Month: December 2016

NFL playoff scenarios, Week 17: Patriots can clinch top seed, Lions vs. Packers decides NFC North

Ten teams — the Dallas Cowboys, Atlanta Falcons, Seattle Seahawks, New York Giants, New England Patriots, Oakland Raiders, Pittsburgh Steelers, Houston Texans, Kansas City Chiefs, and Miami Dolphins — have clinched playoff spots for 2017. Four more are battling for the final two openings, while most of the 10 teams already in the playoffs are jostling for seeding and byes.

A Sunday Night Football matchup between the Packers and Lions will determine the NFC North winner, with the loser potentially getting bounced from the playoffs altogether or grasping on to a wild card berth.

The Falcons, Seahawks, Raiders, and Chiefs are all looking to join the Patriots and Cowboys as teams who get to avoid playing in the Wild Card round, while the Patriots look to secure their home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Here are all the current playoff clinching scenarios for the upcoming week, courtesy of the NFL.

The Seahawks kept rolling with a dominating win themselves, blowing out the Ravens 35-6 in Baltimore. Russell Wilson has the Seattle offense clicking at historic levels and the defense did their job in taking the Jimmy Clausen-led offense out of the game.

Elsewhere, the Saints knocked off the Buccaneers 24-17, the Browns dominated the 49ers 24-10 and the Rams outlasted the Lions in an ugly game, 21-14. Oh, and by the way, the Chargers, Titans, Ravens, Lions, and 49ers were all eliminated from NFL playoff contention.

New Orleans continued their Jekyll and Hyde season Sunday with a nice road win over the Buccaneers, but while they’ve been wildly inconsistent this year, Drew Brees has largely remained the constant. A testament to Brees’ consistency, the future Hall of Famer threw for 300-plus yards for the 93rd time in his career per ESPN Stats and Info, which ties Peyton Manning for the most in NFL history. Amazing.

Washington vs. Eagles 2015 live stream: Time, TV schedule and how to watch online

The NFC East’s long, bizarre season could come to a close on Saturday night when the Philadelphia Eagles host Washington. Or it could not conclude, because that’s how the NFC East rolls this year.

If Washington (7-7) wins, it clinches the division title and a No. 4 seed in the playoffs, no questions asked. However, if the Eagles (6-8) win, they control their own destiny and can clinch by beating the New York Giants the following week. Saturday’s win would give the Eagles an edge over Washington on division record, and next week’s win would drop the Giants to at least nine losses.

That sounds easier said than done if you watched Philadelphia on Sunday Night Football in Week 16. The Eagles were barely competitive in a 40-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, and their defense once again failed to show up.

They need to win out, and they need the Bengals to lose out, but the Steelers could earn one of the top three seeds in that scenario. If Pittsburgh can’t take the AFC North, they can grab a fifth or sixth seed as a wild card team. Currently, they are in a heated race for the wild card spots with the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets. All three teams are tied with a 9-5 record, though the Chiefs currently hold the tiebreak based on best win percentage in conference games.
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But the Giants still have a lot to offer on the field, and Manning is always dangerous at quarterback. Despite all of the issues this season, the Giants rank 12th in the league in total offense, and sixth in the league in passing yards per game at 270.1. That has also led to the sixth-most productive scoring offense with 26.6 points scored per game.
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Defensively is where things really fall apart for Coughlin’s Giants. They rank dead last in the league in yards allowed per game at 423.0, and 23rd in the league in points allowed, at 25.6.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy loved Rodgers’ run-the-table remark

“In my opinion, he’s the best out there because of all the different things he can do, his arm strength, the things he sees, the communication he has with the receivers, the way he moves in the pocket, and honestly I think they have a great scheme and the things they do for him,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said this week. “Anytime you’re playing a guy like him, you’re holding onto your rear end the whole game anyway.”
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Maybe it’s a coincidence but Rodgers seems to know just what to say and when it say it. His R-E-L-A-X comment on his ESPN Milwaukee radio show after the Packers started 1-2 in 2014 preceded a four-game winning streak on the way to a 12-4 season.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy loved Rodgers’ run-the-table remark.

“He’s disruptive. I don’t know if they have a stat for awarded sacks, where the quarterback’s running away from you and somebody else gets a sack, but I know he has at least five or six of those,” Ingram said. “Pass deflections, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, hurries, no runs coming to your side of the field because you’re setting the edge. … [He] leads the NFL in tackles for loss. I don’t know what else you’d ask for.”

Jordan, a two-time Pro Bowler, was hurt by the Saints’ record and the fact that he has only 6.5 sacks. But Pro Football Focus has him rated as the second-best edge rusher in the NFL behind only Khalil Mack because Jordan also ranks so high in categories like tackles for loss, run stops, QB hits and hurries and pass deflections.

Jordan cracked that he blames the “12th Man,” since two Seattle Seahawks defensive ends made the roster.

Game Kids Trae Waynes Jersey Brees and the Saints take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Saturday in New Orleans. While their chances are slim mathematically, they still have a shot at the playoffs but would need to win out.

Dak Prescott and Jameis Winston are two of the NFL’s emerging young stars at quarterback

Jeff Linkenbach Mens Jersey Peyton Manning is enjoying his first year of retirement after leaving the NFL with a win in Super Bowl 50.

Even at 39 years of age, Tom Brady is having another MVP-like campaign, but his seasons are dwindling. Drew Brees is 37. The top quarterbacks from the Class of 2004 — Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger — are 35, 34 and 35, respectively. Aaron Rodgers is 33. Before he suffered injuries the past two seasons, Tony Romo, who is 36, would have been on this list.

Over the next few years, the NFL will see a change at its most important position when these star quarterbacks begin to join Peyton Manning.
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The run-challenged Lions managed 56 rushing yards on 19 carries. Down four points in the fourth quarter, a team that has come back to win in eight of its nine victories this season instead saw its deficit grow thanks to big-play Beckham, who one-handed the game-sealing touchdown.

¡°There¡¯s no question that one of the strengths of Jameis coming out was the personality that he had,¡± Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. ¡°[He] played in a big-time program, had a lot of success, was clearly the leader of that program. When he was playing there [he was] the guy that everybody looked to, and you see it in his play.

¡°I¡¯ve always thought he¡¯s had tremendous poise. You can see it in his feet. You can see it in the pocket, the kind of poise he has. He doesn¡¯t seem to get rattled in there. Plays big. Plays tall.¡±

Ryan Succop’s game-winning 53-yard field goal in a frigid Arrowhead Stadium gave the Titans — and the ex-Chief — the win. Reed Hoffmann/Getty Images
Earlier, Succor and special-teams coach Steve Hoffman concluded the kicker’s maximum distance was probably 47 or 48 yards.

Browns’ Joe Haden: ‘We have the right head coach’

Three games remain in what has been a miserable season for the Cleveland Browns, but Joe Haden is already eager for 2017.

Limited Aubrayo Franklin Jersey “I’m super excited about it,” the cornerback said Friday.

And he meant it.

“You can be 0-13 one year and turn around and be 13-0 the next year,” linebacker Chris Kirksey said.

His example: The Raiders, who started 0-10 in the rookie seasons of Derek Carr and Khalil Mack. Oakland finished 3-13 and now are 10-3.

“At any moment things can change,” Kirksey said.
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“In ’08 down there, the night before, it was like minus-40,” he recalled this week. “I remember going to dinner thinking, ‘How the heck are we going to play in this tomorrow?’ It warmed up to about minus-it-was-in-the-teens, maybe, with the windchill. That was definitely a tough day as well, and a tough outcome for us.”

This year, it could make matters worse that Rodgers has a right calf injury that so far this week has prevented him from practicing. Rodgers said he has to make sure he drinks enough fluids on Sunday because muscle fatigue can be just as problematic in the cold.

Just about everyone who’s played in Green Bay or Chicago has a coldest-game-ever story. For Packers offensive line coach James Campen, it was Dec. 22, 1990, against the Lions. It was 2 degrees, which ranks as the fourth-coldest game in Lambeau Field history, and the former center tried to play in short sleeves.

“All of us linemen went out with no sleeves, and we all ran back in and put sleeves on,” Campen recalled. “There was only one guy who did not have sleeves on, and that was Sterling Sharpe. That was a cold day.”

For some, this Sunday might end up as their coldest-game ever.

“We’ll be able to get a full assessment in warmups — or I don’t know if you can call it warmups, for what we’re going to be dealing with out there,” receiver Davante Adams said. “Whatever it is, we’ll be ready.”

The Bengals use Eifert as a de facto slot receiver at times

The Bengals did this same thing against the Steelers a few weeks earlier. From the other side of the formation, they did a delayed release downfield, and after Eifert sold the pass-blocking set, he released and caught the ball in stride. That’s where, again, he does what most people his size cannot do. Especially that sick little spin move. How many 6’6, 250-pounders are that light on their feet?
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The Steelers have seen this play, so they’ll be ready for it this weekend, of course. But it’s not like the Bengals hadn’t put it on tape before their Week 14 matchup. Here’s the same concept from Week 12. Again, it’s just so hard to pick up as the defense.

Elite Youth Justin Williams Jersey For the second year in a row, the Jazz are jostling for dead last in pace. They jog it up, take their positions, and fly through complex sequences of cuts and screens until something cracks. “I used to say, ‘Gosh, we are playing slow — am I bad at my job?'” Snyder recalled, laughing. “But we just don’t have a team that is going to be quite as good playing fast.”

It requires a fine balance: Work the offense, but not so long that you run up against the shot clock. “You always want to get up shots in the segments of the shot clock where you can be efficient,” Snyder said. “Teams that have more shooting are probably going to shoot faster, because they can find good shots early. We just kind of gravitated toward this style.”

Teams that have more shooting. The Jazz can be a good team playing the Gobert-Favors combo 25 or 30 minutes per game. They just don’t know if they can be a great one, and if they can’t — if they have to stagger them more — whether it makes sense to pay both of them near-max contracts. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph navigated tight quarters with one-on-one post-up brutality and brainy interior passing.

Joe Thomas excels for the Cleveland Browns, but how long will he stick around to start winning?

Joe Thomas excels for the Cleveland Browns, but how long will he stick around to start winning? Senior writer Liz Merrill offers insight.

THERE IS SOMETHING romantic, or maybe maniacal, about a man who comes to work every day, pours his heart and soul into preparing for a game and does so well that he grades off the charts, but loses that game nearly every week and still comes back every Monday for more.

In Greek mythology, a guy named Sisyphus was punished by being forced to roll a gigantic boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back repeatedly, for eternity. That’s Joe Thomas, seemingly. But Thomas didn’t do anything wrong to warrant his boulder.
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“Get the f— out of here,” he told Painter.

He was asked how often he thinks about using early play-calls to set up later opportunities.
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“Always,” Bevell said. “I’m always trying to think ahead and always trying to set things up.”

During various film sessions this season, the Seahawks have noticed the effectiveness of the fly sweep. They saw the Atlanta Falcons have success with it and took note of the Kansas City Chiefs using it against the Bucs.

On three separate occasions in the first half, the Seahawks used 13 personnel (one RB, three TEs) and showed fly-sweep motion. But instead of giving Lockett the ball, he helped block the edge defender, and they handed off to the running back.

The play where they finally gave Lockett the ball featured a nearly identical look to the previous three — 13 personnel and Russell Wilson under center.

Bengals fans threw garbage at an injured Ben Roethlisberger as he was carted off the field

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It’s becoming a hostile environment in Cincinnati, with tempers flaring up on both sides. There have been some questionable incidents and neither side is thrilled with the other. It’s extended to the stands, where things got a bit ugly after Ben Roethlisberger got injured.

Aqib Talib Authentic Jersey There were cheers after Roethlisberger got injured and at least one fan threw something at the Pittsburgh quarterback as he was being carted back to the locker room.

That’s just one of several incidents. The Bengals were unhappy with a hit on Giovani Bernard while Pittsburgh coach Mike Munchak shoved a Bengals player on the sideline.

That was not the first play in which Watt simply went down without being completely forced down. He’s been sluggish and only had one tackle before exiting the game in the second half.

If Seattle is able to contain Peterson and force the Vikings to move the ball via Teddy Bridgewater’s arm, Minnesota could be staring at an early exit from the playoffs and Seattle could be one step closer to a third consecutive Super Bowl trip.

The battle for field position is often a pivotal and deciding factor in playoff games, where teams are typically more evenly matched on offense and defense. Both the Seahawks and Vikings feature strong special teams play, and whichever club can execute better in the third phase of the game could have a significant advantage.

They rank third and fourth, respectively, in Football Outsiders’ unit ratings, and each is led by a dynamic return specialist. The Vikings’ Cordarrelle Patterson led the NFL in kick return average (31.8), and was the only player in the league to bring back two kickoffs for touchdowns. The Seahawks’ Tyler Lockett, meanwhile, was third in both kickoff return yardage and punt return yardage, and has scored both as a punt returner and a kickoff returner.

Chiefs vs. Patriots 2016 preview, NFL playoffs: Defending champs get 1st test against surging Kansas City

The question of how much momentum really matters in the NFL playoffs will be put to the ultimate test when the Kansas City Chiefs travel to Foxborough for a Divisional round showdown with the New England Patriots.

The Chiefs enter as the undisputed hottest team in the league. They’ve won 11 straight games including a 30-0 dismantling of the Houston Texans in last weekend’s Wild Card game. With that win, Andy Reid’s team finally buried its playoff demons, snapping an eight-game playoff losing streak that was tied for the longest in NFL history. Kansas City did it in style, too, putting up the biggest shutout by a road team in the playoffs since the 1968, when the Colts beat the Browns 34-0.

Coming off such a dominant performance and riding an extended win streak, however, has little predictive power. In the past 25 years, seven other teams posted a shutout in the playoffs. The only one of those seven clubs to win its next game was the Carolina Panthers in 2005. The Chiefs are also the 10th team since the 1970 merger to enter the playoffs on a double-digit win streak. Of the previous nine teams, four didn’t make it past the Divisional round.
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Still, the Chiefs’ dominance over the past three months is especially notable in a wide-open AFC race where no contending team carries that overwhelming air of invincibility. In fact, since Kansas City last lost a game — in Week 6 at Minnesota — every other AFC team suffered at least four losses (including the playoffs).

However, after the team lost running back Jamaal Charles to an ACL injury, it was forced to recalibrate its offensive approach. That required Smith to play more aggressively, which in turn produced better results. Still, the running game remains an important part of the attack, with Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware sharing the load.

Authentic Austin Johnson Jersey Meanwhile in New England, the Patriots hope that the time off will allow Julian Edelman to fully recover from a foot injury and reintegrate himself into the offense. At the time of Edelman’s injury, he led the team in receptions (61) and receiving yards (692) while leading all New England wideouts with seven touchdowns. If he returns, Kansas City can’t devote as many resources to covering Rob Gronkowski, the league’s premier tight end and Tom Brady’s favorite target.

What’s next for Gronk?

The Raiders, who are battling with the Patriots for the AFC’s No. 1 seed, stand to be one of the main beneficiaries of Gronkowski’s injury. Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Meanwhile, the Broncos play the Patriots in Denver in Week 15, and Gronkowski’s absence might be enough to turn coach Gary Kubiak’s team from slight underdogs in that game to slight favorites. The Broncos don’t need that victory to make the playoffs from where they are now at 7-4, but it’s also the toughest remaining game on their schedule. They have road trips to Jacksonville and Tennessee coming up; if they can win both of those games and then beat the Gronk-less Patriots in Week 15, the Broncos would be 10-4 and in great shape to make it back to the postseason.
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Mens Darren Helm Jersey It also benefits the two favorites in the NFC, Dallas and Seattle, who combine to have a 65.3 percent chance of making it to the Super Bowl from the other side of the bracket. Both would rather not see Gronk. Among the their pass defenses, tight end coverage has been both teams’ biggest issue. The Seahawks are 18th in defensive DVOA against tight ends, their worst mark against any position. It’s even more noticeable for the Cowboys, who were the third-worst team in the league against tight ends heading into Thursday night’s win over the Vikings. They will still have to deal with Bennett, but Gronkowski is unlikely to be marching on them in Houston.

The nightmare scenario just came true for the Patriots. Given how well Jimmy Garoppolo played during the first two games of the season, you might be able to make a case that Rob Gronkowski was New England’s most irreplaceable superstar. The Patriots will be forced to find out whether that’s true, as Gronkowski will undergo surgery for a ruptured disk in his back on Friday. The injury will likely end Gronk’s season after just eight games, 25 catches and three touchdowns, though the team and Gronkowski’s family said in a joint statement that they wanted to wait until after the surgery to make a “final determination.”

This has to be a shock to the Patriots, who used their lone injured reserve/designated to return slot on Jacoby Brissett earlier this week when they obviously would have spent it on Gronkowski if they thought he would require surgery or had a chance of coming back. There’s nothing the Patriots can do about the injury, and there’s no sense crying over spilled milk. What’s important now is figuring out what’s next — for the Patriots, Gronkowski and the rest of the NFL. Let’s start with New England, which suddenly has a crater-sized hole in their path to the Super Bowl …

What’s next for the Patriots?

This is not uncharted territory for the Patriots. Gronkowski already has missed three games this year and played a limited role in two others. He hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2011, though Gronkowski made it through 15 games in 2014 before sitting out a meaningless season-ender in Week 17. The idea of having to definitively plan for a short-term (and possibly a long-term) future without Gronk is unfamiliar, though; this is the first serious injury the likely future Hall of Famer has suffered since 2013, when he tore his ACL and MCL in a collision with then-Browns safety T.J. Ward.