San Diego Chargers

NFL Roundup: Saints top Chargers 13-7 as Brees, Rivers are both held out

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CARSON, Calif. (AP) — For Alvin Kamara to see meaningful playing time this season for the New Orleans Saints, the rookie running back is going to have to offer something different than Adrian Peterson and Mark Ingram.

That’s exactly what Kamara showed by running for a 50-yard touchdown on New Orleans’ first offensive play and leading the Saints to a 13-7 win over the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday night.

Kamara burst off the left side, stepped over a diving defender that grabbed at his ankles and maintained his balance to score the game’s only offensive touchdown 1:13 into the first quarter.

It was a play that had worked consistently for Kamara during two days of joint practices between the Saints and Chargers, and the third-round pick from Tennessee knew it would work again.

“Just didn’t look back, kept going,” Kamara said.

“He’s really fast. I saw him and all of a sudden he was like in the open field, so it’s pretty cool,” Saints quarterback Chase Daniel said.

Kamara finished with 61 yards on five carries and is now averaging 10.7 yards per carry in the preseason. He added a 22-yard catch-and-run coming out of the backfield, and that combination of big-play ability and receiving skills is what could set Kamara apart from Peterson and Ingram, who were both held out as a precaution.

“He has some spatial awareness that a lot of young backs don’t have, and you really can’t teach that,” Daniel said. “He is really taking all the coaching in stride. Really haven’t seen him make the same mistake twice.”

With just a six-day turnaround to the all-important third preseason game, both the Chargers and Saints gave their starting quarterbacks the day off. The only competitive passes fans at StubHub Center saw Philip Rivers and Drew Brees throw were prerecorded, as the former San Diego teammates staged a throwing contest reminiscent of the old Quarterback Challenge after practice during the joint workouts between the Chargers and Saints earlier in the week.

Daniel was 7 of 12 for 80 yards in place of Brees, finding Michael Thomas for a 28-yard reception to help set up Wil Lutz’s 53-yard field goal midway through the first quarter.

Lutz added a 26-yard field goal with 2:11 remaining.

Safety Dexter McCoil intercepted Ryan Nassib’s fourth-quarter pass and returned it 99 yards for the Chargers’ lone touchdown.

The Chargers played without their starting tackles, as Russell Okung was held out because of a minor ankle injury and Joe Barksdale stood on the sideline with his right foot in a walking boot. The drop-off to backups Tyreek Burwell on the left side and Chris Hairston on the right was evident, as the Chargers only gained 31 yards on 15 plays in the first quarter.

When the Chargers finally reached midfield on their third possession, Burwell and left guard Kenny Wiggins gave up sacks on consecutive plays to end the drive.

Linebacker Manti Te’o, who played his first four seasons with the Chargers, had one of four first-half sacks for the Saints.

“I know that was a preseason game, but it couldn’t have got any uglier, in my opinion,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “Even though we won the time of possession, sacks is what killed us. It’s not just the offensive line. It’s running backs, it’s tight ends, it’s the whole group. But we have to do a better job of coaching these guys and getting them ready to play.”

Chargers running back Melvin Gordon had eight yards rushing on five carries and had a catch for seven yards in the first quarter. Kellen Clemens was 10 of 17 for 99 yards and added 26 yards rushing on three carries.

POWER OUT

The Chargers managed to avoid the shutout thanks to the long-striding McCoil, but haven’t scored on offense on their last 18 possessions dating back to the end of the first half against the Seattle Seahawks last week.

“Today we might have looked at it as a preseason game instead of another opportunity to get better,” Gordon said. “I don’t feel like we got better today. It’s just a lack of communication. We’ll fix it up and be better.”

DESMOND DELIVERS

During his time at Iowa, Chargers cornerback Desmond King always found ways to fill the stat sheet. The fifth-round pick has brought that trait to the NFL, as he had a sack, a tackle for loss and a pass defense against the Saints after intercepting a pass against the Seahawks.

“Did you see 36 (King)?,” linebacker Korey Toomer said. “He was making plays all over in there.”

King admitted he was overwhelmed during rookie minicamp, but has settled in since them.

“Once I started getting used to the system, just getting comfortable and not overthinking things and kind of getting overwhelmed with the situations, just getting comfortable and believing in the system is what really helped me,” King said.

INJURIES

Saints: Rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore, a first-round pick from Ohio State, made his preseason debut after missing most of training camp because of a sprained knee.

Chargers: Burwell left the game after the third drive with a right hand injury and did not return. Burwell emerged from the locker room in the first half in a cast that covered his whole hand. Hairston slid over to left tackle, with rookie Sam Tevi handling duties at right tackle.

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OTHER NFL NEWS:

PITTSBURGH – James Conner overcame Hodgkin’s lymphoma and a serious right knee injury to reach the NFL. He showed in his Pittsburgh Steelers debut Sunday that he plans to stick around for a while.

The rookie running back from the University of Pittsburgh broke off runs of 17 and 19 yards, leading to Bart Houston’s go-ahead, 6-yard touchdown pass to Justin Hunter in the fourth quarter of Pittsburgh’s 17-13 exhibition victory over the Atlanta Falcons.

Conner was greeted with an ovation on the third series of the game when he made his first carry. The third-round pick busted off three other runs longer than 10 yards and had 98 yards rushing on 20 carries.

“With all the runs, I was getting more comfortable,” Conner said. “We kept ripping off big ones.”

Matt Ryan led the Falcons to a touchdown in his only series and finished 4 of 6 for 57 yards. In two series during the preseason, Ryan, the 2016 NFL’s Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of the Year, has gone 6 of 8 for 88 yards with a touchdown and a 123.6 passer rating.

Pittsburgh receiver Martavis Bryant played his first game more than 18 months.

The NFL suspended Bryant in March 2016 for a second violation of its substance abuse policy. He also opened the 2015 season with a four-game suspension because of multiple violations of the league’s substance abuse policy. Bryant, who is still in the process of being fully reinstated by the league, remains suspended, but is permitted to participate in all preseason activities – including practices and games.

Steelers rookie Josh Dobbs targeted Bryant on the first play of the game, but the offense sputtered with consecutive three-and-outs. Dobbs, a fourth-round pick, was 10 of 19 for 70 yards with an interception.

Bryant, who had two catches for 20 yards, later fumbled an end-around, but made up for it with a 23-yard reception on a drive that ended with a field goal.

Tevin Coleman got the start at running back for the Falcons with Devonta Freeman previously ruled out with a concussion. But the Falcons’ primary backfield focus was the competition for the third running back spot.

Terron Ward, who ran for 48 yards against Miami, was strong again Sunday. He finished with nine carries for 37 yards and a touchdown. Ward ran for 151 yards in five games last season.

Fifth-round pick Brian Hill rushed for 14 yards on seven carries. The former Wyoming product player also struggled in the team’s first preseason game against Miami, gaining 10 yards on nine carries.

Falcons first-round pick Takkarist McKinley made his NFL debut.

The defensive end had surgery for a torn labrum and fractured right shoulder socket in March and was held out of the preseason opener. The 6-foot-2, 250-pound McKinley had 10 sacks and 18 tackles for loss as a college senior last season at UCLA. He is expected to add punch to a pass rush that features Vic Beasley, who led the league with 15.5 sacks in 2016.

“He hasn’t played since November,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “For him, it was a long time to get back on the field. We are encouraged by his first time back and I know he was excited to get going.”

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Receiver Anquan Boldin is abruptly giving up on football to pursue his humanitarian and charitable work just under two weeks after signing with the Buffalo Bills.

Boldin released a statement on Sunday night shortly after informing the Bills of his decision.

“Football has afforded me a platform throughout my career to have a greater impact on my humanitarian work,” Boldin. “At this time, I feel drawn to make the larger fight for human rights a priority. My life’s purpose is bigger than football.”

He added that football brings together people of different races and religions to strive toward one shared goal, and how important it is to not let your fellow man down.

Boldin, the NFL’s 2015 Walter Payton Man of the Year, oversees the south Florida-based Q81 Foundation, which offers educational support for under-privileged children.

Bills general manager Brandon Beane said the team respects Boldin’s decision to retire.

“We appreciate the time he gave us over the past two weeks,” Beane said. “He is one of the best receivers to play this game and we wish him and his family all the best moving forward.”

Boldin’s decision came as a complete surprise, especially after he talked about building on his legacy entering his 15th season and being open to serving as a mentor for Buffalo’s young group of receivers. Though he was non-committal about his future beyond this year, Boldin was intent on playing this season upon signing a one-year contract with a base salary of $1.75 million on Aug. 7.

“At this point in your career, you can’t get too far ahead of yourself, so I just take it a year at a time,” he had said. “Once I’m committed, I’m all in.”

The Bills, however, aren’t the same team he joined. Only four days after Boldin signed, Buffalo traded its top receiving threat in Sammy Watkins to the Los Angeles Rams for cornerback E.J. Gaines as part of two blockbuster deals on Aug. 11. In a separate trade, the Bills acquired receiver Jordan Matthews from Philadelphia for starting cornerback Ronald Darby.

The Bills also acquired second- and third-round draft picks in an indication the team is more intent on building through next year’s draft.

Though surprised by the moves, Boldin insisted at the time that Watkins’ presence had little to do with him signing with Buffalo.

“For me, I would’ve loved to have played alongside of Sammy, but that wasn’t the reason I signed here,” Boldin had signed. “The reason I signed here is the guys who are still here. I believe in coach Sean (McDermott) and what he’s doing and the direction this organization is heading in.”

McDermott is a first-time coach who spent the past six seasons as the Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator. He was hired in January to replace Rex Ryan, who was fired in the final week of last season.

Boldin ranks in the top four among active receivers with 1,076 catches, 13,779 yards receiving and 82 touchdowns receiving.

He appeared in just one preseason game for Buffalo, and finished with one catch for 5 yards in a 20-16 loss to Philadelphia on Thursday night.

Boldin spent last season with Detroit, where he had 67 catches for 584 yards and eight touchdowns in 16 games. The former Florida State star spent his first seven NFL seasons with Arizona, then played three years with Baltimore and three with San Francisco. He helped the Ravens win the Super Bowl in February 2013.

The Bills are in a sudden state of disarray at the receiver position three weeks before the season opens, and in the midst of a 17-year playoff drought — the longest active streak in North America’s four professional sports.

Boldin was supposed to fill a top-three spot alongside Matthews and rookie second-round draft pick Zay Jones.

Matthews, however, is listed as week to week after chipping a bone in his sternum during his first practice after being traded. He began light workouts on Sunday, and is on track to be ready for the season opener against the New York Jets.

Free-agent addition Rod Streater’s status is more uncertain after hurting his left toe against Philadelphia. McDermott said the medical staff is still evaluating Streater’s injury and wouldn’t rule out the possibility of surgery.

That leaves Andre Holmes and Philly Brown now competing for an increased role in an offense headed by quarterback Tyrod Taylor.

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A person with knowledge of the negotiations tells The Associated Press the NFL is working on a five-year contract extension for Commissioner Roger Goodell.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity Monday because the deal is not complete. The extension would run through the 2024 season. Goodell’s contract is up after the 2019 season. The collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2020 season.

Goodell became commissioner in 2006. He earned just over $31 million for the 2015 season. Because the league office is no longer classified as a tax-exempt organization, the commissioner’s salary is no longer required to be made public.

The contract negotiations were first reported by Sports Business Journal.

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AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner contributed to this report.

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NFL Preseason Roundup: Brady has TD in preseason debut as Pats fall to Texans 27-23

HOUSTON (AP) — Tom Brady threw a touchdown pass in his first game since winning the Super Bowl on the same field and the New England Patriots fell to the Houston Texans 27-23 in a preseason game on Saturday night.

Brady, who sat out last week, was 6 of 9 for 67 yards while directing the offense for two possessions.

The Patriots punted on their first drive before Brady connected with Rex Burkhead on a 22-yard touchdown throw that tied it at 7 early in the second quarter. His performance came in his return to Houston after leading the Patriots back from a 25-point third-quarter deficit to a 34-28 overtime win against the Atlanta Falcons to earn his fourth Super Bowl MVP trophy here in February.

“The last time we were, it was a fun night,” Brady said. “It was fun to come back tonight. I wish we would have won, but we had a good week of practice, and I think we’re getting better.”

It was a far different environment than the previous time the Patriots were at NRG Stadium, but there was a reminder of their big win as remnants of red and blue confetti from the Super Bowl postgame celebration remained in the phone banks near their bench.

Rob Gronkowski also made his season debut for the Patriots, playing about 15 snaps but not catching a pass, in his first preseason appearance since 2012. Julian Edelman and Brandin Cooks also played after sitting out last week, and Cooks had a 7-yard reception.

Houston quarterback Tom Savage was effective in two drives, going 8 of 9 for 98 yards with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Jaelen Strong that put the Texans up 7-0 in the first quarter.

“I’m really, really comfortable with this offense,” Savage said. “We have a lot of talent out there and a lot of the guys are making some big plays for me and it’s been awesome.”

Texans rookie first-round pick Deshaun Watson, who had 179 yards passing last week, threw for 102 yards and ran for a 2-yard touchdown in about two quarters of work.

Jimmy Garoppolo was 15 of 23 for 145 yards with a touchdown and an interception after taking over for Brady.

RAMS 24, RAIDERS 21

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Derek Carr, Marshawn Lynch and the rest of Oakland’s first-team offense looked sharp in their first action of the preseason. The starting defense once again was plagued by the same issues that doomed the Raiders last year.

Carr threw two touchdown passes in his first game since breaking his leg last season but Jared Goff led three scoring drives for the Los Angeles Rams in a 24-21 exhibition victory Saturday night.

“Overall I thought the defense was poor, particularly early,” coach Jack Del Rio said. “We’ll have to get a whole lot better there.”

Lynch returned to the field for the first time since retiring following the 2015 season and once again declined to stand for the national anthem. He delighted the hometown crowd in Oakland when he burst through the line for a 6-yard run on his first carry and added another 4-yard run before calling it a night.

“It was awesome,” Carr said. “It was really loud, I’m not going to lie. It was really loud. That was good for the home crowd to see. Honestly, it’s good to be home again,”

Lynch said he decided to come out of retirement after the Raiders announced plans in March to move to Las Vegas for the 2020 season. Lynch wanted to give something back to his hometown fans in Oakland.

While some fans in Oakland have expressed bitterness, the Raiders are sold out for the entire season despite being lame ducks and drew a sellout crowd of 53,659 for their first home game of the preseason.

The most outward anger from the fans came when Goff led the Rams on a 88-yard drive to open the game, capped by a 23-yard TD pass to Cooper Kupp . Goff, who struggled as a rookie after being drafted first overall last season out of California, played extremely well in his return to the East Bay.

“We started the way we wanted to start and we were aggressive offensively,” Goff said. “We were able to score on those two early drives and did what we wanted to out there.”

Goff finished 16 for 20 for 160 yards, leading another TD drive that was capped by Todd Gurley’s 2-yard run and a field goal drive late in the first half.

Carr, who broke his leg on this same field during a Christmas Eve win over Indianapolis, played his first game of the preseason and looked in midseason form with the exception of one miscommunication with Michael Crabtree that led to an interception by Trumaine Johnson.

Carr capped the first drive with a perfectly placed 19-yard touchdown pass to tight end Lee Smith and ended his night with a 13-yard score to Crabtree , who juked Troy Hill on his way into the end zone.

BEARS 24, CARDINALS 23

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Mike Glennon was better — not great, but better — in the Chicago Bears’ 24-23 preseason victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday night.

Glennon, just 2 for 8 for 20 yards last week in Chicago’s preseason opener, played the entire first half in Arizona, completing 13 of 18 passes for 89 yards.

“I thought it was a big improvement,” Bears coach John Fox said. “I thought the whole offense responded, including Mike.”

Glennon was picked off by Tyrann Mathieu as the Bears were threatening to score but bounced back to throw his first touchdown pass of the preseason.

“The turnover wasn’t a good thing but the way we responded was more important,” Glennon said. “I thought all our guys responded well, bounced back and got that touchdown drive.”

Mitchell Trubisky, the Bears’ rookie who had an outstanding debut in the preseason opener, played most of the second half. He wasn’t quite as spectacular this time but a solid 6 for 8 for 60 yards and a score. He was sacked once and had a would-be interception dropped.

The biggest play of the night came from Deonte Thompson, who returned a missed Arizona field goal 109 yards for a touchdown as the first half ended.

Phil Dawson, who has never kicked one longer than 56 yards in his 18 NFL seasons, attempted a 63-yarder with a second to play in the half and was short and wide right.

“Phil kicks 65-yard field goals every day in practice so why not try one in the game?” Arizona coach Bruce Arians said. “That one’s on me.”

Thompson fielded the miss a step inside the end line and dodged tackles all the way downfield for the score.

“I’ve never had one returned like that, that I can remember off the top of my head,” Dawson said.

The Cardinals nearly pulled out the win behind Blaine Gabbert.

After Arizona recovered a late onside kick attempt, Gabbert threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Ross with nine seconds to play, but the two-point conversion try fell incomplete.

The Bears were up 3-0 and had driven to the Arizona 11 when Mathieu stepped in front of intended receiver Kendall Wright, picked off Glennon’s pass and returned it 52 yards to the Chicago 43.

“It was just a ball I shouldn’t have thrown,” Glennon said, “just a bad decision.”

The Cardinals needed 11 plays to drive for the touchdown. Chris Johnson was stuffed on third-and-goal from the 1 but Arizona went for it on fourth down. Palmer found tight end Jermaine Gresham in the back of the end zone and the Cardinals led 7-3.

After Chicago held Arizona’s second offensive unit deep in its own territory, Glennon directed the Bears on a six-play, 44-yard drive, capped by a 7-yard touchdown pass to Wright to make it 10-7 with 36 seconds left in the half.

David Johnson barely played for Arizona, gaining 3 yards in three carries.

“He doesn’t need to get tackled that much,” Arians said. “Get the feel for the game, he and Larry (Fitzgerald) both, and get him out.”

Palmer was 9 for 14 for 67 yards and a touchdown.

“Carson was not as sharp as he’s been,” Arians said. “We didn’t get a lot of work against these guys for him and it showed.”

Gabbert played the entire second half, completing 14 of 25 for 174 yards with one interception. He ran 4 yards for a score.

BRONCOS 33, 49ERS 14

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Vance Joseph isn’t yet ready to declare a winner in the race to be Denver’s starting quarterback between Paxton Lynch and Trevor Siemian.

If he is, the Broncos’ head coach is keeping it to himself.

Lynch led three scoring drives in his bid for the job while Siemian, who started the preseason opener a week ago, came off the bench to throw a touchdown pass as the Broncos beat the San Francisco 49ers 33-14 on Saturday night.

“The time frame’s not important,” Joseph said. “What’s important is we get it right. It could be this week, it could be next week.”

On a night when Denver forced four turnovers in the first half, running C.J. Anderson got into the end zone and Brandon McManus kicked four field goals, the majority of focus was on the ongoing competition between the Broncos’ two quarterbacks.

Despite a plea earlier this week from vice president of football operations John Elway that one of the two take control of the job, neither quarterback did much to separate himself from the other.

Lynch was 9 of 13 and showed good pocket presence by scrambling out of trouble a few times, but managed only 39 yards through the air in less than two quarters.

Denver’s first-round draft pick a year ago, Lynch is trying not to get caught up in the situation.

“You can’t compare your progress to somebody else’s progress because when you’re worried about the other guy getting better, you’re wasting time not focused on yourself and making yourself better,” Lynch said. “That’s really what I’ve been doing.”

Siemian put up more passing numbers (49) on his first drive and finished 8 of 11 for 93 yards. Afterward, the 2015 seventh-round pick said he feels he’s done enough to be the starter.

“I think so,” Siemian said. “I’m not the coach but I think so.”

As good as their offense was, the Broncos’ defense was better despite being without linebackers Von Miller and Brandon Marshall and cornerback T.J. Ward.

Denver converted the three turnovers — two fumble recoveries and an impressive interception by Chris Lewis-Harris, who wrestled the ball from 49ers wide receiver Marquise Goodwin as both men fell to the turf — into 13 points.

San Francisco’s Brian Hoyer was 8 of 11 for 89 yards and an interception while garnering a 58.5 passer rating. Third-round draft pick C.J. Beathard passed for 110 yards and a touchdown in his attempt to beat out Matt Barkley for the backup job.

“That whole game was concerning,” 49ers rookie coach Kyle Shanahan said. “Start off the first half with four turnovers. The penalties. Struggling to run the ball, too. It’s really tough to win when you put your team in that situation.”

GREEN BAY 21, WASHINGTON 17

LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — Kirk Cousins and the rest of the Washington Redskins’ first-team offense played the full first half Saturday night and did not look ready for prime time. Not at all.

“We stuttered and sputtered,” coach Jay Gruden said, “and missed a few throws and had a couple runs rejected.”

The Redskins didn’t collect a first down until the opening quarter’s final play and Cousins only produced a TD while facing defensive reserves on drive No. 6, while Aaron Rodgers made a surprise start for Green Bay and looked to be in midseason form in the Packers’ 21-17 exhibition victory.

“We all believe,” Cousins acknowledged, “we still have a lot of work to do.”

Washington’s initial three drives resulted in an embarrassing total of 13 yards. Cousins was 2 for 6 for 9 yards in that span; running back Rob Kelley gained 4 yards on three carries behind a starting offensive line providing little push.

“We’re a work in progress, no question about it,” said Gruden, who is back to calling plays this season after offensive coordinator Sean McVay left to become coach of the St. Louis Rams.

Asked about his offensive line and running game, Gruden offered this tepid assessment: “For the most part, I’m not concerned, really.”

Washington’s fourth possession stalled when Kelley was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-1. After the fifth, Cousins had steered Washington to only three first downs — one via a defensive penalty — while completing 8 of 15 passes for 67 yards against a Packers secondary missing two of its top three cornerbacks. Cousins, who will earn about $24 million this season under a franchise tag, ended up 14 for 23 for 144 yards, including a 4-yard, fourth-and-goal touchdown pass to Jamison Crowder with 13 seconds left before halftime to make things seem better than they actually were.

Cousins said his “internal clock” was off. Gruden described his QB as “a little antsy.”

Rodgers, meanwhile, went 6 of 8 for 37 yards and a TD pass to new tight end Martellus Bennett — plus one of his trademark quick snaps to draw a penalty — on his lone drive.

“It’s good to get out there,” Rodgers said. “I’ll probably play a little more next week.”

The expectation was that Rodgers would sit out the second preseason game, just as he did a year ago. But he led the Packers 75 yards on 15 plays.

Rodgers also completed passes to Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams. On his third play, Rodgers hiked the ball as Redskins defensive lineman Stacy McGee was still trotting to the sideline, catching the hosts with 12 men on the field. The game officials didn’t notice, but Packers coach Mike McCarthy challenged, and a penalty was called after a review.

“They know better. We got them a couple of years ago, too, in the playoffs,” Rodgers said about the Redskins. “There were some angry looks from that sideline.”

LIONS 16, JETS 6

DETROIT (AP) — Matthew Stafford threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Jones in the second quarter, and the Detroit Lions shut down Christian Hackenberg and the New York Jets 16-6 in a preseason game Saturday night.

After losing defensive lineman Kerry Hyder to an Achilles tendon injury in their preseason opener at Indianapolis, the Lions were still able to pressure Hackenberg early on. The Jets managed only 3 yards of offense in the first quarter and just two first downs in the first half.

Jets quarterback Josh McCown sat out this game, but Hackenberg did little to impress in his absence. Hackenberg was 2 of 6 for 14 yards and was sacked twice.

“He really didn’t get a chance,” Jets coach Todd Bowles said. “That’s not a fair evaluation of a kid, because he didn’t get a chance on the couple pass plays he had. They had a lot of pressure on him.”

Even after Hackenberg struggled, Bowles wasn’t willing to name McCown his starter for the season opener. He indicated the quarterback competition would continue and that Hackenberg would still be evaluated.

“I can’t say when he’ll play, or how he’ll play, but he’ll play and be evaluated again next week,” Bowles said.

Stafford went 8 of 10 for 84 yards. Matt Prater kicked field goals of 37 and 25 yards in the first half, and his 50-yarder with 1:11 left in the fourth quarter put the Lions up 16-6.

Detroit’s depth along the defensive front is being tested because of injuries to Hyder and Ziggy Ansah, but the Lions looked fine in this game. On the very first series, Cornelius Washington came in unblocked and sacked Hackenberg, forcing a fumble that the Jets were able to recover.

“I think he’s a heavy-handed, sort of physical guy that can not only defend the run … but I think also he’s going to be able to add some pass rush through power,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said of Washington. “He’s not one of those finesse guys. He’s going to take you on and go get after it pretty good and can collapse the pocket. It was good to see, even though he was untouched on that one, he’s free, that’s still not an easy tackle to make.”

Detroit’s Akeem Spence added a sack later in the first quarter. New York finished the half with minus-3 net yards passing.

With Matt Forte still recovering from a hamstring injury, Bilal Powell had nine carries for 32 yards for the Jets.

Stafford was fairly sharp for the Lions, but they managed only one touchdown. Jones made a nice catch in the back corner of the end zone and held on amid tight coverage from Morris Claiborne to put Detroit up 10-0.

“By the sidelines, he’s always got a knack for finding a way to get that last little foot in, or whatever it is,” Stafford said.

Ross Martin made field goals of 31 and 28 yards in the fourth quarter for the Jets, but he missed from 56 in the third.

COWBOYS 24, COLTS 19

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Dak Prescott and Dez Bryant offered a glimpse of how the Dallas Cowboys’ offense could look without Ezekiel Elliott: the second-year star quarterback frequently finding his top receiver.

The Indianapolis Colts are still struggling to see what life without Andrew Luck might be like.

Prescott connected with Bryant for a 32-yard touchdown on their first series of the preseason, 2016 NFL rushing champion Elliott sat again with his six-game suspension looming, and rookie Cooper Rush threw two scoring passes in the Cowboys’ 24-19 exhibition win Saturday night.

Last year’s NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year after a sensational season that ultimately led 10-year starter Tony Romo into retirement, Prescott was 8 of 9 for 106 yards in his two possessions. The first was a 95-yard drive in seven plays that started with a 23-yard toss to Bryant.

Prescott’s second series ended on a fumble inside Indy’s 10 by Darren McFadden, who started as the Cowboys again delayed Elliott’s exhibition debut.

Elliott has appealed his suspension while disputing the NFL’s findings that he caused bruises on his ex-girlfriend in several confrontations last summer in Ohio.

Owner Jerry Jones said it “wouldn’t surprise me at all” if Elliott played next week’s preseason home game against Oakland, which would likely be his only action before a suspension.

Bryant’s 55 yards receiving held up as the most in the game for the Cowboys.

“I don’t know if I can honestly put it into words just how much better of a player he is, and we were just talking about how good his body feels,” Prescott said. “He’s just a much better player right now than what he was last year at this time. Our chemistry is growing, so it’s fun.”

Scott Tolzien played the first half for the Colts, who aren’t sure if Luck will be ready for the regular season after offseason shoulder surgery.

Indy didn’t record a first down until early in the second quarter, and its only touchdown before halftime was Lavar Edwards’ 15-yard return of Dallas backup quarterback Kellen Moore’s fumble.

Tolzien led a 60-yard drive to Adam Vinatieri’s 33-yard field goal in the second quarter, highlighted by a 25-yard pass to Kamar Aiken. Tolzien, who is 0-2-1 as an NFL starter, finished 10 of 14 for 70 yards.

“We need to start faster,” said Tolzien, the only one of the three current potential backups with NFL experience. “We need to get first downs, which keep the momentum going and get the offensive rhythm going.”

Stephen Morris, the third quarterback to play, finally got the Colts an offensive touchdown on an 18-yard throw to Fred Brown with 57 seconds remaining. Morris was 11 of 115 for 111 yards, most of it with Indianapolis down two scores in the fourth quarter.

CHIEFS 30, BENGALS 12

CINCINNATI (AP) — Rookie Patrick Mahomes threw a pair of touchdown passes, solidifying his spot as the Chiefs’ primary backup, and three Kansas City quarterbacks threw for a score on Saturday night during a 30-12 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Kansas City (1-1) got a lot to like out of its offense overall and its top pick in particular.

Mahomes moved into the role of Alex Smith’s backup a week ago and was smooth against the Bengals (1-1), who chased him from the pocket but couldn’t stop his accurate on-the-move throws. Mahomes, the 10th overall pick from Texas Tech, was 10 of 14 for 88 yards with touchdowns of 1 and 7 yards .

“Of course I always love a touchdown throw,” Mahomes said. “That’s the big thing, getting the ball in the end zone. I just tried to go in there and do what Alex was doing.”

The Chiefs scored on each of their first five possessions for a 30-9 lead. Smith was 8 of 9 for 83 yards with a TD , and Tyler Bray threw an 18-yard touchdown on his first play.

“Patrick had some nice plays, and Tyler had a nice shot right at the beginning,” coach Andy Reid said.

Kansas City piled up 410 yards, including 228 rushing. Charcandrick West ran for 113 yards on only seven carries.

The Bengals had to settle for a pair of field goals during Andy Dalton’s three possessions. He was 7 of 13 for 98 yards with one sack.

“We moved the ball really well,” Dalton said. “We have to make a play when we’re down there.”

Cincinnati’s kicking competition remained all even. Randy Bullock and Jake Elliott have made all of their attempts in two games. Bullock connected from 47 and 26 yards on Saturday, while Elliott was good from 32 and 39 yards.

TITANS 34, PANTHERS 27

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Marcus Mariota and the rest of the Titans offense finally got going in the preseason.

With some help from the Panthers.

Mariota threw a touchdown pass and the Titans edged the Panthers 34-27 on Saturday.

The Titans (1-1), who were held to just three points last week against the New York Jets, scored on their first three possessions against Carolina, as they used one long drive and two Panthers turnovers to build a 17-0 lead.

Mariota, who finished 6 of 8 for 61 yards and one touchdown, completed a 20-yard pass to rookie receiver Taywan Taylor and then added a 9-yard run on the first two plays of the game. The Titans had auctioned the first two play calls to a fan for charity.

That drive ended with Ryan Succop’s 34-yard field goal, but was just the beginning of the scoring for the Titans in the first quarter.

On the first play from scrimmage for the Panthers (1-1), Derek Anderson, playing for an injured Cam Newton for the second straight week, completed a pass to Devin Funchess, who had the ball knocked loose by cornerback Logan Ryan.

Kevin Byard recovered and returned the ball to the Carolina 13, where the Titans scored on Mariota’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Delanie Walker.

“It was a lot better (than last week),” Mariota said. “I thought we came out fast, made a couple of big plays, were able to go down and score. The defense got a huge, huge turnover.”

That was the end of the day for Mariota, but not for the Titans.

Tennessee’s defense took the ball away again on Carolina’s next possession, as Justin Staples intercepted a pass intended for tight end Greg Olsen that rookie linebacker Jayon Brown tipped into the air.

Derrick Henry then took the handoff on the first play from scrimmage and went 17 yards for a touchdown, as Tennessee built a 17-0 lead with 2:02 left in the first quarter.

“It’s a great sign. That’s what we have to have,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. “That’s our intent. When you’ve got a lot of guys around the ball where they’re supposed to be, good things happen, and that’s exactly what happened.”

Panthers coach Ron Rivera lamented his team’s mistakes.

“I think the tone was pretty much set by both turnovers,” Rivera said. “Credit the Titans. They came out and took the ball away twice early on, put themselves in scoring position, and capitalized.”

The Panthers got on the scoreboard early in the second quarter as first-round pick Christian McCaffrey had a 17-yard touchdown run to make it 17-7.

The Titans answered with another scoring drive, with Henry scoring his second touchdown, a 1-yard run that capped a 14-play, 75-yard drive.

In the end, the Titans needed another turnover — a sack and forced fumble by Aaron Wallace that Jimmy Staten recovered at the 3-yard line — to set up David Fluellen’s touchdown — to pull out the win.

“That’s a huge part of the game, getting the ball back for your offense. We were able to give them some opportunities, and it was a key one at the end,” Wallace said.

Ten non-QBs in spotlight for NFL preseason Week 2 games

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today Sports)    —-    The NFL’s preseason is more than just a stage for quarterback competitions.

After highlighting the notable passers with something to prove, we also took a look at players in other positions who will be closely monitored in the second set of exhibition games.

Here are 10 non-quarterback players in the spotlight this week:

Jaylon Smith, LB, Dallas Cowboys

The former second-round pick’s year-plus wait appears to be over after a knee injury in his final game at Notre Dame left him with nerve damage and significant questions about his future. Smith is set to make his NFL debut Saturday against the Indianapolis Colts, though Dallas executive vice president Stephen Jones said the team will have him on a “pitch count.” This is the start of what could be an extended process as Smith re-establishes his on-field instincts, but he could be an important asset on a Cowboys defense with a dearth of play makers.

Sammy Watkins, WR, Los Angeles Rams

Just eight days after a stunning trade by the Buffalo Bills sent the fourth-year wideout across the country, Watkins will get his first in-game run with his new Rams teammates Saturday against the Oakland Raiders. The former No. 4 overall pick gives Los Angeles the outside threat it sorely needed, but Watkins has a lot of ground to make up before the regular season. Beyond learning new coach Sean McVay’s offense, he’ll have to establish timing and trust with quarterback Jared Goff, who relied heavily on checkdowns last year.

Alshon Jeffery, WR, Philadelphia Eagles

The most important offseason addition for Philadelphia’s offense was sidelined by a shoulder injury for the preseason opener, but he should see limited action Thursday against the Buffalo Bills. It might be difficult to judge Jeffery’s impact during the preseason, but he brings a downfield threat to an attack that cratered without one down the stretch last season. Cornerback Ronald Darby also could square off against his former team after being traded last Friday.

UPDATE: Jeffery had two catches for 23 yards on Thursday.

Roberto Aguayo, K, Chicago Bears

It’s rare for a kicker to elicit the attention of the entire league, but few can match the early career trajectory of Aguayo. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers waived their second-round pick just one year after drafting him, and now he’ll get a fresh start after being claimed by the Bears. If he is to beat out Connor Barth, who was released by the Buccaneers in 2016 after they drafted Aguayo, a solid performance Saturday against the Arizona Cardinals could be an important first step.

T.J. Watt, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers

Although he was a first-round pick this April, the younger brother of Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt once looked slated to max out as a rotational contributor as a rookie. But after recording two sacks, a hit and a pass deflection in his preseason debut, Watt is now on track for a starting job opposite Bud Dupree, with Steelers outside linebackers coach Joey Porter saying James Harrison would likely take on a “relief pitcher” role. Superseding one of the most popular players in recent franchise history will spike expectations for Watt, and fans will be hungry for more when he takes on the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

Kenny Golladay, WR, Detroit Lions

Training camp hype translated to preseason production for the touted third-round rookie, who hauled in two touchdowns in the opener against the Colts. Ahead of Saturday’s showdown with the New York Jets, Golladay worked with the first-team offense as Golden Tate slid to the slot. Targets could be difficult to come by in Detroit’s offense, but Golladay offers such value in the red zones and on jump balls that he may be difficult to keep sidelined.

Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals

It remains unclear when first-round pick John Ross will see his first action, but Mixon is the clear focus of Cincinnati’s rookie class. The second-round pick looked fluid and comfortable last week in picking up 42 total yards against the Buccaneers. If he continues to look comfortable Saturday against the Kansas City Chiefs, he should be on track for a significant role within Cincinnati’s offense to start the regular season.

Darren McFadden, RB, Cowboys

A 30-year-old running back not on the roster bubble seldom finds his every move tracked closely in the preseason, but that’s where McFadden finds himself amid the uncertainty regarding Ezekiel Elliott’s six-game suspension. Though quarterback Dak Prescott and others will be counted on to pick up the slack if Elliott misses time, McFadden will be the central figure in keeping the running game on track. He finished fourth in the NFL in rushing in 2015 with 1,089 yards despite shaky quarterback play, but many will be watching him Saturday against the Colts to see if he’s capable of handling a starting workload again.

Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Dirk Koetter demanded last year’s No. 11 overall pick be more aggressive after a rookie season in which the cornerback recorded only one interception. The message appears to have been received, as Hargreaves had an impressive break on a goal line pick of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton last week. Generating turnovers was a critical point in last season’s success for the Bucs, who finished tied for fourth with 17 interceptions, and the team will be counting on Hargreaves to continue making plays on the ball in Thursday’s contest against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

UPDATE: Hargreaves had two tackles on Thursday.

Jabrill Peppers, S, Cleveland Browns

No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett has earned the early plaudits out of Cleveland for so far measuring up to expectations. But he may not be the lone rookie to be an early contributor on defense. Peppers has impressed while filling in for injured safety Ibraheim Campbell, and coach Hue Jackson has said he’s “growing and getting better every day.” Viewed as something of a square peg when making his transition to the NFL, Peppers can bolster his case Monday against the New York Giants that the league might have focused too much on his positional fit and not enough on his overall ability.

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Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz

FANTASY FOOTBALL: Waiting on QB still best if you’re starting 1

(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)    —  One key to drafting a winning fantasy football team is to construct a roster with as much depth as possible at almost every position.

To accomplish this goal, you need to have a firm grasp of the talent at each position relative to the other positions across the entire player pool. People new to fantasy football often think that because there are so few elite quarterbacks, and they are among the highest scoring players in the fantasy game, that they need to pick a top quarterback early in their draft to build a strong foundation for the rest of the team.

Experienced fantasy owners know that you can wait until later in the draft to pick a quarterback. Most leagues require just one starting quarterback, and the majority award just 4 points for a touchdown pass. Meanwhile, you typically start two or three running backs and an equal number of wide receivers — and those positions are awarded 6 points for each touchdown reception or run. Therefore, wide receivers and running backs are chosen earlier, the pool of available players shrinks much faster at those positions and there are enough viable starting quarterbacks available even if you wait until later into the draft to choose one.

Quarterbacks will dominate the overall scoring one way or another, but it really isn’t about getting the most points out of the position. This approach changes slightly in leagues that award 6 points for a touchdown pass. You’ll need to adjust your draft strategy to take quarterbacks just a bit earlier. However, in leagues that require two starting quarterbacks, you must change your approach to draft your quarterbacks much earlier, ideally to have both safely squared away by the end of the fourth round. You’ll need to do that because the demand for talent will be that much higher with the available pool being much smaller.

Some fantasy owners like the security that comes with owning a bona fide veteran quarterback with an extensive track record of elite production. If you still want to target Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, or Drew Brees, widely thought of as the elite tier of the current QB pool, you should be prepared to draft them within the first three or four rounds. An aggressive move like that will also require you to be prepared to find hidden talent deeper in the player pool at wide receiver and running back. Just remember that every draft is different, so you’ll need to be flexible and adjust on the fly depending on how things unfold.

The next tier of quarterback talent can be found a bit later in the single-digit draft rounds. Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson could yield near-elite production but the players aren’t quite as secure as the elite for one reason or another. For instance, Ryan is coming off a career year, something he may have difficulty repeating. Wilson still has a porous offensive line that allowed too many sacks. Andrew Luck had some incredibly poor pass pass-blocking that left him scrambling and diving for cover. Dak Prescott, Kirk Cousins and Cam Newton also fit in just after these players in average draft positions (ADP) on most sites.

Other talents that can be found in the double-digit rounds include Derek Carr, a top 10 QB available in approximately the 10th round. Then there’s Marcus Mariota, whose new weapons could help him step forward in his development this year. A little closer to Rounds 11 and 12 are Matthew Stafford or Jameis Winston. Philip Rivers has a current ADP in the 14th round. Drafting him there could leave you the collateral to take some very talented receivers who would love to snag one of his 33 TD strikes.

There is still some very talented QB depth to be found in the mid-teen rounds. Tyrod Taylor beats defenses with his feet as well as his arm, running for 580 yards last season. And don’t forget Eli Manning, who could be in line for a bounce-back season, and Carson Wentz, who has an improved receiving group. Carson Palmer still has excellent receivers and he appears primed to go out with a bang in what could be his final season.

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NFL Roundup: Cutler debuts, but Ravens roll past Dolphins 31-7

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(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)    —-    MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Jay Cutler ran onto the field with the Miami Dolphins for the first time, and the fans greeted their new quarterback with a loud ovation.

They didn’t have much else to cheer about over the next three hours.

Ryan Mallett threw for 113 yards and a touchdown, Josh Woodrum ran for two more scores and the Baltimore Ravens beat the Dolphins 31-7 on Thursday night in the second preseason game for both teams.

Cutler played the first two series for the Dolphins, his debut as injured starter Ryan Tannehill’s replacement in Miami. He was 3 of 6 for 24 yards, some of it in a no-huddle tempo, and his highlight play was one that didn’t count. Facing a third-and-16, Cutler stepped up and found DeVante Parker for what would have been a 31-yard gain — one erased by a holding flag.

“He was good. We kind of got the tempo going and got comfortable,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said. “He had a couple really nice moves in the pocket, pushing up and making a couple guys miss. We had penalties on the play, so it was negated, but he felt good.”

Cutler took a big hit on his last snap, courtesy of the Ravens’ Za’Darius Smith. He got up without any problem, then switched his helmet for a baseball cap and headset.

“He’s having fun,” Gase said.

Ravens starting quarterback Joe Flacco isn’t expected to play until Week 1 of the regular season because of back woes, and Mallett played the entire first half.

Mallett completed 13 of 22 passes, getting intercepted twice — both on passes intended for Quincy Adeboyejo. The first pick was by Xavier Howard on a ball lofted down the left sideline and overthrow, the other coming when Cordrea Tankersley ripped the ball out of Adeboyejo’s hands after he had to reach back to make a catch on a quick slant.

Woodrum completed eight of 10 passes for 110 yards.

The Dolphins’ storyline coming into Thursday was all about Cutler, and his first game action with Miami. For as much hubbub as there was for that, there likely was as much concern about special teams when the night ended.

Senorise Perry had an 11-yard touchdown run for Miami, but he also fumbled away a kickoff return — one of many Miami special-teams miscues. The Dolphins also had a punt blocked in the second quarter, setting up Mallett’s 1-yard touchdown toss to Larry Donnell, and later had a hold on a kickoff return.

Gase said Miami had 10 men on the field for the blocked punt.

“It’s one of those unforced errors we can’t have happen,” Gase said.

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EAGLES 20, BILLS 16

PHILADELPHIA— Of all the high-profile players making debuts in a new uniform, Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby was most impressive.

Darby intercepted former teammate Tyrod Taylor’s pass and returned it 48 yards and also broke up two passes in his first game since Philadelphia acquired him from Buffalo last week, and the Eagles beat the Bills 20-16 on Thursday night.

Alshon Jeffery, a former Pro Bowl wide receiver signed by the Eagles in the offseason, caught his first pass from Carson Wentz and finished with two receptions for 23 yards.

Bills cornerback E.J. Gaines also had an interception in his first game since coming from the Rams in a trade last week. Gaines picked third-string quarterback Matt McGloin, who has struggled in two preseason games.

Wideout Anquan Boldin, a three-time Pro Bowl pick recently signed by the Bills, caught one pass for 5 yards.

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BUCCANEERS 12, JACKSONVILLE 8

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jameis Winston continued his solid preseason, completing 21 of 29 passes for 196 yards and helping the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat woeful Jacksonville 12-8 on Thursday night.

Winston had two passes dropped, including what would have been a 43-yard touchdown strike to Mike Evans in the first quarter.

The Buccaneers (1-1) scored on their first three possessions, getting a short touchdown run from Doug Martin and two field goals from Nick Folk. Tampa Bay dominated Jacksonville in two quarters that featured mostly starters, outgaining the Jags 240-59 and looking like the much better team.

Folk, who won the kicking job last week after the Bucs waived former second-round draft pick Roberto Aguayo, had an extra point blocked by Calais Campbell. He also missed a 47-yarder wide right in the fourth quarter.

Evans finished with five catches for 57 yards, but missed a chance for a huge gain when he let Winston’s perfectly thrown deep ball slip through his fingers. It was about the only thing that went right for the Jaguars (1-1).

Jacksonville’s night went so awry that coach Doug Marrone now seemingly has open competitions at quarterback and place-kicker.

Backup quarterback Chad Henne got some work with the first-team offense, fueling speculation that Blake Bortles has lost his grasp on the starting job.

Fantasy Football 2017: Full Position-by-Position Rankings, Creative Team Names

(PhatzRadio Sports / BR)     —-     Summer has flown by, and now the NFL season will kick off in just three weeks when the Kansas City Chiefs face the New England Patriots on September 7.

This means fantasy football drafts are in full swing, so here are some rankings and team names to get you going.

For the rankings, we’ll list the top 36 wide receivers, the top 24 running backs and the top 12 quarterbacks, tight ends, kickers and defense/special teams units (with one bonus pick for each).

Those numbers aren’t random: Since the standard fantasy football roster has three wide receivers, two running backs and one of each for the other positions, all of these players below are deemed starting-caliber in a standard 12-team league.

Then, we’ll finish with the top 15 fantasy football names after reviewing picks from Sporting NewsAthlon Sports and USA Today.

Quarterback

1. Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay)

2. Tom Brady (New England)

3. Cam Newton (Carolina)

4. Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh)

5. Drew Brees (New Orleans)

6. Kirk Cousins (Washington)

7. Derek Carr (Oakland)

8. Russell Wilson (Seattle)

9. Marcus Mariota (Tennessee)

10. Jameis Winston (Tampa Bay)

11. Philip Rivers (Los Angeles Chargers)

12. Carson Wentz (Philadelphia)

Bonus: Tyrod Taylor (Buffalo)

Expect Cam Newton to have a resurgent year mainly because the Panthers’ schedule isn’t particularly challenging. In fact, only five of their opponents made the 2016 playoffs.

Newton won the MVP just two seasons ago and now has a Swiss army knife-type on his team (rookie running back Christian McCaffrey). Expect big things from Carolina this year.

Other players on the rise include the Philadelphia Eagles’ Carson Wentz, who will benefit from having new wideouts Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith in the mix, and the Oakland Raiders’ Derek Carr, who orchestrates an offense with fantastic potential with the additions of running back Marshawn Lynch and tight end Jared Cook.

Running Back

1A. David Johnson (Arizona)

1B. Le’Veon Bell (Pittsburgh)

3. LeSean McCoy (Buffalo)

4. Jordan Howard (Chicago)

5. Leonard Fournette (Jacksonville)

6. Devonta Freeman (Atlanta)

7. Christian McCaffrey (Carolina)

8. DeMarco Murray (Tennessee)

9. Lamar Miller (Houston)

10. Melvin Gordon (Los Angeles Chargers)

11. Todd Gurley (Los Angeles Rams)

12. Jay Ajayi (Miami)

13. Dalvin Cook (Minnesota)

14. Ezekiel Elliott (Dallas)

15. Mike Gillislee (New England)

16. Bilal Powell (New York Jets)

17. Frank Gore (Indianapolis)

18. Joe Mixon (Cincinnati)

19. Isaiah Crowell (Cleveland)

20. Ty Montgomery (Green Bay)

21. Thomas Rawls (Seattle)

22. Marshawn Lynch (Oakland)

23. Carlos Hyde (San Francisco)

24. Spencer Ware (Kansas City)

Bonus: Ameer Abdullah (Detroit)

The New York Jets’ Bilal Powell could end up being the steal of a draft, especially in point-per-reception leagues.

In the Jets’ last four games of the 2016 season, Powell averaged 5.0 yards per carry while catching 21 passes for 141 yards. He also found the end zone three times.

While Matt Forte is the current starter in the backfield, Powell should see plenty of time on the field given his skill set.

At the top, David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell are more 1A and 1B than one and two. They should both get plenty of touches, but Johnson should see more scoring opportunities since the touchdown wealth will be split in Pittsburgh between superstar wideout Antonio Brown and deep threat Martavis Bryant.

Wide Receiver

1. Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh)

2. Odell Beckham Jr. (New York Giants)

3. Julio Jones (Atlanta)

4. Mike Evans (Tampa Bay)

5. T.Y. Hilton (Indianapolis)

6. Michael Thomas (New Orleans)

7. Jordy Nelson (Green Bay)

8. A.J. Green (Cincinnati)

9. DeAndre Hopkins (Houston)

10. Terrelle Pryor (Washington)

11. Alshon Jeffery (Philadelphia)

12. Allen Robinson (Jacksonville)

13. Doug Baldwin (Seattle)

14. Amari Cooper (Oakland)

15. Demaryius Thomas (Denver)

16. Davante Adams (Green Bay)

17. Emmanuel Sanders (Denver)

18. Cameron Meredith (Chicago)

19. Dez Bryant (Dallas)

20. Stefon Diggs (Minnesota)

21. Keenan Allen (Los Angeles Chargers)

22. Donte Moncrief (Indianapolis)

23. Larry Fitzgerald (Arizona)

24. Kenny Britt (Cleveland)

25. Randall Cobb (Green Bay)

26. Tyrell Williams (Los Angeles Chargers)

27. Corey Davis (Tennessee)

28. Brandin Cooks (New England)

29. Jameson Crowder (Washington)

30. Davante Parker (Miami)

31. Michael Crabtree (Oakland)

32. Rishard Matthews (Tennessee)

33. Jeremy Maclin (Baltimore)

34. Sammy Watkins (Los Angeles Chargers)

35. Sterling Shepard (New York Giants)

36. Zay Jones (Buffalo)

37. Tyreek Hill (Kansas City)

Michael Thomas is the man now in New Orleans as Brandin Cooks was traded to the New England Patriots in the offseason, and one has to wonder if he’s capable of producing a breakout campaign that will put him in the top-four wideout conversation along with Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr. and Julio Jones.

Thomas is just that good. In his rookie year, he caught 92 passes for 1,137 yards and nine scores in 15 games. If he had not missed the Week 14 loss to Tampa Bay due to a foot injury, it’s possible that he could have eclipsed the 100-reception and 10-touchdown marks in his first year, which is remarkable.

Tight End

1. Rob Gronkowski (New England)

2. Travis Kelce (Kansas City)

3. Greg Olsen (Carolina)

4. Jordan Reed (Washington)

5. Jimmy Graham (Seattle)

6. Martellus Bennett (Green Bay)

7. Tyler Eifert (Cincinnati)

8. Delanie Walker (Tennessee)

9. Kyle Rudolph (Minnesota)

10. Zach Ertz (Philadelphia)

11. Jack Doyle (Indianapolis)

12. Hunter Henry (Los Angeles Chargers)

T-13. Cameron Brate (Tampa Bay)

T-13. Jared Cook (Oakland)

If you’re in a point-per-reception league, keep an eye on Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph and Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz.

Rudolph was first among all tight ends in targets last year with 132, catching 83 passes for 840 yards and seven touchdowns. He should be quarterback Sam Bradford‘s security blanket yet again.

Ertz caught 73.6 percent of passes thrown his way last year, which ranked sixth among qualifying tight ends. Overall, he snagged 78 passes for 816 yards and four scores. With the Eagles on the rise on offense, Ertz could have an even better year.

Kicker

1. Justin Tucker (Baltimore)

2. Stephen Gostkowski (New England)

3. Matt Bryant (Atlanta)

4. Dan Bailey (Dallas)

5. Mason Crosby (Green Bay)

6. Matt Prater (Detroit)

7. Chris Boswell (Pittsburgh)

8. Steven Hauschka (Buffalo)

9. Brandon McManus (Denver)

10. Caleb Sturgis (Philadelphia)

11. Nick Novak (Houston)

12. Adam Vinatieri (Indianapolis)

13. Cairo Santos (Kansas City)

Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker has a bionic leg and will once again kick field goals of 50 yards or more with relative ease. He’s far and away the best kicker pick this year.

Stay partial to any kickers that (a) are fantastic, (b) kick indoors or (c) are on teams who will have plenty of scoring opportunities this year. The first seven kickers on this list fit one (or all) of those criteria.

Defense/Special Teams

1. Kansas City

2. Denver

3. Carolina

4. Minnesota

5. Houston

6. Seattle

7. Arizona

8. New England

9. New York Giants

10. Pittsburgh

11. Buffalo

12. Philadelphia

13. Baltimore

The Panthers defense should vastly improve this year as long as the unit stays relatively healthy. Julius Peppers should provide a boost to the pass rush, and veteran Captain Munnerlyn is an excellent addition to a young secondary that showed promise at the end of last season.

The best linebacking corps in the game is still intact, as Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Shaq Thompson form an excellent three-man unit.

The Steelers defense should dominate early, which will be beneficial to any fantasy team that has them this year.

Creative Team Names

1. Hilton Rewards (Sporting News)

2. More Than A. Thielen (Sporting News)

3. Bilal the Way Up (Sporting News)

4. Dez Dispensers (Sporting News)

5. Kelce Lately (Sporting News)

6. Baby Got Dak (Athlon Sports)

7. Deshaun of the Dead (Athlon Sports)

8. Le’Veon on a Prayer (Athlon Sports)

9. Highway to Bell (Athlon Sports)

10. Abdullah Oblongata (Athlon Sports)

11. Little Red Fournette (USA Today)

12. Game of Jones (USA Today)

13. Hooked on a Thielen (USA Today)

14. All You Snead is Love (USA Today)

15. Doyle Rules (USA Today)

If you are lucky enough to land Le’Veon Bell or if you grab Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen in the later rounds, you have plenty of options for team names if you’re stuck this year.

Otherwise, any Adam Sandler fans will love the “Billy Madison” reference (Doyle Rules), and Prince fans will undoubtedly be impartial to Little Red Fournette.

NFL Roundup: Cowboys QB Moore healthy, now behind Prescott

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OXNARD, Calif. (AP) — Kellen Moore is the backup quarterback the Dallas Cowboys hope won’t have to take a meaningful snap in 2017, just as he was a year ago before an injury at training camp ended his season.

The radical difference since Moore broke his right ankle early last August is the incumbent in front of him: Dak Prescott, whose sensational rookie season kept 10-year starter Tony Romo on the bench when he was ready to return from a back injury and ultimately led the club’s career passing leader to retire and go into broadcasting.

The changing face of the franchise didn’t alter Moore’s outlook much. He’s always known his job role either way.

“He’s just back here healthy, irregardless of whom the starter was a year ago or who it is now,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “He knows he’s got a significant role for us. I don’t think he’s approaching it any different.”

Linehan is the constant through the unexpected transition, and the reason Moore is going into his third season with the Cowboys. Undersized by QB standards (listed generously at 6-foot), the undrafted Moore made a connection with Linehan in Detroit out of Boise State in 2012.

Both are from eastern Washington, and Linehan likes to joke about his family’s issues with his close relationship with a hated rival since Linehan went to Idaho. Kidding aside, Linehan simply thinks there isn’t a quarterback smarter than Moore, or better-suited to carry out his game plan.

“For me it’s coming up on five of my six years,” the 28-year-old Moore said of his link to Linehan. “You kind of understand the way he thinks of football, his process and his way of thinking and his terminology. All of that stuff kind of adds up when you speak the same language. It’s important.”

Moore didn’t take a regular-season snap all three years he was with the Lions, and only got into games with the Cowboys at the end of a lost 2015 season when Romo was hurt most of the season and backups Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel failed badly.

The 28-year-old Moore lost the final two games as a starter in a 4-12 season, throwing six interceptions in three games overall.

But he did have a 400-yard passing game in the finale and four touchdowns total. And the Cowboys obviously have faith in him, because they signed him as a free agent coming off the ankle injury.

Last season, Moore was one of the voices in an interesting quarterback room for the suddenly blooming Prescott. Romo, whose back injury in a preseason game completed Prescott’s ascension , was in his 14th season; Moore had several years in Linehan’s system; and backup Mark Sanchez had experience as a rookie starter.

Instead of sitting in the background with Romo in control, Moore had a much more active role as a voice for Prescott.

“Kellen does such a good job just contributing,” said coach Jason Garrett, who was the backup to Troy Aikman when the Cowboys were winning Super Bowls in the 1990s.

“And he can contribute a lot of different ways as a backup quarterback, just in that room, making that room feel like it is a good place for the guy that’s starting and everything he goes through and then just having a positive impact on everybody on offense and throughout the team.”

It’s easy to forget that Moore’s injury gave Prescott significantly more playing time in the first two preseason games last year. And the former Mississippi State standout impressed enough for the Cowboys to give him the job when Romo went down.

Moore isn’t really the type to wonder what might have been without his ankle injury. Mostly he’s just glad to be back in camp, where he has a better appreciation of the gritty daily details after so much idle time last August.

“It was your first August where you sat on the couch and watched ‘Fixer Upper’ all day and didn’t really watch football,” Moore said. “It was kind of a weird deal and you had to deal with that. Obviously you’re enjoying it this year.”

Even if a backup is all anyone wants him to be.

NOTES: The Cowboys waived/injured TE Connor Hamlett (broken fibula) and waived OL Ruben Carter, WR Javontee Herndon and LB Lucas Wacha. … Dallas signed CB Dejaun Butler, CB John Green, TE M.J. McFarland and WR Corey Washington. … WR/KR Ryan Switzer, a rookie fourth-round pick, had a setback with a hamstring injury. … LT Tyron Smith (back) returned to practice Monday. He’s missed several camp practices.

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NAPA, Calif. (AP) — Marshawn Lynch isn’t shedding anymore light on his decision to sit during the national anthem before the Oakland Raiders’ first exhibition game.

Lynch declined to comment on why he chose to sit down Saturday night while the rest of his teammates stood during the anthem before a game in Arizona against the Cardinals.

That left his teammates to answer for him on Tuesday after the team returned for its first practice since that game.

“I’m proud of him,” tight end Jared Cook said. “I think it’s awesome. Everybody has points of discussion after what happened in Charlottesville just the night before. I think it’s important for men in our position to step up and speak on unnecessary situations we find ourselves in as minorities in this country. That’s why I’m proud of him.”

Cook said he hadn’t talked to Lynch about his stance and didn’t know what specifically he was protesting. Other players who have declined to stand for the anthem have been much more open about their reasons, starting with former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose protest last year over police brutality and racial oppression made it a major issue in the NFL.

“We didn’t talk to him,” Cook said. “I don’t know his intentions. I don’t know what he wanted to do by it. But I know that guys like Colin Kaepernick have become my favorite football players for doing it.”

Kaepernick is not on a team this season but the issue remains with Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett and Lynch both sitting for the anthem last weekend.

Bennett has been vocal about his reasons why, citing social injustice. He said his decision was solidified by the violence last weekend surrounding a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that included the death of a young woman who was struck by a car deliberately driven into a group of counter-protesters.

Cook said he has considered an anthem protest in the past and does not rule out doing one this season.

“As far as the future goes, I don’t know. I don’t know,” he said. “I know I feel uneasy about the situation going on in this country and have been for a while.”

Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said last season that players should protest on their own time instead of when they are representing the organization. Del Rio said after the game that Lynch told him he had not stood for the anthem for his entire career and it was a “non-issue” for the coach.

“I pretty much made the statement I care to make on it,” he said Tuesday. “I don’t have anything to add.”

NOTES: WR Amari Cooper returned to practice for the first time since Aug. 3 and DL Khalil Mack was back after missing time last week. … Del Rio said S Keith McGill (foot) and OL Denver Kirkland (knee) will miss some time.

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More AP NFL: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

NFL preseason: As usual, quarterbacks take spotlight

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today Sports)    —    The first week of the 2017 NFL preseason is in the books. Many rookies have now taken their first professional snaps, position battles are underway, and roster cuts are creeping closer.

Here’s a breakdown of the biggest story lines so far and how they might affect the rest of the year.

Players continued to protest during national anthem

Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch was the first to generate attention for sitting during the pre-game playing of The Star-Spangled Banner. His former Seattle Seahawks teammate, defensive end Michael Bennett, later did the same. Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins continued to raise his fist during the national anthem, as he did last season.

Colin Kaepernick sparked a wave of social activism in the NFL last year. Many believe he cannot find a job in the league now because of it. The most interesting thing to watch moving forward is how front offices and the public react. Because if it’s true that activism is what’s keeping Kaepernick unemployed, then protesting players may face even more outside pressures to end their stances.

Mitchell Trubisky had a strong debut

New Chicago Bears starting quarterback Mike Glennon posted a 0.0 passer rating in limited time with the first string Thursday. So naturally, the calls for Trubisky to get starter’s reps grew louder. Trubisky completed 18 of 25 passes for 166 yards and one touchdown. He needs to show, however, that he can do it against starting-caliber talent before Glennon’s job becomes tenuous.

But it could still happen.

Remember when Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll signed quarterback Matt Flynn to be the team’s starter in 2012? Well, a rookie named Russell Wilson consistently outperformed Flynn and eventually took the job.

More: What’s next if Elliott appeals suspension?

More: Dolphins ‘trending’ toward playing Cutler

More: Long brothers condemn violence in hometown of Charlottesvilla, Va.

Deshaun Watson looked good, too

The quarterback whom the Houston Texans dealt up to draft in the first round played well, completing 15 of 25 throws for 179 yards and adding three carries for 24 yards and a rushing score. Incumbent Tom Savage led a scoring drive himself and will remain the starter, but Watson’s debut was impressive.

But was it impressive enough to cast any doubt about Savage? As of right now, probably not. Still, Watson clearly showed he has enough poise and natural ability to eventually become the franchise’s long-awaited answer at quarterback. All this does is put more pressure on Savage not to slip up.

Too slow?

Jacksonville Jaguars rookie running back Leonard Fournette carried the ball nine times for 31 yards and scored a touchdown against the New England Patriots. Not exactly setting the box score on fire, but it did prompt him to comment to NFL.com about the pace of play: “It’s a lot slower than I really thought … I think, to me, it was really easy.”

Well, Fournette is now dealing with a foot injury that will likely force him to miss this week’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Rookie lesson No. 1: Keep your name out of headlines that don’t involve your play.

Jimmy Garoppolo put on a show

Tom Brady’s fourth-year backup completed 22 of 28 throws for 235 yards and two touchdowns against the Jags. If Garoppolo continues to dazzle, his value only ascends even further.

The byproduct is that it continues to make New England’s decision at the end of the season that much more difficult. If Garoppolo is truly capable of being a franchise quarterback, how much longer can he sit? And how much will they have to pay to keep him?

Christian Hackenberg showed improvement

The second-year New York Jets quarterback, who never saw the field during his rookie season, completed 18 of 25 passes for 127 yards. They were mostly short throws, but Hackenberg avoided mistakes. Veteran Josh McCown also played well in his short time on the field, completing three of four passes for 72 yards and a score.

Hackenberg has been getting more and more first-team reps in practices, so this could signal a shift in New York’s plan. The Jets are rebuilding and, sooner or later, they have to see if Hackenberg is part of the long-term plan.

Notable injuries

— Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman is in the concussion protocol after he exited Sunday’s practice. Head coach Dan Quinn hinted Freeman could sit out the rest of preseason. He is a huge part of a high-powered offense, and Atlanta should be cautious with one of its best players.

— Detroit Lions defensive end Kerry Hyder reportedly tore his Achilles in Sunday’s win over the Indianapolis Colts, leaving Detroit without a promising young player for 2017.

— Miami Dolphins second-round linebacker Raekwon McMillan suffered a torn right anterior cruciate ligament Thursday against Atlanta. The Dolphins are dealt yet another blow to a position that was already one of their weakest.

— Washington Redskins safety Su’a Cravens left Thursday night’s game against the Baltimore Ravens with a knee injury that is expected to keep him out two to three weeks. Linebacker Trent Murphy suffered a torn ACL and medial collateral ligament, ending his season.

***

Follow Lorenzo Reyes on Twitter @LorenzoGReyes

Top 200 fantasy football rankings for 2017: How far does Ezekiel Elliott slide?

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(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today Sports)    —-    Here are the top 200 players in fantasy football for the 2017 season, according to our official rankings partner, Fantasy Football Rankings. The rankings reflect overall fantasy value in a standard 12-team, point-per-reception (PPR) league. These rankings have been updated to reflect the 6-game suspension handed down to Cowboys’ running back.

For more in-depth position rankings, as well as strategy columns, player capsules, stats and projections, check out the special fantasy football issue of USA TODAY Sports Weekly, on sale now or go over to Fantasy Football Rankings. Check out all the updates, articles and stats.

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NFL Roundup: Seahawks win 48-17 in Chargers’ Los Angeles debut

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CARSON, Calif. (AP) — Philip Rivers threw a touchdown pass to Antonio Gates on the opening drive of the Los Angeles Chargers’ first preseason game since relocation, but the Seahawks’ backups dominated the rest of the preseason opener in Seattle’s 48-17 victory Sunday night.

Rivers and his first-team offense were excellent, marching 75 yards in 13 plays to begin the Chargers’ three-year residency at 27,000-seat StubHub Center. The Chargers moved 111 miles north from San Diego into a stadium built for soccer, but providing an undeniably intimate NFL experience for fans.

The LA Chargers’ first touchdown was a San Diego classic: Rivers threw over the middle to Gates for a 5-yard score, making the next big play in the veteran stars’ 12-year partnership.

The Chargers’ revamped defense clearly has work to do under new coordinator Gus Bradley after giving up 459 yards to the Seahawks, whose reserves mostly got off to a stellar start.

Russell Wilson led the Seahawks to a field goal in his only drive with Seattle’s first-team offense despite consistent pressure from Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, the Chargers’ dynamic pass-rushing duo.

The rest of Seattle’s 34-point first half was a showcase for its backup defense, which forced three turnovers, and a solid second-team offense led by Trevone Boykin, who passed for 189 yards.

Terence Garvin returned a tipped interception 37 yards for a Seattle TD, and Chris Carson cashed in a 1-yard TD run after LA’s Kellen Clemens fumbled a handoff with Andre Williams.

Clemens threw a 74-yard TD strike to speedy Travis Benjamin, but Rivers’ backup also had two interceptions on deflected passes.

___

LIONS 24, COLTS 10

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Jake Rudock showed the Detroit Lions he could fill in for Matthew Stafford — if needed.

The Indianapolis Colts, meanwhile, are still looking for an answer behind Andrew Luck.

Rudock took advantage of the injury-depleted Colts by throwing two touchdown passes to Kenny Golladay, driving the Lions to a short field goal and leading them to a 24-10 victory in the preseason opener on Sunday.

“You can see the difference between last year and this year at this time,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “He has a better grasp of things around him. He’s in command.”

The second-year quarterback played most of the first 2½ quarters and wound up 13 of 21 for 142 yards. Stafford played one series, going 2 of 3 for 36 yards and left after throwing an interception.

All the Lions needed against the injury-depleted Colts was Rudock’s 23-yard TD strike to Golladay in the first quarter.

But Rudock also threw a 15-yarder to Golladay in the second and set up Matt Prater for a 28-yard field goal to make it 17-3 at the half. Detroit closed out its scoring with a 15-yard TD pass from Brad Kaaya to Dontez Ford.

With Luck still on the physically unable to perform list following offseason surgery on a partially torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, the Colts sputtered.

Indy finished with 230 total yards — 90 on its final drive — and 14 first downs. Their only points came from Adam Vinatieri’s 42-yard field goal in the first half and a 1-yard TD plunge from Troymaine Pope as time ran out.

NFL Pre-season Roundup: No Tom Brady, no defense, Patriots fall to Jaguars 31-24 in opener

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(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)    —-    Chad Henne hit Keelan Cole on a 97-yard touchdown pass, Corey Grant scored on a 79-yard run and the Jacksonville Jaguars feasted on a Patriots lineup without Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski – or much defense at all – to beat the defending NFL champions 31-24 on Thursday night in their exhibition opener in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

With the reigning Super Bowl MVP sitting out, Jimmy Garoppolo completed a Brady-like 22 of 28 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns. The Patriots’ heir apparent completed 13 straight passes at one point, finding Austin Carr on a 3-yard touchdown pass at the end of the first half and then K.J. Maye from 5 yards out to start the second and make it 17-17.

But the New England defense followed by giving up another one-play scoring drive – this one Grant’s run down the left sideline to make it 24-17. Third-string QB Brandon Allen hit Dede Westbrook from 42 yards out – victimizing Patriots cornerback Cyrus Jones for another big play – to make it a two-touchdown game.

Grant ran for 120 yards on eight carries, and No. 4 overall draft pick Leonard Fournette ran nine times for 31 yards and a 1-yard touchdown for the Jaguars, who were playing their first game under new coach Doug Marrone after firing Gus Bradley following a 3-13 record.

NFL betting odds for the 2017 season

Minnesota 17, Buffalo 10: Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater need not rush back from injury after Case Keenum showed glimpses of being a capable backup in the Vikings’ preseason-opening win over the Bills in Orchard Park, New York.

Taking over for starter Sam Bradford, Keenum went 11 of 16 for 121 yards. The sixth-year player engineered a pair of scoring drives – both set up by passes to rookie receiver Stacy Coley.

Keenum hit Cooley in stride over the middle on a crossing pattern for a 38-yard catch to set up Kai Forbath’s 36-yard field goal to tie the game at 3-3 late in the second quarter.

On the opening drive of the second half, Keenum rolled to his right and hit Coley, a seventh-round pick out of Miami, who made a sliding catch at the Bills 2.

Fullback C.J. Ham scored on the next play to put Minnesota ahead 10-3.

Buffalo starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor played three series and hit 5 of 8 attempts for 46 yards.

Minnesota’s trainers carried running back Bishop Sankey off the field in the third quarter after the former Gonzaga Prep star appeared to have injured his leg at the end of a 14-yard run. There was no immediate report on his condition.

Miami 23, Atlanta 20: The NFL’s highest-paid running back, Devonta Freeman looked the part in a brief appearance, scoring on a 15-yard reception from Matt Ryan as the Falcons lost to the Dolphins in Miami Gardens, Florida.

Freeman, who agreed to terms Wednesday on a $41.25 million, five-year contract extension, scored to cap the Falcons’ first preseason possession. New offensive coordinator Steve Sarkasian’s unit drove 36 yards for the touchdown after a 39-yard punt return by newcomer Andre Roberts.

The Dolphins’ exhibition season began badly. Second-round draft pick Raekwon McMillan, the front-runner to start at middle linebacker, hurt his right knee on Roberts’ punt return and walked to the locker room accompanied by trainers.

Miami backup safety Walt Aikens also left the game in the first quarter with a back injury.

Undrafted rookie Damore’ea Stringfellow caught a 99-yard touchdown pass from David Fales in the fourth quarter. Neither is likely to make the team.

The Falcons, who blew a 28-3 advantage against New England in last season’s Super Bowl, this time let a 20-10 fourth-quarter lead get away.

NFL betting odds for the 2017 season

Denver 24, Chicago 17: Mitch Trubisky threw for 166 yards and led three scoring drives after Mike Glennon struggled for Chicago, before the Broncos scored two long touchdowns in the closing minutes to beat the Bears in the preseason opener in Chicago.

Though the Bears have insisted Glennon is their starter, Trubisky just might have created a quarterback controversy.

Denver’s Trevor Siemian did nothing to hurt his standing as the leader for the starting quarterback job, while Paxton Lynch did little to close any ground.

Third-stringer Kyle Sloter threw a 47-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah McKenzie with about six minutes left in the game, and De’Angelo Henderson ran for a 41-yard score with just under two minutes remaining to put the Broncos on top 24-17.

But the biggest development in this game was Trubisky showing exactly why general manager Ryan Pace traded up a spot with San Francisco to draft him with the No. 2 overall pick.

The North Carolina product completed 18 of 25 passes in his first pro appearance after making just 13 college starts.

Trubisky replaced veteran Mark Sanchez late in the second quarter and completed his first 10 passes while leading Chicago to touchdowns on his first two possessions and a field goal on the next one. That gave the Bears a 17-10 lead.

Green Bay 24, Phialdelphia 9: Quarterback Carson Wentz went 4 for 4 for 56 yards and a score on his first series, eluding a potential sack and burning the Packers on third and fourth downs in Philadelphia’s 24-9 loss in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

He did his best impression of elusive Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was a healthy scratch for the first preseason game of the year.

The Eagles got off to a nice start against Green Bay’s first-string defense, though they did turn the ball over three times in the second quarter with backup quarterback Matt McGloin behind center. Philadelphia is looking to improve a pass offense that ranked 24th in the NFL last season.

Free agent addition Alshon Jeffery didn’t play on Thursday. Nelson Agholor, who is having a good camp, didn’t have a catch. But Wentz found rookie Mack Hollins, the team’s fourth-draft pick, for a 38-yard touchdown pass on third-and-13 with 6:33 left in the first quarter after the quarterback eluded rushing linebacker Clay Matthews’ grasp.

NFL betting odds for the 2017 season

Baltimore 23, Washington 3: Ryan Mallett struggled in place of injured quarterback Joe Flacco, throwing for only 58 yards while playing the entire first half, and the Ravens beat the Redskins in a sloppy preseason opener in Baltimore.

The Ravens scored 13 points while Mallett was in the game, including a 2-yard touchdown run by Terrance West following two costly penalties by the Redskins: pass interference for 23 yards on a third-and-8 and an illegal formation on a field goal try that hit the left upright.

Flacco has yet to take a snap this summer because of a bad back. That left Mallett to run the first-team offense; he went 9 for 18 and was sacked once.

In his defense, Mallett was operating behind a makeshift line and without his top three receivers.

But he didn’t give the Ravens any reason to lose interest in adding free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

The Redskins, similarly, had very little success moving the ball. Starting quarterback Kirk Cousins went three-and-out on his two possessions, completing 1 of 2 passes, and Washington managed only 47 yards on 27 plays while falling behind 13-0 at halftime.

Though Baltimore’s offense sputtered, its upgraded defense proved to be as good as advertised. Free agent defensive backs Tony Jefferson and Brandon Carr teamed with Jimmy Smith and Eric Weddle to seal the back end.

The biggest play of the first half was the last one: Justin Tucker kicked a 59-yard field goal for a 13-0 lead.

Cleveland 20, New Orleans 14: Myles Garrett showed flashes of dominance in his NFL exhibition debut, and Cleveland rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer threw a late touchdown pass and the Browns beat the Saints in Cleveland while Saints stars Drew Brees and Adrian Peterson watched.

The No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, Garrett had a tackle for loss and blazed off the edge to pressure Saints backup QB Garrett Grayson in the first half.

The Browns haven’t solved their endless QB dilemma, but Garrett appears to be a long-term answer at defensive end.

Garrett vowed to “send a message” in his first preseason game as a pro, and he did just that in limited time. On one play, Garrett timed the snap perfectly and pushed past third-string tackle Khalif Barnes to hit Grayson.

Kizer completed a 45-yard TD pass to Jordan Payton with 1:52 left as the Browns rallied for their first preseason win in two seasons under coach Hue Jackson.

The Saints lost their 10th straight preseason game.

NFL betting odds for the 2017 season

17 things to watch in 2017 NFL season

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(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today Sports)   —-    It’s been six months since the New England Patriots’ unforgettable Super Bowl LI comeback. If you’ve been in football hibernation since then, here’s your primer for the upcoming NFL campaign — 17 subplots to monitor for the ’17 season:

1. What can the Patriots do for an encore?

Little more to prove for the franchise that takes “no days off.” New England has reached a record nine Super Bowls, seven during the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era. One more Lombardi Trophy would give the Pats six, tying the Pittsburgh Steelers for most , while making Brady — he already has a record four Super Bowl MVPs — the first player with six rings. Check out our “Fantasy Football Rankings” for their position also.

And the Patriots seem uniquely armed, even by their singular standards, to potentially mount a new title march with rare flair. Brady has finally escaped the pall of Deflategate and will enter the season with several new weapons (WR Brandin Cooks, TE Dwayne Allen, RBs Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead among them) and presumably will have TE Rob Gronkowski back at full strength. CB Stephon Gilmore and DE Kony Ealy are among the defensive newcomers, while MLB Dont’a Hightower returned after free agent flirtations elsewhere.

Bottom line, despite parting with proven players like TE Martellus Bennett and RB LeGarrette Blount, this roster looks fully loaded and may be good enough — perhaps — to pull off a perfect season 10 years after coming up just short in the wake of the league’s lone 16-0 regular season.

2. Can anyone in the AFC realistically challenge New England?

The Patriots might be vulnerable … if Brady gets suspended … or tears another knee ligament … or if Belichick decides to coach the Naval Academy lacrosse team. But barring that?

Aside from 2008, when Brady’s ACL snapped on opening day, the Patriots haven’t failed to win the AFC East since 2002. The Miami Dolphins made great strides under coach Adam Gase last year, but the Fins still aren’t ready to swim with the Pats even through WR Jarvis Landry has promised a 2017 sweep of New England. (LOL.)

The Pittsburgh Steelers appear improved, but will the return of WR Martavis Bryant and a healthy Le’Veon Bell — along with some apparent defensive upgrades — vault a team that was thoroughly outclassed in last season’s AFC Championship Game?

The X-factor may be the Oakland Raiders. If QB Derek Carr reaches postseason in one piece, RB Marshawn Lynch can still tap that Beast Mode button, and the defense takes a step up in class, the Silver & Black just might have a chance.

3. How do the Atlanta Falcons respond?

The Carolina Panthers suffered a massive Super Bowl hangover in 2016, a season after going 15-1. Now the Falcons appear in need of a greasy breakfast and cold shower after watching a 25-point third-quarter lead evaporate as the Patriots’ blitzkrieg prevented Atlanta from finally winning the Super Bowl. Check out our “Fantasy Football Rankings” for their position also.

From a roster perspective, the Falcons return virtually intact and even picked up some nice pieces for a promising defense that crumbled when it counted. But this team won’t sneak up on anyone in a conference far more balanced than the AFC. And the biggest question will be whether Steve Sarkisian, whose only season of NFL experience came as a quarterbacks coach more than a dozen years ago, can sustain one of the most productive offenses in NFL history now that previous coordinator Kyle Shanahan is in San Francisco.

And history isn’t on the Falcons’ side: no team has lost the Super Bowl and returned the following season since the 1990s Buffalo Bills did it three times.

4. MVP! MVP!

Brady, Manning and Aaron Rodgers had passed the MVP hardware around for years until Cam Newton emerged as a surprise winner in 2015. Then Falcons QB Matt Ryan stunned the NFL in 2016 with a record-setting campaign, suddenly morphing into superstardom in his ninth season. So who’s got next?

Maybe the award remains in the loaded NFC South — awash with new weapons, Jameis Winston might be primed for his own star turn, or perhaps stat machine Drew Brees will finally win it in his 17th year. Two-time winners Brady and Rodgers will surely be in the running; the Steelers have a troika of candidates (Bell, Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger) capable of huge individual seasons; perhaps an elite pass rusher like Von Miller or Khalil Mack might break offensive players’ three-decade stranglehold on the award; Jerry Rice (1987) is the only receiver to win MVP, but Brown, Julio Jones and Odell Beckham are all capable in a league that now features the position so heavily; and any number of youngsters — Carr, Ezekiel Elliott, David Johnson, Marcus Mariota, Dak Prescott or Russell Wilson — could be ready to elevate themselves.

5. Sophomore slump? Or surge?

Elliott and Prescott were almost inarguably the greatest rookie tandem in NFL history, launching the Dallas Cowboys back to relevance. So now what? No one will be sleeping on Prescott, the 2016 offensive rookie of the year, and the NFC East champs’ reliance on him and Elliott is bound to increase amid the club’s defensive shake-up. The Cowboys are almost sure to face a tougher challenge from the Philadelphia Eagles and QB Carson Wentz, who has been armed with playmakers he lacked in an up-and-down freshman season.

Elsewhere, the Los Angeles Rams will be looking for a quantum leap from 2016 No. 1 pick Jared Goff, while the Denver Broncos are allowing QB Paxton Lynch, their first rounder a year ago, to compete for the starting job. Bears RB Jordan Howard will look to overtake Elliott after finishing second to him for the rushing title in 2016; Michael Thomas takes over as the No. 1 receiver for the New Orleans Saints; and defensive stars like Joey Bosa, Jalen Ramsey, Leonard Floyd and Deion Jones seek to make even larger footprints.

6. Young Guns

Some of the greatest quarterbacks the league has seen — Brady, Brees, Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers — are approaching 40. But it appears there are maturing youngsters worthy of eventually succeeding them.

After being the draft’s top two picks, respectively, in 2015, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Winston and Tennessee Titans’ Mariota seem to have their teams on the cusp of contention. The Raiders’ revival can largely be credited to Carr. Prescott and Wentz seem primed to lead for years, but it’s time for the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Blake Bortles to finally prove he can do the same.

This year’s highly billed rookie quarterbacks — Mitchell Trubisky (Bears), Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs), Deshaun Watson (Texans) and DeShone Kizer (Browns) — aren’t expected to play extensively, if at all, in 2017. But as Bortles, Prescott and Wentz can attest, such plans tend to change quickly.

7. Rookie coaches

Five teams will deploy head coaches who have no experience beyond the coordinator level. Sean McVay — he was 30 at the time of his hiring, making him the youngest head man in modern NFL history — must get Goff on the right track while keeping the Rams relevant in the fickle L.A. market, especially since Anthony Lynn inherits a more talented Chargers roster on the other side of the town.

Vance Joseph takes over the Broncos, who come with significant expectations just one season removed from winning the Super Bowl. The Buffalo Bills’ Sean McDermott and San Francisco 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan, armed with a six-year deal, should enjoy more patience after quickly beginning the process of reshaping their teams in accordance with their respective philosophies.

8. Hot seat

All it takes is a poor September before mobs start massing with pitchforks in some cities. With rare exceptions like Belichick and Pete Caroll, almost every NFL coach is susceptible to the pink slip with just one disastrous season.

Grace periods could be over for the Chicago Bears’ John Fox, who apparently doesn’t see eye to eye with GM Ryan Pace anyway, and Todd Bowles after a year of turmoil and regression with the New York Jets. After narrowly avoiding a winless season in 2016, Hue Jackson needs to get the Cleveland Browns moving forward, while Jim Caldwell may have to prove he can get the Detroit Lions further than one-and-done status in the playoffs.

And keep an eye on some more established figures, too.

Chuck Pagano is working for a new general manager and hasn’t taken the Indianapolis Colts to postseason since 2014. John Harbaugh is almost an institution in Baltimore, but the Ravens haven’t won a playoff game since their Super Bowl victory more than four years ago. And the Cincinnati Bengals’ Marvin Lewis and New Orleans’ Saints Sean Payton have been in their posts for more than a decade.

9. Change of venue

Two NFL teams will be in new stadiums. As the Chargers migrate from San Diego to Los Angeles, they’ll move into suburban Carson’s StubHub Center for the next two seasons. It’s a facility designed for soccer, and though capacity will be expanded from 27,000 to 30,000 for NFL games, that’s still less than half of what most of the league’s buildings hold. Maybe the Bolts will enjoy an intimate and potentially raucous setting … or maybe it will feel like they’re playing in front of a high school crowd.

The situation is drastically different in Atlanta, where the Falcons will defend their NFC crown in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, with its innovative oculus roof, halo video board and 100-yard bar.

10. Contract year

The NFL’s financial landscape is in constant flux. But as things stand now, Kirk Cousins could be the prize of free agency next year — assuming the Washington Redskins don’t franchise him for a third straight year at what would be a financially insane $34-plus million. Jimmy Garoppolo is scheduled to go free, though the Patriots could use the same tag-and-trade approach they utilized with Matt Cassel in 2009. Several other quarterbacks are heading into the final year of their current contracts (Brees, Sam Bradford, Matthew Stafford).

Other players who might be looking for new deals include Devonta Freeman, Jarvis Landry, Alshon Jeffery, Jimmy Graham and Le’Veon Bell.

11. Comeback trail

Several high-profile running backs could vie for comeback player of the year honors. Adrian Peterson (Saints) and Jamaal Charles (Broncos) hope to prove they can still be effective while learning the ropes for their new teams. The same goes for Marshawn Lynch, though early reports out of Oakland suggest he looks spry after enjoying a year of retirement.

In Tampa Bay, Doug Martin must prove he was worthy of last year’s millions while beginning this season with a three-game suspension. The Rams’ spotty play at quarterback and on the offensive line hurt Todd Gurley last season, but the 2015 offensive rookie of the year also must bear some responsibility for a poor 2016 campaign. Elsewhere, Bell and David Johnson should be ready to roll after being banged up at the end of last season.

On the quarterback front, Luck and Newton will be handled with kid gloves this summer as they recover from shoulder surgeries. Carr and Ryan Tannehill are expected to be fully functional in training camp after late-season injuries left each of their team’s playoff hopes dead on arrival. Mariota is also virtually recovered from a broken leg. The big question is Teddy Bridgewater, whose career remains in limbo after last summer’s devastating knee injury.

Other players to monitor include Gronk (back), J.J. Watt (back), Luke Kuechly (concussion), Keenan Allen (knee) and Martavis Bryant (suspended in 2016).

12. Newcomers

Perhaps no team got a better infusion of talent this offseason than the Jaguars, who lured DL Calais Campbell and CB A.J. Bouye in free agency before drafting Fournette and OL Cam Robinson. WRs DeSean Jackson (Bucs), Terrelle Pryor (Redskins), Brandon Marshall (Giants), Jeffery (Eagles), S Tony Jefferson (Ravens), RB Eddie Lacy (Seahawks), Gilmore (Patriots) and Bennett (Packers) could all be impact free agent finds. Other rookies who seems likely to make early splashes are RBs Christian McCaffrey (Panthers) and Dalvin Cook (Vikings), TEs O.J. Howard (Bucs) and Evan Engram (Giants), WRs Corey Davis (Titans), Mike Williams (Chargers) and John Ross (Bengals), LBs Haason Reddick (Cardinals) and Jarrad Davis (Lions), safeties Jamal Adams (Jets), Malik Hooker (Colts) and Jabrill Peppers (Browns) and pass rushers Myles Garrett (Browns), Solomon Thomas (49ers), Jonathan Allen (Redskins), Charles Harris (Dolphins), T.J. Watt (Steelers), Taco Charlton (Cowboys) and McKinley (Falcons).

13. It’s analytics, baby

Cleveland continues the league’s most fascinating rebuild with an analytics-based approach that’s arguably produced as many dividends as questions thus far.

One year after passing on the chance to take Wentz, the Browns also chose not to pick Deshaun Watson in the first round to shore up their perennial quarterback dilemma, though Kizer’s value with selection No. 52 this year was apparently too good to ignore.

Executive VP of football operations Sashi Brown definitely seemed to obtain prime talent in this year’s first round, picking Garrett, Peppers and TE David Njoku. He’s also wheeled and dealed his way into five selections in the first two rounds next year, though he sacrificed $16 million of precious (we thought) salary cap space in order to eat QB Brock Osweiler’s contract and obtain the Houston Texans’ 2018 second rounder (this after letting Pryor walk).

Stay tuned as the plan continues to unfold … assuming ownership doesn’t run out of patience first.

14. Red flags not a stop sign?

It’s been three years since Ray Rice was thrown out of the NFL for slugging his fiancee in an Atlantic City elevator. However at least five players accused of violence against women just got drafted. The jury — figurative for now — remains out on Raiders first rounder Gareon Conley, accused of rape days before the draft, something he’s denied. The bone-breaking punch Bengals second rounder Joe Mixon threw at a woman in 2014 was captured on video. Jaguars fourth rounder Dede Westbrook and Browns sixth rounder Caleb Brantley have arrests on their records, while Cowboys third rounder Jourdan Lewis is scheduled to go on trial in July for one misdemeanor count of domestic violence. A troubling trend and group of players who bear close watching.

15. Broken records?

Every year, somebody gets the statheads excited.

Before finishing with 1,631 rushing yards (in 15 games), Elliott seemed to have a shot at 2,000 yards as a rookie. That should remain the case going forward — if he’s available all season — as he operates behind the league’s best line for an offense that will likely have to pile up yards and points as it compensates for what’s expected to be a shaky defense.

Brees has surpassed 5,000 passing yards five times — no other quarterback has done it twice — and is always a threat to reclaim his single-season record from Peyton Manning (5,477). (Brees would need an unprecedented 5,830 yards to overtake Manning’s career mark for passing yards — 71,940 — this season.) And keep an eye on Brady, given his bolstered fleet of pass catchers and a relatively unproven group of running backs which could make the team more reliant than ever on its signature short passing game.

Brown, Jones and Beckham seem like the best candidates to become the first 2,000-yard receiver, a once unthinkable plateau which now seems inevitable. If J.J. Watt reclaims his superpowers, might he have a third 20-sack season in the tank — no other player has done that twice — and potentially break his tie with Lawrence Taylor by becoming the first four-time defensive player of the year?

16. Sam Darnold sweepstakes

None of the quarterbacks picked this year was considered a can’t-miss prospect or even necessarily ready to play in 2017. But that probably won’t be the case in the 2018 draft, where the buzz around Southern California’s Sam Darnold is already growing. Fans don’t want to endure a season that “earns” their team the No. 1 overall pick. But supporters of the Jets, Browns and 49ers might wind up rooting for defeats to pile up if Darnold is the consolation prize — assuming the redshirt sophomore doesn’t pull a Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck by returning to school for an additional year.

17. TV

The spotlight always shines brightest on quarterbacks, and that will remain the case — literally — for Tony Romo and Jay Cutler as they transition from the field to the broadcast booth. Without an iota of experience, will Romo prove worthy of supplanting longtime CBS lead analyst Phil Simms? And after having his body language and personality parsed for years, will Cutler prove a fit in a three-man booth — not always a smooth set-up by definition — for FOX? Will either be lured back to a locker room despite vows that they’ll never strap on a helmet again? Buckle up, fellas. If there’s anything fans have less patience with than an ineffective quarterback, it may be an ineffective analyst.

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Follow Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis

NFL: Patriots’ Tom Brady voted No. 1 on NFL Network’s ‘Top 100’ list for second time

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today Sports)    —-   Tom Brady has won an unprecedented four Super Bowl MVP awards. He’s a two-time NFL MVP. No other quarterback owns five Super Bowl rings.

And now the New England Patriots star is the first player to be twice voted No. 1 by his peers on NFL Network’s annual Top 100 list.

Monday night, Brady was revealed atop The Top 100 Players of 2017, a list solely calculated from the votes of active players and seeking to project who will be the best performers of the upcoming season while honoring players’ past accomplishments.

The honorific comes after a season that Brady began with a four-game suspension for his alleged role in the Deflategate scandal but ended with him leading the Patriots back from a 25-point second-half deficit in Super Bowl LI to become the first team to win the game in overtime.

Brady also topped the inaugural Top 100 list in 2011 and has never ranked outside the top five.

Two other quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers and reigning league MVP Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons, cracked this year’s top 10. The full top 10 is below, and NFL Network’s entire Top 100 list for this year can be found here:

1. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
2. Von Miller, OLB, Denver Broncos
3. Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons
4. Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
5. Khalil Mack, DE, Oakland Raiders
6. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
7. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
8. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants
9. Le’Veon Bell, RB, Steelers
10. Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons

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Follow Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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DENVER BRONCOS (2016 record: 9-7)

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

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

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

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JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (3-13)

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

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

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

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LOS ANGELES RAMS (4-12)

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

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

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

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SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (5-11)

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

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

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

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BUFFALO BILLS (7-9)

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

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

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

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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (2-14)

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

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

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

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

NFL Highlight: News and Notes

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STARS

Passing

—Matt Ryan, Falcons, was 27 for 36 for 331 yards and four touchdown passes in Atlanta’s 38-32 win over New Orleans.

—Tom Brady, Patriots, finished 25for 33 for 276 yards and three touchdowns in New England’s 35-14 win over Miami. Brady finished the regular season with 28 touchdown passes and two interceptions, the best touchdown/interception ratio in NFL history. Brady has 51 games with at least three touchdown passes and no interceptions, tying Peyton Manning for the most in league history. Brady increased his total to 61,582 to surpass Hall of Famer Dan Marino for fourth place on the NFL’s career list.

—Landry Jones, Steelers, was 24 for 37 for 277 yards with three touchdown passes and an interception in Pittsburgh’s 27-24 overtime win over Cleveland.

—Sam Bradford, Vikings, finished 25 for 33 for 250 yards and three touchdowns and an interception. Bradford completed 395 of 552 passes for a 71.6 percent completion rate this season, the highest single-season mark in NFL history, surpassing Drew Brees’ mark of 71.2 percent in 2011.

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Rushing

—Isaiah Crowell, Browns, had 19 carries for a career-high 152 yards in Cleveland’s 27-24 overtime loss to Pittsburgh.

—Jordan Howard, Bears, had 23 carries for 135 yards in Chicago’s 38-10 loss to Minnesota.

—Corey Grant, Jaguars, had 18 carries for 122 yards and a touchdown in Jacksonville’s 24-20 loss to Indianapolis.

—Bilal Powell, Jets, had 22 carries for 122 yards in New York’s 30-10 win over Buffalo.

—Rex Burkhead, Bengals, had 27 carries for 119 yards and two touchdowns in Cincinnati’s 27-10 win over Baltimore.

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Receiving

—Michael Thomas, Saints, had 10 receptions for 156 yards and a touchdown in New Orleans’ 38-32 loss to Atlanta.

—Julian Edelman, Patriots, had eight catches for 151 yards, including a 77-yard touchdown, in New England’s 35-14 win over Miami.

—Zach Ertz, Eagles, had 13 catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns in Philadelphia’s 27-13 win over Dallas.

—DeAndre Hopkins, Texans, finished with seven receptions for 123 yards in Houston’s 24-17 loss to Tennessee.

—Kyle Rudolph, Vikings, had 11 catches for 117 yards and a touchdown in Minnesota’s 38-10 win over Chicago.

—Dennis Pitta, Ravens, had 11 catches for 91 yards in Baltimore’s 27-10 loss to Cincinnati.

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Special Teams

—Tyreek Hill, Chiefs, returned a punt 95 yards for a touchdown in Kansas City’s 37-27 win over San Diego.

—Doug Middleton, Jets, recovered a kickoff in the end zone for a touchdown in New York’s 30-10 win over Buffalo.

—Steven Hauschka, Seahawks, was 4 for 4 on field goals in Seattle’s 25-23 win over San Francisco.

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Defense

—Justin Bethel and Markus Golden, Cardinals. Bethel returned an interception 66 yards for a touchdown and Golden had 2½ sacks and a forced fumble in Arizona’s 44-6 win over Los Angeles.

—DaQuan Jones and Jurrell Casey, Titans. Jones recovered a fumble for a touchdown and Casey had two sacks in Tennessee’s 24-17 win over Houston.

—Brent Grimes and Lavonte David, Buccaneers. Grimes returned an interception 31 yards for a touchdown and David had two sacks in Tampa Bay’s 17-16 win over Carolina.

—Jahleel Addae, Chargers, returned an interception 90 yards for a touchdown in San Diego’s 37-27 loss to Kansas City.

—Everson Griffen, Vikings, returned a fumble 20 yards for a touchdown in Minnesota’s 38-10 win over Chicago.

—Joel Heath, Texans, had two sacks in Houston’s 24-17 loss to Tennessee.

—Malik Jackson, Jaguars, had two sacks in Jacksonville’s 24-20 loss to Indianapolis.

—Bobby Wagner, Seahawks, had two sacks in Seattle’s 25-23 win over San Francisco.

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ROUGH DAY FOR COACHES

Three more teams are dealing with coaching changes after Sunday’s games. The San Diego Chargers fired coach Mike McCoy. He was 27-37 in four seasons, with the Chargers having lost 23 of their past 32 games. They’ve also lost 13 of their past 14 AFC West games going back to late in the 2014 season. Also in the AFC West, Gary Kubiak informed his players in an emotional postgame locker room after the Broncos’ 24-6 win over the Raiders that he’s stepping away for health reasons. And the San Francisco 49ers fired coach Chip Kelly and general manager Trent Baalke in the latest overhaul for a franchise that has fallen from perennial Super Bowl contender to the bottom of the standings in three seasons.

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STREAKS & STATS

Bills running back Reggie Bush finished the season with 12 carries for minus-3 yards, becoming the first NFL running back to have negative yards rushing with 10 or more carries. He had no carries against the Jets. … The Chicago Bears (3-13) finished the season with a 38-10 loss to the Vikings. It was their most losses in a season since 1969. … The 49ers lost the Seahawks 25-23. The defeat capped a an awful season for the 49ers (2-14), who matched the franchise record for losses in a season previously reached in 1978, ’79 and 2004. … The Rams ended their return season in LA with a seven-game losing streak and a 4-12 record. … The Bucs snapped a two-game losing streak with a 17-16 win over Carolina to finish with their first winning record since 2010. … The Titans beat the Texans 24-17 to finish 9-7, their first winning season since 2011. With their six-win improvement from going 3-13 in 2015, the Titans matched the biggest one-year turnaround in franchise history, previously set in 1967 and 1974. … New Orleans’ Drew Brees passed for 350 yards and two touchdowns against Atlanta. Brees has 5,208 passing yards this season, the fourth-highest single-season passing total in NFL history. Brees, who also had 5,000 passing yards in 2008, 2011, 2012 and 2013, has five of the NFL’s nine all-time 5,000-yard passing seasons and is the only quarterback in NFL history to pass for at least 5,000 yards in multiple seasons. Brees’ 471 completions this season also set an NFL record. … Atlanta’s Matt Ryan completed 373 of 534 passes (69.9 percent) for 4,944 yards with 38 touchdowns and seven interceptions for a 117.1 passer rating, the fifth-highest single-season passer rating in NFL history. … Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston passed for 202 yards and a touchdown in the Buccaneers’ 17-16 win over Carolina. Winston, who passed for 4,042 yards as a rookie last season, finished this season with a career-high 4,090 passing yards. He is the first player in NFL history to have at least 4,000 passing yards in each of his first two seasons. Winston has 50 touchdown passes and is the fifth player in league history to throw at least 50 touchdown passes in his first two seasons.

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MILESTONES

Chargers tight end Antonio Gates tied Tony Gonzalez for the most touchdown catches in NFL history by a tight end with 111 after a 2-yard TD catch in San Diego’s 37-27 loss to Kansas City. … Dallas rookie quarterback Dak Prescott finished the regular season with a 104.9 passer rating and surpassed Robert Griffin III (102.4 in 2012) for the highest single-season passer rating by a rookie quarterback in NFL history. … Cowboys rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott leads the league with 1,631 rushing yards. Elliott, who has the third-highest rushing total by a rookie in NFL history, would be the fifth rookie since 1970 to lead the league in rushing yards and the first since Edgerrin James (1,553 yards) in 1999. … Colts running back Frank Gore added to his stellar season by running 16 times for 62 yards, giving him 1,026 this season. He became the fourth player in league history to rush for 1,000 yards at age 33 or older and the oldest since 35-year-old John Riggins did it in 1984. Gore is 33. Gore also joins Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith, Curtis Martin, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders as the only players in NFL history with nine or more 1,000-yard seasons. He ended the Colts’ eight-year drought without a 1,000-yard rusher. Joseph Addai was the most recent Colts’ player to achieve it in 2007. .. Jordan Howard, the lone bright spot for the Bears, rushed for 135 yards on 23 carries to break Matt Forte’s franchise rookie record and finish with 1,313 yards for the season. … New England became the ninth team since 1972 to go undefeated on the road during the regular season after its 35-14 win over Miami. … The Bengals’ Andy Dalton topped 4,000 yards passing for the second time in his career, finishing with 4,206. The other time was 2013, when he set a club record with 4,293 yards. … Baltimore’s Justin Tucker had a 30-yard field goal, his 38th of the season, matching his club record. Only two kickers have made 40 field goals in a season: David Akers and Neil Rackers. … Baltimore’s Joe Flacco finished with 4,276 yards, topping Vinny Testaverde’s club record of 4,177 yards in 1996.

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SIDELINED

Houston quarterback Tom Savage was sidelined with a concussion in a 24-17 loss at Tennessee, forcing Brock Osweiler back onto the field for the AFC South champions. Savage started the regular-season finale, left in the second quarter to be evaluated for a concussion and was cleared. He took the final snap of the first half, and O’Brien told team radio that Savage would play in the second half. But Savage was diagnosed with a concussion after being re-evaluated at halftime. … QB Matt McGloin left Oakland’s 24-6 loss at Denver because of a left shoulder injury. The Raiders also lost safety Nate Allen, who left the game and was evaluated for a concussion. … Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders hurt his foot in the first quarter and didn’t return. More concerning, special teamer Zaire Anderson was strapped to a backboard and carted off the field after being injured on punt coverage in the third quarter. Team officials said Anderson was taken to a local hospital for evaluation and has movement in his arms and legs. … Arizona running back David Johnson ended his season finale on the sideline and with a brace on his left knee. … Atlanta Falcons rookie safety Keanu Neal and New Orleans Saints receiver Willie Snead both left with possible concussions after a collision in the fourth quarter.

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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.

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“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.

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NFL playoff picture: Field finalized with NFC North settled

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(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today)    —-   Here’s the finalized NFL playoff picture

AFC
y*-1. New England Patriots (14-2): AFC East champions. They have home field for the fourth time in the past seven seasons.
yz-2. Kansas City Chiefs (12-4): AFC West champions. They began Sunday in wild-card position and ended it with a division crown and bye thanks to Oakland’s struggles.
y-3. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5): AFC North champions. They’ll open the playoffs hosting the Dolphins.
y-4. Houston Texans (9-7): AFC South champions. They’ll open the playoffs hosting the Raiders.
x-5. Oakland Raiders (12-4): Wild card No. 1. Their loss combined with Kansas City’s win drops them from second seed to fifth. They’ll be in Houston next weekend.
x-6. Miami Dolphins (10-6): Wild card No. 2. They’ll open the playoffs at Pittsburgh next weekend.

NFC
y*-1. Dallas Cowboys (13-3): NFC East champions. They’ll open the playoffs against the lowest-seeded team that wins on wild-card weekend. Dallas’ loss to Philadelphia on Sunday officially eliminated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
yz-2. Atlanta Falcons (11-5): NFC South champions. Their victory Sunday clinched a first-round bye.
y-3. Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1): NFC West champions. They’ll open the playoffs hosting the Lions.
y-4. Green Bay Packers (10-6): NFC North champions. They reclaimed division crown they lost in 2015. They’ll open the playoffs hosting the Giants.
x-5. New York Giants (11-5): Wild card No. 1. They were locked into this spot before Sunday’s kickoff but still played their starters and knocked the Washington Redskins out of the playoff picture. They go to Green Bay next weekend.
x-6. Detroit Lions (9-7): Wild card No. 2. Their loss to the Packers puts them on the road to Seattle.

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

 

Wild-card weekend

SATURDAY, JAN. 7

*Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans*

Time::  4:35 p.m. ET, TV: (ESPN/ABC)

Betting Line: Texans favored by 2.5

*Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks*

Time:  8:15 p.m. ET, TV: (NBC)

Betting Line: Seahawks favored by 7.5

SUNDAY, JAN. 8

*Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers*

 Time: 1:05 p.m. ET. TV: (CBS)

Betting Line: Steelers favored by 10

*New York Giants at Green Bay Packers*

TIME: 4:40 p.m. ET,. TV: (Fox)

Betting Line: Packers favored by 4.5

Divisional weekend

Saturday, Jan. 14

Highest NFC seed at Atlanta Falcons – 4:35 p.m. ET, (Fox)

Lowest AFC seed at New England Patriots – 8:15 p.m. ET, (CBS)

Sunday, Jan. 15

Highest AFC seed at Kansas City Chiefs – 1:05 p.m. ET, (NBC)

Lowest NFC seed at Dallas Cowboys – 4:40 p.m. ET (Fox)

Conference championship weekend

Sunday, Jan. 22

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

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

Super Bowl 

Sunday, Feb. 5

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

NFL Roundup: Packers surge to postseason, Lions back in

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LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — Facing an opponent with nothing to play for, the Washington Redskins blew their chance to make the playoffs with an uninspired 19-10 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday.

The Redskins would have made the playoffs with a win as long as the Green Bay Packers-Detroit Lions night game didn’t end in a tie. Instead, Kirk Cousins was intercepted twice in the second half by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Washington (8-7-1) goes into an offseason filled with questions.

The Packers and Lions each qualified as a result of the Redskins’ loss to New York (11-5), which will be the first wild card and play at Green Bay on Sunday. Eli Manning played the entire game, going 17 of 27 for 180 yards despite the Giants opting for a conservative approach for much of the second half.

Cousins finished 22 of 35 for 285 yards and a touchdown, but more importantly the interceptions in the third and fourth quarters. Fittingly the game ended with another Washington turnover when tight end Jordan Reed’s attempted lateral turned into a Giants touchdown.

PACKERS 31, LIONS 24

DETROIT (AP) — Aaron Rodgers threw three of his four touchdown passes in the second half, lifting the Packers to an NFC North clincher.

Detroit’s Matthew Stafford connected with Anquan Boldin for a 35-yard touchdown pass with 13 seconds left, but the Packers recovered the onside kick.,

The Packers (10-6) closed the regular season with six straight wins, running the table as Rodgers said they could after losing four straight midway through the season. They won the division for the fifth time in six years. Like his team, Rodgers has been perfect during the streak with 15 TD passes and no interceptions.

He will lead fourth-seeded Green Bay at home Sunday against the fifth-seeded New York Giants in an NFC wild-card game.

Detroit (9-7) dropped its last three games after it had a two-game lead in the NFC North. The Lions, though, will be in the playoffs at Seattle on Saturday night.

CHIEFS 37, CHARGERS 27

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Alex Smith threw for two touchdowns and ran for another, and the Chiefs clinched the AFC West title and a first-round playoff bye in perhaps the final NFL game in San Diego.

The Chiefs (12-4) took the division with the win and Oakland’s loss at Denver.

San Diego fired coach Mike McCoy after the game.

Smith, who went to nearby Helix High in La Mesa, scored on a 5-yard scramble early in the second quarter to tie the game at 10. He threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to wide-open Charcandrick West later in the quarter to put the Chiefs ahead for good. That followed the first of two interceptions of Philip Rivers that led to 10 points for the Chiefs.

Smith was intercepted once, on a deflected pass that Jahleel Addae returned 90 yards for a touchdown to pull the Chargers (5-11) to 20-17 in the third quarter.

Smith came right back and threw a 2-yard scoring pass to West, who again was wide open.

Chargers chairman Dean Spanos has until Jan. 15 to decide whether to move the team to the Los Angeles area and join the Rams in a stadium scheduled to open in Inglewood in 2019.

BRONCOS 24, RAIDERS 6

DENVER (AP) — In a game that couldn’t have gone much worse, Oakland lost its latest starting quarterback, Matt McGloin, to a shoulder injury, then fell to a team with nothing to play for.

Broncos coach Gary Kubiak will be stepping down for health reasons.

Combined with Kansas City’s win over San Diego, the Raiders (12-4) squandered the AFC West title and the first-round bye that went with it — and instead fell to the No. 5 seed. They will play at Houston on Saturday.

Now, they are a wild card with a rookie third-stringer, Connor Cook, as their only fully healthy quarterback.

McGloin, who got the start when Derek Carr broke his leg last week, left late in the second quarter. He completed six passes for 21 yards, missing virtually every throw downfield.

Cook was 14 of 21 with a touchdown to Cooper, an interception and a lost fumble against the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos (9-7), who ended a three-game slide.

FALCONS 38, SAINTS 32

ATLANTA (AP) — Matt Ryan bolstered his MVP credentials with a brilliant first half, throwing four touchdown passes to secure a first-round playoff bye.

Ryan was 17 of 19 for 235 yards by halftime, directing the Falcons (11-5) to touchdowns on all five possessions and a commanding 35-13 lead. He finished 27 of 36 for 331 yards, leaving him with a franchise-record 4,944 yards, 38 touchdowns and just seven interceptions this season.

Atlanta is seeded second in the NFC to Dallas.

The Saints (7-9) came into the regular-season finale looking to finish another disappointing season with a three-game winning streak and avoid a third straight losing mark. But they were blitzed early and often by the league’s highest-scoring offense.

One consolation for New Orleans: Drew Brees became the first quarterback in league history to throw for 5,000 yards five times. He was 29 of 50 for 350 yards, giving him 5,208 on the season.

His 471 completions this season set an NFL record.

SEAHAWKS 25, 49ERS 23

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Russell Wilson threw for 258 yards and a touchdown and the Seahawks rallied from an early 11-point deficit in what could be coach Chip Kelly’s final game with the 49ers.

The NFC West champion Seahawks (10-5-1) head to the playoffs as the third seed in the NFC. The Seahawks will host Detroit on Saturday night.

The loss capped an awful season for the 49ers (2-14), who matched the franchise record for losses in a season previously reached in 1978, ’79 and 2004. San Francisco fired general manager Trent Baalke and coach Chip Kelly.

Seattle receiver Doug Baldwin caught two passes for 44 yards, tying the franchise record for catches in a season with 94. Baldwin tied Bobby Engram’s mark set in 2007 with an acrobatic 41-yard catch in the second quarter.

PATRIOTS 35, DOLPHINS 14

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) —Tom Brady threw for 276 yards and three scores, and the Patriots clinched home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

New England took a 20-0 lead in the first half, and turned away Miami’s comeback bid with the help of a 77-yard touchdown catch-and-run by Julian Edelman and a 69-yard fumble return by linebacker Shea McClellin.

The Patriots (14-2), already assured of a first-round bye, became the ninth team since 1972 to go undefeated on the road during the regular season.

The Dolphins (10-6), beaten for only the second time in the past 11 games, had already earned an AFC wild-card berth. They play their first postseason game since 2008 next Sunday at Pittsburgh.

The Patriots had lost their past three games in Miami, and appeared intent from the outset on snapping that streak. By the time they led 20-0, they had advantages of 238 to 30 in yards, and 17 to one in first downs.

STEELERS 27, BROWNS 24

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Steelers backups assured the Browns of the top pick in the 2017 draft.

Landry Jones hit Cobi Hamilton with a 26-yard touchdown with 2:57 left in overtime. The Browns took a lead on Cody Parkey’s 34-yard field goal with 7:17 remaining in the extra session.

Jones, who started while the playoff-bound Steelers rested Ben Roethlisberger, took the Steelers 75 yards in nine plays. The last was a pretty lob to the end zone that Hamilton hauled in to give Pittsburgh (11-5) its seventh straight victory.

Jones finished with 277 yards passing and three touchdowns and one interception.

The Steelers will host Miami on Sunday in the wild-card round next weekend. The Dolphins thumped Pittsburgh 30-15 on Oct. 16.

Isaiah Crowell ran for a career-high 152 yards for the Browns (1-15), who finished with the worst record in franchise history.

The Browns said coach Hue Jackson will return next season.

JETS 30, BILLS 10

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Ryan Fitzpatrick threw two touchdown passes in what was likely his final game for the Jets.

Despite a 5-11 record, the Jets are making no changes in leadership, meaning both coach Todd Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan will remain with the team next season. The team announced the moves after the game.

Bowles is 15-17 in his two-year tenure with New York, which hired him in January 2015 after firing Rex Ryan. Maccagnan is also in his second season with the Jets, and had also been criticized for the team’s roster, which likely faces an overhaul this offseason.

The Bills (7-9) also face some uncertainty this offseason after firing coach Rex Ryan earlier in the week and elevating offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn to the interim role. Two other people with direct knowledge of the situation told the AP before the game that Lynn is the clear favorite to take over the job permanently.

TITANS 24, TEXANS 17

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A concussion that sidelined quarterback Tom Savage could have the biggest impact coming out of the Texans’ loss.

Savage started for the AFC South champions, left in the second quarter to be evaluated for a concussion and was cleared. He took a snap to kneel down on the final play of the first half and was diagnosed with a concussion after being re-evaluated at halftime.

That left Brock Osweiler, benched for Savage last month, running the offense. He threw for 253 yards and a touchdown and also ran for a 1-yard TD on fourth-and-goal in the fourth quarter.

Houston (9-7) will host an AFC wild-card game next Saturday against Oakland, possibly with uncertainty at quarterback.

DaQuan Jones recovered a fumble for a touchdown in the first quarter, and the Titans never trailed to finish with their first winning season since 2011.

The Titans (9-7) also ended a five-game skid to the two-time AFC South champs, who had beaten Tennessee eight of the previous nine games in this series. With their six-win improvement from going 3-13 in 2015, the Titans matched the biggest one-year turnaround in franchise history, previously set in 1967 and 1974.

EAGLES 27, COWBOYS 13

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Tony Romo threw his first touchdown pass in nearly 14 months and the playoff-bound Cowboys played it safe.

The Cowboys (13-3) locked up the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs when the Eagles (7-9) beat the Giants on Dec. 22. So Dak Prescott played only two series and Ezekiel Elliott watched from the sideline.

Carson Wentz tossed two TD passes to Zach Ertz to help Philadelphia finish with a two-game winning streak.

Prescott was 4 for 8 for 37 yards before giving way to Romo, who hadn’t played in a regular-season game since Thanksgiving 2015 when he broke his left collarbone for the second time in less than three months. Romo broke a bone in his back in the third preseason game against Seattle this season, paving the way for Prescott to have one of the best years by a rookie quarterback in NFL history.

Romo overthrew Terrance Williams on a deep pass on his first play. His first completion was a 16-yarder to Williams on third-and-12. After Dez Bryant drew a pass interference penalty on a deep pass at the Eagles 3, Romo connected with Williams for his first TD pass since Nov. 22, 2015 against Miami.

Romo finished 3 for 4 for 29 yards.

BUCCANEERS 17, PANTHERS 16

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Jameis Winston threw for 202 yards and one touchdown And the Buccaneers broke up Cam Newton’s 2-point conversion throw in the closing seconds for their first winning season in six years.

Winston threw a 10-yard pass to Mike Evans to snap a fourth-quarter tie and became the first player in NFL history to start his career with consecutive 4,000-yard seasons.

But the Bucs (9-7) were eliminated from playoff contention, not getting the help they needed in other games for their first berth since 2007.

Winston’s franchise record-setting 28th TD pass put the Bucs ahead 17-10 with 3:10 remaining. Newton, however, moved the Panthers (6-10) right down the field, with help of a 47-yard pass to Kelvin Benjamin and two fourth-down completions to set up a 5-yard scoring pass to trim Carolina’s deficit to one with 17 seconds left.

The defending NFC champions went for 2 points. Newton’s pass intended for tight end Greg Olsen was batted away by safety Bradley McDougald.

VIKINGS 38, BEARS 10

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Sam Bradford concluded his first season with Minnesota with three first-half touchdown passes. Bradford went 25 for 33 for 250 yards and one interception, finishing with a 71.6 percent completion rate to set an NFL single-season record. Drew Brees (71.2 for New Orleans) set the league mark in 2011.

Kyle Rudolph caught 11 passes for 117 yards and a score for the Vikings (8-8), who started 5-0 before stumbling out of their bye week and never recovering.

The Bears (3-13) wound up with their fewest wins in a non-strike year since 1973 after turning the ball over five times. Everson Griffen returned one of their three lost fumbles for a touchdown.

Jordan Howard, the lone bright spot, rushed for 135 yards on 23 carries to break Matt Forte’s franchise rookie record and finish with 1,313 yards for the season for Chicago.

COLTS 24, JAGUARS 20

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Andrew Luck threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jack Doyle with 9 seconds left. Indy (8-8) went 75 yards in 84 seconds with no timeouts to avoid its first losing season since 2011, sending retiring linebacker Robert Mathis out with a win in his final NFL game.

Jacksonville (3-13) matched the second-worst record in franchise history after blocking a punt with 1:54 to go and breaking a 17-17 tie with 1:33 left.

Instead, Luck took the Colts right downfield for the score.

Mathis extended his league record of strip-sacks to 41 in the fourth quarter, two days after announcing he would retire.

Frank Gore ran 16 times for 62 yards, becoming the fourth player in league history to top 1,000 yards at age 33 or older. He’s also the oldest to achieve the milestone since John Riggins in 1984 at age 35, and he’s the first Colts to run for 1,000 since Joseph Addai in 2007 — ending the second-longest active streak in the NFL.

BENGALS 27, RAVENS 10

CINCINNATI (AP) — Andy Dalton completed his first 10 passes, one for a touchdown, and Rex Burkhead ran for a pair of scores in the Bengals’ fifth straight win at home over the Ravens.

The Bengals (6-9-1) missed the playoffs for the first time in six years, and haven’t won a playoff game in 26 years, the sixth-longest streak in NFL history. Coach Marvin Lewis, 0-7 in the postseason, says he’ll return in 2017.

Baltimore (8-8) failed to reach the playoffs for the third time in four years. The Ravens played their final game as if they were emotionally hung over from a last-minute loss at Pittsburgh last Sunday that eliminated them.

Ravens receiver Steve Smith caught three passes for 34 yards in what was probably the final game of his remarkable career. The 37-year-old receiver reiterated last week that he’s likely retiring. He has 51 games with 100 yards receiving, tied for fourth most in NFL history.

CARDINALS 44, RAMS 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Carson Palmer threw touchdown passes to Jeremy Ross, Darren Fells and Larry Fitzgerald, and the Cardinals wrapped up a frustrating season.

Fitzgerald caught five passes and took the overall NFL lead with 107 catches in perhaps his final game for the Cardinals (7-8-1). Arizona missed the playoffs one year after reaching the NFC championship game despite an offense and a defense ranked in the top quarter of the league.

Arizona still finished the year strong with wins over NFC West champion Seattle and Los Angeles (4-12), which has lost seven straight.

The Cardinals’ defense sacked Jared Goff seven times and allowed just 122 yards by the Rams, who wrapped up their homecoming season with their worst record since 2011.

David Johnson left the field on a cart in the first quarter with an injured left knee, but Arizona’s star running back appeared to be able to put weight on his leg when he returned to watch the second half from the sidelines. Johnson failed to gain 100 yards from scrimmage for the first time in his spectacular season.

___

NFL Week 17: Can Rodgers complete Packers’ push?

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(PhatzRadio Sports /USA Today)    —-   Aaron Rodgers’ midseason remark that the Green Bay Packers could still “run the table” might not have been a fully formed prediction, but the quarterback has his team in position to make good on his words.

Green Bay has rallied back from a 4-6 start to win its last five games and set itself up for a Week 17 showdown against the Detroit Lions for the NFC North. A win would give the Packers their fifth division title in six years, and perhaps their most unlikely one in some time.

But Green Bay also could drop from the postseason entirely, as a win by the Washington Redskins earlier in the day would leave the loser of Sunday’s prime time clash out of the playoffs.

Rodgers has been the Packers’ clear catalyst, completing 71.4% of his passes and throwing 11 touchdowns with no interceptions during the five-game win streak. Detroit is well-versed in how quickly he can dissect a defense after his four-touchdown first half guided Green Bay to a 34-27 win earlier this season.

For the Lions to capture their first division title since 1993, generating pressure will be paramount. Detroit ranks just 29th in the NFL with 25 sacks. Rodgers’ ability to evade the rush can be lethal for opposing defenses, but he’s still recovering from left hamstring and right calf injuries.

Denying big plays is a priority for coordinator Teryl Austin’s bend-but-don’t-break defense. Though Rodgers is an opportunist with big plays, he’s also patient enough to slice a defense with small plays. At some point, the defense will need a breakthrough or two in the form of a big play or key stand.

Cornerback Darius Slay could have a key role in his potential return from a hamstring injury. Detroit might lean on him to slow Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson, who had 101 yards and two touchdowns in the first meeting between the teams this season.

Here are four other matchups that could define Week 17 in the NFL:

Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi vs. Patriots’ front seven

Ajayi might not have a full day of work against New England given that he is listed as questionable with a shoulder injury. The breakout running back, however, represents Miami’s best chance at moving up to the first wild-card slot and denying New England home-field advantage.

Ajayi quelled concerns about his late-season play last week by rushing for 206 yards against the Buffalo Bills, breaking the 200-yard barrier for the third time this season. With Matt Moore in for the injured Ryan Tannehill at quarterback, the second-year back likely becomes the focal point of the offense for the foreseeable future. New England hasn’t given up a touchdown in two games and has allowed a league-low six rushing scores this season.

Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr. vs. Redskins CB Josh Norman

Arguably the most heated wide receiver-cornerback matchup in the NFL might lack its usual fanfare heading into Week 17. But in order to position themselves for the final NFC wild-card berth, the Redskins still must handle an offense propped by Beckham.

Both stars shrugged off questions about their history this week, suggesting that the charged confrontations that ignited the rivalry would be left in the past. Beckham had seven catches for 121 yards in a game that became known for his outburst against a kicking net. With the Giants settled into the No. 5 seed and Beckham finding his comfort zone, Sunday could make for a more reserved showdown.

Raiders QB Matt McGloin vs. Broncos’ secondary

With Derek Carr sidelined by a broken fibula, McGloin now has the keys to Oakland’s first playoff season since 2002. His performance could be the key decider in the Raiders’ playoff seeding – as well as a harbinger of how the team will fare after the loss of its leader.

McGloin hasn’t started a game since his rookie season in 2013, but Oakland invested in him this offseason for situations such as this. Facing the top-ranked passing defense with the AFC West title – and possible home-field advantage – potentially on the line, Raiders coach Jack Del Rio isn’t likely to task the former Penn State walk-on with the same role as Carr on Sunday. But McGloin will need to get up to speed for the playoffs, and how the offense fares against the Broncos could reveal how the offense is faring after this major shift.

Chargers QB Philip Rivers vs. Chiefs’ secondary

Sunday’s AFC West showdown has playoff implications for Kansas City, but it could be more notable as the possible end of an era. With potential Los Angeles relocation looming, the Chargers could be playing their last game in San Diego.

San Diego has struggled to close out games (1-7 in contests decided by seven points or less) but has been resilient despite having 19 players on injured reserve. Rivers leads the league in interceptions with 19, but he and the rest of the Chargers are eager to play spoiler after giving up a 21-point lead in a 33-27 overtime loss to the Chiefs in Week 1.

 

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

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(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

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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.

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NFL playoff picture: Thirteen of 16 spots could be taken in Week 16

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today)    —-   Here’s how the NFL playoff picture looks heading into Week 16.

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

AFC
yz-1. New England Patriots (12-2): AFC East champions. Division winners for eighth consecutive season, they can lock up home field in Week 16 with a win plus an Oakland loss. [Remaining games: vs. Jets, at Dolphins]
x-2. Oakland Raiders (11-3): AFC West leader. Back in playoffs for first time in 14 years, they win division and bye with victory and a K.C. loss. [Remaining games: vs. Colts, at Broncos]
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5): AFC North leader. They’ll clinch division by beating Baltimore on Christmas but would lose control of it if Ravens complete season sweep. [Remaining games: vs. Ravens, vs. Browns]
4. Houston Texans (8-6): AFC South leader. Now 5-0 in divisional games, they maintain tiebreaker advantage while sharing first place with the Titans. Houston needs only to beat Tennessee in Week 17 to keep its crown. The Texans can also clinch Saturday with a win plus Titans loss. [Remaining games: vs. Bengals, at Titans]
5. Kansas City Chiefs (10-4): Wild card No. 1. A win against Denver on Christmas night will lock Chiefs into playoffs and would put them back atop AFC West if Raiders also lose. Kansas City would also clinch a berth if Baltimore loses. [Remaining games: vs. Broncos, at Chargers]
6. Miami Dolphins (9-5): Wild card No. 2. They lock in with a win plus a loss by the Broncos. But Miami can’t afford to slip given losses to Ravens and Titans earlier this season could hurt dearly if this spot winds up being decided by tiebreakers. [Remaining games: at Bills, vs. Patriots]

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Adrift at sea and in need of help

In the hunt
7. Baltimore Ravens (8-6): They’ll claim AFC North by winning final two games. Defeating Miami would also serve them well in wild-card race if they wind up tied. [Remaining games: at Steelers, at Bengals]
8. Tennessee Titans (8-6): They’ll claim AFC South by winning final two games. They also beat Dolphins and would own head-to-head tiebreaker for wild card. [Remaining games: at Jaguars, vs. Texans]
9. Denver Broncos (8-6): They’re only in running for wild card at this point and would be eliminated this week by loss and a Miami win. [Remaining games: at Chiefs, vs. Raiders]
10. Indianapolis Colts (7-7): Any loss eliminates them. They still have path to AFC South crown but need to finish tied atop division with Tennessee or benefit from Titans-Texans tie in Week 17. [Remaining games: at Raiders, vs. Jaguars]
11. Buffalo Bills (7-7): Any loss eliminates them. They must win out and receive significant help to get sixth seed. [Remaining games: vs. Dolphins, at Jets]

NFC
x-1. Dallas Cowboys (12-2): NFC East leader. One more win (or Giants loss) secures division and home-field advantage. [Remaining games: vs. Lions, at Eagles]
y-2. Seattle Seahawks (9-4-1): NFC West champions. They cannot earn home field this season but can still snag first-round bye in Week 16 with win and losses by Atlanta and Detroit. [Remaining games: vs. Cardinals, at 49ers]
3. Atlanta Falcons (9-5): NFC South leader. A win and Bucs loss would sew up division. A win plus a loss by either the Lions or Packers gives Atlanta at least a wild card. Strength of victory keeps Falcons ahead of Detroit. [Remaining games: at Panthers, vs. Saints]
4. Detroit Lions (9-5): NFC North leader. A win and Packers loss earns Detroit its first division title since 1993. But a loss at Dallas on Monday sets up a de facto division championship game against Green Bay in Week 17 at Ford Field. The Lions guarantee a playoff berth with a win and loss by Tampa Bay. [Remaining games: at Cowboys, vs. Packers]
5. New York Giants (10-4): Wild card No. 1. They clinch first playoff trip since they won Super Bowl XLVI after 2011 season by beating Philadelphia on Thursday. A loss by the Lions, Packers, Bucs or Falcons would also clinch New York’s berth. Giants can still win NFC East and home field if they win out and Dallas loses its final two games. [Remaining games: at Eagles, at Redskins]
6. Green Bay Packers (8-6): Wild card No. 2. They’re currently ahead of Bucs on strength of schedule tiebreaker and could clinch berth this weekend with a win and some help (losses by Washington and Tampa Bay combined with an Atlanta win). If Green Bay wins out, it reclaims NFC North title. [Remaining games: vs. Vikings, at Lions]

In the hunt
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-6):
They’re back in the playoffs for first time since 2007 with a win Saturday combined with losses by the Packers, Lions and Redskins. Tampa Bay could still claim NFC South by winning out and hoping Falcons stumble. Bucs’ wild-card possibilities could be bolstered by fact Detroit and Green Bay meet in Week 17. It would also help in tiebreaker department if Lions lose to Cowboys on Monday. [Remaining games: at Saints, vs. Panthers]
8. Washington Redskins (7-6-1): The best they can do is earn the second wild card, which would require winning and a heavy combination of losses from Atlanta, Detroit, Green Bay and/or Tampa Bay. [Remaining games: at Bears, vs. Giants]
9. Minnesota Vikings (7-7): They can’t win NFC North. But winning out and getting plenty of help could put them back in play for the sixth seed. [Remaining games: at Packers, vs. Bears]
10. New Orleans Saints (6-8): They must win out and get significant help to be in running for sixth seed. [Remaining games: vs. Buccaneers, at Falcons]
11. Carolina Panthers (6-8): They must win out and get significant help to be in running for sixth seed. [Remaining games: vs. Falcons, at Buccaneers]

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

_____

The 40 things we learned from Week 15 of the NFL season:

1. Baby, it was cold out there on Sunday as the Polar Vortex took over Week 15.

2. The dramatic endings in four of the early afternoon games warmed the hearts of those who came out on the right side of the score, but that doesn’t mean it was all warm and fuzzy on Sunday.

3. The coldest move was made by the Jaguars, who fired coach Gus Bradley after the loss to the Texans. We knew it was coming, but with two weeks left? Happy holidays.

4. And since the Jaguars were in Houston, Bradley flew home on the team charter. #brrrr

5. The chill move was made by Texans coach Bill O’Brien, who yanked QB Brock Osweiler after a couple early interceptions.

6. Tom Savage came in, completed a 32-yard pass, went on to win the game and now we have a quarterback discussion in Houston.

7. And whoever thought a first-place team after 15 weeks would be meeting behind closed doors and deciding whether Brock Osweiler or Tom Savage could lead them to the Super Bowl? #yikes

8. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers showed the ice in his veins with a last-second, 60-yard completion to Jordy Nelson that helped Green Bay win a game they almost threw into Lake Michigan.

9. Speaking of ice, Chiefs coach Andy Reid used a timeout to “ice” Titans kicker Ryan Succop in the final seconds of the game. The timeout, as they usually do in those situations, came right before the snap, so Succop went through with the kick. It was short. After being “iced,” he made the 53-yarder to beat his former team.

10. No matter what the weather, Odell Beckham Jr. wears gloves on Sundays. And if you saw the way the ball stuck to that glove on his clinching TD, you know it’s not just a fashion statement.

11. We wonder (again) just what would it take for Walt Coleman’s crew to give Cam Newton a call. Even Dean Blandino didn’t jump on Twitter to defend the missed call against Newton on Monday night.

12. For the record, the Baltimore Ravens were the first team to score in the early games.

13. New England earned a first-round bye. Rinse, wash, repeat.

14. The Raiders are back in the playoffs. And the world is a better place because of it.

15. We wouldn’t have blamed Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer if he had used patches to cover both of his eyes during that 34-6 debacle.

16. Titans coach Mike Mularkey going for two points instead of the tie, on the road, with 3:12 to go in the game? Wow! That failed. The Titans pulled it out anyway. Double wow.

17. No Dak Prescott questions this week, right? Right?

18. Vikings DL Linval Joseph, all 329 pounds of him, attempted one of those try-to-hurdle-the-long-snapper-without-touching-him plays on a field goal attempt. It turned out like you thought it would.

19. What made it even sillier was it gave the Colts a first-and-goal and eventually a touchdown. We should have known then what kind of day it would be for Minnesota.

20. It seemed like referee Walt Anderson was sighing every time he announced a penalty during the Patriots-Broncos game. We feel ya.

21. The no-shows in Chicago: 16,536. Were the Cubs playing?

22. If you wait long enough, the Bengals always remember the script: Penalties on four straight defensive snaps were a big part of the Steelers’ drive that gave them the lead for good in the fourth quarter.

23. Before we pat GM John Elway on the back for passing on Osweiler, let’s remember he offered a reported $16 million per season for the QB to stay in Denver.

24. So Elway might have gotten lucky that Osweiler left, but it wasn’t like he was showing him the door.

25. Did people really criticize Doug Pederson for going for two after the Eagles scored to draw within one point of the Ravens with 4 seconds to go? When you’re 5-8, do you really want to play for a tie?

26.  The Cowboys defense is considered their weak link. But they were the difference Sunday night against the Buccaneers.

27. The Jaguars hadn’t had an interception since Week 4 before picking off Osweiler twice.

28. We are Jeff Fisher fans. Really, we are. But that was one whiny interview with FOX Sports on Sunday. Dude, you would have fired yourself if you were the owner. Probably long ago.

29. We’re glad we’re not Woody Johnson (except for the whole money thing). The Jets actually played hard, for the most part Saturday night, before melting under an avalanche of mistakes. So what to do with coach Todd Bowles? Not an easy decision.

30. And we don’t what to make of the fact Johnson actually left the stadium before the game was over. Except we don’t blame him.

31. Ndamukong Suh can certainly disrupt an offense when he is on his game. For a while there, we thought he was a Jets running back, he was in their backfield so often.

32. Your head will hurt reading all the playoff possibilities in the AFC South, so know this: If either the Texans or Titans win out, they win the title. The Colts need to win out and get help.

33. Pete Carroll. So easy to dislike. A fake punt when up 25 points with just over five minutes to play Thursday night? That’s almost as stupid as calling for a pass play from the 1-yard line with the Super Bowl on the line. Almost.

34. So now the reports say Buffalo will fire Rex Ryan but keep GM Doug Whaley. It will be the third head coach Whaley has a say in hiring. Which, to us, is one too many.

35. Maybe Rex will get the benefit of the doubt because five of his (seven) wins have come against quality opponents: Browns, Jaguars, Patriots (without Brady), Rams and 49ers. #kidding

36. And just like that, you wonder if the Washington Redskins will back up the money truck for Kirk Cousins in the offseason. One of the most interesting off-season stories to watch.

37. This Ty Montgomery from WR-to-RB transition during the season isn’t getting the attention it should. Guy had 123 yards rushing in the first half against the Bears.

38. Chargers owner Dean Spanos and Raiders owner Mark Davis were said to have had an animated conversation on the field before the game. Oh, to have been a proverbial fly on that midfield logo.

39. Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers showed they’re not quite ready for prime time. But watch out next season.

40. We tried to tell you to keep an eye on the Giants earlier this season. Hope you were listening.

NFL Week 15: Can Broncos thwart Tom Brady again?

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(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.

NFL Winter Meetings: Optimism for San Diego, Oakland lacking at NFL meetings

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IRVING, Texas (AP) — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell isn’t saying whether he’s optimistic that San Diego and Oakland can keep their teams, while Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay considers both franchises all but gone.

Dean Spanos of the Chargers and the Raiders’ Mark Davis weren’t talking at the NFL owners meeting Wednesday in the Dallas area. And no new specifics were revealed by Goodell a day after city and county officials in Oakland agreed to open negotiations with an investment group on a $1.3 billion plan for a new stadium.

“As you know, these issues have been going on for an awful long time,” Goodell said. “The challenges of getting stadiums built is something that we’ve worked very hard on. We have not made great progress in Oakland and San Diego. There is not a stadium proposal on the table that we think addresses the long-term issues of the clubs and the communities.”

The Chargers face a Jan. 15 deadline to decide whether to join the Rams in Los Angeles, part of a deal struck almost a year ago when owners agreed to let the Rams leave St. Louis. A Chargers-written ballot measure asking for $1.15 billion in increased hotel taxes to help fund a new downtown stadium was soundly defeated last month.

Earlier this year, Davis said he was committed to moving the Raiders to Las Vegas, where a $1.9 billion stadium project has been approved. He declined to comment Wednesday when asked by The Associated Press about the vote a day earlier in Oakland.

The Raiders will have from the end of their season, which will likely include their first trip to the playoffs since 2002, until Feb. 15 to apply for relocation. Irsay didn’t offer any encouraging words for San Diego or Oakland.

“I think that there is at this point really no reason for optimism in either market for the Chargers and Raiders right now,” Irsay said. “We’ll see what happens. That’s the way it appears to be going with the year ending here.”

Irsay said it would be “fruitless” to extend the deadline facing the Chargers on their Los Angeles decision. He suggested that Spanos and Rams owner Stan Kroenke would reach an agreement to share Kroenke’s new stadium in Inglewood.

“You know this process has been going on for a very, very long time in San Diego,” Irsay said. “Dean’s going to need to make a decision on what’s best for the Chargers and go forward. I know as owners we all felt two teams could be supported in Los Angeles, unquestionably.”

Goodell said the NFL was still committed to keeping the teams in their respective cities, a point he said he reiterated with San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer on Tuesday.

“But ultimately it’s for the community to decide,” Goodell said. “We have worked to try to get the referendum passed. And we’ll continue to work with the local officials. But ultimately, they have to determine what it is they want to do in the community, what it is that can work for the community and the team.”

Among other issues Goodell addressed:

—The salary cap will increase at least another $10 million for the fourth year in a row, which Goodell said was a sign that the labor deal reached in 2011 was working. “This is healthy for us,” Goodell said. “We should continue to find ways to continue to extend that and make sure that we address things that we think we could make better.”

When the NFL and the players’ union did a long-term deal with no opt-out clause, the idea was to help drive up revenues, which in turn makes the cap rise. The more the cap rises the more cash teams have to spend on players.

Had there been an opt-out clause, as previous collective bargaining agreements had, a lockout or strike scenario would have been possible during the contract.

Goodell mentioned the league is interested in an extension of the CBA. It’s unlikely the union would favor anything short of negotiations on a new deal in which both sides could address any perceived shortcomings in the current agreement.

—The NFL will experiment with the number of advertisements in TV breaks during Week 16 games as it continues to evaluate a decline in ratings this season. The changes are not expected to reduce the time for ads, but perhaps the number of ads in a break and how many breaks there are. “We’re evaluating every aspect of the game presentation on television, on media platforms and also in stadiums,” Goodell said.

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

NFL playoff picture: Steelers in, Ravens out but nothing clinched in Week 14

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(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today / AP)   —-    Here’s how the NFL playoff picture looks after Week 14’s games.

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

AFC
1. New England Patriots (11-2): AFC East leader. They’ll clinch the division and a first-round bye if they win Sunday or if the Miami Dolphins lose Saturday.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (10-3): AFC West leader. A win combined with a New England loss would move K.C. up to the top spot. But if the Chiefs lose, they could be overtaken by the Raiders for the division lead.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5): AFC North leader. The Baltimore Ravens are out of the picture after losing to the Patriots but would jump back into the field with a win and a Pittsburgh loss.
4. Houston Texans (7-6): AFC South leader. Despite their perfect division record, they’d relinquish first place if they lose and the Tennessee Titans win.
5. Oakland Raiders (10-3): Wild card No. 1. The Silver & Black can’t do any worse than remaining in this spot but could also get back into position for a bye or even home-field advantage if the Patriots and Chiefs stumble.
6. Denver Broncos (8-5): Wild card No. 2. The strength of victory tiebreaker currently keeps them ahead of Miami, but the Broncos could lose this spot to the Dolphins (8-5), Ravens (7-6) or Titans (7-6) this weekend.

____

 

NFC
x-1. Dallas Cowboys (11-2): NFC East leader. They failed to clinch the division and a first-round bye Sunday night but remain the favorite to win home-field advantage. A victory over the Bucs on Sunday night combined with a Giants loss would give Dallas the NFC East crown and a bye. If all that happens and Detroit loses, the Cowboys would secure the top seed.
2. Detroit Lions (9-4): NFC North leader. A win Sunday combined with a Green Bay Packers loss clinches Detroit’s first division title since 1993.
3. Seattle Seahawks (8-4-1): NFC West leader. A win over the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday clinches the division for Seattle. If the Seahawks falter again, they’ll still clinch with an Arizona Cardinals loss Sunday.
4. Atlanta Falcons (8-5): NFC South leader. Atlanta could drop out of the picture with a loss. However as long as the Falcons have the same record as Tampa Bay, they’ll hold the tiebreaker edge and retain first place in the division.
5. New York Giants (9-4): Wild card No. 1. A loss would drop them to sixth if Tampa Bay beats the Cowboys.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5): Wild card No. 2. They could wind up as high as the No. 2 seed or find themselves on the outside looking in if they lose to Dallas and the Washington Redskins (7-5-1) win. Neither the Minnesota Vikings (7-6) nor Green Bay Packers (7-6) can pass the Bucs or Falcons this week.

x — clinched playoff spot

______

Overreactions: Cowboys should bench Dak, start Romo

Get loose, Tony Romo.

Dak Prescott can’t beat the New York Giants, so the Cowboys have to bench him for Romo. Otherwise, Dallas (11-2) could be one-and-done in the playoffs.

Prescott had his worst game in a 10-7 loss to the Giants (9-4) on Sunday night. He threw two interceptions and had a season-low 139 yards passing. The rookie quarterback hasn’t thrown for 200 yards in three games and the Cowboys are a combined 2 for 24 on third downs the past two games after converting just once in 15 tries at New York.

Sure, that 11-game winning streak looked nice. But now the pressure is on. Romo certainly can handle it better than a 23-year-old fourth-round pick.

After all, Romo won two playoff games in 10 seasons.

Here are other overreactions following Week 14:

OVERREACTION: The Browns should give Terrelle Pryor a shot at quarterback. Cody Kessler (0-8), Josh McCown (0-3) and Robert Griffin III (0-2) are 0-13.

REALISTIC REACTION: Pryor is Cleveland’s best receiver and RG3 just returned from injury.

___

OVERREACTION: Matthew Stafford is the ultimate Comeback Kid and he’s taking the Lions to a division title.

REALISTIC REACTION: Eight comeback wins are impressive, but Detroit (9-4) has tough games coming up against the Giants, Cowboys and Packers (7-6) so their lead in the NFC North isn’t safe.

___

OVERREACTION: Le’Veon Bell is the Steelers MVP. While Ben Roethlisberger tossed three interceptions, Bell ran for a franchise-record 236 yards in a win at Buffalo.

REALISTIC REACTION: They lost their only game without Big Ben and went 2-1 without Bell. Those stats don’t lie.

___

OVERREACTION: DeSean Jackson will return to the Eagles next year.

REALISTIC REACTION: They need a playmaker and he’d like to come back, but rebuilding teams usually don’t pay big money to 30-year-old receivers.

___

OVERREACTION: The Seahawks won’t go anywhere in the playoffs because they can’t win on the road.

REALISTIC REACTION: Aaron Rodgers and the Packers have made plenty of teams look bad in December at Lambeau Field. Don’t count Seattle out yet.

___

OVERREACTION: The Titans (7-6) are going worst to first.

REALISTIC REACTION: The Texans (7-6) have an easier schedule, but the division should be decided when the teams meet Week 17 in Tennessee.

___

OVERREACTION: The Raiders got exposed in Kansas City.

REALISTIC REACTION: The Chiefs have won 20 of 23. Oakland (10-3) should be playing in January.

___

OVERREACTION: The defending Super Bowl champions won’t get a chance to repeat.

REALISTIC REACTION: The Broncos (8-5) have the toughest schedule down the stretch, but they’re tied with Miami for the second wild-card spot and the Dolphins lost QB Ryan Tannehill.

___

OVERREACTION: Tom Brady is the best athlete in sports history. At 39 years old, he threw for 406 yards and three TDs against the NFL’s top-ranked defense.

REALISTIC REACTION: Best quarterback? Probably. Athlete? Ali, Jordan and many more belong in that conversation.

___

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

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