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Lions QB Matthew Stafford struggling this season

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Lions QB Matthew Stafford struggling this season

ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) Matthew Stafford was really looking forward to this season last summer.

The Detroit Lions quarterback expected to pick apart defenses by finding one-on-one matchups and throwing to Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Titus Young and Ryan Broyles.

If none of those receivers was open, he couldn't wait to connect with Brandon Pettigrew or Tony Scheffler.

And if the tight ends were covered, tossing a short pass to speedy running back Jahvid Best seemed as if it would be good option.

Not so much.

Stafford might have just two of the aforementioned targets Saturday night when the lowly Lions (4-10) host the NFC-leading Atlanta Falcons (12-2).

``There are NFL teams that go through this, and we're one of them,'' Stafford said. ``It's obviously easier when guys stay healthy and you can work with the same guys all year.''

That's what happened for the most part last year when Stafford stayed healthy for a change and had a trio of receivers - before Broyles was drafted - a pair of tight ends and Best to throw to during a 5-0 start.

Since a concussion knocked Best off the field more than a year ago, the Lions have lost almost twice as many games as they've won. Losing Best in the backfield has made the team even more one-dimensional, relying on Stafford to throw early and often.

Stafford finished last season with 663 attempts, the third-highest total in NFL history. With 629 throws this season, he is on pace to easily break the league's single-season mark of 691 set by New England's Drew Bledsoe in 1994.

His attempts this season are up, and he is down in other categories.

Stafford's rating ranks 24th in the league after it was among the best last season. The Lions are 10-0 when Stafford has a 105-plus QB rating, but he hasn't reached that level of production and efficiency in more than a year.

He has thrown 17 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, a season after breaking out by throwing for 41 scores and getting picked off 16 times. His .595 passing percentage ranks 21st after connecting on 63-plus percent of his passes a year ago.

Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, though, still thinks the 24-year-old Stafford is on track to be one of the NFL's best quarterbacks - ever.

Linehan said Stafford is not the one to blame for his QB rating dipping drastically.

``It has more to do with the continuity of his receiving corps that has not been there,'' Linehan said. ``We didn't have any injuries last year with the guys we were counting on.

``It's not an excuse, but you're not going to have the same rhythm and timing if you've got a revolving door at your skill positions.''

Stafford has been good enough to help Johnson chase a record. He is 182 yards receiving from breaking the single-season mark of 1,848 set by Jerry Rice with San Francisco in 1995.

That's of little consolation for either player, or the team, during the franchise's 10th double-digit loss season in 12 years.

Shaun Hill, Detroit's 32-year-old backup QB, said Stafford will eventually find out this season helped him when he looks back.

``That doesn't take away from the sting of the season, but in the long run, he will be better for it,'' Hill said.

Stafford is hoping he can bounce back quickly from his worst game statistically since the No. 1 pick from the 2009 NFL draft was a rookie.

``The great thing about this league is you got another chance and you got another opportunity to go out and play and play well,'' he said.

It would be tough to play worse.

Stafford completed just 24 of 50 passes for 246 yards without a TD and had two of his three interceptions returned for touchdowns in a 38-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, who had lost nine straight. That extended Detroit's losing streak to six games.

Privately and publicly, Stafford took the blame for the latest setback that gave Detroit the NFL's longest active losing string.

``This losing streak has hurt an awful lot, but good quarterbacks are always going to put it on their shoulders,'' Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said.

The Falcons don't feel sorry for Stafford, a former Georgia star, but they're also not getting too cocky about keeping him humbled.

``Sometimes the season doesn't go the way you planned, but he's still playing well,'' Atlanta cornerback Dunta Robinson said. ``He's right up there at the top in passing yards among all the quarterbacks.''

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

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AP Sports Writer George Henry in Flowery Branch, Ga., contributed to this story.

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Follow Larry Lage on Twitter:http://twitter.com/larrylage

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NBA Draft 2018: Mavs trade up to select Luka Doncic, send Trae Young to Hawks

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USA Today Sports

NBA Draft 2018: Mavs trade up to select Luka Doncic, send Trae Young to Hawks

The Dallas Mavericks traded up two spots to select Luka Doncic with the No. 3 overall pick in Thursday night’s NBA Draft, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Mavericks swapped its first round pick, No. 5 overall, with the Atlanta Hawks, who then took Oklahoma star Trae Young.

The Hawks had been interested in trading back to select Young all week.  

Along with the No. 5 overall pick, Dallas will send a 2019 protected first round pick, according to Yahoo Sports' Shams Charania. No players are involved in the trade.

Doncic, the 19-year-old guard, dominated in Europe this past season. He was named EuroLeague MVP, finishing the year averaging 14.5 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists over 25 minutes per game.

Young broke out in his freshman season at Oklahoma, leading the Sooners to a March Madness berth. He scored 27.4 points and picked up 8.7 assists per game, leading the country in both categories. Young will likely become the replacement to Dennis Schroder, who is expected to be traded by the Hawks.  

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The NHL salary cap numbers are in, what does it mean for the Caps?

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USA TODAY Sports

The NHL salary cap numbers are in, what does it mean for the Caps?

The NHL released the salary cap range for the 2018-19 season on Thursday. That sound you hear is the general managers frantically typing numbers into adding machines to figure out which of their players they can afford and which they are going to have to let walk.

The cap ceiling will rise from last year's $75 million all the way up to $79.5 million with the cap floor set at $58.8 million.

So what does this mean for the Capitals?

Here's a look at the team's pending free agents:

Unrestricted free agents: Jay Beagle, John Carlson, Alex Chiasson, Tyler Graovac, Jakub Jerabek, Michal Kempny, Anthony Peluso, Zach Sill, Wayne Simpson

Restricted free agents: Riley Barber, Madison Bowey, Travis Boyd, Adam Carlson, Philipp Grubauer, Tim McGauley, Liam O'Brien, Devante Smith-Pelly, Tom Wilson

We will not know exactly who will make the roster, so to project how much money the Caps will have to work with, let's assume Nathan Walker makes the team and Shane Gersich goes to the AHL. That will give the Caps a little less than $14.8 million with which to work.

Considering the team will need to use about half of that number if not more to re-sign Carlson, that's not a whole lot to work with.

Is $7 million enough to re-sign Beagle, Kempny, Bowey, Smith-Pelly and Wilson? Probably not and that does not even account for prospects who will try to compete for the NHL roster such as Barber and Boyd.

Here's what the cap ceiling tells us:

  • The team's entire offseason will depend on if the team can re-sign Carlson and for how much.
  • Carlson's cap hit last season was just under $4 million. A $4.5 million increase in the salary cap ceiling doesn't mean much when Carlson is going to get a raise of $3 million or more.
  • Grubauer will almost certainly be traded because he is an asset and because there won't be enough money for the team to commit $1.5 million or more to the backup goalie like they did last season.
  • If Carlson returns, fan favorite Beagle has almost certainly played his last game as a Cap. Everyone wants him back, but he would have to take a severe discount for the Caps to fit him and even then, he would be taking away a roster spot from a young prospect ready to make the jump to the NHL.

Free agency opens July 1.

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