NFL

Lane Johnson shares some advice with Halapoulivaati Vaitai

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Lane Johnson shares some advice with Halapoulivaati Vaitai

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Lane Johnson has some advice for teammate Halapoulivaati Vaitai. 

Use it. 

Use everything you can to motivate yourself. The bad games, the naysayers. All of it. Coming off a pretty bad game against the Seahawks last weekend, this would be the time for Vaitai to heed that advice. 

"I think some of the games you don't perform well in, you can learn the most out of," Johnson said at Angel Stadium this week. "Just speaking for myself — suspensions, bad games. I use that as a huge motivator and I think he can too. That's the one thing Jason Peters has done in his career. He wasn't drafted, this, that and the other, and he's about to be in the Hall of Fame. 

"So I think what he needs to do is just bottle up everything that's not right or has gone wrong and use it as a motivator for him. He'll do it, man. He's still young."

Against Seattle last Sunday, Vaitai had his worst game of the season since taking over for Peters at left tackle. He gave up two sacks, one quarterback hit and five quarterback hurries. 

Johnson said he thought the one thing Vaitai had trouble with against the Seahawks was getting off the ball. Because of the crowd noise and silent count, that was a little more difficult, especially from the left tackle position, because right guard Brandon Brooks is the player who taps the center pre-snap. 

That's tough enough, but then Vaitai had to deal with a pretty good and really quick pass rusher in Frank Clark. 

On one particular occasion, Clark used what offensive coordinator Frank Reich called a "wicked pass rush move" to beat Vaitai for a sack. Reich didn't think many guys would have been able to stop it. 

Even after a poor performance last week, Vaitai is still the Eagles' best option at left tackle. He's a fifth-rounder in his second year; there were bound to be hiccups. The only other backups on the team are Isaac Seumalo and Will Beatty. 

Vaitai, who was not made available to reporters after repeated attempts this week, is a player who thrives on confidence. It's why we've seen him get stronger as games go on; he's able to prove to himself he can do it. 

Now, it'll be up to him to figure out a way to regain that confidence this Sunday, when the Eagles face the Rams at the LA Coliseum. 

Eagles learn about Kobe Bryant's 'Mamba mentality'

Eagles learn about Kobe Bryant's 'Mamba mentality'

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Rodney McLeod broke into a huge grin as he passed along the explanation from Kobe Bryant.

Bryant, an Eagles fan who grew up in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania, spoke to the entire Eagles team Friday morning at their hotel in Costa Mesa, California.

How did Kobe explain his "Mamba mentality?" 

"A killer mentality," McLeod said. "He said literally every time he stepped on that court, he wanted to be the best. He wanted to go out there and kill the guy lining up across from them and make him feel like he didn't deserve to be on the court. Like literally, those were his words. 

"He wanted to make them feel like they shouldn't be a basketball player, they should be an accountant. That's what he said. And you see it when you watch him play. When you have that mindset, it's hard to beat a guy like that."

It takes someone truly great to leave a group of 63 professional athletes and their coaches in awe. Bryant is one of them. McLeod also said Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Derek Jeter would make the list. 

McLeod brought in a pen and pad of paper to take notes, but he ended up recording Bryant's talk and Q&A session in his brain. He didn't get an autograph, but he did get a photo with Bryant, which was good enough for him. 

"It's a dream come true, really," McLeod said. "Electric feeling for me. You just feel the energy and his presence as soon as he came in and talked to us." 

In the Eagles' media guide, McLeod lists Bryant as his favorite childhood athlete. Even though McLeod grew up in Maryland, Bryant's play and mentality won him over at a young age. McLeod considers Bryant to be the greatest basketball player of all time. 

A few thousand miles away from McLeod's childhood home, Kenjon Barner and Joe Walker grew up near Los Angeles, where Bryant was one of the best and most famous players in the NBA with the Lakers.

"It was really cool to see him walk in," said Walker, who, like Barner and McLeod, has Bryant listed as his favorite childhood athlete in the Eagles' media guide. "Growing up a little kid in L.A., I mean, he pretty much built this city."

Friday was the first time Walker had ever been around his childhood hero. But it wasn't the first time for Barner, who had actually met Bryant a few times before. 

Because Barner's cousin is former NBA player Andre Miller, he has been around NBA players for a long time. He doesn't really get starstruck, but the first time he met Bryant, it was something special: "It just makes you say, 'damn!'"

Upon overhearing Barner talk about all the times he had met Bryant before, fellow running back Wendell Smallwood gave him some grief in the overflow locker room at Angel Stadium. 

"He's so cool, Kobe isn't cool to him," Smallwood said. 

Barner stepped in. 

"It's still cool, man," he said. "It doesn't change."

Head coach Doug Pederson said there wasn't really an interesting story about how the Eagles got Bryant to their team hotel. The Eagles simply checked in with him to see if he was available. Bryant was, so he showed up. 

Pederson said a lot of Bryant's message was about focusing and paying attention to details.

That was the part of Bryant's talk that really seemed to stand out to Nelson Agholor, who is recognized as one of the hardest-working members on the team. 

"He's also a guy that has that dog in him when it's time to step on somebody's throat, he'll do that," Agholor said. "I think that was something I'll never forget." 

Derrick Gunn's NFL Week 14 picks: NFC showdowns highlight the weekend as playoff race heats up

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Derrick Gunn's NFL Week 14 picks: NFC showdowns highlight the weekend as playoff race heats up

Derrick Gunn makes his picks for Week 14 of the NFL season. 

Eagles at Rams, 4:25 p.m. on FOX
What a matchup this should be. The top two players selected in the 2016 NFL draft showcasing their skills on the same field (see story). Carson Wentz is further along in his development than Jared Goff, but Goff has made significant strides.

Both teams have scored 361 points this season. That's tops in the league, and both offenses lead the league in scoring, averaging 30.1 points.

Can the Rams' offensive line hold off the Eagles' defensive pressure up front? Can the Birds' O-line control Rams DT Aaron Donald, who has 71 QB pressures? The Rams' defense is third in the league with 37 sacks, and the Eagles' D is tied for seventh with 33.

Will the Birds' deep and versatile RB stable be able to do damage? Will the league's No. 2 rusher Todd Gurley (939 yards, 4.2 yards per carry, eight TDs) find room to roam?

Zach Ertz (concussion protocol) could be a big loss to the Birds' passing game. The Rams' top pass catcher and deep threat Robert Woods (shoulder injury) is listed as questionable.

Wade Phillips and Jim Schwartz are two of the best defensive coordinators in the game. Rams head coach Sean McVay is the same one who used to give Eagles' defenses fits when he was the Washington Redskins' offensive coordinator from 2014-16 (see story). Yes, I know the Eagles' defensive personnel is much better than in the past, but I don't like this matchup for the Birds on the left coast.

Playoff seeding is at stake. I've gone back and forth many times on which way to go. My hunch tells me to go with the Rams.

Pick: Rams 27, Eagles 24

Colts at Bills, 1 p.m. on CBS
The Bills wilted in their chance to show the Patriots last Sunday that they are playoff worthy. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor is questionable this week with a knee injury, wide receiver Jordan Matthews has been placed on injured reserve with a knee injury, and cornerback Tre’Davious White, who suffered a concussion against the Pats, is practicing on a limited basis. The Colts are out of playoff contention. They’ve lost three straight and six of their last seven. Head coach Chuck Pagano is also on the hot seat. That seat gets even hotter for Pagano after this loss to Buffalo.

Pick: Bills

Bears at Bengals, 1 p.m. on FOX
The Bears couldn’t even hold on at home to beat the Niners. The Bengals just lost a tough division war with the Steelers, but Marvin Lewis gets his guys to play hard every week. The Bears will lose their sixth in a row in what should be Lewis’ 15th and final season in Cincy. Bengals fans say enough is enough.

Pick: Bengals

Packers at Browns, 1 p.m. on FOX
The fact that the Pack are hanging on to a faint playoff hope by a wing and a prayer is amazing in itself. Aaron Rodgers is practicing, but still two weeks away from game ready. The Browns are still the Browns. Rookie QB DeShone Kizer is winless in 11 starts, but the organization likes his potential. All Browns fans want for Christmas is a win, but it won’t happen this week.

Pick: Packers

Raiders at Chiefs, 1 p.m. on CBS
Just think ... a month ago this AFC West matchup seemed meaningless, but thanks to the Chiefs' ineptitude lately, this is a showdown for first place. Andy Reid’s crew has lost four straight and six of its last seven, plus 'Big Red' has suspended his star corner Marcus Peters for stupidity. As for the Raiders, winners of two in a row, Derek Carr’s favorite receiver Amari Cooper is questionable with an ankle issue. Oakland handed KC its second loss of the season weeks ago, and my lack of faith in the Chiefs leads me to believe Oakland adds to their current misery.

Pick: Raiders

Cowboys at Giants, 1 p.m. on FOX
What a week it’s been for the Giants. Eli Manning’s consecutive starts streak ends, head coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese get fired, Manning gets his starting job back and then defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo takes over as interim head coach. The headlines are out of control in the Big Apple. Spags will try to get his guys to play inspired football, which shouldn’t be too hard to do considering it's against their division rivals. Dallas is still limping along without Zeke, but should be able to hold off the G-Men.

Pick: Cowboys

Lions at Buccaneers, 1 p.m. on FOX
The Lions are in big trouble if Matthew Stafford can’t go because of a hand injury. The Bucs wasted a great Jameis Winston performance at Green Bay. What is it about this Lions team that seems to fall apart in December? I like the Bucs at home.

Pick: Buccaneers

Vikings at Panthers, 1 p.m. on CBS
Another marquee matchup on the day. What the Vikings' defense did to the Falcons last week was down right impressive. Cam Newton will be elated to have his tight end Greg Olsen available for this battle, hoping to rebound from the Panthers' loss to the Saints last week, but the Vikings' defense is just too strong for Cam and company to overcome.

Pick: Vikings

49ers at Texans, 1 p.m. on FOX
The Niners are feeling good about themselves after a comeback win in Chicago. The Texans were averaging 34.7 points per game with Deshaun Watson at the helm, but now are putting up just 14.7 points per game with Tom Savage leading the way. This one could be closer than it should be, but the Texans will successfully defend their home turf.

Pick: Texans

Jets at Broncos, 4:05 p.m. on CBS
Todd Bowles' Jets scored a big win over the Chiefs in Week 13 and now will try to creep one game closer to .500 at Denver. The Broncos have their first losing season since 2010. John Elway says he’s embarrassed and we agree that he should be with his team, losers of eight in a row. What a season it’s been for the Jets' 38-year-old quarterback Josh McCown, who was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week after his performance against Kansas City. Denver will feel the wrath of the old man on Sunday.

Pick: Jets

Titans at Cardinals, 4:05 p.m. on CBS
The Titans better be careful or this could be a trap game in the 'Zona desert. You never know which Cardinals team will show up. The Titans, who are trying to keep even with Jacksonville atop the AFC South, will need a strong run game to help them through this one. Bruce Arians' guys would love to knock the Titans off their perch, but I don’t think it will happen.

Pick: Titans

Redskins at Chargers, 4:05 p.m. on CBS
Hey, remember when the Chargers were 0-4? Yeah, well now they’re in a three-way tie for first in the AFC West and riding a three-game win streak. It should be a good shootout between Philip Rivers and Kirk Cousins. The 'Skins have injuries all over the place, but Jay Gruden says his guys will be ready. I say the Chargers go over .500 for the first time this season.

Pick: Chargers

Seahawks at Jaguars, 4:25 p.m. on FOX
You want rock 'em sock 'em football? Then this game is it. The Seahawks have had a long tradition of being a physical team, and the Jags are the new physical kids on the block. Both teams need this game to stay in the chase for their divisions and playoff positioning. I like the way Jacksonville plays on both sides of the ball, but I like the Seahawks' experience more.

Pick: Seahawks

Ravens at Steelers, 8:30 p.m. on NBC
This AFC North rivalry  is old school football. Brass knuckles, extra punches, whatever it takes to win.  The Steelers are riding a seven-game win streak and have a three-game lead on the Ravens. Right now, the Ravens are more concerned about clinging to the sixth seed. In the last two games, the Steelers had to rally to beat Green Bay and Cincinnati … they’ll find a way to get it done against the Ravens.

Pick: Ravens

Patriots at Dolphins, 8:30 p.m., Monday night on ESPN
Can anyone stop the Pats? Right now the answer is no! Only New England can stop itself and that doesn’t appear likely to happen. Tom Brady continues to show age is only a number. The Pats have averaged 33 points per game over their last four games, and have won by an average of 22 points per game over that time frame. The Dolphins are in for a long night.

Pick: Patriots