Kizer and add another pick. If team does get QB, he would watch from sideline for at least one season and learn under Arians, who has worked with some of game’s best. But Arizona could address WR, too, with Michael Floyd gone and Larry Fitzgerald perhaps in final season. Cardinals have two terrific OLBs but could use some help at ILB, especially for long term.

14. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (7-9)

LAST SEASON: Missed playoffs third year in row despite 3-0 start, but rookie QB Carson Wentz started 16 games and showed plenty of promise despite lack of playmakers on offense. LT Lane Johnson’s 10-game suspension for PED use helped cost them shot at playoffs. They were 5-1 with Johnson, 2-8 without him, including six losses by seven points or less. First-year coach Doug Pederson also got valuable on-job training and should be more comfortable one year in. Defense was vastly improved under new coordinator Jim Schwartz, though both starting cornerbacks aren’t coming back. Special teams were one of best in league again.

THEY NEED: CB, RB, DE, WR.

THEY DON’T NEED: QB, G, S.

POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: RB Christian McCaffrey, Stanford; CB Gareon Conley, Ohio State; WR Mike Williams, Clemson; DE Charles Harris, Missouri; CB Chidobe Awuzie, Colorado.

OUTLOOK: First draft for Joe Douglas, hired last May as vice president of player personnel. Douglas works with executive VP Howie Roseman, though it’s not known who has final say. Addition of free agent WRs Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith allows Eagles to focus on biggest need: cornerback. But they’d have tough time passing up McCaffrey, if he’s available. They could trade down in draft that’s deep at CB, though that might not sit well with fans in host city.

17. WASHINGTON REDSKINS (8-7-1)

LAST SEASON: No trip to postseason, thanks in large part to terrible defense that dragged down playoff-worthy offense. Offseason was train wreck lowlighted by messy and never fully explained firing of GM Scot McCloughan halfway through four-year contract. He has not been replaced; Bruce Allen, team president and right-hand man for owner Dan Snyder, is running show. Much-needed, long-overdue overhaul of defense began right away with firing of coordinator Joe Barry. Instead of bringing in one of big-name, successful folks available, Redskins promoted LB coach Greg Manusky. Team did sign free agents on defense, but didn’t bring in any big-ticket players. Another huge question hanging over club: QB Kirk Cousins’ status. He is under franchise tag again, still could be traded and, barring long-term deal reached by July 15, nothing is set beyond this season.

THEY NEED: DL, LB, RB, LG, QB, DB, WR.

THEY DON’T NEED: TE, LT, RG.

POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee; DT Malik McDowell, Michigan State; DE Taco Charlton, Michigan; LB Reuben Foster, Alabama; RB Christian McCaffrey, Stanford.

OUTLOOK: Only trace of stability around franchise is two-year contract extension that came out of nowhere for coach Jay Gruden — despite late-season collapse — while uncertainty over McCloughan’s future was still talk of town. Who knows what’ll happen with Cousins? Who knows whether defense will be much better after additions of players such as DTs Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain and S D.J. Swearinger in free agency? Who knows who’ll be calling shots during draft? There could be attempt to pick quarterback of future. Running back would seemingly be priority, too, and there is definite need at left guard. Depth all over roster is issue.

19. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (9-7)

LAST SEASON: Established themselves as team on rise, improving from six to nine wins and contending for playoff berth in Jameis Winston’s second season. No. 1 overall pick from 2015 draft topped 4,000 yards passing for second straight year, with receiver Mike Evans also posting impressive numbers and becoming first-time Pro Bowl selection. Defensive lapses and absence of consistent running game hurt down stretch, contributing to failure to make playoffs for ninth consecutive season.

THEY NEED: RB, S, TE, DE, WR.

THEY DON’T NEED: QB, T, G.

POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: RB Dalvin Cook, Florida State; DE Taco Charlton, Michigan; S Budda Baker, Washington.

OUTLOOK: With RB Doug Martin missing most of last season due to injuries and suspension that will extend three games into 2017, GM Jason Licht and coach Dirk Koetter figure to be interested in versatile runner/receiver to help Winston end club’s long playoff drought. Top priority in free agency was adding speedy receiver to feature opposite Evans, Winston’s favorite target. Licht and Koetter addressed that with signing of DeSean Jackson. Adding DT Chris Baker in free agency strengthened interior defensive line, however, still need dynamic pass rusher.

21. DETROIT LIONS (9-8)

LAST SEASON: Detroit surged atop NFC North with eight wins in nine-game stretch and became first NFL team to come back from fourth-quarter deficits to win eight games in single season. Lions, though, closed with three straight setbacks to spoil shot at winning division title for first time since 1993. Lions lost at Seattle 26-6 in wild-card game, extending postseason losing streak to nine games over 25 years. QB Matthew Stafford overcame retirement of star WR Calvin Johnson with one of his best years despite finishing season with injured finger on throwing hand.

THEY NEED: DE, LB, DB.

THEY DON’T NEED: QB, WR, OL.

POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: DE Taco Charlton, Michigan; DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee; LB Haason Reddick , Temple; S Jabrill Peppers, Michigan.

OUTLOOK: Detroit filled holes in free agency by signing OT Rick Wagner and OG T.J. Lang, but second-year GM created one by releasing injury-prone LB DeAndre Levy. Drafting player or two to play LB seems a priority, as does finding DE to play opposite Ezekiel Ansah. Lions also need help in secondary to line up with standout CB Darius Slay and 31-year-old S Glover Quin.

23. NEW YORK GIANTS (11-6)

LAST SEASON: Ben McAdoo got Giants back to playoffs for first time since 2011 season, but postseason was short-lived as Aaron Rodgers and Packers shredded Steve Spagnuolo’s much-improved defense. Offense was a disappointment all year with no running game, porous line and no options on outside other than Odell Beckham Jr.

THEY NEED: RB, T, LB, DT, TE, QB for post-Eli Manning era.

THEY DON’T NEED: WR, CB, C, S.

POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: LB Jarrad Davis, Florida; RB Dalvin Cook, Florida State; T Garret Bolles, Utah.

OUTLOOK: Despite not having much cap space, GM Jerry Reese did plenty in offseason. He released veteran WR Victor Cruz and RB Rashad Jennings, re-signed DE Jason Pierre-Paul and LB Keenan Robinson, and got free agent WR Brandon Marshall and OL D.J. Fluker to sign. Ten defensive starters are back. New York is even taking chance on righting career of former Jets QB Geno Smith. Only major players lost were DT Johnathan Hankins, PK Robbie Gould and OT Marshall Newhouse. Giants don’t gamble in draft. Unless there is tie in rankings or major concern about off-field problems, it’s always best player available regardless of position. Cook is has had off-field problems; his talent makes him risk worth taking. An out-of-box pick would be Michigan DB Jabrill Peppers, game breaker as kick returner and wild card for linebacker or safety.

26. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (11-6-1)

LAST SEASON: Once again Seattle took advantage of weak NFC West and claimed fourth division title under Pete Carroll. But it was not typical Seahawks season. Vaunted defense was still fifth overall in NFL, but exposed late in year by season-ending injury to star safety Earl Thomas. Seattle’s once reliable run game struggled in the post-Marshawn Lynch era and fell to 25th in NFL. QB Russell Wilson played through ankle and knee injuries most of season and was rarely given adequate protection. And despite all those issues, Seahawks won at least one playoff game for fifth straight season before losing to Atlanta in divisional round.

THEY NEED: CB, S, OL, DL.

THEY DON’T NEED: LB, RB, TE.

POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: CB Kevin King, Washington; S Obi Melifonwu, Connecticut; OL Cam Robinson, Alabama; OL Garett Boles, Utah; CB Chidobe Awuzie, Colorado.

OUTLOOK: GM John Schneider has to start looking toward future. Seahawks don’t need to be rebuilt but are getting older in some key spots, especially on defense. Expect Schneider to be aggressive in draft restocking defensive line and secondary. Don’t be surprised if he trades early-round selection for picks later. Seattle’s biggest moves in free agency were offensive line and run game, and depth at linebacker. Schneider will certainly seek more options for offensive line that was Seattle’s biggest weakness in 2016.

28. DALLAS COWBOYS (13-4)

LAST SEASON: One of best drafts in franchise history led to sea change, with QB Dak Prescott replacing 10-year starter Tony Romo, directing club-record 11-game winning streak, earning Offensive Rookie of Year honors and ultimately sending Romo to broadcast booth. NFL rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott was other rookie star as Cowboys won NFC East for second time in three years and took top seed in NFC playoffs before losing to Green Bay in divisional round. Defense again struggled to make game-changing plays and gave up winning drive to Packers after Cowboys twice pulled even in final five minutes.

THEY NEED: DE, CB, S.

THEY DON’T NEED: C, G, RB.

POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: CB Adoree Jackson, Southern Cal; DE Charles Harris, Missouri; DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee; CB Marlon Humphrey, Alabama; DE Takkarist McKinley, UCLA.

OUTLOOK: Because CBs Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr left in free agency, it’s now hard to say which need is greater, pass rushing or depth at cornerback. With DE Randy Gregory out entire season for substance-abuse violations, getting to quarterback probably still top priority. That’s partly because Anthony Brown, another product of last year’s draft, and Orlando Scandrick are viable starters at CB. Arguably biggest loss in free agency was S Barry Church because of his intangibles. If 2016 second-rounder Jaylon Smith can’t be impact LB because of college knee injury that sidelined him as rookie, Cowboys will need help there.

No. 29. GREEN BAY PACKERS (12-7)

LAST SEASON: Packers bounced back from midseason slump to win eight straight games before losing NFC title game in Atlanta. QB Aaron Rodgers carried team down stretch, accomplishment made more remarkable given loss of RB Eddie Lacy to ankle injury in October. WR Jordy Nelson (NFL-high 14 TD catches) returned from knee injury, while Davante Adams emerged to become third threat at wideout to join Nelson and Randall Cobb. Injuries ravaged cornerback position and slowed development of young players pressed to take more responsibility, contributing to porous pass defense (31st in league). LB Clay Matthews was slowed by shoulder and hamstring injuries.

THEY NEED: CB, RB, G, edge rusher.

THEY DON’T NEED: QB, T, TE, S.

POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: RB Christian McCaffrey, Stanford; RB Dalvin Cook, Florida State; LB T.J. Watt, Wisconsin; DE Takkarist McKinley, UCLA; DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee; CB Adoree’ Jackson, USC; CB Tre’Davious White, LSU.

OUTLOOK: GM Ted Thompson has holes to fill after Packers took hits in free agency. Coach Mike McCarthy seems committed to keeping former WR Ty Montgomery at running back; team lost Lacy in free agency to Seattle. Thompson re-signed LB Nick Perry after career year, though pass rush could use infusion with Matthews turning 31 and veteran Julius Peppers now back in Carolina. CB Davon House returned to Packers in offseason after couple years in Jacksonville, but cornerback position still needs boost. Packers could stay in house to replace RG T.J. Lang, who signed with Detroit. Signings of free agent TEs Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks gives offense potential for new wrinkles.

31. ATLANTA FALCONS (13-6)

LAST SEASON: Falcons’ feel-good story of winning NFC South in Dan Quinn’s second season was soured by devastating collapse in Super Bowl. Atlanta blew 25-point lead in second half of overtime loss to Patriots. Still, it was special season as Falcons were surprise NFC champions. Led by MVP quarterback Matt Ryan, Atlanta led league in scoring. Young defense leaned heavily on four rookie starters and such second-year players as Vic Beasley, who led league with 15 1/2 sacks. Wide receiver Julio Jones is returning from foot surgery.

THEY NEED: OG, OLB, DT, FB, S.

THEY DON’T NEED: RB, QB, CB.

POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: OG Forrest Lamp, Western Kentucky; OLB Charles Harris, Missouri; LB Takkarist McKinley, UCLA; DT Malik McDowell, Michigan State; S Budda Baker, Washington; S Jabrill Peppers, Michigan.

OUTLOOK: Offseason free-agent signings have provided at least possible answers to few obvious needs, freeing GM Thomas Dimitroff and Quinn to look for best available players. Falcons have focused on defense high in Quinn’s first two drafts, and it would be no surprise if that plan continues, perhaps with another edge rusher to complement Beasley. Rretirement of right guard Chris Chester leaves obvious need that may be addressed early, even though team signed veteran free agent Hugh Thornton. Similarly, Falcons may see need to add more help at defensive tackle even after signing two-time Pro Bowler Dontari Poe. It appears unlikely team will re-sign Jonathan Babineaux. Fullback Patrick DiMarco, who signed with Buffalo, must be replaced. Falcons signed fullbacks Derrick Coleman and Soma Vainuku but could add more competition late in draft. Another key offseason move was re-signing cornerback Desmond Trufant. Team’s top offensive skill position players return, including Jones and running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. New offensive coordinator Steve Sarkasian replaced Kyle Shanahan, hired as 49ers coach.

37. LOS ANGELES RAMS (4-12)

LAST SEASON: Move to West Coast did nothing to end Rams’ streaks of 13 consecutive non-winning seasons and 12 straight non-playoff seasons. Los Angeles lost 11 of last 12, leading to Jeff Fisher’s departure and hiring of Sean McVay as youngest head coach in NFL history. Rams had NFL’s worst offense for second consecutive year, managing measly 262.7 yards per game — nearly 46 yards fewer than 31st-place San Francisco. No. 1 pick Jared Goff went 0-7 as starter after taking over, looking unsurprisingly shaky behind subpar offensive line. Rams mortgaged big chunk of future last spring to move up for Goff, and that’s why Tennessee will be using Los Angeles’ fifth overall selection this month.

THEY NEED: WR, CB, S, OL.

THEY DON’T NEED: QB, RB, DL.

POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: CB Adoree Jackson, USC; OT Garett Bolles, Utah; LB Taco Charlton, Michigan; DE/LB Takkarist McKinley, UCLA; OT Cam Robinson, Alabama; CB Marlon Humphrey, Alabama.

OUTLOOK: General manager Les Snead has inconsistent draft history, including big hits and big busts. Rams clearly aren’t afraid to swing major trade, but another move up to first round might just dig deeper hole. With needs all over roster, they’re more likely to take what they consider best available players with all picks, then see what they’ve got in training camp. McVay hasn’t publicly expressed any particular draft desire to help him in fixing offense, but Rams signed LT Andrew Whitworth and WR Robert Woods in free agency to shore up two particular needs. Los Angeles doesn’t have receiver over 6-foot-1 who played extensively last season, so a big pass catcher might be appealing.

48. MINNESOTA VIKINGS (8-8)

LAST SEASON: Championship aspiration heightened by 5-0 start was hammered by injuries and insufficient OL play. Loss of QB Teddy Bridgewater to major knee injury in practice 12 days before opener was lessened by arrival of replacement Sam Bradford, but trade to get him with Eagles forced GM Rick Spielman to part with first-round pick (No. 14). Bradford set NFL record for completion percentage despite poor protection, and Adam Thielen broke out as capable complement at WR to Stefon Diggs. But running game was worst in league. Defense that was stellar throughout run to 2015 division title and dominant in first five games last year slipped down stretch.

THEY NEED: G, DT, S, LB, RB, TE.

THEY DON’T NEED: CB, DE, WR, C.

POSSIBLE FIRST PICK (SECOND ROUND): DT Malik McDowell, Michigan State; G Dion Dawkins, Temple; G Taylor Moton, Western Michigan; S Budda Baker, Washington; S Marcus Maye, Washington.

OUTLOOK: After signing Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers in free agency, Vikings have new starting OTs. There’s glaring need at RG, though, and as last season proved, there’s no such thing as too much depth on OL. After knee injury ruined 2016, former franchise cornerstone RB Adrian Peterson was not retained. Latavius Murray was signed to join Jerick McKinnon in backfield, but deep draft class provides opportunity to look toward future. Harrison Smith could still use playmaking partner at safety, and uncertainty of Sharrif Floyd’s knee injury makes DT position worth strengthening. Spielman has eight picks, with No. 48 overall followed by pair of selections in third and fourth round. That could be enough assets to use for move into end of first round, if so desired.

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NFL Draft 2017: NFL teams weigh when to draft replacements for veterans

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Derrick Johnson has always been a company man, willing to do whatever it takes to help the Kansas City Chiefs win playoff games and someday end their long Super Bowl drought.

Restructure his contract? OK. Tutor young linebackers? Sure thing.

The point where Johnson draws the line is in telling the Chiefs when he’ll finally hang up the cleats. The 34-year-old is coming off a second season-ending Achilles tendon injury, and he knows he’s entering the twilight of his career. But he doesn’t know if the end will come after the upcoming season or the one after that, when his current contract is due to expire.

“I struggle with that,” he said. “The older you get, the more you know it’s coming to an end at some point. But I just hope and pray when football is over for me I can have peace and rest.”

Therein lays the challenge for the Chiefs, along with every other team in the NFL: When is it the right time to draft replacements, especially when extra roster spots have become invaluable, time limits on practice are more constrictive, and the pressure to win has never been greater.

“You’re always trying to work ahead and trying to prevent the roster from taking a major, major hit at any position. That’s the nature of the National Football League,” said Titans general manager Jon Robinson. “As veteran players age or hit a level where they become maybe too expensive for your football team, that’s something that you have to look at and manage.”

Precisely how teams manage it varies in just about every respect.

First there’s the timeframe.

Teams try to forecast about three years ahead, but several GMs said that has become increasingly difficult. More players are walking away from the game early because of the increased risks of injuries and concerns over head trauma, while the shelf life of some positions may only be a few years to begin with, making it difficult to forecast even a year in advance.

Players such as Johnson, who is entering his 13th season, are about as rare as the I-formation in an era when the NFL Players Association reports the average career lasts just over three years.

Then there are positional differences.

There are some jobs where a player can be drafted and slide right into the starting lineup with minimal experience, while it may take others — quarterback, for one — several years of development before being ready for games.

Finally, there are philosophical differences.

Teams such as the Packers prefer to shore up holes almost exclusively through the draft, while others are more willing to dip into free agency. The draft carries the significant benefit of financial flexibility, but the downside is the pressure of enduring a crash-course on life in professional football.

“You can’t predict the future,” Robinson said, “but you just try to set yourself up so the rosters can kind of weather the storm of losing guys, and you can still play winning, productive football.”

Robinson is facing that very challenge this offseason.

Already, he’s released cornerback Jason McCourty and begun the search for a replacement for the nine-year veteran. Tight end Delanie Walker is coming off a Pro Bowl season and is a 12-year veteran who will be 33 in August, so finding a replacement for him could become an issue soon.

The Cowboys are another interesting case study in drafting replacements.

A few years ago, they gambled that breakout running back Demarco Murray would age quickly and let him go in free agency. Dallas struggled the following season — though it did put the Cowboys in position to draft Ezekiel Elliott — while Murray ran for more than 1,200 yards with Tennessee last season.

The Cowboys also recognized that injury-prone quarterback Tony Romo was heading toward the end of his career, so they chose Dak Prescott in last year’s draft. But any thought that he was a developmental project quickly dissolved when Prescott took over the starting job and never let it go.

Dallas also tried unsuccessfully to draft an heir to tight end Jason Witten, whiffing on second-round pick Gavin Escobar. Witten is signed through 2021, but realistically has only a couple seasons left.

His situation is not unlike Johnson’s in Kansas City, where a longtime fixture is still capable of playing at a high level, even if nobody is quite sure how long that will last.

“One of the neat things we have going is we bring in good competition at all spots. There are no positions absolutely guaranteed,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “I’ll tell the rookies when they come in, ‘You can cut it loose and see what happens,’ and that covers all areas.

“If a guy goes down, the next one comes in, and you have to maintain that, maintain that level of competition. And you obviously keep the best guys that create the most competition.”

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The San Francisco 49ers have let it be known they will be “open for business” if any team would like to move up to the No. 2 spot in the first round.

And despite everything you hear about this QB class being loaded with “projects”, someone might just panic and take them up on the offer.

Still, that would be a surprise.

More likely in the Top 10, keep your eye on Jacksonville (4) and the New York Jets (6) as teams who also should be “open for business.”

So who might be shopping?

For one, the Cleveland Browns — even though they own the No. 1 pick. If they really have fallen for North Carolina QB Mitchell Trubisky, they shouldn’t take him at No. 1, but they might not want to chance waiting until they pick again at No. 12. The Browns have plenty of later-round picks to entice a team to move back a few spots.

And how about the Cincinnati Bengals? They have 11 picks to play with in the draft, and with a defense decimated by free agency the past two years, might have their eye on Jacksonville’s spot at No. 4. The Bengals sit at No. 9, but if they have a defensive player they don’t want to chance losing, it is worth moving up to secure him.

Houston? Can they wait until their spot at 25 to get a quarterback? They might have to unless they get creative. They don’t have much to offer as far as extra picks this year. It will be surprising if they choose to mortgage future draft picks to move up, but desperation sometimes makes teams do crazy things on draft night. So if they do choose to deal, look for them to include a player in the trade.

Those three teams seem most likely to alter the picking order in the Top 10.

But things could also be interesting as the first round progresses.

Consider this: Denver (20), Giants (23) and Seattle (26) all have a need at left tackle. Should they attempt to address it in the first round, there could be quite the cat and mouse game among the three – or at least the Giants and Seattle – to improve their spots.

The Seahawks, with three third-round picks, seem to have more to offer than the Giants, if they feel the need to move up a few spots.

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The NFL draft draws ever closer, and the nearer it gets, the more hot trade rumors and pie-in-the-sky scenarios will abound. In all likelihood, no more significant deals will materialize until the first round commences April 27. But just for kicks, our latest Round 1 prognostications include a few logical — we think — moves to shake up the board. Here’s mock draft 6.0 for 2017:

1. Cleveland Browns — Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M: Cleveland coach Hue Jackson indicated at last month’s league meeting that the top pick is not for sale, even in a year when the type of polished quarterback prospect the Browns so desperately need isn’t worthy of the selection. (Naturally, an ESPN report surfaced Wednesday suggesting team brass is now strongly considering UNC QB Mitchell Trubisky first overall. We’ll address that shortly.) But barring a huge upset, it’s hard to envision anyone other than Garrett — an elite athlete who produced like one for the Aggies and would address a primary need for the Cleveland defense — hearing his name called first by Roger Goodell on draft night.

2. *Trade with San Francisco 49ers* Carolina Panthers — Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: This move would allow the Niners to accrue valuable picks for their rebuilding process while only dropping a few spots — the transaction would probably cost the Panthers their No. 8 overall selection in 2017, next year’s first rounder and probably a fourth, too. But Carolina is a team built to win now, and Fournette is a compelling talent who could launch them back to the Super Bowl. And given the desire to reduce the pounding on QB Cam Newton and ever-fragile RB Jonathan Stewart’s advancing age, Fournette would fit like a glove in this offense. But Carolina might have to jump Jacksonville to get him.

3. Chicago Bears — Jamal Adams, S, LSU: Though Chicago’s defense has shown steady improvement during two years under coordinator Vic Fangio, it still lacks an identity. Adams’ highlight reel is full of big hits and disruptive plays, and with a sub-4.4 40-yard dash at his pro day, he answered any lingering questions about his athleticism and ability to range for deep balls. His swagger and reputation as a strong leader could vault this unit to the next tier.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars — O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama: Fournette seems like the perfect addition to this team. But with him off the board in this scenario, the new brain trust of Tom Coughlin and Doug Marrone could go in another direction to support struggling QB Blake Bortles. Howard projects to be at least as good a receiver as departed Julius Thomas, and his far superior blocking ability should keep him on the field and perhaps also help unleash Jacksonville’s recently dormant ground game.

5. *Trade with Tennessee Titans* Browns — Mitchell Trubisky, QB, North Carolina: Cleveland forfeited its opportunity to take Carson Wentz in 2016. But this year, we’ll have them exchange part of their cache of picks to leap up from No. 12 — past the Jets, the first team that seems reasonably likely to pick a quarterback this year — to guarantee the arrival of a player they allegedly love. Trubisky’s accuracy and decision making in college were first rate and could make the Ohio native the best choice to operate this playbook. [Note: This pick originally belonged to the Los Angeles Rams before Tennessee acquired it last year.]

6. New York Jets — Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford: As was the case with DL Leonard Williams, the sixth overall choice two years ago, the Jets might just find themselves staring at a player too good to pass up at this spot. Teamed with Williams and Muhammad Wilkerson, Thomas would allow New York’s front to remain imposing and scheme versatile, and his arrival could hasten a timeline to offload Sheldon Richardson.

7. *Trade with Los Angeles Chargers* Seattle Seahawks — Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State: If Seattle is truly serious about trading CB Richard Sherman, this could be one way to make it happen. Seahawks GM John Schneider has had mixed results, at best, trading high picks for veteran star power (think Percy Harvin and Jimmy Graham). So with this move he’d reverse course as the Legion of Boom surrenders its 29-year-old Pro Bowler — while sending him out of the NFC — in order to obtain the pick that nets Lattimore, this year’s premier corner. Let’s say Schneider also obtains a veteran blocker while he’s at it, maybe Orlando Franklin or Joe Barksdale. On the flip side, the Chargers would pick up Seattle’s 26th pick, while new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley — he used to hold the same post in Seattle — is reunited with Sherman, the big-bodied cover man the Bolts don’t currently have to combat the likes of WRs Demaryius Thomas, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree in the AFC West. Finally, Sherman gets to return to his native L.A., giving the Chargers a recognizable talent and personality as they get established in their new home, not to mention someone who could really help QB Philip Rivers make one more Super Bowl push before his career winds down.

8. *Trade with Panthers* 49ers — Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford: The buzz surrounding McCaffrey has steadily grown since his sterling combine and pro day outings, which showcased his abilities as a runner, returner and especially receiver. New Niners GM John Lynch, a Stanford alum himself, could replicate the one-two tailback punch new coach Kyle Shanahan enjoyed in Atlanta if McCaffrey is coupled with power back Carlos Hyde.

9. Cincinnati Bengals — Jonathan Allen, DT, Alabama: This would be a gift for Marvin Lewis’ defense. Despite being an interior player, Allen piled up 22½ sacks over the past two seasons, several courtesy of his tireless effort. He’d more than fill the hole that currently exists alongside Bengals DT Geno Atkins and give this team a pair of wrecking balls in the pits.

10. Buffalo Bills — Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State: The Bills haven’t had much production from their safeties since saying goodbye to Jairus Byrd after the 2013 season, and the depth chart looks particularly bleak heading into the draft. Hooker covers a ton of ground, gets his hands on the ball (7 INTs in 2016) and makes things happen when he does (3 TDs last year). The only question is his health after surgeries on his shoulder and for a sports hernia shelved him during the pre-draft process.

11. New Orleans Saints — Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama: A sideline-to-sideline defender brings the ability and attitude this defense has noticeably lacked in recent seasons. If he fulfills his potential, Foster could be a centerpiece in the mold of Ray Lewis or Luke Kuechly.

12. *Trade with Browns* Titans — Haason Reddick, LB, Temple: An undersized defensive end for the Owls, the 6-1, 237-pounder will be a linebacker in the NFL. And during an offseason full of impressive exploits, Reddick has displayed the athleticism to play in space in base packages while reverting to his quarterback-hunting background on passing downs. He’d certainly be the type of weapon coordinator Dick LeBeau could deploy creatively. [Note: This pick originally belonged to the Philadelphia Eagles before Cleveland acquired it last year.]

13. Arizona Cardinals — Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan: Ankle surgery prevented Davis from showcasing his ample skills at the scouting combine or at his pro day. But he’ll run just about any pattern from the route tree, and will separate from and/or overpower most defensive backs. Davis averaged 13 TDs and nearly 80 catches over the course of his four-year college career while amassing a Football Bowl Subdivision record 5,278 career receiving yards. A nice piece of clay for Bruce Arians and Larry Fitzgerald to refine.

14. Eagles (from Minnesota Vikings) — Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State: Philadelphia spent much of its free agent capital obtaining weapons for second-year QB Carson Wentz. Cook could be the cherry on top, a multi-dimensional threat out of the backfield who can hit home runs on running or receiving plays. And if seems a luxury pick, the Eagles could afford him this year given how deep the draft is with the corner help this secondary will require.

15. Indianapolis Colts — Forrest Lamp, OL, Western Kentucky: This draft is stocked with defensive depth, and new Colts GM Chris Ballard will surely partake. But before he addresses that side of the ball, it might be best to pluck one of the few elite offensive line prospects. Lamp could plug in either at right tackle or guard to bolster the protection of franchise QB Andrew Luck and his surgically repaired shoulder.

16. *Trade with Baltimore Ravens* Detroit Lions — Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee: How productive was Barnett for the Vols? He broke Reggie White’s school sack record, so enough said. A better football player than athlete, his hard-working style would play well in Detroit and be a boon to the Lions’ D-line — maybe even so much so that GM Bob Quinn might be willing to part with a mid-round pick to move into position for Barnett.

17. Washington Redskins — Kevin King, CB, Washington: Josh Norman can’t cover everyone. King (6-3, 200) is talented and provides the kind of size that matches up favorably against the likes Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery in the NFC East. Bringing him aboard could also allow Bashaud Breeland to move into a nickel role that might suit him better.

18. Titans — John Ross, WR, Washington: The latest reason he’s a fit in Nashville? Ross indicated on NFL Network last week that he’d really like to play with QB Marcus Mariota, a fellow Pac-12 alum. Personal preferences aside, Ross just makes so much sense for this team when considering how his 4.22-second 40 speed could rip defenses already stretched to the breaking point by Tennessee’s “exotic smashmouth” running game. And whether on deep routes, screens or as a returner, he is a threat to go all the way every time he touches the ball.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Charles Harris, DE, Missouri: Is there any division where it’s more imperative to have an effective pass rush than the NFC South? The Bucs will see Matt Ryan, Cam Newton and Drew Brees six times next year, and an edge presence like Harris could certainly get their attention. No Tampa Bay player had more than 6 ½ sacks in 2016.

20. Denver Broncos — Garett Bolles, OT, Utah: He’s probably got the most upside of any tackle prospect this year. And with Russell Okung off to the Chargers, Denver has a gaping blind side vacancy. After overcoming a rough childhood, adapting to the NFL should be a breeze for Bolles.

21. *Trade with Lions* Ravens — Takkarist McKinley, OLB, UCLA: Baltimore OLB Terrell Suggs is still getting it done, but he’s 34. Elvis Dumervil is no longer a Raven. So there’s a spot for McKinley, whose ever-revving motor is made to order for a defense with an attacking reputation.

22. Miami Dolphins — Jarrad Davis, LB, Florida: Yes, Miami just signed veteran LB Lawrence Timmons and extended Kiko Alonso’s deal. But the Dolphins still have room for improvement in their linebacking corps, and Davis is the kind of athlete and leader who could solidify the entire defense.

23. New York Giants — David Njoku, TE, Miami (Fla.): Not hard to imagine GM Jerry Reese licking his chops if this New Jersey native is available when the Giants pick. Njoku is an explosive athlete loaded with potential. And a 20-year-old prospect couldn’t ask for a better scenario than being allowed to develop as the third or fourth receiving option for an offense that likes to put the ball into the air.

24. *Trade with Oakland Raiders* Rams — Mike Williams, WR, Clemson: Los Angeles would have to make a deal to get back into the first round. And despite signing Robert Woods, the Rams still don’t have a No. 1-caliber wideout, so it may be time for GM Les Snead to again get creative. Williams is big (6-4, 218), fast enough, effective in the red zone and — perhaps — exactly the type of forgiving target who could accelerate second-year QB Jared Goff’s development. And what do the Raiders stand to gain? A high second-round pick — the Rams own No. 37 — and probably an extra third rounder, ammunition which would nicely help GM Reggie McKenzie patch the numerous holes on his defense.

25. Houston Texans — Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson: Not only did the Texans fail to obtain Tony Romo, they don’t currently have a quarterback under contract beyond the 2017 season. So clearly, this is the right time to acquire a promising player who might need a year to get ready. And given the supporting cast that would surround him, hard to fathom a much better outcome from Watson’s perspective.

26. *Trade with Seahawks* Chargers — Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin: Even if the Bolts hadn’t divested a blocker in our hypothetical Richard Sherman trade, it still makes sense to upgrade the protection in front of Philip Rivers. Ramczyk could step in at right tackle and theoretically succeed Russell Okung on the left side down the road.

27. Kansas City Chiefs — Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech: He’s become quite the hot prospect over the last few months. In some ways, Mahomes — a strong-armed gunslinger — may be the antithesis of K.C. incumbent Alex Smith, 32. Yet that may also be exactly what the Chiefs need if they’re ever to make significant noise in the playoffs. Coach Andy Reid, who was once charged with taming a young Brett Favre, has experience tutoring undisciplined passers. Mahomes will need time, which dovetails with Smith’s contract, which expires after the 2018 season — if Kansas City doesn’t opt out first.

28. Dallas Cowboys — Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State: Dallas lost four key defensive backs in free agency, including both starting corners. Chances are they’ll be targeting cover guys early, and Conley might be good enough to take over the No. 1 role immediately.

29. Green Bay Packers — Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU: The Pack’s secondary was in tatters by season’s end, a reality the Falcons exposed in their NFC Championship Game romp. Losing Micah Hyde in free agency didn’t help. But White can — both as a highly capable defender and an impact punt returner.

30. Pittsburgh Steelers — Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan: The last time we saw Pittsburgh’s defense, it was being diced through the air for 384 yards and three TDs by Tom Brady. It’s lacked a difference maker on the back end since Troy Polamalu retired, and Peppers might be the man to change that. (And with RB DeAngelo Williams gone, maybe he even gives Le’Veon Bell an occasional breather.)

31. Atlanta Falcons — Cam Robinson, OL, Alabama: The NFC champs have already plucked former Tide assistant Steve Sarkisian, so why not also turn to Tuscaloosa for a massive and highly capable lineman to take over for retired G Chris Chester?

32. Saints (from New England Patriots) — Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan: With the second level benefiting from New Orleans’ first pick, now it’s time to add juice  to the pass rush. Only the Lions had fewer sacks than the Saints’ 30 among NFC teams in 2016. (And, yes, it might be awfully tempting here to take DeShone Kizer or Davis Webb as Drew Brees’ eventual replacement.)

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Follow Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis

NFL draft shake-up: Five teams that could surprise with bold moves

This gallery contains 1 photo.

In the days leading up to the 2017 NFL draft, USA TODAY Sports will take a closer look at the burning questions that will shape the event.

To kick off the series, we highlighted five teams that could make surprise moves that would defy mock drafts and reverberate throughout the first round.

Cleveland Browns

Even if Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett is selected with the No. 1 pick as expected, Cleveland still could have a surprise or two in store. With five of the first 65 selections, the Browns have the arsenal and disposition to move around in a draft the organization has long targeted as integral to the rebuilding process. At No. 12, passing on a quarterback would cause quite a stir. But with the first pick in the second round, Cleveland could always jump up into a late first-round pick for a quarterback, which would be all the more appealing given the fifth-year option it would have on a potentially successful signal-caller.

San Francisco 49ers

Despite this draft class seemingly running short on consensus, the 49ers have been linked heavily to Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas. Yet new GM John Lynch could continue the organization’s outside-the-box thinking by looking in a different direction, as the 49ers’ needs are widespread. Going with a quarterback or trading the pick would be the most dramatic moves, but even selecting a different defender — like LSU’s Jamal Adams or Ohio State’s Malik Hooker — would have a ripple effect on the rest of the first round.

Tennessee Titans

Finding another weapon for Marcus Mariota in the aerial attack is perhaps Tennessee’s most important task in the draft, yet few pass catchers in this class seem like a natural fit at No. 5. But what if the Titans see corresponding value in any of the players — perhaps wide receivers John Ross, Mike Williams or Corey Davis, as well as tight end O.J. Howard — and don’t want to risk a run on those players before they pick again at No. 18? Defensive players are expected to dominate the top of the draft, but Tennessee could alter that outlook.

Carolina Panthers

GM Dave Gettleman has made his priorities known by taking a front-seven player with his top pick in three of his four drafts in Carolina. But the Panthers have to find a way to reconfigure their offense after Ron Rivera said Cam Newton’s contributions in the running game would be scaled back. LSU running back Leonard Fournette would be appealing at No. 8, but Carolina could still surprise by taking Florida State’s Dalvin Cook or Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey in a slot higher than most would expect.

Arizona Cardinals

With Carson Palmer back in the fold, Arizona has to decide whether it wants to pull the trigger on a successor at No. 13 (or a later stage in the draft). Such a move by the Cardinals could raise concern for teams in the back half of the first round hoping for a quarterback to slide to them. Having either Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer or Texas Tech’s Pat Mahomes come off the board at this stage would serve as a potential pivot point for the rest of the draft.

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NFL mock draft 5.0: With pro days complete, how does board stack up now?

LSU’s April 5 showcase was the last major event on this year’s pro day circuit, which brings another logical waypoint to re-assess the first-round of the NFL draft board. Without further ado, here’s mock draft 5.0 for 2017:

1. Cleveland Browns — Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M: He’s been the presumptive top pick since the college bowl season ended and may have only cemented his status after embracing his pro day — even with virtually nothing to gain by participating — and blazing another 4.6 40-yard dash time. Since sacks became an official stat in 1982, no Browns player has recorded more than 14 in a season, perhaps one more reason the franchise has yet to reach a Super Bowl. Garrett has the tools to be a 20-sack guy.

2. San Francisco 49ers — Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford: One of the draft’s cleaner players, Thomas is productive (8½ sacks, 14 tackles for loss in 2016) and versatile enough to move around the line of scrimmage. Despite investing their last two Round 1 picks in defensive linemen, the Niners had the worst defense in the NFL last year and could not stop anyone on the ground. Thomas could make an immediate splash as a three-down difference maker.

3. Chicago Bears — Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State: The Bears haven’t really had an impact safety since Mike Brown was in his prime more than a decade ago. Hooker is a thief who could be a huge presence in a division where the ball is in the air so frequently. He had seven interceptions in 2016 (one fewer than the entire Bears defense) and returned three for TDs, one more pick-six than Chicago has managed in the past three seasons.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars — Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: He’s being mentioned as the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson was a first rounder a decade ago. Peterson led the Vikings to the playoffs four times, never with the same starting quarterback. Fournette would surely alleviate the offensive load on QB Blake Bortles, yet might even make the Jags a bona fide contender even if the franchise ultimately decides it must make a change under center.

5. Tennessee Titans (from Los Angeles Rams) — Jamal Adams, S, LSU:He blistered a 4.33 40 at the Tigers’ pro day, a spectacular time for a safety and further evidence of his ability to streak across the field to make a huge hit or break up a pass in a deep quadrant. Adams’ reputation as a leader might also make him a coveted addition to a young team that could seek a foil to QB Marcus Mariota’s understated style.

6. New York Jets — O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama: This team hasn’t had much production from its tight ends since Dustin Keller was a first rounder in 2008. Howard could remedy that while serving as a reliable option for an offense that seems destined for a youth movement under center. He’s also got the ability to replace some of the production lost with the defection of uber-sized WR Brandon Marshall while bolstering the blocking of an O-line now in flux.

7. Los Angeles Chargers — Jonathan Allen, DT, Alabama: Think new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley wouldn’t love the opportunity to deploy Allen, who gobbled up awards as the nation’s top college defender in 2016, at all points of the Bolts’ D-line in conjunction with outside rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram? Allen’s quickness will frustrate guards and centers, and he’ll win plenty of one-on-one battles with most tackles — often by virtue of non-stop effort.

8. Carolina Panthers — Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee: His performance in the SEC was off the charts, including 32 sacks and 52 tackles for loss in three seasons. GM Dave Gettleman loves a deep and talented D-line, and that could be a bigger consideration this year after the trade of DE Kony Ealy, DE Charles Johnson’s recent back surgery and DE Julius Peppers’ age (37). And in a division with so many good quarterbacks, you can never generate enough pressure.

9. Cincinnati Bengals — Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama: He arrives at the ball like a sledgehammer, and Marvin Lewis hasn’t had a linebacker with this much sideline-to-sideline range since he coached Ray Lewis. And with Rey Maualuga already gone and Vontaze Burfict and Kevin Minter only under contract through the upcoming season, it’s a good time for Cincinnati to address the position.

10. Buffalo Bills — Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State: After Stephon Gilmore bolted to become Tom Brady’s teammate, the Bills find themselves needing premier corner in hopes of slowing Brady and Co. the next time they face New England. Lattimore emerged as a star in 2016 after overcoming a history of hamstring issues and is the most compelling talent at his position this year.

11. New Orleans Saints — Haason Reddick, LB, Temple: Probably no player has improved his draft stock more in the last three months than Reddick. He’s a highly athletic, disruptive player who posted 35½ tackles for loss and 14½ sacks over the last two seasons as a defensive end for the Owls. At 6-1, 237 pounds, he’ll be a linebacker in the NFL, but his skill set should make him a three-down player who should be an effective blitzer or edge presence in sub packages.

12. Browns (from Philadelphia Eagles) — Mitchell Trubisky, QB, North Carolina: His accuracy, 70% over the last two seasons, could be the attribute that brings him home to Ohio. Trubisky’s TD-to-INT ratio (36:6) over the same span also impresses. But his overall inexperience (just 13 career starts) combined with a lack of snaps taken under center means he’s unlikely to make the Dawg Pound forget about Bernie Kosar in 2017.

13. Arizona Cardinals — Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan: He’s big (6-3, 213), smooth and prolific, amassing a Football Bowl Subdivision record 5,278 career receiving yards. Working on the boundary, Davis could initially be a nice complement to Larry Fitzgerald before eventually supplanting him as the team’s top target.

14. Eagles (from Minnesota Vikings) — Kevin King, CB, Washington: Philly has to reload at corner, and a 6-3, 200-pounder like King could be the right antidote in a division populated with massive receivers like Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall and Terrelle Pryor.

15. Indianapolis Colts — Takkarist McKinley, OLB, UCLA: Both of Indy’s top pass rushers from 2016, Erik Walden (free agent) and Robert Mathis (retired), are gone, and the defense needed to get younger on the edge anyway. McKinley is relentless in his pursuit of quarterbacks and plenty athletic, a nice combination at this position.

MORE COVERAGE: 

16. Baltimore Ravens — Mike Williams, WR, Clemson: As USA TODAY Sports NFL columnist Jarrett Bell notes, Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome doesn’t exactly have the Midas touch when it comes to picking receivers. But Williams could change that for a team that struggled to find the end zone in 2016 and now must fill the void created by Steve Smith’s retirement.

17. Washington Redskins — Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan: His ability to defend the slot, play linebacker in sub packages and theoretically ease into a starting role on the back end seems to be the kind of skill set a team that finished 25th defending the pass could use. And don’t rule out the possibility of Peppers getting some touches on an evolving offense that could use more splash plays out of the backfield.

18. Titans — John Ross, WR, Washington: He and his 4.22 40 speed just seem like a seamless fit for a team that loves to run the ball — and could benefit from Ross’ ability to stretch defenses — and also needs a shiftier target to complement Mariota’s preferred option, TE Delanie Walker.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Garett Bolles, OT, Utah: Nothing should be more important to the Bucs than safeguarding QB Jameis Winston. And though revamping the running game is one way to do that, Tampa can dip into a deep tailback class later. First, GM Jason Licht should lock down Winston’s blind side, which has too often been exposed by Donovan Smith’s struggles as a pass blocker. It might be time to move him inside and put a more nimble player like Bolles at left tackle.

20. Denver Broncos — Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin: LT Russell Okung left in free agency, and the Broncos don’t appear to have an in-house replacement of similar ability. They need to shore up the blocking if QBs Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch are going to have solid opportunities to continue their development.

21. Detroit Lions — Charles Harris, DE, Missouri: No team in the NFC had fewer sacks than Detroit’s 26. Harris is lightning quick off the edge and could take some game plan focus off DE Ziggy Ansah, who had a horrible 2016 season.

22. Miami Dolphins — Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State: Only the Browns allowed more TD passes among AFC teams in 2016 than Miami’s 30. Taking Conley would give the Dolphins’ nickel package an immediate boost while he matures into a potential No. 1 corner.

23. New York Giants — David Njoku, TE, Miami (Fla.): A gifted 20-year-old who’s poised to extend the Hurricanes’ proud lineage at the position. A New Jersey native, Njoku could stop the revolving door the Giants have had at tight end since Jeremy Shockey’s heyday while making teams pay for double covering WR Odell Beckham Jr.

24. Oakland Raiders — Jarrad Davis, LB, Florida: The Raiders are in desperate need of a talent infusion at the second level of their 26th-ranked defense. Davis is an athlete and leader who should quickly become the kind of core player who never has to leave the field.

25. Houston Texans — Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson: With Tony Romo apparently no longer an option, the Texans must now look to an alternative solution for their perpetual quarterbacking issues. Houston is good enough to allow Watson to acclimate behind Tom Savage and could even shield him from too much responsibility if he was pressed into service as a rookie.

26. Seattle Seahawks — Forrest Lamp, OL, Western Kentucky: Offensive line maestro Tom Cable could try Lamp at his college position, tackle, or line him up at guard, where many scouts project he’ll thrive in the NFL. Regardless of where he played, Lamp would strengthen one of the league’s least effective lines.

27. Kansas City Chiefs — Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama: Opponents have no reason to challenge CB Marcus Peters when they can pile up the profits targeting the other side of Kansas City’s secondary. Humphrey’s could help stop the bleeding as a No. 2 corner before possibly harnessing his talents and becoming a performer close to Peters’ caliber.

28. Dallas Cowboys — Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU: Time to start replenishing a secondary that was decimated by free agency. White could immediately challenging for a starting position while also contributing right away as a dangerous punt returner.

29. Green Bay Packers — Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State: He could stabilize a ground game that was derailed by Eddie Lacy’s inconsistency and injuries. Cook is an accomplished runner and receiver capable of doing everything in the Pack’s playbook while allowing Ty Montgomery to slide into the change-of-pace role that might better serve a converted receiver.

30. Pittsburgh Steelers — Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech: His buzz continues to build after his own impressive pro day showing. Mahomes has all the physical gifts that make NFL coaches salivate. But he also might need two full years to learn how a pro offense operates. This could be the perfect scenario given Ben Roethlisberger’s age (35), retirement musings (which he’s finally put to rest for 2017) and propensity to get injured.

31. Atlanta Falcons — Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan: OLB Vic Beasley paced the NFL in 2016 with 15½ sacks but no teammate had more than five — a problem that was accentuated when the Falcons failed to generate any heat on Tom Brady during the Patriots’ Super Bowl comeback. Charlton registered 10 sacks last year, and his 6-6 frame enables him to bat down balls when he can’t reach quarterbacks.

32. Saints (from New England Patriots) — Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford: Sure, it would make sense for the Saints to continue rebuilding their defense. But with WR Brandin Cooks and RB Tim Hightower now gone, could they resist picking up a weapon like McCaffrey, who will rekindle memories of Reggie Bush in New Orleans. Not only might he be optimal as aging QB Drew Brees looks to spread the field underneath, but McCaffrey could ignite a return game that’s given the Saints little spark lately.

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On Football: A look at what got done at NFL meetings

PHOENIX (AP) — NFL owners got plenty done in their meetings, including approving the Raiders’ relocation from Oakland to Las Vegas, and addressing a variety of rules changes.

So what does it all mean?

VIVA LAS VEGAS

The Raiders’ move to America’s gambling capital was a slam dunk once Bank of America came aboard with a $650 million loan that followed Nevada putting up $750 million in public funding for a $1.7 billion stadium. Oakland never really had a plan that enticed Raiders owner Mark Davis nor other NFL team bosses.

This relocation is unlike the Rams moving to Los Angeles, then the Chargers following them there; yes, three teams switching homes in about one year’s time.

This is the NFL following much of America — at least the part that is enamored of sports — in changing its perception of Sin City, the gambling capital of this nation.

Commissioner Roger Goodell said as much this week.

“I would probably tell you that I think society has probably had a little bit of a change with respect to gambling in general,” Goodell said.

“I think we still strongly oppose it in that room, and otherwise, legalized sports gambling. The integrity of our game is No. 1. We will not compromise on that.

“But I also believe that Las Vegas is not the same city it was 10 years ago or 20 years ago. It’s a much more diverse city. It has become an entertainment mecca. It’s the fastest-growing city in the country.

“So I think when you look at it today versus what it was a decade or two ago, I think it’s a much different city. And they made a very compelling proposal, which the owners obviously approved overwhelmingly.”

Also look for the Raiders, perhaps with some help from the league, to find a way to play home games outside of Oakland in 2019. They have lease options for the Coliseum for the next two years, and the Las Vegas stadium won’t be ready until 2020.

CENTRALIZED VIDEO REVIEWS

This is not as major a step as some might think. Yes, the referee no longer will make the final decision, which will come from officiating chief Dean Blandino and his staff in New York. He will have input, but it makes sense for the crew at NFL headquarters to be the ultimate arbiter.

There is one person monitoring every game, and supervisors and overseers in the room. They have the opportunity to view replays even before the referee gets involved. They also are removed from the scene, if you will, bringing a more measured approach to the review. No cacophony from the stands. No players screaming their approval or disapproval. No coaches throwing fits.

“I think it will speed up for the fans and the coaches, not having to wait for a timeout to find out what’s going on,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said.

“There were times in the past where you would go to commercial break, come back and then we would get the TV feed, then we’d have to challenge. All that now should be sped up and we should not have those long breaks for the fans and the players.”

DON’T LEAP

While SportsCenter fell in love with defenders on field goals or extra-point attempts jumping over the line to block those kicks, most players in the NFL were loathing it.

Too dangerous.

Wisely, the league’s powerful competition committee felt the same way. In its meetings with the players’ association at the scouting combine, that was a prime topic.

Now, it’s gone. And, although it might be entertaining, good riddance.

“We all knew during the season at some point it was going to get discussed,” said competition committee chairman Rich McKay, president of the Atlanta Falcons.

“We saw many instances as teams began to learn how to block it, it became more concerning … all of a sudden the players weren’t getting a free run and now the player was (blocked and) coming down at a really bad angle.

“When we met with the players’ association, to a person they were quick to say, ‘We don’t like this play.’ We also get feedback on proposals, and that was one that they universally said, ‘We want that play taken out.'”

It’s out.

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For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

2017 NFL free agency: Latest signings, reaction

(PhatzRadio Sports / AP / ESPN)   —-    The allure of high ceilings and quick fixes when free agency begins tends to camouflage the “buyer beware” signs strewn across the league landscape.

Each March, market-setting contracts with gargantuan guarantees are given out by NFL teams in search of veteran upgrades for their roster before the rookies are added through the draft and subsequent signings. The eagerness to make a splash or the unwillingness to see a targeted player join another club can cause executives to chase the sugar rush of an instant starter at the potential detriment of future salary cap management. The frustration of struggles at a particular position from the past season can trigger an overreach for replacements.

For the free agent class of 2016, there’s still time to make amends for an underwhelming first year of a rich new deal. So as the market opens for 2017, here’s a look back at some of the significant signees who didn’t pan out last season and are looking for a bounce back:

BROCK OSWEILER

The best quarterbacks never become free agents, of course, but Brock Osweiler brought enough intrigue and promise with his 6-foot-7 frame after playing behind Peyton Manning in Denver that Houston doled out $37 million guaranteed on a four-year contract for the Broncos’ backup about a month after they won the Super Bowl.

Seven solid starts at the end of the 2015 regular season while Manning was hurt was a small sample size, though, and more exposure for Osweiler yielded some rough moments. The Texans reached the playoffs with an AFC South title in a weak division and even made it to the second round, but Osweiler was in the bottom five in the league in completion percentage, interceptions and yards per attempt.

DOUG MARTIN

Spending big on a team’s own players is generally viewed as wiser strategy than on those outside the organization, given the familiarity with schemes and surroundings, but that’s hardly a guarantee of success, either.

Tampa Bay brought back running back Doug Martin with a five-year deal featuring $15 million guaranteed after he rushed for 1,402 yards and was an Associated Press All-Pro pick in 2015. Martin was slowed by hamstring problems and averaged just 2.9 yards per rush, the lowest in the NFL among ball carriers with at least 100 attempts. Then he received a four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

SEAN SMITH

Sean Smith built up his coverage credentials over seven seasons as a cornerback with the Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs before signing a four-year contract with Oakland with $20 million guaranteed over 2016 and 2017 to help the Raiders shore up a vulnerable secondary. He struggled from the start, and the Raiders were third-worst in the league in yards allowed per pass attempt. Smith needed shoulder surgery after the season. Former Raiders star Charles Woodson even called out Smith’s substandard performance in a radio interview last fall.

COBY FLEENER

The tight end market has spiked in value over the last decade, and Coby Fleener cashed in with New Orleans last year after leaving Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts. His first season with the Saints was unremarkable, after signing a five-year deal with nearly $15 million in initial guarantees. Fleener had three touchdown catches. Over the last four games of the season, he totaled 84 yards on eight receptions while playing in a pass-friendly offense directed by Drew Brees that tight end Jimmy Graham once flourished in.

TASHAUN GIPSON

Leaving Cleveland for a five-year contract carrying $12 million guaranteed, Gipson came to Jacksonville to fill a hole at free safety as part of an aggressive offseason makeover of the defense by the Jaguars. Though they finished in the top five in the NFL in several statistical categories for pass defense, the Jaguars fired head coach Gus Bradley while going 3-13. Gipson, who totaled 14 interceptions over his first four seasons with the Browns, picked off only one pass and expressed frustration with the conservative way he was used in the scheme.

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Updates:

We’re keeping track of every notable NFL signing throughout March right here, with the most recent deals at the top.

Barnwell’s grades | Day 1 winners, losers | Day 2 winners, losers | Free-agency lessons so far | Top 150 free agentsInsider | Schefter’s updates

Sunday, March 12

Broncos bringing in DTs Peko, Kerr

Denver has agreed to two-year contracts with free-agent defensive tackles Domata Peko and Zach Kerr, according to multiple reports.

Saturday, March 11

OL Fluker, Giants agree to one-year contract

The Giants and free-agent offensive lineman D.J. Fluker have agreed on a one-year deal, a source told ESPN’s Josina Anderson. The Chargers released Fluker on March 7, parting ways with the offensive lineman whom they made the 11th overall pick of the 2013 draft.

Raanan: Giants add piece to offensive line, but not done yet


WR Wright, Bears agree to terms on one-year deal

Former Tennessee receiver Kendall Wright has agreed to terms on a one-year deal worth up to $4 million with Chicago, a source told ESPN’s Adam Caplan.

Dickerson: Bears add another weapon in former first-round WR Wright


TE Griffin to sign three-year deal to remain with Texans

Ryan Griffin told Fox 26 in Houston that he is signing a three-year deal to remain with the Texans. “I’m excited,” Griffin told Fox 26. “I know what type of organization it is here. We were a win away from the [AFC] Championship Game. We need a couple more wins to get that ring.”

Barshop: Re-signing Griffin gives Texans stability at tight end


Bears ink former Cardinals CB Cooper to three-year deal

The Chicago Bears have signed former Arizona Cardinals cornerback Marcus Cooper to a three-year contract, the team announced Saturday.

Dickerson: Plot thickens at cornerback after Bears sign Cooper


OT Mills reaches agreement with Bills on two-year deal

Offensive tackle Jordan Mills reached agreement with the Buffalo Bills on a two-year contract worth $4 million, a source tells ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The deal keeps him in Buffalo.

Rodak: After looking elsewhere, Bills decide to bring back Mills


TE Kendricks to join Packers

Milwaukee native, Wisconsin alum and former Rams tight end Lance Kendricks will join Martellus Bennett in Green Bay, sources ESPN’s Rob Demovsky and Adam Schefter.

Demovsky: Another tight end? Why not, Packers say


Patriots add size, length to D-line with Guy

New England reached a four-year agreement with former Baltimore defensive lineman Lawrence Guy, a source confirms to ESPN.


Cowboys OT Free to retire

A week ago at the scouting combine, the Cowboys were caught off guard by a report that Doug Free was considering retirement. Now they have been informed that the veteran offensive tackle indeed intends to retire, according to multiple sources.


OLB Alexander re-ups with Bills after breakthrough season

Lorenzo Alexander announced the deal on Twitter. A source tells ESPN’s Josina Anderson the deal is for two years and $9 million.

Rodak: Bills pay modest price for Lorenzo Alexander, but his role is uncertain


Buccaneers agree to terms with S Wilcox

A source told ESPN’s Jenna Laine that former Cowboys safety J.J. Wilcox plans to join the Buccaneers.

Laine: Buccaneers get hard-hitting safety Wilcox

Friday, March 10

Dallas to add ex-Philly CB Carroll

Nolan Carroll gets a three-year, $10 million deal to play for the Cowboys.

Archer: Cowboys cover a ‘must’ by adding Nolan Carroll at cornerback


Patriots trade for Saints WR Cooks for picks

New England traded its first- and third-round picks to New Orleans in exchange for Brandin Cooks and the Saints’ fourth-rounder.

Reiss: Cooks trade shows Patriots going all in as Tom Brady approaches 40
Triplett: Cooks deal is a letdown, but feels Patriots-like
Bowen: How Brandin Cooks makes the Patriots even scarier
ESPN Stats & Information: Where Cooks stacks up among NFL’s best wide receivers
Triplett: Cooks is latest playmaker Saints confident they can replace


Panthers sign CB Munnerlyn

Captain Munnerlyn returns to Carolina, where he spent his first five seasons before going to Minnesota in free agency.

Newton: Bringing back nickelback Captain Munnerlyn no-brainer for Panthers
Goessling: Vikings could think differently about replacing Captain Munnerlyn


WR Williams, Cowboys agree on four-year deal, sources say

Dallas has agreed to terms with wide receiver Terrance Williams on a four-year deal, sources told ESPN. The deal is worth $17 million, with $9.5 million guaranteed, sources told ESPN’s Todd Archer. Williams, 27, could make as much as $22 million after incentives, according to sources.

Archer: Keeping Williams keeps Dak Prescott’s targets in place


TE Bennett heading from New England to Green Bay

Former Patriots TE Martellus Bennett is signing with the Packers, a source tells ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Meanwhile, tight end Jared Cook, who played for Green Bay in 2016, will sign elsewhere as a free agent, a source tells ESPN’s Rob Demovsky.

Demovsky: Packers’ signing of Martellus Bennett a shocker but also a necessity
Demovsky: Martellus Bennett used to hate Aaron Rodgers; newest Packer loves him now


Jets sign OT Beachum, K Catanzaro

After sitting out the first day of free agency, the New York Jets signed their first two free agents Friday, adding left tackle Kelvin Beachum and kicker Chandler Catanzaro.

Cimini: Jets continue O-line overhaul with Beachum signing


LB Sheard is off to Indianapolis

Former Patriots LB Jabaal Sheard is signing with the Colts, according to ESPN’s Field Yates and Adam Schefter.

Wells: Colts continue defensive makeover, linebacker infusion with Sheard


OT Watson crosses rival lines, joins Broncos

Former Oakland Raiders OT Menelik Watson has agreed to a three-year deal with Denver.

Legwold: Watson second O-lineman picked up by Broncos in two days


Patriots acquire Ealy, third-round pick in trade with Panthers

Carolina on Friday traded defensive end Kony Ealy and a third-round pick to New England in exchange for the Patriots’ second-round pick, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Reiss: Patriots restock at defensive end by adding Ealy


LB Jones hits guaranteed jackpot from Cardinals

Outside linebacker Chandler Jones signed a five-year contract Friday, with multiple reports saying it is worth $83 million with $53 million guaranteed. It is believed to be the largest sum of guaranteed money handed out during this year’s free-agency frenzy.

Weinfuss: Jones aims to be elite pass-rusher, a locker-room leader


Redskins sign Pryor to one-year deal

Washington has signed wide receiver Terrelle Pryor Sr., the team announced Friday. Sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that the sides had agreed to a one-year, $8 million contract.

Keim: Redskins take advantage of weak market for Pryor
McManamon: Pryor’s desire to test market opened door for Browns


Pro Bowl safety Mike Adams joins Panthers

Safety Mike Adams, a 13-year veteran who was most recently with the Colts, has signed a two-year contract with Carolina, the team announced Friday.

Newton: Addition of Adams could benefit Coleman, Panthers
Newton: Panthers GM putting reputation on line with veterans Peppers, Adams


Timmons leaves Steelers after 10 seasons for Miami

The Dolphins are signing linebacker Lawrence Timmons to a two-year, $12 million deal that includes $11 million guaranteed, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Walker: Timmons helps fill a hole at linebacker for Dolphins
Fowler: Steelers betting on youth by letting Timmons walk


LB Julius Peppers returning to Panthers

Carolina is set to welcome back its all-time sacks leader in Julius Peppers, who is returning to the team that he started his NFL career with, per Peppers’ agent Carl Carey.

Newton: Panthers right a wrong by bringing Peppers home to finish career
Demovsky: Three years, 25 sacks later, Peppers was bargain deal for Packers
Newton: Panthers GM putting reputation on line with veterans Peppers, Adams


TE Cameron, one of ESPN’s top 150 free agents, to retire

After four concussions and plenty of time thinking about the future for himself and his son, Dolphins tight end Jordan Cameron, in an interview with ESPN’s Pat McManamon, said it’s time for him to retire.


After one year, RG III is out of Cleveland

Quarterback Robert Griffin III will be a free agent again, as the Browns will release the quarterback, a source told ESPN’s Josina Anderson.


Bears offer up one-year deal for CB Amukamara

Cornerback Prince Amukamara has reached an agreement on a one-year deal with Chicago, sources tell ESPN.

Dickerson: Amukamara is talented, but will he be healthy for Bears?


OL Wisniewski signs deal with Eagles

Philadelphia has agreed to a three-year deal with offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski, the team announced.

McManus: With Eagles signing Wisniewski; will Jason Kelce remain on roster?


Colts sign former Texans OLB Simon

John Simon gets a three-year deal to change teams within the AFC South, a source told ESPN’s Field Yates.

Wells: Simon fits mold of what Colts seek in reshaping their defense


Lions add former Raiders CB Hayden

Former Oakland Raiders cornerback D.J. Hayden got a one-year deal worth up to $5.25 million.

Rothstein: Injury history makes Hayden a questionable signing for Lions
Gutierrez: Is a Raiders draft bust too harsh for Hayden?
Rothstein: Hayden reuniting with workout partners Darius Slay, Glover Quin


Rams trade starting DE Hayes to Dolphins

William Hayes is headed to Miami. The Dolphins traded their sixth-round pick (No. 206) in exchange for the Rams’ seventh-rounder (No. 223) to complete the deal.

Walker: Hayes adds quality depth to Dolphins’ roster as a third defensive end
Walker: Dolphins’ William Hayes has interesting thoughts on dinosaurs and the moon

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NFL Hall of Fame: Tomlinson, Warner, Davis part of 7-man Hall of Fame class

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HOUSTON (AP) — The quarterback served as ringmaster for “The Greatest Show on Turf.” The running backs were known simply by their initials: LT and TD. And the receiver also known by two letters — TO — was on the outside looking in again.

All unstoppable in their own way, LaDainian Tomlinson, Terrell Davis and Kurt Warner earned their spots in the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday. Terrell Owens, though, got turned away in a decision that went viral on social media and led the receiver to blame a “flawed process” in an after-the-fact tweet.

Also making it were sackmaster Jason Taylor — in on his first ballot, the same as Tomlinson — and Morten Andersen, the NFL’s all-time leading scorer, who joins Jan Stenerud as the second pure placekicker to make the hall.

Seahawks safety Kenny Easley made it as a senior nominee, while Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is in as a contributor. Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue did not get in, with his role in downplaying the severity of the league’s concussion problem a factor in the vote.

Tomlinson’s victory shed a glimmer of light on a dark year for San Diego fans. The city lost its team, but gained a Hall of Famer.

“Those fans there inspired me to run harder, to dig deeper in times when I was tired in the fourth quarter and didn’t think I had anything left,” Tomlinson said.

In nine years with the Chargers, then two with the Jets, the 5-foot-10 Tomlinson reset the template for what had been known as a scatback, proving someone of his size and speed could be a game changer, not merely a change of pace.

As dangerous catching the ball (4,772 career yards) as he was running it (13,684), in 2003, LT became the first player to rush for 1,000 yards and catch 100 passes. His 31 touchdowns scored in 2006 are still the single-season record. He finished his career with 145 TDs, not counting the seven he threw on halfback options.

In giving the thumbs-up to Davis and Warner, the 48 Hall of Fame voters answered ‘Yes’ to the question of whether a few truly dominating years are enough for someone to be enshrined.

Getting a big, fat ‘No’ for the second straight year was Owens, the league’s second-leading all-time receiver, but also one of its most divisive players over a career that spanned 1996-2010.

“Unfortunately I DID NOT MAKE IT again this year,” Owens tweeted. “Thanks to ALL my fans & supporters. #FlawedProcess.”

Warner on Owens: “When you just look at what he accomplished, everybody looks and says, ‘C’mon.’ The numbers are there, the impact is there.”

Warner’s heyday was 1999-2001 with the Rams, whose offense was known as “The Greatest Show on Turf.” Warner quit his job bagging groceries, first for a stint in the Arena League, then landing in the NFL after getting a tryout with St. Louis.

An injury to Trent Green thrust Warner into the lineup for 1999. Coach Dick Vermeil cried when he lost his supposed star quarterback. But he ended up with another. Warner went on to win two overall MVPs and one at the Super Bowl to close the 1999 season, when the Rams captured their only Lombardi Trophy. The 1999 and 2000 teams are still among the top 10 in most points scored in league history.

“You’ve got to remember, he was crying at the time, because he didn’t believe it either,” Warner said. “We all had dreams. We all believed big things. We all expected greatness from ourselves. But I never would have expected ’99.”

Davis was a sixth-round pick in 1995 who caught Broncos coach Mike Shanahan’s eye with a big hit on special teams in a preseason game. Davis became the starting tailback, and from 1996-98 he helped the Broncos to 45 victories and finally pushed John Elway over the top with two Super Bowl titles. In 1998, Davis became the fourth runner to surpass 2,000 yards, with 2008.

He suffered a career-changing knee injury in 1999 while making a tackle after an interception, and played only 17 more games before retiring in 2001. His 78 career games spanned seven seasons, meaning Davis lasted the same number of years as Hall of Fame runner Gale Sayers, who is often held up as Exhibit A when voters are debating short bursts of greatness versus longevity.

“I really thought that there’s no way they’re going to put two backs in the same class, especially a guy that was a first ballot Hall of Famer versus a special circumstance guy like me,” Davis said. “I thought that’s what they saw me as. When I got the knock, obviously I was shocked.”

On the other end of the spectrum was Andersen, the kicker who lasted 25 seasons, played in 382 games and scored 2,544 points for five teams. He was among the first to make the 50-plus-yard field goal routine. His 40 kicks of 50-yards plus were the most in NFL history at his retirement.

Taylor was Defensive Player of the Year in 2006 with 13 1/2 sacks and finished his 15-year career, most of them with the Dolphins, with 139 1/2 sacks, eight interceptions and 29 fumble recoveries.

Easley was the hard-hitting Seattle safety who also played only seven seasons, but made them all count. He was Defensive Player of the Year in 1984 and a four-time All-Pro selection. He finished with 32 interceptions.

Jones is still very much active in charting the league’s course in the 21st century. His $1.2 billion stadium, dubbed “Jerry World,” set the standard for stadiums to follow it in New Jersey, the Bay Area, Minneapolis, Atlanta and, eventually, Los Angeles. He brokered TV and marketing deals that have helped turn the league into a $13 billion-a-year business, all the while keeping a steady — and some might agree, entertaining — presence in front of the TV cameras.

“His impact on our organization, the National Football League is significant,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s changed the league in so many ways.”

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Storylines to watch during NFL’s championship week

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The New England Patriots got a break by not having to face Ben Roethlisberger during their regular-season win over the Steelers in October.

The Patriots’ coaching staff is expecting to get his best this time around with a trip to the Super Bowl at stake.

The 27-16 home loss to New England was the only game the Steelers’ 34-year-old quarterback missed due to injury this season.

He was away less than a month after undergoing surgery to repair the meniscus in his left knee Oct. 17. He was also among several Pittsburgh players that sat out the regular-season finale against the Browns to rest.

Backup quarterback Landry Jones was serviceable in just his third career start in Roethlisberger’s absence.

The Steelers outgained the Patriots 375-362, but were 1 for 4 in the red zone and Jones finished with only one touchdown and an interception.

Pittsburgh is expecting, and will need a stronger performance from the quarterback position this time around.

Coach Bill Belichick said Monday that Big Ben’s return makes the Steelers’ primary offensive options — running back Le’Veon Bell and receiver Antonio Brown — only that much harder to contend with. Bell rushed for 81 yards in the first meeting and Brown had seven catches for 106 yards.

“They’re a tremendous offense. Kansas City was able to make some plays in the red area, but I mean (the Steelers) could’ve easily been up in the 40s,” Belichick said.

“They do a lot of things well; can run it, can throw it. Brown’s the main guy, but all of the receivers, tight ends, backs, I mean they’re all a problem.”

The Chiefs may have planted the seed for how to keep Roethlisberger out of the end zone, however.

The Steelers were held without a touchdown in Sunday’s 18-16 divisional-round win over Kansas City. They also ranked 12th in the NFL during the regular season in red zone efficiency, scoring a touchdown on 59 percent of the trips inside the 20-yard line. They were 0 for 5 in their trips against Kansas City.

Roethlisberger had 13 touchdowns and only three interceptions in the red zone in 14 regular-season games.

But so far in the playoffs, Big Ben has just two total passing touchdowns and three interceptions.

Still, the Steelers coaching staff’s trust in him to throw the deep ball is something that will be a point of emphasis this week, Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said.

In particular he said Roethlisberger’s calm in the pocket and his offensive line’s ability to protect him helps him buy time to improvise.

“If those plays can get extended or prolonged, that’s when it becomes really difficult,” Patricia said. “I think Roethlisberger right now (is) very mobile, very healthy, a guy that showed even again (Sunday night) that just a slight bit of movement or a slight bit of ability to maybe evade the rush, or stand in there just a little bit longer gives his guys enough time to get open in those situations.”

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GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — For once after a game, Green Bay Packers kicker Mason Crosby felt sore.

He got mobbed by giddy teammates after hitting the 51-yard field goal as time expired to beat the Dallas Cowboys.

At one point, Crosby had to beg hulking left tackle David Bakhtiari from trying to pick up the kicker for a victory parade.

After getting eliminated from the playoffs on the last play in each of the previous three seasons, the Packers experienced last-second elation in the 34-31 win over Dallas on Sunday.

Green Bay will face the Atlanta Falcons on the road in the NFC championship game on Sunday.

“Usually after a game, I don’t feel beat up,” a smiling Crosby said on Monday. “We play a kid’s game, and those moments like that, just kind of bring that (joy) out of us.”

Crosby’s clutch kick was set up by Aaron Rodgers’ throw , while rolling to his left, to toe-dragging tight end Jared Cook along the sideline for a 36-yard gain. Coach Mike McCarthy on Monday credited Rodgers with making all the right calls on that play.

“It’s one of the greatest plays that you’ll ever see in that … we call it the final eight (plays) situation for us. But yes, the orchestration and the protection call, the route concept, great, great job with it,” McCarthy said.

And with those two plays, the Packers were able to cross “last-second win on the road” off their checklist during what has been a remarkable turnaround for a team that was once 4-6.

Last season, the Arizona Cardinals beat the Packers in overtime 26-21 in the divisional round on Larry Fitzgerald’s 5-yard touchdown catch.

The Packers fell 28-22 to the Seahawks in overtime on Jermaine Kearse’s 35-yard touchdown reception in the NFC title game in Seattle two years ago after blowing a 16-0 lead.

They lost 23-20 in a wild-card game in the 2013 season to the San Francisco 49ers on Phil Dawson’s 33-yard field goal as time expired in regulation.

“We’ve been in that situation before. We’ve got to keep fighting and keep playing until the last second,” tight end Richard Rodgers, who caught a 34-yard touchdown pass against Dallas, said on Sunday.

The Packers have bounced back from the season-ending injury to running back Eddie Lacy in October. They have proven that they can win even without top receiver Jordy Nelson, who missed the Cowboys game with injured ribs. The defense has withstood injuries to the secondary.

“This team’s personality is one of a unique energy. They don’t swing too high, they don’t swing too low,” McCarthy said Monday. “When you go through playoff runs, a lot of teams go through injuries. You have to overcome it. We will.”

McCarthy said it was too early to tell what Nelson might be able to do when practice resumes on Wednesday, though he called it a good sign that Nelson was able to go through a light, “regeneration” workout on Monday.

The typically lighter day probably helped the Packers after returning to Green Bay about a couple of hours late after the game on Sunday because of stormy weather in the Dallas area. Like fans who had attended the game, the Packers’ departure from AT&T Stadium was delayed.

But it was a pretty fun flight back home.

“I wish I had a great story to tell you, but I tried to watch a little bit of the Steelers game (against) the Chiefs, but you know, the TV was kind of going in and out obviously because of the weather,” McCarthy said.

The coaches “mainly worked on the way back. But the players — it sounded like they were having a pretty good time in the back of the plane.”

Note: Morgan Burnett (quad) would do “everything he can” to play against the Falcons, McCarthy said. He left the Cowboys game in the second quarter.

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EVERYONE’S AN INSIDER

One was Antonio Brown filming the postgame scene in the Steelers’ locker room on Facebook Live where coach Mike Tomlin urges his team to “keep a low profile” heading into New England for the AFC title game and another member of the team is heard saying, “Keep cool on social media.”

So much for that notion of laying low: Brown filmed for 17 minutes and the video had nearly 1 million views by the time it was removed from his page Monday morning.

BLUNDERING CHARGERS

The Chargers quickly changed their working logo after widespread panning of the look they unveiled after revealing their move from San Diego to L.A. Changing the color scheme from Dodger blue and white to powder blue and yellow wasn’t enough to halt the mockery, however.

The switch came after the Chargers became the butt of jokes, memes and derision on social media . The NFL tweeted the initial logo Thursday, but later deleted it as the Chargers even got trolled by other pro and college sports teams over the logo that looked like a cross between baseball’s Dodgers and hockey’s Lightning.

CLOSE CALLS

After the first half dozen playoff games were decided by an average of 18.3 points and were all won by the home team, Sunday brought road success and nail-biters as the Cowboys and Steelers advanced.

Alex Smith’s 2-point conversion pass to tight end Demetrius Harris would have tied the Steelers with 2:38 left, but left tackle Eric Fisher was whistled for holding ageless linebacker James Harrison.

Smith’s second pass, from 10 yards back, was batted incomplete and the Steelers ran out the clock to preserve their 18-16 win and keep the Chiefs winless at Arrowhead Stadium in the playoffs since 1994.

Hours after Brown live-streamed the Steelers’ locker room, Harrison posted an Instagram video of his workout just after the Steelers landed back in Pittsburgh.

Now, that’s the kind of post Tomlin won’t mind.

HOLD ON:

In the 90 seconds that he spoke to reporters before the Chiefs’ communications staff cut him off, tight end Travis Kelce ripped into referee Carl Cheffers and his crew after K.C.’s loss. Kelce openly questioned the integrity of the officials and said Cheffers “shouldn’t be able to wear a zebra jersey ever again.”

“He shouldn’t be able to wear it at Foot Locker,” Kelce said, adding a few expletives.

After watching the film, Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Monday he didn’t think a flag should have been thrown, either.

“They normally let you play, is what they do, especially in key situations,” Reid said of the officials.

But he said he didn’t want to harp on the hooking call because the Chiefs made plenty of blunders before that crucial hooking call on Fisher.

Among them was Kelce’s drop of a long pass and cold-cocking a cornerback on the next play.

HOLD ON II:

The Seahawks appeared to be in excellent position to extend a 10-7 lead when Hester returned a punt 80 yards to the Atlanta 7. But a holding call on Atlanta’s LaRoy Reynolds against Kevin Pierre-Louis pushed the Seahawks all the way back to the Seattle 7.

“I was holding” Pierre-Louis acknowledged. “I grabbed him a little bit so he wouldn’t get down to Hester. But the referee was able to see it. It cost us.”

Two plays later, Wilson was tripped by backup right guard Rees Odhiambo and fell in the end zone for a safety and the Falcons seized momentum on their way to a 36-20 win.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll called the penalty a “ridiculously large play in the game.”

CLASSY MOVES

With 2 minutes to go and the Falcons facing first-and-goal at the Seattle 2, coach Dan Quinn called for Matt Ryan to take a knee instead of piling it on his old team and his old boss.

“It was a very classy way to end the game,” Carroll said.

Same with the Patriots showing Texans defensive tackle Vince Wilfork on the video screen in the waning moments of New England’s 34-16 win over Houston. Wilfork, who played 11 seasons in New England before spending his past two in Houston, has talked about retiring.

Asked if it was a special moment to get a going-away cheer from the Patriots fans, Wilfork said, “It’s never special to lose.”

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NFL Today, Divisional Playoffs

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SCOREBOARD

Sunday, Jan. 22

Green Bay (12-6) at Atlanta (12-5), 3:05 p.m. EST, FOX. Aaron Rodgers will play in his third NFC championship game — all on the road — after leading the Packers past Dallas 34-31 in the divisional round. Green Bay will be looking to earn its sixth Super Bowl berth, and first since Rodgers and the Packers beat Pittsburgh in 2011. Matt Ryan and the Falcons will be standing in their way after advancing to the NFC title game for only the fourth time in their 51-year history with a win over Seattle. Atlanta, playing its final game at the Georgia Dome before moving into the $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium next season, will try to get to its second Super Bowl — and first since losing to Denver in 1999.

Pittsburgh (13-5) at New England (15-2), 6:40 p.m. EST, CBS. Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers look for their first trip to the Super Bowl since 2011. The Patriots beat the Steelers 27-16 on Oct. 23, but Pittsburgh played without Roethlisberger, who was out with a knee injury. Tom Brady and the Patriots advanced to their sixth straight conference championship game, the longest streak since the 1970 merger, with a win over Houston. Bill Belichick and Brady are in their 11th conference championship game together, the most by a head coach/starting QB duo since the NFL-AFL merger.

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STARS

Passing

— Aaron Rodgers, Packers, threw for 356 yards and two touchdowns to lead Green Bay into the NFC championship with a 34-31 victory at Dallas.

— Dak Prescott, Cowboys, passed for 302 yards and three TDs — the first rookie QB in the Super Bowl era with that many in a playoff game — in Dallas’ 34-31 loss to Green Bay.

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Rushing

— Le’Veon Bell, Steelers, broke his own franchise playoff record by running for 170 yards on 30 carries as Pittsburgh advanced to the AFC title game for the first time since the 2010 season with an 18-16 win at Kansas City.

— Ty Montgomery, Packers, ran for two touchdowns in Green Bay’s 34-31 win at Dallas.

— Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys, had 125 yards on 22 carries in Dallas’ 34-31 loss to Green Bay.

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Receiving

— Jared Cook, Packers, caught six passes for 104 yards, including a toe-dragging 36-yard grab to set up the winning field goal in Green Bay’s 34-31 victory at Dallas.

— Dez Bryant, Cowboys, had nine catches for 132 yards and two TDs in Dallas’ 34-31 loss to Green Bay.

— Antonio Brown, Steelers, had 108 yards receiving on six catches in Pittsburgh’s 18-16 win at Kansas City.

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Special Teams

— Chris Boswell, Steelers, set an NFL postseason record with six field goals to account for all of Pittsburgh’s points in an 18-16 win at Kansas City.

— Mason Crosby, Packers, kicked a game-winning 51-yard goal a few minutes after booting a 56-yarder in Green Bay’s 34-31 victory over Dallas.

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Defense

— Micah Hyde, Packers, had a sack and an interception in Green Bay’s 34-31 win at Dallas.

— James Harrison, Steelers, had a sack and three tackles for loss to help lead Pittsburgh past Kansas City 18-16.

— Jeff Heath, Cowboys, sacked Aaron Rodgers and also picked him off in Dallas’ 34-31 loss to Green Bay.

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STREAKS & STATS

Green Bay’s 34-31 win over Dallas was the first by a road team after 12 straight home victories in the playoffs dating to last season. The Packers were also the previous road team to win — over Washington in last season’s wild-card round. … The Cowboys almost became the third team in the Super Bowl era to win in the playoffs after trailing by 15 points in the fourth quarter. The first was Dallas in 1972, when “Captain Comeback”, Roger Staubach, rallied the Cowboys for a 30-28 win over San Francisco. Instead, top-seeded Dallas ended up with its fifth straight loss in the divisional round and a 21-year drought in trips to the NFC championship game. … Since 2001, the Patriots and Steelers have combined to win nine AFC titles. … The Steelers became the first team to win a playoff game without a TD since eventual Super Bowl champion Indianapolis in the 2006 AFC divisional round at Baltimore. … The Chiefs have not won a postseason game at Arrowhead Stadium, largely considered one of the toughest venues in the league, since beating the Steelers in January 1994. That was also the last time Kansas City advanced to the AFC title game.

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MILESTONES

With a 34-31 win at Dallas, Mike McCarthy passed Vince Lombardi and Mike Holmgren on Green Bay’s coaching victory list with his 10th postseason victory. … Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell rushed for a team-record 170 yards in an 18-16 win at Kansas City. Combined with the 167 he had in a win over Miami last week, Bell has the most yards rushing by a player in his first two career postseason games.

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KICKIN’ IT

Pittsburgh’s Chris Boswell set an NFL postseason record with six field goals in the Steelers’ 18=16 win at Kansas City. He also joined former Chargers kicker John Carney (1993) as the only players to make six or more field goals in a game twice in the same season. Boswell also had six in Pittsburgh’s 24-20 win at Cincinnati on Dec. 18.

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THROW, CATCH, KICK

Aaron Rodgers threw a 36-yard pass to a toe-dragging Jared Cook on the sideline, and Mason Crosby kicked a 51-yard field goal on the next play as time expired, sending Green Bay to the NFC championship game with its eighth straight win while thwarting a Dallas rally in a 34-31 victory in the divisional round of the playoffs Sunday. The throw on the run from Rodgers to Cook came on third-and-20 with 12 seconds left, and after the Cowboys tied the score twice in the final 4:08 after trailing by 18 in the first half and by 15 to start the fourth quarter.

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TWO BAD

Kansas City appeared to tie the game against Pittsburgh when Alex Smith connected with Demetrius Harris for a 2-point conversion with 2:43 left. But left tackle was called for holding the Steelers’ James Harrison and the play didn’t count. Forced to attempt the conversion again, Smith’s pass to Jeremy Maclin was batted incomplete, allowing Pittsburgh to hold onto its lead — and seal an 18-16 victory.

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WHAT ARE THE ODDS?

Oddsmakers in Las Vegas made the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons favorites to meet in the Super Bowl. Atlanta is a 4-point favorite to beat Green Bay at home next Sunday, while New England is a 5 1/2-point pick at most sports books to beat Pittsburgh.

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SIDELINED

Green Bay safety Morgan Burnett left the game against Dallas because of quad injury. He apparently got hurt on the opening drive of the game when he collided with teammate LaDarius Gunter when they were both trying to defend a pass thrown toward Dez Bryant.

___

SPEAKING

“He shouldn’t be able to wear a zebra jersey ever again. He shouldn’t be able to wear it at Foot Locker.” — Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce on referee Carl Cheffers, who called Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher for holding to negate a 2-point conversion at the end of an 18-16 loss to Pittsburgh.

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“It’s kind of a blur right now. When we have 35 seconds on the clock and that our offense can move the ball into field goal range and a manageable kick, that’s just special.” — Green Bay’s Mason Crosby, who kicked a 51-yard field goal to lift the Packers over Dallas 34-31 after Aaron Rodgers marched the offense down the field in the closing minute to set up the winning score.

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“I think it’s going to be a showdown. Two great quarterbacks going head to head. Two of the best teams in the AFC. It’s time to settle it next week.” — Pittsburgh running back Le’Veon Bell after the Steelers advanced to the AFC championship game against New England with an 18-16 win at Kansas City.

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NFL Divisional Playoff Roundup: Clutch Rodgers leads Packers past Cowboys 34-31

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ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Aaron Rodgers didn’t need another Hail Mary this time.

Maybe just call it a “Half Mary.”

Rodgers threw a 36-yard pass to a toe-dragging Jared Cook on the sideline, and Mason Crosby kicked a 51-yard field goal on the next play as time expired, sending the Packers to the NFC championship game with their eighth straight win while thwarting a Dallas rally in a 34-31 victory in the divisional round of the playoffs Sunday.

The throw on the run from Rodgers to Cook came on third-and-20 with 12 seconds left, and after the Cowboys tied the score twice in the final 4:08 after trailing by 18 in the first half and by 15 to start the fourth quarter.

“I love the opportunity to go out there and make plays,” said Rodgers, who threw for two touchdowns to give him 21 during the winning streak, although he threw his first interception during the run.

“I was disappointed we had a chance there at 28-13 to go up three scores and make it really difficult for ’em and I threw a pick there on third down. We were able to come down and have two good drives toward the end of the game.”

Dallas’ rally was led by rookie sensations Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott in their playoff debuts, and the first two career postseason touchdown catches for star receiver Dez Bryant along with the first for 14th-year tight end Jason Witten.

“We’re not going to stop no matter what the score is, no matter the game,” Prescott said. “It shows the true character of this team.”

Crosby’s winner was the third field goal of more than 50 yards in the final 1:33 — two from Crosby and one from Dallas’ Dan Bailey. And Crosby had to make the winner twice after Dallas coach Jason Garrett called timeout before the first attempt.

“It’s kind of a blur right now,” Crosby said. “When we have 35 seconds on the clock and that our offense can move the ball into field goal range and a manageable kick, that’s just special.”

Rodgers, who sparked last week’s wild-card win over the New York Giants with another Hail Mary before halftime, is headed to an MVP showdown with Atlanta’s Matt Ryan next Sunday.

It will be Rodgers’ third NFC title game — all on the road for Green Bay (12-6) — and he got there in his first game at the home of the Cowboys since he won his only title as the Super Bowl MVP six years ago.

Cook, who had six catches for a team-leading 104 yards, kept both feet inbounds with a knee just above the ground out of bounds on the decisive play. The play was confirmed on review.

“I saw him rolling to the right it was underneath coverage in front of me,” Cook said. “If I got over the top of them, Aaron would put the ball in the right place. Put it right on the sideline with enough room to get my feet down. It was a heck of a throw by him.”

Prescott, whose 11-game winning streak during the regular season sent Tony Romo to the bench when he returned from a preseason back injury, rallied the Cowboys in a way that probably made Dallas’ 10-year starter proud.

The Cowboys (13-4) almost became the third team in the Super Bowl era to win in the playoffs after trailing by 15 in the fourth. The first was Dallas in 1972, when “Captain Comeback”, Roger Staubach, rallied the Cowboys in San Francisco.

Instead, top-seeded Dallas ended up with its fifth straight loss in the divisional round and a 21-year drought in trips to the NFC championship game.

In the same position nine years ago, the Cowboys lost to the New York Giants, the biggest disappointment of Romo’s tenure.

“I thought we were a team that was capable of taking this thing all the way,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “I know we are now after that second half.”

Prescott — a fourth-round pick who was supposed to be the No. 3 quarterback before injuries changed everything — got Dallas’ rally going with a 40-yard touchdown toss in the first half to Bryant, the first playoff TD for the star receiver.

Then he set the stage for the first tying score on a 6-yarder to Jason Witten to get within 28-20.

After a 7-yard scoring pass to Bryant — who had nine catches for 132 yards — Prescott ran in the tying 2-point conversion with 4:08 to go.

Rodgers led the Packers to a go-ahead 56-yard field goal from Crosby with a big boost on a pass interference penalty against rookie Anthony Brown that wiped out an interception from Jeff Heath, whose pick earlier in the game helped Dallas rally.

The Cowboys answered with a 52-yarder from Bailey with 35 seconds remaining.

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Pittsburgh Steelers kicker Chris Boswell (9) celebrates with teammates after kicking a 22-yard field goal during the first half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

STEELERS 18, CHIEFS 16

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Chris Boswell’s pinpoint right leg and Le’Veon Bell’s two dancing feet.

They do call it football, after all.

Indeed, Bell spent much of Sunday watching the film “Happy Feet.”

“I wasn’t nervous about the game,” Bell said. “I don’t watch ESPN or NFL Live, because I know they’ll talk about the game. I don’t necessarily want to think about the game.

“I watch stuff like ‘Happy Feet.'”

Who needs to reach the end zone when you have Bell chewing up yards and the clock, and Boswell setting an NFL playoff record with six field goals? Throw in a stingy Pittsburgh defense for most of Sunday night, and a multitude of mistakes by Kansas City, and the Steelers’ 18-16 victory sent them into the AFC championship game.

The Steelers (13-5) needed to hold off a last-ditch threat by the Chiefs (12-5) before advancing to face New England next Sunday night for a spot in the Super Bowl. The Patriots won at Pittsburgh 27-16, but Ben Roethlisberger was injured and didn’t play.

“I think it’s going to be a showdown,” Bell said. “Two great quarterbacks going head to head. Two of the best teams in the AFC. It’s time to settle it next week.”

Since 2001, the Patriots and Steelers have combined to win nine AFC titles.

Spencer Ware’s 1-yard touchdown run took Kansas City within 18-16. The Chiefs at first converted the 2-pointer to tie it, but tackle Eric Fisher — the first overall selection in the 2013 draft — was penalized for holding. The next try failed.

With 2:43 remaining, Justin Gilbert misplayed the kick return and was tackled at the Pittsburgh 5. Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown for 7 yards on third down and Pittsburgh then ran out the clock, securing a ninth straight victory for the Steelers. The Chiefs have not won a home playoff game since 1994, losing five in a row.

“I feel like we left a lot of plays on the field that we should have made,” linebacker Justin Houston said. “We didn’t; it’s the playoffs, every play counts.”

The scoring started furiously in the opening minutes, then the game became a kicking exhibition by Boswell, who also had six field goals in the regular season against Cincinnati. And Bell put on a virtuoso running performance, patiently finding holes and then exploding through them. He added a team-record 170 yards rushing to the 167 he had in a win over Miami last week.

“The coaches put a lot of trust in me to get the job done,” Bell said of his 30 carries. “Just run hard. Just picked my spots where I could and run hard.”

The Steelers became the first team to win a playoff game without a TD since eventual Super Bowl champion Indianapolis in the 2006 AFC divisional round at Baltimore.

Using a no-huddle attack almost to perfection early on, the Steelers drove deep into Kansas City territory. But they bogged down inside the 5 and Boswell made a 22-yard field goal.

The Chiefs were just as efficient on a six-play march capped by receiver Albert Wilson lining up in the backfield, then slipping uncovered into the end zone for a 5-yard score.

Pittsburgh’s answer came on a 52-yard heave to All-Pro Brown, who somehow was covered by Houston. That led to Boswell’s second field goal, a 38-yarder. He added a 36-yarder to cap a 14-play drive on which Pittsburgh again barely huddled.

A clean game up until then turned to, well, turnovers, on successive series. Bud Dupree pounded Alex Smith, whose pass shot high into the air and was caught by linebacker Ryan Shazier.

The Steelers got to the Kansas City 5, where Frank Zombo leaped to deflect Roethlisberger’s throw, and All-Pro safety Eric Berry — burned for 26 yards on the previously play — picked it off in the end zone.

Boswell’s fourth field goal, from 45 yards, made it 12-7 at the half. His 43-yarder, setting the franchise record for a postseason game and tying the league mark of five, came on Pittsburgh’s first series of the second half. A 43-yarder midway in the fourth quarter gave Boswell the NFL record.

“It’s just about doing my job,” Boswell said. “Coming out here, put it through the yellow pipes. Don’t really think too much. Don’t think like I’m the guy or anything. I’m just doing my job and doing my one-eleventh for the team.”

Kansas City’s Cairo Santos got in on the kicking act with a 48-yarder to make it 15-10. At that point, 10 seconds from the end of the third quarter, the Chiefs were outgained 333 yards to 150.

NFL divisional playoff matchups: Can Matt Ryan, Falcons exploit Seahawks?

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NEW YORK (AP) — The divisional round of the NFL playoffs has a familiar feel.

All four of the matchups this weekend are rematches of regular-season games from this season. And Saturday’s games feature coaches going against their former teams.

Atlanta coach Dan Quinn spent four seasons with Seattle, including the 2013 and ’14 seasons as the team’s defensive coordinator.

The Seahawks advanced to the Super Bowl in both seasons, including winning it to cap the 2013 season. Quinn got the better of Pete Carroll and the Seahawks with a 26-24 win at CenturyLink Field in Week 6.

And, Houston’s Bill O’Brien was on Bill Belichick’s staff in Foxborough from 2007-11. O’Brien is looking for a better result on Saturday night after his Texans were dominated 27-0 in September.

The Steelers and Packers both enter Sunday’s games as two of the hottest teams in the NFL. Pittsburgh will enter its matchup at Kansas City on an eight-game winning streak. The Steelers routed the Chiefs 43-14 in Week 4.

And Green Bay will travel to Dallas on a seven-game surge as it tries to knock off the top-seeded Cowboys and get even for a 30-16 loss at Lambeau Field in Week 6.

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Seattle (11-5-1) at Atlanta (11-5), Saturday at 4:35 p.m. EST (Fox)

This will be the second postseason meeting between the teams. Both were in the divisional playoffs, and both at the Georgia Dome.

Four years ago, Seattle fell behind 20-0 before Russell Wilson led his team on three fourth-quarter touchdown drives to take a 28-27 lead with 31 seconds left. However, the Falcons completed two long pass plays and Matt Bryant kicked a 49-yard field goal in a 30-28 win.

“It’s one of those games,” Carroll said Tuesday of the loss in January 2013. “It’s one of those games you store away, but it doesn’t have anything to do with what’s going on now.”

That game was a rare postseason loss for Wilson, who is 8-3 in his career in the playoffs.

Atlanta has lost five of its past six playoff games. An Atlanta loss would end the Falcons’ 25-year stay in the Georgia Dome. Mercedes-Benz Stadium is scheduled to open next season.

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Houston (10-7) at New England (14-2), Saturday at 8:15 p.m. (CBS)

The Patriots are more than a two-touchdown favorite. And with good reason.

New England has won seven of the eight meetings overall. The Patriots are 4-0 at Foxborough against Houston, outscoring the Texans a combined 150-49. And that includes a 27-0 rout in Week 3 with Jacoby Brissett was at quarterback because Tom Brady was serving his four-game suspension.

Brady has 22 playoff wins, the most in NFL history. Brady is also the NFL postseason leader in completions (738), attempts (1,183), passing yards (7,957) and touchdown passes (56).

And Belichick has 23 postseason wins, most all time.

Houston’s best hope is for defensive end Jadeveon Clowney to get consistent pressure on Brady. The No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft was a big reason why the Texans dominated the Raiders in the wild-card round. He had an acrobatic interception to set up a touchdown in the 27-14 win.

“That kind of boosts us up a little (like), OK we gonna show them,” Clowney said earlier this week of being a big underdog.

“One of the mentalities this week going into this game is we’re the underdogs, always been underdogs all season — let’s go out there and prove to them why we’re here in this second round now.”

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Green Bay (11-6) at Dallas (13-3), Sunday at 4:40 p.m. (Fox)

This is the eighth postseason meeting between the teams, which includes such memorable matchups as the “Ice Bowl” in 1967.

And the Packers and Cowboys are tied with the Giants for the most playoff appearances at 32.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy has nine playoff wins, tied with Vince Lombardi and Mike Holmgren for the most in club history.

The Cowboys, who have four straight losses in the divisional round, are looking for their first NFC championship game appearance since the 1995 season.

Dak Prescott will be the first rookie QB to start a playoff game for Cowboys.

Since winning the Super Bowl after the 2010 season, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has not won back-to-back playoff games.

Packers receiver Jordy Nelson, who had an NFL-high 14 touchdown catches in the regular season, will miss the game because of injured ribs.

“We’re a different offense, though,” Rodgers said earlier in the week about his team’s offensive options.

“We’re doing a lot of different things than we were last year, a lot of things better. I think our offensive line is playing better. Our scheme has advanced, and we’re getting more contributions from the tight end at this point.

“Davante (Adams) is a legit receiver in this league, and obviously Randall Cobb, who is established as well,” he said.

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Pittsburgh (12-5) at Kansas City (12-4), Sunday at 8:20 p.m. (NBC)

The game was moved from 1:05 to prime time because of a potential ice storm due to hit the Kansas City area this weekend.

The Steelers beat the Dolphins 30-12 in the wild-card round for their NFL-record 35th postseason win.

Ben Roethlisberger had five touchdown passes in Pittsburgh’s previous meeting against the Chiefs.

“They are a very aggressive defense,” Roethlisberger said. “We were able to utilize some of that the first time we played them. But like I said, we throw that out the window. They may be more conservative. They may just play their game.”

The previous time the Chiefs hosted a playoff game was in January 2011. Their coach for that game was Todd Haley, now the Steelers’ offensive coordinator.

The Chiefs have lost four straight home playoff games, three in the divisional round.

The Chiefs beat the Steelers 27-24 in the wild-card round on Jan. 8, 1994. Joe Montana was the quarterback for the Chiefs, who have not won a home playoff game since.

In fact, the Chiefs have only won two playoff games at home in their history, even though they were a founding member of the old AFL. The other came against the then-Los Angeles Raiders in 1991, also in the wild-card round.

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NFL’s divisional playoff teams: Anyone scared of that spread in Foxborough?

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(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today / AP)   —   NFL power rankings heading into this weekend’s divisional playoff round:

Divisional weekend

Saturday, Jan. 14

*Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons*

Time: 4:35 p.m. ET, TV: (Fox)

Betting line: Seattle favored by 4

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*Houston Texans at New England Patriots*

Time: 8:15 p.m. ET, TV: (CBS)

Betting line: Patriots favored by 16

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Sunday, Jan. 15

*Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs*

Time:  1:05 p.m. ET, TV: (NBC)

Betting line: Chiefs favored by 1

*Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys*

Time:  4:40 p.m. ET, TV: (Fox)

Betting line: Cowboys favored by 4

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Conference championship weekend

Sunday, Jan. 22

NFC Championship Game – 3:05 p.m. ET, Fox

AFC Championship Game – 6:40 p.m. ET, CBS

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Super Bowl 

Sunday, Feb. 5

Super Bowl LI (NRG Stadium, Houston) – 6:30 p.m. ET, Fox

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When the point spreads came out for the divisional playoff round, the line getting the most attention was for the game at Foxborough, the one projected blowout.

While all four teams coming off byes are favored, the Patriots (14-2) opened as a 13½-point choice against the Texans (10-7). The money started flowing in, and the line moved up to 15½.

The players and coaches have no interest in such things, of course, reasoning that betting lines have no impact on what happens on the field Saturday night.

They are right. Talent makes the difference, and there rarely has been such a mismatch in skill as in this one.

Not that the Texans, fresh off a rout of the injury-wrecked Raiders, will simply forfeit. They recognize the challenge and sound eager to face it.

“You have to make sure that, No. 1, that you do your job,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said. “That your players understand what their role in the game is and how they’re supposed to perform on every single play.

“They’re going to make their share of plays. I think one of the big things for us is we have to play good, sound, fundamental football. They’re the type of team that if you make too many mistakes, they’re going to bury you.”

Let the romping begin.

New England has won its past four meetings with Houston at Gillette Stadium by a combined 150-49. It’s tempting to pick that score, but we’ll go with the average of those results.

BEST BET: PATRIOTS, 38-12

Pittsburgh (plus 2) at Kansas City, Sunday

That boot being worn by Ben Roethlisberger after Pittsburgh’s win against Miami is very worrisome. But Roethlisberger tends to always show up in the playoffs and perform superbly much of the time.

The Steelers eased past the Chiefs on Oct. 2, but that was in Pittsburgh. Kansas City is better now than it was back then, although so are the Steelers.

If KC can get pressure on Big Ben and somewhat control Antonio Brown, the league’s most dangerous receiver (and non-quarterback), and RB Le’Veon Bell, it can use its relatively conservative offense to its advantage. But will Andy Reid turn the reins loose a bit when the Chiefs have the ball?

A matchup we can’t wait to see is Brown vs. All-Pro cornerback Marcus Peters.

The feeling is that only the Steelers could derail another trip to the Super Bowl for New England. Pro Picks would like to see if Pittsburgh can do that, so …

UPSET SPECIAL: STEELERS, 23-21

Seattle (plus 4½) at Atlanta, Saturday

Experience, coaching and swagger — they all are on the side of the visitors.

Seattle is as accomplished as any NFC playoff team, and many of the key contributors to its recent success remain on the scene: Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner, Richard Sherman and Doug Baldwin.

Now that Thomas Rawls seems healthy, there’s a running game to complement Wilson, Baldwin and tight end Jimmy Graham.

But this is one of those prove-it games for Atlanta’s All-Pros, quarterback Matt Ryan and wideout Julio Jones. Which opponent to better prove that your offense, and an improving defense, are capable of a long postseason run than against the big kid on the NFC block?

Falcons coach Dan Quinn gets the better of his mentor, Seattle’s Pete Carroll, in a squeaker.

FALCONS, 27-26

Green Bay (plus 4) at Dallas, Sunday

Who isn’t in awe of Aaron Rodgers, the league’s best quarterback over the past two months? Hey, the guy even connects regularly on desperation passes.

The big issue here is the health of Jordy Nelson, who got a helmet to the ribs from the Giants in the wild-card game and was sidelined. It’s not likely he will be on the field Sunday, and even if he is, Nelson probably will be limited.

Still, the Packers will play loose and A-Rod will be dynamic. They figure to do their share of scoring against a Dallas defense that ranked 26th against the pass.

Then again, sensational rookies Zeke Elliott and Dak Prescott, operating behind the best line in the NFL and complemented by Jason Witten and Dez Bryant, also should supply points.

In a shootout …

PACKERS, 37-33

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Last Week: Against spread (1-3). Straight up: (3-1)

Season Totals: Against spread (125-124-8). Straight up: (159-99-2)

Best Bet: 11-7 against spread, 13-5 straight up.

Upset special: 6-11-1 against spread, 6-12 straight up

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***

NFL Wild Card Roundup: Rodgers works Hail Mary magic, Packers beat Giants 38-13

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GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Aaron Rodgers, master of the Hail Mary pass, struck again in another big moment.

Rodgers overcame a sluggish start and finished with four touchdown passes, including a momentum-swinging 42-yard heave to Randall Cobb at the end of the second quarter, to lead the Green Bay Packers to a 38-13 win Sunday over the New York Giants in an NFC wild-card game.

The Packers move on to face the Dallas Cowboys in the divisional round next week.

Rodgers was 25 of 40 for 362 yards, continuing a remarkable run of quarterback play that helped the Packers win their final six games of the regular season to take the NFC North. Cobb finished with five receptions for 116 yards and three scores.

For much of the first half, the Giants’ defense flustered the two-time NFL MVP. They got pressure on Rodgers and the secondary blanketed the Packers’ talented receiving corps , and a few boos even rained down from the stands after New York built a 6-0 lead on two field goals by Robbie Gould.

As it turned out, Rodgers was just getting started.

“We hit a Hail Mary. That got us going,” Rodgers said.

Green Bay scored two touchdowns in the final 2:20 of the second quarter, punctuated by another remarkable desperation pass by Rodgers.

With the ball on the Giants 42, Rodgers took the snap with 6 seconds left. He rolled to his right before heaving a throw from about the Packers 47. Cobb somehow got behind three defensive backs near the back of the end zone to haul in the pass, getting both feet down before falling out of bounds.

“They boxed us out better than we played it,” Giants coach Ben McAdoo said. “It was a heck of a throw, heck of a catch.”

The Giants looked stunned, just like how the Detroit Lions and Arizona Cardinals looked last season after Rodgers pulled off similar feats.

“Davante (Adams) made a bunch of plays,” Rodgers said. “And Randall Cobb, who this offense has been missing for a long time. We’re better with 18 on the field and he showed it tonight.”

Rodgers and Cobb weren’t done.

They connected again on a 30-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter for a 21-13 lead. That score answered a Giants scoring drive that briefly cut the deficit to one.

“Second half we got back to some rhythm throws and I was getting better on my timing, getting the ball out of my hand quickly,” Rodgers said. “No negative-yard plays, the offensive line blocked really well, regardless of the stats.”

A Packers defense ranked 21st in points allowed (24.3) coming into the game limited the production of Odell Beckham Jr., and the Giants’ receiving corps in spite of a battered secondary.

Beckham finished with four catches for 28 yards. Eli Manning was 23 of 44 for 299 yards, including the 41-yard touchdown pass to Tavarres King in the third quarter.

But the Giants were plagued by a series of drops by their receivers .

“It’s a game inches, and we were just inches short on some of these plays, inches away from big plays,” Beckham said.

Rodgers began dissecting the secondary after coach Mike McCarthy had his quarterback roll more outside the pocket, and the Packers started working the middle of the field.

Cobb had a big night after missing the last two games of the regular season with an ankle injury. Adams had eight receptions for 125 yards and a score.

Top receiver Jordy Nelson was knocked out of the game with 11 minutes left in the second quarter with a rib injury.

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STEELERS 30, DOLPHINS 12

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Le’Veon Bell spent the last two Januarys watching helplessly while the Pittsburgh Steelers tried to make a deep postseason run without him. The ever fluid running back made up for lost time Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.

So did Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, the other members of Pittsburgh’s “Big Three” together in the playoffs for the first time.

Pounding away relentless at a defense that hardly seemed interested in stopping him at frigid Heinz Field, Bell ran for a franchise postseason record 167 yards and two scores . The Steelers overwhelmed the beaten-up and mistake-prone Miami Dolphins 30-12 on Sunday.

“We wanted to go out there and make a statement,” Bell said.

Bell, Brown and Roethlisberger, who wore a walking boot on his right foot afterward, more than wiped away the bitter aftertaste of a 30-15 whipping at the hands of the Dolphins in mid-October. Given a shot at redemption, Pittsburgh didn’t let it go to waste. The Steelers (12-5) led by two touchdowns before the game was 10 minutes old on long touchdown passes from Roethlisberger to Brown. Miami never got closer than 11.

“Le’Veon was beastly,” said Brown, who finished with five receptions for 124 yards and the two scores. “All day, controlling the line of scrimmage, just running guys over and finding a way to put the ball in the end zone. Any time he’s playing like that, we’re going to be a hard team to beat.”

Certainly, at least, teams like the Dolphins (10-7). Given a chance to prove their first playoff berth in eight years wasn’t a fluke despite being outgained and outscored during the regular season, Miami never found a rhythm. The problem wasn’t the single digit wind chill or a vicious hit absorbed by quarterback Matt Moore in the second quarter as much as it was the Steelers.

Pittsburgh sacked Moore five times, forced turnovers on three consecutive possessions in the middle of the game, and never really let the Dolphins up off the deck.

“It’s hard to win when you turn the ball over,” said Moore, completed 29 of 36 passes for 289 yards with a touchdown and an interception. “In the playoffs, you can’t make mistakes and that’s on me.”

Pittsburgh (12-5) ran off its eighth straight victory to set up a visit to AFC West champion Kansas City (12-4) next Sunday. The Steelers rolled by the Chiefs 43-14 on Oct. 2.

“We have to understand the same passion and dedication that we put in this week to beat Miami, that’s how Kansas City is going to try to beat us,” Bell said.

At least Bell will be around for the challenge. He missed the playoffs each of the last two seasons with knee injuries. All he did in his postseason debut was break Hall of Famer Franco Harris’ team mark for yards rushing in a playoff game. Harris ran for 158 yards in a Super Bowl win over Minnesota 42 years ago. Bell reached that total by the end of the third quarter.

The Dolphins tried to hype themselves up by running around in shirt sleeves in the single-digit wind chill during warmups. Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier did them one better, racing around shirtless — as if to send a message that his team is plenty comfortable playing this time of year.

It sure looked like it.

The Steelers scored on their first three possessions, and Miami’s playoff victory drought was well on its way to 17 years and counting. Miami running back Jay Ajayi managed just 33 yards on 16 carries, or 171 yards less than he piled up against Pittsburgh in October.

NFL Today, Wild-Card Playoffs

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SCOREBOARD

Sunday, Jan. 8

Miami (10-6) at Pittsburgh (11-5), 1:05 p.m. EST, CBS. The Dolphins are making their first playoff appearance since 2008 and looking for their first postseason win since the wild-card round in 2000. Matt Moore will play at quarterback in place of the injured Ryan Tannehill for the first postseason start of his 10-year career. The Steelers, meanwhile, are looking to make up for a 30-15 loss to the Dolphins on Oct. 16, when Jay Ajayi ran for 204 yards, the first back to go over 200 yards rushing vs. Pittsburgh in 16 years.

New York Giants (11-5) at Green Bay (10-6), 4:40 p.m. EST, Fox. Giants coach Ben McAdoo was a Packers assistant under Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy from 2006-13, and is the second head coach in franchise history with at least 11 wins in his first year (Dan Reeves, 11 in 1993). New York’s strong secondary will face Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, who threw 15 TD passes and no interceptions in the Packers’ six-game winning streak to end the regular season.

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STARS

Passing

— Russell Wilson, Seahawks, was 23 of 30 for 224 yards and two touchdowns in Seattle’s 26-6 victory over Detroit in the wild-card round.

— Brock Osweiler, Texans, threw a touchdown pass and ran for another score in Houston’s 27-14 win over Oakland.

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Rushing

— Thomas Rawls, Seahawks, set a franchise postseason record with 161 yards rushing, including a 4-yard touchdown run, in Seattle’s 26-6 win over Detroit in the wild-card round.

— Lamar Miller, Texans, ran for 73 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries to help lead Houston past Oakland 27-14.

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Receiving

— Doug Baldwin, Seahawks, had 11 catches for 104 yards and a TD to help lift Seattle to a 26-6 victory over Detroit.

— DeAndre Hopkins, Texans, caught five passes for 67 yards and a score in Houston’s 27-14 win over Oakland.

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Special Teams

— Nick Novak, Texans, kicked field goals of 50 and 38 yards in Houston’s 27-14 victory over Oakland.

— Matt Prater, Lions, accounted for all of Detroit’s points with field goals of 51 and 53 yards in a losing cause as the Lions fell to Seattle 26-6. He was the first player with multiple 50-yard field goals made in the same playoff game.

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Defense

— Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus, Texans. Clowney had his first career interception, which set up Houston’s first touchdown in the opening quarter of a 27-14 win over Oakland. Mercilus had two sacks for the NFL’s top-ranked defense.

— Cliff Avril, Seahawks, had two sacks in Seattle’s 26-6 victory over Detroit.

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STREAKS & STATS

With a 26-6 loss at Seattle, the Detroit Lions have dropped nine straight postseason games, the longest skid in NFL history. Their last road playoff victory was in 1957 at San Francisco en route to winning the NFL championship. … Seattle has won 10 straight postseason games at home. … Houston’s Lamar Miller had 31 carries — rushing for 73 yards and a TD — and averaged just 2.35 yards in Houston’s 27-14 win over Oakland. According to the NFL, teams are 37-0 in the postseason since 1950 when a player gets 30 or more carries. … Oakland failed to get a first down on its first 11 third-down attempts at Houston. The Raiders finally converted one early in the fourth quarter and finished 2 of 16 on third downs. … Seattle’s Steven Hauschka has missed seven extra points this season, the most in the NFL.

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MILESTONES

With a 26-6 victory over Detroit, Seattle’s Russell Wilson has the most wins by any starting QB in his first five seasons in NFL history, including the playoffs, with 64. He broke a tie with Baltimore’s Joe Flacco. … Thomas Rawls’ 161 yards rushing topped Seattle’s franchise postseason record of 157 by Marshawn Lynch against Green Bay two years ago. … Doug Baldwin has three games of 100 yards receiving or more in the playoffs, a Seahawks postseason record.

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CONNOR COOKED

Oakland’s first trip to the playoffs since the 2002 season, when it went to the Super Bowl, ended with a thud behind the struggles of third-string rookie Connor Cook in a 27-14 loss at Houston. Cook threw for 161 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions after becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to make his first start in a playoff game. That came after MVP contender Derek Carr broke his leg two weeks ago and Matt McGloin injured his shoulder last Sunday. Cook’s performance wasn’t helped by star left tackle Donald Penn missing the game with a knee injury, which ended a streak of 160 straight starts.

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SEAHAWKS’ BALLHAWK

Seattle’s Paul Richardson filled the highlight reel with a trio of catches in the Seahawks’ 26-6 win over Detroit. None was better than his 2-yard touchdown in the second quarter to give Seattle a 7-0 lead. Richardson went horizontal reaching out with his left hand to cradle the pass as he was being interfered with by Tavon Wilson. What wasn’t called on the play was Richardson’s right hand yanking on the facemask of Wilson as he reached to make the catch. Richardson had another one-handed catch in the fourth quarter.

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NOT SO FAST

Houston appeared to have scored a touchdown on a 57-yard punt return by Tyler Ervin late in the third quarter of its 27-14 win over Oakland. But the score was nullified because Whitney Mercilus ran into punter Marquette King on the play. King punted again and it almost turned bad for the Texans when Ervin muffed that one. Luckily for Houston, teammate Eddie Pleasant grabbed the ball after it bounced away from Ervin.

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SIDELINED

Oakland left tackle Donald Penn missed the Raiders’ 27-14 loss at Houston with a knee injury, which ended a streak of 160 straight starts.

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SPEAKING

“I’ve got all the faith in Connor or Matt — any backups we’ve got. But they know, at full strength, ain’t nobody in the league touching us, man. We’re going to take this loss on the chin, and we’re going to come back, for sure.” — Oakland cornerback David Amerson after the Raiders lost 27-14 at Houston. Connor Cook started at quarterback because Matt McGloin had a shoulder injury and starter Derek Carr broke a leg two weeks ago.

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“This felt like old times. This felt great.” — Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman after the Seahawks beat the Lions 26-6 in an NFC wild-card game for their 10th straight playoff victory at home.

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For more NFL coverage: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL

NFL wild-card matchups to watch: Can Giants secondary tame Rodgers?

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today)   —   When the Oakland Raiders ended Connor Cook’s draft tumble in April, neither the franchise leaders nor the quarterback likely envisioned themselves in their present situation.

A fourth-round pick out of Michigan State, Cook was a depth addition and developmental option for a team already set with Derek Carr as its starter and Matt McGloin as its backup. But after a broken leg ended Carr’s season in Week 16 and McGloin was sidelined by a left shoulder injury in the regular-season finale, Cook now steps in as the first quarterback of the Super Bowl era to make his starting debut in a playoff game, one that ends a 14-year postseason drought for the Raiders.

And the Houston Texans’ top-ranked defense awaits the rookie.

“We’ll do the best we can to prepare him,” Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said in a conference call with reporters upon announcing Cook’s promotion. “The great thing about it is he’s been here, been in our system, mentally been engaged in what we do and how we do it all year.

“There’s only so much you can catch up all at once.”

Cook almost assuredly will be working with a limited version of the offense, but playing the caretaker role might be an adjustment. At Michigan State, he developed a reputation for forcing balls downfield into tight coverage.

The Texans might be counting on him to do just that in Saturday’s wild-card contest.

“I hope we blitz him all game,” Texans defensive end Jadveveon Clowney told reporters this week. “I don’t know, that’s up to the coaches. We just have to put a lot of pressure on him, make him throw some bad balls, force some turnovers and try to get our offense in good field position.”

The Raiders topped the Texans 27-20 earlier in the season in Mexico City, but they needed fourth-quarter rally sparked by Carr. With McGloin and Cook in last week, Oakland sputtered to just 221 yards in a 24-6 loss to the Denver Broncos.

Oakland could ramp up its already screen-heavy attack to ease Cook’s burden while trying to quickly get the ball into the hands of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. But leaning on a strong supporting cast might not be so simple against a Texans defense that boasts standouts at every level with Clowney, outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus and cornerback A.J. Bouye. Oakland’s stellar offensive line is also hurting, as left tackle Donald Penn and left guard Kelechi Osemele have both been hampered by knee injuries.

Here are four more matchups that will define wild-card weekend:

Packers receivers vs. Giants secondary

The New York Giants’ “NYPD” secondary handled its first assignment against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers’ passing game in October, but policing them again could make for a difficult reprisal.

Rodgers threw two interceptions and completed a season-low 51.1% of his passes in Green Bay’s 23-16 win earlier this season. That offense, however, is far removed from the one that ended the season with Rodgers completing 71% of his passes with 15 touchdowns and no interceptions in six straight wins.

The Giants’ secondary might have to hold its coverage longer than usual if Rodgers isn’t corralled by defensive end Olivier Vernon and the pass rush. New York ranked just 23rd in total pass defense, but Pro Bowl selections Janoris Jenkins and Landon Collins highlight a deep group. Tight end Jared Cook looms as a threat for the unit after emerging late in the year.

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson vs. Lions pass rush

While managing high-ankle and knee sprains he suffered in September, Wilson has slogged to career lows in rushing with just 72 carries for 259 yards. That facet of his game may remain on the backburner as he continues to heal, but Saturday could provide an opportunity for a return to form by the Seattle Seahawks star quarterback.

The Detroit Lions have struggled both to pressure opposing quarterbacks and contain them from extending plays. Rodgers took off 10 times for 42 yards in the Packers’ win last week, and Wilson is a bigger threat as an open-field runner. Seattle’s 25th-ranked rushing attack may need him to provide a boost.

Selling out for the rush may not be optimal given Wilson’s evasiveness, but his patience could be problematic, too. The Lions allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete an NFL record 72.7% of their passes, and Wilson could be content to pick apart the defense from the pocket.

Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi vs. Steelers front seven

The Miami Dolphins’ breakout back took the NFL by surprise with his 204-yard, two-touchdown outburst in a 30-15 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers earlier this season. But coach Mike Tomin said this week that game was no “lightning strike,” and Pittsburgh is on alert to prevent another big outing from Ajayi.

The Steelers have reason for confidence after allowing just 64.6 rushing yards per game in the first five wins of its seven-game streak to end the year. Defensive end Stephon Tuitt and nose tackle Javon Hargrave will be counted on to control the line of scrimmage, and the defense may load the box with Ryan Tannehill out and Matt Moore in at quarterback for the Dolphins.

Ajayi’s ability to keep the offense moving and on the field will be all the more important for a Miami team looking to limit an explosive Pittsburgh offense. This will be the first time the Steelers will have Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown all starting together in a playoff game.

Texans LT Duane Brown vs. Raiders DE Khalil Mack

The Houston Texans’ problems with quarterback Brock Osweiler at the helm were evident throughout the season. Now with their once-benched starter returning to his starting role after Tom Savage’s concussion, a jolt is needed for an offense that ranks as the worst of any playoff team.

Protecting Osweiler will be critical after the line allowed eight sacks and 15 quarterback hits in the last two weeks. The clear priority will be stopping Mack, the main force on a sub-par Oakland Raiders defense, from creating havoc up front. The potential defensive player of the year had 11 sacks, though none in the last three games, and five forced fumbles.

If Mack and linebacker Bruce Irvin are unable to generate pressure, Oakland’s defense could be at serious risk. The unit finished with an NFL-low 25 sacks despite the duo’s combined 18, and Del Rio bemoaned the 20 missed tackles in the regular-season finale. The Raiders ranked second with 30 takeaways this season, so a strong pass rush could help force Osweiler into errors for easy scoring opportunities.

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NFL Wild Card Roundup: Lions drop 9th straight in playoffs, fall 26-6 to Seahawks

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SEATTLE (AP) — A season that appeared so promising a month ago ended with an offensive whimper for the Detroit Lions and extended the franchise’s history of playoff futility.

Detroit, which lost its final three regular-season games and has not won a playoff game since the 1991 season, failed to score a touchdown in a mistake-filled 26-6 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday night in the wild-card round.

“You play against a team like Seattle, you’ve got to seize your opportunities,” Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “They’re a really good defense. We had some opportunities and didn’t come away with any yards, first downs, points or whatever it was. It’s tough to win a game when you play that way.”

The Lions (9-8), whose two-game lead in the NFC North slipped away over the final three games, were unable to muster a consistent attack from the onset against the Seahawks.

Detroit also was penalized seven times for 68 yards, including two major infractions by veteran players that contributed to Seattle scores. The Lions also had several dropped passes in key third-down situations that stalled early possessions.

“Some things are inexplicable,” said Lions coach Jim Caldwell. “Our guys have usually been pretty sharp with catching the ball. We had some drops out there, we lost our poise a couple times. That’s a fact of the matter, and it was a couple of older guys.”

It was the ninth straight postseason loss for the Lions, whose last road playoff victory was in 1957 at San Francisco en route to winning the NFL championship. Detroit’s last playoff win was 38-6 at home over Dallas in the divisional round on Jan. 5, 1992.

Detroit’s first four possessions netted 77 yards, resulting in three punts and a pass on fourth-and-1 from the Seattle 38 that lost two yards, leading to Seattle’s first touchdown.

“It was designed to work, obviously, but they had it covered up and we didn’t get it,” Caldwell said. “But, you’ve got to go for it in that situation, I think, and we just didn’t get it. They did a better job of covering than we did executing.”

The Lions finally got on the board with 25 seconds left in the first half when Matt Prater’s 51-yard field goal capped a seven-play, 42-yard drive to cut the Seahawks’ lead to 10-3.

The Lions, who allowed 42 and 31 points in the previous two losses, forced a punt on the opening possession of the second half.

Detroit took over at its own 4 and marched to the Seattle 35, before Stafford’s pass for Golden Tate on third-and-2 sailed high.

The Lions settled for Prater’s 53-yarder to make it 10-6 with 4:08 left in the third quarter, but Seattle answered with a 10-play, 66-yard drive culminating in Steven Hauschka’s 27-yard field goal to push the lead to 13-6 early in the fourth quarter.

The Lions set an NFL record this season by coming from behind eight times in the fourth quarter to win, but couldn’t rally against the Seahawks defense.

Detroit punted on each of its next two possessions, and Seattle responded with touchdown drives of 82 and 84 yards, leaving old Kezar Stadium in San Francisco as the site of the Lions’ last playoff road win.

“It was 13-6 at one point in time as well, 10-3, 10-6, we’re still right there in it. Those are our kind of games,” Caldwell said. “What they did better, though, is they were able to make some plays, extend drives and get in position and finally stopped kicking field goals and made a couple touchdowns on us. We couldn’t answer. We did not answer, I should say.”

Stafford said he was concerned with this loss, rather than the Lions’ playoff history.

“To me, every team is different. Each year is totally different. How we got here is not like any other year that we’ve had,” Stafford said. “You can say that pretty much about every year. I don’t look at it collectively, I look at individually and we didn’t get it done today, we didn’t get it done this year.”

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Houston Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney jumps on Houston Texans tackle Duane Brown as they leave field during the second half of an AFC Wild Card NFL football game Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017, in Houston. The Houston Texans won 27-14. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

TEXANS 27, RAIDERS 14

HOUSTON (AP) — Brock Osweiler redeemed himself after last month’s benching. Jadeveon Clowney established himself as a postseason force.

And the Houston Texans got their first playoff victory since the 2012 season Saturday against the Oakland Raiders.

Osweiler threw for a touchdown and ran for another to lead the Texans to a 27-14 wild-card playoff win over Oakland. Clowney, erasing any doubts he deserved to be the top pick in the 2014 draft, got his first career interception.

Osweiler, benched on Dec. 18, got his job back this week with Tom Savage out with a concussion, played his best game of the season. It was the first career playoff game for Osweiler, who was benched for Peyton Manning before the postseason last season with Denver, and coach Bill O’Brien said he’ll start again next week. Osweiler finished with 168 yards passing.

“It just goes back to having confidence in my teammates,” Osweiler said. “Believing in what you see and just rip it. Cut it loose and don’t have any hesitation. I trust that my teammates, the skill guys, they’re going to be where they’re supposed to be . and they’re going to make me look good in the end.”

Houston (10-7) and its top-ranked defense, led by Clowney and Whitney Mercilus, bounced back after an embarrassing 30-0 wild-card loss to Kansas City last season to advance to face either the Chiefs or New England in the divisional round next weekend. Clowney was roundly criticized in his first two injury-plagued seasons before starring this year to help make up for the loss of J.J. Watt.

“Those guys picked me No. 1; they (saw) something in me,” Clowney said. “Things didn’t go well earlier in my career, but I’m on the right track now. Things are coming together, I’m healthier. I’m playing good ball and we’re all coming together and playing good defense.”

The Raiders’ first trip to the playoffs since the 2002 season, when they went to the Super Bowl, ended with a thud behind the struggles of third-string rookie Connor Cook. He threw for 161 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions.

“It was his first start, on the road, in a playoff game, against the No. 1-ranked defense. It was a tough draw for him,” coach Jack Del Rio said. “We had hopes that we would be able to do enough around him so he wouldn’t have to do as much.”

He became the first quarterback in NFL history to make his first start in a playoff game after MVP contender Derek Carr broke his leg two weeks ago, and Matt McGloin injured his shoulder on Sunday. His performance wasn’t helped by star left tackle Donald Penn missing the game with a knee injury, which ended a streak of 160 straight starts.

“We missed Donald, he had a great year for us, ” Del Rio said. “Losing a Pro Bowl tackle was a blow.”

Houston led by 13 at halftime and made it 27-7 on a 1-yard run by Osweiler early in the fourth quarter.

The Raiders (12-5) cut the lead when Andre Holmes grabbed an 8-yard touchdown reception on their next possession. Oakland got a stop after that, but Corey Moore intercepted Cook on the next possession.

“I was trying to do too much out there, at times,” Cook said.

Oakland cornerback David Amerson believes things would have been different if not for the team’s injuries.

“I’ve got all the faith in Connor or Matt — any backups we’ve got,” he said. “But they know, at full strength, ain’t nobody in the league touching us, man. We’re going to take this loss on the chin, and we’re going to come back, for sure.”

DeAndre Hopkins had a touchdown reception for the Texans and Lamar Miller gave Houston a 10-0 lead in the first quarter on a TD run one play after Clowney’s interception.

Houston took a 3-0 lead with a 50-yard field goal by Nick Novak with about eight minutes left in the first quarter.

Clowney batted a pass by Cook with one hand, then tipped it with his other one before pulling it down for the interception later in the quarter. He probably would have scored on the play, but in the time it took him to grab the ball, Raiders running back Latavius Murray had latched on to one of his ankles and was pulling him down.

Miller scampered untouched on the next play for a 4-yard touchdown to make it 10-7.

The Raiders got a 2-yard TD run by Murray late in the first quarter.

Houston added a field goal in the second quarter before making it 20-7 on a 2-yard reception by Hopkins. That score was set up when Osweiler delivered a 38-yard pass to Hopkins just before the receiver stepped out of bounds two plays earlier.

THIRD-DOWN WOES

Oakland had trouble converting third downs Saturday. They failed to get a first down on their first 11 attempts. The Raiders finally converted one early in the fourth quarter and another came later in the drive that ended with the TD by Holmes. They ended 2 of 16 on third downs.

BRING IT BACK

Houston looked to have scored a touchdown on a 57-yard punt return by Tyler Ervin late in the third quarter. But the score was nullified because Mercilus ran into punter Marquette King on the play. He punted again and it almost turned bad for the Texans when Ervin muffed that one. Luckily for Houston, teammate Eddie Pleasant grabbed the ball after it bounced away from Ervin.

UP NEXT:

Raiders: Oakland is left to ponder what might have been had Carr not been injured.

Texans: Look to win a divisional playoff game for the first time in franchise history after losing in their first two games in that round.

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For more NFL coverage: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL

NFL wild-card matchups to watch: Can Connor Cook revive Raiders?

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(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)    —   When the Oakland Raiders ended Connor Cook’s draft tumble in April, neither the franchise leaders nor the quarterback likely envisioned themselves in their present situation.

A fourth-round pick out of Michigan State, Cook was a depth addition and developmental option for a team already set with Derek Carr as its starter and Matt McGloin as its backup. But after a broken leg ended Carr’s season in Week 16 and McGloin was sidelined by a left shoulder injury in the regular-season finale, Cook now steps in as the first quarterback of the Super Bowl era to make his starting debut in a playoff game, one that ends a 14-year postseason drought for the Raiders.

And the Houston Texans’ top-ranked defense awaits the rookie.

“We’ll do the best we can to prepare him,” Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said in a conference call with reporters upon announcing Cook’s promotion. “The great thing about it is he’s been here, been in our system, mentally been engaged in what we do and how we do it all year.

“There’s only so much you can catch up all at once.”

Cook almost assuredly will be working with a limited version of the offense, but playing the caretaker role might be an adjustment. At Michigan State, he developed a reputation for forcing balls downfield into tight coverage.

The Texans might be counting on him to do just that in Saturday’s wild-card contest.

“I hope we blitz him all game,” Texans defensive end Jadveveon Clowney told reporters this week. “I don’t know, that’s up to the coaches. We just have to put a lot of pressure on him, make him throw some bad balls, force some turnovers and try to get our offense in good field position.”

The Raiders topped the Texans 27-20 earlier in the season in Mexico City, but they needed fourth-quarter rally sparked by Carr. With McGloin and Cook in last week, Oakland sputtered to just 221 yards in a 24-6 loss to the Denver Broncos.

Oakland could ramp up its already screen-heavy attack to ease Cook’s burden while trying to quickly get the ball into the hands of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. But leaning on a strong supporting cast might not be so simple against a Texans defense that boasts standouts at every level with Clowney, outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus and cornerback A.J. Bouye. Oakland’s stellar offensive line is also hurting, as left tackle Donald Penn and left guard Kelechi Osemele have both been hampered by knee injuries.

Here are four more matchups that will define wild-card weekend:

Packers receivers vs. Giants secondary

The New York Giants’ “NYPD” secondary handled its first assignment against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bayy Packers’ passing game in October, but policing them again could make for a difficult reprisal.

Rogers threw two interceptions and completed a season-low 51.1% of his passes in Green Bay’s 23-16 win earlier this season. That offense, however, is far removed from the one that ended the season with Rodgers completing 71% of his passes with 15 touchdowns and no interceptions in six straight wins.

The Giants’ secondary might have to hold its coverage longer than usual if Rodgers isn’t corralled by defensive end Olivier Vernon and the pass rush. New York ranked just 23rd in total pass defense, but Pro Bowl selections Janoris Jenkins and Landon Collins highlight a deep group. Tight end Jared Cook looms as a threat for the unit after emerging late in the year.

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson vs. Lions pass rush

While managing high-ankle and knee sprains he suffered in September, Wilson has slogged to career lows in rushing with just 72 carries for 259 yards. That facet of his game may remain on the backburner as he continues to heal, but Saturday could provide an opportunity for a return to form by the Seattle Seahawks star quarterback.

The Detroit Lions have struggled both to pressure opposing quarterbacks and contain them from extending plays. Rodgers took off 10 times for 42 yards in the Packers’ win last week, and Wilson is a bigger threat as an open-field runner. Seattle’s 25th-ranked rushing attack may need him to provide a boost.

Selling out for the rush may not be optimal given Wilson’s evasiveness, but his patience could be problematic, too. The Lions allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete an NFL record 72.7% of their passes, and Wilson could be content to pick apart the defense from the pocket.

Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi vs. Steelers front seven

The Miami Dolphins’ breakout back took the NFL by surprise with his 204-yard, two-touchdown outburst in a 30-15 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers earlier this season. But coach Mike Tomin said this week that game was no “lightning strike,” and Pittsburgh is on alert to prevent another big outing from Ajayi.

The Steelers have reason for confidence after allowing just 64.6 rushing yards per game in the first five wins of its seven-game streak to end the year. Defensive end Stephon Tuitt and nose tackle Javon Hargrave will be counted on to control the line of scrimmage, and the defense may load the box with Ryan Tannehill out and Matt Moore in at quarterback for the Dolphins.

Ajayi’s ability to keep the offense moving and on the field will be all the more important for a Miami team looking to limit an explosive Pittsburgh offense. This will be the first time the Steelers will have Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown all starting together in a playoff game.

Texans LT Duane Brown vs. Raiders DE Khalil Mack

The Houston Texans’ problems with quarterback Brock Osweiler at the helm were evident throughout the season. Now with their once-benched starter returning to his starting role after Tom Savage’s concussion, a jolt is needed for an offense that ranks as the worst of any playoff team.

Protecting Osweiler will be critical after the line allowed eight sacks and 15 quarterback hits in the last two weeks. The clear priority will be stopping Mack, the main force on a sub-par Oakland Raiders defense, from creating havoc up front. The potential defensive player of the year had 11 sacks, though none in the last three games, and five forced fumbles.

If Mack and linebacker Bruce Irvin are unable to generate pressure, Oakland’s defense could be at serious risk. The unit finished with an NFL-low 25 sacks despite the duo’s combined 18, and Del Rio bemoaned the 20 missed tackles in the regular-season finale. The Raiders ranked second with 30 takeaways this season, so a strong pass rush could help force Osweiler into errors for easy scoring opportunities.

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NFL Analysis: Good, bad of each current NFL coaching vacancy

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(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)   —-   When Gary Kubiak resigned for health reasons less than a year removed from coaching the Denver Broncos to a Super Bowl championship, he left behind a great gig.

“There’s 32 of these jobs, and to think that you’re doing one of them is the greatest feeling in the world. I’ll say this: At this place, this is the best job in America,” Kubiak said this week, “because the people you’ve got helping you on a daily basis are second to none.”

Several factors can be considered when rating which of the six head-coaching vacancies around the league is the most — or least — worth wanting. Those include roster quality, especially at quarterback; how helpful and patient ownership is; competence of the general manager; competitiveness of the division.

Among the potential candidates for these positions are top offensive minds (Josh McDaniels, Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay), defensive experts (Matt Patricia, Teryl Austin) and folks who’ve been around before (Tom Coughlin, Mike Smith).

If one had his choice of landing spots, which should he pick? Here is one analysis of the current NFL openings, in order of desirability:

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DENVER BRONCOS (2016 record: 9-7)

Why it’s a good gig: By far the best job available. One side of the ball is set, thanks to linebacker Von Miller and the rest of a topflight defense that led the club to the title not that long ago and was superb again this season. There’s considerable talent on the roster, a winning environment, a real home-field advantage, a GM (John Elway) who knows what he’s doing, and a willingness to do — and spend — what it takes to succeed.

Why it’s a bad gig: There is no established quarterback — Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch have a combined 16 pro starts — and the AFC West might just be the league’s toughest division.

What was said: “This is a great place to work, but the expectations are high. … Everybody that comes here, as a coach or as a player, understands that the standard is to have to be able to compete for world championships.” — Elway.

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JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (3-13)

Why it’s a good gig: There’s a big drop-off from Denver to the rest of the bunch, but Jacksonville ranks No. 2, primarily because of an up-and-coming defense and relatively patient ownership, plus plenty of room under the cap to bring in help. Doesn’t hurt to be in the deeply flawed AFC South, either, meaning a playoff berth is never far out of reach.

Why it’s a bad gig: Not clear that Blake Bortles is a long-term solution at quarterback and, as of now, it appears the franchise could be stuck with him for at least another season.

What was said: “Whoever the new head coach is, I totally understand that he’s going to play at quarterback who he wants to play at quarterback, and I have no problem with that.” — Bortles.

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LOS ANGELES RAMS (4-12)

Why it’s a good gig: Thanks mainly to Aaron Donald, the defense is respectable. Sophomore slump aside, Todd Gurley looks like the real deal at running back. There’s also a young QB drafted No. 1 overall, Jared Goff, to work with. And if you’re a coach who wants to “go Hollywood,” well, here’s a place you truly can.

Why it’s a bad gig: Something’s amiss when a coach gets fired within days of word leaking out that he received an extension a while ago. Oh, and there’s the not-so-little matter of 12 consecutive seasons without making the playoffs.

What was said: “With the talent we’ve got, we shouldn’t be where we’re at, as far as the record and the way we’ve been losing.” — Donald.

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SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (5-11)

Why it’s a good gig: There’s quality at QB (in the short term, anyway, because Philip Rivers is 35), RB (Melvin Gordon) and DE (Joey Bosa). And, hey, can’t beat the weather, right?

Why it’s a bad gig: The uncertainty over whether the team will be in San Diego or LA is only one manifestation of the club’s long-standing lack of direction. Ownership is known for hiring coaches on the cheap, and the Chargers have made nine playoff appearances in 33 years.

What was said: “You’re looking for a leader. It’s not always just about the X’s and O’s.” — GM Tom Telesco, on what he wants in a coach.

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BUFFALO BILLS (7-9)

Why it’s a good gig: Some pieces of the puzzle are in place, including WR Sammy Watkins and RB LeSean McCoy. Not a lot else, though.

Why it’s a bad gig: Start with two names — Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. The Bills are basically playing for second place, at best, behind the New England Patriots in the AFC East, although even that doesn’t account for why they have gone 17 seasons without reaching the playoffs. That drought is unfathomable in today’s everyone-has-a-chance NFL. One example of the problems: GM Doug Whaley had no input in the decision to fire coach Rex Ryan.

What was said: “We’re searching for that coach that can be here for 10-15 years.” — Whaley.

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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (2-14)

Why it’s a good gig: Hmmmm. San Francisco’s a terrific city? The new stadium? Nowhere to go but up?

Why it’s a bad gig: A lengthy list, from the lack of a QB, to a woeful defense, to general dysfunction and impatience of an organization that dismissed three head coaches and a GM over the past three seasons. Things are so bad that team CEO Jed York was asked at a news conference why he shouldn’t be dismissed or reassigned.

What was said: “I own this football team. You don’t dismiss owners. I’m sorry that that’s the facts and that’s the case, but that’s the fact.” — York.

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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

NFL Playoffs: Pro Picks takes a look at the wild-card round

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(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)   —-   Wild-card games can be so unpredictable because, at times, the visitors come in with a better record than the host.

That’s the case in two of this weekend’s matchups, and Pro Picks sees it as a mixed bag.

The Raiders (12-4), one of the AFC’s powers until, well, the past three weeks, travel to Houston (9-7) for Saturday’s late-afternoon contest. Then the Giants (11-5) head to Green Bay (10-6) in the capper to the four-game round on Sunday.

Pittsburgh and Seattle both have an edge on their opponents in record, and the betting lines show that. The Steelers (11-5), despite having lost to Miami (10-6) this season, are 10-point favorites. The Seahawks (10-5-1) are 8-point favorites over Detroit (9-7).

Regardless, all eight of these teams would prefer to be doing what New England, Dallas, Atlanta and Kansas City are doing: not playing. But they weren’t good enough for a bye.

“We want to be better than 9-7,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said. “I think it’s a league, based on the rules and the way that the draft is set up and free agency — it’s like what I always say, it’s an 8-and-8 league.

“We’ve been a little bit better than that, but we’re not aiming for 9-7, but we’re AFC South champions. We’ve got a home playoff game. Great opportunity for our fans and for our players, especially, to go out and play well and try to win a playoff game. It’s going to be very difficult to do that, but I’m glad for the opportunity.”

No. 11 Detroit (plus 8) at No. 8 Seattle

Neither side has been inspiring down the stretch, with Detroit throwing away the NFC North crown with three straight closing defeats, and Seattle kicking away a bye by splitting its final six.

These are two of the worst running teams in football, but Seattle has gotten back Thomas Rawls, which could make for a distinct edge.

The Seahawks also have the better defense, even though it’s been spotty, at best, without injured star safety Earl Thomas.

One of the more intriguing angles here is Detroit’s clutch wideout, Golden Tate, who used to fill that same role in Seattle. Doug Baldwin has done much more than replacing Tate, though.

Seahawks win, Lions cover.

BEST BET: SEAHAWKS, 20-17

No. 9 Oakland (plus 3½) at No. 12 Houston

When the Raiders selected quarterback Connor Cook in the fourth round last April, the Cowboys were eyeing him. Dallas then went with Dak Prescott.

We all know Prescott’s 2016 story. It now looks as if third-stringer Cook will become the first QB to make his initial NFL start in a playoff game. If he can be anything close to Prescott … .

The Texans are headed back to the so-far-underwhelming Brock Osweiler after Tom Savage was concussed last week.

Pro Picks just can’t believe the Raiders’ turnaround season will end so ignominiously. We also can’t believe too much in Houston.

UPSET SPECIAL: RAIDERS, 17-16

No. 10 Miami (plus 10) at No. 5 Pittsburgh

The Dolphins turned around their season with a Week 6 victory over the Steelers. But Miami is yet another team using a backup QB, Matt Moore, although starter Ryan Tannehill has progressed nicely in his recovery from a knee injury. If Jay Ajayi can run wild again, Miami has a solid chance.

However, the Steelers are a tested bunch and got to rest several key players in the season finale — including Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell.

The line is kind of hefty, though.

STEELERS, 23-17

No. 6 (tie) New York Giants (plus 4) at No. 6 (tie) Green Bay

The showcase of the wild-card weekend; we could see either of these teams, despite their shortcomings, progressing to the conference title game and possibly the Super Bowl.

Aaron Rodgers probably has been the league’s top quarterback since Thanksgiving. He’s re-established that dynamic connection with Jordy Nelson, and Ty Montgomery’s emergence as a receiver-turned-running back has been a revelation. Green Bay’s defense also has come on, though the secondary is banged-up.

New York is showing elements of the torrid pass rush and opportunistic defense that lifted it to NFL championships for the 2007 and ’11 seasons. But the running game is so-so and Eli Manning only seems comfortable throwing to Odell Beckham Jr. Not that it’s a bad idea.

PACKERS, 26-21

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Last Week: Against spread (5-11). Straight up: (10-6)

Season Totals: Against spread (124-121-8). Straight up: (156-98-2)

Best Bet: 11-6 against spread, 12-5 straight up

Upset special: 6-10-1 against spread, 6-11 straight up

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For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

AP Power Rankings: Pats finish regular season at No. 1 / HOF Finalists

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NEW YORK (AP) — Going into the playoffs, the New England Patriots are once again a strong favorite to reach the Super Bowl.

The Patriots finished the regular season with an NFL-best 14-2 record. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs and will start their drive for their seventh Super Bowl appearance in Foxborough on Jan. 14.

The Patriots also finished the season as the unanimous choice for the top spot in the final AP Pro32 poll of the season, released Tuesday.

New England received all 12 first-place votes for 384 points from balloting by media members who regularly cover the NFL.

“The 14-2 Patriots own home-field advantage in the AFC,” said Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News. “But does it really matter? New England was the only NFL team to go 8-0 on the road this season.”

Dallas and Kansas City remained at No. 2 and 3, respectively. Dallas has the top seed in the NFC.

“And now for the hard part. After a brilliant regular-season performance earns the Cowboys the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs, they try and become the first team to win a Super Bowl with a rookie quarterback,” Newsday’s Bob Glauber said.

“But Dak Prescott doesn’t seem overwhelmed by the moment, and wunderkind running back Ezekiel Elliott looks ready to build on a spectacular regular-season performance.”

The Chiefs wrapped up the AFC West title and a first-round bye.

“What the Chiefs have done in four seasons under Andy Reid and John Dorsey should serve as a model for teams starting the rebuild process this offseason,” said Jenny Vrentas of The Monday Morning Quarterback. “Reid trusted Dorsey to build a deep roster; Dorsey trusted Reid to coach and develop their players. The result was steady forward progress and sweeping the toughest division in football.”

NFC South champion Atlanta and AFC North winner Pittsburgh both inched up, to No. 4 and 5, respectively.

“No one is talking about Matt Ryan or the Atlanta Falcons,” said Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star Telegram. “Something tells me that’s just the way they like it.”

The Giants and Packers, who will meet on Sunday afternoon in Lambeau Field, tied for No. 6.

“Very hot right now, but banged-up on defense,” NBC’s Tony Dungy said of the Packers. “If they can handle the Giants, I could see them winning in Dallas.”

NFC West champ Seattle was No. 8 and hosts Detroit on Saturday night.

“Should have an easy time with Lions,” Fox Sports’ John Czarnecki said of the Seahawks.

The Raiders dropped five spots to No. 9 and may have to use Connor Cook at quarterback in their wild-card game against the Texans on Saturday.

Miami remained at No. 10 as the Dolphins go to Heinz Field and face the Steelers on Sunday.

Denver, which missed the playoffs and needs a coach after Gary Kubiak resigned for health reasons, finished No. 13.

“Went from 7-3 on their bye week to 9-7 and out of the playoffs,” ESPN.com’s Jeff Legwold said. “They lost an eight-point lead with three minutes to play in Denver against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 12 and weren’t the same since.

“Now Gary Kubiak has retired and they enter the offseason with huge questions in the offensive line and in need of a head coach.”

Carolina, the Broncos’ opponent in Super Bowl 50, finished No. 24.

“Cam Newton and the shell-shocked Panthers looked like they never recovered from that Super Bowl loss to Denver,” said Ira Kaufman of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Cincinnati, which won the AFC North last season, failed to qualify for the first time in six seasons and was at No. 25. And the Bengals’ division rival, the Browns, were 1-15 and last in the poll.

But the Browns finished first for the NFL draft, where they will have the No. 1 overall pick in the spring.

“Have enough draft picks and cap space to acquire some talented young players,” Dungy said. “But if they don’t find a QB it won’t help.”

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Tomlinson, J. Taylor, Dawkins are Hall of Fame finalists

First-year eligibles LaDainian Tomlinson, Jason Taylor and Brian Dawkins are among 15 modern-era finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Also making the finals are Morten Andersen, Tony Boselli, Isaac Bruce, Don Coryell, Terrell Davis, Alan Faneca, Joe Jacoby, Ty Law, John Lynch, Kevin Mawae, Terrell Owens and Kurt Warner.

Previously selected as a finalist by the veterans committee is former Seattle safety Kenny Easley.

In the contributors’ category, the nominees are former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

The class of 2017 will be elected on Feb. 4, the day before the Super Bowl in Houston. Inductions will be Aug. 5 in Canton, Ohio.

Other than Tomlinson, Taylor and Dawkins, first-time finalists are Boselli, Bruce, Law, Mawae, Easley and Jones.

Most-frequent finalists are Lynch, Tagliabue and Coryell, four apiece. Davis and Warner are three-time finalists.

Coryell, an offensive mastermind with the Cardinals and Chargers, is in his 30th year of eligibility. Easley is in his 25th, while Jacoby, the left tackle on the Redskins’ offensive line known as the “Hogs”, is in his 19th.

Tomlinson played 11 NFL seasons, nine with San Diego, winning league MVP honors in 2006 when he set a record with 28 rushing touchdowns. He won two rushing titles.

Dawkins spent 16 seasons in the NFL, 13 with Philadelphia, and was considered a prototype modern safety. He made four All-Pro teams and was the first player with a sack, interception, fumble recovery and touchdown catch in the same game (vs. Houston in 2002).

Taylor was one of the NFL’s top pass rushers for 15 seasons, mostly with Miami. The 2006 Defensive Player of the Year with 13½ sacks, he had 139½ sacks for his career.

Among the other modern-era finalists, Andersen is the NFL’s career scoring leader with 2,544 points, has the most field goals (565) and games (382) playing for five franchises. He made two all-decade teams (1980s and ’90s).

Bruce, Davis, Faneca, Jacoby, Law, Lynch and Warner all won Super Bowls.

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For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

NFL Playoffs: Rodgers-Manning headlines NFL’s wild-card weekend

(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)    —-    Aaron Rodgers vs. Eli Manning will headline the NFL’s wild-card weekend.

Rodgers tossed four touchdown passes to help the Green Bay Packers capture the NFC North title with a 31-24 victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday night. The Packers (10-6) will host the Giants (11-5) next Sunday while the Lions (9-7) visit Seattle (10-5-1) on Saturday night.

New York’s 19-10 win at Washington eliminated the Redskins (8-7-1) and allowed the Packers and Lions to secure playoff spots before their game kicked off. But the teams are heading in opposite directions. The Packers have won six in a row while the Lions lost three straight.

Earlier in the day, Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons (11-5) secured a first-round bye with a 38-32 win over New Orleans. The Seahawks beat San Francisco 25-23 and earned the No. 3 seed.

The Cowboys (13-3) already locked up the NFC’s No. 1 seed before they played last week.

In the AFC, Tom Brady and the Patriots (14-2) beat Miami 35-14 to secure the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Chiefs (12-4) clinched a first-round bye thanks to Denver’s win over Oakland coupled with their victory over San Diego.

The Raiders (12-4) fell from No. 2 to the fifth spot and will open the playoffs on the road at Houston (9-7). That matchup could feature rookie quarterback Connor Cook making his first career start for the Raiders after they lost Derek Carr last week and backup Matt McGloin went down in the second quarter against the Broncos.

The Texans also have uncertainty at quarterback. Tom Savage sustained a concussion in a loss at Tennessee and was replaced by former starter Brock Osweiler.

The Steelers (11-5) will host the Dolphins (10-6) in the AFC’s other wild-card game.

Here’s a look at the playoff teams by seed:

AFC

1. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Brady and coach Bill Belichick will begin their quest for a fifth Super Bowl championship against either Houston, Oakland or Miami on Jan. 14 at 8:15 p.m.

2. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Coach Andy Reid is 3-0 in divisional playoff games when his team has a bye. All three wins came with the Eagles. The Chiefs open against Pittsburgh, Houston or Oakland on Jan. 15 at 1:05 p.m.

3. PITTSBURGH STEELERS: Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown had an early bye. They sat out an overtime win over Cleveland in preparation for the Dolphins next Sunday at 1:05 p.m.

4. HOUSTON TEXANS: They need to sort out their quarterback issues before the Raiders visit next Saturday at 4:35 p.m. Oakland beat Houston 27-20 in Mexico City on Nov. 21.

5. OAKLAND RAIDERS: Carr’s season-ending injury deflated a team making its first playoff appearance since losing the 2003 Super Bowl to Tampa Bay.

6. MIAMI DOLPHINS: It’s unknown whether QB Ryan Tannehill will return from injury when the Dolphins play their first playoff game in eight years. Matt Moore was 2-1 in Tannehill’s absence.

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NFC

1. DALLAS COWBOYS: Dak Prescott only played two series and Ezekiel Elliott sat out a loss at Philadelphia to get ready for the playoffs. The Cowboys will open against Green Bay, New York or Detroit on Jan. 15 at 4:40 p.m.

2. ATLANTA FALCONS: They will host Seattle, Green Bay or New York on Jan. 14 at 4:35 p.m.

3. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: Russell Wilson and the Seahawks start their drive for a third NFC championship title in four seasons against the Lions next Saturday at 8:15 p.m.

4. GREEN BAY PACKERS: Rodgers has the Packers riding high into the playoffs. They were a No. 6 seed in 2010 when the last won a Super Bowl. Green Bay plays the Giants in this season’s final wild-card game next Sunday at 4:40 p.m.

5. NEW YORK GIANTS: Were locked into the No. 5 seed, but Manning played the entire game and the Giants knocked out the Redskins. Manning has won two playoff games at Lambeau Field, beating Brett Favre and the Packers in a frigid NFC championship game following the 2007 season.

6. DETROIT LIONS: Wilson, Richard Sherman and The 12s stand in the way of Detroit’s first playoff win since the 1991 season.

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Here’s the finalized NFL playoff picture

AFC
y*-1. New England Patriots (14-2): AFC East champions. They have home field for the fourth time in the past seven seasons.
yz-2. Kansas City Chiefs (12-4): AFC West champions. They began Sunday in wild-card position and ended it with a division crown and bye thanks to Oakland’s struggles.
y-3. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5): AFC North champions. They’ll open the playoffs hosting the Dolphins.
y-4. Houston Texans (9-7): AFC South champions. They’ll open the playoffs hosting the Raiders.
x-5. Oakland Raiders (12-4): Wild card No. 1. Their loss combined with Kansas City’s win drops them from second seed to fifth. They’ll be in Houston next weekend.
x-6. Miami Dolphins (10-6): Wild card No. 2. They’ll open the playoffs at Pittsburgh next weekend.

NFC
y*-1. Dallas Cowboys (13-3): NFC East champions. They’ll open the playoffs against the lowest-seeded team that wins on wild-card weekend. Dallas’ loss to Philadelphia on Sunday officially eliminated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
yz-2. Atlanta Falcons (11-5): NFC South champions. Their victory Sunday clinched a first-round bye.
y-3. Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1): NFC West champions. They’ll open the playoffs hosting the Lions.
y-4. Green Bay Packers (10-6): NFC North champions. They reclaimed division crown they lost in 2015. They’ll open the playoffs hosting the Giants.
x-5. New York Giants (11-5): Wild card No. 1. They were locked into this spot before Sunday’s kickoff but still played their starters and knocked the Washington Redskins out of the playoff picture. They go to Green Bay next weekend.
x-6. Detroit Lions (9-7): Wild card No. 2. Their loss to the Packers puts them on the road to Seattle.

x — clinched playoff spot
y — clinched division
z — clinched first-round bye
* — clinched home-field advantage

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

CFB Bowls Roundup: USC rallies to edge Penn State in wild Rose Bowl

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PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — After 98 combined points and 1,040 yards of spectacular offensive play, the highest-scoring Rose Bowl in history rested on the left foot of a Southern California kicker who had already missed two field goals.

Matt Boermeester somehow blocked out the cacophonous tension in the chilly air. He focused only on securing a perfect ending to an epic evening.

“Game was on the line, but you’ve got to keep true to your technique and trust it,” Boermeester said.

His technique was sound. His kick was true. And the Trojans got their storybook finish in Pasadena.

Boermeester hit a 46-yard field goal as time expired , and No. 9 USC rallied from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter for a 52-49 victory over No. 5 Penn State on Monday night in the 103rd edition of the Granddaddy of Them All.

Freshman Sam Darnold passed for 453 yards and five touchdowns while leading a stirring comeback by the Trojans (10-3), who won their ninth consecutive game and triumphed in their first Rose Bowl since 2009. USC trailed 49-35 with nine minutes to play, but persevered to win one of the greatest Rose Bowls ever played.

“It was just two really good football teams playing at the highest level and competing until the absolute, very end,” USC coach Clay Helton said. “The greatest players shined brightest on the biggest stage. It’s what fairy tales are made of.”

Deontay Burnett, who had three TD receptions, caught a tying 27-yard scoring pass from Darnold with 1:20 left to cap an 80-yard drive in 38 seconds with no timeouts available.

Leon McQuay III then intercepted an ill-advised long pass by Trace McSorley and returned it 32 yards to the Penn State 33 with 27 seconds left. In an instant, the Trojans went from preparing for overtime to having a chance to win.

“I didn’t know whether to block or celebrate” after McQuay’s interception, USC defensive lineman Stevie Tu’ikolovatu said. “I kind of did both.”

The Trojans set up Boermeester, and the junior confidently drilled the Rose Bowl winner , sprinting away as it went through the south uprights and set off pandemonium on the hallowed field.

“It’s beautiful,” McQuay said. “This is a special group of guys. Oh man, this is the time to step up. This is the time to make plays.”

McSorley passed for 254 yards and threw two of his four touchdown passes to Chris Godwin for the Nittany Lions (11-3), whose nine-game winning streak ended in heartbreaking fashion.

Saquon Barkley rushed for 194 yards and two TDs as the Nittany Lions (12-2) followed up their 21-point comeback in the Big Ten title game with another ferocious rally, only to watch the Trojans rally back.

“That game doesn’t really define us,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “I wouldn’t be any more proud tonight sitting here with a win … after what might have been the most exciting Rose Bowl game ever.”

With one jaw-dropping play after another from two talent-laden offenses, the teams obliterated the combined Rose Bowl scoring record in the third quarter, surpassing Oregon’s 45-38 victory over Wisconsin in the 2012 game.

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WISCONSIN 24, WESTERN MICHIGAN 16

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Troy Fumagalli had highlight catches for Wisconsin even before the big tight end’s leaping 8-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter and his 26-yard gain on third down that effectively wrapped up the Cotton Bowl victory.

The game’s offensive MVP also had a nifty one-handed grab on third down with his left hand — the one missing an index finger since right after his birth — to extend the eighth-ranked Badgers’ opening touchdown drive. There was another leaping two-handed catch in the first half of a 24-16 victory Monday that denied Western Michigan a perfect season.

“It’s special,” said Fumagalli, a junior. “It’s a great feeling to come out on top.”

Fumagalli had seven passes thrown his way, and the 6-foot-6 junior caught six of them. The last two clinched the third consecutive bowl victory for the Big Ten runner-up Badgers (11-3).

After his TD catch between two defenders in the back of the end zone with 12:26 left made it 24-10, Western Michigan (13-1) took 9 minutes to score. Wisconsin was able to run out the clock after Fumagalli’s big play on third-and-8.

“He’s unbelievable,” Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck said.

With their “Row The Boat” mentality inspired by Fleck, the 12th-ranked Broncos (13-1) went from one win during his first season in Kalamazoo three years ago to the last FBS team other than No. 1 Alabama this season with a chance to be undefeated.

“Told them I was very proud of them, how much I love them, and the effort they gave,” Fleck said about what he told his team on the sideline just before the end of the game. “We will continue to learn from this. We will embrace our past to create our future, and it just wasn’t enough tonight.”

The Badgers, who finished with 11 wins for the fourth time in seven seasons, were clearly bigger and stronger — especially up front. Their offensive line averaged about three inches and 45 pounds more than the WMU defensive front.

Wisconsin set the tone early, with rushing touchdowns on its first two drives to lead 14-0 against the Group of Five team.

Fumagalli’s TD came three plays after a rare interception by senior Zach Terrell, who finished with 33 touchdowns and four picks — the last by Wisconsin linebacker T.J. Edwards.

“It kind of left a bad taste in our mouth after the Big Ten championship game,” Edwards said. “We just wanted to get back out there and prove ourselves again.”

Terrell combined with All-America receiver Corey Davis for 51 career touchdowns, tying the FBS record on an 11-yarder on fourth down with 3:27 left . Even with cornerback Sojourn Shelton’s arms wrapped around him in the back of the end zone, Davis broke free to make the catch.

“It doesn’t matter if the defender is grabbing you or whatever it is. Go make a play on the ball if it’s in the air, and go attack it,” Davis said. “My four years at Western have been phenomenal. We’ve been through so much and I’ve learned so many lessons on the field, and off the field.”

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FLORIDA 30, IOWA 3

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — No. 20 Florida dominated the Outback with stingy defense and a persistent offense that did its job, too.

Chauncey Gardner, Jr., returned one of his two fourth-quarter interceptions 58 yards for a touchdown, and graduate transfer Austin Appleby threw for 222 yards and two TDs to pace Monday’s 30-3 rout of No. 21 Iowa.

With Gardner grabbing game MVP honors, the Gators (9-4) held up their end of what many expected to be a day defense ruled , especially considering Florida entered ranked 115th in the nation in total offense — five spots ahead of the sputtering Hawkeyes.

Conversely, the teams were sixth and 24th, respectively, in total defense.

“The MVP, it goes to our guys up front, the linebackers and the coaching staff because they put me in good position to make plays. … It should be a team MVP,” Gardner said. “Our motto is just go out there and have fun, and play our game.”

Mark Thompson scored on an 85-yard pass play in the first half and Appleby, who spent the past four seasons at Purdue, tossed a 6-yard TD pass to DeAndre Goolsby to break the game open late in the third quarter.

Florida (9-4) rebounded from lopsided losses to archrival Florida State and No. 1 Alabama, scoring more points on Iowa (8-5) than the Hawkeyes allowed to Michigan, Illinois and Nebraska combined while ending the regular season on a three-game winning streak.

“It was a tough day for our football team,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Our team really had a good month, they practiced and prepared well. I’m not sure there’s a thing I’d go back and change. Ultimately, we didn’t play well enough to come up with a victory.”

Iowa’s C.J. Beathard led an early field goal drive and managed to get his team close to the end zone on two other occasions. Florida’s defense stiffened both times, stopping the Hawkeyes on downs at the Gator 3 in the second quarter and forcing them to settle for a 30-yard field goal that sailed wide right midway through the third quarter.

Appleby, who actually began his career at Purdue against Iowa, shrugged off throwing interceptions on Florida’s first two drives of the day to finish 14 of 25 passing.

“We didn’t panic early. We knew Iowa would come out swinging and make some plays on us early,” Appleby said. “We had some bad luck, but didn’t panic, and the defense made some stops and we got on a roll.”

Akrum Wadley ran for 115 yards, giving Iowa a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in the same season for the first time. The junior finished with 1,081, and LeShun Daniels wound up with 1,058 after gaining 45 Monday.

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OKLAHOMA 35, AUBURN 19

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Heisman Trophy finalists Baker Mayfield and Dede Westbrook connected one last time for a touchdown. Joe Mixon emerged from his recent controversy with big plays that had teammates lifting him off his feet in celebration. Samaje Perine put his name in Oklahoma’s record books.

Seventh-ranked Oklahoma had plenty to celebrate after a 35-19 triumph over No. 17 Auburn in the Sugar Bowl on Monday night, including a 10th-straight victory.

“We’re a prideful team,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “And we’re confident, regardless of the people that try to rattle the cage and shake your confidence. … We improved as we went through the end and we fought through the outside noise.”

Mayfield passed for 296 yards and two touchdowns. Mixon heard boos from Auburn fans, who also shouted derisive comments regarding a recently publicized video of him punching a woman in the face in 2014. Mixon, who served a season-long suspension in 2014 and has apologized for the assault, also drew cheers from crimson-clad Oklahoma fans with his play. His two short touchdown runs were among the highlights of a performance in which he gained 180 yards from scrimmage — 91 rushing on 19 carries and 89 receiving on five catches.

“He has a second chance and making the most of it,” Stoops said. “He is a great teammate to these guys and one of the most popular guys in the locker room.”

Mixon didn’t answer questions about the boos or the reasons for them, saying only he wanted to celebrate with his teammates.

Perine rushed for 86 yards, three more than he needed to set Oklahoma’s career rushing record.

“Our backs pound people and it wears on people,” Mayfield said.

Auburn (8-5), which wound up in the Sugar Bowl despite dropping its last two Southeastern Conference games to Georgia and Alabama, entered the game hopeful that it would be buoyed by the return of quarterback Sean White, who’d missed the Tigers’ final two games with a throwing shoulder injury. White led Auburn to a touchdown on its first series — Chandler Cox’s 3-yard run on fourth down — but the quarterback left the game for good in the first half with a broken right forearm.

“Obviously, it’s a big blow. We were excited he was back” for the bowl game, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “Overall it was a tough night at the quarterback position.”

John Franklin III backed up White but also hurt his throwing arm, Malzahn said, so Jeremy Johnson got into the game. The Tigers’ offense was inconsistent, increasing pressure on Auburn’s 20th-ranked defense to keep the Sooners’ fast-paced, high-powered attack in check.

“That’s tough. They’re (among the best) in the nation,” Auburn defensive back Josh Holsey said of Oklahoma’s offense, which came in averaging 557.3 yards and 44.7 points per game. “They came out and showed that tonight.”

Mixon broke loose for a 35-yard run in the third quarter that set up his second TD, which he scored from 4 yards out by diving for the pylon. Early in the fourth quarter, Perine took a direct snap for a 2-yard TD that made it 35-13.

With the Sooners (11-2) pulling away for their second Sugar Bowl triumph in four years, Auburn fans started filing out.

NFL Highlight: News and Notes

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STARS

Passing

—Matt Ryan, Falcons, was 27 for 36 for 331 yards and four touchdown passes in Atlanta’s 38-32 win over New Orleans.

—Tom Brady, Patriots, finished 25for 33 for 276 yards and three touchdowns in New England’s 35-14 win over Miami. Brady finished the regular season with 28 touchdown passes and two interceptions, the best touchdown/interception ratio in NFL history. Brady has 51 games with at least three touchdown passes and no interceptions, tying Peyton Manning for the most in league history. Brady increased his total to 61,582 to surpass Hall of Famer Dan Marino for fourth place on the NFL’s career list.

—Landry Jones, Steelers, was 24 for 37 for 277 yards with three touchdown passes and an interception in Pittsburgh’s 27-24 overtime win over Cleveland.

—Sam Bradford, Vikings, finished 25 for 33 for 250 yards and three touchdowns and an interception. Bradford completed 395 of 552 passes for a 71.6 percent completion rate this season, the highest single-season mark in NFL history, surpassing Drew Brees’ mark of 71.2 percent in 2011.

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Rushing

—Isaiah Crowell, Browns, had 19 carries for a career-high 152 yards in Cleveland’s 27-24 overtime loss to Pittsburgh.

—Jordan Howard, Bears, had 23 carries for 135 yards in Chicago’s 38-10 loss to Minnesota.

—Corey Grant, Jaguars, had 18 carries for 122 yards and a touchdown in Jacksonville’s 24-20 loss to Indianapolis.

—Bilal Powell, Jets, had 22 carries for 122 yards in New York’s 30-10 win over Buffalo.

—Rex Burkhead, Bengals, had 27 carries for 119 yards and two touchdowns in Cincinnati’s 27-10 win over Baltimore.

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Receiving

—Michael Thomas, Saints, had 10 receptions for 156 yards and a touchdown in New Orleans’ 38-32 loss to Atlanta.

—Julian Edelman, Patriots, had eight catches for 151 yards, including a 77-yard touchdown, in New England’s 35-14 win over Miami.

—Zach Ertz, Eagles, had 13 catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns in Philadelphia’s 27-13 win over Dallas.

—DeAndre Hopkins, Texans, finished with seven receptions for 123 yards in Houston’s 24-17 loss to Tennessee.

—Kyle Rudolph, Vikings, had 11 catches for 117 yards and a touchdown in Minnesota’s 38-10 win over Chicago.

—Dennis Pitta, Ravens, had 11 catches for 91 yards in Baltimore’s 27-10 loss to Cincinnati.

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Special Teams

—Tyreek Hill, Chiefs, returned a punt 95 yards for a touchdown in Kansas City’s 37-27 win over San Diego.

—Doug Middleton, Jets, recovered a kickoff in the end zone for a touchdown in New York’s 30-10 win over Buffalo.

—Steven Hauschka, Seahawks, was 4 for 4 on field goals in Seattle’s 25-23 win over San Francisco.

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Defense

—Justin Bethel and Markus Golden, Cardinals. Bethel returned an interception 66 yards for a touchdown and Golden had 2½ sacks and a forced fumble in Arizona’s 44-6 win over Los Angeles.

—DaQuan Jones and Jurrell Casey, Titans. Jones recovered a fumble for a touchdown and Casey had two sacks in Tennessee’s 24-17 win over Houston.

—Brent Grimes and Lavonte David, Buccaneers. Grimes returned an interception 31 yards for a touchdown and David had two sacks in Tampa Bay’s 17-16 win over Carolina.

—Jahleel Addae, Chargers, returned an interception 90 yards for a touchdown in San Diego’s 37-27 loss to Kansas City.

—Everson Griffen, Vikings, returned a fumble 20 yards for a touchdown in Minnesota’s 38-10 win over Chicago.

—Joel Heath, Texans, had two sacks in Houston’s 24-17 loss to Tennessee.

—Malik Jackson, Jaguars, had two sacks in Jacksonville’s 24-20 loss to Indianapolis.

—Bobby Wagner, Seahawks, had two sacks in Seattle’s 25-23 win over San Francisco.

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ROUGH DAY FOR COACHES

Three more teams are dealing with coaching changes after Sunday’s games. The San Diego Chargers fired coach Mike McCoy. He was 27-37 in four seasons, with the Chargers having lost 23 of their past 32 games. They’ve also lost 13 of their past 14 AFC West games going back to late in the 2014 season. Also in the AFC West, Gary Kubiak informed his players in an emotional postgame locker room after the Broncos’ 24-6 win over the Raiders that he’s stepping away for health reasons. And the San Francisco 49ers fired coach Chip Kelly and general manager Trent Baalke in the latest overhaul for a franchise that has fallen from perennial Super Bowl contender to the bottom of the standings in three seasons.

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STREAKS & STATS

Bills running back Reggie Bush finished the season with 12 carries for minus-3 yards, becoming the first NFL running back to have negative yards rushing with 10 or more carries. He had no carries against the Jets. … The Chicago Bears (3-13) finished the season with a 38-10 loss to the Vikings. It was their most losses in a season since 1969. … The 49ers lost the Seahawks 25-23. The defeat capped a an awful season for the 49ers (2-14), who matched the franchise record for losses in a season previously reached in 1978, ’79 and 2004. … The Rams ended their return season in LA with a seven-game losing streak and a 4-12 record. … The Bucs snapped a two-game losing streak with a 17-16 win over Carolina to finish with their first winning record since 2010. … The Titans beat the Texans 24-17 to finish 9-7, their first winning season since 2011. With their six-win improvement from going 3-13 in 2015, the Titans matched the biggest one-year turnaround in franchise history, previously set in 1967 and 1974. … New Orleans’ Drew Brees passed for 350 yards and two touchdowns against Atlanta. Brees has 5,208 passing yards this season, the fourth-highest single-season passing total in NFL history. Brees, who also had 5,000 passing yards in 2008, 2011, 2012 and 2013, has five of the NFL’s nine all-time 5,000-yard passing seasons and is the only quarterback in NFL history to pass for at least 5,000 yards in multiple seasons. Brees’ 471 completions this season also set an NFL record. … Atlanta’s Matt 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. … Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston passed for 202 yards and a touchdown in the Buccaneers’ 17-16 win over Carolina. Winston, who passed for 4,042 yards as a rookie last season, finished this season with a career-high 4,090 passing yards. He is the first player in NFL history to have at least 4,000 passing yards in each of his first two seasons. Winston has 50 touchdown passes and is the fifth player in league history to throw at least 50 touchdown passes in his first two seasons.

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MILESTONES

Chargers tight end Antonio Gates tied Tony Gonzalez for the most touchdown catches in NFL history by a tight end with 111 after a 2-yard TD catch in San Diego’s 37-27 loss to Kansas City. … Dallas rookie quarterback Dak Prescott finished the regular season with a 104.9 passer rating and surpassed Robert Griffin III (102.4 in 2012) for the highest single-season passer rating by a rookie quarterback in NFL history. … Cowboys rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott leads the league with 1,631 rushing yards. Elliott, who has the third-highest rushing total by a rookie in NFL history, would be the fifth rookie since 1970 to lead the league in rushing yards and the first since Edgerrin James (1,553 yards) in 1999. … Colts running back Frank Gore added to his stellar season by running 16 times for 62 yards, giving him 1,026 this season. He became the fourth player in league history to rush for 1,000 yards at age 33 or older and the oldest since 35-year-old John Riggins did it in 1984. Gore is 33. Gore also joins Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith, Curtis Martin, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders as the only players in NFL history with nine or more 1,000-yard seasons. He ended the Colts’ eight-year drought without a 1,000-yard rusher. Joseph Addai was the most recent Colts’ player to achieve it in 2007. .. Jordan Howard, the lone bright spot for the Bears, rushed for 135 yards on 23 carries to break Matt Forte’s franchise rookie record and finish with 1,313 yards for the season. … New England became the ninth team since 1972 to go undefeated on the road during the regular season after its 35-14 win over Miami. … The Bengals’ Andy Dalton topped 4,000 yards passing for the second time in his career, finishing with 4,206. The other time was 2013, when he set a club record with 4,293 yards. … Baltimore’s Justin Tucker had a 30-yard field goal, his 38th of the season, matching his club record. Only two kickers have made 40 field goals in a season: David Akers and Neil Rackers. … Baltimore’s Joe Flacco finished with 4,276 yards, topping Vinny Testaverde’s club record of 4,177 yards in 1996.

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SIDELINED

Houston quarterback Tom Savage was sidelined with a concussion in a 24-17 loss at Tennessee, forcing Brock Osweiler back onto the field for the AFC South champions. Savage started the regular-season finale, left in the second quarter to be evaluated for a concussion and was cleared. He took the final snap of the first half, and O’Brien told team radio that Savage would play in the second half. But Savage was diagnosed with a concussion after being re-evaluated at halftime. … QB Matt McGloin left Oakland’s 24-6 loss at Denver because of a left shoulder injury. The Raiders also lost safety Nate Allen, who left the game and was evaluated for a concussion. … Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders hurt his foot in the first quarter and didn’t return. More concerning, special teamer Zaire Anderson was strapped to a backboard and carted off the field after being injured on punt coverage in the third quarter. Team officials said Anderson was taken to a local hospital for evaluation and has movement in his arms and legs. … Arizona running back David Johnson ended his season finale on the sideline and with a brace on his left knee. … Atlanta Falcons rookie safety Keanu Neal and New Orleans Saints receiver Willie Snead both left with possible concussions after a collision in the fourth quarter.

___

SPEAKING

“You don’t come out and lose and like that. That right there was just disgusting, it was despicable. … That right there, it’s not football.” — Redskins cornerback Josh Norman after his team was eliminated from the playoffs with a 19-10 loss to the Giants.

___

“You just don’t want it to end, but to be in position to say goodbye to the fans and the teammates the way they did, I can’t ask for anything more. I was extremely nervous, like more than usual for some reason. I guess for obvious reasons.” — Colts linebacker Robert Mathis said after playing his last game.

___

NFL playoff picture: Field finalized with NFC North settled

This gallery contains 1 photo.

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today)    —-   Here’s the finalized NFL playoff picture

AFC
y*-1. New England Patriots (14-2): AFC East champions. They have home field for the fourth time in the past seven seasons.
yz-2. Kansas City Chiefs (12-4): AFC West champions. They began Sunday in wild-card position and ended it with a division crown and bye thanks to Oakland’s struggles.
y-3. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5): AFC North champions. They’ll open the playoffs hosting the Dolphins.
y-4. Houston Texans (9-7): AFC South champions. They’ll open the playoffs hosting the Raiders.
x-5. Oakland Raiders (12-4): Wild card No. 1. Their loss combined with Kansas City’s win drops them from second seed to fifth. They’ll be in Houston next weekend.
x-6. Miami Dolphins (10-6): Wild card No. 2. They’ll open the playoffs at Pittsburgh next weekend.

NFC
y*-1. Dallas Cowboys (13-3): NFC East champions. They’ll open the playoffs against the lowest-seeded team that wins on wild-card weekend. Dallas’ loss to Philadelphia on Sunday officially eliminated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
yz-2. Atlanta Falcons (11-5): NFC South champions. Their victory Sunday clinched a first-round bye.
y-3. Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1): NFC West champions. They’ll open the playoffs hosting the Lions.
y-4. Green Bay Packers (10-6): NFC North champions. They reclaimed division crown they lost in 2015. They’ll open the playoffs hosting the Giants.
x-5. New York Giants (11-5): Wild card No. 1. They were locked into this spot before Sunday’s kickoff but still played their starters and knocked the Washington Redskins out of the playoff picture. They go to Green Bay next weekend.
x-6. Detroit Lions (9-7): Wild card No. 2. Their loss to the Packers puts them on the road to Seattle.

x — clinched playoff spot
y — clinched division
z — clinched first-round bye
* — clinched home-field advantage

 

Wild-card weekend

SATURDAY, JAN. 7

*Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans*

Time::  4:35 p.m. ET, TV: (ESPN/ABC)

Betting Line: Texans favored by 2.5

*Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks*

Time:  8:15 p.m. ET, TV: (NBC)

Betting Line: Seahawks favored by 7.5

SUNDAY, JAN. 8

*Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers*

 Time: 1:05 p.m. ET. TV: (CBS)

Betting Line: Steelers favored by 10

*New York Giants at Green Bay Packers*

TIME: 4:40 p.m. ET,. TV: (Fox)

Betting Line: Packers favored by 4.5

Divisional weekend

Saturday, Jan. 14

Highest NFC seed at Atlanta Falcons – 4:35 p.m. ET, (Fox)

Lowest AFC seed at New England Patriots – 8:15 p.m. ET, (CBS)

Sunday, Jan. 15

Highest AFC seed at Kansas City Chiefs – 1:05 p.m. ET, (NBC)

Lowest NFC seed at Dallas Cowboys – 4:40 p.m. ET (Fox)

Conference championship weekend

Sunday, Jan. 22

NFC Championship Game – 3:05 p.m. ET, Fox

AFC Championship Game – 6:40 p.m. ET, CBS

Super Bowl 

Sunday, Feb. 5

Super Bowl LI (NRG Stadium, Houston) – 6:30 p.m. ET, Fox

NFL Roundup: Packers surge to postseason, Lions back in

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LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — Facing an opponent with nothing to play for, the Washington Redskins blew their chance to make the playoffs with an uninspired 19-10 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday.

The Redskins would have made the playoffs with a win as long as the Green Bay Packers-Detroit Lions night game didn’t end in a tie. Instead, Kirk Cousins was intercepted twice in the second half by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Washington (8-7-1) goes into an offseason filled with questions.

The Packers and Lions each qualified as a result of the Redskins’ loss to New York (11-5), which will be the first wild card and play at Green Bay on Sunday. Eli Manning played the entire game, going 17 of 27 for 180 yards despite the Giants opting for a conservative approach for much of the second half.

Cousins finished 22 of 35 for 285 yards and a touchdown, but more importantly the interceptions in the third and fourth quarters. Fittingly the game ended with another Washington turnover when tight end Jordan Reed’s attempted lateral turned into a Giants touchdown.

PACKERS 31, LIONS 24

DETROIT (AP) — Aaron Rodgers threw three of his four touchdown passes in the second half, lifting the Packers to an NFC North clincher.

Detroit’s Matthew Stafford connected with Anquan Boldin for a 35-yard touchdown pass with 13 seconds left, but the Packers recovered the onside kick.,

The Packers (10-6) closed the regular season with six straight wins, running the table as Rodgers said they could after losing four straight midway through the season. They won the division for the fifth time in six years. Like his team, Rodgers has been perfect during the streak with 15 TD passes and no interceptions.

He will lead fourth-seeded Green Bay at home Sunday against the fifth-seeded New York Giants in an NFC wild-card game.

Detroit (9-7) dropped its last three games after it had a two-game lead in the NFC North. The Lions, though, will be in the playoffs at Seattle on Saturday night.

CHIEFS 37, CHARGERS 27

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Alex Smith threw for two touchdowns and ran for another, and the Chiefs clinched the AFC West title and a first-round playoff bye in perhaps the final NFL game in San Diego.

The Chiefs (12-4) took the division with the win and Oakland’s loss at Denver.

San Diego fired coach Mike McCoy after the game.

Smith, who went to nearby Helix High in La Mesa, scored on a 5-yard scramble early in the second quarter to tie the game at 10. He threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to wide-open Charcandrick West later in the quarter to put the Chiefs ahead for good. That followed the first of two interceptions of Philip Rivers that led to 10 points for the Chiefs.

Smith was intercepted once, on a deflected pass that Jahleel Addae returned 90 yards for a touchdown to pull the Chargers (5-11) to 20-17 in the third quarter.

Smith came right back and threw a 2-yard scoring pass to West, who again was wide open.

Chargers chairman Dean Spanos has until Jan. 15 to decide whether to move the team to the Los Angeles area and join the Rams in a stadium scheduled to open in Inglewood in 2019.

BRONCOS 24, RAIDERS 6

DENVER (AP) — In a game that couldn’t have gone much worse, Oakland lost its latest starting quarterback, Matt McGloin, to a shoulder injury, then fell to a team with nothing to play for.

Broncos coach Gary Kubiak will be stepping down for health reasons.

Combined with Kansas City’s win over San Diego, the Raiders (12-4) squandered the AFC West title and the first-round bye that went with it — and instead fell to the No. 5 seed. They will play at Houston on Saturday.

Now, they are a wild card with a rookie third-stringer, Connor Cook, as their only fully healthy quarterback.

McGloin, who got the start when Derek Carr broke his leg last week, left late in the second quarter. He completed six passes for 21 yards, missing virtually every throw downfield.

Cook was 14 of 21 with a touchdown to Cooper, an interception and a lost fumble against the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos (9-7), who ended a three-game slide.

FALCONS 38, SAINTS 32

ATLANTA (AP) — Matt Ryan bolstered his MVP credentials with a brilliant first half, throwing four touchdown passes to secure a first-round playoff bye.

Ryan was 17 of 19 for 235 yards by halftime, directing the Falcons (11-5) to touchdowns on all five possessions and a commanding 35-13 lead. He finished 27 of 36 for 331 yards, leaving him with a franchise-record 4,944 yards, 38 touchdowns and just seven interceptions this season.

Atlanta is seeded second in the NFC to Dallas.

The Saints (7-9) came into the regular-season finale looking to finish another disappointing season with a three-game winning streak and avoid a third straight losing mark. But they were blitzed early and often by the league’s highest-scoring offense.

One consolation for New Orleans: Drew Brees became the first quarterback in league history to throw for 5,000 yards five times. He was 29 of 50 for 350 yards, giving him 5,208 on the season.

His 471 completions this season set an NFL record.

SEAHAWKS 25, 49ERS 23

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Russell Wilson threw for 258 yards and a touchdown and the Seahawks rallied from an early 11-point deficit in what could be coach Chip Kelly’s final game with the 49ers.

The NFC West champion Seahawks (10-5-1) head to the playoffs as the third seed in the NFC. The Seahawks will host Detroit on Saturday night.

The loss capped an awful season for the 49ers (2-14), who matched the franchise record for losses in a season previously reached in 1978, ’79 and 2004. San Francisco fired general manager Trent Baalke and coach Chip Kelly.

Seattle receiver Doug Baldwin caught two passes for 44 yards, tying the franchise record for catches in a season with 94. Baldwin tied Bobby Engram’s mark set in 2007 with an acrobatic 41-yard catch in the second quarter.

PATRIOTS 35, DOLPHINS 14

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) —Tom Brady threw for 276 yards and three scores, and the Patriots clinched home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

New England took a 20-0 lead in the first half, and turned away Miami’s comeback bid with the help of a 77-yard touchdown catch-and-run by Julian Edelman and a 69-yard fumble return by linebacker Shea McClellin.

The Patriots (14-2), already assured of a first-round bye, became the ninth team since 1972 to go undefeated on the road during the regular season.

The Dolphins (10-6), beaten for only the second time in the past 11 games, had already earned an AFC wild-card berth. They play their first postseason game since 2008 next Sunday at Pittsburgh.

The Patriots had lost their past three games in Miami, and appeared intent from the outset on snapping that streak. By the time they led 20-0, they had advantages of 238 to 30 in yards, and 17 to one in first downs.

STEELERS 27, BROWNS 24

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Steelers backups assured the Browns of the top pick in the 2017 draft.

Landry Jones hit Cobi Hamilton with a 26-yard touchdown with 2:57 left in overtime. The Browns took a lead on Cody Parkey’s 34-yard field goal with 7:17 remaining in the extra session.

Jones, who started while the playoff-bound Steelers rested Ben Roethlisberger, took the Steelers 75 yards in nine plays. The last was a pretty lob to the end zone that Hamilton hauled in to give Pittsburgh (11-5) its seventh straight victory.

Jones finished with 277 yards passing and three touchdowns and one interception.

The Steelers will host Miami on Sunday in the wild-card round next weekend. The Dolphins thumped Pittsburgh 30-15 on Oct. 16.

Isaiah Crowell ran for a career-high 152 yards for the Browns (1-15), who finished with the worst record in franchise history.

The Browns said coach Hue Jackson will return next season.

JETS 30, BILLS 10

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Ryan Fitzpatrick threw two touchdown passes in what was likely his final game for the Jets.

Despite a 5-11 record, the Jets are making no changes in leadership, meaning both coach Todd Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan will remain with the team next season. The team announced the moves after the game.

Bowles is 15-17 in his two-year tenure with New York, which hired him in January 2015 after firing Rex Ryan. Maccagnan is also in his second season with the Jets, and had also been criticized for the team’s roster, which likely faces an overhaul this offseason.

The Bills (7-9) also face some uncertainty this offseason after firing coach Rex Ryan earlier in the week and elevating offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn to the interim role. Two other people with direct knowledge of the situation told the AP before the game that Lynn is the clear favorite to take over the job permanently.

TITANS 24, TEXANS 17

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A concussion that sidelined quarterback Tom Savage could have the biggest impact coming out of the Texans’ loss.

Savage started for the AFC South champions, left in the second quarter to be evaluated for a concussion and was cleared. He took a snap to kneel down on the final play of the first half and was diagnosed with a concussion after being re-evaluated at halftime.

That left Brock Osweiler, benched for Savage last month, running the offense. He threw for 253 yards and a touchdown and also ran for a 1-yard TD on fourth-and-goal in the fourth quarter.

Houston (9-7) will host an AFC wild-card game next Saturday against Oakland, possibly with uncertainty at quarterback.

DaQuan Jones recovered a fumble for a touchdown in the first quarter, and the Titans never trailed to finish with their first winning season since 2011.

The Titans (9-7) also ended a five-game skid to the two-time AFC South champs, who had beaten Tennessee eight of the previous nine games in this series. With their six-win improvement from going 3-13 in 2015, the Titans matched the biggest one-year turnaround in franchise history, previously set in 1967 and 1974.

EAGLES 27, COWBOYS 13

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Tony Romo threw his first touchdown pass in nearly 14 months and the playoff-bound Cowboys played it safe.

The Cowboys (13-3) locked up the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs when the Eagles (7-9) beat the Giants on Dec. 22. So Dak Prescott played only two series and Ezekiel Elliott watched from the sideline.

Carson Wentz tossed two TD passes to Zach Ertz to help Philadelphia finish with a two-game winning streak.

Prescott was 4 for 8 for 37 yards before giving way to Romo, who hadn’t played in a regular-season game since Thanksgiving 2015 when he broke his left collarbone for the second time in less than three months. Romo broke a bone in his back in the third preseason game against Seattle this season, paving the way for Prescott to have one of the best years by a rookie quarterback in NFL history.

Romo overthrew Terrance Williams on a deep pass on his first play. His first completion was a 16-yarder to Williams on third-and-12. After Dez Bryant drew a pass interference penalty on a deep pass at the Eagles 3, Romo connected with Williams for his first TD pass since Nov. 22, 2015 against Miami.

Romo finished 3 for 4 for 29 yards.

BUCCANEERS 17, PANTHERS 16

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Jameis Winston threw for 202 yards and one touchdown And the Buccaneers broke up Cam Newton’s 2-point conversion throw in the closing seconds for their first winning season in six years.

Winston threw a 10-yard pass to Mike Evans to snap a fourth-quarter tie and became the first player in NFL history to start his career with consecutive 4,000-yard seasons.

But the Bucs (9-7) were eliminated from playoff contention, not getting the help they needed in other games for their first berth since 2007.

Winston’s franchise record-setting 28th TD pass put the Bucs ahead 17-10 with 3:10 remaining. Newton, however, moved the Panthers (6-10) right down the field, with help of a 47-yard pass to Kelvin Benjamin and two fourth-down completions to set up a 5-yard scoring pass to trim Carolina’s deficit to one with 17 seconds left.

The defending NFC champions went for 2 points. Newton’s pass intended for tight end Greg Olsen was batted away by safety Bradley McDougald.

VIKINGS 38, BEARS 10

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Sam Bradford concluded his first season with Minnesota with three first-half touchdown passes. Bradford went 25 for 33 for 250 yards and one interception, finishing with a 71.6 percent completion rate to set an NFL single-season record. Drew Brees (71.2 for New Orleans) set the league mark in 2011.

Kyle Rudolph caught 11 passes for 117 yards and a score for the Vikings (8-8), who started 5-0 before stumbling out of their bye week and never recovering.

The Bears (3-13) wound up with their fewest wins in a non-strike year since 1973 after turning the ball over five times. Everson Griffen returned one of their three lost fumbles for a touchdown.

Jordan Howard, the lone bright spot, rushed for 135 yards on 23 carries to break Matt Forte’s franchise rookie record and finish with 1,313 yards for the season for Chicago.

COLTS 24, JAGUARS 20

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Andrew Luck threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jack Doyle with 9 seconds left. Indy (8-8) went 75 yards in 84 seconds with no timeouts to avoid its first losing season since 2011, sending retiring linebacker Robert Mathis out with a win in his final NFL game.

Jacksonville (3-13) matched the second-worst record in franchise history after blocking a punt with 1:54 to go and breaking a 17-17 tie with 1:33 left.

Instead, Luck took the Colts right downfield for the score.

Mathis extended his league record of strip-sacks to 41 in the fourth quarter, two days after announcing he would retire.

Frank Gore ran 16 times for 62 yards, becoming the fourth player in league history to top 1,000 yards at age 33 or older. He’s also the oldest to achieve the milestone since John Riggins in 1984 at age 35, and he’s the first Colts to run for 1,000 since Joseph Addai in 2007 — ending the second-longest active streak in the NFL.

BENGALS 27, RAVENS 10

CINCINNATI (AP) — Andy Dalton completed his first 10 passes, one for a touchdown, and Rex Burkhead ran for a pair of scores in the Bengals’ fifth straight win at home over the Ravens.

The Bengals (6-9-1) missed the playoffs for the first time in six years, and haven’t won a playoff game in 26 years, the sixth-longest streak in NFL history. Coach Marvin Lewis, 0-7 in the postseason, says he’ll return in 2017.

Baltimore (8-8) failed to reach the playoffs for the third time in four years. The Ravens played their final game as if they were emotionally hung over from a last-minute loss at Pittsburgh last Sunday that eliminated them.

Ravens receiver Steve Smith caught three passes for 34 yards in what was probably the final game of his remarkable career. The 37-year-old receiver reiterated last week that he’s likely retiring. He has 51 games with 100 yards receiving, tied for fourth most in NFL history.

CARDINALS 44, RAMS 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Carson Palmer threw touchdown passes to Jeremy Ross, Darren Fells and Larry Fitzgerald, and the Cardinals wrapped up a frustrating season.

Fitzgerald caught five passes and took the overall NFL lead with 107 catches in perhaps his final game for the Cardinals (7-8-1). Arizona missed the playoffs one year after reaching the NFC championship game despite an offense and a defense ranked in the top quarter of the league.

Arizona still finished the year strong with wins over NFC West champion Seattle and Los Angeles (4-12), which has lost seven straight.

The Cardinals’ defense sacked Jared Goff seven times and allowed just 122 yards by the Rams, who wrapped up their homecoming season with their worst record since 2011.

David Johnson left the field on a cart in the first quarter with an injured left knee, but Arizona’s star running back appeared to be able to put weight on his leg when he returned to watch the second half from the sidelines. Johnson failed to gain 100 yards from scrimmage for the first time in his spectacular season.

___

NFL Week 17: Can Rodgers complete Packers’ push?

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(PhatzRadio Sports /USA Today)    —-   Aaron Rodgers’ midseason remark that the Green Bay Packers could still “run the table” might not have been a fully formed prediction, but the quarterback has his team in position to make good on his words.

Green Bay has rallied back from a 4-6 start to win its last five games and set itself up for a Week 17 showdown against the Detroit Lions for the NFC North. A win would give the Packers their fifth division title in six years, and perhaps their most unlikely one in some time.

But Green Bay also could drop from the postseason entirely, as a win by the Washington Redskins earlier in the day would leave the loser of Sunday’s prime time clash out of the playoffs.

Rodgers has been the Packers’ clear catalyst, completing 71.4% of his passes and throwing 11 touchdowns with no interceptions during the five-game win streak. Detroit is well-versed in how quickly he can dissect a defense after his four-touchdown first half guided Green Bay to a 34-27 win earlier this season.

For the Lions to capture their first division title since 1993, generating pressure will be paramount. Detroit ranks just 29th in the NFL with 25 sacks. Rodgers’ ability to evade the rush can be lethal for opposing defenses, but he’s still recovering from left hamstring and right calf injuries.

Denying big plays is a priority for coordinator Teryl Austin’s bend-but-don’t-break defense. Though Rodgers is an opportunist with big plays, he’s also patient enough to slice a defense with small plays. At some point, the defense will need a breakthrough or two in the form of a big play or key stand.

Cornerback Darius Slay could have a key role in his potential return from a hamstring injury. Detroit might lean on him to slow Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson, who had 101 yards and two touchdowns in the first meeting between the teams this season.

Here are four other matchups that could define Week 17 in the NFL:

Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi vs. Patriots’ front seven

Ajayi might not have a full day of work against New England given that he is listed as questionable with a shoulder injury. The breakout running back, however, represents Miami’s best chance at moving up to the first wild-card slot and denying New England home-field advantage.

Ajayi quelled concerns about his late-season play last week by rushing for 206 yards against the Buffalo Bills, breaking the 200-yard barrier for the third time this season. With Matt Moore in for the injured Ryan Tannehill at quarterback, the second-year back likely becomes the focal point of the offense for the foreseeable future. New England hasn’t given up a touchdown in two games and has allowed a league-low six rushing scores this season.

Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr. vs. Redskins CB Josh Norman

Arguably the most heated wide receiver-cornerback matchup in the NFL might lack its usual fanfare heading into Week 17. But in order to position themselves for the final NFC wild-card berth, the Redskins still must handle an offense propped by Beckham.

Both stars shrugged off questions about their history this week, suggesting that the charged confrontations that ignited the rivalry would be left in the past. Beckham had seven catches for 121 yards in a game that became known for his outburst against a kicking net. With the Giants settled into the No. 5 seed and Beckham finding his comfort zone, Sunday could make for a more reserved showdown.

Raiders QB Matt McGloin vs. Broncos’ secondary

With Derek Carr sidelined by a broken fibula, McGloin now has the keys to Oakland’s first playoff season since 2002. His performance could be the key decider in the Raiders’ playoff seeding – as well as a harbinger of how the team will fare after the loss of its leader.

McGloin hasn’t started a game since his rookie season in 2013, but Oakland invested in him this offseason for situations such as this. Facing the top-ranked passing defense with the AFC West title – and possible home-field advantage – potentially on the line, Raiders coach Jack Del Rio isn’t likely to task the former Penn State walk-on with the same role as Carr on Sunday. But McGloin will need to get up to speed for the playoffs, and how the offense fares against the Broncos could reveal how the offense is faring after this major shift.

Chargers QB Philip Rivers vs. Chiefs’ secondary

Sunday’s AFC West showdown has playoff implications for Kansas City, but it could be more notable as the possible end of an era. With potential Los Angeles relocation looming, the Chargers could be playing their last game in San Diego.

San Diego has struggled to close out games (1-7 in contests decided by seven points or less) but has been resilient despite having 19 players on injured reserve. Rivers leads the league in interceptions with 19, but he and the rest of the Chargers are eager to play spoiler after giving up a 21-point lead in a 33-27 overtime loss to the Chiefs in Week 1.

 

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