The Titans have a chance to show what they can do against a top AFC playoff contender when they play Thursday night at Pittsburgh.

The Dolphins offered little resistance Monday night. Still, it was an excellent performance by the Panthers, with Cam Newton excelling both as a passer and a runner.

A victory over the Steelers would signal that the Titans might be capable not only of reaching the postseason, but of being a factor once they get there.

The Chiefs return from their bye needing to reestablish that they are among the league’s top teams. It hasn’t looked that way lately, with three losses in four games since a 5-0 start. They play Sunday in the Meadowlands against the Giants, who are in total disarray. Anything less than a decisive victory would raise further questions about the Chiefs.

The shocking win in Seattle was followed by Sunday’s loss at home to the Vikings. There’s no disgrace in losing to a very good Minnesota team. But it remains one step forward and one step back for these Redskins, who perhaps have found their level. Unfortunately for them, that level appears to be right around the .500 mark.

Case Keenum remains the starter at QB despite throwing two interceptions in the loss at Carolina. Keenum’s performance against the Panthers was an issue. So, too, were the performances of an offensive line that allowed Keenum to be sacked six times, and a defense that permitted the Panthers to run for 216 yards.

The crowd’s behavior at the end of Sunday’s game was not acceptable. It’s the Jaguars’ responsibility to ensure that things like that don’t happen in their stadium, and they must keep their fans under control. As for the game, beating Seattle counts as a very good win for a team that looks more promising all the time.

It’s fair to question whether Matthew Stafford has played to the level demanded by his monstrous contract. But don’t ever question the QB’s toughness or late-game mettle. Both were on vivid display in Sunday’s gritty victory in Tampa.

{ Add a Comment }

A hyperextended knee could force Amendola to sit out Week 8 against the Chargers.

That’s an attractive matchup for owners who have anyone on the Patriots. Teammate Chris Hogan stands to inherit some additional targets. He has five games with 60 or more yards; that trend should continue.

Stefon Diggs, WR, Vikings: Minnesota’s top wideout fully practiced on Thursday and Friday, and seems in line to play Sunday at Cleveland. Diggs’s return is a sigh of relief for his owners, who hope he picks up the pace he was setting through the first four weeks of the season. He should be in your lineup on Sunday.

Leonard Fournette, RB, Jaguars: Fournette doesn’t play this week with Jacksonville on a bye, but for owners wondering about his status upon his return, the expectation is that he’ll be fine for Week 9.

I don’t really know. I’ll watch the playoffs. I’ll probably have feelings of disappointment that the Redskins aren’t there very often. It’s hard to just say “I quit.” Maybe I’ll just shut it off for a while. I don’t really know.

He has hit 100 mph and will work with an upper-90s fastball and upper-80s slider that can show plus. He’ll show a curveball and changeup but can slow his arm enough on the latter to tip better hitters off that he’s throwing it.

Lockhart was a vocal and forceful presence during his time in the league. He responded aggressively to reports he deemed unfair to the league’s record on health and safety issues. This season, he conducted regular conference calls with reporters to make certain the NFL’s views on relevant issues were known.

“When I got here, my mission was to shake things up a bit,” Lockhart wrote in Thursday’s memo. “As one of the most important and iconic cultural institutions in our country, the NFL is subject to almost as much scrutiny as our Government. Americans’ passion for the game generates debates every bit as heated as those in politics. In fact, as I’ve shared with some of you, the two years in this role feels a lot like my two years as White House press secretary.

{ Add a Comment }

Fixing the arcane and clunky Catch Rule should be atop the league’s to-do list for on-field improvements in the offseason.

Pence and his wife exited the game after members of the San Francisco 49ers knelt during the national anthem to protest racism in America and police violence, claiming that it was disrespectful to veterans.

“I’d have thought you were crazy to think that, or I was crazy to think that,” Brady said. “This has just all been — I guess it’s my life, so I’m living it, and it feels very natural and normal, just because I wake up every day and I feel very much the same as I did when I walked in here 18 years ago, I really do. It’s a great privilege to play here, and it’s a great privilege to play in the NFL, and I try to represent the team well, I try to represent my family, I try to do things the right way, and I’m very blessed. I could never imagine getting the kind of team achievements we’ve done and had.

So I can just throw it in their general direction, and because I’m not under pressure and because they’re in the area, it won’t matter. And you saw what happened. I threw the ball and it looks like I’m throwing to nobody, but in my opinion — or before I threw the ball, my opinion was he’ll be in the general area.

But let’s hope the Raiders or Jets take their plight as a motivator to fix another puzzling article in the rulebook.

No, I’m not. First, we need to do something similar for player on-court and off-court stats. Jacob Goldstein started this process recently on Nylon Calculus, though his method tends to overstate the magnitude of good or bad luck for players because it doesn’t account for the fact that more missed shots also mean some points via offensive rebounds.

I’m a little more skeptical at the lineup level because the samples are so much smaller in most cases that I think looking just at shooting luck will ignore other possible sources of randomness.

{ Add a Comment }

The New England Patriots host the Jacksonville Jaguars for the AFC Championship on Sunday on CBS.

The Patriots are favored by 7.5 points at home. The Over-Under, or total number of points Vegas thinks will be scored, is 45.

The Patriots have the history, a legendary coach, an MVP quarterback and five Super Bowl titles since the start of the 21st century. The Jaguars, well, they’re new to this spotlight.

He led the league with 4,577 yards passing to go with 32 TDs and eight INTs.

Defensively, the stats are more deceiving. As a team, the Patriots allowed 366 yards per game, fourth-worst in the NFL. But they allowed only 18.5 points per game, fifth-fewest.

After a brutal defensive start to the year, the Pats allowed 17 or fewer points in 11 of their last 13 games and single digits four times. They ended the season on a 12-1 roll.

It’s no surprise White is leaning Over, but he has evaluated all of the circumstances and identified a strong statistical trend that has him confidently backing one side. Find out what it is, and who to back, over at SportsLine.

Burkhead brings an element of versatility to the lineup for the Patriots, whose offense hit another level when Burkhead and Dion Lewis grabbed hold of the backfield reins from Mike Gillislee and James White. Burkhead and Lewis’ presence on the field does less to tip off the opposition to whether the play will be a run or a pass, which allows the Pats to create matchup issues by throwing out of heavy formations or running from spread-out looks.

Burkhead also has the ability to line up in the slot or out wide, taking advantage of linebackers and safeties as a route-runner. He became an important outlet for Tom Brady while healthy, and he also fared very well when operating as a goal-line and short-yardage back. Getting him back on the field will give the Pats yet another weapon that can help them overcome the Jaguars defense, which is one of the best in football.

{ Add a Comment }

Jaguars’ Doug Marrone gets advice from first graders on how to beat Patriots

If Twitter were any indication, the Jaguars have been playing with a first-grader at quarterback all season. Now they’re getting help from actual children.

Leading up to Sunday’s AFC Championship Game against the favored Patriots, a first-grade classroom from nearby Bolles School sent Marrone a game plan on how to beat the Patriots. The booklet had a drawing of Blake Bortles on the cover along with the weirdly cocky message: Dear Jags, Want to beat the Patriots? Here’s how……… Advice from your #1 fans in Bolles First Grade!!

Here’s my question: Did the NFL know Triplette was retiring before this game? And did Triplette get a playoff game BECAUSE he was retiring? Triplette had not been assigned a playoff game since the 2013 season, according to Pro-Football-Reference.

It seems extremely coincidental that Triplette would get a playoff game for his final assignment after failing to grade well enough during the previous three seasons to earn one. If you’re a Chiefs fan, you should be upset at the way Andy Reid handled play calling down the stretch, but you should also be asking a lot of questions about the NFL’s decision to give Triplette a playoff game.

Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB, Alabama. The Colts are the wild card of the early selections in this draft, and they go secondary to fortify their defense. With Fitzpatick and Malik Hooker, Indianapolis will have two young and dynamic defensive backs to counter Deshaun Watson and Marcus Mariota.

The NFC and AFC Championship Games in the NFL playoffs on Sunday will attract bets from average Joes to professional bettors. The Patriots are 7.5-point favorites over the Jaguars after the line opened at 8.5, and the Vikings are three-point favorites over the Eagles. The Over-Under, or total number of points Vegas think will be scored, is 39 for Vikings-Eagles and 45.5 for Jaguars-Patriots.

With two eye-popping games and NFL odds already on the move, you need to know what SportsLine’s advanced computer model is picking.

With a 181-83 record, SportsLine is beating nearly every expert tracked on NFLPickWatch for the second straight season.

{ Add a Comment }

The presence of Quinn as the GM is a big plus too.

The Patriots casually took care of business in a 35-14 TKO of the Titans Saturday night, to no one’s surprise. To some surprise on Sunday: Pats defensive coordinator Matt Patricia is likely heading to Detroit to take the Lions job once New England’s season wraps up.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, Patricia is expected to be the next Lions coach, shunning overtures from the Giants to join his old friend Bob Quinn, the former Patriots personnel man turned Lions GM.

Patricia is making a leap to a franchise where he will feel comfortable working with his boss, having interacted with him in the context of a football front office before. More so than anything, a GM/coach relationship can really derail a franchise when things aren’t going perfectly.

Patricia’s defenses have been quintessential Pats defenses since he took over as defensive coordinator in 2012. They bend but don’t break: every single season with New England, his defenses have ranked in the top-10 in points allowed. Even this year, with the Patriots giving up the 29th most yards in the NFL, they were ranked fifth in points allowed.

The cherry on top was a headbutt by defensive tackle Malik Jackson in the final two minutes when the Jaguars trailed 37-33 with enough timeouts to stop the clock and get the ball back. The penalty on Jackson gave the 49ers a critical first down, and they took advantage with a touchdown a few plays later that put the game on ice.

It came during a game that saw Jackson and cornerback Aaron Colvin get into a shouting match on the sideline, followed by another argument between receiver Keelan Cole and receivers coach Keenan McCardell.

Reviews from Patriots teammates were positive Friday on Tom Brady; in the wake of the hand-injury scare, the QB looks on target heading toward Sunday.

Brady has preferred not to wear gloves during games, but he also hasn’t had to deal with an injury like this.

New England owner Robert Kraft, in an interview that aired on Patriots All Access on WBZ-TV on Saturday night, was asked if his heart skipped a beat when he was first notified of the quarterback’s injury.

{ Add a Comment }

Bay Area newspaper breaks down how NFL owners will vote on Vegas

One thing the Vikings do well is stop the run. The Vikings surrendered just 83.6 yards per game on the ground in 2017, which ranked second in the NFL, and that number is a big reason why the Eagles might have to rely on Foles this week. If Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount can’t find room to run, it’s going to be up to Foles to keep the Eagles offense moving.

In the early game on Saturday, the No. 1 seed Philadelphia Eagles will play host to the No. 6 seed Atlanta Falcons in an NFC matchup. Atlanta, the owner of last year’s No. 1 offense, defeated this year’s No. 1 offense (Rams), and now must travel north to Philadelphia and take on the Carson Wentz-less Eagles. Philly stumbled a bit down the stretch of the season but still has a strong defense and running game, and home-field advantage.

On Saturday night, the No. 1 seed New England Patriots will host the No. 5 seed Tennessee Titans in an AFC matchup. The Pats are heavy favorites, but the Titans are coming off a monster comeback victory over the Chiefs in their first round matchup. Tennessee’s strength is running the ball, which is New England’s exact weakness on defense. The Titans will have to figure out a way to stop Tom Brady, though, if they want to come away with a win.

In the first of Sunday’s two rematches, the No. 2 seed Pittsburgh Steelers will host the No. 3 seed Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jags beat up on the Steelers in Pittsburgh earlier this season, forcing Ben Roethlisberger into five interceptions in a 30-9 win.

I don’t know if anything has really changed except the panic of being left out and not getting the money, said Rob Rang, a veteran talent evaluator for NFLDraftScout.com. In today’s world of social media and expectations, young players are more easily convinced to try to take advantage of their perceived draft value.

The NFL began accepting prospects three years out of high school 29 years ago. That league tenet has survived periodic legal challenges for three decades. All of it has created a micro-population of elite athletes with something less than a full grasp of the process.

{ Add a Comment }