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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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Ravens coronavirus protocols made opt-outs an afterthought for Greg Roman and Don Martindale

Ravens coronavirus protocols made opt-outs an afterthought for Greg Roman and Don Martindale

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, NFL players and staff were tasked with a tough decision as training camp begun. They could either participate in the season and face the risks that come with it, or opt out if they felt unsafe.

For Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman and defensive coordinator Don 'Wink" Martindale, the choice was easy. Based on what they've seen from the team and league in terms of safety, they never considered not coaching in 2020.

"It never really entered my mind," Roman said during a Zoom call with media on Wednesday.

"Well, I think with the protocol that’s been established by the league it's obviously a safe environment its football and I never thought about opting out," Martindale said. "I don’t think they would have ever brought us back if they thought it was a high rate of danger with the pandemic. I felt safe coming back and taking all precautions and protocol, wear our masks and do all of the six feet apart and social distancing."

RELATED: RAVENS WON'T RULE OUT QUARANTINING LAMAR JACKSON

While Martindale applauds the league's efforts to control the virus, which now includes daily testing through September 5, the Ravens have specifically made an effort to prioritize the health and safety of everyone involved.

From Lamar Jackson opting to become a "Bubble Boy" to Mark Ingram stating that a positive mindset and cautious behavior will benefit the league, it's clear the team has bought into the idea that a season will only happen if everyone is committed to following the protocols to a tee.

Additionally, Roman says he's been blown away with the technology brought in and the extra precautions Baltimore has taken in order to lessen the risk of infection. That includes a device that alerts someone when they are within six feet of another individual.

The pre-planning prior to arrivals and constant improvements were the reasons the offensive coordinator never had doubts about the campaign.

"Resources and planning that this organization put into the facility procedures, it’s a thought that never crossed my mind," Roman said. "Frankly the unbelievable prep forethought, resources, space, that everybody was able to come up with some great solutions, it never entered my mind. If I came and saw something different you never know but impressive what our organization has done in this unique situation for all of us."

With training camp just beginning and contact practices set to get underway soon, there are still numerous obstacles the league will have to face. But through the initial phase, the Ravens have shown that health and safety are their biggest concerns, and that approach won't change. That mentality made opting in the only reasonable choice for Martindale, Roman and others.

"We’re all in this together. Taking care of each other and each other’s families. Show your discipline and mental toughness, wear your masks in meetings," Martindale said. "I've never thought about opting out."

Stay connected to the Ravens and Orioles with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

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Ravens team doctor won't rule out quarantining Lamar Jackson

Ravens team doctor won't rule out quarantining Lamar Jackson

The Ravens don't have any plans to quarantine the unanimous NFL MVP -- yet.

Head team physician Dr. Andrew Tucker spoke with local reporters on a Zoom call Wednesday afternoon on a variety of topics, including NFL safety protocols, mitigating COVID-19 concerns, and more. He also addressed a popular suggestion among fans online: quarantining quarterbacks.

No team wants to lose any of their depth, but some players and positions are clearly more critical than others. At the top of the list is obviously the team's quarterbacks, and few signal-callers are more essential to their team's success than Lamar Jackson is to the Ravens.

With that in mind, Dr. Tucker was asked if Baltimore is considering any plans to isolate Jackson and the other quarterbacks from the rest of the team, to take extra precautions that the position group doesn't see a coronavirus outbreak during the season.

"Not that I know of. I can't speculate on if things change in the community or change in the team, there might be a different approach. I wouldn't rule it out," Tucker said.

It appears that, for now, the Ravens aren't planning to turn Jackson into a true Bubble Boy. As an organization, they have taken countless steps to keep every player as safe and healthy as possible amidst a global pandemic, and they are trusting their protocols to keep Jackson on the field. But it's notable that Dr. Tucker declined to rule out the possibility of things changing down the line.

Obviously, most teams are in a state of flux in regards to COVID-19, and they all have more information everyday. The impact of the virus spreading both within the organization and the greater Baltimore community could lead the Ravens to reverse course in order to protect their most valuable asset.

Jackson, in his own words, hasn't had "one tick" of coronavirus in him yet. The Ravens are going to do everything they possibly can to keep it that way.

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