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Vikings looking to put the squeeze on Bears QBs

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Vikings looking to put the squeeze on Bears QBs

The lasting image from the Bears' trip to San Francisco was 49ers defensive end Aldon Smith running amok.

And now Chicago's battered offensive line gets to face Jared Allen, Chad Greenway and the Vikings on Sunday at Soldier Field.

No, Minnesota (6-4) is not in San Francisco's class for creating mayhem with a physically imposing defense. But the way the Bears (7-3) are blocking - make that NOT blocking - for their quarterbacks, just about any team will be a major challenge, whether it's Jay Cutler back from a concussion, or backup Jason Campbell on the field.

``You're going to play a great team on their home field, a place that we've struggled at,'' Greenway said. ``But this is a new year, a new team. And I think we're going to have a focus going in there that we're going to give ourselves a chance.

``It's going to take our best effort. It's going to take our best game of the year to win out there this week.''

To get that win, the Vikings figure to emphasize their ace, Adrian Peterson, and the running game, while fitting in throws to Percy Harvin, who also is having a strong season. They must be careful not to fall victim to Chicago's ball-hawking defense, which did little against the 49ers, but otherwise has been brilliant. The Bears have seven interception returns for TDs and have forced 30 turnovers, the most in the league.

The Vikings don't get many takeaways, but they can get after quarterbacks. Allen has 13 sacks in eight games against the Bears, including 3 1/2 in last year's season finale.

Whichever defense sets the tone figures to swing things in its team's direction.

On Thanksgiving Day, Houston beat Detroit 34-31 in overtime to improve to 10-1, Washington held off Dallas 38-31, and New England routed the New York Jets 49-19.

Also Sunday, it's San Francisco at New Orleans; Green Bay at the New York Giants; Atlanta at Tampa Bay; Baltimore at San Diego; Pittsburgh at Cleveland; Denver at Kansas City; Seattle at Miami; Buffalo at Indianapolis; Oakland at Cincinnati; Tennessee at Jacksonville; and St. Louis at Arizona.

The Monday night game has Carolina at Philadelphia.

San Francisco (7-2-1) at New Orleans (5-5)

As intriguing as any game on the schedule for many reasons.

The 49ers could get back quarterback Alex Smith from a concussion, but with the way Colin Kaepernick performed in a rout of the Bears on Monday night, it's uncertain who will get the call from coach Jim Harbaugh.

Regardless, it's the San Francisco defense that could decide things. If the 49ers can put pressure on Drew Brees and the increasingly dynamic Saints offense - Aldon Smith leads the NFL with 15 sacks - they could control matters. But New Orleans has won three straight and five of six, and Brees could become the third player with 30 TD passes in five seasons.

Green Bay (7-3) at New York Giants (6-4)

The last time they met, New York eliminated a 16-1 Packers team from the playoffs. At Lambeau Field.

The Giants will need to rekindle the overwhelming pass rush that was decisive in that game, plus get Eli Manning back on track. He's struggled the last two weeks, both losses, and hasn't played particularly well in a month. A better running game also would help him.

Green Bay, though, has five straight victories and is tied with Chicago atop the NFC North. In his past seven games, Aaron Rodgers has 24 touchdowns, four interceptions and a 117 QB rating. There's a chance he could get back top receiver Greg Jennings from a torn abdominal muscle, too.

Atlanta (9-1) at Tampa Bay (6-4)

Atlanta lost for the first time two weeks ago, then needed to rally to beat Arizona. The Falcons have won six of the past seven meetings with the Bucs, but those were different Tampa teams. This one is as potent on offense as, well, Atlanta.

Buccaneers rookie Doug Martin already has rushed for 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns.

``Their rookie running back has had some really explosive games,'' Smith said. ``It will be a challenge for us.''

But covering Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez will be a huge challenge for the Bucs.

Baltimore (8-2) at San Diego (4-6)

The Ravens will have star safety Ed Reed as they seek their fourth successive victory and eighth in nine games. His one-game suspension for illegal hits was overturned on appeal and instead he was fined $50,000.

Reed and the Baltimore defense haven't played close to the level of previous standards, but did have a strong performance in taking charge of the AFC North last week at Pittsburgh.

San Diego, loser of five of its last six, leads the NFL in throwing interceptions (14) as Philip Rivers struggles without much supporting talent compared to previous years.

Pittsburgh (6-4) at Cleveland (2-8)

Plax is back in Pittsburgh.

Unfortunately for the Steelers, the addition of wideout Plaxico Burress, who was without a team all season, doesn't offset the slew of injuries on offense. Ben Roethlisberger (shoulder, ribs), Antonio Brown (ankle), Jerricho Cotchery (ribs) and Byron Leftwich (ribs) have been sidelined, but Brown could return in Cleveland.

Fortunately for the Steelers, they have a trio of hefty running backs who have come through in Rashard Mendenhall, Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman.

The Browns blew a 13-0 lead in Dallas last Sunday, another sign of their inexperience. They do play hard for coach Pat Shurmur, who is trying to save his job.

Denver (7-3) at Kansas City (1-9)

The Broncos have won five straight and have their sights on running the table, perhaps grabbing home-field advantage for a portion of the AFC playoffs, if not for the whole thing. Peyton Manning needs one victory, something he's likely to get against the collapsing Chiefs who have dropped seven in a row, to have the second most by a starter in league history. He would move ahead of his current boss, John Elway.

Manning is directing a precise offense, but Denver lost leading rusher Willis McGahee to a right knee injury. The Broncos' defense is getting superb play from Von Miller, who had three sacks last week for 13 this year.

KC leads the NFL in turnovers with 31 and has a minus-21 differential. Denver's minus-3 pales in comparison.

Seattle (6-4) at Miami (4-6)

One game after beating his former player at Southern Cal, Jets QB Mark Sanchez, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll goes against one of his Heisman Trophy winners, Reggie Bush. Well, Bush did win the Heisman, but gave it back after he was found guilty of NCAA violations.

Seattle's defense gets better and more physical each week, something Bush figures to learn Sunday. Bush has totaled 41 yards rushing over the past two games, part of a three-game skid, and even was benched in that span.

Buffalo (4-6) at Indianapolis (6-4)

Were the Colts exposed at New England last Sunday in their 59-24 defeat, or was it simply a case of Indy not being able to play with the big boys yet?

``Once you sit down and watch the film, the critiquing and the criticism, and once that happens, you sort of flush it and realize it's on to the next one,'' Andrew Luck said. ``If this was the last one of the season and you're done, it would sting a lot more.''

Luck has five 300-yard passing games to set an NFL mark by a rookie. His 2,965 yards passing are the most by an NFL rookie through 10 games.

Buffalo's defense awakened in a 19-14 victory against Miami, but still ranks 27th overall.

Oakland (3-7) at Cincinnati (5-5)

With two consecutive victories, the Bengals have revitalized their season. A schedule that includes San Diego, Dallas and Philadelphia after the Raiders has them salivating about their chances of making the postseason. Receiver A. J. Green has TD catches in nine straight games.

Oakland, loser of three in a row, has former Bengals QB Carson Palmer, the first overall draft pick in 2003 who still holds Cincinnati marks for career completion percentage (62.9) and passer rating (86.9). It will be Palmer's first time facing the Bengals since he forced a trade to Oakland last year for a first-round and second-round pick.

Carolina (2-8) at Philadelphia (3-7), Monday night

No, the NFL can't flex games to the prime-time broadcast on Mondays, so viewers are stuck with two of the league's biggest flops.

Carolina thought it would build off Cam Newton's sensational rookie season, but instead of sizzling it has fizzled.

No worse than the Eagles, though. Expected to be championship contenders, they have fallen apart, with sloppy play everywhere, particularly on the offensive line, in the secondary and at quarterback, where rookie Nick Foles could again get the nod ahead of Michael Vick, who is recovering from a concussion.

Tennessee (4-6) at Jacksonville (1-9)

Jacksonville had powerful Houston in trouble last Sunday, but couldn't put away the game. The 37 points for the Jaguars in that loss brought their season total to a measly 164. They will go with Chad Henne at quarterback with second-year starter Blaine Gabbert on injured reserve.

It looks like the Titans have fixed some of their defensive woes, and they come off a bye that followed a 37-3 romp in Miami, their best performance all season. Before that came their worst, a 51-20 thrashing at the hands of the Bears.

St. Louis (3-6-1) at Arizona (4-6)

Arizona was 4-0 when it journeyed to St. Louis and was beaten 17-3. Things have been downright ugly since for the Cardinals, who can't score, can't decide on a quarterback, and struggle against the run. A defense expected to excel has disappointed.

The Rams are maddeningly inconsistent, following a tie at mighty San Francisco - a game they should have won - with a flop against the Jets. Look for a steady diet of runs by Steven Jackson and Daryl Richardson.

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Offensive, defensive and rookie of the year awards for Ravens' 2017 season

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USA Today Sports

Offensive, defensive and rookie of the year awards for Ravens' 2017 season

The Ravens' season had it's ups and down, but out of it came some bright spots.

The defense continued to prove dominate and the offense found its groove during the second half of the season, but who stood out the most?

Offensive MVP: RB Alex Collins

Collins was a late preseason pickup after being cut by the Seattle Seahawks and Ravens fans are grateful they let him go. After new acquisition Danny Woodhead injured his hamstring on the first drive in Week 1 and Terrance West injured his calf Week 5 in Oakland, Allen emerged as a saving grace. He finished the season with 973 yards, six touchdowns and 212 attempts averaging 4.6 yards-per-carry. His longest rushing attempt was 50-yards against the Steelers in Week 4, and then in Week 14, rushed 120-yards on their defense. 

RELATED: RAVENS' 2018 NFL MOCK DRAFT ROUNDUP

Defensive MVP: OLB Terrell Suggs

This one was a toss up between Suggs and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, but considering the level at which Sizzle is playing at in his 15th season, his 2017 performance is MVP worthy.

The 35-year old finished the season with 49 combined tackles, 12 assist, 11 sacks and four forced fumbles. Suggs ranks 11th in the league in sacks and was voted to his seventh Pro Bowl, something that should be expected from the leader of a defense that finished the regular season ranked sixth in points allowed. During the Ravens' Week 12 matchup, Suggs proved he doesn't age when he strip sacked Texans QB Tom Savage with 4:44 remaining in the fourth, shifting the momentum back to the Ravens who were clinging on to a 23-16 win. He's suffered two Achilles tears and a torn bicep over the last 5.5 seasons but has remained Hall of Fame worthy. As of right now, T-Sizzle has no plans of retiring. 

RELATED: FIVE OFFSEASON QUESTIONS RAVENS MUST ANSWER

Rookie of the Year: CB Marlon Humphrey

The Ravens' 2017 first-round pick stepped up to the plate when starting CB Jimmy Smith's season was over after suffering a torn Achilles in Week 13. The rookie out of Alabama finished the season with 34 combined tackles, four assists and two interceptions. Pro Football Focus graded Humphrey the fifth-best cover corner in the league. QBs only had a 53.5 rating when they threw in his direction. PFF also gave Humphrey a 82.7 rookie rating. 

Humphrey will continue to prove his worth during the 2018 season if Jimmy Smith is still recovering come Week 1.

RELATED: IMPORTANT 2018 OFFSEASON DATES

Special Teams MVP: P Sam Koch

Koch is in his 12th season with the Ravens and he's continuing to prove how efficient that leg of his is. He had a season long of 67-yards and placed 40 of 84 punts inside the 20-yard line. Koch's accuracy earned him AFC special teams player of the week not once, but twice this season. The first came in Week 12 against the Houston Texans when he not only placed five punts inside the 20-yard line, but also faked a punt and threw a 22-yard pass to Chris Moore for a first down. The second honor came in Week 15 against the Cleveland Browns after placing four punts inside the 20-yard line, three of them inside the five. While neither Koch or kicker Justin Tucker were named to the Pro Bowl, Ravens fans never break a sweat when the game is in their hands, or should we say, legs.

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Important 2018 offseason dates for Baltimore Ravens

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USA Today Sports

Important 2018 offseason dates for Baltimore Ravens

Mark your calendars now because the Ravens are already gearing up for their 2018 season.

From the Pro-Bowl all the way to the start of the regular season, here are the key dates.

January 28th: Pro Bowl, Orlando, Fla. 

Safety Eric Weddle, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley will all be in attendance. In addition, Suggs and Weddle were named starters. The game will take place at Camping World Stadium. Kickoff is at 3:00 p.m. ET on ABC and ESPN.

February 3rd: Pro Football Hall of Fame 2018 Class announced

This will be a very important day for Ray Lewis and the Ravens organization as Lewis waits to here if he will be sealed into football history, one day prior to Super Bowl LII. 

February 5th: Waiver system takes effect

The waiver system allows players' contracts or a club's NFL rights to a player available to other clubs in the league. Upon doing this, the other 31 teams can place a claim to obtain him or waive their chance. During this 24- hour period, once a club waives a player it can not take the player back or change his status. Assignments are based upon draft order until the third week of the regular season. If a player does not get claimed, he becomes a free agent. 

February 20th:  First day to franchise or transition tag a player

February 27th- March 5th: NFL Scouting Combine, Indianapolis, IN

This seven day period will be crucial for General Manager Ozzie Newsome to get a good look at potential Ravens.

March 6th: Deadline to franchise or transition tag a player

March 12-14th: Teams are allowed to contact and negotiate with agents of players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents

March 14th: Start of new league year at 4:00 p.m. ET

At this time, all 2017 player contracts expire meaning teams can begin seeking and signing free agents. Ravens free agents include Mike Wallace, Benjamin Watson, Ryan Jensen, Terrance West, James Hurst, Michael Campanaro, Steven Johnson, Ryan Mallet, Brandon Boykin, Crockett Gillmore, Brent Urban and Luke Bowanko.

March 25-28th: Owners Meeting, Orlando, FL

April 16th: Voluntary OTA's can begin

April 20th: Deadline for restricted FA's to sign offer sheets

April 26th-28th: 2018 NFL Draft, Arlington, TX

The Ravens will be heading down to Arlington, Texas in hopes of picking up their next franchise player. Positions needed include wide receiver, tight end, quarterback and outside linebacker.

May 4-7th or 11-14th: Potential three-day rookie minicamp

May 31-June 2nd: Ravens Beach Bash, Ocean City, MD

July 16th: Deadline to get long-term deal done with designated franchise tag player 

Mid-Late July: Training camp begins

August 2nd: Hall of Fame Game, Canton, OH

August 4th: Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, Canton, OH

Again, keep this date marked as it could be the day Ray Lewis is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

September 6th: Start of regular season