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No fear of wild-card round in NFL

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No fear of wild-card round in NFL

NFL teams have no fear of playing in the wild-card round.

Recent history shows the playoff bye isn't such a big deal anymore. In six of the last seven years, one of the Super Bowl participants didn't get a bye to begin the postseason. And five of those teams wound up winning the NFL title.

So Green Bay's blowing the bye by losing to Minnesota last Sunday might not be such a setback. Same for Houston, which had an even bigger fall, fumbling away home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs as well as the week off, by losing three of its last four.

Of course, Texans coach Gary Kubiak recognizes the week-to-week nature of pro football, and how things can change quickly in seven days - and last for a month, right to a championship.

``That's life, and that's part of football,'' Kubiak said. ``How'd you play last week? How have you played the last few weeks? What have you done lately? That's our world. We understand that, and it hasn't been good the last few weeks, so hopefully we get it better.''

Nobody knows how to achieve that improvement more than the Packers. Two years ago, they barely squeezed into the Super Bowl chase, then raced to three road victories and, finally, a title win over Pittsburgh.

``I'd have preferred a week off, to be honest with you,'' Packers receiver Jordy Nelson said. ``But we put ourselves in this situation throughout the whole year. It's not just this last game.

``This last game had a lot riding on it for us, so ... we're going to go play. Whatever it takes, we just have to win from here on out.''

That begins Saturday night at Lambeau Field against Minnesota. Had the Packers beaten the Vikings last Sunday, they would be sitting at home this weekend watching the Bears play at San Francisco. Instead, they will trudge onto the tundra to face rushing king Adrian Peterson, who ran around, through and over them for 199 yards to get the Vikings into the playoffs.

The Vikings had no chance for a bye; they never really were in the chase for the NFC North title. They're just glad to be in the tournament, knowing that the Steelers, Colts, Packers and Giants (twice) recently covered the lengthier route to the NFL championship.

``The cool thing about the playoffs is that once you get in anything can happen,'' defensive end Jared Allen said. ``You see it happen all of the time, teams make runs and end up winning the Super Bowl.''

Some teams already are on runs. Denver has won 11 straight to grab the top spot in the AFC. Washington takes a seven-game winning into Sunday's home game against Seattle, winner of five in a row.

As for the four teams sitting it out this weekend, there certainly are positives to some down time. Denver and Atlanta were last off on Oct. 21, San Francisco and New England on Nov. 4. That's a long time without a break.

``Of course I appreciate the bye. It's the shortest route to get where we want to go,'' Denver linebacker Von Miller said. ``We definitely want to take advantage of this bye week, we're resting our bodies and going over some stuff that we did well, some stuff that we did bad during the season.

``It's just trying to fine-tune this ship before we get ready to try to make one of the biggest runs of the season.

Yes, the bye affords them a chance to get healthier, particularly the 49ers, who are concerned about star defensive lineman Justin Smith's partially torn left triceps.

But there's also the chance of getting stale, something Green Bay experienced last year, and the Giants took advantage of it. Same thing for the Falcons the previous season, and the Packers pounced.

It's an interesting dynamic. Some coaches and players prefer to simply keep on playing, especially when their seasons have ended the way the Broncos, Redskins, Seahawks and Vikings closed theirs.

Others covet the week off because it means they will be at home for their first postseason game. Not that there's any guarantee there, either: at least one team with a bye has lost its divisional round game in each of the last seven playoffs.

Maybe with the week off, they got a bit complacent. Or rusty. Or undisciplined.

``We always say that it goes up a notch, but at the end of the day, it's still football,'' Colts safety Antoine Bethea said about the playoff atmosphere. ``Whatever we've done to get to this point, you just want to continue to do that, and once you go out there on Sunday, it's going to be like Week 8, Week 9.

``But the thing in the back of your head, you just know if you lose, you go home. So whatever you have to do to prepare throughout the week through that Sunday, that'll be the easy part.''

Tell that to the bye teams that went bye-bye in years past.

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AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton in Denver, National Writer Nancy Armour in Green Bay, Wis., and Sports Writer Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis contributed to this story.

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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The Wizards dominated Game 3 because everybody ate ... literally

The Wizards dominated Game 3 because everybody ate ... literally

The Wizards returned to Washington, D.C. on Friday down 0-2 to the Raptors in their best-of-seven 2018 NBA Playoffs first-round series

The team lost a close one in Game 1 and was run out of the building in Game 2. Game 3 was must-win, and the Wizards knew what needed to happen in order for them to secure the victory.

"Everybody eats." 

That's the phrase that has defined the Wizards throughout much of the season They are at their best when John Wall is making players and feeding his teammates.

On Friday night, the Wizards beat the Raptors 122-103 to force at least a Game 5. Wall finished with 28 points and 14 assists.

Bradley Beal finally broke out of his slump for 28 points and  Marcin Gortat, Mike Scott and Kelly Oubre all chipped in with at least 10 points.

But the stat sheet wasn't the only place where everybody eats.

Here's Marcin Gortat from Game 3. 

But if pantomiming isn't your thing, here is Bradley Beal actually eating popcorn during Game 3.

So what did we learn in Game 3? Well, for starters: "Everybody Eats" is not just a motto, it is a way of life.

MORE FROM WIZARDS-RAPTORS SERIES:

GORTAT DITCHES MOHAWK, TEAMMATES APPROVE

MUST-SEE MOMENTS FROM WILD GAME 3

BEAL GOT AN APOLOGY FROM SCOTT BROOKS

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With Playoff Beal back, the Wizards are revitalized in playoff series vs. Raptors

With Playoff Beal back, the Wizards are revitalized in playoff series vs. Raptors

The Toronto Raptors were only going to hold Bradley Beal down for so long. After two so-so games to begin the Wizards-Raptors playoff series, the All-Star shooting guard was bound to find his way offensively and that arrival came in a Game 3 win on Friday night.

Beal was brilliant and much more in line with what he's shown in the postseason throughout his career. Game 2 was his worst playoff game as an NBA player, he scored only nine points. Game 3 was one of his best on the postseason stage, or at least one of his most timely and important.

The Wizards needed more from Beal to give themsevles a chance in this series. An 0-3 deficit would have been a death sentence. His production is so key to their success that head coach Scott Brooks and point guard John Wall met with Beal in between Games 2 and 3 to figure out how to get him going.

Whether that was the catalyst or not, the results followed. Beal poured in 28 points in 10-for-19 shooting with four rebounds, four assists and three steals. He hit four threes, more than he had in the first two games combined.

Beal wasted no time to make an impact scoring the ball. His first points came on a quick burst to the basket where he stopped on a dime, turned around and banked it in. By the end of the first quarter, he had 12 points in 11 minutes.

“I just wanted to be aggressive, get shots that I wanted which is what they were going to force me to take," Beal said.

After Game 2, Brooks and Beal described how physical the Raptors were defending him. They were holding on to him and staying close, even when he wasn't moving off the ball.

Brooks saw a difference in how Beal responded to that in Game 3.

"Brad came out and was looking to go towards the basket and not just letting them hold him and going along with it. He didn’t want to dance with his opponent, he wanted to get away from them. That was a critical part of his success," Brooks said.

Beal's 28 points were as much as he scored in Games 1 and 2 together and just about what he averaged through four games against the Raptors during the regular season (28.8). By halftime of Game 3, Beal had 21 points on 8-for-11 from the field.

Beal hit two threes in the first quarter and another two in the second quarter. Several of those threes were set up by Wall, who used the meeting with Brooks and Beal to ask how he can set him up better as the point guard.

In Game 3, they were on the same page.

"I do think this man [John Wall] next to me, he creates and facilitates for the whole team and gets everybody easy shots," Beal said. "I talk to you guys all the time and I can’t tell you the last time I actually got a regular catch and shoot three just in a regular half court set. When he came back, I got like three or four off the bat."

What Beal did in Game 3 is what the Wizards are used to seeing from him this time of the year. Despite being only 24 years old, he has a strong track record in the playoffs.

Through 37 career postseason games, Beal is averaging 22.3 points, more than his career average of 18.7 in the regular season. In each of his previous three postseason runs, he has averaged more points during the playoffs than he did in the regular seasons leading up.

That production has earned him the nickname 'Playoff Beal' and when he goes off like he did in Game 3, good things usually happen. The Wizards are 10-6 in the playoffs during his career when he scores 25 points or more.

Wall also boasts impressive career numbers in the playoffs. When the Wizards have both of their stars playing at their best, they are hard to beat. With peak Beal on board, this series looks a lot different than it did not that long ago.

MORE FROM WIZARDS-RAPTORS SERIES:

GORTAT DITCHES MOHAWK, TEAMMATES APPROVE

MUST-SEE MOMENTS FROM WILD GAME 3

BEAL GOT AN APOLOGY FROM SCOTT BROOKS

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