2019 NFL draft: 49ers address top 3 needs in Draft Wire mock – Niners Wire


There’s nothing fancy about the way the 49ers operate in the latest Draft Wire mock draft. San Francisco has a few glaring needs and the fill all of them in the three-round projections.

The 49ers aren’t in a position where they can pass on good players for the sake of adding depth. They need to get top-end talent on their roster regardless of position. However, they’re able to do both of those things with their three picks in this mock.

Here’s a look at how the 49ers made out:

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Ferrell has backed up his dynamite Junior campaign with an even better Senior season on one of the nation’s best defensive lines. He’s posted 47 tackles, 17.5 tackles-for-loss and 10.5 sacks in 13 games for the Tigers. That brings the defensive end’s totals over the last two seasons to 35.5 tackles-for-loss and 20 sacks. That’s the kind of high-end productivity the 49ers need on the edge. He’s a very good athlete at 6-5, 250 pounds, and his ability to stay on the field for all three downs means he’ll be an impact player for the 49ers defense on Day 1.



Conner on return from injury: 'Just not ready yet' – NFL.com



James Conner continues to work his way back from an ankle injury, but doesn’t sound like a player who will be ready to return yet.

The Pittsburgh Steelers running back missed the past two games. He jogged around the practice field on Wednesday but officially didn’t practice.


There was hope the Pro Bowl running back could return after sitting out a fortnight, but Conner’s own comments sound pessimistic that he would be ready to face the New Orleans Saints.

“I’m trying,” Conner said, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It’s day by day. These high-ankle sprains are deceiving. I can walk around fine, I’m not limping around, but when I’m out there on the field, cutting and stuff, I’m just not ready yet.”

Conner admitted if he tried to play this week, he wouldn’t be at full force.

“I want to go, but if I’m not feeling like me, then I wouldn’t be James Conner. So I’m not going to go out there less than ready.”

Teammates agree that getting Conner healthy for a potential playoff run is the goal. If he can’t cut off the ankle, he wouldn’t be as effective.

“I think they should give him a little more time to get it all right,” center Maurkice Pouncey said, “because when we really need him, we’re going to need him.”

With Conner likely out another week, rookie Jaylen Samuels would get the call again following last week’s 142-yard performance versus New England. Facing a Saints defense that ranks No. 1 in the NFL, allowing 79.1 yards per game on the ground, will be a much tougher task.

Regardless of who starts in the backfield, expect Ben Roethlisberger to sling the ball another 45 times this weekend.



Quinn on Freeman: 'He won't make it back' – NFL.com



Whatever hopes the Atlanta Falcons had on running back Devonta Freeman getting back on the field before the end of the season effectively ended Wednesday morning.

Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, who weeks ago expressed an openness on Freeman potentially being activated to the active roster, announced during an appearance on 92.9 The Game that Freeman won’t return from injured reserve.

“He won’t make it back,” Quinn said, via via D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Like the Falcons, Freeman’s season ends in disappointment after groin and knee injuries shelved him on Oct. 16.

He appeared in just two games on the season, totaling 68 yards rushing on 14 carries and 23 yards receiving on five catches, and the Falcons’ ground attack sputtered in Freeman’s absence. After finishing the 2017 season ranked 13th in the league (115.4 yards per game) and 2016 ranked fifth (120.5), the Falcons enter Week 16 ranked 30th in the league in rushing (90.7).

Meanwhile, the Falcons head coach now has other decisions to consider looming on the horizon.

The Falcons entered the 2018 regular season as a widely-regarded favorite to contend for a championship, but the Falcons are currently 5-9 and officially eliminated from the playoffs.



Updated league hierarchy: Chargers up to No. 2 – NFL.com



As we head into Week 16, comebacks fill the air. Footballs don’t.

Ground attacks and solid defense both made their way back into the NFL mainstream this past weekend. Points were down, as the Redskins, Colts, Titans, Bills, Browns, Ravens, Falcons, Vikings, Bears, Bengals, Steelers and Saints all won while keeping their opponents at 17 points or fewer. Meanwhile, a number of young running backs — like Jaylen Samuels, Kalen Ballage, Dalvin Cook, Gus Edwards, Nick Chubb and Marlon Mack — logged 100 yards rushing. For Samuels and Ballage, it was their first such NFL outing. Cook joined the century club for just the second time — and first since his pro debut back in September of 2017. Tevin Coleman made a triumphant return to 100-yard productivity, as well. Overall, 10 guys hit that mark, with all but two of them helping their respective teams win.

Helping an organization be successful is a major source of motivation for a player attempting to mount a personal comeback. In that regard, no one has been better than Andrew Luck, who led his Colts to yet another win on their way to what could be a wild-card berth. J.J. Watt is right behind him in that regard, a huge factor in the Texans’ road win on Saturday. Yet, this past weekend, one man stood above all.

Josh Johnson has been a part of 12 NFL teams, and hadn’t started a game since 2011. He got his first win at 32 years old, to keep his Redskins in the playoff race. Now that’s a comeback.

Agreed.

Watt’s Texans escaped New York like Kurt Russell. They didn’t move up with the win, however. Houston’s top competition moved way up, as Indy shut out the Cowboys. For the full rundown, read further. Your take is always welcome: @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Let the dissension commence!


PROGRAMMING NOTE: For more in-depth analysis on the updated league pecking order, tune in to NFL Network every Tuesday night at 6 p.m. ET for “The Power Rankings Show.” Want to add YOUR voice? Provide your thoughts in a tweet to @HarrisonNFL, and your comments could be featured on air.

Previous rank:
No. 1

The
Saints didn’t resemble anything close to an elite team
Monday night, as the
Panthers slowed down New Orleans’ top-shelf offense all game. What the
Saints
did accomplish was inching closer to home-field advantage by eking out a division road game, never an easy task in the NFL. Moreover, for all those fingering New Orleans’ weaknesses, you should remember that the
Saints just finished up a three-game road trip: first, taking on
a geeked-up Cowboys defense ready for blood like Kiefer Sutherland in “Lost Boys,” then
battling the desperate Bucs (who were clinging to even more desperate playoff fantasies), then Carolina. The
Panthers were also playing for their postseason lives, yet New Orleans outlasted dem boys, too. The
Saints have so many ways they can beat your favorite team — they are simply drawing on those resources more than they needed to earlier this season, when
Drew Brees was torching secondaries on a weekly basis.

Previous rank:
No. 5

The
Chargers are the
Michael Myers of the NFL right now — which is better, I think, than being the Michael Bolton
(getting no respect). That is to say, the Bolts are a scary group. The Anthony Lynn-guided outfit
beat the Chiefs on Thursday night — in Arrowhead, mind you — while still being far from full strength. Not only were they
without RB1
Melvin Gordon, they were without RB2
Austin Ekeler, too. In fact, the Bolts have been down a man (or two) all year. Right when their
game wrecker on defense
returned to form, their
fantasy-points Pez Dispenser got hurt. When
Joey Bosa, Gordon and Ekeler are all in action at the same time again — whether that happens in Week 16 or 17 — look out. Then there’s second-year receiver
Mike Williams, who enjoyed his finest game all season, with three touchdowns and the outcome-deciding two-point conversion. And, of course, the
Chargers wouldn’t have gotten where they did
without Hunter Henry. (PSA for the uninitiated: The tight end
returned to practice Monday after missing all of this season thus far with an ACL tear.)

Previous rank:
No. 2

The
Chiefs’ lack of balance bit them in the cold of Arrowhead Stadium
on Thursday night. No, I’m not just talking about the running back situation, which, in the wake of
Kareem Hunt’s departure, is problematic without a healthy
Spencer Ware. My concern is the constant leaning on
Patrick Mahomes to outscore the other offense. Kansas City couldn’t make it happen on Thursday night, and the
Chiefs lost — consider it version 3.0 of a problem that came to bear in
the Monday night track meet with the
Rams and the loss to the
Patriots
in Week 6. When you score 28 points at home, that should be seen as “enough,” not a disappointing final tally. That said, the Mahomes-led attack needed more from a ground game that produced 60 yards. The offense as a whole garnered less than 300 yards for the first time this season.

Previous rank:
No. 6

Caught up with my good friend (and semi-loyal reader)
@TurkNorton on Sunday. He was overjoyed, because the
Bears are enjoying a good year, irrespective of whether they clinched the division. I asked him what surprised him most about how 2018 has played out for the Windy City’s favorite sons. “Matt Nagy. After watching the stagnant play-calling last year … watching the way he uses his utility players. When the whole team can be behind every play … I think that makes the locker room strong.” My buddy is from Naperville, Illinois, and upon meeting him the first time, he showed me his kickoff return TD in ’98 versus Niles High. (You can look it up on the internet.) What does @TurkNorton see as Chicago’s biggest strength going forward? “Offensive play-calling. The defense is great, but after watching that
Rams game and how they negated
Aaron Donald … I mean, if anybody else is gonna beat us, cool. But (the Rams) are the tops of the NFC right now. Anyway, the play-calling and offensive scheme will keep defenses on their heels.” Biggest concern? ”
Cody Parkey. Missed a few kicks a few weeks ago, and kicking seems more difficult than it used to be. He is super-jacked, though.” We, uh, had to edit some of his take. This is a family website.

On another note: If Mitch Trubisky plays like he did in
the win over the Packers on Sunday, the
Bears can beat anyone in the tournament. Nagy: A prime Coach of the Year candidate. Most importantly, I love the division title for Chicago fans. Put another way:

Previous rank:
No. 3

Another so-so showing from the
Rams has many league observers wondering where Sean McVay’s team resides in the pantheon of
Super Bowl wannabes. Two weeks ago, Los Angeles sleepwalked through most of an afternoon in Detroit
and won. One week back, the
Rams
were clobbered in Chicago. This past Sunday night? They were taken down by the
Eagles, who appeared more Super Bowl-ready than their hosts. Maybe it was the
Nick Foles effect. Or maybe opposing DCs are preparing more effectively for McVay’s offense, with a 30-game catalogue to study and no
Cooper Kupp to cover. There is not a high quantity of slot receivers who can get open vertically.

Previous rank:
No. 4

Gloom and doom in New England following
another loss this past weekend. Frankly, the
Steelers were desperate enough (and are capable enough) to beat any team at Heinz. Been hearing the whispers about the slow roll downward of
Tom Brady’s play. These are overblown. Admittedly, Brady is not enjoying his finest season, but he’s been far from subpar. Of his 11 misses at Heinz Field, several were on throws into tight coverage or on hurried end-game attempts. He did seem to shy away from pressure up the middle on the game’s final toss, fading to his left before flicking the ball with his feet nowhere near set, which only furthers the idea that Brady might now indeed be mortal. Putting only a touchdown and a field goal on the board ain’t enough, and Brady would be the first to say that. The encouraging sign here — and the reason to believe all the “Pats are done” chatter is simply that: chatter — is that the defense allowed 17 points after
getting embarrassed in Miami. New England stunk against the run (again), but rarely broke. Only the
Ravens have held Pittsburgh to fewer points at home this year, and they’re the top scoring defense in the league.

Previous rank:
No. 7

The
Texans hardly inspired confidence out at the Big Snoopy
on Saturday afternoon. In a game where
Deshaun Watson wanted the team to assert itself as an AFC power, Houston barely managed to ground the
Jets in the fourth quarter, thanks in large part to
DeAndre Hopkins’ spidey arms making a couple of slick grabs down the stretch, as well as inspired play from the front four.
J.J. Watt, in particular, was hard to miss … or block. As mentioned in the intro, not too long ago, most folks — even avid
Texans fans — wondered if Watt would ever be the same player again following two injury-interrupted seasons. Now, Watt has 14.5 sacks, 54 tackles and a league-leading six forced fumbles.

Side note: While Watt pummels quarterbacks, his own QB gets pummeled … repeatedly. Watson has been sacked 52 times this year, which is the most in the NFL. And he’s been
hit 105 times, also the most in the NFL. Yikes.

Previous rank:
No. 11

Hmm. Think the
Colts
sent a message on Sunday. Indy enters the top 10 for the first time in years with a rout of the
Cowboys. The last time Indy shut out an opponent, Bjoern Werner got a sack. That tells you how long ago that was (Week 7, 2014). DC Matt Eberflus dialed up all the right calls in stonewalling the
Cowboys’ offense, particularly when it mattered. It helps when you play against your former employers. Dallas dominated time of possession in the first half — and put up exactly nil to show for it.
Colts running back
Marlon Mack played wingman to Eberflus’ defensive effort, rushing 27 times for 139 yards and two tugs. Can’t wait until
that Week 17 beauty in Nashville.
Colts will win that sucker, too.

Previous rank:
No. 12

Stressful being a fan, isn’t it? The waning moments
in Heinz Field were not for the faint of heart. If you fainted watching
Tom Brady’s last pass go airborne, who could blame you? No Pittsburgh contest goes down easy these days. Sunday’s thriller marked the fifth straight
Steelers outing determined by one score. Despite Pittsburgh’s penchant for going “empty” on offense (no RBs), a third-string running back was imperative to Mike Tomlin’s group staying in first place in the AFC North.
Jaylen Samuels picked up 172 yards on 21 touches, outgaining all of the
Patriots’ RBs combined. With
James Conner’s ankle still wonky, Samuels could be huge in terms of eating yards and clock in New Orleans this week, limiting
Drew Brees’ possessions.

Side note: The
Steelers’ all-black unis are cool, but they kind of look like what teams wear in movies where the filmmakers couldn’t get the rights to NFL properties. You know, like when Johnny Unitas roamed the sidelines at Texas Stadium in “Any Given Sunday” donning gear that rivaled the costumes at the Dallas Medieval Times? Wasn’t he coaching the “Knights”?


Previous rank:
No. 10

After
topping Tampa, the
Ravens
inch ever closer to an AFC wild-card berth, if not the AFC North title. With the
Steelers taking down the
Patriots, Baltimore still lingers a half-game back in the division. The
Ravens have a hella challenging game out
at StubHub this weekend, with a potential loss, on first glance, setting them back in the hunt for the North. However, with Pittsburgh traveling to New Orleans, Baltimore probably will either gain a game or stay a half-game back, presuming a
Steelers loss. In Week 17, the
Ravens host the pesky
Browns, while the
Steelers will meet the equally feisty
Bengals, who are fresh off
a win over the Raiders. Call your friendly writer silly, but methinks this Baltimore defense matches up well with the Bolts, particularly with the
Chargers’ RB situation somewhat in flux.

Previous rank:
No. 8

Right when all data pointed to the
Seahawks gliding toward the fifth seed in the NFC,
one loss puts even the sixth spot in doubt — not a pound of doubt, to be fair, but a pinch. At 8-6, Seattle remains
in the pole position. At issue are the
Eagles,
Redskins and
Vikings, all of whom won their games Sunday and are nipping at the ‘Hawks’ heels. With the
Chiefs
coming to town this weekend, Seattle is in danger of falling behind Minnesota and even the NFC East combatants for those two postseason slots. A pair of notes from the loss in San Francisco:

A) How is it that, sandwiched around the
Seahawks pecking
Kirk Cousins enough to make him mediocre,
Nick Mullens went 50-for-77 for 689 yards, three TDs and a pick against Seattle in two games?

B) Despite decent numbers,
Russell Wilson was off late — when the outcome was in doubt — in the loss to the Niners. That followed a 72-yard passing day the previous week. Wilson was once a dark-horse MVP contender. Now Seattle needs its franchise quarterback to step up to stay in contention.

Previous rank:
No. 13

Task: Handled. The most lovely factoid emanating from
the Vikes’ 41-17 win over the
Dolphins?
Dalvin Cook finally receiving some semblance of a workload. Minnesota’s dynamic RB1 has been anything but this season, but that’s due more to a lack of opportunity than anything else. It’s hard to sell Honda Civics if your dealership doesn’t provide you any Civics to sell. Cook took his 19 carries and spun them into 136 rushing yards and two scores. Throw in 68 from his caddy,
Latavius Murray, and Minnesota controlled the clock for over 33 minutes. At 7-6-1, the
Vikings own the inside track to the NFC’s sixth seed, with both the
Packers and
Panthers falling.

Side note: Watching Miami play at Minnesota, I couldn’t help but recall former
Vikings great Cris Carter coming out of retirement to play for the
Dolphins, only to face his former team, back in 2002. With the game on the line, a portly (?) Carter dropped a Jay Fiedler delivery in the end zone to lose the day. Carter in aqua and orange: still weird.

Previous rank:
No. 14

The Titans impressed on Sunday. No, seriously. Make that three wins in a row for the wild-card hopefuls, with the last two Ws coming courtesy of a suffocating defense. Tennessee yielded a grand total of 260 yards of total offense to the
Giants on Sunday, while allowing
Eli Manning to have the football for only 24 minutes, 39 seconds. Look no further than the front seven’s performance against New York RB
Saquon Barkley, who’s ripped everybody for 100 yards or more this year; against the seemingly playoff-ready
Titans, Barkley could only manage 56 yards. Now for the Negative Nancy section of this blurb: The passing “attack” is still woeful.
Marcus Mariota attempted 20 passes for a grand total of 88 yards. Get excited.

Previous rank:
No. 9

Surprisingly, the
Cowboys’ defense laid a turd
on the Lucas Oil turf. After a 455-yard passing performance from
Dak Prescott in Week 14 that was more built on
Amari Cooper and good fortune than it was Dan Fouts-esque, Prescott went 24-for-39 for 206 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. And a chunk of those yards came in garbage time, with Dallas already trailing, 23-0. Prescott was far from the only problem, as the
Cowboys dropped a few passes and the offensive line dropped the ball in general. Bottom line: Zero points is zero points. There is no excuse. Indy has played like a postseason-bound team for two months, with a defense that is playoff-ready but not dominant. Sunday’s performance was as ugly as it gets from the Dallas offense, whether you blame DP, JG or S(&)L. You know, the play-calling has oft been unintentional comedy.

Previous rank:
No. 18

They’re lurking. The defending champs looked the part
Sunday night, perhaps for the first time all season. Was it due to
Nick Foles? The backup-turned-starter-turned-backup received his latest turn in the rotation, with winning results. Even when he didn’t make fine throws, all came up roses. Consider
his deep ball to
Alshon Jeffery in the third quarter, which was definitely underthrown — but Jeffery and
Nelson Agholor were so open, they were practically flailing their arms for a fair catch, so it didn’t matter that the toss was short. Foles’ lone turnover was not of heavy consequence, despite being deep in
Rams territory, as Philadelphia’s defense eventually halted the ensuing L.A. drive in the red zone. That
Rams possession led to a field goal in what was then a 30-13 game, but it ate up a large chunk of the fourth quarter in the process — time that would become precious in the waning moments. Please, no annoying quarterback-controversy jazz. Enjoy the win responsibly.

Previous rank:
No. 19

Fantastic win for the
Browns on Saturday night. So much to like, starting with Cleveland’s brief time with a slightly more realistic chance to make the playoffs (at least
until the Steelers won the next day). When is the last time heading into Week 16 anyone was using the words “Browns” and “playoffs” in the same sentence? Try 2007. Although it doesn’t feel like it, that was 11 years ago. It’s been 25 years since Cleveland had a quarterback with the kind of swagger remotely comparable to
Baker Mayfield. Well, Bernie Kosar’s swagger was
having no swagger before efficiently Brian Brennan-ing your favorite team to death. (Which is having swagger. Obvi.) Mayfield was hardly solely responsible for this win, as the defense came up large in several spots, like on each of the
Broncos’ final two forays. RB
Nick Chubb pitched in with 100 yards rushing, including 53 on Cleveland’s final drive to salt away the game clock.

Back to Mayfield: The rookie was not spectacular against the
Broncos, but, as per usual, he was stellar in the red zone. Mayfield went 3-for-3 with a touchdown pass, pushing his passer rating in the NFL’s version of the paint to 117.1. The only guy who sits higher on that chart is
Drew Brees, at 117.3. Considering that is where the field is squished, and a place where even veteran quarterbacks press, Mayfield’s numbers as a rookie are uber-impressive.

Previous rank:
No. 17

Once in the thick of the playoff race, the
Broncos dropped consecutive winnable games to crash out of contention.
Losing to the 49ers in Week 14 was bad, as Denver’s defense held a clear advantage over a Niners offense starting its QB3 (Nick Mullens) and RB3 (Jeffery Wilson). And although the
Browns have proven to be far more viable than usual this season,
laying an egg at home with the whole country watching was particularly disappointing. Couple other thoughts:

A) Vance Joseph should have gone for it on fourth-and-1 at the
Browns’ 6-yard line, with Denver trailing 17-13 and less than five minutes remaining. Even if the
Broncos don’t convert, they can play defense with a crowd so juiced that
Baker Mayfield can’t hear himself think. And even if Cleveland picks up a few first downs, that still only puts them at midfield. Instead, Denver kicked a field goal to cut the deficit to 17-16 — which ended up being the final score.

B) How did
Case Keenum
not anticipate
that blitz from Jabrill Peppers? The guy was up on the line, not exactly selling a faux blitz. Keenum, like any veteran quarterback, must know the DNA of the opposing defensive coordinator — or, in this case, interim head coach. Gregg Williams wasn’t playing coverage at that stage of the game.


Previous rank:
No. 15

The
Packers will not be taking part in the postseason tourney for a second straight year. Perspective: Even with no pressure, there were a few plays where
Aaron Rodgers looked unlike, say, 2011
Aaron Rodgers. The offense left a couple of touchdowns on the table. Defensively, nice stop on Matt Nagy’s (too cute)
fake-punt attempt. Green Bay took advantage of the short field and put eight points on the board to tie this classic tilt at 14. Ultimately,
Mitchell Trubisky made plays that Rodgers didn’t, or couldn’t, while the Chicago defense procured five sacks to clinch the division. Surprising? Not really. Loved Rodgers’ postgame comment about his teammates, although he fumbled his way through it (not that he ever fumbles).
I get older, they stay the same age. Rodgers couldn’t nail
McConaughey’s creepiness in that classic scene. Maybe if
Equanimeous St. Brown were standing outside of a pool hall?

Previous rank:
No. 23

Among many storylines on Sunday — most of them playoff-centric — a special story played out in Jacksonville. Sure, the
Redskins
kept their playoff hopes alive with
a late win, pushing their record to 7-7. And
Adrian Peterson, held in check all day, got physical late to grind out a crucial first down, setting up
Washington’s field goal as the clock moved to 0:00. But the
real takeaway was a lesson of perseverance.
Josh Johnson hadn’t started an NFL game
since 2011. The guy didn’t take a single regular-season snap from 2014 through 2017. Yet there he was Sunday, on his 12th NFL team, staring down the Jags defense, down 13-6 with half the fourth quarter gone. No problem. Johnson went 5-for-6 on the ensuing drive with
a touchdown toss in the red zone to draw even at 13-13. After a Jags turnover, Johnson and Peterson maneuvered the
Redskins into position to let kicker
Dustin Hopkins ice this deal. Johnson ran off the field with his first career win as an NFL starter, at the tender age of 32.

Side note: Johnson was seen limping after the game. The Oakland native shrugged it off. “I haven’t been hit in two years,” Johnson said with a laugh,
via the Washington Post. “I haven’t played a 300-pound defensive lineman like
Calais Campbell and (Yannick) Ngakoue. My body’s getting acclimated. There’s a lot of things I’m doing on speed dial right now.” Bet ya a cool Mountain Dew a lot of folks in Johnson’s inner circle dialed him up after Hopkins’ boot sailed through the uprights. What a story.

Previous rank:
No. 16

With postseason dreams dancing around like Snowflake in “Ace Ventura,” the
Dolphins took a deep dive in the fourth quarter Sunday. Miami entered the final stanza down one score to the
Vikings, trying to keep pace with the Ravens-Titans-
Colts trifecta in
the wild-card race. Instead, they got their #$@%s handed to them and were outscored 17-zip. Two weeks after procuring a paltry 175 yards
against the Bills, Miami’s offense failed to reach the Mendoza Line again
in Minnesota. That makes four games this season in which Adam Gase’s attack(?) has failed to reach 200 yards.
Ryan Tannehill threw for a grand total of 108 yards … and lost 71 on
nine sacks. Eww.

Previous rank:
No. 25

Josh Allen and the
Bills pulled out another win, their fifth in a season which many assumed would just serve as a preamble to Buffalo kicking off the 2019
NFL Draft. The
Bills far from dominated Sunday, but they fought their way back from a fourth-quarter deficit to
knock off the Lions. This came one week after giving up a late lead
in a loss to the Jets and two weeks after
dropping a game in Miami that they controlled in every capacity but the final score (Buffalo outgained the
Dolphins in yardage, 415 to 175). Allen continues to impress, even if not in the traditional manner. On a day the offense plodded along, the rookie signal-caller
connected with Robert Foster for a 42-yard touchdown when his team had to have it. The defense: 18.4 points per game allowed over the last five outings.

Previous rank:
No. 21

The holidays aren’t going to be kind to
Lions fans. Matt Patricia and his fresh batch of No. 2 pencils were broken
in Buffalo.
Josh Allen’s
fourth-quarter touchdown heave proved too much for a defense that actually did its part for the third week in a row. The offense? Yuck. Detroit’s chances were hampered by Mr. Automatic missing from 48.
Matt Prater’s failed boot hurt, as has this entire ill-fated 2018 campaign. My suggestion,
Lions fans: Make yourself a whiskey something (
anything), put on some Gordon Lightfoot and call it a day. Or a season.

Previous rank:
No. 22

This season is likely a wrap for the
Panthers, although they
could figure a path to the playoffs with two wins, a TI-81 graphing calculator and pretty much every other team in the league losing. Carolina has dropped six straight if you are counting at home, though the masses were tracking
Cam Newton’s throws Monday night. Specifically, his shoulder, which has become a topic of conversation — and the central culprit in both the player’s and organization’s woes. Newton surely didn’t look right against New Orleans, especially on a couple of those dirtballs in the fourth quarter. A “sore shoulder” might not sound like much, but back in the old days, they referred to it aptly as a “dead arm.”
As Newton mentioned in his postgame comments, the need for practice to perform better is superseded by the need of a pitch count to save strength. It’s a cycle that won’t right itself until Carolina’s season ends — prematurely, considering this team was 6-2 and eyeing January football just a month and a half ago.

Previous rank:
No. 26

Welcome back,
Falcons. Everybody missed you. After five weeks of bad football (and losing) — when Atlanta lost by fewer than 10 points just once — Dan Quinn’s team showed up to play Sunday.
Tevin Coleman stands front and center in the
Falcons’ triumphant return to existence, rambling through the
Cardinals’ front seven for 145 yards on just 11 carries, with
a 65-yard scamper to set up a field goal and
a 43-yard touchdown run to put the game out of reach for Arizona. Honorable mention to
Grady Jarrett, who was all over the place with seven tackles, two sacks and
a forced fumble that set up a touchdown. Despite the poor overall campaign from Quinn’s defense, Jarrett has resumed his high level of play. This is an interior lineman with six sacks, 47 tackles, 11 QB hits and three forced fumbles. Maybe not in the
Aaron Donald stratosphere, but there are about, oh, 32 organizations that’ll take those numbers from a DT.

Previous rank:
No. 20

Boy, hope nobody watched
the Big Blue game Sunday. Well, unless you live in the greater Nashville area. Perhaps the least-inspired showing by any team in Week 15 came from the
Giants, who couldn’t accomplish jack vs. the
Titans.
Eli Manning was ineffective.
Saquon Barkley was stonewalled time and again. The offense as a whole sucked. At least the defense made up for it by making
Derrick Henry look like Earl Campbell. Hey, the Jags
couldn’t stop that guy, either. Cool. Jacksonville has dropped nine of 10, having just lost to a quarterback who hadn’t started since Barack Obama’s first term. Next up for New York:
at Indy. Uh-oh.


Previous rank:
No. 29

While most of the country was zeroed in on
the Pats-Steelers thriller, the
49ers pulled off the surprise of the weekend by
upending the purportedly-destined-to-win-out Seahawks. San Francisco got stops at critical junctures, thwarting Seattle 10 times on third down. Lather, rinse, repeat on the
49ers’ run defense, though, which gave up 168 yards to Pete Carroll’s ground express
two weeks ago … then allowed the same exact figure on Sunday. The key for San Francisco: Too often the
Seahawks couldn’t turn time-consuming drives into touchdowns. One march stalled at the
49ers’ 39, another at the 43. Then DC Robert Saleh’s guys made multiple stands late, holding
Russell Wilson and company to a field goal, punt and punt in Seattle’s last three drives of regulation, and a three-and-out in overtime. Liking Kyle Shanahan’s prospects for next year. Especially with the way Jimmy G’s scruff is growing in. (The networks sure like to show him on the sideline.) Is this an appropriate time to type that
Nick Mullens balled out?

Previous rank:
No. 28

Cincy proved there would be no mailing it in on the 2018 season.
“But, it was THE RAIDERS,” you say. Yeah, maybe, yet the defense showed up in the clutch to
preserve a win for a locker room and coaching staff that needed one.
Geno Atkins bore right through
Chaz Green and the rest of Jon Gruden’s line for three sacks.
Darqueze Dennard got in on eight tackles and
forced a fumble that led to a commanding 17-zip lead in the first half. Cincy’s D relinquished just 68 yards on the ground, and 297 in total. The unit’s season-long averages in said categories coming into Sunday: 148.1 and 421.9. Bit of an improvement, eh? Mentioned
last week that Cincy came
ohsoclose to knocking off the
Chargers without anyone noticing. The
Bengals could play the mean holiday spoiler for both the
Browns’ and
Steelers’ fan bases over the next two weeks. #Driskelmania

Previous rank:
No. 24

It’s not easy to win on the road allowing 167 rushing yards in the second half. Letting the
Ravens own the ball for 22 minutes after the break sure didn’t help, either. Tampa stayed afloat early in the fourth quarter when
Carl Nassib took over for a drive, posting a sack, then forcing
Lamar Jackson into an intentional grounding on third-and-long. Of course, the Bucs had already started to sink themselves earlier in the day, with the corners botching a couple of interceptions in the second quarter and
Chris Godwin dropping a touchdown pass in the third. All of which added up to a day of
what ifs when Tampa stood toe to toe with what could be a playoff team. While Baltimore vies for a postseason invite, Dirk Koetter invited more criticism (and speculation on his future) in losing another close game — the Bucs’ fifth one-score loss this season.

Previous rank:
No. 27

Despite the final score,
30-16, the
Raiders sure did deflate their own hopes of winning in Cincinnati. Oakland perpetually failed on third down, suffered through too many penalties and ultimately settled for too many field goals.
Chaz Green did his part by allowing four sacks by himself, but there was plenty of blame to go around. Running the football 16 out of 59 plays in what was a close affair throughout makes no sense, although
Jalen Richard’s second-quarter fumble didn’t strengthen his position group’s case. The
Raiders’ defense hung in, though
Jeff Driskel’s 13-yard scramble on the last play of the third quarter — on third-and-10 — really hurt. Cincy kept Oakland’s D on the field for almost seven minutes that drive, before paying it off with a field goal to go up two scores.

Side note: Think Amy Trask got it right — and then some — in
laying out the blueprint for how the
Raiders can exit Oakland gracefully this week. Amen.

Previous rank:
No. 31

Tough loss for the
Jets on Saturday evening, as they missed their chance to deal a severe blow to the
Texans’ playoff aspirations — never mind potentially building a mountain of confidence along the way. Houston came into town seeking a postseason bye and darn near went bye-bye with a loss at the hands of the four-win
Jets. New York’s real problem was getting the
Texans’ front four blocked — particularly the usual suspects,
J.J. Watt and
Jadeveon Clowney.

Side note: The little things buried in the second quarter always go overlooked. The
Jets ruined a promising drive when back-to-back big plays were negated by stupid blocking-in-the-back penalties, by a wide receiver and a tight end. Rare that you see pass catchers doing that on
consecutive plays. That’s why there’s an art to reaching 4-10. #
Jets

Previous rank:
No. 30

The
Jaguars deserve the drop to 31. If not for the
Cardinals … you get the point. Jacksonville made a few headlines by waiving
Barry Church last Friday. They made more by
allowing the Redskins to steal a game at their house, with Washington rolling out a quarterback who last started a game back when Maurice Jones-Drew was leading the NFL in rushing. The issue for Doug Marrone is not his defense. Despite providing
Josh Johnson with his first win as a starter in the NFL, the real non-heroes were on offense. Simple math: No team should lose at home allowing just 16 points. Jacksonville can’t move the football. The offense produced a scant 192 total yards, with six points to show for it (the TD was scored on special teams). That also makes 28 total points scored over the last three games. If
Cody Kessler didn’t take off and run out of the pocket, the Jags would’ve had no offense. Can’t put all that on Nathaniel Hackett now, huh?

Previous rank:
No. 32

The
Cardinals are becoming the magic elixir for whatever ails any team (
save for the Packers). Arizona whisked the
Falcons — who hadn’t won since early November — off the winter schneid, barely putting up a fight
Sunday in Atlanta. The hardest part for fans must be watching the offense, which treads water (at best) week after week. The rundown: More penalties and punts than points (15-14), with three turnovers and a mercy quarterback change late.
Mike Glennon fared better than Rosen, but with the score already 40-7, the
Falcons were content to let him complete a few. Incompletions cause the clock to stop. Nobody wants the clock stalled this late in a season going nowhere. Go
Cardinals.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.



Lynn: Gordon was close to playing vs. Chiefs – NFL.com



Melvin Gordon is on his way back to game action.

Los Angeles Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said the running back will be limited in practice on Monday and added that Gordon was “very close” to playing last Thursday against the Kansas City Chiefs.


“If we would have played that game on Sunday, he probably would have played,” Lynn said, via ESPN’s Eric Williams.

Lynn’s optimism strongly suggests we should prepare for Gordon’s return. The Pro Bowl running back missed the past three games due to a knee injury suffered in Week 12.

The Chargers won all three games sans Gordon, but his return will be a welcome sight for the streaking L.A. club. The fourth-year running back was the motor behind the Chargers offense, gobbling up 100-plus total yards in his six previous games played before suffering the knee injury.

Gordon’s return would be a big boon for tilts against Baltimore and Denver to finish the season, as the Chargers attempt to swipe the AFC West from the Chiefs.

Austin Ekeler remains in concussion protocol after missing last week’s win, according to Lynn. The team will continue to evaluate the running back.

In other Chargers injury news, tight end Hunter Henry, lost for what was expected to be the entire 2018 season to an ACL tear suffered in May, returned to practice with the team Monday but remains on the physically unable to perform list. Henry has a 21-day window to either be activated or miss the remainder of the season, which will include a playoff appearance for L.A.

Henry said he isn’t surprised that he made it back to the practice field before the end of the season.

“I had (being back) in my mind, and tried to push for that since the get-go,” Henry told the Chargers’ official website. “I worked as hard as I could, and there’s a lot of work still to do to get back out there. … It’ll be different but good to get back in the flow of things. I’m geared up and ready to go, but it’s a long journey, and it’s cool to have an opportunity like this.”

As for Keenan Allen, who left Thursday’s victory early with a hip injury, Lynn said the receiver might do individual work in practice Monday, but would be limited as well.



Steelers get must-win over Patriots; Bears wrap up NFC North; Colts shut out Cowboys – The Washington Post



Steelers cornerback Joe Haden (23) celebrates a fourth-quarter interception of the Patriots’ Tom Brady. (Keith Srakocic/AP)

NFL Week 15

Top story lines | Injury news
Fantasy football | ATS betting tips/ picks

Follow along here for frequent updates and developments from all of Sunday’s NFL games. Check back after “Sunday Night Football” for a look at the biggest moments and trends to watch.

The Steelers needed a win over the Patriots Sunday in the worst way and they got one in just about the ugliest way. That’s fine with Pittsburgh, which stopped a three-game losing streak, stayed just ahead of the Ravens in the AFC North and — not for nothing — vanquished its chief tormentor over the past few years.

The Steelers have their defense to thank for a 17-10 triumph rather than usual suspects such as Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster or James Conner, who missed the game altogether with an ankle sprain. Pittsburgh, which had given up at least 24 points to each opponent during its three-game skid, held off the Patriots’ fourth-quarter attempts for a game-tying touchdown and held Tom Brady to just one touchdown with one interception.

Brady had been 8-2 versus Roethlisberger with six wins at Heinz Field. The Patriots had won five straight games against the Steelers, including the 2016 AFC championship game, scoring at least 27 points in each of those five contests. At 9-5, New England is still in strong position to make the playoffs, but it now needs help to return to one of the top two seeds in the AFC; in related news, Brady’s Pats have never gotten to a Super Bowl without a first-round bye.

The Steelers went to the locker room at halftime with a 14-7 lead, but arguably the best play of the first two quarters was submitted not by either team’s offense or defense, but by the Patriots special teams unit. Two New England players leaped into the end zone to keep a ball from hitting the ground for a touchback, and they combined to bat it back to the 1-yard line.

Bears pick off Packers: Eddie Jackson ended Aaron Rodgers’s record interception-less streak at 402 attempts, snagging a pass in the end zone with a little over three minutes left in the game, and the Chicago Bears went on to wrap up their first NFC North title since 2010 with a 24-17 victory at Soldier Field.

The loss drops the Packers to 5-8-1 and officially ends their playoff hopes.

The day was one to remember, in particular, for Chicago offensive tackle Charles Leno Jr. After his team’s win, his day got even better when his on-field marriage proposal proved successful.

Colts in control: It wasn’t Dallas’s day as the Colts solidified their status as the team no one wants to play if they get to post season. Indy jumped out ahead of the Cowboys, thanks to a blocked field goal that, upon review, was determined to have been recovered by Indianapolis. They Colts drove down the field and took a 7-0 lead on Marlon Mack’s 1-yard touchdown run and kept up the pressure.

So much for the Cowboys’ attempt to wrap up the NFC East.

Ravens do what they need to do: The Ravens smacked the Buccaneers, 20-12, keeping up the pressure on the Steelers, before the latter took the field Sunday. Baltimore’s rookie quarterback, Lamar Jackson, again did damage on the ground, rushing for 95 yards while throwing for 131 and upping his record to 4-1 since taking over for Joe Flacco.

Minnesota rolls: The Vikings stayed alive in the playoff chase, improving to 7-6-1 with a 41-17 victory over the Dolphins. They remain the leader in the race for the final NFC wild-card spot.

The loss dealt a blow to the Dolphins’ own postseason hopes, as they fell to 7-7, but they did enjoy another huge play, this one a 75-yard rushing touchdown by rookie running back Kalen Ballage. That marked the 12th Miami score of at least 50 yards this season, five more than any other team (per ESPN).

Seahawks stumble: Seattle suffered an upset loss at San Francisco, 26-23 in overtime, to fall to 8-6. Russell Wilson and Co. are still in playoff position, while the 49ers won consecutive games for the first time this season and improved to 4-10.

In other games: The Redskins moved to 7-7, beating the Jaguars 16-13 behind Josh Johnson; the Titans shut out the Giants, 17-0; the Bills edged the Lions 14-13; the Falcons beat the Cardinals 40-14; and the Bengals topped the Raiders 30-16.

Nope: Sebastian Janikowski was NOT going to stop this touchdown return.

Now, THIS is open: The Patriots’ Chris Hogan was kind of open on his touchdown play.

The playoffs may look different: There may well be a new crop of quarterbacks when the playoffs start. Spotrac notes that, of the top 10 highest-paid quarterbacks, only one is really in position to be playing in January.

How ’bout them Browns: The Browns are 4-2 under interim coach Gregg Williams, beating the Broncos 17-16 in an odd game that left both head coaches’ decisions under fire. Denver Coach Vance Joseph is being second-guessed for going for a field goal that left the team a point behind Cleveland and counting on the Broncos to get the ball back with around 2 minutes left. Except the Browns stopped the drive for a game-winning field goal with a fourth-down sack by Jabrill Peppers. The Browns ended up facing a fourth-and-one quandary of their own at the Denver 10-yard line in the final two minutes, with the Broncos out of timeouts. Williams placed his faith in his offense, hoping for a first down that would have allowed the Browns to run out the clock. It would have worked when the Broncos were called for being offside — except Williams had called a timeout. On the reprieve, the Broncos tackled Nick Chubb for a two-yard loss on fourth down.

Texans top Jets: Sam Darnold put together his best game of the season, passing for 253 yards and two touchdowns in the Jets’ 29-22 loss to the Texans. Despite being sacked six times, Deshaun Watson passed for 294 yards and two touchdowns (with DeAndre Hopkins catching 10 passes for 170 yards and two touchdowns) as Houston remains in the running for a playoff bye.

Top story lines

A (possibly) fab five: John Clayton lists five teams capable of making a surprise Super Bowl run. (Read more.)

$$$: The NFL’s salary cap is expected to increase by about $10 million per team next season. (Read more.)

About those helmet hits: The NFL expects more penalties next season for hits that involve lowering the helmet. (Read more.)

No changes: In the wake of the Kareem Hunt investigation, the NFL is planning no immediate changes to its procedures. (Read more.)

Injury news

Wentz hurt: Carson Wentz has a fractured vertebrae that is expected to heal without surgery.

No Beckham: The Giants ruled out Odell Beckham Jr. days ago because of his lingering quadriceps injury.

Flacco era ends: Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco will be active, but this is Lamar Jackson’s team now.

Hilton in? The status of Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, the favorite target of Andrew Luck, is uncertain for the game against the Cowboys because of an ankle injury. “It’s still touch and go,” Coach Frank Reich said Friday.

Tannehill update: An ankle injury is not expected to sideline quarterback Ryan Tannehill against the Vikings.

Fantasy football

Week 15 cheat sheet: All the tools you need as fantasy seasons come down to the wire. (Read more.)

Start/Sit: Starting Aaron Rodgers against the Bears will lead to disappointment. (Read more.)

Week 15 waiver wire tips: Two helpful defenses available for the fantasy football playoffs. (Read more.)

Week 15 player rankings: How the stars, who are still healthy, stack up. (Read more.)

Betting tips: The Patriots are a terrible Super Bowl bet. (Read more.)

ATS betting tips/picks

Don’t trust the 49ers in divisional games. (Read more.)