NFL 2018: Questions abound, from anthems to rule changes

NEW YORK (AP) — Rules changes and national anthem demonstrations seem to have folks inside and outside the NFL obsessed as the opening kickoff of the season approaches.

Yes, the Super Bowl champion Eagles and Atlanta Falcons will open things on Thursday night in Philadelphia. What many folks wonder: Will there be any social injustice protests during “The Star-Spangled Banner?” And if players, coaches and officials will have a handle on the adjustment to use of the helmet in making a hit.

Not to mention the new kickoff rules and, at last, a catch rule that seems to make sense.

Those are enough issues to grab attention away from Philly’s quarterback situation, as well as the progress of the five first-round QB draft choices expected to make their debuts sooner or later.

Or from the return from injuries of Aaron Rodgers, J.J. Watt, Richard Sherman, Deshaun Watson, David Johnson and Odell Beckham Jr., to name a few.

Or Jon Gruden’s return to an NFL sideline in Oakland.

Plus, Adam Vinatieri’s pursuit of the career points and field goals marks.

What’s ahead through the penultimate day of the 2018 calendar?

RULE CHANGES

The preseason has been dominated, even overridden, by discussion of and doubts about the “helmet rule.” Basically, any player on offense or defense lowering his head and making contact with any part of the helmet is subject to a 15-yard penalty, a fine, and even an ejection. It’s a player safety adjustment for which “the goal long term is to make the game safer and take out some of these hits that should not be part of the game,” says Giants owner John Mara, a member of the competition committee that recommends rules changes to the owners.

The concerns on many levels focus on players adjusting to the tackling requirements and officials mastering such calls at full speed.

Gene Steratore, who recently retired as an NFL (and college basketball) referee, expects the critical tempest to die down quickly.

“Players will adjust because they are that good,” says Steratore, now an analyst for CBS after 15 seasons in the league. “Officials will, too, because they are that good. There will be a learning curve for all of them, but I think in a fast period of time, a trigger moment will come that will show right before that contact if it is worthy of a flag.”

The fix to the phrasing of the catch rule should eliminate the kind of calls — on Jesse James, Dez Bryant et al — many found bogus.

“Control. If it looks like a catch and smells like a catch, it’s a catch,” says Troy Vincent, the NFL’s chief of football operations. “(The rule) had become convoluted: what you should do, what you shouldn’t do. It should be clear as day. So our job was to simplify and we put it in practical terms.”

The other major rule alteration is on kickoffs, where coverage team players no longer can take a running start, and there are regulations on where kick team players can be overall and how they can block.

“This is certainly a way of trying to keep the kickoff in the game and attempting to cut down on high-speed collisions,” Mara says. “There are a lot of us who don’t want to take the kickoff out unless we can’t find ways to make it safer. It is our most dangerous play.”

NATIONAL ANTHEM

Anticipation of whether players will demonstrate during the national anthem again this year is high, fueled in part by reactions from President Trump. Players argue that their message about the need for change in communities nationwide has been misconstrued by the president and his followers, including many team owners.

With the unilateral policy banning players from any on-field protests during the anthem on hold as owners and players discuss the issue, no one can be sure what’s ahead.

Everyone can be sure the topic won’t disappear.

“I think part of the problem is that when you continue the rhetoric that this is controversial or this is somehow a negative thing, people treat it as such,” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins says. “But we’ve seen in other leagues when they’ve decided to amplify the voices of their players to also emphasize the importance of the issues that we’re raising, and change the narrative away from the anthem, that not only is it more acceptable, the fan base gets educated on what we’re talking about, and we can actually make some movement.”

ROOKIE QBS

Before we reach 2019, it’s a near-certainty that Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen and Lamar Jackson will get onto the field. Some likely will be starters, maybe even stamp themselves as stars.

Only in Baltimore, where Joe Flacco is the incumbent, is the rookie (Jackson) a long shot to become the No. 1 quarterback this season. The others — Cleveland’s Mayfield, Buffalo’s Allen, the Jets’ Darnold and Arizona’s Rosen — are with teams considered outsiders in the playoff chase and it makes sense as early as prudent to see if they are the franchise QBs they were drafted to be.

COACHES

New coaches in charge of the Cardinals, Titans, Lions, Giants, Bears and Raiders include four newbies to being in charge: Detroit’s Matt Patricia, Chicago’s Matt Nagy, Tennessee’s Mike Vrabel and Arizona’s Steve Wilks. All of them made their marks as proficient coordinators and bring freshness and toughness to their franchises.

Vrabel, of course, has three Super Bowl rings as a player with New England, which surely earns him some respect in the locker room. If he’s considered a product of the Belichick coaching tree, though, Vrabel could struggle; few of the Patriots coach’s protégés have had much success as a head man in the NFL.

So the same goes for Patricia, although he has far more experience in coaching.

New York’s Pat Shurmur had a short stint in charge in Cleveland and probably didn’t get a fair shake. The Giants desperately needed a culture change after the 2017 debacle.

“I have seen just about all I could see from the top of the mountain to having the second pick in the draft,” Mara says. “Last year still is somewhat of a shock to me, going from a preseason Super Bowl contender to being the second-worst team in the league. It was a perfect storm, just an avalanche of injuries, locker room issues, a relatively inexperienced head coach (Ben McAdoo) who hadn’t had to deal with any of that in the past, and some draft classes not all that productive. And it adds up to a bad season.”

Oakland also comes off a bad season following a playoff appearance, and the Raiders made the biggest splash by bringing back (and out of the broadcast booth) Jon Gruden. There’s lots of excitement in the Black Hole and throughout the Bay Area about Gruden, who clearly has stamped his personality on the roster by trading his best player, holdout pass rusher Khalil Mack.

“I love the Raider fans, I love Oakland, and that’s the primary reason why I’m standing here,” he says.

PURSUING HISTORY

Vinatieri is a marvel. The NFL’s oldest player at 45, he begins his 23rd pro season in range to pass Hall of Famer Morten Andersen as the leading scorer. He was dependable for a decade in New England and then a dozen years in Indianapolis.

He needs seven field goals to pass Andersen (565) for the most field goals. Andersen scored 2,544 points in a league-record 382 games and Vinatieri needs 58 points to break the record.

“It’s one of those things that I haven’t really though too much about it,” he says. “I’m still just trying to help my team win games and keep on putting chapters in this book, and if that happens, fantastic.”

___

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Giants WR Beckham misses practice Wednesday

Giants WR Beckham misses practice Wednesday

Giants WR Beckham misses practice Wednesday

Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. did not practice Wednesday due to the quadriceps strain that forced him to miss New York’s win over the Washington Redskins last week.

Beckham caught a touchdown pass and threw another against the Chicago Bears in the Giants’ overtime win in Week 13. New York won without him, 40-16, over the Redskins last Sunday when Beckham was ruled out due to the leg muscle issue.

“We’ll try and get him back as quickly as possible,” Shurmur said Wednesday on a conference call with Tennessee media. “He is feeling better each day. I don’t think he is going to practice today, but we’ll see as the week progresses.”

Beckham has 77 receptions for 1,052 yards and six touchdowns in 2018, a bounceback year from his injury-shortened 2017 season during which he played four games and recorded 25 catches due to an ankle injury.

–Field Level Media

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Bills’ RB McCoy misses practice Wednesday

Bills' RB McCoy misses practice Wednesday

Bills’ RB McCoy misses practice Wednesday

Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy won’t practice Wednesday and his status is uncertain for Sunday’s matchup against the Detroit Lions.

“We’ll just take it one day at a time right now,” said head coach Sean McDermott when asked if he expects McCoy will be able to practice this week.

McCoy hurt his hamstring in Sunday’s 27-23 loss to the New York Jets. The 30-year-old running back left the game after nine plays — he had one yard on two carries — on Buffalo’s opening drive and has struggled with leg muscle strains in recent seasons.

Chris Ivory served as the Bills’ primary ballcarrier and finished the game with 42 yards on 12 carries.

McDermott said Ivory will practice Wednesday, and also the team signed running back Keith Ford from the practice squad, indicating the Bills aren’t certain whether McCoy will see action Sunday.

“Keith, for a rookie, has worked extremely hard since Day 1. He continues to earn the right,” said McDermott.

–Field Level Media

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Eagles QB Wentz won’t practice Wednesday, could miss Rams matchup

Eagles QB Wentz won't practice Wednesday, could miss Rams matchup

The Philadelphia

Eagles QB Wentz won’t practice Wednesday, could miss Rams matchup

The Philadelphia Eagles could be without quarterback Carson Wentz on Sunday when they travel to face the Los Angeles Rams.

Head coach Doug Pederson announced Wednesday morning that Wentz would miss practice due to back soreness.

“Sometimes he just gets a little sore, a little tight, so we’re just going to rest him today and evaluate him further,” said Pederson. “Nothing game-related. He’s dealt with it so we’re just going to evaluate him further.”

Pederson did not confirm if Wentz would play Sunday at Los Angeles.

“Again, we’re going to focus on today, get through today, and see where he’s at at the end of the day,” he said.

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Wentz is not likely to play Sunday and may not play again in 2018 as the team continues to gather information on his health.

Without Wentz, Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles would take over for the 6-7 Eagles. Foles started the first two games of the season as Wentz recovered from ACL surgery. He completed 65 percent of his passes with one touchdown and one interception in the Eagles’ 1-1 start.

–Field Level Media

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Flacco returns, Ravens stick with QB Jackson

Flacco returns, Ravens stick with QB Jackson

Baltimore Ravens

Flacco returns, Ravens stick with QB Jackson

Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh announced Wednesday that quarterback Lamar Jackson will be the starter vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, with veteran starter Joe Flacco dressing as his backup.

“The starting quarterback will be Lamar (Jackson). Joe (Flacco) will be the No. 2 quarterback,” Harbaugh said Wednesday.

Jackson missed the final two plays of Sunday’s loss to the Kansas City Chiefs after hurting his ankle but X-rays taken at the stadium postgame were negative.

“My brain, and my heart, and my experience says this is the way to go,” Harbaugh said.

Robert Griffin III was the backup and finished out the game as Flacco was inactive, but Harbaugh said afterward that Flacco was medically cleared from his hip injury and could have played.

Harbaugh has been cagey about his plans at quarterback once Flacco is healthy enough and prepared to play. He has repeatedly declined to answer questions about who will start moving forward, though he has not ruled out the possibility of Flacco and Jackson playing for stretches.

For his part, Flacco has been supportive of Jackson and said Wednesday he would embrace the role of backup. Flacco declined to delve further into his future plans, or what this decision means for him or the Ravens.

“I thought Lamar has done a great job,” Flacco said.

Sunday’s game will be the first time Flacco has ever dressed as the backup for an NFL game.

Jackson finished 13 of 24 for 147 yards and two scores while rushing 13 times for 71 yards in Sunday’s loss.

He is now 59 of 101 for 687 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions this season in four starts and other scattered snaps, while rushing 95 times for 475 yards and three scores on the ground.

However, Jackson has fumbled eight times (six as a rusher), including a strip-sack that set up the Chiefs for a would-be game-winning field goal late in regulation Sunday. Harrison Butker missed from 43 yards, leading to overtime.

–Field Level Media

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Raiders owner responds to city’s lawsuit

Raiders owner responds to city's lawsuit

Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis called

Raiders owner responds to city’s lawsuit

Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis called a lawsuit filed against the team by the city of Oakland, Calif., “meritless and malicious” at the NFL owners meetings on Tuesday night, according to ESPN.

The federal lawsuit, announced by Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker, alleges antitrust violations and breach of contract, and names the Raiders, the NFL and every other team in the league.

While the city does not demand that the Raiders be forced to remain in Oakland, the seven-count filing in district court does seek restitution in the form of lost revenue, remaining debt on renovations to the Oakland Coliseum, court costs and fees, plus punitive damages.

“The City will seek a resolution for the maximum amount of damages available,” Parker said in a news release shortly before filing the lawsuit. “The lawsuit will not ask the court to prevent the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas or keep the team in Oakland.”

Davis told ESPN he’d leave further comment to lawyers.

“My feeling is we’re 3-10 and we’re still relevant,” said Davis. “It’s a legal issue, and I’ll let the attorneys make any further comment.”

The Raiders received league approval to relocate to Las Vegas in March 2017. They are expected to begin playing in Las Vegas when a new stadium opens in 2020. The team still does not know where it will play in 2019, though it has proposed a lease to remain in the Oakland Coliseum for one more season.

One of the main cruxes of the city’s argument is that the NFL’s relocation policy is “skewed” in the favor of cities looking to get a team and biased against current host cities because each team shares a part of the moving team’s relocation fee.

The suit also alleges the NFL uses its relocation policy to in essence strong-arm host cities into ponying up money for a new stadium, threatening to move a team out of that city should the funds not be raised.

The city is seeking a jury trial but makes no specific monetary demand other than amounts to be determined at trial.

–Field Level Media

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NFL Week 15: Over and Under Best Bets

This NFL season, with sports betting expected to be a more common and accepted practice, we're making a point to look beyond point spreads and analyze often-neglected totals. As part of that approach, we're offering up our favorite bet over and favorite under each week. 

Over and Under Best Bets

Over of

This NFL season, with sports betting expected to be a more common and accepted practice, we’re making a point to look beyond point spreads and analyze often-neglected totals. As part of that approach, we’re offering up our favorite bet over and favorite under each week. 

Over and Under Best Bets

Over of the week: Tennessee Titans at New York Giants

Total: 43.5

The Titans and Giants don’t scream OFFENSE, which is why this total remains below the season average. But look closely.

The Titans have scored 56 points in their last two games, and they’re well-rested following a Thursday Night Football romp in Week 14. Those two high-scoring performances came at home, but if we’re considering sites it should be noted that Tennessee has also allowed 72 points on defense in its last two road games.

Meanwhile, the Giants offense has exploded since their Week 9 bye. Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham Jr. have often been unstoppable for a team that has averaged 31.4 points per game dating back to Week 10. Sure, they surrendered just 16 points last Sunday in Washington, but that was more about the Redskins’ problems than New York’s defensive prowess. The Giants have still allowed 25.1 points per game during that post-bye run.

And they scored 40 in D.C. despite not having Beckham, who should be good to return from a quad injury on Sunday.

Look for both teams to easily hit the 20-point mark in Week 15.

Predicted score: Giants 30, Titans 27

Under of the week: Dallas Cowboys at Indianapolis Colts

Total: 47

Why in the world do oddsmakers think the Cowboys and Colts will combine for 47 points Sunday in Indianapolis? Both defenses have been stout, while both offenses have lacked consistency.

The Dallas D hasn’t surrendered more than 23 points in five consecutive weeks, and that’s a stretch that includes matchups with talented offenses like Philadelphia, New Orleans and Atlanta.

Meanwhile, the Colts D has allowed just 17.1 points per game in their last seven outings, with Jabaal Sheard, Darius Leonard and Margus Hunt killing it.

It’s true that both offenses have the ability to explode at any moment, but this doesn’t look like the time or place. Both teams should be tight for an important game, the Colts are two weeks removed from a zero-point performance in Jacksonville, and the Cowboys’ bread-and-butter offensive line is dealing with multiple injuries to key players.

This should be a tense, low-scoring battle.

Predicted score: Colts 20, Cowboys 17

Good luck, we’re all counting on you. 

Previous results
Last week: 1-1
2018 season: 18-9-1

Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL since 2007 and is a member of the Professional Football Writers of America, despite the fact he actually lives in Canada. The Toronto-based sports journalist’s work can also be seen at Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, Awful Announcing and The Guardian. He can be found on Twitter @brad_gagnon

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Broncos, Browns on playoff fringe ahead of matchup

Broncos, Browns on playoff fringe ahead of matchup

Broncos, Browns on playoff fringe ahead of matchup

The Denver Broncos were high on quarterback Baker Mayfield long before he was taken first overall in the NFL draft in April.

They plan to keep him from beating them on Saturday night.

Mayfield, the brash, outspoken Cleveland Browns rookie, visits Denver for a Week 15 showdown with both teams clinging to their slim postseason hopes. The Browns (5-7-1) are having their best season in years and are coming off a 26-20 win over Carolina.

The Broncos (6-7) had their three-game winning streak ended at San Francisco on Sunday in a game they desperately needed. Denver was feeling good after getting back to .500 and into the thick of the wild-card race, but as has been the case this season, it struggled against a young quarterback.

The Broncos have lost to rookies Sam Darnold (New York Jets), Nick Mullens (49ers) and second-year star Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City). They did they beat Josh Rosen of Arizona and Jeff Driskel of Cincinnati, and they have another chance against Mayfield on Saturday.

“He’s got a neat personality,” Denver coach Vance Joseph said after practice Tuesday. “It’s kind of a — it’s loose, but it’s tight. Very, very intelligent, but a very, very confident person.”

Mayfield could find success against a banged-up secondary that will be without Pro Bowl cornerback Chris Harris Jr., who suffered a fractured left fibula against the Bengals on Dec. 2. Harris said he is improving, but he won’t be ready for Saturday.

Without him, and the status of Tramaine Brock (ribs) and Isaac Yiadom (separated right shoulder) in question, Denver is vulnerable on the back end. The Broncos signed rookie safety Trey Marshall off the practice squad Tuesday to add to the depth.

The Browns have the weapons to take advantage, with Mayfield showing plenty of poise and wide receiver Jarvis Landry running routes. They can mix things up with running back Nick Chubb.

The biggest turnaround for Cleveland has come after the firings of head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Gregg Williams is now the interim head coach, and Freddie Kitchens was promoted to offensive coordinator.

With Kitchens calling plays, Mayfield has thrown 11 touchdown passes in five games, and his quarterback rating is 114.4 compared to from 78.9 under Haley.

With the short week, both teams practiced Tuesday instead of having a regular day off. For Denver, linebacker Shaquil Barrett (hip), Harris, wide receiver Courtland Sutton (quadriceps), Yiadom and defensive tackle Derek Wolfe (concussion) did not practice.

Joseph said Sutton should play Saturday but didn’t have an update on Wolfe.

Tight end Orson Charles (ankle), tackle Austin Corbett (foot), defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi (biceps), cornerback Denzel Ward (concussion) and center J.C. Tretter (ankle) did not practice for Cleveland. Tretter has been dealing with the ankle injury for two months but has battled through the last seven games. He is normally held out of practice to stay ready for games.

“From a guy who barely practices all week to have the game plan down and then fight through it on Sundays for everybody else, it is great to have,” Mayfield told The Cleveland Plain Dealer after Sunday’s game. “He is a very, very important piece out there to have to be able to make calls and direct guys the right way and lead.”

–Field Level Media

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NFL notebook: Roethlisberger expects to start Sunday

NFL notebook: Roethlisberger expects to start Sunday

Pittsburgh

NFL notebook: Roethlisberger expects to start Sunday

Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is banged up, but sore ribs won’t keep him out of action when the Steelers play host to the New England Patriots on Sunday.

Roethlisberger required a pain-killing injection to deal with a rib injury sustained in the second quarter last week in Pittsburgh’s loss to the Oakland Raiders. He returned to the game late in the fourth quarter.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Roethlisberger is dealing with bruised ribs. Roethlisberger said during his weekly radio spot on Tuesday that he required X-rays in the locker room, but the tests were inconclusive.

–The Minnesota Vikings fired first-year offensive coordinator John DeFilippo.

The move comes after the Vikings’ 21-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Monday, the team’s third defeat in its past four games. Minnesota has finished with fewer than 300 yards of total offense four times in the past five games.

Quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski has been elevated to interim offensive coordinator and will take over play-calling duties.

–Injured running back Melvin Gordon is not expected to be in uniform Thursday when the Los Angeles Chargers visit the Kansas City Chiefs, the NFL Network reported.

However, Gordon was officially limited in Tuesday’s practice, noteworthy progress considering he was unavailable entirely since the original knee injury.

NFL Network reported that Gordon and his primary backup, Austin Ekeler (neck, concussion), likely would miss the showdown at Arrowhead Stadium. Specifically, coach Anthony Lynn told the network that the team isn’t optimistic either player would suit up.

–The Titans placed right tackle Jack Conklin and tight end Jonnu Smith on injured reserve due to knee injuries. Both starters were hurt during Tennessee’s 30-9 victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars last Thursday.

Veteran Dennis Kelly is expected to replace Conklin, and Anthony Firkser will step in for Smith.

–The Detroit Lions placed veteran defensive end Ziggy Ansah on injured reserve because of a shoulder injury. The team did the same with tight end Michael Roberts, who also has an injured shoulder.

To replace them on the roster, the Lions signed tight end Jerome Cunningham and offensive lineman Leo Koloamatangi from their practice squad.

Ansah, 29, has had a lost season while playing on the franchise tag. He hurt his shoulder after 19 snaps in Week 1 and did not play again until Week 9.

–The Los Angeles Rams placed running back Malcolm Brown and cornerback Dominique Hatfield on injured reserve.

Brown injured his collarbone earlier this month. Hatfield, primarily a special teams player, needs surgery after injuring his left ankle Sunday.

–The Philadelphia Eagles’ pursuit of a playoff spot grew more difficult when they placed running back Corey Clement (knee) and defensive end Josh Sweat (ankle) on injured reserve.

The Eagles signed running back Boston Scott and defensive end Daeshon Hall to fill the voids on the roster, and they added cornerback Josh Hawkins to the practice squad.

–Two years after tearing both patellar tendons on the same play, former Houston Texans offensive tackle Derek Newton is back in the NFL after signing a two-year deal with the New Orleans Saints.

Newton, 31, spent the entire 2017 season on the Texans’ physically unable to perform list and was released by Houston eight months ago after failing a physical. With the Saints, he replaces tackle Michael Ola, who went on injured reserve due to a high ankle sprain.

–The Buffalo Bills placed starting linebacker Matt Milano and rookie cornerback Taron Johnson on season-ending injured reserve. Milano had surgery Monday to repair a broken left fibula. Johnson had surgery last week for a shoulder injury that bothered him most of the season.

–The city of Oakland, Calif., filed a federal lawsuit against the Oakland Raiders, the NFL and all other teams in the league. Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker announced the suit, which alleges antitrust violations and breach of contract.

While the city does not demand that the Raiders be forced to remain in Oakland, the seven-count filing in district court does seek restitution in the form of lost revenue, remaining debt on renovations to the Oakland Coliseum, court costs and fees, plus punitive damages.

The Raiders received league approval to relocate to Las Vegas in March 2017. They are expected to begin playing in Las Vegas when a new stadium opens in 2020. The team still does not know where it will play in 2019.

–The NFL announced that the salary cap will rise to about $190 million in 2019, a jump from $177.2 million this season.

The league informed teams that the projected range is from $187 million to $191.1 million. That marks a 40 percent increase since the 2014 season ($133 million) and the sixth consecutive year the cap has climbed by at least $10 million.

–Field Level Media

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Eagles place RB Clement, DE Sweat on IR

Eagles place RB Clement, DE Sweat on IR

Eagles place RB Clement, DE Sweat on IR

The Philadelphia Eagles’ pursuit of a playoff spot grew more difficult Tuesday when they placed a pair of players on injured reserve, including running back Corey Clement.

Both Clement and defensive end Josh Sweat were injured Sunday in Philadelphia’s 29-23 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Clement hurt his knee, and Sweat sustained an ankle injury.

The Eagles announced that they signed running back Boston Scott and defensive end Daeshon Hall to fill the voids on the roster, and they signed cornerback Josh Hawkins to the practice squad.

Clement went from undrafted rookie to Super Bowl star last season, picking up 100 receiving yards and a touchdown grab in the title game. He has 259 yards and two touchdowns on 68 carries, along with 22 catches for 192 yards, in 11 games this season.

Sweat was a fourth-round pick in the 2018 draft and has one tackle in nine games as a rookie.

The New Orleans Saints drafted Scott in the sixth round this year but cut him just before the season opener. They signed him to their practice squad the following day.

Hall was a third-round pick by the Carolina Panthers in 2017. He played in one game last season before a knee injury ended his rookie campaign. He was cut before this season began.

The Eagles are 6-7 and two games behind the NFC East-leading Cowboys. The defending champs are still in the thick of the playoff race, however, tied with Carolina and the Washington Redskins, one-half game behind the Minnesota Vikings for the final playoff spot in the conference.

Philadelphia finishes the season with games against the Rams in Los Angeles this weekend, then at home against the Houston Texans and at the Redskins in Week 17.

–Field Level Media

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Chiefs can lock up West with win over Chargers

An unexpected toss with his left hand, a no-look pass to a crossing receiver and -- most importantly -- a run toward home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs.

 

All that and so much more has defined record-setting Patrick Mahomes as a first-year starter in the NFL this season. Yet the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback

An unexpected toss with his left hand, a no-look pass to a crossing receiver and — most importantly — a run toward home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs.

 

All that and so much more has defined record-setting Patrick Mahomes as a first-year starter in the NFL this season. Yet the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback must be on top of his game again Thursday night when the streaking Los Angeles Chargers look to tighten the AFC West division race.

 

Kansas City (11-2) last weekend qualified for the playoffs for the fifth time under sixth-year coach Andy Reid, using a madcap rally Mahomes engineered Sunday to hold off the Baltimore Ravens 27-24 in overtime. But after burning the NFL’s top defense entering the game for 377 yards passing and two touchdowns, the no-look pass was all the rage.

 

Hey, it’s always something radical with Mahomes.

 

“I worked with him real hard on that. I built that right into the offense,” Reid cracked. “He has a knack for that. He is comfortable doing it. This is the NFL and he is doing it. That’s something to do it in practice, but when you start throwing it in a game against the No. 1 defense in the National Football League, that is a little different.”

 

Confidence oozes from Mahomes, whose plus-32 touchdown-to-interception mark leads the NFL, as do his 43 touchdown passes and 45 completions of 25-plus yards. The Chiefs average 437.5 yards and 36.2 points per game, along with 6.86 yards per play, all of which lead the league.

 

“I have built that chemistry with guys like D-Rob,” Mahomes said of Demarcus Robinson, recipient of the no-look pass, “through training camp and through last year. I know that the guys are going to know what I’m thinking and trust that they are going to keep running the route the same way. Then, I put the ball out there for them.”

 

Los Angeles (10-3) will counter with pressure off both edges from defensive ends Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa. Bosa was injured and missed the first matchup, a 38-28 Week 1 win for the Chiefs to account for Kansas City’s one-game lead over the Chargers.

 

Los Angeles has won nine of its last 10 games, including three straight. Its only road defeat was against the crosstown Rams.

 

Kansas City, however, has won 20 of its last 21 against AFC West rivals and is looking to secure a third consecutive division title. A better divisional record gives the Chiefs the tiebreaker over the Chargers should Los Angeles win Thursday.

 

Veteran quarterback Philip Rivers is having an exceptional season for the Chargers but may need to come up even bigger against the Chiefs. Running backs Melvin Gordon (knee) and Austin Ekeler (neck) are dealing with injuries. Two rookies who have combined for 32 carries, Justin Jackson and Detrez Newsome, are next in line.

 

“It’s important to just get back to being healthy,” said Michael Badgley, a rookie kicker who set a Chargers record with a 59-yard field goal while going 4-for-4 Sunday in a win over Cincinnati. “Get back in there, go through all of our recovery, and it will be a short week, so a big mental week.”

 

The Chiefs also must deal with injuries to offensive threats.

 

Speedy receiver Tyreek Hill limped through a heel injury against the Ravens but is expected to be available. Another receiver, Sammy Watkins (foot) is likely out. Running back Spencer Ware (shoulder) is also hobbled.

 

–Field Level Media

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OL Newton returns to NFL with Saints

OL Newton returns to NFL with Saints

Two years after tearing both patellar

OL Newton returns to NFL with Saints

Two years after tearing both patellar tendons on the same play, former Houston Texans offensive tackle Derek Newton is back in the NFL after signing a two-year deal with the New Orleans Saints on Tuesday.

Newton, 31, suffered the devastating double injury while attempting to block All-Pro pass rusher Von Miller during a game against the Denver Broncos on Oct. 24, 2016.

He spent the entire 2017 season on the Texans’ physically unable to perform list and was released by Houston eight months ago after failing a physical.

The 6-foot-6, 315-pound Newton started 68 of his 82 games with the Texans from 2011-16 after being selected in the seventh round of the 2011 draft out of Arkansas State.

The Saints had a roster vacancy after placing tackle Michael Ola on injured reserve Tuesday with a high-ankle sprain suffered in Sunday’s win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

–Field Level Media

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Bills place LB Milano, CB Johnson on injured reserve

Bills place LB Milano, CB Johnson on injured reserve

Bills place LB Milano, CB Johnson on injured reserve

The Buffalo Bills placed starting linebacker Matt Milano and rookie cornerback Taron Johnson on season-ending injured reserve Tuesday.

Milano had surgery Monday to repair a broken left fibula, suffered in the final minutes of Sunday’s 27-23 loss to the New York Jets.

The second-year player finished the season with 78 tackles, three interceptions, three fumble recoveries and one sack.

Johnson, a fourth-rounder in 2018, had surgery last week for a shoulder injury that bothered him most of the season. He had 42 tackles and one interception in 11 games.

–Field Level Media

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Lions put Ansah (shoulder) on IR

Lions put Ansah (shoulder) on IR

Lions put Ansah (shoulder) on IR

An injury-plagued season is now an injury-shortened season for Ziggy Ansah.

The Detroit Lions on Tuesday announced they have placed the veteran defensive end on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. The team did the same with tight end Michael Roberts and his injured shoulder.

To replace them on the roster, the Lions signed tight end Jerome Cunningham and offensive lineman Leo Koloamatangi from their practice squad.

Ansah, 29, has had a lost season while playing on the franchise tag. He hurt his shoulder after 19 snaps in Week 1 and did not play again until Week 9, though he has been effective (four sacks, seven quarterback hits) during his seven games on the field. Ansah is scheduled to hit free agency in March.

Roberts, 24, has nine catches for 100 yards and three touchdowns in eight games this season, his second since being drafted in the fourth round in 2017 out of Toledo.

The Lions are 5-8 and in last place in the NFC North. They play at Buffalo this Sunday before closing out the season at home against Minnesota on Dec. 23 and at Green Bay on Dec. 30.

–Field Level Media

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NFL hikes salary cap to $190 million in 2019

NFL hikes salary cap to $190 million in 2019

NFL hikes salary cap to $190 million in 2019

The NFL announced Tuesday that the salary cap will rise to about $190 million in 2019, a jump from $177.2 million this season.

The league informed teams that the projected range is from $187.0 to $191.1 million.

That marks a 40-percent increase since the 2014 season ($133.0 million) and the sixth consecutive year the cap has climbed by at least $10 million.

“Total projected player costs, including benefits, will be more than $7.3 billion in 2019,” the league said in a statement.

The exact salary cap figure will be determined before free agency opens on March 13.

–Field Level Media

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Titans place RT Conklin, TE Smith on injured reserve

Titans place RT Conklin, TE Smith on injured reserve

Titans place RT Conklin, TE Smith on injured reserve

The Tennessee Titans placed right tackle Jack Conklin and tight end Jonnu Smith on injured reserve with knee injuries on Tuesday.

Both starters were injured during the Titans’ 30-9 victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars last Thursday.

Smith, who took over for injured three-time Pro Bowl selection Delanie Walker, finishes his second NFL season with 20 catches for 258 yards and three touchdowns in 13 games.

Conklin, the Titans’ first-round pick (eighth overall) in 2016, was limited to nine games this season after starting all 16 games in each of his first two campaigns.

Veteran Dennis Kelly is expected to replace Conklin, and Anthony Firkser will step in for Smith. Tennessee also signed free agent offensive lineman Austin Pasztor and added tight end Cole Wick from the San Francisco 49ers’ practice squad.

With three games remaining, the Titans are one of four AFC teams tied at 7-6 and chasing a wild-card berth in the playoffs.

–Field Level Media

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Oakland sues Raiders, NFL over Vegas move

Oakland sues Raiders, NFL over Vegas move

Oakland sues Raiders, NFL over Vegas move

The city of Oakland, Calif., gave the Raiders a going-away present on Tuesday.

A federal lawsuit.

Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker announced the suit, which alleges antitrust violations and breach of contract, and names the Raiders, the NFL and every other team in the league.

While the city does not demand that the Raiders be forced to remain in Oakland, the seven-count filing in district court does seek restitution in the form of lost revenue, remaining debt on renovations to the Oakland Coliseum, court costs and fees, plus punitive damages.

“The City will seek a resolution for the maximum amount of damages available,” Parker said in a news release shortly before filing the lawsuit. “The lawsuit will not ask the court to prevent the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas or keep the team in Oakland.”

The Raiders received league approval to relocate to Las Vegas in March 2017. They are expected to begin playing in Las Vegas when a new stadium opens in 2020. The team still does not know where it will play in 2019.

One of the main cruxes of the city’s argument is that the NFL’s relocation policy is “skewed” in the favor of cities looking to get a team and biased against current host cities because each team shares a part of the moving team’s relocation fee.

The suit also alleges the NFL uses its relocation policy to in essence strong-arm host cities into ponying up money for a new stadium, threatening to move a team out of that city should the funds not be raised.

“Threats of relocation are a central part of the NFL’s practice of demanding public financing for new stadiums, which significantly increase team revenues and ticket prices,” Parker said in the statement.

“Further, each time an NFL club moves, all NFL teams share in a ‘relocation fee.’ In the last several years, the NFL defendants have shared approximately $1.47 billion in these fees. The Raiders alone have agreed to pay over $370 million to the other NFL defendants for their ‘yes’ vote on the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas.”

The city is seeking a jury trial but makes no specific monetary demand other than amounts to be determined at trial.

–Field Level Media

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Steelers’ Roethlisberger expects to play vs. Patriots

Steelers' Roethlisberger expects to play vs. Patriots

Steelers’ Roethlisberger expects to play vs. Patriots

Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is banged up, but sore ribs won’t keep him from playing when the Steelers play host to the New England Patriots on Sunday.

Roethlisberger required a pain-killing injection to deal with a rib injury sustained in the second quarter last week in Pittsburgh’s loss to the Oakland Raiders. He returned to the game late in the fourth quarter.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Roethlisberger is dealing with bruised ribs.

Roethlisberger said during his weekly radio spot on Tuesday that he required X-rays in the locker room, but the tests were inconclusive. He said he was not confident he would be helping the team by returning but opted to play.

“Let’s see how this plays out,” Roethlisberger said Tuesday of what he told Tomlin to be allowed back in the game.

During the game, Tomlin conferred with the team’s medical staff, which told the coach and general manager Kevin Colbert that the antiquated X-ray machine produced results that couldn’t be read.

Roethlisberger said team doctors cleared him to play anyway, and his performance indicated he was fine. Roethlisberger wound up completing 25 of 29 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns.

Asked if there’s any reason to think he wouldn’t play against the Patriots, Roethlisberger said, “No, no, I don’t think so.”

The Steelers have lost three consecutive games and at 7-5-1 hold a slim lead over the 7-6 Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North.

–Field Level Media

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Chiefs, Mahomes can lock up West with win over Chargers

An unexpected toss with his left hand, a no-look pass to a crossing receiver and -- most importantly -- a run toward home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs.

 

All that and so much more has defined record-setting Patrick Mahomes as a first-year starter in the NFL this season. Yet the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback

An unexpected toss with his left hand, a no-look pass to a crossing receiver and — most importantly — a run toward home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs.

 

All that and so much more has defined record-setting Patrick Mahomes as a first-year starter in the NFL this season. Yet the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback must be on top of his game again Thursday night when the streaking Los Angeles Chargers look to tighten the West Division race.

 

Kansas City (11-2) last weekend qualified for the playoffs for the fifth time under sixth-year coach Andy Reid, using a madcap rally Mahomes engineered Sunday to hold off the Baltimore Ravens 27-24 in overtime. But after burning the NFL’s top defense entering the game for 377 yards passing and two touchdowns, the no-look pass was all the rage.

 

Hey, it’s always something radical with Mahomes.

 

“I worked with him real hard on that. I built that right into the offense,” Reid cracked. “He has a knack for that. He is comfortable doing it. This is the NFL and he is doing it. That’s something to do it in practice, but when you start throwing it in a game against the No. 1 defense in the National Football League, that is a little different.”

 

Confidence oozes from Mahomes, whose plus-32 touchdown-to-interception mark leads the NFL along, as do his 43 touchdown passes and 45 completions of 25-plus yards. The Chiefs average 437.5 yards and 36.2 points per game, along with 6.86 yards per play, all of which lead the league.

 

“I have built that chemistry with guys like D-Rob,” Mahomes said of Demarcus Robinson, recipient of the no-look pass, “through training camp and through last year. I know that the guys are going to know what I’m thinking and trust that they are going to keep running the route the same way. Then, I put the ball out there for them.”

 

Los Angeles (10-3) will counter with pressure off both edges from defensive ends Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa. Bosa was injured and missed the first matchup, a 38-28 Week 1 win for the Chiefs to account for Kansas City’s one-game lead over the Chargers.

 

Los Angeles has won nine of its last 10 games, including three straight. Its only road defeat was against the crosstown Rams.

 

Kansas City, however, has won 20 of its last 21 against AFC West rivals and is looking to secure a third consecutive division title. A better divisional record gives the Chiefs the tiebreaker over the Chargers should Los Angeles win Thursday.

 

Veteran quarterback Philip Rivers is having an exceptional season for the Chargers but may need to come up even bigger against the Chiefs. Running backs Melvin Gordon (knee) and Austin Ekeler (neck) are dealing with injuries. Two rookies who have combined for 32 carries, Justin Jackson and Detrez Newsome, are next in line.

 

“It’s important to just get back to being healthy,” said Michael Badgley, a rookie kicker who set a Chargers record with a 59-yard field goal while going 4 for 4 Sunday in a win over Cincinnati. “Get back in there, go through all of our recovery, and it will be a short week, so a big mental week.”

 

The Chiefs also must deal with injuries to offensive threats.

 

Speedy receiver Tyreek Hill limped through a heel injury against the Ravens but is expected to be available. Another receiver, Sammy Watkins (foot) is likely out. Running back Spencer Ware (shoulder) is also hobbled.

 

–Field Level Media

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Rams place RB Brown, CB Hatfield on injured reserve

Rams place RB Brown, CB Hatfield on injured reserve

Rams place RB Brown, CB Hatfield on injured reserve

The Los Angeles Rams placed running back Malcolm Brown and cornerback Dominique Hatfield on injured reserve Tuesday.

Brown injured his collarbone during the NFC West champions’ 30-16 win at Detroit earlier this month. He has rushed for 514 yards in four seasons as Todd Gurley’s backup, including 43 carries for 212 yards and five catches for 52 yards and a touchdown in 2018.

Hatfield needs surgery after injuring his left ankle in Sunday’s 15-6 loss at Chicago. The second-year player and Los Angeles native saw most of his action on special teams this season.

The Rams also promoted rookie linebacker Trevon Young from the practice squad. Young, a sixth-round pick out of Louisville, has played in two games this season.

Los Angeles (11-2) hosts Philadelphia (6-7) on Sunday night.

–Field Level Media

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Mahomes’ jersey from Rams classic reportedly fetches $36K for charity

Mahomes' jersey from Rams classic reportedly fetches $36K for charity

Mahomes’ jersey from Rams classic reportedly fetches $36K for charity

Patrick Mahomes may have come out on the losing end in the Kansas Chiefs’ wild shootout with the Los Angeles Rams last month, but one move he made with some memorabilia from that game is certainly a winner.

The second-year quarterback and NFL Most Valuable Player contender sent the jersey he wore Nov. 19 in the 54-51 classic to auction, where it reportedly sold for $36,150. What’s more, according to The Action Network’s Darren Rovell, the proceeds are going to aid in California wildfire relief efforts.

Both the Rams and Chiefs honored first responders to the fires throughout the Week 11 Monday night game, with the Rams handing out more than 3,000 complimentary tickets to first responders. The two biggest November fires, the Camp Fire in Northern California and Woolsey Fire in Ventura and Los Angeles counties, are responsible for nearly 90 deaths and the loss of 100,000 structures.

Mahomes has taken the league by storm in his first season as a full-time starter. His 4,300 yards and 43 touchdowns lead the league, and he also tops the NFL in touchdown percentage (8.9) and yards per attempt (9.7).

The Chiefs are 11-2 and hold a two-game lead in the race for the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. The biggest threat to Kansas City actually comes from its own division, as the Los Angeles Chargers sit at 10-3. The Chargers visit the Chiefs on Thursday night.

–Field Level Media

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