AROUND THE NFL

Suddenly in the AFC, it is almost assured that all roads to the Super Bowl will go through Baltimore.

 

And the Raiders and Colts are now two games below the playoff line with three to play.  Those two teams and Cleveland hope that Buffalo clinches a playoff berth this week by beating Pittsburgh.

 

In the AFC –

                                               Overall          Div Rk       Conf Rec

 

1          p -Baltimore       North        11-2            1             7-2

1          New England     East          10-3            1             6-3          

4          pd -Kansas City West          9-4             1             7-3        

3          Houston             South         8-5             1             7-3        

5          Buffalo             WC               9-4             2            6-3

6          Pittsburgh        WC               8-5             2            6-3          

7          Tennessee                           8-5             3              6-4

8          Cleveland                             6-7             3              6-4

9          Oakland                                6-7             2             4-5          

10        Indianapolis                          6-7             2             5-6          

 

Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com on the two big AFC games of Week 15 involving teams 3 thru 7 on the chart above:

 

When the NFL scheduled the Texans and Titans to play twice in the final three weeks of the season, it couldn’t have known that the divisional race would come down to those matchups.

 

That’s how things have worked out, though. The Texans have gone 4-3 over their last seven games while the Titans have gone 6-1 to close the gap ahead of their first meeting in Week 15. That will be one of the biggest games of the weekend, but not the only big one.

 

Sunday night will see the Bills and Steelers square off in a game that will help determine the Wild Card pecking order. The AFC South team that doesn’t win the division could factor into that race as well, so there’s still a lot to sort out even if the top of the conference is pretty well settled at this point.

– – –

Peter King is on a campaign to get better seeding for Wild Card teams, and he gets help from longtime football maven Howard Balzer:

 

The esteemed Howard Balzer checks in. From Howard Balzer, of St. Louis: “Keep banging the drum about the issue of division winners guaranteed a home game in the playoffs. I’ve been tracking it since 2002 when the league went to the current setup and predicted then it would be an issue because there are only six division games per team and that so much is determined by the divisions teams play. You mentioned what could happen this year with the NFC East. In 2010, Seattle won the NFC West with a 7-9 record and hosted 11-5 New Orleans. The Seahawks won. There have been four other examples where the win difference was four games. Overall, there are at least one and sometimes two games each year where a wild card with a better record has to go on the road against a division winner. It’s happened 23 times.”

 

Thanks for the solid and provable point, Howard. I always ask this question: Is it possible, just possible, that the best two teams in football one year could be in the same division? Yes. Of course it is. So wouldn’t you want to ensure against one of them, the second-best of 32 NFL teams, having to play three road games to even qualify for the Super Bowl? Your point is unexpected, that 23 times in 16 years a wild-card team with a better record has to be the roadie in the first round. Unexpected and stark. The argument for a guaranteed home game is so specious. I hope this year the NFC East is won by a 7-9 team, and a 13-3 five seed has to travel to that team in the wild-card game. Maybe the absurdity of penalizing a great wild-card team will hit home then.

 

What King and Balzer see as a bug, the NFL sees as a positive?  Which Wild Card Week playoff game is likely to be more compelling – Seattle at Dallas or Dallas at Seattle?  Giving lesser teams homefield advantage is not “fair” but it does make for better games.

 

This from Adam Schefter of ESPN.com on the NFL’s thinking:

 

With the NFC East winner poised to have a .500-or-worse record and with NFC wild-card teams expected to have double-digit victories, there have been increasing public calls for the playoffs to be reseeded.

 

But those calls are mostly from fans and the media; they have not happened within the NFL.

 

A source with knowledge of the NFL’s thinking said the idea of reseeding teams has come up but “has gotten zero steam. It’s never been a consideration.”

 

So one of the NFC East teams, likely the Dallas Cowboys (6-7) or the Philadelphia Eagles (5-7), will wind up hosting a playoff game at a time when its record is worse than that of the wild-card teams that open the postseason on the road.

 

As odd as the records might appear this season, the NFL doesn’t believe there’s reason to change its seeding format for future postseasons, either.

 

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

Peter King praises Matt Nagy as a Coach of the Week for the way he has brought QB MITCHELL TRUBISKY out of the doldrums:

 

Matt Nagy, head coach, Chicago. With everyone in Chicagoland howling for the head of Mitchell Trubisky, and everyone in medialand (including me) calling for Trubisky to be benched, Nagy stood behind Trubisky continually. Maybe Nagy felt he had to. Maybe he did it because the Bears were 3-5 and he viewed Chase Daniel as an emergency guy, not a quarterback to lead a team to the playoffs. But Trubisky started a turnaround in part of the Bears’ Week-12 win over the Giants, and then, in the last two games (at Detroit, Dallas at home), he’s been a 116.9-rating passer, completing 75.4 percent of his throws. Against Dallas, he led scoring drives of 46, 46, 69, 79 and 50 yards, and he ran confidently, with a season-high 10 carries for a season-best 63 yards. Coaches have to swim against the tide at times, and sometimes it kills the team and sometimes it gives the team life. Now, it looks like Nagy’s endless votes of confidence in his battered quarterback were smart and important.

 

 

DETROIT

Peter King takes umbrage with Lions Coach Matt Patricia for trying to buck up his downward spiraling team:

 

“The hard thing for us … What I appreciate about this team is we don’t look at our record and say, ‘This is what we are.’ I think we look at our record and say, ‘That’s not what we are.’ “

—Detroit coach Matt Patricia, per Chris Burke of The Athletic.

 

I think that is a pile of crap. You are what your record says you are. The Lions are 3-9-1. They’ve won one of the last 10 games. Including the last 10 games of last season, Detroit has won six of its last 23 games. If you’re a good team masking a few deficiencies, you don’t win once a month. And Matthew Stafford has played 18 of those 23 games. Teams win without their starting quarterback. Drew Lock, two wins in a row in Denver. Devlin Hodges, 4-0.

 

I don’t know. That quote, to me, was weak.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Add Jimmy Johnson to those who believe Jason Garrett is done in Dallas, even if he “wins” the NFC East.  Jason Owens of YahooSports.com:

 

The writing is very much on the wall for Jason Garrett.

 

Take it from someone who’s been there before — Jimmy Johnson.

 

Barring a stunning deep run into the playoffs, Garrett’s 10-season tenure as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys is done.

 

He’ll likely finish the season. But even if the Cowboys back their way into the playoffs by virtue of winning one of the worst divisions in the history of the NFL, they don’t look like a team that can win in the postseason.

 

And if they don’t, Johnson believes that “nobody will be happy” if Garrett were to return next season to coach the Cowboys.

 

 “I don’t think so,” Johnson said of Garrett returning to the Cowboys on Sunday in his capacity as a Fox NFL analyst. “I think even if they win the division and even if they’re in the playoffs — I don’t see them winning a playoff game — and I think the negativity in Dallas and around the Cowboys right now, it would be miserable if he continued to be the head coach.

 

“Nobody would be happy if he continued to be the head coach a year from now.”

 

Johnson should have a gauge of what Jones is thinking in terms of Garrett. He’s been ousted by Jones before.

 

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

The Giants have signed P RILEY DIXON to an extension.  Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News:

 

Giants punter Riley Dixon has signed a three-year contract extension, the team confirmed Sunday.

 

Beyond locking up one of their only consistent players this season, the deal interestingly indicates that GM Dave Gettleman is still empowered to hand out contracts that impact the club’s future.

 

Dixon, 26, is due to hit unrestricted free agency in March. Letting Gettleman re-sign him doesn’t guarantee the GM’s job is secure for a third season, since the Giants aim to retain good players.

 

But ownership could have held off on any extension negotiations until the offseason if they were planning to blow up their front office to let a new GM rebuild the team in his own vision.

– – –

It looks like QB ELI MANNING could finish out the year.  NFL.com:

 

Tonight’s return to the New York Giants starting lineup won’t be Eli Manning’s only start down the stretch.

 

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport and NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported Monday morning that Daniel Jones’ high-ankle sprain is expected to keep the rookie quarterback out 2-4 weeks, per sources informed of the situation.

 

With Manning making his start tonight in Philadelphia against the Eagles, the timetable means that Manning will play at least one last home game — Week 15 against the Miami Dolphins — and perhaps more.

 

A fan favorite for years, Manning’s biggest backers wear blue in the MetLife Stadium stands. For what surely feels like the end for the two-time Super Bowl champ in New York, at least he’ll have one last swan song in front of his faithful fans.

 

It’s conceivable the 2-9 Giants decide to shut down Jones for the rest of the season and allow Manning an attempt to author a proper goodbye to close his final season in New York.

 

After taking on the Eagles tonight and Miami at home next week, Big Blue closes at Washington and home against Philly.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

How important is getting to the opposing passer for the Falcons who have 23 sacks this year?

 

They have 19 sacks in their 4 wins, including five in each of their wins over Carolina.

 

They only have a total of 4 in their 9 losses.

 

 

TAMPA BAY

After passing for 456 yards against the Colts, JAMEIS WINSTON is on a pace for 5,113 passing yards this season.

 

He would be only the 8th QB ever to achieve 5,000 pass yards in a season (DAK PRESCOTT could be the 9th). 

 

He’s also tied for 2nd in the NFL with 26 TD passes, heading for the low 30s.

 

But his 23 INTs are seven more than anyone else.  There have been 11 seasons with 30+ INTs in NFL history – the last was 35 by Vinny Testaverde of the Buccaneers in 1988,

 

His future for 2019 is still in doubt.

 

NFC WEST

 

SAN FRANCISCO

Peter King dissects the final moments of San Francisco’s dramatic road win:

 

The league’s top-heavy this year, and six teams have 10 or 11 wins heading into the last three weeks. Two of those teams, Seattle and San Francisco, are in the NFC West, and one could finish 13-3 and face nothing but road games to get to the Super Bowl. Entering Sunday, Seattle and San Francisco were 10-2, but Seattle had the tiebreaker edge, so the Niners were ensconced as a wild card as they took the Superdome field. “Kyle talked to us about that before the game,” Kittle told me. “Technically, we were the fifth seed. But we’ve got our destiny in our hands. We knew that.”

 

The game was insane. Each team scored four times in the first half, four times in the second. It was 28-27, Niners, at the half. After halftime, the teams ping-ponged points: Saints first, then Niners, Saints, Niners, Saints, Niners, and then, with 53 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Saints, on an 18-yard touchdown pass from Drew Brees to Tre’quan Smith to make it 46-45, New Orleans. No one open on the two-point conversion pass. So if San Francisco could kick a field goal, that’d end it.

 

It’ll take days to digest what happened in New Orleans on Sunday in the game of the year. If it ended Saints 46, Niners 45, which was the score after 59 minutes and 20 seconds, we’d probably still call it the game of the year. But the fact that it didn’t, and the fact that something happened on fourth-and-2 that immediately takes its place in all-time 49ers lore, and vaulted San Francisco from fifth to first in the NFC playoff race with three games to go, well, that makes it all NFL Filmsy/tingly and massively important in the playoff race at the same time.

 

“The whole day,” George Kittle said an hour after it was over, “for me, was one of the best experiences of my life. The place was crazy, fans were nuts, you couldn’t hear. Such a fun environment.”

 

Even if you’ve seen the play 10 times by now, there are things you don’t know, things you’ll want to know.

 

The scene: 39 seconds left, fourth-and-2 for San Francisco at its 33-yard line. The 49ers needed at least 32 yards to get in range for a Robbie Gould field-goal try. Two-by-two formation, two receivers left and a tight end and wideout right, with Raheem Mostert a sidecar to Jimmy Garoppolo. The play clock wound down . . . :04, :03 . . . Garoppolo nervously clapping now, :02, not wanting a delay . . . :01, Shotgun snap precisely at :00 . . .

 

But wait. Timeout. Coach Kyle Shanahan called a timeout. “I’m just trying to call the right play,” Shanahan said later. He barely called time in time. But he thought of something better to get the two yards. Something better named George Kittle. Kittle was going to be the epicenter on this Choice route, and he and Garoppolo knew it.

 

Garoppolo never went to the sideline. Above the din in the huddle, he heard Shanahan call the play in his helmet very soon after the timeout. Right away, he looked at Kittle.

 

“Hey, you’re gonna get the ball on this,” Garoppolo, the cool jillionaire, told Kittle, the 146th pick in the 2017 draft. “You better win.”

 

Thirty-nine seconds left. Aaah, this was different now: Shanahan bunched three receivers just outside the left tackle: Kendrick Bourne the tip of the spear, with Emmanuel Sanders to his left and a full step back, and Kittle slightly right and behind Bourne. You could see what Shanahan had in mind. Bourne and Sanders would clear out for Kittle, and unless Saints defensive coordinator decided to double Kittle, Garoppolo would make Kittle the first read. At the snap, Bourne ran hard up the left seam, and Sanders did a five-yard crossing route, left to right. And there was one man, rookie safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, guarding Kittle, with safety Marcus Williams about 10 yards upfield protecting over the top if Kittle beat the kid.

 

“On the Choice route,” Kittle said, “you just motion over [from right to left, into the formation], and if it’s man, I line up behind Emmanuel and KB and they clean it out for me. The guy covering me sat pretty far inside. ‘Choice’ means I can break in, or break out. With him sitting inside, [Gardner-Johnson] basically made the decision for me, so I broke out.”

 

Kittle, on third down, hadn’t gotten inside Gardner-Johnson, who broke up the short pass from Garoppolo to make it fourth-and-two. But on the fourth down call, Shanahan was right to call time and switch the play. The wideouts cleared out the space and forced the Saints into man coverage on Kittle. Garoppolo led him perfectly and hit Kittle precisely at the first-down mark, the 35-yard line. Gardner-Johnson dove at Kittle’s legs. He missed. Kittle turned upfield along the left sideline.

 

Kittle was unchallenged till midfield. Williams reached and unintentionally grabbed Kittle’s facemask with his right hand, and Kittle became a bucking maniac. He reminded me of Mark Bavaro in that 1986 Giants-49ers game, carrying Ronnie Lott for 12 yards and needing three Niners to bring him down. Funny thing: Kittle wasn’t upset that Williams gabbed and tugged the mask. “I knew he’d get flagged for it, so I was actually happy—it just meant 15 more yards for us,’’ he said.

 

“So,” I said, “what’s going through your mind as this guys grabbing your facemask and not letting go, and two other guys join in to try to take you down? You remember?”

 

“Get as many yards as I can, and hold onto the damn football.”

 

From the contact/facemask-hold by Williams till three Saints hogtied him down: 20 yards.

 

The gain: 39 yards. Add the 14 yards (half the distance to the goal line) for the facemask call, and San Francisco had first-and-10 at the Saints’ 14.

 

The little fourth-and-two gambit—Shanahan’s last-millisecond timeout, the efficient and necessary Bourne and Sanders clearout, and the 37-yard Kittle run, looking like a bull rider in one of those Texas bars—netted 53 yards. Fifty-three yards! Not bad for a guy who’d caught only 48 balls in four years at Iowa before the Niners saw something athletic and tough in him in the scouting process.

 

“It was pretty fun,” Kittle said.

 

“Your biggest play ever?” I asked.

 

“With what was at stake, probably.”

 

The Niners’ bench went nuts on the play. “Most people would go down and complain to the refs about the facemask,” Richard Sherman said. “He was like, I’m going to bully you all the way to the end zone or until you stop me. We don’t win the game without that play.”

 

Shanahan was already thinking of what to call after the fourth-and-two conversion. “Kittle took care of that,” he said.

 

 “Football’s the best thing in the world,” Kittle said, practically gushing over the phone from Louisiana. (I was gushing too, after that ridiculous game.) “What this means to us, what it means to the Saints, what it means to the fans, who were incredible. The team aspect of the game, the way everyone here feels like a part of something special . . . that’s what it is—special. Now, we’ve got 24 hours to celebrate this bad boy. Then we’re onto next week. I can’t wait to play more football back in San Francisco.”

 

Interesting road now. With the Seattle loss at the Rams on Sunday night, San Francisco takes over first place and the top NFC seed at 11-2. The Falcons and Rams come to Santa Clara in the next two weeks, while 10-3 Seattle is at Carolina and home to Arizona in the next two weeks. There’s a real chance the San Francisco-at-Seattle game in Week 17 could be immense. The division title, a first-round bye and the dreaded five seed all could be at stake Dec. 29 at CenturyLink Field. That game might mean more than the one Sunday in New Orleans, but I have no idea how it could be any more fun and compelling.

 

 

SEATTLE

The Seahawks lost a game – and a running back – Sunday night in Los Angeles.  Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times:

 

Just when running back Rashaad Penny had become the player the Seahawks had envisioned when they drafted him in the first round in 2018, he suffered a “significant” knee injury Sunday night, Pete Carroll said.

 

Carroll said Penny has an ACL sprain.

 

Penny, who was the 27th overall pick in 2018 out of San Diego State, left the game after being injured on Seattle’s first series of the game and was initially listed as questionable to return. After being evaluated on the sideline, he was downgraded to out.

 

Penny was injured when he was tackled by former UW standout Taylor Rapp at the end of a 16-yard reception with 11:51 to play in the first quarter. He had taken a short pass from Russell Wilson on play-action and attempted to evade the tackle of Rapp near the Seattle sideline.

 

After he fell to the ground, Penny rolled onto his front and pounded the turf as the play ended.

 

“It was a big injury,” fellow running back Chris Carson said. “That’s like my brother, so it was tough seeing him go down.”

 

Penny was coming off the best two-game stretch of his two-year career while sharing time with Chris Carson at tailback, gaining 129 yards on 14 carries against the Eagles on Nov. 24 and 74 yards on 15 carries against the Vikings last week, when he also scored touchdowns running and receiving.

 

With Penny having emerged the last two weeks, the Seahawks were planning to share time at the tailback spot after Carson had been the primary ball carrier the first 10 games.

 

But the Seahawks will have to rely more on Carson if Penny is out for any length of time.

 

Penny missed three games earlier in the season with a hamstring injury and had just 20 carries in an eight-game stretch before breaking out with his career-high performance against the Eagles.

 

Without Penny, the only other two tailbacks on the roster are rookie Travis Homer — whose only carry before Sunday night came on a fake punt — and C.J. Prosise. Prosise, a third-round pick in 2016, was active for the game, just his seventh of the season.

 

“The obvious thing is that C.J steps up,” Carroll said. “… So we are very fortunate to have C.J. coming up and (Travis) Homer is still available to us.”

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

Has Denver found a QB in rookie DREW LOCK?  Peter King:

 

Lock did not have much fun for three months this season. It was almost like a redshirt year, starting it with a hand injury that forced him to IR till mid-November, and to a backup role till his first start eight days ago against the Chargers. “I’d say it was a mixture of torture, nice to have time to learn, sucks to be on the sidelines, everything ended up working out . . . if that sounds right,” Lock said Sunday after the 38-24 win over the Texans. “I did get to learn at my own pace and figure everything out.”

 

Managed well last week in beating Los Angeles, Lock was freer to take some shots Sunday in Houston, and the Broncos built a 38-3 lead midway through the third quarter against the team we all thought would win the AFC South. Lock had three touchdown passes before halftime. They weren’t bombs, but he did have accurate deeper throws for Tim Patrick and DaeSean Hamilton for 37 and 27 yards.

 

The Broncos have been searching for the heir to Peyton Manning for four years, obviously, and Lock’s the closest thing they’ve found. In the last three weeks, starting in Lock’s hometown of Kansas City this weekend (a good test with the revived KC defense), he’ll need to show he’s comfortable with taking more downfield risks, and succeeding at them. Through two games, he’s a 72.7 percent passer with a 111.4 rating—though young quarterbacks often debut strong on rating because they’re being protected by their play-callers. Lock hopes he can play well enough to ensure the Broncos don’t focus on a quarterback in the 2020 draft. A month ago, they might have. If Lock continues at this pace, I doubt John Elway will use a high pick on a passer. “It wouldn’t matter what the level of football was,” Lock said. “Youth league, high school, college, NFL. I never want to give my job up. I certainly don’t want to give it up now.”

 

Not sure there’s a quarterback having any more fun than Lock either. He leads the league in emotive smiles after just two weeks of playing. “I’ll put it like this,” he said. “You work your whole life, practice all the time, private quarterback workouts, get pummeled, and your whole goal is to get to the NFL. Now that I’m here, I can tell you: It’s a frickin’ blast.”

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

Peter King on the Ravens:

 

Two months ago, the Ravens embarked on a hellscape of a schedule—at Seattle, New England, at Cincinnati (chortle), Houston, at the Rams, San Francisco, at Buffalo—that even the optimistic Baltimoreans would have been thrilled going 5-2. The Ravens went 7-0. They averaged 35.1 points per game and never gave up more than 20 in a game. They’ve developed a sneaky-good pass-rush, led by Judon and his 8.5 sacks, and they’re great closers, allowing just 7.8 points per second half all season. “We feel battle-tested,” Judon said. “We can win games—we can be the sparkplug when it’s needed. I think that started in Seattle, with a very tough road win and surviving a tough environment.” Conquering five (maybe six) playoff foes in two months has given Baltimore the confidence to know it can win lots of ways in January.

 

It looks like the knee injury to TE MARK ANDREWS is not serious.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Monday morning that the knee injury suffered by Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews is considered minor, per a source informed of the situation. Andrews should be OK moving forward, Rapoport added.

 

Andrews played just nine snaps in Sunday’s 24-17 win before leaving with the knee injury. He caught one pass on three targets for 14 yards before exiting.

 

The 24-year-old tight end has been one of Lamar Jackson’s favorite targets this season, gobbling up 707 yards on 54 receptions with seven touchdowns.

 

With the Ravens playing Thursday night against the New York Jets, it’s questionable whether Andrews will be healthy enough for the quick turnaround this week. Avoiding a major injury, however, is great news for Baltimore long-term as they sprint towards a playoff bye.

 

 

CLEVELAND

QB BAKER MAYFIELD sides with WR ODELL BECKHAM, Jr. in a medical dispute.  YahooSports.com:

 

Each week, the Cleveland Browns find a new, creative way to spiral into chaos.

 

On Sunday, Baker Mayfield took a starring role.

 

The Cleveland quarterback injected a new round of controversy into the disaster that is the 2019 Browns with postgame comments calling out the team’s medical staff over its handling of Odell Beckham Jr.’s health.

 

Then he walked it back on Twitter.

 

And this call came after a 27-19 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

 

When asked about a report that Beckham needs offseason surgery, Mayfield jumped right into laying blame on the the Browns training staff.

 

 “I’d say that it wasn’t handled right. He’s not able to run as well as he should be able to, as well he knows — and that’s frustrating for him,” Mayfield said. “You can sense that’s some of his frustration, where that comes from.

 

“It wasn’t handled the right way in our training room. It is what it is.”

 

When asked to clarify, Mayfield said that “it could have been addressed earlier on.”

 

“Obviously, hindsight’s 20/20, but he probably would have missed the first two, one or two, based on the fact that it was during training camp,” Mayfield continued. “It is what it is. We’re here right now. It’s too late to do that. He’s fighting through pain, he’s playing through pain.”

 

It is what it is

In case you’re keeping tally, that’s two “it is what it is” remarks in one podium appearance, the siren call of the dejected and defeated.

 

Mayfield’s comments are in response to a report that Beckham needs sports hernia surgery. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported early Sunday that the Browns struggling star receiver has dealt all season with a sports hernia that’s “serious and often painful” and will require an offseason procedure.

 

Mayfield, who has taken a large brunt of the blame for failed connections with Beckham, seemed eager to point criticism elsewhere.

 

And in all honesty, he may be right. If Beckham’s medical issues were clear in the preseason, then the Browns should have probably addressed the situation then.

 

But spreading blame is unbecoming of an NFL quarterback, a message that Mayfield clearly got shortly after his comments started to garner attention.

 

Baker walks it back

Not long after his postgame comments, Mayfield walked them back on Twitter.

 

@bakermayfield

My intentions were not to throw our medical staff under the bus. No I don’t know all the facts about Odell’s injury. It was emotionally answered because I can sense his frustration and I care about my team and putting us in the best position to win.

 

@bakermayfield

 · 18h

My intentions were not to throw our medical staff under the bus. No I don’t know all the facts about Odell’s injury. It was emotionally answered because I can sense his frustration and I care about my team and putting us in the best position to win.

 

@bakermayfield

Those people within our building know my intentions and where I am coming from. I truly believe that and I apologize to those that don’t deserve the backlash…. today was a good team win. On to the next one.

 

It’s difficult to take that walk-back seriously. Mayfield’s initial statement was blunt, clear and on target.

 

But after some time to cool down, Mayfield apparently decided it was a better look to try and put his quarterback hat back on and focus on a “good team win.”

 

That, or he was told to do so by management.

– – –

This from Bryan DeArdo of CBSSports.com on Beckham’s reported desire for another trade:

 

Prior to Cleveland’s Week 14 win over Cincinnati, reports surfaced about Browns receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s desire to join a new team after the 2019 season. Beckham, who has reportedly been dealing with a sports hernia injury since training camp, caught just two of five targets for 39 yards in the Browns’ 27-19 win.

 

On Monday, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, after speaking to a Browns official, said on “SportsCenter” that there is “no way” the Browns trade Beckham during the 2020 offseason after giving up 2017 first-round safety Jabrill Peppers and first and third-round picks in the 2019 draft to acquire him last offseason. Beckham, who spent his first five seasons with the Giants, has caught just two touchdown passes this season and has gone seven games without hitting the 100-yard receiving barrier, the longest such drought of his career.

 

“[The Browns’ official] laughed at me, basically,” Mortensen said about Beckham possibly being traded this offseason. “He’s not going anywhere.”

 

It’s clear that the Browns are hoping that Beckham can develop a stronger rapport a quarterback Baker Mayfield during their second year together. It’s also clear that the Browns believe that any issues that may currently exist with Beckham can be rectified.

 

“Right now, the idea is that they have no plans to trade him,” Mortensen said. “And even if they did, they would get nowhere near the value for him.”

 

Despite their recent run of success (Cleveland is 4-1 in their last five games), it’s been an overall disappointing season for the Browns, whose 2-6 start to the season will likely prevent them from breaking their 17-year playoff drought. Cleveland can still, however, finish with a winning record, something that the franchise hasn’t done since 2007. The Browns’ final three games include this Sunday’s trip to Arizona followed by a home game against the 11-2 Ravens in Week 16. Cleveland will finish the regular season with a trip to Cincinnati to take on the 1-12 Bengals.

 

While the Browns reportedly have no interest in trading Beckham, it is unknown whether or not the Browns’ brass will retain first-year head coach Freddie Kitchens, who has received criticism this year for the Browns’ underperforming offense. On Sunday, former NFL head coach and current CBS NFL analyst Bill Cowher said on the “Verizon Halftime Report” that believes that Kitchens is “coaching for his job” during the final three games of the season.

 

“How they finish this season, to me, will be very indicative in the direction they go in the offseason,” Cowher said of the Browns’ coaching situation. “They need to finish strong. They have too much talent on the offensive side of the ball.”

 

 

PITTSBURGH

Peter King with the growing Conventional Wisdom:

 

I think, this morning, Mike Tomlin’s the coach of the year. That can change in three weeks, sure. But the Steelers started 1-4 and now have gone 7-1 since, all while enduring the biggest personnel changeover since Tomlin’s taken the job and a major spate of injuries on the offensive side of the ball. This season is a tribute to Tomlin’s leadership and his ability to take disparate pieces and make them fit into a hole. Devlin Hodges being the NFL surprise of the year doesn’t hurt either. How interesting would it be for the Steelers, in January, to drop into Foxboro for a 6-versus-3 playoff matchup and have the struggling Patriots offense try to figure out how to score 20 against that growing defense?

 

AFC SOUTH

 

INDIANAPOLIS

We guess we should never count PK ADAM VINATIERI out – but:

 

Adam Vinatieri‘s worst NFL season is ending on an operating table.

 

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, the Colts kicker will undergo surgery to repair his knee injury, and will be placed on injured reserve.

 

Vinatieri struggled to career-worst accuracy numbers this year, hitting just 17-of-25 field goals (68.0 percent) and 22-of-28 extra points (78.6 percent).

 

He missed yesterday’s game because of the knee injury, yielding to Chase McLaughlin. But before the game, the Colts said they weren’t prepared to discuss putting him on IR.

 

The 46-year-old has had an amazing career, leading the league’s all-time scoring list. He was also named to the league’s all-time top 100 team.

 

 

JACKSONVILLE

Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com spots an injured WR D.J. CHARK:

 

@ESPNdirocco

Jaguars WR DJ Chark’s left foot was in a protective boot and he left the locker room using a scooter, which would indicate this is more serious than just a normal ankle sprain.

 

 

TENNESSEE

How hot is QB RYAN TANNEHILL?

 

Stats By STATS

@StatsBySTATS

Passer rating for the @Titans’ Ryan Tannehill in his last 4 games:

 

133.9

155.8

131.3

140.4

 

He joins Russell Wilson (2015) as the only QBs in the Super Bowl era to have a passer rating of 130.0 or higher in 4 straight games (minimum 15 attempts in each).#Titans

– – –

RB DERRICK HENRY is having his best season, but Adam Schefter does not detect any signs of an extension.

 

Although Derrick Henry is the league’s third-leading rusher, the Tennessee Titans have not had discussions about a contract extension with the running back, league sources told ESPN.

 

As a matter of policy, Tennessee does not do contract extensions in-season with players, and it has 23 players scheduled to become free agents this offseason, including Henry and quarterbacks Ryan Tannehill and Marcus Mariota.

 

The Titans (7-5), who play the Raiders (6-6) in Oakland on Sunday, insist that at this time, they’re more focused on making the playoffs than they are signing players to long-term deals.

 

But others around the league have taken notice that the Titans have not tried to re-sign Henry when they could, and that the player who has powered Tennessee’s offense is scheduled to become a free agent.

 

Over the past 16 weeks dating to last season, Henry leads the NFL with 319 carries, 1,725 rushing yards and 18 rushing touchdowns and has tacked on 20 more catches for 221 yards and two more touchdowns.

 

Henry is scheduled to become a free agent at a time when teams often are opting not to pay top salaries to running backs, and teams that have invested heavily at the position haven’t always been rewarded. But the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner has become the Titans’ offensive identity, and his uncertain status creates one of this offseason’s more intriguing storylines.

 

Henry, 25, has rushed for a career-high 1,140 yards — behind only Nick Chubb and Christian McCaffrey — and 11 touchdowns this season, his fourth with the Titans. His 13 total touchdowns also are third-best in the NFL, behind only McCaffrey and Aaron Jones.

 

More on the toughness of Henry from Nick Shook of NFL.com:

 

Derrick Henry’s best season begins annually during the week of Nov. 10, and this year, it’s better than ever.

 

Including Tennessee’s Week 10 win over the Kansas City Chiefs, Henry has rushed for 100-plus yards in each of his last four games. He’s one yard shy of 600 in that span of time, and has found the end zone seven times on the ground. It’s no surprise that the Titans are 4-0 in that same stretch.

 

Sunday’s performance was his least impressive of those four outings statistically, but that’s without considering the circumstances surrounding it. The running back ripped off 55 yards and a touchdown on his first 12 carries, then found himself hampered by a hamstring issue, which required him to trot up and down Tennessee’s sideline just before half and strap a heat pad to his leg while off the field.

 

In a 21-21 game, he could have sat out. But these Titans are in a playoff race.

 

“Yeah, ain’t no quittin’ in me,” Henry said, via The Athletic. “My leg would have to be halfway off for me to stop. So I’m going to go out there and help my team win games, play through it.”

 

Henry’s refusal to sit made it his most impressive performance of his prime season. The running back returned to carry the ball six more times for 48 yards, including a key 24-yard rumble on a drive that ended in a decisive touchdown pass from Ryan Tannehill to Jonnu Smith. That run followed an earlier scoring drive that saw Henry plow his way into the end zone from 10 yards out to give Tennessee a 28-21 lead.

 

“I think the toughness showed by those guys is huge,” Tannehill said of Henry and teammate A.J. Brown, who was playing through a calf injury. “I told them on the field during the game how much I appreciated just the way they’re fighting through it. You see them in pain, but they’re fighting through it, and they continue not only to play, but to make plays and play well.

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

Speaking of Buffalo, do they control their chances to win the AFC East now?

 

New England is 10-3.  Buffalo is 9-4.  But if they win out, they are 12-4 and with a win at New England the Patriots are likely also 12-4.

 

They would have the same 5-1 division record.  Buffalo would be 9-3 in the conference, New England 8-4.  Voila, Buffalo dethrones New England.  Ah, not so fast.

 

Well no, there is something in-between division record and conference record in the division tiebreaking formula (it is not part of the Wild Card formula), called “common games”.  And Buffalo lost to Philadelphia and Cleveland, while New England won. 

 

So to win the division, Buffalo needs a Patriots loss to Cincinnati or Miami in one of their other two games.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

Peter King on the Patriots:

 

Trust in the New England offense (210 yards through 55 minutes Sunday) is gone. They relied on gadgetry because the weapons not named Edelman around Brady are highly questionable. Since Halloween, New England’s 2-3, and averaging 18.6 points per game. There’s no indication that’s changing soon. Thought the Patriots can rightfully throw tomatoes at the officials for two horrible late calls Sunday (more in Goats of the Week, below), think about where they are on offense: In the last five games, they exceeded 20 points once—in lost-cause garbage time last week against Houston. Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels have the coaching job of this era on their hands if they want the Patriots to be factors in January. The best idea? More gadgetry. A Mohamed Sanu pass or three, or another from college-QB Edelman, or some punt-team sleight of hand. Unless Antonio Brown flies in to save the season (doubtful), gadget plays are needed, and soon.

 

This from Christopher Mason on the postgame health of QB TOM BRADY:

 

Tom Brady certainly isn’t hiding his elbow injury.

 

After Sunday’s 23-16 loss to the Chiefs, Brady went to the podium with a heavy wrap on his throwing arm.

 

Though he’s been listed on the injury report with it for weeks now — Brady was questionable for the Dallas game — the quarterback downplayed the severity.

 

“I just got hit right on my elbow,” Brady said. “It’s fine. Probably be on the injury report, but I’ll be there next Sunday.”

 

That seems a safe bet, seeing as Brady hasn’t missed a game due to injury since George W. Bush was in the White House, though it is fair to wonder how much he’s been hindered by his elbow.

 

Against a middling Chiefs defense, Brady was just 19-of-36 for 169 yards. His lone touchdown pass was a flea flicker to Julian Edelman, and he was intercepted once.

 

 

NEW YORK JETS

One of the maddening things about Al Riveron’s replay review has been the inconsistency.  After letting lots of obvious fouls go, he reached out Sunday to decide a game by spotting something that his officials on the field ignored.  Charean Williams of ProFootballTali.com:

 

Whatever Brian Flores thought about expanded replay for pass interference before Sunday, it’s probably a safe bet he’s ready for it to go away after Sunday.

 

The Dolphins almost had their fourth victory. But the NFL’s director of officiating dropped a flag on a booth review of a Jets’ third-and-18 play late in the game. The Jets kicked the game-winning field goal on the final play.

 

Flores ran after a game official following the 22-21 loss, expressing his displeasure with the call before an assistant pulled the head coach toward the locker room.

 

“We lost the game. I was upset we lost the game,” Flores said, via Cameron Wolfe of ESPN. “I’m not going to answer any questions about the officiating.”

 

The Jets faced a third-and-18 from the Dolphins’ 46-yard line with 47 seconds remaining. Sam Darnold threw an incomplete pass toward receiver Vyncint Smith, who was covered by Dolphins cornerback Nik Needham.

 

Pass interference wasn’t called on the field, but the booth called for a review of the play. Al Riveron overturned the call on the field, dropping a flag to give the Jets a first down on Miami’s 38-yard line. Sam Ficken kicked the game-winning 44-yard field goal four plays later.

 

“We got a couple of replays which show us that it’s clear and obvious that the defender grabs the receiver by his shoulder, turns him prior to the ball getting there, and significantly hinders him before the ball arrives,” Riveron said in a pool report. “Therefore, by rule, that’s defensive pass interference. . . .Therefore, we changed the ruling on the field, and we put a flag down for defensive pass interference.”

 

Needham disagreed, but his opinion meant nothing Sunday.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

FREE AGENCY FAILS

Peter King on the top of the free agent class of 2019:

 

The biggest free-agent contracts for players who changed teams in 2019, with the eight free-agent signees who got at least $25-million guaranteed with their new teams:

 

PLAYER                     TEAM                POS        Years-Value        Guarnatee        Avg. Per Year

 

Nick Foles                  Jacksonville         QB          4-$88 million      $50.1 mil          $22 mil

Trey Flowers              Detroit                  DE          5-$90 million      $56 mil              $18 mil

C.J. Mosley                NY Jets                LB          5-$85 million       $51 mil              $17 mil

Landon Collins           Washington           S           6-$84 million      $44.5 mil           $14 mil

Earl Thomas               Baltimore              S           4-$55 million      $32 mil              $13.8 mil

Kwon Alexander         San Francisco     LB          4-$54 million      $32 mil              $13.5 mil

Le’Veon Bell              NY Jets                RB          4-$52 million      $25 mil              $13.1 mil

Ju’Wuan James         Denver                   T           4-$51 million      $32 mil             $12.8 mil

 

Some analysis:

 

Zero of eight have been big stars fully justifying their pay.

 

Three of eight have been moderate to good contributors: Thomas, Flowers and Collins.

 

Four of eight will miss half the season or more with injuries: Mosley, Alexander, James and Foles.

 

One of eight has been a significant disappointment: Bell.

 

Foles is in almost a separate category, both injured and underperforming.

 

The injured, or the bad:

 

• Foles, who missed half the season with a broken clavicle, was benched for poor play in his third start back. He likely is done for 2019.

 

• Mosley has missed all but 114 snaps with the Jets with a groin injury. He’s on season-ending IR.

 

• Bell, averaging 3.2 yards per rush (1.1 yards less than his career average), has been wholly unimpactful for the Jets.

 

• James has been sidelined all but 32 snaps with a knee injury this year. He’ll make $17 million, total, in 2019.

 

Alexander, PFF’s 43rd-rated linebacker, was lost with a torn pectoral in game eight. It’s the second straight year he’s played half a season or less.

 

The healthy, and the pretty good:

 

• Flowers has played but 63 percent of the snaps—way down from his last two Patriot years. He has seven sacks and 29 QB hurries.

 

• Collins has played all 910 Washington defensive snaps and been a good run defender and middling pass defender.

 

• Thomas hasn’t made the splash plays other Ravens defenders have, but he came in with injury question marks and has been a relative ironman, playing 95 percent of the snaps and providing good leadership.

 

Moral of the story: It was a bad year for spending big in free agency.

 

(Note: Green Bay pass-rushers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith have been a boon to the Packers in remaking their pass-rush, but neither got a deal with $25-million fully guaranteed. Maybe that’s a moral to the story—that it’s smart to pay big and guarantee only a moderate sum, which could be effective in luring players like Smith and Smith. They were rising stars but not worthy to most teams of huge guarantees.)

 

We think King undersells the contributions of Alexander before his injury, but it is an interesting chart.