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ON FOOTBALL: Predicting the NFL is a fool's game

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ON FOOTBALL: Predicting the NFL is a fool's game

So you think you know the NFL?

Perhaps you can predict the future, tame the weather and forecast winning lottery numbers, too.

Those claiming to know what will happen in pro football need only look at what went on this wild weekend, which featured a half-dozen super matchups that didn't turn out quite so super.

Nothing could be juicier than the defending champion New York Giants at Atlanta.

Oops: Falcons 34, Giants 0.

OK, then Denver at Baltimore. Delicious.

Sorry: Broncos 34, Ravens 17.

Houston, coming off an embarrassing Monday night rout at New England, against Indianapolis for AFC South supremacy.

Pffft: Texans 29-17 to clinch the division.

For something even more absurd than the lack of competitiveness in those games, try this one: San Francisco 31, New England 3 in the third quarter.

And this: Patriots 31, 49ers 31 with 6:43 left in the fourth quarter.

Just when the Patriots were on their way to matching the greatest regular-season comeback win in NFL history, the Niners turned around and won 41-34.

``It's a little bit crazy, a little bit surreal,'' said 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who threw for a career-best four touchdowns in his fifth start since replacing Alex Smith.

A little bit? That's the NFL this season.

If anyone thinks the weirdness has ended with two weeks remaining, well, don't count on it.

``The season's not over,'' Tom Brady said after his team that doesn't lose at home in December (20 straight wins heading into the San Francisco game) or in the second half of the schedule (21 straight victories anywhere) lost. And committed four turnovers, nearly half the 10 it had given away beforehand. ``There's still a lot of football to play.''

Plenty of meaningful football. About the only thing predictable is that there will be lots of surprises in those remaining games, too.

Here's what everyone can look forward to.

NFC

Atlanta (12-2 in the South) and Green Bay (10-4 in the North ) are division winners, with the Falcons in position to get home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

San Francisco (10-3-1) will earn the West with a victory at Seattle (9-5) next Sunday. But the Seahawks are 6-0 at home, have a dynamic defense to match the 49ers' unit, and are oozing with confidence thanks to a three-game winning streak and five victories in the last six outings.

The league moved that game to the prime-time telecast and NBC must be salivating after the Seahawks scored 50 points for the second straight week.

``What's important is that you continue to execute really well regardless of the circumstances and who you're playing,'' coach Pete Carroll said.

The East is in a three-team deadlock: New York, Washington and Dallas, all at 8-6. If either the Redskins or Cowboys win out, they'll take the division. They meet at Washington in the season finale.

Meanwhile, after three straight road losses, the Giants need help to repeat in the division.

Very alive for the wild card are all three East teams, the runner-up in the West, plus Minnesota and Chicago, also 8-6. But the Bears are skidding and banged-up. With the way Adrian Peterson is playing, counting them out would be foolhardy.

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AFC

Houston (12-2), despite that flop at Foxborough, is in good shape to remain at home throughout; one more victory earns the South champion that advantage. However, both remaining opponents, Minnesota and Indy, are chasing wild-card slots.

Denver (11-3) has won nine in a row and is a far superior team to the one that lost earlier this season to the Texans and Patriots. Peyton Manning has gotten more in tune with his teammates as the season has progressed, and the defense is fierce.

Plus, the West-winning Broncos finish with home games against weaklings Cleveland and Kansas City.

New England's strange loss to the 49ers puts it in a precarious position for a club that certainly looked like the league's best before Sunday. If it beats Jacksonville and Miami, it will finish 12-4, but that might get only the third seed and no bye for the East champ.

It also could mean a trip to the Mile High City in the divisional round.

The North has three teams struggling to reach the finish line. Baltimore (9-5) has lost three in a row, yet secured a playoff berth Sunday. It leads Cincinnati by one game and finishes with the Bengals after meeting the Giants next weekend.

Cincinnati and the Steelers (7-7) face off next week at Pittsburgh. A loss pretty much eliminated the Steelers.

The Colts (9-5) have the best shot at a wild card and a win at Kansas City next week should do it.

Not that we're predicting any such thing these days.

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

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Wizards release statement on the passing of John Wall's mother

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Wizards release statement on the passing of John Wall's mother

The Washington Wizards announced the passing of John Wall's mother, Frances Pulley on Friday. 

Wall's mother had been battling cancer before her passing. She was 58. 

In a statement on Twitter, the Wizards said, "Sending thoughts and love for John Wall and his family after the passing of his mother, Frances Pulley. She will forever be a part of our #DCFamily."

Zach Leonsis, the senior vice president of strategic initiatives at Monumental Sports & Entertainment, also released a statement

"Thinking of @JohnWall and his family right now. Keeping you guys in our prayers. So terribly sorry for your loss and know that she will be remembered forever. #DCFamily

Wall's Kentucky coach, John Calipari also expressed his condolences for his former star: 

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Nationals trading for a third baseman is possible -- as long as it’s not Nolan Arenado

Nationals trading for a third baseman is possible -- as long as it’s not Nolan Arenado

Here’s the list of players on the Nationals’ active roster who could play third base: Wilmer Difo, Jake Noll, Adrián Sánchez, Howie Kendrick, Carter Kieboom. Career major-league starts at the position: Difo, 29; Noll, one;  Sánchez, nine; Kendrick, 25; Kieboom, zero. 

Such is the state of third base for the defending World Series champions. Not good. 

Which makes Josh Donaldson’s agent smile and any semi-skilled third baseman with a pulse a possible target. Possible trades? Count the Nationals in. On most. Not on Nolan Arenado. That’s a non-starter because Washington is not going to send assets (prospects) for a contract it was unwilling to give Anthony Rendon in the first place. Zero chance. Zilch.

However, Kris Bryant is more intriguing depending on the years and ask -- as always with trades. Beyond him and Kyle Seager, is there another third baseman the Nationals could pursue in a trade? The question takes on weight because of the aforementioned toothless list of in-house candidates and shallow free-agent talent pool beyond Donaldson.

Any trade consideration needs to begin with an understanding of the parameters Washington is working from. Last season, Rendon’s one-year deal to avoid arbitration earned him $18.8 million. When Washington looks at the cost for its next third baseman, the number will be similar to last season’s cost for Rendon. A bump in the competitive balance tax threshold, plus savings at first base and catcher, provide the Nationals wiggle room for increases in spots. So, $18-25 million annually for a third baseman is in play.

Second, the Nationals’ farm system needs to be taken into account. Their 2018 first-round pick, Mason Denaburg, had shoulder problems last year. Mike Rizzo said at the Winter Meetings that Denaburg is healthy and progressing. But, the early shoulder irritation for a high school pitcher who also had problems his senior year with biceps tendinitis provides his stock pause. He’s a would-be trade chip. So is Kieboom.

But, what is Kieboom’s value? What damage did it receive during his rocky, and brief, appearance in the majors last season? Did his potent hitting in the Pacific Coast League after being sent back mitigate his big-league struggles? 

Beyond Kieboom, the farm system’s next tier is manned by Luis Garcia, 2019 first-round pick Jackson Rutledge, Wil Crowe and Tim Cate, among others. Only Garcia is part of MLB.com’s top-100 prospects list (which is more of a guide than an industry standard).

So, when Bryant or Seager -- or anyone not named Arenado -- are mentioned, know where the Nationals are coming from. If they are positioned to take on money, they don’t want to use assets to do it (this is the Donaldson Scenario). If they can save money, find a solid player and retain the few high-end assets, then a trade could be in play (this would be the Seager Scenario, if Seattle pays some of the contract). 

The Bryant Scenario is the most appealing and challenging. He’s the best player of the group. However, acquiring him would be high-cost and short-term. Bryant has two years remaining before he can become a free agent -- with an outside shot at becoming a free agent after next season because of a grievance he filed against the Cubs for service-time manipulation. Obtaining him would likely focus on multiple pitching prospects.

There is no Arenado Scenario. Just a reminder.

Piled together, Washington is in a tough spot. What it has is not enough. What it needs will be costly.

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