Gilbert, DeCastro return for Steelers against Ravens

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line is back to full strength for Sunday night’s showdown with the Baltimore Ravens.

All-Pro right guard David DeCastro and right tackle Marcus Gilbert are back in the lineup as the Steelers look for their second straight win. DeCastro missed two games with a fractured right hand. Gilbert sat out last Monday as Pittsburgh won in Tampa Bay.

The Steelers will be without two members of the secondary. Cornerback Mike Hilton is out with an elbow injury and safety Morgan Burnett is out with a groin injury.

The list of inactive players:

RAVENS: QB Robert Griffin, WR Anthony Averett, C Hroniss Grasu, DT Willie Henry, TE Hayden Hurst, DT Zach Sieler, WR Jordan Lasley.

STEELERS: WR Justin Hunter, S Marcus Allen, OL Zach Banner, DE L.T. Walton, CB Mike Hilton, S Morgan Burnett, QB Mason Rudolph.

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More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/tag/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Eagles LB apologizes for saying Cowboys ‘choke’

Eagles LB apologizes for saying Cowboys 'choke'

Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill issued a partial apology

Eagles LB apologizes for saying Cowboys ‘choke’

Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill issued a partial apology Friday for saying earlier in the week that the Dallas Cowboys “always choke.”

Grugier-Hill said he was sorry for the distraction he caused to his team, as Eagles coach Doug Pederson decried the original remarks.

The Eagles (6-6) visit the Cowboys (7-5) on Sunday in a key NFC East clash.

Grugier-Hill said Friday, “It’s a rivalry game. I didn’t think too much about it. Obviously, I didn’t mean to disrespect this organization or Doug Pederson. I’ve just got a lot of confidence in our guys, confidence in myself, going into this game and we’re ready to play.”

On Wednesday, Grugier-Hill had told NBC Sports Philadelphia, “I mean, you look at Dallas’ history, they always choke, so we’ll go down there and make them choke.”

Pederson said Friday that he spoke with Grugier-Hill about the provocative quote.

The coach added, “It’s unfortunate that the comments were made. I talk to the team a lot about how we don’t need to post anything that can be used on (an opponent’s) website or bulletin board. It’s unfortunate that happened. We still have to go play. They have to play. It’s going to be a good football game.”

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott responded to Grugier-Hill’s “choke” comment: “Coach (Jason) Garrett has a great saying, and I don’t know where he got it from, but, ‘Winners worry about winning and losers worry about winners.’ We’re focused on ourselves in this locker room, about what we need to do to get better in each and every phase of this game to be ready for this week. We’re not worried about he say, she say.”

–Field Level Media

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Chiefs waive DE Jenkins to make room for Benjamin

Chiefs waive DE Jenkins to make room for Benjamin

The Kansas City

Chiefs waive DE Jenkins to make room for Benjamin

The Kansas City Chiefs waived defensive end Jarvis Jenkins to add wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin to the roster, the team announced Friday.

Jenkins, 30, has been with the Chiefs the last three seasons and was a rotational player for them. He’s totaled 20 tackles and one sack in 30 career games (one start) with the Chiefs.

With the trade deadline past, Jenkins is subject to waivers. If he’s not picked up in the next 24 hours, he’ll be free to sign with any club.

Benjamin, who was released by the Buffalo Bills earlier this week after two seasons, practiced with the team Friday but is not expected to play on Sunday.

His signing, which was reported Thursday, comes amid reports that wideout Sammy Watkins could miss four to six weeks after tweaking his foot in Thursday’s practice.

–Field Level Media

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NFL notebook: Flacco questionable, could be backup

NFL notebook: Flacco questionable, could be backup

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe

NFL notebook: Flacco questionable, could be backup

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was a full participant in Friday’s practice for the first time since injuring his hip in Week 9, but he is officially questionable Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Flacco has not been cleared yet to play a game, but that could happen before Sunday.

Rookie Lamar Jackson, who has won all three starts since Flacco went down, is expected to start again, but head coach John Harbaugh declined to confirm as much. Harbaugh acknowledged it’s possible Flacco could be the backup against the Chiefs, but he did not address who will be the team’s starter over the rest of the season.

“I’m not getting into all that,” Harbaugh told reporters. “… It’s not something that we’re going to talk about. I’m not trying to be coy or clever. We’re just rolling. We’re just going to play the games. We don’t feel like we owe any explanations to anybody. We’re going to put our best team out there and try to go play some football.”

–The Chiefs will be without wide receiver Sammy Watkins for four to six weeks, according to a Kansas City Star report.

Watkins has missed three of the last four games with a foot injury and reportedly re-injured the foot in Thursday’s practice. He’s officially listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game against the Ravens and will be evaluated week-to-week after that.

Free agent wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin was signed on Thursday, two days after being waived by the Buffalo Bills, though he is not expected to play Sunday.

–Cam Newton cut the ball loose in Friday’s practice and received the all-clear from head coach Ron Rivera for the Carolina Panthers’ game Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.

Newton missed practice Wednesday with a shoulder injury after throwing four interceptions in defeat last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Rivera said Friday that Newton was able to display touch and arm strength on throws to every level, including down the field.

–After making it through the week with no setbacks, Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is officially set to return to the starting lineup Sunday night against the Los Angeles Rams.

“He put together three really good days in practice,” head coach Matt Nagy told reporters of Trubisky, who missed the last two games with a right (throwing) shoulder injury. “The velocity on his throws was good. His decision-making, just getting in and out of the huddle, that part was easy.

“The main thing was really seeing, conditioning-wise, can he hold up? And he did well.”

–New York Jets linebacker Darron Lee has been suspended without pay for the final four games of the season for a violation of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, the league announced.

Lee’s suspension begins with Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills and will cost him approximately $325,000.

Lee, a 2016 first-round pick, had 74 tackles and three interceptions this season, returning one of the picks for a score. The team must decide this offseason whether to pick up his fifth-year option for 2020.

–Tight end Jonnu Smith suffered a season-ending MCL injury in the Tennessee Titans’ win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday night, ESPN reported.

Smith hurt his knee while blocking on running back Derrick Henry’s historic 99-yard touchdown run.

Taking over for injured starter Delanie Walker, Smith has 20 catches for 258 yards and three touchdowns this season.

–Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith was was fined $26,739 by the NFL for a helmet-to-helmet hit to New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara in a Nov. 29 game.

Smith, who was not penalized on the play, plans to appeal the fine, per ESPN.

–Former Buccaneers kicker Chandler Catanzaro signed with the Panthers, as starter Graham Gano will sit out Sunday’s game against the Browns with a balky left knee.

Gano first appeared on the injury report last Friday with a knee injury, though he made all three of his attempts (one field goal, two extra points) Sunday against Tampa Bay.

–Former NFL star linebacker Isiah “Butch” Robertson was killed in a car crash on Thursday night, nfl.com reported. He was 69.

The Texas Department of Public Safety said Robertson died in a three-car crash near the town of Mabank, which is approximately 50 miles southeast of Dallas.

Robertson, a six-time Pro Bowl selection with the Los Angeles Rams in the 1970s, was driving a limousine at an unsafe speed around a curve, Lt. Lonny Haschel of the public safety office told nfl.com.

–Field Level Media

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Bears’ Trubisky officially starting vs. Rams

Bears' Trubisky officially starting vs. Rams

After making it through the week with

Bears’ Trubisky officially starting vs. Rams

After making it through the week with no setbacks, Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is officially set to return to the starting lineup Sunday night against the Los Angeles Rams.

“He put together three really good days in practice,” head coach Matt Nagy told reporters Friday of Trubisky, who missed the last two games with a right (throwing) shoulder injury. “The velocity on his throws was good. His decision-making, just getting in and out of the huddle, that part was easy.

“The main thing was really seeing, conditioning-wise, can he hold up? And he did well.”

Trubisky practiced in full all week after being limited all of last week. He told reporters on Wednesday that his “arm feels really good.”

“Just throwing as much as they’ll let me and taking care of it,” Trubisky said. “I’m just making sure I’m 100 percent when I get back out there.”

The Bears went 1-1 with veteran Chase Daniel starting in Trubisky’s absence. Trubisky is 7-3 as a starter this season while throwing for 2,469 yards, 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

Meanwhile, safety Eddie Jackson (shin) and rookie defensive tackle Bilal Nichols (knee) are questionable to face the Rams. Nagy told reporters Jackson sat out Friday’s practice to get some rest as the team worked on artificial turf.

Safety Deon Bush (hamstring) is doubtful after missing practice all week.

–Field Level Media

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Cowboys LB Smith fined $26K for hit on Saints’ Kamara

Cowboys LB Smith fined $26K for hit on Saints’ Kamara

Cowboys LB Smith fined $26K for hit on Saints’ Kamara

Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith wasn’t penalized for a crunching helmet-to-helmet hit to New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara in a Nov. 29 game, but he didn’t avoid punishment from the NFL office.

Smith was fined $26,739 by the league on Friday for the hit that dazed Kamara, who went to the sideline, then briefly to the locker room, needing smelling salts after the collision.

After the game, neither Kamara nor Saints coach Sean Payton, who is on the league’s competition committee that helped develop a new rule against lowering the helmet to contact an opponent, complained about the non-call.

“It is what it is,” Kamara said when asked if he was expecting a penalty. “It don’t matter what I was expecting.”

According to ESPN, Smith plans to appeal the fine, believing he did nothing wrong.

“It’s the last gladiator sport,” Smith told Dallas media members Thursday. “As I was going to tackle him, he turned his body at the last second and I hit him. I hit him. I put my arms out to hit him and there was some contact. But, like I said, it’s the game that we love and definitely no intentions to play the game the wrong way. I’ve been taught well.”

After a flurry of calls for lowering the helmet during the preseason, the NFL has called very few during the regular season. ESPN reported last month that the league has instead emphasized fining players for such violations as a form of warning.

–Field Level Media

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Jets LB Lee suspended for final four games

Jets LB Lee suspended for final four games

New

Jets LB Lee suspended for final four games

New York Jets linebacker Darron Lee has been suspended without pay for the final four games of the season for a violation of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, the league announced Friday.

Lee’s suspension begins with Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills. The suspension will cost him approximately $325,000.

Lee is eligible to be reinstated to the active roster on Dec. 31, one day following the Jets’ season finale against the New England Patriots.

Lee had 74 tackles and three interceptions this season. He returned one of the picks for a score.

The third-year-pro has 241 tackles in 40 games with the Jets.

Lee was the 20th overall selection in 2016 out of Ohio State.

–Field Level Media

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Flacco questionable vs. Chiefs, could be backup

Flacco questionable vs. Chiefs, could be backup

Baltimore Ravens quarterback

Flacco questionable vs. Chiefs, could be backup

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was a full participant in Friday’s practice for the first time since injuring his hip in Week 9, but he is officially questionable Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Flacco has not been cleared yet to play a game, but that could happen before Sunday.

Rookie Lamar Jackson, who has won all three starts since Flacco went down, is expected to start again, but head coach John Harbaugh declined to confirm as much. Harbaugh acknowledged it’s possible Flacco could be the backup against the Chiefs, but he did not address who will be the team’s starter over the rest of the season.

“I’m not getting into all that,” Harbaugh told reporters.. “… It’s not something that we’re going to talk about. I’m not trying to be coy or clever. We’re just rolling. We’re just going to play the games. We don’t feel like we owe any explanations to anybody. We’re going to put our best team out there and try to go play some football.”

Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg was asked if there could be chances for both quarterbacks to play during different parts of the game.

“Certainly could be,” he replied.

Flacco has been dealing with a right hip injury since Nov. 4. He was limited in practice on Wednesday and Thursday, although Harbaugh said Flacco was “almost full” in Thursday’s session.

Jackson has completed 46 of 77 passes for 540 yards and two scores this season. He’s also rushed 80 times for 404 yards and three touchdowns.

Flacco, the Ravens’ starter since 2008, is 4-5 this season and has thrown for 2,465 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has never dressed in a game as a backup.

–Field Level Media

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Reports: Chiefs WR Watkins out until playoffs

Reports: Chiefs WR Watkins out until playoffs

The

Reports: Chiefs WR Watkins out until playoffs

The Kansas City Chiefs will be without wide receiver Sammy Watkins for four to six weeks, according to a Kansas City Star report on Friday.

Watkins has missed three of the last four games with a foot injury and reportedly re-injured the foot in Thursday’s practice. He’s officially listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens and will be evaluated week-to-week after that.

NFL insider Ian Rapoport reported that Watkins is likely out until the start of the playoffs.

In 10 games this season, Watkins has 40 catches for 519 yards and three scores.

Free-agent wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin was signed on Thursday, two days after being waived by the Buffalo Bills, though he is not expected to play Sunday against the Ravens.

Kansas City leads the NFL in scoring (37 points per game) and yards per play (7.03). Tyreek Hill leads all Chiefs receivers with 1,119 yards and has scored 11 touchdowns.

Benjamin, a first-round pick in 2014, was released after struggling to fit in with the Bills, making just 39 receptions for 571 yards and two touchdowns in 18 total games with the club. He has 23 catches for 354 yards and one score in 12 games this season.

Benjamin was drafted by the Carolina Panthers and had 1,008 yards as a rookie and 941 in 2015. He was traded to Buffalo midway through the 2017 campaign.

–Field Level Media

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Panthers sign K Catanzaro with Gano out

Panthers sign K Catanzaro with Gano out

Panthers sign K Catanzaro with Gano out

Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Chandler Catanzaro signed with the Carolina Panthers on Friday, as starter Graham Gano will sit out Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns with a balky left knee.

Gano first appeared on the injury report last Friday with a knee injury, though he made all three of his attempts (one field goal, two extra points) Sunday in Tampa Bay.

The Panthers are carrying two kickers on their 53-man roster. A spot was created for Catanzaro when guard Amini Silatolu (knee) was placed on injured reserve.

Tampa Bay released Catanzaro after he missed two kicks in a Week 10 loss against Washington. Catanzaro beat the Browns in overtime two weeks prior, drilling a 59-yard field goal for the win. It was the longest overtime field goal in NFL history.

Prior to being released, Catanzaro made 11 of 15 field goals and converted 23 of 27 extra points.

–Field Level Media

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Former NFL star Robertson killed in car crash

Former NFL star Robertson killed in car crash

Former NFL star linebacker Isiah "Butch" Robertson was killed in a car crash on Thursday night, nfl.com reported. He was 69.

The Texas Department of Public Safety said Robertson died in a three-car crash near the town of Mabank, which is approximately

Former NFL star Robertson killed in car crash

Former NFL star linebacker Isiah “Butch” Robertson was killed in a car crash on Thursday night, nfl.com reported. He was 69.

The Texas Department of Public Safety said Robertson died in a three-car crash near the town of Mabank, which is approximately 50 miles southeast of Dallas.

Robertson, a six-time Pro Bowl selection with the Los Angeles Rams in the 1970s, was driving a limousine at an unsafe speed around a curve, Lt. Lonny Haschel of the public safety office told nfl.com.

Robertson lost control and came to rest partially in the roadway before a truck hit the limo and sent it into the oncoming traffic lane. A car then slammed into Robertson’s vehicle.

Robertson later died at UT Health-Athens in the nearby town of Athens, according to officials.

The accident occurred shortly after Robertson spoke at a high school football banquet. It occurred just miles away from a drug and alcohol treatment center Robertson founded in Mabank.

Robertson starred for the Rams from 1971-78 before playing his final four seasons for the Buffalo Bills.

He was the 10th overall selection by the Rams in the 1971 NFL Draft and recorded 18 interceptions and recovered 11 fumbles during his eight seasons in Los Angeles. He was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1971 and the Rams won six straight NFC West titles (1973-78) during his tenure.

Robertson played his final four seasons with the Bills and had seven interceptions and four fumble recoveries. The trade to Buffalo following the 1978 campaign reunited him with former Rams coach Chuck Knox.

Overall, Robertson had 25 interceptions and 15 fumble recoveries in 168 career NFL games.

Robertson played college football at Southern University.

–Field Level Media

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Report: Titans TE Smith (MCL) out for year

Report: Titans TE Smith (MCL) out for year

Report: Titans TE Smith (MCL) out for year

Tight end Jonnu Smith suffered a season-ending MCL injury in the Tennessee Titans’ win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday night, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Smith was hurt while blocking on running back Derrick Henry’s historic 99-yard touchdown run.

Taking over for injured starter Delaney Walker, Smith has 20 catches for 258 yards and three touchdowns this season.

Having caught passes in seven straight games, Smith didn’t see any passes come his way in Thursday’s 30-9 victory.

Right tackle Jack Conklin is also expected to miss time after suffering a knee injury against the Jaguars, according to NFL insider Ian Rapoport.

–Field Level Media

Read More 51 Words

Panthers QB Newton (shoulder) to start vs. Browns

Panthers QB Newton (shoulder) to start vs. Browns

Cam Newton

Panthers QB Newton (shoulder) to start vs. Browns

Cam Newton cut the ball loose in Friday’s practice and received the all-clear from head coach Ron Rivera for the Carolina Panthers’ game Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.

Newton missed practice Wednesday with a shoulder injury after throwing four interceptions in defeat last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Rivera said Friday that Newton was able to display touch and arm strength on throws to every level, including down the field, which convinced the Panthers that Newton is ready to roll against the Browns.

“He was showing he can do it, that was the big thing,” said Rivera.

–Field Level Media

Read More 49 Words

Report: Chiefs WR Watkins out until playoffs

 

The Kansas City Chiefs could be without wide

 

The Kansas City Chiefs could be without wide receiver Sammy Watkins for up to three more weeks, according to a Kansas City Star report on Friday.

 

Watkins has missed three of the last four games with a foot injury and reportedly re-injured the foot in Thursday’s practice. He’s expected to miss Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens and be evaluated week-to-week after that.

 

NFL insider Ian Rapoport reported that Watkins is likely out until the start of the playoffs.

 

In 10 games this season, Watkins has 40 catches for 519 yards and three scores.

 

Free-agent wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin was signed on Thursday, two days after being waived by the Buffalo Bills.

 

Kansas City leads the NFL in scoring (37 points per game) and yards per play (7.03). Tyreek Hill leads all Chiefs receivers with 1,119 yards and has scored 11 touchdowns.

 

Benjamin, a first-round pick in 2014, was released after struggling to fit in with the Bills, making just 39 receptions for 571 yards and two touchdowns in 18 total games with the club. He has 23 catches for 354 yards and one score in 12 games this season.

 

Benjamin was drafted by the Carolina Panthers and had 1,008 yards as a rookie and 941 in 2015. He was traded to Buffalo midway through the 2017 campaign.

 

–Field Level Media

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Panthers sign K Catanzaro with Gano ailing

Panthers sign K Catanzaro with Gano ailing

Panthers sign K Catanzaro with Gano ailing

Former Buccaneers kicker Chandler Catanzaro signed with the Panthers on Friday to provide Carolina insurance in the event Graham Gano’s balky left knee keeps him out of Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns.

Gano first appeared on the injury report last Friday with a knee injury. The Panthers are carrying two kickers on their 53-man roster.

A spot was created on Friday when guard Amini Silatolu (knee) was placed on injured reserve.

Tampa Bay released Catanzaro after he missed two kicks in a Week 10 loss against Washington. Catanzaro beat the Browns in overtime two weeks prior, drilling a 59-yard field goal for the win. It was the longest overtime field goal in NFL history.

Prior to being released, Catanzaro made 11 of 15 field goals and converted 23 of 27 extra points.

–Field Level Media

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Henry’s record night sparks Titans’ rout of Jags

Henry's record night sparks Titans' rout of Jags

Henry’s record night sparks Titans’ rout of Jags

Derrick Henry tied an NFL record with a 99-yard touchdown run and rushed for a franchise-record 238 yards on 17 carries Thursday night as the Tennessee Titans kept their playoff hopes alive by pasting the Jacksonville Jaguars 30-9 in Nashville, Tenn.

Henry also matched a franchise record with four rushing touchdowns.

Tennessee (7-6) won its second game in a row and moved within a half-game of the Baltimore Ravens for the second AFC wild-card spot. Jacksonville (4-9) lost for the eighth time in nine games and clinched its seventh losing season in eight years.

Henry’s 99-yard jaunt, which tied the mark set by Dallas’ Tony Dorsett at Minnesota in January 1983, came on the first play after Leonard Fournette was stopped for no gain by Rashaan Evans on fourth-and-goal to deny the Jaguars a second-quarter lead.

Henry burst free off left tackle and broke three tackles on his way to the record book, stiff-arming A.J. Bouye to the ground around the Tennessee 25. Myles Jack tried and failed to bring Henry down at the Jacksonville 20 as the crowd roared. The play gave Tennessee a 13-2 lead with 7:07 left.

Ryan Succop’s 33-yard field goal with 10 seconds left in the half made it 16-2 at the break. Henry ended the game’s competitive phase in the third quarter with touchdown runs of 16 and 54 yards less than two minutes apart, upping the margin to 30-2 at the 5:30 mark.

Henry had a chance for a fifth touchdown, but his third-down run from the Jaguars 2-yard line was stopped for a 1-yard loss. Multiple Jacksonville defenders celebrated the play, about the only thing they had to enjoy.

Jaguars quarterback Cody Kessler completed 25 of 43 passes for 240 yards and a 7-yard scoring strike to Dede Westbrook with 1:49 left in the third quarter. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota hit 18 of 24 attempts for 162 yards with an interception.

Jacksonville’s other points came on a safety with 59 seconds left in the first quarter when punt returner Cameron Batson muffed the ball and was tackled in the end zone.

–Field Level Media

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Take 5: Top offenses and defenses clash in Week 14

Take 5: Top offenses and defenses clash in Week 14

Highlighting Week

Take 5: Top offenses and defenses clash in Week 14

Highlighting Week 14’s excellent slate of matchups are the premier offense-defense battles in Chicago and Kansas City.

Offenses owned these clashes (Rams-Vikings, Jaguars-Chiefs, Saints-Ravens) early this season, but the pendulum swung back in Week 13 (Saints-Cowboys, Colts-Jaguars).

Perhaps the Bears can keep that trend going in frigid Chicago on Sunday night.

1. A formula to slow the Rams?

There’s no “blueprint” to stop Sean McVay’s offense, but one particular approach has given it trouble. L.A.’s disjointed performance in Detroit came against a Lions defense leaning heavily on Cover-4 (also known as “quarters”), which Denver also employed when holding the Rams to a season-low 23 points.

With four deep defenders, Cover-4 creates multiple double teams against two- and three-man route concepts — like many of McVay’s play-action designs — by bracketing vertical routes with a cornerback and a safety. The approach also fits Los Angeles’ condensed formations, keeping defenders from getting picked by intertwined releases from stacks and bunches.

Vic Fangio’s zone-heavy scheme features plenty of Cover-4, often from disguised looks that muddy the quarterback’s read. Safeties Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos have thrived in these designs, with Jackson instinctively reading multiple routes and Amos flying downhill to hammer crossers or fill run lanes.

Jared Goff hasn’t been poor, but his early-season precision — both with ball placement and field reading — has slipped some. (Even against the Chiefs, he missed several open targets low.) That could be exacerbated Sunday by Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks, who should get push in Goff’s face even if they don’t reach him often.

2. Chiefs offense losing its balance?

Kansas City still scored 40 points Sunday, but its run game clearly missed Kareem Hunt. Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill accounted for 89 yards on 11 carries, but Spencer Ware and Damien Williams totaled 85 on 19 totes (4.5 average), with more than half (47 yards) on three carries.

Ware especially struggled (3.4 average) despite facing the Raiders’ 28th-ranked run defense (5.0 average) and a slew of light boxes. With Oakland keeping two safeties deep, Andy Reid’s spread formations regularly created 5-on-5 or 6-on-6 blocking (even 6-on-5 on one occasion). But Ware lacked the one-step, upfield cuts to explode through seams, often continuing laterally past gaping holes up the middle.

The drop-off from Hunt to Ware won’t matter often, given the explosive passing game, but it might when trying to salt away a playoff lead, or when facing better defenses.

This week, Baltimore’s top-ranked unit can key almost entirely on Mahomes and the passing game, looking to flummox him with myriad zone blitzes. Those tactics normally give free releases to slot targets — a dangerous move against Hill and Travis Kelce — but the Ravens could add wrinkles, especially if they don’t fear the run game.

Rather than having Terrell Suggs set the edge, Baltimore could walk him out over Kelce (wide or in the slot) to slam the tight end at the snap. The Ravens could even use this “bullseye” tactic against Hill, disrupting his momentum however possible to keep him from threatening downfield so quickly.

Mahomes won’t be confused like a typical first-year starter, but he could struggle some if the Chiefs get one-dimensional and his receivers can’t get off the line cleanly.

3. Can Philly’s front handle Dallas’ D?

Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith are shining in a scheme that unleashes their speed. That’s certainly true in coverage, with Rod Marinelli’s bevy of zones, but it’s also clear against the run.

A D-line guru, Marinelli has long favored an aggressive approach with slants and stunts, and the Cowboys have the penetrators to run them. Rather than passively holding gaps, Dallas calls slants on run downs, forcing offensive lines to react quickly and in unison. The unpredictability can create chaos and prevent O-lines from executing double teams as planned.

When double teams go awry, Vander Esch and Smith remain unblocked, allowing them to sift through traffic to the ball carrier. O-linemen that do get to the second level have had their paths altered, offering more favorable angles to slip blocks, at which Vander Esch is particularly adept.

Underwhelming most of the year, Philly’s front five got rolling Monday night, taking it to a stout Washington front-seven (4.6 yards per carry, excluding kneeldowns), but Dallas is a different challenge.

Perhaps the Eagles could combat the Cowboys’ aggression by dusting off some of offensive line coach and run-game coordinator Jeff Stoutland’s more exotic designs. Stoutland broke out several uncommon concepts in Dallas last year, many featuring split-flow action to move linebackers one way while attacking another.

4. Colts-Texans sequel nothing like the original

It feels like 10 months, not 10 weeks, since Houston’s 37-34 overtime victory in Indianapolis, which started an eight-game win streak.

After averaging 38.4 attempts through five weeks, Deshaun Watson has averaged 24.6 since. The Texans have instead leaned heavily on the run, using the O-line’s athleticism in outside zone and power schemes with pulling tackles (rather than guards). Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue aren’t dynamic creators, but both are disciplined hitting the designed hole, which has been there of late.

Meanwhile, the Colts’ O-line looks brand new. In Week 4, J.J. Watt feasted (two strip-sacks) on Le’Raven Clark and Denzelle Good. Anthony Castonzo’s return sent Clark back to the bench, and rookie Braden Smith has shored up right tackle (Good was released Saturday). Mark Glowinski has thrived replacing injured right guard Matt Slauson.

With the protection stabilized, Frank Reich’s offense has become far more open and aggressive, which worked brilliantly until it hit the Jaguars’ brick wall last week. Jacksonville’s front was dominant, and Houston could create similar problems with center Ryan Kelly (knee) again looking iffy.

While not a pure edge-bender, Jadeveon Clowney is a terror on the interior, where Houston matches him on guards and centers from a stand-up rover position, often with stunts and twists. Smith, of course, must counter Watt, who sees fewer double teams thanks to the Texans’ five-across fronts.

5. Vikings could put onus back on Russell Wilson

Seattle’s run-heavy approach has rendered Wilson more of a complementary piece. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — a tremendous downfield thrower, he has maximized Brian Schottenheimer’s play-action designs — but we’ve seen much less of the superhero-like playmaker.

That version of Wilson made a cameo two weeks ago against the Panthers, who shut down a Seahawks run game nobody else has stopped (2.7 yards per carry, first time under 4.2 since Week 3). Wilson had to carry the load and came through brilliantly with two late drives in the fourth quarter.

A similar script could play out Monday against Minnesota and its stout run defense (3.7 yards per carry, T-4th). Linval Joseph is a block of granite with tap dancers’ feet, and Sheldon Richardson has quietly had another excellent season. Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter set wicked edges, and the second level is filled with speed.

When Wilson does throw, he’s trusted his protection more lately, extending plays from within the pocket rather than via his trademark escapes. That could lead to big plays downfield to Tyler Lockett and David Moore.

–David DeChant, Field Level Media

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Brady, Pats head to site of struggles at Dolphins

Brady, Pats head to site of struggles at Dolphins

Tom Brady

Brady, Pats head to site of struggles at Dolphins

Tom Brady is 7-9 when playing on the road against the Miami Dolphins.

Let that statistic sink in: Brady, the 13-time Pro Bowl quarterback who has led the New England Patriots to five Super Bowl titles, winning MVP honors in four of those ultimate games, has lost more than he has won at the Dolphins.

The Patriots have no trouble winning at home against the Dolphins, including 38-7 earlier this season. But, whether it’s the humid weather or the distractions of South Beach, the Patriots have lost four of their past five games at Hard Rock Stadium.

“It’s a big challenge, winning down there,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels told The Boston Herald. “They play extremely well at home. We haven’t played well down there.”

Miami won 27-20 last year at home against the Patriots. Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard intercepted Brady twice, and the Patriots went 0-for-11 on third down.

On Sunday, the Patriots (9-3) can clinch their NFL-record 10th straight division title with a tie or a win. Miami (6-6) is still alive in the battle for a playoff berth, although the Dolphins are a bit of a long shot.

New England is a seven-point favorite on Sunday, and Miami’s monumental challenge of trying to knock off the Patriots just got significantly more difficult.

Howard, a Pro Bowl candidate who leads the NFL with seven interceptions — including four in the past two weeks — is likely to miss the Patriots game due to injury. He hurt his knee during his second interception in last week’s Dolphins win over the Buffalo Bills. But Howard, perhaps due to adrenaline, missed just one play and finished the game.

On Wednesday, he did not practice.

“(Howard) is one of our best players if not our best player on defense,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said. “If he can’t go, we have to make some adjustments.”

Howard, the reigning AFC Defensive Player of the Week, is expected to return this season, Gase said.

Brady (knee) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (ankle, back) were limited in practice on Wednesday, but both Patriots stars are expected to play on Sunday.

Even so, the Patriots are wary of the Dolphins defense, which ranks second in the NFL with 19 interceptions.

“There’s a lot to deal with,” McDaniels said. “They have an aggressive, penetrating front, and they mix their calls and coverages quite a bit.”

Offensively, the Dolphins got quarterback Ryan Tannehill back from the injury list in last week’s win over the Buffalo Bills. He had missed five games due to an injured throwing shoulder.

The Dolphins, who are 5-1 at home this season, have faced numerous injuries, especially at wide receiver, where they have lost two of their biggest playmakers: Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant.

But wide receiver Danny Amendola, who missed last week’s game due to a knee injury, is expected to play against his former team, the Patriots. Amendola, who has played 11 games this season, leads the Dolphins in catches (48) and yards (469).

“I think,” Gase said, “he wants to play in this game as badly as anyone.”

–Field Level Media

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Shanahan recalls childhood memories as 49ers brace for Broncos

Shanahan recalls childhood memories as 49ers brace for Broncos

Shanahan recalls childhood memories as 49ers brace for Broncos

Kyle Shanahan gets an opportunity to coach against his dad’s old team Sunday when the San Francisco 49ers host the Denver Broncos in Santa Clara, Calif.

Mike Shanahan served as the Broncos’ wide receivers coach, offensive coordinator and head coach over three stints from 1984-98, with young son Kyle by his side for just about everything, including Super Bowl wins over Green Bay and Atlanta.

“That was back when they didn’t have wireless cords (for their headsets),” Kyle said when recalling the win over the Packers at the end of the 1997 season. “I was always the cord boy, holding my dad’s cords, which got made fun of a lot for it, but it was neat to be up front and personal with everything.

“The last guy to hold cords for a coach in the Super Bowl was me, if you want a good trivia question. After that Green Bay Super Bowl, they went wireless the next year. I think they only won one more because they didn’t have as good of a cord-holder, is what I always tell my dad.”

Shanahan won’t be back in the Super Bowl this season, with the 49ers (2-10) having already been eliminated from playoff contention.

The Broncos (6-6), meanwhile, have surged within one game of a playoff spot in the AFC on the strength of three-game winning streak fueled by running back Phillip Lindsay.

The rookie has rushed for 346 yards and five touchdowns in the three wins, putting the Broncos in a position to take advantage of a weak schedule (they play Cleveland and Oakland the next two weeks) in their pursuit of a postseason bid.

The spotlight will shine even brighter on Lindsay this week with news that wideout Emmanuel Sanders ruptured his Achilles in practice this week and will be lost for the season.

“It’s tough. You don’t really replace guys (like Sanders),” Broncos quarterback Case Keenum assured reporters Wednesday. “Emmanuel is one of the best guys I’ve ever worked with.”

Keenum will be matched up at quarterback with Nick Mullens, who began the season on the 49ers’ practice squad. In four starts following injuries to Jimmy Garoppolo and C.J. Beathard, the undrafted rookie out of Southern Mississippi has led a win over Oakland and threw for 414 yards — the most for a 49er in 14 years — last week in a loss to Seattle.

The 49ers likewise suffered a key injury when their top running back this season, Matt Breida, aggravated a sprained ankle in Seattle. He has been ruled out this week, allowing another former practice-squad guy, Jeff Wilson Jr., to get his chance.

–Field Level Media

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Seahawks, Vikings look to improve playoff chances

Seahawks, Vikings look to improve playoff chances

As the NFL season reaches its

Seahawks, Vikings look to improve playoff chances

As the NFL season reaches its final quarter, the Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings are in position to earn NFC wild-card playoff berths.

That might not be the case after Monday night’s meeting between the teams in Seattle.

The Seahawks (7-5) have won three straight games to move a half-game ahead of the Vikings (6-5-1) for the final two playoff spots. But Carolina, Philadelphia and Washington are all 6-6, making for a tight race the rest of the way.

“These are must-win games for us. Every week, we approach it like that,” Seahawks left tackle Duane Brown said after Sunday’s 43-16 victory against San Francisco. “We approach every week like a playoff game and that’s the kind of intensity guys came out with from kickoff on.”

The Vikings are coming off a 24-10 loss at New England.

“Right now, we’re kind of an up-and-down-team a little bit,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said, “and that’s the thing that frustrates me the most. We need to develop more consistency.”

The Vikings have been especially inconsistent on offense, totalling fewer than 300 yards in three of their past four games.

Under first-year offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, they have the fourth-fewest rushing attempts and the third-most passing attempts in the league, causing Zimmer to publicly express concern about the play-calling.

Dalvin Cook had a season-high 84 yards rushing against the Patriots on only nine carries. He added a career-high eight receptions.

“If I get five (touches), I get 10, two, whatever, I’m just trying to make a play to help my team win,” Cook said. “I wasn’t surprised by anything that happened in the game.”

The Vikings could find some success through the air, as Seattle has been allowing 315 yards passing over their past four games.

Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins leads the league with 350 completions, with wide receiver Adam Thielen tops in receptions (98) and second in yards (1,166).

The Seahawks have found a better balance on offense.

Seattle leads the NFL with 148.8 yards rushing per game and has grounded out 150-plus yards in seven of its past eight games.

Last week, Russell Wilson attempted just six passes in the first half but threw for three touchdowns. In the three-game winning streak, Wilson has eight touchdown passes and no interceptions, averaging about 250 yards passing.

“I love the way it’s fitting together for us,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said.

The Seahawks likely will be without guard D.J. Fluker, who strained his hamstring last weekend.

–Field Level Media

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NFL notebook: McCarthy addressed Packers players

NFL notebook: McCarthy addressed Packers players

Mike McCarthy was back

NFL notebook: McCarthy addressed Packers players

Mike McCarthy was back in front of the Green Bay Packers’ players on Wednesday. Three days after being fired, he was given the opportunity to address his now former players after making a request to do so.

“He wanted an opportunity to speak with the team. I was 100 percent, fully supportive … and he did a fantastic job talking to the team,” interim coach Joe Philbin told reporters on Thursday. “Not just about football and winning football games, but his passion. His passion for the game, his love for the players was clearly evident.”

McCarthy paid a visit to team headquarters on Tuesday to make the request, and chief executive officer Mark Murphy and others in upper management agreed to it. Murphy felt it was a good idea as McCarthy didn’t have a chance to address the team after being fired Sunday, hours after Green Bay’s 20-17 home loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

McCarthy, who turned 55 last month, was in his 13th season at the helm in Green Bay. He finished with a 125-77-2 regular-season record while going 10-8 in the postseason, leading the team to a Super Bowl XLV victory following the 2010 season.

–The Washington Redskins released a statement asking for privacy for Alex Smith and his family amid reports that the quarterback is dealing with an infection in his surgically repaired leg.

Smith underwent immediate surgery on Nov. 18 after incurring compound and spiral fractures to his tibia and fibula in the Redskins’ game against the Houston Texans. Multiple outlets report Smith has undergone subsequent surgeries to battle the infection.

–Reuben Foster’s ex-girlfriend and accuser detailed the alleged abuse against her, telling ABC that the former San Francisco 49ers linebacker slapped and pushed her during an incident that led to his arrest on suspicion of domestic violence.

Further, Elissa Ennis told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that she was “shocked” that Foster was picked up another team — the Washington Redskins — so soon after his release by the 49ers.

“When he got signed, I was like, ‘I can’t believe somebody picked him up,'” Ennis said on GMA, her first public comments about the incident. “I just couldn’t believe somebody picked him up in less than, how many hours? I was shocked.”

–The New York Giants placed safety Landon Collins on injured reserve, ending the two-time Pro Bowl selection’s season.

Collins sustained a partially torn labrum in his shoulder last Sunday in the Giants’ overtime win over the Chicago Bears and reportedly will undergo surgery.

The club signed defensive back Kenny Ladler from the practice squad to take Collins’ spot on the roster and added punter Brock Miller to the practice squad.

–The Kansas City Chiefs are signing Kelvin Benjamin two days after the wide receiver was waived by the Buffalo Bills, according to a report from ESPN.

ESPN reported earlier in the day that Benjamin was visiting the Chiefs, who are led at the position by Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins — though Watkins has missed three of the past four games with a foot injury.

Benjamin, a first-round pick in 2014, was released by the Bills, who acquired him from the Carolina Panthers last year in exchange for two draft picks. He struggled to fit in with Buffalo, hauling in 39 receptions for 571 yards and two touchdowns in 18 total games with the club. He has 23 catches for 354 yards and one score in 12 games this season.

–Another football league is in the works, and former NFL players such as Ricky Williams and Terrell Owens are behind it.

The Freedom Football League doesn’t have a launch season, but Williams said it would begin with 10 teams and would play games in spring and summer. Among the other former NFL players involved in the FFL are Simeon Rice, Jeff Garcia, Byron Chamberlain and Dexter Jackson.

The league’s first 10 teams will be the Birmingham Kings, Connecticut Underground, Florida Strong, Oakland Panthers, Ohio Players, Oklahoma City Power, Portland Progress, St. Louis Independence, San Diego Warriors and Texas Revolution.

–Field Level Media

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