Denver Broncos

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.

___

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

Save

NFL free agency tracker: QB Josh McCown, Cowboys talk

This gallery contains 1 photo.

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today / ESPN)   —-  NFL free agency is almost here, but the news on possible destinations for top free agents is already flying as the league’s official tampering period has started.

Stay here throughout free agency for all the latest.

McCown, Cowboys talking

Backup quarterback Josh McCown is talking with the Cowboys, according to ESPN.com and confirmed by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Quick take: Jerry Jones might want to keep Tony Romo on the roster but he knows that is not best for his franchise. And he is obviously seems to be coming around to the idea Kellen Moore doesn’t cut it as the backup, either.

DeSean Jackson linked to Buccaneers, Patriots, Cowboys

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers plan to make a strong push for Jackson, according to NFL Network. The Washington Post reported that the New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys, and Philadelphia Eagles also are interested in the speedy receiver.

Quick take: The Buccaneers are a fitting suitor for Jackson given their need to find both a complement to Mike Evans and a big-play threat. The Patriots, however, could be an intriguing option, as they have cap space and offer the established quarterback (Tom Brady) that Jackson has said he hopes to have on his next team. Landing in Dallas would seem like a longshot given the salary cap maneuvering that it could require.

Redskins re-sign TE

Tom Pelissero of USA TODAY Sports confirms it is a three-year deal.

Seahawks have no interest in AP for now

Adrian Peterson’s father says the Seattle Seahawks and Oakland Raiders are his son’s two most likely destinations. But Peterson might have to wait awhile to land in either spot.

A person with knowledge of the Seahawks’ thinking told USA TODAY Sports that they have no immediate interest in Peterson. The Seahawks have shown in the past they’ll revisit if a veteran is sitting on the market and the price comes down.

Meanwhile, the Raiders have been high on Peterson’s wish list from go, based on their offensive line, quarterback and scheme. But will they pay a veteran back or just draft one?

They already let Latavius Murray – who’s almost five years younger than Peterson – reach the negotiating window. And this is widely regarded as a very deep running back class, which general manager Reggie McKenzie might believe can fill the void with young, cheap labor.

Don’t count out Peterson returning to the Minnesota Vikings, who let him hit the market by declining his $18 million option last week in a move that was really a formality. The Vikings’ top priority is offensive line help, though.

— Tom Pelissero

Texans face AFC South competition for CB Bouye

The Houston Texans could be in for a bidding war, as the Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Indianapolis Colts are expected to push for the services of cornerback A.J. Bouye, according to The Houston Chronicle.

Quick take: Losing Bouye would be a blow for Houston, but having to face him twice a year would be that much more agonizing. Both the Titans and Jaguars have ample salary cap space, so keeping Bouye could prove difficult. Tennessee could address a problem area in its secondary with Bouye, while Jacksonville could pair him with standout Jalen Ramsey.

Bears front-runner for QB Glennon?

The Chicago Bears might have thinning competition for quarterback Mike Glennon, as the San Francisco 49ers, Buffalo Bills and New York Jets have all indicated they have removed themselves from contention for his services.

Quick take: The Bears might have the right blend of need, cap space and impatience to pursue Glennon, who has just 18 career starts but wouldn’t bring the baggage of a rookie. If the quarterbacks lands there, Chicago could ease the burden on Glennon by leaning on running back Jordan Howard, though it might have to bolster its receiving corps if Alshon Jeffery leaves in free agency.

Rams listening to offers for CB Trumaine Johnson

The Los Angeles Rams are listening to trade offers for franchise-tagged cornerback Trumaine Johnson, according to ESPN.

Quick take: Johnson is set to make $16.74 million this season, more than any other cornerback, so gauging his value makes sense. But the Rams are in a tough spot here. They lack a cornerback elsewhere on the roster who has the size and consistency to hold up in coverage on the outside like Johnson. New defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ scheme usually requires a formidable presence in the secondary as well. But dealing Johnson could net a draft pick or two after the trade to move up for Jared Goff sapped the team’s assets.

_____

It’s time to unveil our ranking of the top 150 free agents in the Class of 2017, compiled by ESPN’s experts and featuring analysis from NFL Nation reporters.

The list is not based on how players did on the field in 2016; it rates the market for each player, attempting to determine their values on the open market. Youth and the value of the position they play goes into the evaluations for each player. Older players who could sign minimum-salary deals are mostly excluded.

A few more notes before the top 150:

  • This updated list includes unrestricted free agents and street free agents (players who were released over the past few weeks).
  • Players who received the franchise tag are excluded. For more on how the franchise tag works, go here.
  • All ages listed are how old each player will be entering the 2017 season.

With the potential top quarterback, running back, pass-rusher and defensive tackle all off the market because of long-term deals or the franchise tag, our list starts in Baltimore:


1. Brandon Williams, DT

2016 team: Baltimore Ravens | Age entering 2017 season: 28

Williams has gone from a third-round pick from a Division II school to a dominant NFL nose tackle. His strength and athleticism on the interior has made him one of the league’s best run-stoppers, and Baltimore has given up the third-fewest rushing yards (93.8 per game) since he became a starter in 2014. — Jamison Hensley

2. Dont’a Hightower, LB

2016 team: New England Patriots | Age: 27

Hightower’s big-game prowess was on full display in the second half of Super Bowl LI, when his strip sack was cited by Bill Belichick as a turning point. Hightower is a top priority for the Patriots to retain. — Mike Reiss

3. Alshon Jeffery, WR

2016 team: Chicago Bears | Age: 27

Jeffery’s production tailed off the past two years because of injuries and suspension, but he caught a combined 174 passes for 2,554 yards and 17 touchdowns from 2013-14. Jeffery played under the franchise tag last season, but prefers a long-term deal — either in Chicago or someplace else. He has 13 career 100-yard receiving games in his five years with the Bears. — Jeff Dickerson

4. Calais Campbell, DE

2016 team: Arizona Cardinals | Age: 30

Campbell is one of the most unique players in the NFL because of his size (6-foot-8) and his athletic ability. He’s able to combine the two to produce a Pro Bowl-caliber force on the interior of a defensive line, while also having the speed and quickness to rush the passer from the edge. — Josh Weinfuss

5. Dontari Poe, DT

2016 team: Kansas City Chiefs | Age: 27

Poe is remarkably athletic for someone of 346 pounds, as he’s listed by the Chiefs. He wasn’t as productive last season as he’d been earlier in his career. As a bonus, Poe has proved an effective goal-line offensive threat with two career rushing touchdowns and one TD pass. — Adam Teicher

6. A.J. Bouye, CB

2016 team: Houston Texans | Age: 26

The Texans couldn’t have known how much Bouye was going to grow this season, going from Houston’s No. 4 cornerback to one of the best in the league. Bouye and the Texans have said they want to keep the young cornerback in Houston, but he likely will command too big of a price tag to get that deal done. — Sarah Barshop

7. Stephon Gilmore, CB

2016 team: Buffalo Bills | Age: 26

Gilmore said last August he was among the NFL’s elite cornerbacks, but his performance through a rocky 2016 season suggested otherwise. Pro Football Focus ranked him 61st among NFL cornerbacks, down from a much higher grade in 2015. He has a future as a No. 1 cornerback, but there are consistency and durability problems that should give teams — including the Bills — pause about giving him a top-of-the-market deal. — Mike Rodak

8. Kevin Zeitler, G

2016 team: Cincinnati Bengals | Age: 27

Zeitler will be primed for a huge contract as one of the top young guards on the market. Don’t be fooled by the Bengals’ struggles on the offensive line in 2016: Zeitler is the real deal. So why is he even on the market? The Bengals don’t feel that guards should be paid as much as tackles, and with left tackle Andrew Whitworth also about to hit free agency, they’re likely to let another team get into a bidding war for Zeitler. — Katherine Terrell

9. T.J. Lang, G

2016 team: Green Bay Packers | Age: 29

Lang has proved to be the Packers’ most consistent offensive linemen and finally was rewarded with his first Pro Bowl last year. He’ll be 30 in September, however, and has battled injuries, though he has played through most of them. He’ll be looking for one more big contract. — Rob Demovsky

10. Pierre Garcon, WR

2016 team: Washington Redskins | Age: 31

Garcon has been a model of consistency in Washington, averaging 75.2 catches, 909.8 yards and 4.2 touchdowns per year in his five seasons. He’s a tough player, capable of making hard catches on third downs or in traffic, and one of the better blockers at his position. Garcon is respected for his work habits and will draw plenty of attention on the open market. — John Keim

NFL: Now attention turns to 2017 NFL offseason, draft

This gallery contains 1 photo.

(Phatzradio Sports / AP)   —-   The New England Patriots have some more catching up to do.

Bill Belichick hardly took time to relish the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history when he declared “in all honesty, we’re five weeks behind in the 2017 season to most teams in this league.”

After overcoming a 25-point deficit to win their fifth title, the Patriots will pick last in the NFL draft April 27 in Philadelphia. Last year, they were stripped of their first-round pick in the “Deflategate” ruling that included a September suspension for Super Bowl 51 MVP Tom Brady.

Cleveland had the worst record in the league at 1-15 and will pick first, followed by San Francisco, Chicago and Jacksonville. Among the possible top picks is Texas A&M edge rusher Myles Garrett, whom many project will follow in Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller’s footsteps.

Between now and draft weekend, prospective rookies will be poked, prodded and peppered by NFL personnel. Some players will get extra scrutiny at the NFL combine in a month or on their pro days in March because of discipline issues or health concerns.

Some have already seen their stock slide based on poor decisions or plain bad luck, and others are steadily climbing all the mock drafts.

Two running backs who are projected high picks — Leonard Fournette of LSU and Christian McCaffrey of Stanford , skipped their bowl game a year after Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith cost himself millions by blowing out his left knee in the Fiesta Bowl.

Smith was projected as a potential top-five pick before his injury, and instead went to the Dallas Cowboys in the second round with the 34th overall pick. The difference in guaranteed contract money is about $19 million.

McCaffrey, the 2015 Heisman Trophy runner-up, sat out the Dec. 30 Sun Bowl between Stanford and North Carolina after an injury-marred 2016 season “so I can begin my draft prep immediately.” Three days later, Fournette said he would miss LSU’s Citrus Bowl matchup with Louisville on Dec. 31 to rest an injured ankle.

Both would love to be like Dallas rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott, who led the Cowboys’ turnaround from bottom-feeder to the NFC’s top playoff seed. Elliott didn’t like Fournette and McCaffrey bailing on their teammates, tweeting, “I would do anything to play one more time with my brothers in that scarlet and gray.”

When others pointed out he skipped his senior season to enter the draft, Elliott tweeted: “there is a difference between not coming back for your last year and not finishing your last season.”

Tell that to Jake Butt. Michigan’s star tight end is this year’s cautionary tale after tearing an ACL in the Wolverines’ 33-32 loss to Florida State in the Orange Bowl.

Other college stars who will draw extra attention from teams trying to pry the Lombardi Trophy from Belichick and Brady:

JOE MIXON: The Oklahoma running back set the school’s single-season record for all-purpose yards last season, but he was suspended for the 2014 season after punching a woman in the face. Mixon’s lawyers released video in December of him breaking Oklahoma student Amelia Molitor’s jaw and cheekbone in July 2014, and heavy criticism of Mixon and Sooners coach Bob Stoops followed. Mixon gave a tearful public apology a week later.

CHAD KELLY: The Ole Miss QB is both a character concern and a health risk . He was leading the SEC with 2,758 passing yards when he tore his right ACL and lateral meniscus and underwent surgery in November. His long list of off-the-field troubles include getting kicked off the Clemson team in 2015, an arrest after a bar fight in 2014 and sparking a brawl at his brother’s high school football game. “I’ve made stupid mistakes in the past. I can’t deny that,” he said. “But … I’ve learned from it.”

SETH RUSSELL: Like Kelly, Baylor’s QB went to the Senior Bowl, where he sat in on meetings and observed practices even though he couldn’t play in the game. Russell broke his left ankle in a loss at Oklahoma in November. He had 2,126 yards passing with 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions, and also ran for 506 yards and eight more scores. He was 14-3 as the Bears starter.

SHAWN OAKMAN: Baylor’s career sacks leader went undrafted last year after finishing his eligibility in 2015. He was indicted last July on a charge of sexually assaulting a woman. The school was criticized after Oakman was seen on the sideline at the Bears’ game against Rice in 2016. Coach Art Briles was removed last year following a report alleging the private Baptist university mishandled complains of sexual assault, a cloud that could hang over other Bears prospects.

DALVIN COOK: The Florida State running back has both a long list of accomplishments and arrests. He topped 1,000 yards in all three seasons and ran for 46 career TDs. He’s No. 2 on the ACC career charts in yards rushing and is the ACC’s all-time leader with 5,399 yards from scrimmage. His run-ins with the law include accusations he punched a woman outside a bar, brandished a firearm and mistreated dogs.

COREY DAVIS: The Western Michigan wide receiver might not work out at the combine in Indianapolis because of ankle issues. Davis could have been a high draft pick had he left after his junior year last season, but he returned for his senior season and had 97 receptions for 1,500 yards and 19 TDs. That gave him 331 catches for 5,278 yards and 52 TDs overall.

MALIK HOOKER: The Ohio State All-American safety will miss the combine after undergoing hernia surgery. He returned three of his seven interceptions for TDs last season when he also made 74 tackles and broke up 11 passes. Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Greg Schiano has compared the 6-foot-2, 205-pounder to former NFL All-Pro safety Ed Reed.

___

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A federal judge in Philadelphia will live-stream a hearing Wednesday in the NFL concussion case so retired players can learn what’s ahead as the estimated $1 billion settlement rolls out this year.

The NFL this week is moving the first $65 million in payments into trust funds that cover injury claims, baseline testing and education. The league must then pay another $120 million into the injury fund over the next six months.

The 65-year settlement program covers players who retired from the league by Jan. 7, 2014. The awards could reach $5 million for younger men with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, but the average payment is expected to be about $190,000 for men with Alzheimer’s disease or moderate dementia.

Participants must register for the settlement by Aug. 7, or “they’ll never be eligible for benefits,” said Christopher Seeger, a lead players’ lawyer on the case. He expects it to take several years to test all 22,000 retired players, presuming they all sign up.

“One year from now, I expect to have a lot of money transferred from the NFL to, unfortunately, a lot of sick former NFL players,” Seeger told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Men already diagnosed with a covered neurological problem could get their awards in the next few months, he said. Meanwhile, the settlement committee is setting up a network of doctors around the country to conduct testing.

The awards cover ALS, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and deaths involving chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. The awards will vary based on a person’s diagnosis, age and time in the NFL.

The NFL has estimated that nearly three in 10 former players could develop Alzheimer’s disease or moderate dementia. There are no awards for depression, mood disorders or, at least for now, future CTE diagnoses. However, Senior U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody has ordered the parties to revisit the settlement as the science on CTE advances.

The settlement resolves thousands of lawsuits that accuse the NFL of hiding what it knew about the risks of repeated concussions in order to return players to the field.

Some former players appealed the settlement over the exclusion of future CTE cases and depression, but the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case. About 160 others have opted out and will pursue individual lawsuits.

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

This gallery contains 1 photo.

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.”

___

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

Falcons QB Matt Ryan wins NFL MVP honors

HOUSTON (AP) — The Latest on The Associated Press 2016 NFL awards (all times local):

7:50 p.m.

Quarterback Matt Ryan is the first Atlanta Falcons player to win The Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player award.

Ryan, also voted to the 2016 All-Pro Team by a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the NFL, earned 25 votes in balloting announced Saturday night at the NFL Honors show. He beat out New England quarterback Tom Brady, who received 10 votes.

They will meet in Sunday’s Super Bowl.

Ryan topped the NFL in passer rating (117.1), throwing for 38 touchdowns with seven interceptions. He led the Falcons (11-5) to the NFC South title.

It’s the fourth consecutive year and ninth in the past 10 a quarterback has won the award.

Dallas rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott and Oakland QB Derek Carr each received six votes.

___

7:35 p.m.

The Cowboys’ Jason Garrett has won the 2016 Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year award.

Garrett led Dallas to an NFC-best 13-3 record in a turnaround season before the Cowboys lost to Green Bay in the playoffs.

In his seventh season at the Cowboys’ helm, Garrett used two rookies, quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott, operating behind a terrific offensive line, to lift Dallas to its best record in nine years. The Cowboys also had the third-stingiest scoring defense in the NFC.

Garrett received 25 votes from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the NFL. He easily outdistanced New England’s Bill Belichick (14 votes). Miami’s Adam Gase got six, Oakland’s Jack Del Rio four, and Kansas City’s Andy Reid one.

Garrett is the first Dallas coach to win the award since Jimmy Johnson in 1990. Tom Landry won it in 1966.

___

6:55 p.m.

Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has won the 2016 Associated Press NFL Assistant Coach of the Year award.

Apparently headed to the head coaching job of the 49ers after helping Atlanta on Sunday against New England in the Super Bowl, Shanahan earned 13½ votes from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the league. He beat Dallas defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli by three as 10 assistants drew votes in balloting announced Saturday night.

Shanahan, whose father Mike won two Super Bowls as Denver’s head coach, oversaw the NFL’s most prolific offense, which scored 540 points. Quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones were All-Pros this season.

Shanahan is the third winner of the award, following Todd Bowles, then Arizona’s defensive coordinator, in 2014, and Wade Phillips, then Denver’s DC, last season.

___

Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson is an overwhelming choice as the 2016 Associated Press NFL Comeback Player of the Year.

The Packers receiver severely tore ligaments in his right knee in the 2015 preseason and missed the entire season. He returned to full-time action last summer, caught six passes and scored a touchdown in the opener and never looked back.

Nelson finished the season with 97 receptions for 1,257 yards and a league-high 14 touchdowns in helping Green Bay win the NFC North. That performance earned him 36 votes from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the NFL. Miami defensive end Cameron Wake received 11 votes in results announced Saturday night.

Nelson is the first Packer to win the award and only the second wide receiver. Carolina’s Steve Smith was a co-winner in 2005.

___

6:50 p.m.

Matt Ryan, who has his Atlanta Falcons poised to play in the Super Bowl, has won the 2016 Associated Press NFL Offensive Player of the Year award.

The quarterback who led the league in passing this season in the best performance of his nine-year career, led Atlanta to the NFC South title before helping it win two playoff games for its first appearance in the Super Bowl since 1999.

He drew 15½ votes from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the league. Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers was second with 11 and Arizona’s versatile running back, David Johnson, received eight in results announced Saturday night.

Atlanta scored a league-high 540 points.

Ryan, who threw for 4,944 yards, 38 touchdowns, seven interceptions and had a 117.1 rating, is the first Falcon to win the award.

___

6:35 p.m.

Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa has won the 2016 Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year award in a landslide.

Sitting out the first four games after a protracted preseason holdout didn’t damage the third overall draft pick much. He still managed 12½ sacks as the key threat on a San Diego defense that ranked only 16th overall.

That performance earned Bosa 37 votes from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the league. He easily outdistanced Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who received 10. The other three votes went to Falcons linebacker Deion Jones in balloting announced Saturday night.

Bosa, whose father played three seasons with Miami (1987-89), is the second Charger to win the honor. Linebacker Shawne Merriman earned it in 2005.

___

6:20 p.m.

Dak Prescott has won a two-man race with Dallas teammate Ezekiel Elliott to take the 2016 Associated Press NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

The Cowboys’ fourth-round draft pick stepped in when quarterback Tony Romo was injured in the preseason and led Dallas to a 13-3 record, best in the NFC. He got plenty of help from his running back, Elliott, the fourth overall selection.

In balloting announced Saturday night, Prescott received 28½ votes from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the league. The other 21½ went to Elliott, who rushed for a league-high 1,631 yards and scored 15 times. Prescott ranked third in passing behind the two Super Bowl quarterbacks, throwing for 23 TDs with four interceptions.

Prescott is the first Cowboy since Emmitt Smith in 1990 to earn the honor. Tony Dorsett, Duane Thomas and Calvin Hill also won it for Dallas.

___

6:10 p.m.

Oakland’s All-Pro edge rusher Khalil Mack has won the 2016 Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, edging last season’s Super Bowl MVP, Von Miller, by one vote.

Mack drew 18 votes from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the NFL. Denver linebacker Miller was next at 17 in balloting announced Saturday night.

Mack was, by far, the standout player on a Raiders defense that ranked only 26th overall. He had 11 sacks, took part in 73 tackles, forced five fumbles and recovered three, and even had an interception for a touchdown. He’s the second Oakland defender to win the award; cornerback Lester Hayes got it in 1980.

Miller also had a big year with 13½ sacks, 78 tackles and three forced fumbles for the fourth-rated Broncos.

___

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

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

This gallery contains 1 photo.

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.”

_____

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.

___

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

NFL: 3 rookies, Ryan, highlight revamped AP All-Pro Team

The Associated Press 2016 NFL All-Pro Team is showing off the new wave of pro football stars.

Three rookies among 17 first-time selections highlight the team, including Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott, and Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill, who is a unanimous choice as a punt returner.

Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, edging New England’s Tom Brady, who was suspended for four games, is another first-time All Pro.

Tennessee right tackle Jack Conklin is the other rookie making the revamped roster announced Friday.

“It’s special,” Elliott said. “Just to be able to come into this league my first year and dominate and just play at the level I’m playing, and just kind of get these honors already as a rookie, it means a lot. I was never even All-American in college. I was never a first-team All-American. I’ll never get a Buckeye tree at Ohio State. That’s the one thing that I regret the most.

“Kind of seeing it come into the league and making All-Pro this rookie year, it definitely means a lot.”

It’s the first time since 1981 that so many first-year players made the team. Back then, it was future Hall of Famers Lawrence Taylor and Ronnie Lott, and 1980 Heisman-winning running back George Rogers.

For the first time, the nationwide panel of 50 sports writers and broadcasters who regularly cover the NFL voted for specific positions on the offensive line, a flex player on offense, a fifth defensive back, a punt returner and a special teamer.

Other first-timers include Arizona running back David Johnson (flex); Denver cornerback Chris Harris Jr. (DB); and New England’s Matthew Slater (special teamer).

One other unanimous pick is Baltimore placekicker Justin Tucker.

With only seven repeaters from last season’s squad, the All-Pro Team has a decidedly new flavor not only in alignment, but makeup. Not surprisingly, the Cowboys have the most players selected with five: Elliott, the league’s leading rusher; linebacker Sean Lee ; and offensive linemen Tyron Smith (left tackle), Travis Frederick (center) and Zack Martin (right guard).

Kansas City is next with four: Hill, tight end Travis Kelce, safety Eric Berry and cornerback Marcus Peters.

Ryan, the league’s top passer (117.1 rating, 38 touchdowns, 7 interceptions), is one of three Falcons, joined by edge rusher Vic Beasley Jr., the NFL’s sacks leader with 15 1/2, and wide receiver Julio Jones.

“There are so many things that don’t show up on the stat sheet,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said of Ryan. “How many people he’s affected on our team. He’s a fantastic teammate. That’s one of the highest praises you can give to a ballplayer.”

Jones and Steelers wideout Antonio Brown are repeaters from 2015, along with Berry, edge rusher Khalil Mack of Oakland, interior lineman Aaron Donald of Los Angeles, linebacker Von Miller of Denver, and punter Johnny Hekker of the Rams. Also having previously made an All-Pro team: Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner (2014) and Minnesota kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson (2013).

“It still means a ton,” said Wagner, who led the NFL in tackles. “Those things are hard to come by. I will always be appreciative of the … All-Pros because you look at guys who have played a long period of time at a very high level and weren’t able to get them for whatever reason.”

First-timers along with the three rookies are Ryan, Johnson, Kelce, Beasley, Lee, Slater, Harris, Peters, Martin, Frederick, Oakland left guard Kelechi Osemele, Denver cornerback Aqib Talib, and Giants safety Landon Collins and interior lineman Damon Harrison.

Three players make the first team for the third time: Miller, Brown and Berry.

In all, 14 teams are represented.

___

AP Sports Writers Paul Newberry and Schuyler Dixon contributed.

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

This gallery contains 1 photo.

(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:

___

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.

___

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.

___

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.

___

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.

___

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.

___

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.

___

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

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

This gallery contains 1 photo.

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.”

___

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.

___

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

This gallery contains 1 photo.

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.

____

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.”

____

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.

____

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

This gallery contains 1 photo.

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.

___

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.

___

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.

___

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.

__

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.

___

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.

___

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.

___

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.

___

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

This gallery contains 1 photo.

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?

This gallery contains 1 photo.

(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.

 

NFL Playoff Picture: AFC has its 6 playoff teams. Who will fill out NFC bracket?

This gallery contains 1 photo.

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today / AP)    —-   Here’s how the NFL playoff picture looks heading into the season’s final Sunday.

AFC
yz-1. New England Patriots (13-2): AFC East champions. A win or Raiders loss would give Pats home field. [Remaining game: at Dolphins]
x-2. Oakland Raiders (12-3): AFC West leader. They take division and first-round bye with a victory. If New England also loses, Oakland would earn No. 1 seed. However a Raiders loss combined with a Chiefs win gives Kansas City the AFC West and second seed. [Remaining game: at Broncos]
y-3. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5): AFC North champions. They’re locked into this spot and will open the playoffs against the No. 6 seed. [Remaining game: vs. Browns]
y-4. Houston Texans (9-6): AFC South champions. They’re locked into this spot and will open the playoffs against the No. 5 seed. [Remaining game: at Titans]
x-5. Kansas City Chiefs (11-4): Wild card No. 1. They can still win the AFC West with a win and a loss by the Raiders . [Remaining game: at Chargers]
x-6. Miami Dolphins (10-5): Wild card No. 2. The Fins could jump up to the fifth seed (and a more favorable matchup with Houston) if they and the Chiefs finish tied at 11-5. [Remaining game: vs. Patriots]

NFC
y*-1. Dallas Cowboys (13-2): NFC East champions. They’re locked into the top spot and will open the playoffs against the lowest-seeded team that wins on wild-card weekend. [Remaining game: at Eagles]
y-2. Atlanta Falcons (10-5): NFC South champions. They’ll claim the other first-round bye with a win in Week 17. [Remaining game: vs. Saints]
y-3. Seattle Seahawks (9-5-1): NFC West champions. They must win and hope the Falcons lose in order to get the No. 2 seed and the bye. [Remaining game: at 49ers]
4. Green Bay Packers (9-6): NFC North leader. If they beat Detroit on Sunday night, the Pack reclaim division crown they lost in 2015. They cannot earn a bye, though. [Remaining game: at Lions]
x-5. New York Giants (10-5): Wild card No. 1. They’re locked into this spot and will open the playoffs at the No. 4 seed. [Remaining game: at Redskins]
6. Detroit Lions (9-6): Wild card No. 2. If they beat the Packers at home, they win the NFC North. But the loser of that games goes home if the Redskins triumph Sunday afternoon. [Remaining game: vs. Packers]

In the hunt
7. Washington Redskins (8-6-1): If they win their final game, they can watch the Packers-Lions game knowing they’ll bypass the loser for the final wild-card berth — assuming the NFC North clash does not end in a tie. [Remaining game: vs. Giants]
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-7): Extreme long shots, but they’re still alive after Detroit’s loss Monday. The Bucs need to finish tied with Green Bay for the sixth seed and get a lot of tiebreaker assistance, including a tie between the Redskins and Giants, in order to advance. Tampa Bay can no longer pass the Lions after losing the common opponent tiebreaker. [Remaining game: vs. Panthers]

x — clinched playoff spot
y — clinched division
z — clinched first-round bye
* — clinched home-field advantage

_____

NFL playoff picture: Packers-Lions showdown could be play-in game

Bad form for the AFC, which has all six of its playoff qualifiers determined heading into the final Sunday of the schedule.

While there are still some things to be decided there (seeding, matchups), the drama is center stage in the NFC.

The sharpest spotlights will be in the nation’s capital in the afternoon, then in the Motor City at night.

If the Redskins beat the Giants, then the loser between the Packers and Lions won’t get into the postseason.

If New York prevails, both Green Bay and Detroit are in — same thing if they tie regardless of what the Redskins do — and will be playing for who earns the NFC North title and who becomes a wild card.

“Obviously the last game of the regular season you can look at it for what it is, it’s a big game,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell says. “But nothing changes between those white lines, you’re still going to have to be effective.

“Still going to play the same and not adding different rules to the game because of the magnitude of the game, or anything of that nature. You’ve still got to play and we’ve got to play well.”

Ditto for Green Bay (9-5), which has played very well in winning five straight to tie Detroit for the division lead.

“It’s just an extra playoff game to play, and those are the best,” says Packers receiver Jordy Nelson, who has had a spectacular return season after missing 2015 with an injured knee.

“The atmosphere will be incredible. The energy of the game, the speed of the game, everything will be full tilt. These are the games that you enjoy, you want to play in. You want to experience these and these are the ones you’ll remember.”

Tampa Bay remains on the fringes, but needs a ridiculous combination that includes a win against Carolina, a Giants-Redskins tie and a strength of victory tiebreaker over the Packers, who must lose.

New York Giants (10-5) at Washington (8-6-1)

Owning a wild card, the Giants could relax, except that their offense, other than Odell Beckham Jr., has been in a funk. So look for them to play hard and with the starters against up-and-down Washington.

Big and potentially inflammatory matchup between Beckham and Redskins cornerback Josh Norman could determine this one. So could New York finding a way to slow Washington’s second-ranked passing offense.

“We understand what’s at stake, we’re all professionals,” Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins says. “We want to be a mature football team and we know to do that we’ve just got to focus and take care of our business and let the chips fall where they may.”

New Orleans (7-8) at Atlanta (10-5)

The Falcons’ reward for a victory is a bye in the wild-card round. They could earn it with Detroit and Seattle losses, and with some ties involved.

This could be a shootout; Atlanta won 45-32 in September, the Falcons lead the NFL in scoring and are second in total yards. The Saints lead in yards and rank second in scoring. Saints RB Mark Ingram (940) and Falcons RB Devonta Freeman (983) can reach 1,000 yards rushing.

Carolina (6-9) at Tampa Bay (8-7)

Regardless of what happens Sunday, the Buccaneers have had a nice turnaround under new coach Dirk Koetter. Jameis Winston is 112 yards shy of throwing for 4,000 yards in consecutive seasons. He has 27 TD passes, tied for a club single-season record, but he also has thrown an NFC-leading 17 interceptions.

It has been the wrong kind of turnaround for 2015 NFC champion Carolina. But with 1,051 yards receiving, Panthers tight end Greg Olsen is the first at the position in league history with three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.

New England (13-2) at Miami (10-5)

Both are in the playoffs, with the Patriots needing a win or an Oakland loss to get AFC home-field advantage yet again. But they have lost three straight at Miami.

Both also have gotten huge contributions from running backs. LeGarrette Blount could have a big game against the Dolphins’ shaky run defense; he already leads the NFL with 17 TDs rushing and has 1,110 yards rushing. The Dolphins have given up 5,726 yards and could break the franchise record of 6,050 set in 1986.

But they also have highly productive Jay Ajayi, who last week became the fourth NFL player to have three 200-yard rushing games in a season. Ajayi is averaging 7.1 yards per carry after third quarter, best in league.

Oakland (12-3) at Denver (8-7)

An Oakland victory over the spiraling defending Super Bowl champs gives the Raiders the AFC West. A loss opens a chance for Kansas City, which would drop the Raiders to the fifth seed.

With Derek Carr (broken leg) sidelined, Matt McGloin steps in at QB. McGloin’s last start came in 2013 as a rookie.

Denver’s defense has stagnated, leading to its slump despite another strong defense. LB Von Miller is second in the league with 13 1-2 sacks.

Kansas City (11-4) at San Diego (5-10)

Already in the playoffs, the Chiefs must take care of the Chargers in what could be the last NFL game at Qualcomm Stadium. Then Kansas City needs a Broncos win. The Chiefs lead the NFL with 31 takeaways and San Diego has 33 turnovers.

Chargers Chairman Dean Spanos is threatening to relocate to Los Angeles and has until Jan. 15 to decide to join the Rams as a tenant in a new stadium being built in Inglewood.

Houston (9-6) at Tennessee (8-7)

What could have been a faceoff for the AFC South fizzled when the Titans saw quarterback Marcus Mariota break his leg in last week’s upset loss to Jacksonville.

Houston, the site of the Super Bowl, won three in a row to take the division. Its defense is ranked No. 1 in yardage allowed, which it probably needs with the inconsistent offense. That’s now in the hands of QB Tom Savage after expensive free agent Brock Osweiler was benched.

Dallas (13-2) at Philadelphia (6-9)

Of note in this one as the top-seeded Cowboys head toward a bye, QB Dak Prescott’s 13 wins are tied for most by a rookie in NFL history set by Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger. Fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott leads the NFL with 1,631 yards rushing and is third with 15 TDs on the ground. He needs 178 yards to break Eric Dickerson’s rookie record (1,808).

Eagles kicker Caleb Sturgis (33 for 38) needs one field goal to set a single-season team record.

Seattle (9-5-1) at San Francisco (2-13)

In losing three of the past five, the Seahawks might have blown a first-round playoff bye. The NFC West winners must win and have Atlanta lose for the easiest way to grab that week off.

The Seahawks have won six straight in the series, including the 2013 NFC title game. San Francisco, which snapped a 13-game slide last week, can only dream of title games right now.

Cleveland (1-14) at Pittsburgh (10-5)

Pittsburgh clinched the AFC North with a win over Baltimore last week. Settled in as the No. 3 seed, the Steelers will rest Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown.

They still might have too much for Cleveland, though the Browns are hot: They avoided a winless season by holding off San Diego last weekend.

Baltimore (8-7) at Cincinnati (5-9-1)

Personal achievements are all the Ravens have left. Justin Tucker needs one more 50-yard field goal to move ahead of Blair Walsh for an NFL seasonal record with 11. Tucker has 37 FGs overall, one shy of his club record, and needs three to become the third kicker in NFL history with 40. Mike Wallace (984 yards, 68 catches) needs 16 yards for a third career 1,000-yard season. Entering what could be his finale, WR Steve Smith has 51 games with at least 100 yards, tied with Andre Johnson and Terrell Owens for fourth in NFL history.

Bengals QB Andy Dalton needs 314 yards passing to top his club season record of 4,293 in 2013.

Jacksonville (3-12) at Indianapolis (7-8)

Can interim coach Doug Marrone finish 2-0? He led the Jags to a win over Tennessee in his first game replacing the fired Gus Bradley. Jacksonville has lost nine of its past 10 road games, but seeks three straight wins over the Colts.

Colts RB Frank Gore, 33, needs 36 yards to become Indy’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2007 and the oldest NFL player to achieve it since 35-year-old John Riggins in 1984. Gore would join Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith (11), Curtis Martin (10), Walter Payton (10) and Barry Sanders (10) as only NFL players with nine or more 1,000-yard seasons.

Chicago (3-12) at Minnesota (7-8)

The Vikings began 5-0 and look where they are now. But Sam Bradford leads the league with a 71.3 percent completion rate, which would be an all-time NFL record. Unheralded WR Adam Thielen has 960 yards receiving, seeking to become first Vikings player with 1,000 yards through the air since Sidney Rice in 2009.

This will be the worst finish by the Bears since 2002, when they went 4-12.

Arizona (6-8-1) at Los Angeles (4-11)

Few teams were more disappointing this season than Arizona, an NFC championship game loser last January.

Cardinals QB Carson Palmer returns to LA Coliseum, where he won Heisman Trophy for Southern California.

The Rams have lost six straight and 10 of 11 in homecoming season. They are 1-5 at the Coliseum, losing five straight.

Buffalo (7-8) at New York Jets (4-11)

With the Rex Ryan revenge factor gone because he was fired on Tuesday, not much to recommend in this one. Jets coach Todd Bowles, the guy who succeeded Ryan last in 2015 and went 10-6, could be on the hot seat because his team has seemed to lack effort in several recent losses.

___

 

NFL buzz: Broncos to play Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch on Sunday

This gallery contains 1 photo.

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today / AP)    —-    Here’s how the NFL playoff picture looks heading into the season’s final Sunday.

AFC
yz-1. New England Patriots (13-2): AFC East champions. A win or Raiders loss would give Pats home field. [Remaining game: at Dolphins]
x-2. Oakland Raiders (12-3): AFC West leader. They take division and first-round bye with a victory. If New England also loses, Oakland would earn No. 1 seed. However a Raiders loss combined with a Chiefs win gives Kansas City the AFC West and second seed. [Remaining game: at Broncos]
y-3. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5): AFC North champions. They’re locked into this spot and will open the playoffs against the No. 6 seed. [Remaining game: vs. Browns]
y-4. Houston Texans (9-6): AFC South champions. They’re locked into this spot and will open the playoffs against the No. 5 seed. [Remaining game: at Titans]
x-5. Kansas City Chiefs (11-4): Wild card No. 1. They can still win the AFC West with a win and a loss by the Raiders . [Remaining game: at Chargers]
x-6. Miami Dolphins (10-5): Wild card No. 2. The Fins could jump up to the fifth seed (and a more favorable matchup with Houston) if they and the Chiefs finish tied at 11-5. [Remaining game: vs. Patriots]

NFC
y*-1. Dallas Cowboys (13-2): NFC East champions. They’re locked into the top spot and will open the playoffs against the lowest-seeded team that wins on wild-card weekend. [Remaining game: at Eagles]
y-2. Atlanta Falcons (10-5): NFC South champions. They’ll claim the other first-round bye with a win in Week 17. [Remaining game: vs. Saints]
y-3. Seattle Seahawks (9-5-1): NFC West champions. They must win and hope the Falcons lose in order to get the No. 2 seed and the bye. [Remaining game: at 49ers]
4. Green Bay Packers (9-6): NFC North leader. If they beat Detroit on Sunday night, the Pack reclaim division crown they lost in 2015. They cannot earn a bye, though. [Remaining game: at Lions]
x-5. New York Giants (10-5): Wild card No. 1. They’re locked into this spot and will open the playoffs at the No. 4 seed. [Remaining game: at Redskins]
6. Detroit Lions (9-6): Wild card No. 2. If they beat the Packers at home, they win the NFC North. But the loser of that games goes home if the Redskins triumph Sunday afternoon. [Remaining game: vs. Packers]

In the hunt
7. Washington Redskins (8-6-1): If they win their final game, they can watch the Packers-Lions game knowing they’ll bypass the loser for the final wild-card berth — assuming the NFC North clash does not end in a tie. [Remaining game: vs. Giants]
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-7): Extreme long shots, but they’re still alive after Detroit’s loss Monday. The Bucs need to finish tied with Green Bay for the sixth seed and get a lot of tiebreaker assistance, including a tie between the Redskins and Giants, in order to advance. Tampa Bay can no longer pass the Lions after losing the common opponent tiebreaker. [Remaining game: vs. Panthers]

x — clinched playoff spot
y — clinched division
z — clinched first-round bye
* — clinched home-field advantage

_____

Report: Broncos’ Week 17 QB plan

Trevor Siemian has been the Denver Broncos’ starting quarterback, he earned it, and therefore he will start Sunday against the Oakland Raiders, according to KUSA in Denver, which also reports first-round rookie Paxton Lynch will play in the game.

story from The Motley Fool

Report – Biggest event in human history imminent

This decision proves first that coach Gary Kubiak has not given up on Siemian and is not quite ready to make the move to Lynch.

Lynch has started two games this season, but each time Siemian was injured and didn’t dress. Lynch started against the Atlanta Falcons when Siemian was out with a left shoulder injury, and at Jacksonville when Siemian was down with a left foot injury. Lynch also came off the bench to play at Tampa Bay. In those three games, Lynch completed 49 of 83 passes (59.0%) for 497 yards, two touchdowns and one interception for a 79.2 passer rating. The Broncos went 1-1 in his two starts.

— Mike Klis, KUSA

Mariota has surgery

Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota has had surgery for his broken right leg, and team officials say the procedure is “considered a success.”

Mariota had surgery late Wednesday afternoon in Charlotte to place a plate over his broken right fibula.

The Titans confirmed Wednesday night that Mariota was out of surgery.

The second-year quarterback broke his leg Dec. 24 in a 38-17 loss to Jacksonville and was carted off. The Titans placed him on injured reserve Tuesday, and Mariota will need four to five months of rehabilitation.

— The Associated Press

Bad news for Ware

DeMarcus Ware needs season-ending back surgery that could spell the end of his NFL career.

The Denver Broncos placed Ware on injured reserve Wednesday along with cornerback Kayvon Webster, who sustained a concussion last weekend at Kansas City.

Ware took a big pay cut to return to the Broncos after winning his first Super Bowl ring, but he missed almost all of the offseason with back troubles. He broke his left forearm Sept. 18.

The 12-year veteran had four sacks in 10 games, giving him 138½ for his career, sixth best all-time.

— The Associated Press

Panthers shut down Kuechly

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera says he will not play three-time all-pro middle linebacker Luke Kuechly in the team’s season finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the Panthers out of playoff contention and his star defender recovering from a concussion.

Kuechly was cleared from the NFL’s concussion protocol three weeks, but Rivera has elected not to play him as a precautionary measure.

Rivera said the decision about what is best for the long-term future of the team.

Kuechly has not played since suffering his second concussion on Nov. 17 against the New Orleans Saints.

— The Associated Press

A.J. Green done

Cincinnati Bengals Pro Bowl wideout A.J. Green nearly returned from his hamstring injury Saturday but was shelved instead to protect him from further injury.

That plan will remain in place for the regular-season finale after coach Marvin Lewis announced Wednesday that Green won’t be active against the Baltimore Ravens in a game that has no implications for either team.

RG3 sidelined

After notching his first win for the Cleveland Browns, quarterback Robert Griffin III may not pursue another this season.

RG3 missed practice Wednesday as he goes through the concussion protocol.

AP Analysis: The good, the bad, the ugly of NFL 2016

This gallery contains 1 photo.

(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)    —-    The Houston Texans’ decision to break the bank for Brock Osweiler was among the worst calls of 2016, aside from Jacksonville’s color rush mustard yellow jerseys , of course.

The Texans soon realized that just because you pay a quarterback $18 million a year on average doesn’t mean you have an $18 million quarterback, but maybe just an average one.

Osweiler is a backup heading into the playoffs, just like last year, when he was supplanted by Peyton Manning in Denver. This time, he’s behind Tom Savage, who’s making $600,000.

“Unfortunately I’ve been down this road before,” Osweiler said. “I understand what it’s like to get benched in the middle of a football game. And ultimately having a big picture view on the deal, it’s all about the next man up and being a good teammate.”

The other team from Texas also has an expensive backup, and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones made one of the best calls of 2016 when he kept his $18 million QB on the sideline in light of rookie Dak Prescott’s success.

Prescott ($450,000) has capitalized on the NFL’s best offensive line and the league’s top rusher, fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott, to guide Dallas (13-2) back to elite status after Tony Romo broke a bone in his back in a preseason game.

To think, Prescott was Jones’ consolation prize after John Elway outmaneuvered him on draft day to select Paxton Lynch, who’s 1-1 as Trevor Siemian’s backup in Denver.

Other front office moves that paid off handsomely included: Oakland signing Kelechi Osemele, the capstone of the AFC’s best O-line; New England bringing back O-line coach Dante Scarnecchia; and Atlanta signing Alex Mack, who transformed the Falcons’ O-line into one of the league’s best.

The Browns were ridiculed early on for their trade with the Eagles and missing out on Carson Wentz. But they could have two top-10 picks in April, allowing them to get Myles Garrett AND a quarterback, setting up a potential franchise-transforming draft.

Jack Del Rio shed his conservative credentials and went for 2 at New Orleans in Week 1, setting the tone for the Raiders’ return to the playoff party for the first time since 2002, even if Derek Carr (broken leg) won’t lead the way.

Among the moves that backfired: Carolina not re-signing Josh Norman;the Rams’ decision to retain Jeff Fisher during the move to L.A., which means Jared Goff has to learn a new scheme in his second season; and the Jets dithering at quarterback, then re-signing Ryan Fitzpatrick late for $12 million, leading to another lost season.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell found his office embroiled in another controversy over player discipline and domestic violence. After mishandling the Ray Rice case two years ago, Goodell vowed not to make the same mistake again. But the league’s handling of Josh Brown (one-game suspension) raised doubts that the NFL learned its lesson after police released journal entries and emails in which the Giants kicker acknowledged repeatedly abusing his former wife.

Other notable calls in 2016:

THE GOOD:

CALICO CLEATS : Some of the league’s most colorful characters are fined just about every week for wearing kaleidoscopic cleats during games. The league’s one-week reprieve was called “My Cause, My Cleats,” and allowed players to wear custom cleats in Week 13 and then auction them for charity.

JUMP FOR JOY : Will Parks’ white cleats and Justin Simmons’ 40-inch vertical leap both came in handy when the Broncos visited New Orleans. Simmons leapt the long snapper and blocked the potential go-ahead extra point with 1:22 left and Parks scooped up the football and raced 84 yards. Officials upheld the first game-winning 2-point play in league history when they couldn’t determine whether Parks stepped out of bounds because his white cleats blended in with the sideline.

HARLAN’S CALL : Radio announcer Kevin Harlan offered spirited play-by-play commentary as security chased down a fan on the field in the fourth quarter of San Francisco’s 28-0 win over the Rams on opening weekend. He called out the movements of the “goofball in a hat and a red shirt” like he would a long touchdown run, capping his call by saying, “That was the most exciting thing to happen tonight.”

BLAME EVERYBODY : Referee Walt Anderson didn’t bother collecting the jersey numbers when Tennessee’s offense messed up one play so spectacularly in the game at Indianapolis. He just called false start on “everyone but the center.”

THE BAD:

BLAME EVERYBODY II : Anderson’s crew botched the final seconds of the first half of a Bills-Seahawks game when Richard Sherman was flagged for being offside (the league said it should have been unnecessary roughness) when he crashed into Dan Carpenter trying to block a 48-yard field goal. Carpenter had to leave for a play after trainers ran onto the field to check on him, forcing Buffalo to spike the ball with 1 second left. Officials forgot to reset the game clock and called delay of game before Carpenter missed from 54 yards.

MINNESOTA MUTINY : After the Vikings’ 38-25 loss to Green Bay in Week 16, cornerback Xavier Rhodes said the DBs ignored coach Mike Zimmer’s game plan to have Rhodes shadow Jordy Nelson. After Nelson caught seven passes for 145 yards and two TDs in the first half, Rhodes went back to the game plan and held Nelson to two catches for 9 yards after halftime.

RETURNER REGRETS : Gary Kubiak made the mistake of reinserting Jordan Norwood as his punt returner in a Week 15 showdown against New England three weeks after Jordan muffed two punts against KC. Kubiak needed Norwood in his hurry-up offense, but Norwood promptly muffed his first punt and coughed up his only catch.

CAM’S CONCUSSION : Cam Newton took plenty of punishment this season and even complained directly to the commissioner that officials weren’t keeping QBs safe. But he had no one to blame but himself for the biggest hit. In Week 4 he pulled up in front of Falcons linebacker Deion Jones while he was about to convert a 2-point play. He didn’t brace for the hit that staggered the league’s reigning MVP, giving him a concussion.

___

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

NFL Playoff Picture: Steelers win AFC North, Broncos out

This gallery contains 1 photo.

(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)   —-    Pittsburgh won the AFC North in spectacular fashion Sunday, scoring the winning touchdown with 9 seconds remaining to beat archrival Baltimore 31-27.

Antonio Brown reached over the goal line after taking in a short pass from Ben Roethlisberger for the 4-yard score. Brown was stood up inside the 1, but somehow extended the ball — barely — into the end zone.

The Steelers (10-5) scored 21 points in the fourth quarter. They eliminated the Ravens (8-7) from contention.

Defending Super Bowl champion Denver was knocked out, too, with its loss at Kansas City. The Broncos have lost three in a row and five of seven.

The entire AFC playoff field is set: New England, Oakland, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Houston and Miami.

The Steelers will be the No. 3 seed in the AFC and host the No. 6 seed during wild-card weekend on either Jan. 7 or 8. Pittsburgh earned the third spot over Houston based on strength of victory tiebreaker, heady territory considering it was 4-5 after falling to Dallas on Nov. 13. As New Year’s nears, the Steelers haven’t lost again.

Kansas City secured a playoff spot when the Ravens lost, and can still win the AFC West.

Earlier this weekend, Atlanta beat Carolina 33-16 , then the Falcons clinched the NFC South title when New Orleans beat Tampa Bay 31-24. The Bucs’ loss also allowed the New York Giants, losers to Philadelphia on Thursday night , to clinch a wild-card spot. Atlanta now has a chance in its regular season finale to clinch a first-round bye after Seattle lost 34-31 to Arizona.

Houston beat Cincinnati on Saturday night to clinch its second straight AFC South title after Tennessee’s 38-17 loss to Jacksonville . The Texans also will host a wild-card game.

Green Bay won its fifth straight to move closer to the NFC North title, eliminating Minnesota with a 38-25 victory. The Packers moved into the lead for a wild-card berth, and now the Packers must wait to face Detroit for the division crown on Jan. 1.

Detroit is at Dallas on Monday night.

Miami beat Buffalo 34-31 in overtime to move closer to its first playoff berth since 2008. A Denver loss to Kansas City on Sunday night would give Miami the AFC’s final wild-card berth and eliminate the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos.

The Redskins (8-6-1) routed Chicago 41-21 to keep them alive a bit longer in the NFC.

The regular season ends Jan. 1. Here’s a closer look at the teams and scenarios:

AFC EAST

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (13-2)

Remaining schedule: at Miami on Jan. 1.

Division record: 4-1. Conference record: 10-1.

Beat the Dolphins and clinch home-field advantage throughout.

MIAMI DOLPHINS (10-5)

Remaining schedule: vs. New England on Jan. 1.

Division record: 4-1. Conference record: 7-4.

They got the win they had to have in Buffalo and then the Chiefs win that gave them a wild-card spot.

Eliminated: NEW YORK JETS (4-11), BUFFALO BILLS (7-8).

___

AFC NORTH

PITTSBURGH STEELERS (10-5)

Remaining schedule: vs. Cleveland on Jan. 1.

Division record: 4-1. Conference record: 8-3.

By beating Baltimore, the Steelers won the division and will play in a wild-card game.

Eliminated: BALTIMORE RAVENS (8-7), CINCINNATI BENGALS (5-8-1), CLEVELAND BROWNS (1-14).

___

AFC SOUTH

HOUSTON TEXANS (9-6)

Remaining schedule: at Tennessee on Jan. 1.

Division record: 5-0. Conference record: 7-4.

Tom Savage won his first career start at quarterback to help Houston clinch the division. They will play in a wild-card game.

Eliminated: TENNESSEE TITANS (8-7), JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (3-12), INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (7-8).

___

AFC WEST

OAKLAND RAIDERS (12-3)

Remaining schedule: at Denver on Jan. 1.

Division record: 3-2. Conference record: 9-2.

Raiders must finish one game ahead of the Chiefs.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (11-4)

Remaining schedule: at San Diego on Jan. 1.

Division record: 5-0. Conference record: 8-3.

Already guaranteed a wild card, a series sweep of Oakland gives the Chiefs a tiebreaker for the division, but they no longer control the AFC West race.

Eliminated: DENVER BRONCOS (8-7), SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (5-10).

___

NFC EAST

DALLAS COWBOYS (12-2)

Remaining schedule: vs. Detroit on Monday night, at Philadelphia on Jan. 1.

Division record: 3-2. Conference record: 8-2.

The Cowboys have a Texas-sized home-field advantage this postseason.

NEW YORK GIANTS (10-5)

Remaining schedule: at Washington on Jan. 1.

Division record: 3-2. Conference record: 7-4.

The Giants got the help they needed without having to wait for Week 17.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS (8-6-1)

Remaining schedule: vs. New York Giants on Jan. 1.

Division record: 3-2. Conference record: 6-5.

Not eliminated, but still game back of Green Bay for second wild-card berth.

Eliminated: PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (6-9).

___

NFC NORTH

DETROIT LIONS (9-5)

Remaining schedule: at Dallas on Monday night, vs. Green Bay on Jan. 1.

Division record: 2-2. Conference record: 7-3.

The Lions can win the division with a victory at Dallas and vs. Green Bay. They also are in the running for a wild card.

GREEN BAY PACKERS (9-6)

Remaining schedule: at Detroit on Jan. 1.

Division record: 4-1. Conference record: 7-4.

The Packers now sit in the second wild-card spot, but one more win makes them champions of the North.

Eliminated: CHICAGO BEARS (3-12), MINNESOTA VIKINGS (7-8).

___

NFC SOUTH

ATLANTA FALCONS (10-5)

Remaining schedule: vs. New Orleans on Jan. 1.

Division record: 4-1. Conference record: 8-3.

The Falcons not only have a division title but will have a chance at a first-round bye with a win against the Saints.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (8-7)

Remaining schedule: vs. Carolina on Jan. 1.

Division record: 3-2. Conference record: 6-5.

The Bucs are on the outside looking in and need lots of help.

Eliminated: NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (7-8), CAROLINA PANTHERS (6-9).

___

NFC WEST

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (9-5-1)

Remaining schedule: at San Francisco on Jan. 1.

Division record: 2-2-1. Conference record: 5-5-1.

First-round bye might be bye-bye for the Seahawks.

Eliminated: ARIZONA CARDINALS (6-8-1), LOS ANGELES RAMS (4-11), SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (2-13).

___

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

NFL Roundup: Steelers stun Ravens with last-minute rally, clinch AFC North

This gallery contains 1 photo.

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Ben Roethlisberger shook off a pair of interceptions to throw two late touchdowns, including a 4-yard strike to Antonio Brown with 9 seconds remaining to lift the Steelers to a 31-27 victory over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday night. Brown caught Roethlisberger’s pass just short of the goal line and stretched the ball into the end zone with his left hand to cap a wild fourth quarter and give Pittsburgh (10-5) its second division title in three years.

The Ravens took the lead on Kyle Juszczyk’s 10-yard burst up the middle with 1:18 remaining. But Roethlisberger calmly led the Steelers 75 yards in 10 plays, the last 4 coming as Brown fought through a pair of tacklers to assure the Steelers of a third straight playoff berth.

The Ravens (8-7) were officially eliminated when Joe Flacco’s pass near midfield was intercepted on the final play.

Kansas City secured a playoff berth with the Baltimore loss.

The Steelers have won six straight and ended a four-game losing streak to Baltimore.

CHIEFS 33, BRONCOS 10

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — With their postseason spot secured, the Chiefs turned to Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill to roll past the Broncos and keep their AFC West title hopes alive.

Kelce had 11 catches for 160 yards and a touchdown, and Hill took a handoff 70 yards for another score, as the Chiefs (11-4) beat the Broncos (8-7) for the third straight time and eliminated the Super Bowl champions from postseason contention.

Kansas City punctuated the win in style when 346-pound defensive tackle Dontari Poe, lined up at quarterback, threw a jump pass to Demetrius Harris with just under two minutes left.

A win next weekend in San Diego coupled with an Oakland loss in Denver would give the Chiefs their first division title since 2010, not to mention a first-round bye and home playoff game.

Meanwhile, the Broncos trudged through another inept offensive performance.

Trevor Siemian was 17 of 43 for 183 yards and a game-ending interception, and the only TD drive he led came after a pick gave him the ball at the Kansas City 6. Justin Forsett scored two plays later.

Rivalry games spice up holiday weekend in NFL

This gallery contains 1 photo.

(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)   —-   Steelers-Ravens, Broncos-Chiefs and Vikings-Packers. Big rivalry games with plenty on the line.

Happy Holidays.

There’s been plenty of complaining about the NFL schedule this season. Not for Week 16, when those three gems and a few other strong matchups with postseason implications provide some extra gleam to this time of year.

Pittsburgh can ruin Baltimore’s January plans with a win that would clinch the AFC North. Kansas City can eliminate defending champion Denver from contention by winning; both of those games are Sunday.

And while Minnesota has virtually no shot at making the playoffs, it could damage Green Bay’s chances by knocking off the Packers.

“Most definitely,” Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn says. “If we can’t go, they can’t go. That’s how we’re going to look at it. We’re going to try to spoil their parade and put them in a bad situation. Try to go out there and play hard for each other in this locker room and go out and play hard for ourselves.”

The penultimate week of the regular season began Thursday night when the Philadelphia Eagles snapped a five-game slide by beating the visiting New York Giants 24-19.

Malcolm Jenkins had the second two-interception game of his eight-year career, returning one for a touchdown for the Eagles (6-9). The loss put the Giants (10-5) in a more difficult spot for ending their four-season playoff drought. They still own the top wild-card position heading into their finale at Washington, and can still get in this weekend if Detroit, Green Bay, Tampa Bay or Atlanta loses.

Baltimore (8-6) at Pittsburgh (9-5)

Only the Steelers can reach the postseason in this one. But a Ravens win would give them a sweep of Pittsburgh and the tiebreaker with one week remaining.

This one, kicking off late Sunday afternoon, figures to be a brutal, give-no-quarter match.

“It’s what you play for. It’s an AFC North championship game for us. It’s big,” Steelers safety Mike Mitchell says. “I would have took it against little sisters of the poor. It really didn’t matter.

“When I got here it was just you don’t like Baltimore. It was like growing up in the Cold War, you don’t like Russia.”

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is a bit more, uh, diplomatic.

“It might be a little bit illogical, but I think people are going to love it,” he says. “I think people are going to be sitting at home on Christmas and loving the fact that they get to watch Ravens-Steelers.”

Denver (8-6) at Kansas City (10-4)

The nightcap on Christmas night can’t possibly match the first meeting in Week 12, perhaps the game of the year, a 30-27 overtime classic.

KC is in with a win or a Ravens loss or tie. Denver’s chore is much more difficult; it can’t win the AFC West and is in a tight race for a wild card. A loss would be devastating for the champs .

“They’re the division rival,” Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce says. “We know what we’re going to get out of them. We’re both in a place where we’re fighting for our lives, our playoff lives. It’s late in the season where it’s that type of grind. It’s going to be a heck of a challenge for us; they know us well, we know them well.”

Minnesota (7-7) at Green Bay (8-6)

A defeat eliminates the Vikings from playoff contention. It would help if star running back Adrian Peterson , who returned from a knee injury last week, can play and be more effective.

A Packers victory would set up a Week 17 game at the Lions for NFC North title. They climbed back into contention because Aaron Rodgers has 22 TD passes and six games with a 100-plus passer rating since Week 7.

They also can get in with a win and a combination of other results too complicated for Mike McCarthy and Co. to contemplate right now.

Detroit (9-5) at Dallas (12-2), Monday night

The Cowboys won the NFC East and secured home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs when the Giants lost at Philadelphia.

Detroit, riding a superb season by quarterback Matthew Stafford and some clutch performances in the fourth quarter and overtime, takes the division with a win and a Packers loss or tie.

A playoff berth is there for the taking with a victory and a Buccaneers loss, or several other scenarios that Jim Caldwell and Co. are too busy to contemplate right now.

San Diego (5-9) at Cleveland (0-14)

The only team to go 0-16, the 2008 Lions, also are the only one to go 0-15. Cleveland is on the verge …

Robert Griffin III gets another start to try and show the Browns he has a future with them. But rookie QB Cody Kessler figures to get a look at some point in the final two games.

The Chargers are the only NFL team with a takeaway in every game this season. San Diego has at least one takeaway in 20 straight games.

Tennessee (8-6) at Jacksonville (2-12)

After victories over Denver and Kansas City, this should be easy for the Titans, right? But with the Jaguars changing coaches from the fired Gus Bradley to interim Doug Marrone, many jobs are on the line in the final two weeks.

The Titans have won three straight and seven of 10, and need a victory to make next week’s game against Houston for the AFC South title. Their strong running game could dictate matters.

Jacksonville has lost nine in a row and is winless in six games at EverBank Field.

Tampa Bay (8-6) at New Orleans (6-8)

Despite trailing Atlanta in the NFC South, the Bucs can make playoff plans with a win and losses by Green Bay, Detroit and Washington. For now, Tampa Bay will concentrate on a securing a rare winning record.

This has the elements of a potential shootout, but the Bucs’ defense seems more capable of keeping down the score than does the Saints’.

However, Drew Brees emerged from a two-game slump in style last week, passing for 389 yards and four TDs at Arizona. Despite his monster numbers this season, Brees somehow didn’t make the Pro Bowl.

Atlanta (9-5) at Carolina (6-8)

Atlanta moves into the postseason with a win and a Tampa Bay loss, owning the division. There are a few scenarios that give the Falcons at least a wild card if the Bucs also win, with Detroit, Green Bay and Washington involved.

The Panthers are eager to reach 8-8 and not have a completely lost season, and they showed their gumption in Washington on Monday night. They’ll need to protect Cam Newton from Vic Beasley, who has five sacks and two forced fumbles in his past two road games, and rookie LB Deion Jones, who has become a force for the Falcons.

Carolina’s Greg Olsen needs 8 yards receiving to become the first tight end with three straight 1,000-yard seasons.

Miami (9-5) at Buffalo (7-7)

A Dolphins victory and a Denver loss puts Miami into the postseason. That’s due to Miami winning eight of nine while Denver has swooned.

Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi had a career-best 214 yards rushing in an earlier win over the Bills. QB Matt Moore makes his second consecutive start in place of Ryan Tannehill (strained left knee). Moore had a career-best four TD passes last week.

Buffalo is closing in on extending the NFL’s longest active playoff drought to 17 seasons. It probably needs a big performance from RB LeSean McCoy, who has 1,462 yards from scrimmage, 30 percent of the team’s 4,847 yards on offense.

Washington (7-6-1) at Chicago (3-11)

Barely breathing in the wild-card race, Washington needs lots of help this weekend. The Redskins have won six straight against Chicago.

The Bears have been competitive recently despite their record, and RB Jordan Howard is second among rookies with 1,059 yards rushing. The Redskins are allowing 4.5 yards per carry — 28th in the league.

New York Jets (4-10) at New England (12-2)

The road to the AFC crown once again will run through Gillette Stadium if the Patriots handle the Jets. The Patriots have won four of the past five meetings, while the Jets have lost five of their past six games overall.

Tom Brady has 22 regular-season wins against the Jets as a starter. One more and he would join Brett Favre as the only quarterbacks with at least 23 wins against two opponents; Brady has 26 wins vs. Buffalo.

With New York’s secondary so vulnerable, Brady figures to continue his mastery.

Indianapolis (7-7) at Oakland (11-3)

Already earning its first playoff spot since making the Super Bowl in the 2002 season, the Raiders get the AFC West with a win and a Chiefs defeat. But the Colts have won four straight in this series and need to win out to have any chance for the playoffs.

Frank Gore needs 109 yards to become the first Colts runner to reach 1,000 yards in a season since Joseph Addai in 2007. Gore would join Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith (11), Curtis Martin (10), Walter Payton (10) and Barry Sanders (10) as the only players with at least nine 1,000-yard seasons.

Arizona (5-8-1) at Seattle (9-4-1)

With the NFC West in their pocket, the Seahawks earned a first-round bye by winning and having the Lions and Falcons fall. The league’s only undefeated team at home, Seattle is seeking the fourth perfect home record in franchise history. It also was done in 2003, 2005 and 2012.

But Arizona has won two of its past three visits, and it dominated Seattle in the teams’ 6-6 tie in October.

RB David Johnson has more than 100 yards from scrimmage in all 14 games, the longest streak to start a season in NFL history.

Cincinnati (5-8-1) at Houston (8-6)

If the Texans win out, they take the AFC South. Coach Bill O’Brien benched the inefficient Brock Osweiler and his $72 million contract for untested Tom Savage last week. Savage led Houston to victory against Jacksonville and now gets the start.

Houston needs to keep tight end Tyler Eifert under control in this Christmas Eve night game. Eifert has four TD receptions in his past four games and leads all NFL tight ends with 18 TD catches since 2015.

San Francisco (1-13) at Los Angeles (4-10)

Not much to recommend in this one. San Francisco opened with a win over the Rams in their first game back in Los Angeles. The Niners haven’t won since.

LA at one point was 3-1, fell apart, and Jeff Fisher was canned as coach. That didn’t help at all in a lopsided loss at Seattle in interim coach John Fassel’s first game at the helm.

___

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

NFL Highlights: Week 15

This gallery contains 1 photo.

SCOREBOARD

Monday, Dec. 19

Carolina at Washington, 8:30 p.m. EST. The game marks the first time Washington cornerback Josh Norman will face Carolina since being cut loose from the $13.9 million franchise tag the Panthers (5-8) placed on him in April. He signed for $75 million over five years with the Redskins (7-5-1) days later. Washington’s Kirk Cousins needs 122 yards to break his own single-season franchise record of 4,166 yards passing set last year.

___

STARS

Passing

— Drew Brees, Saints, was 37 of 48 for 389 yards and four touchdowns, leading New Orleans past Arizona 48-41 on Sunday in the highest-scoring game in the NFL this season.

— Andrew Luck, Colts, threw for 250 yards and two touchdowns and Indianapolis rolled to a 34-6 victory over Minnesota on Sunday.

— Matt Ryan, Falcons, completed 17 of 23 passes for 286 yards, including a pair of 9-yard scoring tosses to Taylor Gabriel and Austin Hooper on Sunday in Atlanta’s 41-13 rout of San Francisco.

— Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers, passed for 286 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown in Pittsburgh’s 24-20 win at Cincinnati on Sunday.

— Matt Moore, Dolphins, threw a career-high four touchdown passes in his first start since Jan. 1, 2012, leading Miami to a 34-13 rout of the New York Jets on Saturday night.

— Tom Savage, Texans, threw for 260 yards after Brock Osweiler was benched in the second quarter, and Houston rallied for a 21-20 win over Jacksonville on Sunday.

— Dak Prescott, Cowboys, went 32 of 36 for 279 yards in Dallas’ 26-20 win over Tampa Bay on Sunday night, a week after completing less than 50 percent of his passes in a 10-7 loss to the New York Giants.

___

Rushing

— Devonta Freeman, Falcons, rushed for 139 yards and three touchdowns Sunday, leading Atlanta to a 41-13 rout of San Francisco.

— Ty Montgomery, Packers, ran for a career-high 162 yards and two touchdowns as the wide receiver-turned-running back helped Green Bay to a 30-27 win at Chicago on Sunday.

— Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys, rushed for a career-high 159 yards and celebrated a 2-yard touchdown run by jumping into an oversized Salvation Army red kettle in Dallas’ 26-20 victory over Tampa Bay on Sunday night.

— LeSean McCoy, Bills, had a season-best 153 yards rushing and scored twice, and the Buffalo Bills kept their slim playoff hopes alive with a 33-13 win Sunday.

— Ryan Mathews, Eagles, ran for 128 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries against the NFL’s top-ranked run defense in Philadelphia’s 27-26 loss at Baltimore on Sunday.

— Frank Gore and Robert Turbin, Colts. Gore rushed for 101 yards and Turbin had two TD runs in Indianapolis’ 34-6 win at Minnesota on Sunday.

— Derrick Henry, Titans, ran for two touchdowns in Tennessee’s 19-17 win at Kansas City on Sunday.

___

Receiving

— Brandin Cooks, Saints, had seven receptions for a career-best 186 yards, including touchdown plays of 65 and 45 yards, in New Orleans’ 48-41 win at Arizona on Sunday.

— Aldrick Robinson, Falcons, stepping up with Julio Jones missing his second straight game with a toe injury, had a career-best 111 yards on four receptions Sunday in Atlanta’s 41-13 win over San Francisco.

— Jordy Nelson, Packers, caught seven passes for 124 yards, including a 60-yarder that set up the winning field goal in Green Bay’s 30-27 win at Chicago.

— Cameron Meredith, Bears, had nine receptions for 104 yards in Chicago’s 30-27 loss to Green Bay on Sunday.

— Golden Tate, Lions, caught eight passes for 122 yards in Detroit’s 17-6 to the New York Giants on Sunday.

___

Special Teams

— Chris Boswell, Steelers, tied the club record with six field goals, helping Pittsburgh to a 24-20 victory over Cincinnati on Sunday.

— Mason Crosby, Packers, booted a 32-yard field goal as time expired, leading Green Bay to a 30-27 win at Chicago on Sunday.

— Ryan Succop, Titans, kicked a 53-yard field goal into the wind as time elapsed to give Tennessee a 19-17 victory over Kansas City on Sunday.

— Walt Aikens, Dolphins, blocked a punt and returned it 11 yards for a touchdown in Miami’s 34-13 win over the New York Jets on Saturday night.

— Marqise Lee, Jaguars, returned a kickoff 100 yards for a score in Jacksonville’s 21-20 loss at Houston on Sunday.

— Sebastian Janikowski, Raiders, kicked a 44-yard field goal with 2:40 left, his fourth of the game, and Oakland beat San Diego 19-16 to clinch a playoff berth for the first time since 2002.

___

Defense

— Calais Campbell, Cardinals, had two sacks and returned a fumble 53 yards for a touchdown in Arizona’s 48-41 loss to New Orleans on Sunday.

— Cameron Wake, Dolphins, had a strip-sack and also got his first career interception to help Miami to a 34-13 win over the New York Jets on Saturday night.

— Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Packers, had two interceptions in Green Bay’s 30-27 win at Chicago on Sunday.

— Kwon Alexander, Buccaneers, had 21 total tackles in Tampa Bay’s 26-20 loss at Dallas on Sunday night.

— Johnathan Cyprien, Jaguars, had 17 total tackles — 13 solo — in Jacksonville’s 21-20 loss at Houston on Sunday.

___

STREAKS & STATS

Houston’s 21-20 victory over Jacksonville on Sunday was its 10th straight in the division and left the Texans (8-6) tied with Tennessee for the AFC South lead. But Houston controls its playoff future with a 5-0 mark in the division. … Miami clinched its first winning season since 2008, also the last year the Dolphins (9-5) made the playoffs, with a 34-13 win over the New York Jets on Saturday night. … With a 30-27 win at Chicago on Sunday, Green Bay tied the NFL’s oldest rivalry for the first time since 1933 at 94-94-6. … Atlanta set a franchise record for points in a season, pushing its total to 469. That eclipsed the mark of 442 set by the 1998 Super Bowl team, with two weeks still to go in the regular season. Atlanta has scored more than 40 points in five games, and at least 30 four other times.

___

MILESTONES

The Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr. is the third player in NFL history to begin his career with three straight seasons of 1,000 or more yards receiving and 10 or more TD catches, joining Randy Moss (1998-2000) and John Jefferson (1978-80). He’s also the first player with at least 80 catches and 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first three seasons. … Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill joined Gale Sayers as the only rookies in NFL history with two or more rushing TDs, two or more TD catches, a punt return for a score and a kickoff return for a TD in a season. … Baltimore’s Justin Tucker kicked a 53-yard field goal in a 27-26 victory over Philadelphia, giving him 10 this season of at least 50 yards, tying the NFL record set by Blair Walsh in 2012. … Frank Gore had 115 yards from scrimmage in Indianapolis’ 34-6 win at Minnesota to give him 16,332 for his career, surpassing Tony Dorsett for 10th on the NFL’s career list. He also passed John Riggins for 12th on the league’s career carries list. … Buffalo set a franchise record of scoring 27 TDs rushing this season. That’s one more than the mark set in 1975. … Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown set an NFL record for most catches by a player in their first 200 regular-season games with 622. His 471 catches since 2013 surpass Marvin Harrison for the most by a player in any four-year span. … New England’s LeGarrette Blount set a single-season franchise record with his 15th rushing touchdown. … Dallas tight end Jason Witten passed former teammate Terrell Owens for seventh place on the career receptions list, getting his 1,079th on a 6-yarder in the second quarter of the Cowboys’ 26-20 win over Tampa Bay. The 34-year-old Witten, in his 14th season, had eight catches in the first half and 10 for the game, giving him 1,086.

___

PLAYOFF POSITIONING

New England defeated Denver 16-3 on Sunday to clinch the AFC East and earn a first-round bye. It marked the eighth consecutive division title for the Patriots, the longest streak in NFL history, breaking a tie with the 1973-79 Los Angeles Rams (seven). New England is the only team in NFL history to win 13 division titles in a 14-year span. … Oakland defeated San Diego 19-16 to secure a playoff berth for the first time in 14 years.

___

BUMBLING BROWNS

Cleveland dropped to 0-14 with a 33-13 loss to Buffalo on Sunday, matching the second-worst start to a season set by the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and 1980 New Orleans Saints. The 2008 Detroit Lions , meanwhile, are the NFL’s only team to go without a win in a 16-game season. Cleveland has also lost 17 straight dating to last year, moving into a tie with the St. Louis Rams (2008-09) and Houston Oilers (1982-83) for the league’s sixth-longest skid. The Browns have now gone a calendar year since their last win, a 24-10 victory over San Francisco on Dec. 13, 2015.

___

HOP ON THE BUS, GUS

The Jacksonville Jaguars fired Gus Bradley on Sunday, ending one of the least successful coaching tenures in NFL history. Owner Shad Khan announced the decision following a 21-20 loss at Houston, in which the Jaguars (2-12) blew a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter. Khan considered the move in late October, following a debacle at Tennessee on national television, but opted to keep Bradley for seven more weeks. Bradley went 14-48 in four seasons in Jacksonville, the worst winning percentage (.225) of any NFL coach with at least 60 games.

___

WHEW!

The Baltimore Ravens survived a desperate comeback bid by the Philadelphia Eagles, escaping with a 27-26 victory Sunday after stopping a 2-point conversion with 4 seconds left. Baltimore had a 27-17 lead and a first down at the Philadelphia 11 when Joe Flacco threw an interception to give the Eagles another chance. Rookie Carson Wentz directed a drive that produced a field goal with 2:22 remaining. The Eagles got the ball back at their 41 with 1:39 to go. A 24-yard completion to tight end Zach Ertz and a pass interference call against rookie Tavon Young set up a 4-yard touchdown run by Wentz that got Philadelphia within a point. First-year coach Doug Pederson went for the victory, declining the conversion kick for a 2-point try. “I wanted to win the football game,” Pederson said. Wentz threw over the middle to tight Jordan Matthews, who couldn’t get his hands on a tipped ball.

___

A VERY UN-BRADY SUNDAY

Tom Brady overcame a slow start to lead the New England Patriots to a rare win in Denver on Sunday, a 16-3. Brady missed his first six passes for just the second time his career — the first was way back on Oct. 12, 2003, against the Giants — but he came back to lead the Patriots (12-2) to a record eighth consecutive division title and a first-round bye. Brady completed just half of his 32 passes for 188 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 68.2.

___

WELCOME BACK

Adrian Peterson had 22 yards on six carries and lost a fumble in his first game back from a knee injury for Minnesota, which lost 34-6 to Indianapolis. The Vikings running back missed the previous 11 games while recovering from a torn meniscus in his right knee, but was able to return to the field one week sooner than he expected. His fumble in Colts territory in the second quarter came after his only decent run of the day, a 13-yard burst. … Chicago’s Alshon Jeffery came on strong near the end of the Bears’ 30-27 loss to Green Bay to finish with 89 yards on six catches in his return from a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy against performance enhancers.

___

BRRR!

It was 1 degree at kickoff at Arrowhead Stadium for the Chiefs’ 19-17 loss to Tennessee, with a wind chill of minus-19, making it the coldest game in Kansas City since the franchise began keeping records in 1994. The record for coldest game at Arrowhead Stadium had been 9 degrees before Sunday. It was so cold that the fuses in the west scoreboard froze, blanking out a large section of it for much of the game. … In Chicago, the game-time temperature for the Bears’ 30-27 loss to Green Bay was 11 degrees with a minus-4 wind chill. Chicago hosted Green Bay in 3-degree temperatures and a minus-15 wind chill — the lowest ever for a Bears home game — on Dec. 18, 1983. The Bears’ coldest home game, temperature-wise, was against Green Bay on Dec. 22, 2008, when it was 2 degrees with a minus-13 wind chill.

___

DO-IT ALL DAVID

Arizona’s David Johnson rushed for 53 yards and caught four passes for 55 yards in the Cardinals’ 48-41 loss to New Orleans on Sunday, becoming the first player in NFL history to have at least 100 yards from scrimmage in the first 14 games of a season. Johnson rushed for two touchdowns, giving him 17 TDs this season and 30 in the first 30 games as a pro.

___

SIDELINED

New York Janoris Jenkins injured his back in Sunday’s game against Detroit in a blow to a standout season for the Giants cornerback. Jenkins was on the ground for several minutes after he was injured early in the second quarter. … Also Sunday, Lions corner Darius Slay left with a hamstring injury. … Broncos tight end Virgil Green left with a concussion in the first quarter against the Patriots. And the Broncos announced early in the second half that defensive end Derek Wolfe was out with a neck injury. That left Denver with just four D-linemen to defend New England’s run game. … San Francisco lost wide receiver Quinton Patton and linebacker Nick Bellore to injuries in the first half against Atlanta, while Falcons linebacker De’Vondre Campbell was knocked out with a concussion. … Tennessee lost cornerback Jason McCourty to a chest injury midway through the first quarter of their game in Kansas City. Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters left with what appeared to be a groin injury midway through the third quarter.

___

SPEAKING

“This is my career. This is my reputation and I’m not going to back down from a challenge. This wasn’t my dream by any stretch of the imagination. But I’m not running from this.” — Cleveland coach Hue Jackson after the Browns fell to 0-14 with a 33-13 loss at Buffalo on Sunday.

___

“All-time worst call ever. I take responsibility for it. Should have vetoed it right away.” — Baltimore coach John Harbaugh on the decision by offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to have Joe Flacco pass with a 27-17 lead against Philadelphia. Flacco’s throw was intercepted and gave the Eagles a chance to mount a comeback before the Ravens held on 27-26 when Philadelphia couldn’t convert a 2-point try.

___

“I was very excited, very joyful, looking around the stadium and seeing our fans just going crazy. When we come to San Diego, our fans turn it into a home game. We always think we get nine home games a year.” — Oakland quarterback David Carr after the Raiders’ 19-16 win over the Chargers at San Diego on Sunday.

___

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

NFL Playoffs: Patriots, Raiders punch postseason tickets

This gallery contains 1 photo.

(Phatzradio Sports / AP / USA Today)    —-   Here’s how the NFL playoff picture looks heading into Week 15’s Monday night game between the Panthers and Redskins.

(Note: Bookmark this page — it will be regularly updated for the duration of the regular season.)

AFC
yz-1. New England Patriots (12-2): AFC East champions. They’re division winners for the eighth consecutive season. After locking up a bye Sunday, they could wrap up home-field advantage in Week 16.
x-2. Oakland Raiders (11-3): AFC West leader. The Silver & Black punched their first playoff ticket since 2002 and are back in position to nail down a bye, which could be clinched in Week 16.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5): AFC North leader. They’ll clinch the division by beating the Baltimore Ravens on Christmas.
4. Houston Texans (8-6): AFC South leader. Now 5-0 in the division, they maintain the tiebreaker advantage despite quarterback questions and sharing first place with the Tennessee Titans. However if either team wins out — they meet in Week 17 — it will take the crown.
5. Kansas City Chiefs (10-4): Wild card No. 1. Their loss to Tennessee knocked them out of the division lead and prevented a playoff clinch. But a win against the Denver Broncos on Christmas will assure Kansas City a spot in the field.
6. Miami Dolphins (9-5): Wild card No. 2. Their win over the New York Jets on Saturday night combined with the Broncos’ loss Sunday puts the Fins in the field for now.

_____

 

NFC
x-1. Dallas Cowboys (12-2): NFC East leader. One more win will give them the division and home-field advantage.
y-2. Seattle Seahawks (9-4-1): NFC West champions. Thursday night’s win wrapped up the division and guarantees a playoff game at CenturyLink Field. Detroit’s loss put Seattle back into position for a first-round bye.
3. Atlanta Falcons (9-5): NFC South leader. They moved ahead of the Lions courtesy of a stronger strength of victory tiebreaker.
4. Detroit Lions (9-5): NFC North leader. Their loss in New York deals a blow to thoughts of winning their first division title since 1993 and costs them control of earning a first-round bye. But the Lions are still in control and would clinch the NFC North by beating the Cowboys in Week 16 combined with a loss by the Green Bay Packers.
5. New York Giants (10-4): Wild card No. 1. Their hopes for the NFC East crown remain alive. They clinch at least a wild-card berth by beating the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday.
6. Washington Redskins (7-5-1): Wild card No. 2. They’ll have to beat the Carolina Panthers on Monday night to hang onto this spot. Otherwise, it goes to the Packers (8-6), who would edge the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the strength of schedule tiebreaker.

x — clinched playoff spot
y — clinched division
z — clinched first-round bye

 

Tom Brady and the Patriots clinched another division title and helped the Dolphins jump into a postseason position while Oakland snapped a 13-year playoff drought.

New England secured its eighth straight AFC East title and 13th in 14 years and earned a first-round bye with a dominant defensive performance in a 16-3 win at Denver.

The Patriots’ victory allowed Miami to leapfrog the Broncos for the second wild-card position in the AFC.

The Raiders beat the Chargers to earn their first trip to the playoffs since losing the 2003 Super Bowl.

In the early games Sunday, the NFC’s playoff picture got more jumbled and the Chiefs lost control of their division championship hopes.

The Packers got right back in the mix for an NFC North title thanks to a last-second win over the Bears and help from the Giants, who beat the Lions and put pressure on the Cowboys in the NFC East.

Kansas City lost to Tennessee and then fell out of first place in the AFC West following Oakland’s victory. In the AFC South, all three teams vying for first place got big wins.

The Seattle Seahawks kicked off Week 15 by securing another NFC West title on Thursday night.

Dallas, which already got in, beat Tampa Bay 26-20 on Sunday night to maintain a two-game edge over the Giants.

Here’s a closer look at the teams and scenarios:

AFC EAST

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (12-2)

Remaining schedule: vs. New York Jets on Dec. 24, at Miami on Jan. 1.

Division record: 3-1. Conference record: 9-1.

Clinched division and first-round bye with impressive win over the Broncos. Need one win or loss by Raiders to lock up No. 1 seed.

MIAMI DOLPHINS (9-5)

Remaining schedule: at Buffalo on Dec. 24, vs. New England on Jan. 1.

Division record: 3-1. Conference record: 6-4.

Their win over the Jets coupled with New England’s win at Denver gave the Dolphins control of the second wild-card spot.

Need a miracle: BUFFALO BILLS (7-7)

Eliminated: NEW YORK JETS (4-10).

___

AFC NORTH

PITTSBURGH STEELERS (9-5)

Remaining schedule: vs. Baltimore on Dec. 25, vs. Cleveland on Jan. 1.

Division record: 3-1. Conference record: 7-3.

Their comeback win over the Bengals set up a showdown for the division at home on Christmas Day vs. the Ravens. Pittsburgh already lost at Baltimore so it must win that game.

BALTIMORE RAVENS (8-6)

Remaining schedule: at Pittsburgh on Dec. 25, at Cincinnati on Jan. 1.

Division record: 4-0. Conference record: 7-3.

They win the division if they win out.

Eliminated: CINCINNATI BENGALS (5-8-1), CLEVELAND BROWNS (0-14).

___

AFC SOUTH

HOUSTON TEXANS (8-6)

Remaining schedule: vs. Cincinnati on Dec. 24, at Tennessee on Jan. 1.

Division record: 5-0. Conference record: 6-4.

They might have a quarterback controversy, but Tom Savage led them to a comeback win that keeps them in first place. Houston is tied with the Titans, so their New Year’s Day rematch at Tennessee could be for the division.

TENNESSEE TITANS (8-6)

Remaining schedule: at Jacksonville on Dec. 24, vs. Houston on Jan. 1.

Division record: 1-3. Conference record: 5-5.

An impressive comeback win at Kansas City allows them to control their playoff possibilities. If they win out, they earn a division crown. The Titans would lose a tiebreaker with Houston, so they can’t fall behind the Texans going into Week 17. They hold head-to-head tiebreakers over the Broncos and Dolphins, so a wild-card berth is still in play.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (7-7)

Remaining schedule: at Oakland on Dec. 24, vs. Jacksonville on Jan. 1.

Division record: 2-3. Conference record: 4-6.

A big win at Minnesota keeps them alive, but they have the tough Raiders and need help.

Eliminated: JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (2-12).

___

AFC WEST

OAKLAND RAIDERS (11-3)

Remaining schedule: vs. Indianapolis on Dec. 24, at Denver on Jan. 1.

Division record: 3-2. Conference record: 8-2.

Oakland clinched its first playoff spot in 14 years with a win over the Chargers. The Raiders must finish one game ahead of the Chiefs to win AFC West because they lost to them twice.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (10-4)

Remaining schedule: vs. Denver on Dec. 25, at San Diego on Jan. 1.

Division record: 4-0. Conference record: 7-3.

Missed opportunity to clinch a playoff spot and lost control of division race, but hold a tiebreaker over the Raiders because of a series sweep.

DENVER BRONCOS (8-6)

Remaining schedule: at Kansas City on Dec. 25, vs. Oakland on Jan. 1.

Division record: 1-3. Conference record: 5-5.

They lost control of their playoff future and their schedule is brutal.

Eliminated: SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (5-8).

___

NFC EAST

DALLAS COWBOYS (12-2)

Remaining schedule: vs. Detroit on Dec. 26, at Philadelphia on Jan. 1.

Division record: 3-2. Conference record: 8-2.

Their magic number to win the division and secure the No. 1 seed is one.

NEW YORK GIANTS (10-4)

Remaining schedule: at Philadelphia on Thursday, at Washington on Jan. 1.

Division record: 3-1. Conference record: 7-3.

They put heat on the Cowboys, but still need lots of help to win the division. A wild-card berth is more likely, but they have only road games remaining so it won’t be easy.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS (7-5-1)

Remaining schedule: vs. Carolina on Monday, at Chicago on Dec. 24, vs. New York Giants on Jan. 1.

Division record: 3-2. Conference record: 5-4.

They gained control of their playoff future thanks to Dallas’ win over Tampa Bay. If they win out, they’re in.

Eliminated: PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (5-9).

___

NFC NORTH

DETROIT LIONS (9-5):

Remaining schedule: at Dallas on Dec. 26, vs. Green Bay on Jan. 1.

Division record: 2-2. Conference record: 7-3.

A loss to the Giants plus Green Bay’s win is setting up a winner-take-all home game vs. the Packers in Week 17. The Lions still have a one-game lead, but their schedule is daunting.

GREEN BAY PACKERS (8-6)

Remaining schedule: vs. Minnesota on Dec. 24, at Detroit on Jan. 1.

Division record: 3-1. Conference record: 6-4.

The Packers gained control of their playoff hopes with a win and Detroit’s loss. If they win out, they take the North.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS (7-7)

Remaining schedule: at Green Bay on Dec. 24, vs. Chicago on Jan. 1.

Division record: 1-3. Conference record: 4-6.

A blowout loss at home to the Colts leaves Minnesota on the brink of elimination.

Eliminated: CHICAGO BEARS (3-11).

___

NFC SOUTH

ATLANTA FALCONS (9-5)

Remaining schedule: at Carolina on Dec. 24, vs. New Orleans on Jan. 1.

Division record: 3-1. Conference record: 7-3.

Their win over San Francisco coupled with Tampa Bay’s loss put them in control in the division race.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (8-6)

Remaining schedule: at New Orleans on Dec. 24, vs. Carolina on Jan. 1.

Division record: 3-1. Conference record: 6-4.

Fell one game behind the Falcons and lost their grip on the second wild-card position.

Need a miracle: NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (6-8), CAROLINA PANTHERS (5-8).

___

NFC WEST

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (9-4-1)

Remaining schedule: vs. Arizona on Dec. 24, at San Francisco on Jan. 1.

Division record: 2-1-1. Conference record: 5-4-1.

The first team to clinch a division title, Seattle jumped up to the No. 2 seed following Detroit’s loss.

Eliminated: ARIZONA CARDINALS (5-8-1), LOS ANGELES RAMS (4-10), SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (1-13).

___

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

___

NFL Roundup: Patriots, Raiders clinch playoff spots

This gallery contains 1 photo.

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Ezekiel Elliott celebrated a short touchdown run by jumping into an oversized Salvation Army red kettle and the Dallas Cowboys closed in on home-field advantage in the playoffs with a 26-20 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday night.

The Cowboys (12-2) bounced back after their franchise-record 11-game winning streak ended, hanging on after what looked to be a festive night following Elliott’s antics turned tense when Jameis Winston rallied the Bucs from a 17-3 deficit to a 20-17 lead.

Making his debut in the Sunday night spotlight, Winston threw for 247 yards and two touchdowns but had four turnovers, including an interception that led to Dan Bailey’s 38-yard field goal that gave Dallas a 23-20 lead early in the fourth quarter.

story from Alcatel

Can you have one phone for work and play?

Tampa Bay (8-6) had its five-game winning streak snapped and fell a game behind Atlanta in the NFC South. Dallas stayed two games ahead of the New York Giants in the NFC East and needs a win without any help to clinch the home field throughout the NFC playoffs.

Elliott, the NFL’s rushing leader, had a career-high 159 yards, including a 42-yard run to set up Bailey’s fourth field goal for the six-point lead.

Fellow rookie Dak Prescott bounced back from his worst game as a pro, going 32 of 36 for 279 yards a week after completing less than 50 percent of his passes in a 10-7 loss to the New York Giants.

Elliott had NFL career rushing leader and former Dallas star Emmitt Smith and plenty of other people laughing when he jumped into the kettle and disappeared when he crouched down following a 2-yard touchdown in the second quarter. He drew a 15-yard penalty.

TITANS 19, CHIEFS 17

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Ryan Succop kicked a 53-yard field goal into the wind as time expired to give Tennessee the victory over Kansas on a frigid afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium.

Succop, who spent the first part of his career with Kansas City, came up short on his first try at the winner, but Chiefs coach Andy Reid had called a timeout just before the snap. Given a second chance, Succop knocked it through with a couple feet to spare as the Titans poured off the bench to celebrate.

The Titans’ rallied from a 17-7 hole, and Derrick Henry’s second touchdown got Tennessee (8-6) within 17-16 with just over three minutes left. But Titans coach Mike Mularkey went for the 2-point conversion and the lead. Marcus Mariota was pressured immediately and his pass never reached the end zone.

But the Chiefs (10-4), trying to clinch a playoff spot, were unable to run out the clock and Tennessee got the ball back with a minute left. With no timeouts, Mariota calmly found Rishard Matthews for 19 yards and Delanie Walker twice to set up Succop’s field-goal attempt.

Tennessee is tied for the AFC South lead with Houston.

RAIDERS 19, CHARGERS 16

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Sebastian Janikowski kicked a 44-yard field goal with 2:40 left, his fourth of the game, and the Raiders beat the Chargers in the Relocation Bowl to clinch a playoff berth for the first time since 2002.

Playing before what looked like a home crowd at 70,000-seat Qualcomm Stadium, the visiting Raiders (11-3) earned a playoff nod on the same field where they made their last postseason appearance, an embarrassing 48-21 loss to Tampa Bay in the Super Bowl on Jan. 26, 2003.

There was a surreal atmosphere to the game, which might be the Chargers’ second-to-last in San Diego. Team chairman Dean Spanos seems almost certain to move the Bolts (5-9) to the Los Angeles area after failing to get a big public subsidy to help him replace aging Qualcomm Stadium.

The Raiders could be on the move, too, with owner Mark Davis eyeing Las Vegas, although they’d still play in Oakland until a new stadium is built in Sin City.

TEXANS 21, JAGUARS 20

HOUSTON (AP) — Tom Savage threw for 260 yards after Brock Osweiler was benched in the second quarter, and Lamar Miller scored Houston’s only with less than three minutes remaining.

Jacksonville fired coach Gus Bradley after the game.

The win was Houston’s 10th straight in the division and left the Texans (8-6) tied with Tennessee for the AFC South lead. But Houston controls its playoff future with a 5-0 mark in the division.

Osweiler threw interceptions on consecutive drives in the second quarter to help Jacksonville build a 13-0 lead. Coach Bill O’Brien had insisted all season he hadn’t thought about benching Osweiler, but he’d seen enough after that and brought in Savage. The move was met with a huge ovation from the home crowd that had been booing Osweiler for most of the day.

The Jaguars got the ball back twice after falling behind, but they failed on a fourth-down conversion the first time and Blake Bortles was intercepted the second time. Bortles threw for 92 yards and ran for a touchdown for the Jaguars (2-12), who dropped their ninth straight.

PATRIOTS 16, BRONCOS 3

DENVER (AP) — Tom Brady overcame a slow start to lead the Patriots to a rare win in Denver, dealing a crushing blow to the Broncos’ playoff hopes.

Brady missed his first six passes for just the second time in his career; the first was way back on Oct. 12, 2003, against the Giants. But he came back to lead the Patriots (12-2) to a record eighth consecutive division title and a first-round bye.

Brady returned to the site of his worst beating, a 20-18 loss in the AFC championship 11 months ago when he was hit a career-high 23 times. This time, he brought a power run game and a much-improved O-line with him.

The result was just his third win in Denver in 10 tries, and it was the Broncos’ hopes of defending their Super Bowl title that took a beating. The Broncos (8-6) lost for the third time in four games and were supplanted by the Dolphins for the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC race with two weeks remaining.

PACKERS 30, BEARS 27

CHICAGO (AP) — Aaron Rodgers hit Jordy Nelson with a 60-yard pass to set up Mason Crosby’s 32-yard field goal as time expired in one of the coldest games ever played in Chicago.

Wide receiver-turned-running back Ty Montgomery ran for a career-high 162 yards and two touchdowns, and the Packers (8-6) earned their fourth straight victory despite blowing a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter.

They also moved ahead of Minnesota for second place in the NFC North and pulled within a game of division leader Detroit.

The Bears (3-11) tied it on a field goal by Connor Barth with 1:19 left. The Packers took over at their 27, and on third down at the 26, Rodgers unleashed a deep pass down the middle of the field to Nelson, who got behind Cre’Von LeBlanc.

With no timeouts, the Packers downed the ball before Crosby booted his winner.

The game-time temperature was 11 degrees with a minus-4 wind chill. Chicago hosted the Packers in 3-degree temperature and a minus-15 wind chill — the lowest ever for a Bears home game — on Dec. 18, 1983. The Bears’ coldest home game, temperature-wise, was against Green Bay on Dec. 22, 2008, when it was 2 degrees with a minus-13 wind chill.

The Packers tied the NFL’s oldest rivalry for the first time since 1933 at 94-94-6.

BILLS 33, BROWNS 13

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — The bumbling Browns are two losses short of becoming the NFL’s second team to go 0-16 in one season.

LeSean McCoy had a season-best 153 yards rushing and scored twice, and the Bills kept their slim playoff hopes alive.

The Browns dropped to 0-14, matching the second-worst start to a season set by the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and 1980 New Orleans Saints. The 2008 Detroit Lions , meanwhile, are the NFL’s only team to go without a win in a 16-game season.

Cleveland has also lost 17 straight dating to last year, moving into a tie with the St. Louis Rams (2008-09) and Houston Oilers (1982-83) for the league’s sixth-longest skid. The Browns have now gone a calendar year since their last win, a 24-10 victory over San Francisco on Dec. 13, 2015.

The Browns have been so bad they haven’t had a lead in 17-plus quarters, dating to a 7-6 edge in the third quarter of a 28-7 loss at Baltimore on Nov. 10.

STEELERS 24, BENGALS 20

CINCINNATI (AP) — Chris Boswell tied the club record with six field goals, and Ben Roethlisberger threw a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.

The Steelers (9-5) have won five straight and can clinch the AFC North title with a victory at home next Sunday against Baltimore (8-6). As a first step, they rallied from a 14-point deficit — kick by kick — and eliminated the defending champions at a place where they’re right at home.

They beat the Bengals (5-8-1) in the opening round of the playoffs 18-16 last January, getting the winning field goal with the help of penalties on Vontaze Burfict and Adam “Pacman” Jones. Burfict and Jones each got a personal foul on Sunday — Pittsburgh’s Marcus Gilbert had one as well — as the animosity continued.

So did the Steelers’ dominance at Paul Brown Stadium, where they’ve won four in a row.

Boswell accounted for Pittsburgh’s first 15 points with kicks from 45, 49, 49, 40, 49 and 30 yards.

In the end, there was another Bengals meltdown. They had penalties on four consecutive plays — including Pat Sims’ personal foul — that set up Roethlisberger’s 24-yard touchdown pass to Eli Rogers for a 24-20 lead.

RAVENS 27, EAGLES 26

BALTIMORE (AP) — The Ravens survived a desperate comeback bid by the Eagles, stopping a 2-point conversion with 4 seconds left.

On a wet and windy day, the Ravens maintained control of their playoff possibilities. If Baltimore defeats Pittsburgh on Christmas Day and Cincinnati in the regular-season finale, the Ravens will enter the postseason as AFC North champions.

Baltimore (8-6) led 27-17 with just over six minutes left when Joe Flacco threw an interception inside the Philadelphia 10 to give the Eagles (5-9) another chance.

Rookie Carson Wentz directed a drive that produced a field goal with 2:22 remaining.

The Eagles got the ball back at their 41 with 1:39 to go. A 24-yard completion to Zach Ertz and a pass interference call against rookie Tavon Young set up a 4-yard touchdown run by Wentz that got Philadelphia within a point.

First-year coach Doug Pederson went for the win. Wentz threw over the middle to Jordan Matthews, who couldn’t get his hands on a ball that appeared to be tipped.

Philadelphia has lost five straight and seven of eight.

GIANTS 17, LIONS 6

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Odell Beckham Jr. made another one-hand touchdown catch to delight replay fanatics, the defense turned in another stifling performance and the Giants inched closer to their first playoff berth since 2011.

NFC North-leading Detroit (9-5) had won five in a row.

The win was the eighth in nine games for the Giants (10-4) and it gave them their best record through 14 games since 2008, when they were 11-3.

The formula was the one the team has followed in Ben McAdoo’s first season: just enough offense and a tough stingy, pass-rushing defense. That unit has come up with big back-to-back performances against two division leaders in Dallas (11-2) and Detroit, giving up 13 total points.

Eli Manning (20 of 28 for 201 yards) threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Sterling Shepard on a 75-yard opening drive. He then iced the game with a 4-yarder that Beckham caught with his left hand and then pranced into the end zone for a 11-point lead with 5:20 to play.

FALCONS 41, 49ERS 13

ATLANTA (AP) — Devonta Freeman ran for three touchdowns, Matt Ryan passed for two more and the Falcons clinched their first winning season since 2012.

Freeman rushed for 139 yards and capped his big day with a 34-yard touchdown run. Ryan completed 17 of 23 passes for 286 yards, including a pair of 9-yard scoring tosses to Taylor Gabriel and Austin Hooper.

Aldrick Robinson, stepping up with Atlanta star Julio Jones missing his second straight game with a toe injury, had a career-best 111 yards on four receptions.

The Falcons (9-5) made sure they didn’t overlook the 49ers (1-13), moving a step closer to getting back to the playoffs after a three-season absence.

The 49ers have totally fallen apart since that trip to the Super Bowl. They extended a franchise record with their 13th straight loss, keeping the heat on first-year coach Chip Kelly.

SAINTS 48, CARDINALS 41

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Drew Brees snapped out of a two-game funk to throw for 389 yards and four touchdowns in the highest-scoring game in the NFL this season. Brees, who had no TDs and six interceptions his previous two games, completed 37 of 48 with no picks.

Brandin Cooks caught seven passes for a career-best 186 yards for the Saints (6-8), including touchdown plays of 65 and 45 yards.

David Johnson rushed for 53 yards and caught four passes for 55 yards for Arizona (5-8-1). The second-year back became the first player in NFL history to have at least 100 yards from scrimmage in the first 14 games of a season.

Johnson rushed for two touchdowns, giving him 17 TDs this season and 30 in the first 30 games as a pro.

The teams amassed 913 yards, 488 by New Orleans, 425 by Arizona, which finished 4-3-1 at home.

COLTS 31, VIKINGS 6

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Andrew Luck threw for 250 yards and two touchdowns, Robert Turbin rushed for two touchdowns, Mike Adams forced a fumble and added an interception for the Colts (7-7).

Frank Gore rushed for 101 yards and Indianapolis won on the road for the fourth time this season, dominating a Vikings defense that has been among the best in the league.

Adrian Peterson had just 22 yards on six carries and lost a fumble in his first game back from a knee injury for the Vikings (7-7).

The Vikings believed they needed to win the final three games to make the playoffs. Sam Bradford threw for 291 yards with one interception and one lost fumble for Minnesota.

After a critical home loss to Houston last week, the Colts trail the Texans and Titans by one game in the AFC South.

___

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

NFL Week 15: Can Broncos thwart Tom Brady again?

This gallery contains 1 photo.

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today)   —-   In Sunday’s rematch of last season’s AFC Championship Game, Tom Brady can either cheapen or deepen the ongoing narrative of his career record in Denver.

Brady is just 2-7 in road games against the Broncos, a rare blemish on the two-time MVP’s sterling career résumé. His last win in Denver came in 2011, when Tim Tebow was his opposition at quarterback.

But the New England Patriots star not only has a chance to bolster his team’s chance for the No. 1 seed in the AFC, but also deal a significant blow to Denver’s postseason hopes.

 

The Broncos’ relentless pass rush helped shut down Brady in the playoffs last season, but little has slowed his MVP pace this year. He has 22 touchdowns to just two interceptions, and only the Seattle Seahawks have held him without a scoring strike.

Denver’s top-ranked pass defense returns many of the elements that confounded Brady and New England in last year’s playoffs. The focus for both teams should be Von Miller, who had 2 1/2 sacks and four hits in the last meeting. Even if Miller doesn’t replicate that performance, Denver likely will need to provide consistent pressure against Brady, who has been sacked just 12 times in nine games.

With Rob Gronkowski out, Brady will need someone from his receiving corps to break through against Denver’s deep and talented secondary. Gronkowski accounted for nearly half of the Patriots’ receiving yards in the last matchup, while no other Patriots receiver had more than 53 yards.

But New England could lean on LeGarrette Blount, who is fifth in the NFL with 1,029 rushing yards, to open up Denver’s defense in the early going. The Broncos have allowed opposing running backs to gain at least 100 yards from scrimmage in their last three games, and just three other teams have given up more rushing yards this season.

Here are four other matchups that will define NFL Week 15:

Cowboys QB Dak Prescott vs. Buccaneers’ pass rush

The Cowboys’ star quarterback finally hit the rookie wall last week in a 10-7 loss to the New York Giants. A bounce-back game is no guarantee, as the Buccaneers’ surging defense might be one of the least welcome matchups in the league right now for opposing quarterbacks.

During its five-game win streak, Tampa Bay has allowed just 12.8 points per game and forced 14 turnovers. With a disruptive front four led by defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and defensive end Robert Ayers, Prescott might face a reduced level of comfort similar to his experience against the Giants.

But the Cowboys could rely on their running game to pace the offense until the Buccaneers force them to do otherwise. Tampa hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in its last five games, but it ranks 20th against the run on the season. Dallas’ touted offensive line will have to stand strong, and Dez Bryant can’t be held to just one catch again as he was last week.

Vikings RB Adrian Peterson vs. Colts’ front seven

Peterson appears to have outpaced even his own expectations for a return as he should be back in action Sunday after tearing his meniscus in Week 2. Regardless of how much he can do, the Vikings are a team in clear need of a lift.

Minnesota has averaged a league-worst 73.4 rushing yards per game. Peterson had just 50 yards on 31 carries prior to his injury, and he’ll likely need to be eased back into action. Still, the Vikings need to find some kind of spark to stay in the playoff picture.

Indianapolis is in for another gut check after allowing 185 rushing yards last week in a loss to the Houston Texans. Linebacker Robert Mathis, who’s set to return after missing the last two weeks with a biceps injury, questioned the team’s mental toughness. With their postseason chances dwindling, this final stretch could set the tone for the Colts entering the offseason.

Giants WR Odell Beckham vs. Lions CB Darius Slay

Detroit can clinch its first division title since 1993 on Sunday, but the game-breaking Beckham stands in the way.

Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin indicated this week that Slay likely would not trail Beckham for the entire game, as the Giants move their top wide receiver around and Detroit’s top corner does not cover slot receivers. But allowing plays like last week’s 61-yard catch-and-run touchdown could be devastating for a Lions team that has already had to engineer eight fourth-quarter comebacks this season.

For the Giants, Beckham has salvaged a sputtering offense. The star wide receiver has accounted for 49.8% of the team’s receiving yards in the last three games, during all of which Eli Manning has fallen short of 200 yards passing. With a shaky offensive line and languishing run game, the Giants haven’t found any way out of their funk beyond feeding Beckham.

Panthers QB Cam Newton vs. Redskins CB Josh Norman

Norman assured reporters this week there was no lingering animosity from Carolina deciding to move on from him this offseason, but his true feelings will be revealed Monday when he faces his former team.

Both the quarterback and cornerback said this week that they expected for Norman to be tested in the passing game, though Newton admitted he had to keep his ego in check when doing so. Newton hasn’t completed 50% of his passes in any of his last four games, and taking risks against the Redskins’ best defensive back isn’t a wise game plan.

Defeating his old team would give Norman another bragging opportunity, but there are more important tasks ahead for a Washington team still jockeying for a wild-card berth. Norman could either shadow 6-5 receiver Kelvin Benjamin or remain on the left side of the field, which he did last week against Philadelphia.

"PhatzRadio - A New view from the News Room"

LISTEN TO PHATZRADIO



LiveScore.in

livescore

Weekly Music / Sports Talk Schedule
NBA Unplugged 1:00PM
Audibly Offensive 2:02PM
The War Room 3:01PM
Smooth Jazz 5:11PM
PopSports Sports Radio Tues.AM
The Broad Street Line Wed.AM
After Further Review Wed.AM
HoopGirlz Radio Thur.AM
Gaffer & Hooligan Soccer Fri.AM

Horse Racing

Sun, Mar 26, 2017
Source Horse Racing
Sun, Mar 26, 2017
Source Horse Racing