Health = NFL Wealth - Seahawks lead where it counts


Health = NFL Wealth - Seahawks lead where it counts

Written by Julian Rogers

Earlier this month, a report by NFL analyst Warren Sharp revealed that according to calculations based on the NFL’s official injury report and injured reserve data, the Philadelphia Eagles were the league’s healthiest team over the past two seasons.

You don’t have to be an NFL historian to note that during that span, those hale, hearty and unblemished Eagles won a total of zero Super Bowls. The two teams that did win the league’s ultimate prize, the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks, finished 24thand 17th in terms of overall health in the two years studied.

Success starts and ends with stars

Are injuries overrated? Not at all, in fact. However, while overall team health is important, it’s key injuries to a team’s star players that most determine a team’s fate. Injuries to role players and bottom-roster special teamers take a toll on a team, but it’s a burden borne by the organization staff as they test the team’s coaching acumen, ability to develop young talent and ability to replace older, broken or otherwise malfunctioning parts while (hopefully) improving.

NFL teams covet playmakers. Stars are stars for a reason. They make plays when it counts. Easier to replace: everyone else. The just-a-guys and the still-developing are far more plentiful than the stars. Every team loses role players each season — even the champions. Historically speaking, teams that lose one or more of their impact players rarely take home the ultimate prize.

Case in point, the last team to win the Super Bowl without their preferred starting quarterback was the 2001 New England Patriots, who were forced to hand the keys to a lowly regarded sixth-round draft pick in week #2, who took over for an injured Drew Bledsoe. We may never know what happened to one Tom Brady, but it’s telling that you have to go back almost a decade and a half to find a Super Bowl winner with a backup quarterback.

OK, bad example. To find a true backup quarterback that won a Super Bowl, you have to go back to Jeff Hostetler of the 1990 New York Giants.

Not just the quarterbacks

While quarterbacks are key, a star quarterback alone cannot deliver a championship. When the champion is crowned there are usually at least three stars that carried the season. Let’s look at the injury story from the framework of how each team’s stars fared, starting with the Seahawks. I’ll also note their prognosis for 2015.

Seattle Seahawks

Star 1: Marshawn Lynch

Star 2: Russell Wilson

Star 3: Richard Sherman

Their health story: Sure, Earl Thomas belongs here too, but the NFL has spoken: shutdown corners are more valuable than dominant safeties. None of the Seahawks’ top three stars missed significant time during their double Super Bowl run. The result: top talent, combined with amazing health to their stars and a deep supporting cast, created an (almost) two-year unstoppable force. The Seahawks had their share of injuries to role players — the offensive line took many hits and there was great concern at the start of 2014 of whether the Seahawks had enough healthy bodies for the defensive line. Their prognosis for 2015 is the same, given the same great run of health. It’s not altogether unlikely that a new star #3 may emerge this season with the arrival of tight end Jimmy Graham. The veteran receiver is a matchup headache with an upside the Seahawks have yet to enjoy in the Wilson/Lynch era.

The same good fortune applies to the Seahawks’ 2015 opponents — each NFL opponent has stars that must remain healthy to have a chance at the postseason.

The other guys

Let’s look at the Seahawks’ 2015 opponents from the same 2013–2014 lens.

St. Louis Rams (week 1, week 16)

Star 1: Sam Bradford (QB)

Star 2: Robert Quinn (DE)

Star 3: Chris Long (DE)

Their health story: Devastated at quarterback with the preseason injury to Bradford that shelved his entire season, the Rams had no punch, only grittiness and a stingy defense to get them to six wins. They got next to no help from Long, who was also felled with injuries. They will get no help in 2015 from Bradford, who was traded to the Eagles for new quarterback savior Nick Foles. If Foles can stay healthy and solidify the position, the needle will be pointing up for the Rams. The Rams still look for offensive playmakers to emerge. A consistent QB will help that quest. A healthy Quinn/Long combo would be a huge boost.

Green Bay Packers (week 2)

Star 1: Aaron Rodgers (QB)

Star 2: Clay Matthews (LB)

Star 3: Jordy Nelson (WR)

Their health story: The Packers saw their past two seasons adversely impacted by injuries to Rodgers. Rodgers missed nearly half of 2013 with a collarbone fracture, which almost cost the Packers a playoff spot. He was also hampered significantly in 2014 with a torn calf. His playoff effectiveness was impacted negatively by his inability to create and scramble. With Rodgers leading the way, Nelson has emerged as one of the NFL’s top big play threats (No. 18 on NFL’s top 100 players). He is expected to be fully ready for week one while he rehabs from a “minor” offseason hip surgery. Matthews remains a force when healthy. Despite 5 games missed in 2013, Matthews bounced back with 16 regular-season starts in 2014, including taking snaps at middle linebacker to shore up the Packers’ leaky run defense. A healthy trio, combined with their deep roster of additional playmakers predicts another deep playoff run for the Packers.

Chicago Bears (week 3)

Star 1: Jay Cutler (QB)

Star 2: Alshon Jefferey (WR)

Star 3: Matt Forte (RB)

Their health story: It wouldn’t be crazy to list tight end Martellus Bennett as a star; possibly higher than Cutler. His 2014 output almost equaled No. 1 receiver Jeffery’s. Underrated Forte proved (again) that his reliable versatility keeps Chicago in games. Their defense is devoid of studs and remains a liability in 2015, as it has been over the past two years. Former No. 1 receiver Brandon Marshall faltered in 2014 and was shipped to the New York Jets. The health outlook for the Bears once again rides on the up-and-down Cutler. The backup QB plan is a mystery, but the surrounding playmakers are there.

Detroit Lions (week 4)

Star 1: Calvin Johnson (WR)

Star 2: Matt Stafford (QB)

Star 3: Ndamukong Suh (DT)

Their health story: These Lions stars of the past two seasons are three of the most talented in the NFL at their positions. The healthiest of the three no longer plays for the Lions. Suh is now a Miami Dolphin. Johnson, the NFL’s consensus best wide receiver, missed significant stretches of games due to injuries over the past two years: three games in 2014; two games in 2013. Stafford has overcome early career injuries and has started every game over the past two seasons. In 2015, the Lions can expect their defense to step back with the absence of Suh and will have to cross their fingers that Johnson puts in his first full season since 2012, when he led the league with nearly 2000 receiving yards.

Cincinnati Bengals (week 5)

Star 1: A.J. Green (WR)

Star 2: Andy Dalton (QB)

Star 3: Geno Atkins (DT)

Their health story: The Bengals’ 2015 future may most depend on a star not listed here: running back Jeremy Hill, who blew up late in his rookie campaign with 5.1 yards per carry on 222 rushes. Green remains a special talent that missed three games last season. He helps Dalton appear more potent than he would otherwise. Look for Hill to be a bigger star in Cincy than Dalton by season’s end. Difference-maker Atkins is a force on defense. He missed seven games in 2013. He is the key to the Bengals tough defense. Would the Bengals have been swept out of the first round of the playoffs if they had Green and (now former) tight end Jermaine Gresham in the game? They didn’t have them, and they did get knocked out without much of a fight.

Carolina Panthers (week 6)

Star 1: Cam Newton (QB)

Star 2: Luke Kuechly (LB)

Star 3: Charles Johnson (DE)

Their health story: The cast of characters vying for star status in Carolina after Cam Newton has changed significantly each of the past two seasons. It used to be Steve Smithand DeAngelo Williams. Both have departed over the past two offseasons. On defense, the Panthers rely on Charles Johnson and used to have Gregy Hardy, who is now in Dallas. The Panthers still have Jonathan Stewart, up-and-coming star Kelvin Benjamin and linebackerThomas Davis, but Johnson needs to be a bigger star due to his outsized contract. Good health for Carolina’s top three stars will likely mean another NFC South division crown. Newton missed two starts in 2014.

San Francisco 49ers (week 7, week 11)

Star 1: Colin Kaepernick (QB)

Star 2: Anquan Boldin (WR)

Star 3: Frank Gore (RB)

Their health story: Since you started reading this article, two more 49ers have retired. Just kidding (maybe). Seriously, though, the 49ers have experienced an epic talent drain due to retirements and other choices. This isn’t your slightly older brother’s 49ers of yesteryear.Vernon Davis was supposed to be one of the team’s top stars but was virtually forgotten last year. Boldin continues his impressive consistency, which is vital for the still-developing Kaepernick. Kap needs a bounce-back season. Curiously, his somewhat reckless style hasn’t cost him any starts over the past two seasons so expect him to put in another full season in the new Jim Tomsula era. Newcomer Torrey Smith may miss Joe Flacco more than he thinks. Gore is now an Indianapolis Colt, so will not be a factor. The unknowns surrounding the 49ers are a tall list, starting with their totally reshuffled offensive line, defensive line and linebackers. Health alone may not be enough to get the 49ers out of fourth place in the NFC West. Veteran Boldin, it should be noted, has been more healthy in his 49ers tenure than he was during his Ravens and latter-day Cardinals stints.

Dallas Cowboys (week 8)

Star 1: Tony Romo (QB)

Star 2: Dez Bryant (WR)

Star 3: DeMarco Murray (RB)

Their health story: Running back Murray is now no longer a Cowboy, so his rushing prowess and relative health (2 games missed in 2013) will be replaced by a committee. At 35, Romo is at the age where he may be more likely to miss significant time than be available for all 16 games. He missed one start in each of the past two seasons. Bryant has been steadily spectacular and healthy the past two seasons. His health (and contract status) is the biggest key to the Cowboys’ 2015 hopes. With their supporting cast, the Cowboys’ stars are enough for a deep playoff run if health and Dez Bryant’s agent are on their side.

Arizona Cardinals (week 10, week 17)

Star 1: Carson Palmer (QB)

Star 2: Larry Fitzgerald (WR)

Star 3: Patrick Peterson (CB)

Their health story: Even more than the Rams, the Cardinals’ 2014 season was wrecked by poor health. Before Palmer went down with a season-ending knee injury, they were leading the NFL. They could hardly cobble together wins since. The list of missing starters plagued the Cardinals throughout the season. Fitzgerald missed a couple starts in 2014 and may be at the age, like Palmer, that more significant time lost is expected. Peterson has been fully available in his three seasons as the unit’s dominant shutdown corner. It will take more than another full season from Peterson to get the Cardinals in a position to go deep in the playoffs.

Pittsburgh Steelers (week 12)

Star 1: Ben Roethlisberger (QB)

Star 2: Antonio Brown (WR)

Star 3: Le’Veon Bell (RB)

Their health story: The defense in Steeltown ain’t what it used to be. It will be difficult for the defense to regain its lost luster with the departure of longtime coordinator Dick LeBeau. Instead, the Steelers sport some top-level talent at the three most important offensive positions. Brown is called by some of his peers the best receiver in the game (ahem, Megatron). Bell is consistently in the top three of running backs over the past two years. Roethlisberger remains an arguably top five quarterback. Unfortunately, Bell missed three games in 2013 and will miss three games in 2015 due to suspension. Big Ben missed starts from 2009 through 2012, but has played in all 16 games the past two seasons — only the second and third times he’s managed that in his 11-year career. Full seasons from these three point to a deep playoff run for the Steelers.

Minnesota Vikings (week 13)

Star 1: Adrian Peterson (RB)

Star 2: Teddy Bridgewater (QB)

Star 3: Xavier Rhodes (CB)

Their health story: The consensus best running back in the NFL, Peterson, missed all but one game last season due to suspension and two games in 2013 due to injury. He is expected to be fully healthy and ready to dominate again. Few doubt he will bounce back to top form in 2015. Bridgewater’s rookie campaign was an unqualified success. Once he took over the starter’s role partway into the season, he played well and only missed a start against the Packers due to a sprained ankle. The Vikings’ defense remains a mediocre-at-best unit due to ongoing injury issues to key talents. Rhodes is no exception as he missed the end of 2013 before bouncing back to solidify the backfield with 16 starts in 2014. If the Vikings lose Peterson or Bridgewater, Rhodes and other top defenders won’t be enough to get the team a playoff invitation.

Baltimore Ravens (week 14)

Star 1: Joe Flacco (QB)

Star 2: Terrell Suggs (LB)

Star 3: Justin Forsett (RB)

Their health story: Flacco has not missed a start in his seven NFL seasons. That remarkable availability has helped him become one of the best (if not always recognized as such) quarterbacks in the game. He lost Torrey Smith to the 49ers, which does not help his passing prowess. Much-traveled Forsett has only spent one season in Baltimore, but what a season it was. If he can come close to last year’s 1266 yards and 5.4 YPC, he will be huge to their fortunes. Suggs may be getting up in age (32), but he started 16 games in each of the past two seasons. The Ravens are solid in most other areas. If this trio stays healthy, they can go deep in the playoffs.

Cleveland Browns (week 15)

Star 1: Joe Thomas (LT)

Star 2: Joe Haden (CB)

Star 3: Josh Gordon (WR)

Their health story: It’s tough to find three impact stars of the past two years with the Cleveland Browns. Josh Gordon is a rare talent that is also a sad memory. He should be the building block of their future. Instead, he’s out of the league. When he played, he dominated. Haden is the star defender on an underrated defense but has not yet completed a full season in his five-year career. Joe Thomas is considered by many to be the top left tackle in the game. He has not missed a start in eight seasons. He is what you build around, but without top talent at the “skill” positions on offense, the Browns can get totally lucky with health and still won’t make the playoffs.

It’s often said that in the NFL, it’s not who you play but when you play them. Catch a team when their top star(s) are on the sideline and your chances go way up. The talent disparity among the Seahawks opponents’ stars is evident, but each of these teams could defeat the Seahawks if they come in healthy and the Seahawks experience the heretofore unseen experience of missing Wilson, Lynch and/or Sherman.

Of all these teams just examined, the only ones that did not lose their top three stars to injury (or suspension — call those intellect injuries) in the past two seasons were the Seahawks, the 49ers and the Ravens. The 49ers no longer have the services of one of their great stars (Gore). They did make a deep playoff run in 2013, however. The Ravens missed the 2013 playoffs as Super Bowl defending champions but won a first-round playoff game in 2014. The Seahawks rode their remarkable health to two Super Bowl berths.

NFL News and Rumors: If you could ask Tony Romo one question about your future...

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NFL News and Rumors: If you could ask Tony Romo one question about your future...

Perhaps you are still recovering emotionally from the NFL weekend. Both road teams winning, controversial calls or rather controversial no-calls, and only two teams remain as the Super Bowl 53 stage is set. 

But there was a certain someone not named Tom Brady that stole the show late Sunday evening, and his name is Tony Romo. The former Dallas Cowboys quarterback and now CBS broadcaster was an abolsute gem to listen to throughout the game solely by the fact that he called the play, actually several, before it even happened…

Whether it’s a high football I.Q. or a complete guess, fans, professional athletes, and other commentators are taking notice. Some are even reaching out to Romo for information regarding their futures:

And with CBS airing the Super Bowl, one can expect Romo to be on the call.

Would you be surprised if the New England Patriots win in Kansas City on Sunday?

Would you be surprised if the New England Patriots win in Kansas City on Sunday?

Who do you take: rookie, MVP candidate Patrick Mahomes or arguably the G.O.A.T of the NFL, Tom Brady? Will the New England Patriots reign of terror on the AFC finally come to an end this Sunday in the AFC Championship game? Get your popcorn ready and claim your spot on the couch soon, because this will be a good one between the visiting Patriots at the Chiefs.

Only time will tell… Rob Parker of Fox Sports 1 joins the Brian Noe Show to discuss the upcoming AFC Championship matchup between the Patriots and the Chiefs. 

“I would be very surprised because the Patriots have lost their last three AFC Championship games on the road,” says Parker. “They do not perform when they have go on the road and get it done…”

Kickoff time set for 3:40 PM (PT) at Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri. 

Carolina Panthers running back Kenjon Barner lit up by a punter Matt Bosher

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Carolina Panthers running back Kenjon Barner lit up by a punter Matt Bosher

Rule No. 1 during a kick return: do not let the kicker tackle you. 

Destroyed, lit up, leveled, you name it. Atlanta Falcons kick-off specialist/punter Matt Bosher absolutely crushed Carolina Panthers running back and special teams player Kenjon Barner on a kick-off. 

Very rare, but when it happens, it is all too sweet. At least for the kicker. For the returner, it is embarrassing. Just read for yourself:

In his fifth year of his NFL career, Barner (former Oregon Ducks running back) finds himself back with the team that originally drafted him in Carolina. On Sunday, despite getting brutally tackled by Bosher, he had a nice game recording four punts for 109 yards and his longest of 37 yards. Unfortunately for Barner, that doesn't matter to the internet.

The Panthers (6-9) continue their downfall with their seventh loss in a row, this time to the Atlanta Falcons (6-9), 24-10 in Carolina. 


San Francisco 49ers' DEs DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead bright spots in disappointing season

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San Francisco 49ers' DEs DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead bright spots in disappointing season

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - The San Francisco 49ers' disappointing season, upended by the knee injury to budding star quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, certainly has revealed areas of need that must be addressed in order for this team to ever contend in the NFC West division. 

Defensive end is not on that list because of the presence of two former Oregon Ducks. The previous regime in charge before John Lynch became the franchise's general manager in 2017 drafted well in that area when it selected Arik Armstead with the 17th-overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft and followed up the next year by taking DeForest Buckner with the seventh pick of the first round. 

Their careers have contrasted since they helped lead the Ducks to the national championship game during the 2014 season. Buckner has blossomed quicker in the NFL while Armstead, held back by injuries, is just now starting to realize his potential. 

During their growth as professional players and transitioning from college kids to professional adults, they have always been able to lean on each other. Both arrived at Oregon in 2012 and since have not been teammates only once, in 2015. Their hope now is that they can continue to grow together and help lead the 49ers (4-10) back to respectability and achieve similar success to what they accomplished at Oregon where together they experienced only five losses in three seasons. 

“We’ve been playing together for seven years," Armstead said. "It’s been great. It’s a unique situation to be playing with somebody for so long and kind of grow together and always be there through the ups and downs. It’s been a pretty cool experience.”

--- Buckner emerges 

The 49ers' locker room at Levi's Stadium following Sunday's 26-23 overtime win over Seattle - just two weeks after losing 43-16 at CenturyLink Field - didn't feel like that of a losing team. In part, that was because everyone in that locker room knew how much that win meant to former Seahawks' superstar cornerback Richard Sherman. Also, the win snapped a 10-game losing streak to the Seahawks dating back to 2013. 

“We took it personally," Buckner said. "They flat-out embarrassed us two weeks ago."

Buckner, from Hawaii, had 11 tackles and two sacks in the game to reach 11 sacks for the season. Armstead, from Sacramento, Calif., added five tackles. He has three sacks on the year. For sure, Buckner is putting up the sexier numbers and was rewarded by being named as a Pro Bowl alternate. But Armstead's contributions can't be discounted. He is a strong run stuffer opposite Buckner and according to San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan is starting to emerge as a pass rusher. 

"He does have that type of ability, so I think that's what people hope for," Shanahan told reporters last week. "But, that's not just something that you do. That takes a while, and it takes guys some time playing in this league, playing different positions, to really find their groove. I do see that chance for Arik."

First, Armstead must continue to remain healthy. He has been hindered by injuries off and on since landing at Oregon. After appearing in all 16 games as a rookie, Armstead missed eight his second year and 10 last season. This year has had played in all 14 games. 

"I don't want to jinx myself," Armstead said. "We have two more games. I'm just blessed to be healthy out there."

--- Adjusting to change

Last season San Francisco switched from the 3-4 defense, which the franchise ran when it selected Buckner and Armstead, to the 4-3 defense when Shanahan took over and hired defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. The change didn't impact Armstead and Buckner much given that each is well equipped to play either defense given their considerable athleticism especially given their size.

Both are the prototypical, large, two-gap, 3-4 defensive ends at 6-7, 300 pounds for Buckner and 6-7, 292 for Armstead. However, each is more athletic than your average man of that size. While most 4-3 defensive ends are smaller, it cannot be forgotten that hall of famer Reggie White racked up 198 sacks at 6-5, 291 and Carolina's Julius Peppers will likely make the hall of fame with 158 career sacks at 6-7, 295. Comparing Buckner and Armstead to the likes of the late White and Peppers is, of course, premature. However, both Buckner and Armstead certainly fit into the same breed of defensive end. Large. Strong. Athletic. 

Buckner has certainly shown flashes of being a potential future All-Pro with 20 sacks in three seasons thanks to 11 this year. 

“Getting to double digits, I knew I was capable of it and to see my hard work get paid off, it’s definitely gratifying," he said. "I knew I could do it and I worked my tail off in the offseason to get there."

Saleh said Buckner last year had many pressures and QB knockdowns that could have been sacks with fine-tuning of his technique when disengaging from blockers and closing on quarterbacks. 

"We talked about him needing to find that extra half of step," Saleh told reporters this week. "He's really taken it to heart and he's found that step."

Sometimes, Saleh said, it takes a while for young defensive linemen to find their way. Armstead is no different. 

"Arik is probably having his best year," Saleh said. "It just takes time."

--- Remaining 49ers

The 49ers picked up the fifth-year option on Armstead's rookie contract and Shanahan said they hope to resign him long-term. That's also the plan with Buckner. Armstead said he certainly wants to remain with the 49ers. 

"I love it here," he said. "I've been here my whole career. They drafted me and gave me an opportunity. I want to be here and help win games."

Armstead entered the NFL at age 21 and said he has grown a lot in four years. 

"Most, probably as a person," he said. "I'm 25. Getting kind of old. But maturing as a person. I'm out on my own now. I'm a professional. I've had a good experience."

Armstead has been very active doing charity work in his hometown of Sacramento, which he said is very important to him. 

"I feel like I've been blessed in my life with so many things and it's my responsibility to give back in any way that I came," he said. "A lot of my efforts are directed to people in Sacramento where I'm from and trying to impact my city in a positive way."

The Oregon duo of Buckner and Armstead is respected by teammates. Defensive tackle D.J. Jones said the two are often inseparable.

"You see one you see the other," he said. "They are the twin towers." 

Jones said teammates don't give the former Ducks too much grief for being bosom Ducks. 

"Both are phenomenal people off the field," Jones said. "On the field, they are just the same. I've learned so much from them."

Their NFL careers are in full swing and their futures appear to be strong. How long they remain teammates will be played out on the business end of the NFL pool. One thing for sure is that both have benefited from entering this world together as former Ducks tied at the hip and supporting each other. 

“It’s encouragement and helping each other," Armstead said. "Teaching each other things we’ve learned and passing it along. Having good communication out there from playing together so long. Definitely encouraging each other is the main thing.”

The AFC/NFC playoffs: who's in, who's in the hunt, who's spiraling

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The AFC/NFC playoffs: who's in, who's in the hunt, who's spiraling

First, let’s start with the AFC

Who is in:

There are only two teams that have clinched a playoff berth: the Kansas City Chiefs (11-3) and the San Diego Chargers (11-3). The two teams had an epic battle under the Thursday Night Football lights that ended with a winning two-point conversion by the Chargers to win 29-28 over the Chiefs. Interestingly enough, these two teams are both in the AFC West division, have split the series between the two, but the Chiefs are the division leader while the Chargers lead the Wildcard race.

Division Leaders:

- AFC South: Houston Texas (10-4)

- AFC East: New England Patriots (9-5)

- AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5-1)

Notable games:

- New England loses on the road to Pittsburgh 17-10.

- Houston defeats the New York Jets, but clinching the division is still on hold with another Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans victory.

In the hunt:

- Don’t count out the Baltimore Ravens just yet. After taking it to the Chiefs last week, the Ravens (8-6) bounced back today with a 20-12 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Ravens lie one game behind the Steelers, who beat the Patriots today.

- The Indianapolis Colts (8-6) are 7-1 in the last eight games. After shutting out the visiting Dallas Cowboys today 23-0, next up for the Colts are the Giants and then at Tennessee.   

- The Tennessee Titans (8-6), also in the same division as the Colts, shut out the Giants 17-0 and are battling in a tight race for second and a potential Wildcard spot with the Colts. The two face up in the last week of the regular season.

- Miami (7-7) coming off a loss to the Vikings and Cleveland (6-7-1) are also still in the hunt.


Now, for the NFC

Who is in:

Three teams have clinched a spot in the NFC playoffs: the New Orleans Saints, the Los Angeles Rams, and the Chicago Bears. 

Division Leaders:

- NFC South: New Orleans Saints (11-2)

- NFC West: Los Angeles Rams (11-3)

- NFC North: Chicago Bears (10-4)

- The only remaining division yet to be clinched is the NFC East, which the Dallas Cowboys (8-6) currently lead but were shut out by the Colts today. Riding their coattails are the Eagles (7-7), coming off a big win Sunday night, and the Washington Redskins (7-7) who won on a game-winning field goal 16-13 over the Jacksonville Jaguars. This division will come down to the wire. 

Notable games:

- The Seattle Seahawks (8-6) dropped to the San Francisco 49ers (4-10) in the Bay Area in what “should have” been a win to clinch a playoff spot is now on hold with Kansas City coming into Seattle next Sunday. 

- The Minnesota Vikings (7-6-1) picked up a big win over the Miami Dolphins to remain in the Wildcard race.

- The Eagles (7-7) defeated the Los Angeles Rams on the road.

In the hunt:

- Washington got its prayers answered with a win over Jacksonville to remain in playoff contention at 7-7, also with a Dallas Cowboys loss. The NFC East is anyone’s division at this point.

- The Carolina Panthers (6-7) need to get back on track but face the Saints next on Monday Night Football.



Dallas Cowboys ran out of Luck in shutout loss

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Dallas Cowboys ran out of Luck in shutout loss

The Dallas COwboys ran out of, or rather into, Luck. Andrew Luck that is. 

When all was going in the right direction for "America's Team", today was a turn of the tides. The Cowboys (now 8-6) were riding a five-game win streak and in a good spot on top of the NFC East after beating division rival Philadelphia last Sunday now hit the road into Colts territory. But it did not look like the same Dallas team, on both sides of the ball, got off the plane. Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliot was limited to 87 yards on 18 carries, an average of 4.8 yards per carry. While counterpart quarterback Dak Prescott did throw for 206 yards, but had one interception and zero touchdowns on the day.

For the first time since 2003, the Cowboys were shutout in a 23-0 loss to the Colts (8-6).

Perhaps this recap should be more about Andrew Luck and the Colts offense because not only has this Cowboys defense been stellar the past two weeks, but Andrew Luck or rather this Colts offensive line got it done today making way for the ground game to put up 178 yards rushing and two touchdowns.

Next up the Colts look to keep their playoff hopes alive hosting the New York Giants (5-9) on Sunday.

Marcus Mariota making a case for linebacker

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Marcus Mariota making a case for linebacker

It it not a scret that Marcus Mariota is a team player. It is a quality in his human nature, and it showed yet again this morning.

On a brisk day in New York against the Giants, the Tennessee Titans quarterback lined up as wide receiver in a wildcat formation, in perfect position for what was heading his way. As running back Derrick Henry made his run to Mariota's side, Mariota lead Henry with a monster block, sacrificing his own body for Henry to spring free. What his coaches may call ill-advised since Mariota has been dealing with some injuries, fans and teammates loved the effort.

Also just for reference, Mariota is 6' 4", 222 pounds. Alec Ogletree is 6' 2", 235 pounds.

The Titans are sitting in third of the AFC South at 7-6 and need this win over the New York Giants (5-8) to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Did someone put ice on the Oakland field?

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Did someone put ice on the Oakland field?

Was there a patch of ice on the Oakland Raiders field Sunday afternoon precisely at 4:48 PM (PT) on the 40-yard-line? We're only kidding, it was a sunny 57 degree day in Oakland, however, Steelers kicker Chris Boswell slipped on what would have been a game-tying field goal. Whoops.

The Oakland Raiders get their third win of the season with a 24-21 win over Pittsburgh. The Steelers drop their third game in a row and have a tough schedule coming up: host New England and at New Orleans before hosting the Cincinnati Bengals to finish the regular season. Other than a tough schedule ahead, Ben "Big Ben" Roethlisberger left this game early after taking a big hit but checked back into the game in the fourth quarter. 

Keep an eye out for this AFC North division featuring the Steelers at 7-5-1, Baltimore (7-6) who barely lost today at Kansas City, and the surging Cleveland Browns (it's been awhile since I've said that) at 5-7-1 who defeated Carolina today.


Kansas City Chiefs no-looking their way into the playoffs

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Kansas City Chiefs no-looking their way into the playoffs

When you think of a chess match in terms of NFL teams, Kansas City vs. Baltimore did not disappoint. Rookie quarterback vs. rookie quarterback.

Patrick Mahomes is breaking all the rules. Throwing late back across the field, holding the ball to losely in his hands while he is scrambling, no-look passes, but still proving he is scrapy and can build drives late in the fourth quarter when his team needs him most. 

Late in the fourth quarter, Mahomes and the Chiefs had a 4th & 9, down 24-17. Trying to build as much time as possible, Mahomes scrambled right and blades of grass before hitting the sideline white chalk, heaves a huge throw down the middle of the field right on target to speedy (and very much injured) Tyreek Hill, who battled through a leg injury late in this game. This set up a game-tying 24-24 touchdown with under a minute to go. 

Despite the Chiefs' defensive line coming up HUGE with a strip sack on Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson to set up a game-wining field goal that was missed right, overtime was more of Mahomes Time. 

Mahomes lead a 75-yard opening field-goal drive to go up 27-24 in overtime. In the end, it was more of the defense that stepped up for Mahomes and the Chiefs hanging onto the lead and clinching a playoff berth.

Next up the Chiefs (11-2) host the Los Angeles Chargers (9-3) on Thursday Night Football.