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Surging and stumbling toward NFL playoffs

Surging and stumbling toward NFL playoffs

Some teams surge toward the playoffs. Look at Denver, Seattle, Washington and Green Bay.

Others struggle to stay in the mix: try the Steelers, Bengals, Giants and Bears.

This penultimate weekend of the schedule could propel a few of them and eliminate others.

Chief among the clubs that could go either way: the defending champion New York Giants, who have lost their last three road games by a combined 82-29 to fall to 8-6. Not even coach Tom Coughlin is sure what he has as they head to Baltimore.

``It would be easy for me to say I do, but the reality of it is we haven't been able to play to substantiate what I would say is the personality of this team,'' said Coughlin, whose club gets a wild card, for sure, by winning out. ``So I'm definitely counting on the veterans to go ahead and prove this and do it with consistency.

``Last year we did it over a six-game run and, exactly, we're in that situation again.''

Even though their opponent Sunday, the Ravens, already have sewed up a playoff spot, it's a critical game for Baltimore (9-5) to get back on track after three straight defeats - two at home and one a bit down the road in Washington.

``We dug this hole we're in,'' safety Bernard Pollard said. ``We can't blame anybody but ourselves. We don't like losing three straight games. Nobody does. It's at the point right now where we have to get back at it, man. We dug the hole, now we've got to find a way to get out of it.''

The action began Saturday night with Atlanta's 31-18 victory at Detroit. The Falcons (13-2) clinched home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs, while the Lions (4-11) lost their seventh straight game.

Also Sunday, it's Cincinnati at Pittsburgh in an AFC wild-card showdown; Chicago at Arizona; San Francisco at Seattle; Washington at Philadelphia; New Orleans at Dallas; Minnesota at Houston; Indianapolis at Kansas City; Cleveland at Denver; Tennessee at Green Bay; New England at Jacksonville; St. Louis at Tampa Bay; Buffalo at Miami; San Diego at New York Jets; and Oakland at Carolina.

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Cincinnati (8-6) at Pittsburgh (7-7)

A Bengals win, perhaps a long shot because second-year quarterback Andy Dalton hasn't beaten either the Steelers or Ravens yet, gives Cincinnati a second consecutive postseason berth. That hasn't happened since 1982 and never has occurred without involving a strike-shortened season.

The Bengals also can take the division by sweeping the final two games and having Baltimore lose twice.

Pittsburgh can win the division only if there is a three-way tie, but definitely gets a wild card with two victories.

Chicago (8-6) at Arizona (5-9)

Reeling and injury-ravaged, the Bears have dropped three straight and five of six. There's some discord in the locker room, coach Lovie Smith's job security has become shakier, and they no longer can win the NFC North.

Still, a wild-card spot is available if they win out, and even though the Cardinals routed Detroit last week, it was Arizona's first win in 10 games.

San Francisco (10-3-1) at Seattle (9-5)

The spotlight matchup, even though it won't decide the NFC West. San Francisco can take the division for the second successive season by beating Arizona in its finale even if it falls at what will be a rocking CenturyLink Field. The 49ers earned at least a wild card with their, uh, wild 41-34 victory at New England last weekend.

``Given my first four years, around this time, we probably wouldn't be playing for much, maybe a chance to win a game and maybe get in or waiting on three other teams to lose,'' star linebacker Patrick Willis said. ``It feels good to know that you're playing for something. We have a playoff berth, but we want the division. And we also want to have that first-week bye, and we know we have to win this week first.''

The Seahawks are 6-0 at home, have won five of their last six overall, and scored 58 and 50 points the last two weeks. They aren't likely to come close to that against the NFL's stingiest defense; the Niners have allowed 218 points, one fewer than Seattle.

Washington (8-6) at Philadelphia (4-10)

Credit Mike Shanahan and his coaching staff for one of the best jobs down the stretch. It helps when you have not one but two effective rookie quarterbacks: Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins.

The Redskins might beat the weak Eagles with Rex Grossman this week. But even if RG3 is back as expected, look for another key Washington rookie, RB Alfred Morris, to add to his 1,322 yards and nine TDs on the ground.

New Orleans (6-8) at Dallas (8-6)

Dallas is in the same situation as Washington. Win out and the Cowboys take the NFC East.

They've shown plenty of fortitude in winning five of six, rallying to beat the Bengals and Steelers in the last two outings.

New Orleans will test the Dallas defense and is adept at forcing turnovers, something the Cowboys often commit (minus-9 margin)

Minnesota (8-6) at Houston (12-2)

Seems like most everyone believes Adrian Peterson is a lock to break Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing mark of 2,105. But he still needs almost 300 yards in the last two games, and to average that much would be a pace for 2,400 yards in a season.

The Texans are formidable against the run and badly want to assure being at home throughout the AFC playoffs. By damaging Minnesota's push for an NFC wild card, Houston would ensure it is at home in January.

``This year he's definitely the best,'' linebacker Bradie James said about Peterson, who has 1,812 yards. ``I played against Ricky Williams in his heyday when he would just run over everybody. I played against the Bus (Jerome Bettis); the Bus was great in short yardage. I played against Mike Alstott. I played against all these guys, and what Adrian Peterson is doing right now, I hadn't seen it before.

``We don't want to be on the end of his record setting. We've got to do our job and really not get caught up in all that.''

Indianapolis (9-5) at Kansas City (2-12)

Indy's sensational turnaround from 2-14 to wild-card team will be complete with a victory at the Chiefs. The Colts have managed it despite the fewest takeaways in the NFL (10) and a minus-17.

But the Chiefs, who were shut out by lowly Oakland a week ago, are even worse at minus-22.

Cleveland (5-9) at Denver (11-3)

Consider how far the Broncos have come from a 2-3 record and tons of questions about whether Peyton Manning could once again be, well, Peyton Manning. He is every bit as good in his first season in Denver, has gotten in-tune with his receivers, particularly Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, and has a fierce defense to boot.

``I like young players that really want to get better, and those guys have done that,'' Manning said. ``Our timing has improved throughout the season. It's not what it would be had we played together for five years.''

In Cleveland, they wonder if the young cast will play another year with coach Pat Shurmur.

Tennessee (5-9) at Green Bay (10-4)

The Packers could move into the No. 2 seed in the NFC with a victory and a loss by San Francisco. That should be enough motivation to keep them humming; they've won eight of nine, including three in a row within the division to put away the NFC North.

Tennessee was the beneficiary of Mark Sanchez's generosity on Monday night. Aaron Rodgers is no Sanchez.

New England (10-4) at Jacksonville (2-12)

An angry bunch of Patriots head south to face one of the league's worst teams. Barring a misstep by Denver, New England is looking at playing in the wild-card round, by which time it had better have solved defensive woes exposed by San Francisco last Sunday night.

The Jaguars don't figure to provide any challenge as they contend for the top overall draft pick.

St. Louis (6-7-1) at Tampa Bay (6-8)

Both teams should look forward to bigger and better things in 2013. These are generally young teams being constructed in dissimilar ways.

Jeff Fisher is a defensive guy and he's put together a solid unit led by ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn, LB James Laurinaitis and cornerbacks Cortland Finnegan and rookie Janoris Jenkins. They rank ninth and have 41 sacks, third in the league behind contenders Denver, Houston and Cincinnati.

The Bucs are doing most of their good things with the ball. Vincent Jackson is first in yards per catch (19.8) and fourth in yards receiving, while rookie Doug Martin has 1,250 yards rushing and 10 TDs.

Buffalo (5-9) at Miami (6-8)

Buffalo's high expectations after a busy offseason adding talent fell apart early. The Bills could see some front-office housecleaning after they finish off their 13th straight season out of the playoffs.

Miami has taken some decent steps in its rebuild, but this could be a game of turnovers. Buffalo is minus-10 and Miami is minus-12 in turnover margin.

San Diego (5-9) at New York Jets (6-8)

To the chagrin of Fireman Ed and other Jets fans, the Sanchez error, uh, era might not be over. At least for 2012, barring injuries, the regressing QB will be on the sideline as Greg McElroy tries to secure a job for the future.

The Chargers are playing out the string, too. They found some enthusiasm when they beat Pittsburgh two weeks ago, but then the Panthers routed them in San Diego.

Oakland (4-10) at Carolina (5-9)

The Panthers, particularly Cam Newton, are playing well enough to perhaps save coach Ron Rivera's job. It seems logical that Raiders coach Dennis Allen, in his first season of what will be a lengthy rebuilding project, also is safe.

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

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What you need to know from the Ravens' 24-23 loss to the Saints

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AP Images

What you need to know from the Ravens' 24-23 loss to the Saints

The Baltimore Ravens' top-ranked scoring defense clashed with the New Orleans Saints' top-ranked scoring offense in a game fans will soon never forget.

After a constant back and forth and a chance to tie the game, Justin Tucker missed his first ever point-after-touchdown attempt with seconds to spare.

Here's what you need to know from the Ravens' 24-23 loss over the Saints.

— We knew this game was going to be interesting and the Saints didn't waste any time getting things rolling. Facing a fourth down, New Orleans faked a punt for a five-yard gain from third-string quarterback Taysom Hill. The 20 play, 69-yard drive was highlighted by four fourth-down attempts, two challenges from the Ravens and a fumble recovery by nose tackle Michael Pierce on the final fourth down attempt at the six-yard line.

Not only was the 9:58 drive the longest opening drive by a team this season, it was the longest opening drive to result in zero points since the Browns' 9:59 opening drive Week 1 of 2015, per NFL research.

— Drew Brees continues making history during the 2018 season. The QB threw his 500th career touchdown to former Raven Ben Watson in the second quarter joining Brett Favre, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in the prestigious club. Then when the clock hit zero and the Saints came away with the win, Brees also joined Manning and Favre as the third QB to beat all 32 NFL teams.

Prior to Sunday, Brees was 0-4 against the Ravens. He also became the NFL's all-time leading passer back in Week 5.

— It only took seven weeks, but rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson scored his first NFL touchdown with four seconds left in the first half. While it was only from one-yard out, it was nice to see Jackson kick it into gear with the clock ticking. He wasn't the only guy from the Ravens' 2018 draft class to make an impact. Tight end Mark Andrews scored an eight-yard touchdown late in the third quarter to put the team up 17-7 and left guard Bradley Bozeman and right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. held down the O-line for much of the afternoon. 

— The Ravens' streak of not allowing a second-half touchdown in the 2018 season came to an end Sunday. Drew Brees gave the ball to running back Alvin Kamara at the top of the fourth quarter resulting in a two-yard touchdown. Kamara finished the day with 17 attempts for 64 yards and one touchdown. 

— Jimmy Smith's first start of 2018 didn't go quite as well as he'd like.

Smith was hit with two pass interference calls, with one of them coming in the end zone leading to a Saints touchdown and the other on one of many third downs. The cornerback had trouble covering wide receiver Michael Thomas, who heading into Week 7 was ranked fourth in the NFL,  all afternoon. One of their meetings resulted in a touchdown to put the Saints up 21-17.

— Then there was, of course, Justin Tuckers' first-ever PAT miss. After Joe Flacco hit John Brown in the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown with 0:24 left on the clock, the Ravens were preparing to go into overtime until that wasn't necessary. Tucker, who is the most accurate kicker in NFL history, was on the wrong side of history when his kick went wide right.

From the field to the nosebleeds, M&T Bank Stadium was in shock as the clock expired and the final score was 24-23.

Postgame, Tucker took responsibility for the team's loss while his head coach and teammates all reiterated that a game never comes down to just one play. 

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Ravens vs. Saints Week 7: Date, time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

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Ravens vs. Saints Week 7: Date, time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

The Baltimore Ravens' top-ranked scoring defense clashes with the New Orleans Saints' top-ranked scoring offense in one of the most anticipated games of Week 7.

The Ravens (4-2) are coming off a historic 21-0 shutout win over the Tennessee Titans, while the Saints (4-1) have had a full week of rest after beating up the Redskins in primetime in a dominating 43-19 win.

The Ravens are 5-1 all time against the Saints winning their last three contests and are 3-1 at M&T Bank Stadium. Here are key factors ahead of Sunday's game.

Ravens vs. Saints Week 7 Game Preview

1. Brees can make history vs. Ravens

Drew Brees' road to Hall of Fame enshrinement has not been without obstacles. In Week 7, Brees will face a roadblock he's had issues with in the past. If he can clear it, he will etch his name yet again in the NFL history books.

Since entering the NFL in 2001, Brees is 0-4 against the Ravens, making Baltimore the only NFL team he has never beaten. A win Sunday would make him just the third quarterback to beat all 32 teams,  adding him to the list that features only Brett Favre and Peyton Manning. And if that sounds familiar, it's because it it.  In Week 5 against the Redskins Brees passed both Favre and Manning to become NFL's all-time leading passer.

But the history-making for Brees won't stop there come Sunday. He enters the matchup with 499 career touchdowns and one more against the Ravens will make him the fifth signal caller in league history to throw 500.

The Ravens defense, which is ranked first in points (12.8), first in yards (270.8), second in passing yards (188) and third in rushing yards (82.8), will have to act fast as Brees hasn't thrown an interception in his last six regular-season games and leads the league in completion percentage, interception percentage, passer rating and fourth quarter passer rating. Against the Ravens, he's 116-for-181 for 1,340 yards, nine touchdowns, eight interceptions and 10 sacks. 

2. Flacco, Ravens offense needs to capitalize

Drew Brees isn't the only QB in this matchup making history. Joe Flacco became the third different quarterback in NFL history to complete 25 or more passes in nine consecutive games, completing the feat in the Week 6 victory over Tennessee. He also instilled a much needed confidence boost in receiver Michael Crabtree after dropping the ball literally and figuratively Week 5, connecting with him six times and for one touchdown. 

The Saints defense is ranked 26th in points (28.0), 18th in yards (369), 30th in passing yards (297.6) but first in rushing yards (71.4). Those are numbers the Ravens will need to capitalize on.

The Ravens' running game is still searching for its footing, so expect the chemistry between Flacco and the core receivers to strengthen. Flacco also has performed well against the Saints in the past,  finishing with 117.7 passer rating in his last two games against the Saints. The Ravens are averaging 28.7 points per game against New Orleans., lighting the Saints up for at least 30 points in the each past three matchups,

Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who exited their Week 5 game early with a concussion, was a full participant during Wednesday and Thursday's practices and will be on John Brown, Willie Snead and Crabtree all day long.

Ravens vs. Saints Week 7 Matchup Preview:

1. Jimmy Smith vs. Michael Thomas: 
Thomas will be keeping Smith preoccupied all afternoon as the wide receiver is ranked fourth in the NFL with 519 yards, averaging 103.8 yards per game with three touchdowns.

2. Mark Ingram/Alvin Kamara vs. Ravens defense:
Referred to as 'Lightning and Thunder,' the two have put up 352 yards, are averaging 53 and 59.8 yards per game respectively and have seven touchdowns. 

Ravens vs. Saints Week 7 Injury Report:

Click here to see the latest Ravens-Saints injury report.

Ravens vs. Saints Week 7 How to Watch:

Who: Baltimore Ravens vs. New Orleans Saints

What: Week 7 regular season

When: Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018, 4:05 p.m. ET

Where: M&T Bank Stadium

TV Channel: FOX

Live Stream: Watch Now with fuboTV - Try free trial

Radio: WBAL New Radio 1090 and 98Rock

Weather: 55 degrees, mostly sunny

Ravens 2018 Regular Season Schedule:

Week 1: Sun., 9/9. Ravens vs. Bills. Win, 47-3 (1-0)

Week 2: Thur., 9/13 Ravens at Bengals. Loss, 34-23 (1-1)

Week 3: Sun., 9/23 Ravens vs. Broncos. Win, 27-14 (2-1)

Week 4: Sun., 9/30 Ravens at Steelers. Win, 26-14 (3-1)

Week 5: Sun., 10/7 Ravens at Browns. Loss, 12-9 (3-2)

Week 6: Sun., 10/14 Ravens at Titans. Win, 21-0 (4-2)

Week 7: Sun., 10/21 vs. Saints, 4:05 p.m.

Week 8: Sun., 10/28 @ Panthers, 1:00 p.m.

Week 9: Sun., 11/4 vs. Steelers, 1:00 p.m.

Week 10:  BYE week

Week 11: Sun., 11/18 vs. Bengals, 1:00 p.m.

Week 12: Sun., 11/25 vs. Raiders, 1:00 p.m.

Week 13: Sun., 12/2 @ Falcons, 1:00 p.m.

Week 14: Sun., 12/9 @ Chiefs, 1:00 p.m.

Week 15: Sun., 12/16 vs. Buccaneers, 1:00 p.m.

Week 16: Sat., 12/22 or Sunday 12/23 @ Chargers, TBD

Week 17: Sun., 12/30 vs. Browns, 1:00 p.m.