Manning has struggled in recent weeks and the Giants’ offense has evolved into a Beckham-or-bust proposition


Now, several weekends a year, the family packs up and heads to the airport on Friday, flies to Cleveland — usually with a layover in Dallas, Houston or Atlanta and a trip through customs — and spends Friday night and Saturday seeing the sights. They’ll go to an Indians or Cavs game, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the zoo or other attractions and find new restaurants and return to favorites. Sunday is game day, with everyone wearing Browns jerseys and hats, and the flight home is Monday.

Valantina, 8, and Juan Pablo, 12, paid homage to Jim Brown at the legendary running back’s statue outside FirstEnergy Stadium. Courtesy Jim Brown
Serrano has his own accounting firm in Mexico City (he commutes there from Le¨®n, too, at least once a week), so he can control his schedule.

In potentially inclement weather, it should be a defensive game. And with defensive tackle Damon Harrison, defensive end Olivier Vernon, cornerback Janoris Jenkins and safety Landon Collins all playing possibly the best football of their careers, the Giants take advantage, especially at home.
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Their offense continues to sputter. The Giants haven’t been able to run the ball, whether it has been Rashad Jennings, Paul Perkins or someone else in the backfield.

They’re 31st in the NFL in rushing offense. That might be manageable if the passing game was clicking. But it isn’t. Manning has struggled in recent weeks and the Giants’ offense has evolved into a Beckham-or-bust proposition. They will fall short against a good Lions team if they can’t string together first downs and move the ball consistently.
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Both the Giants and Lions are used to playing tight games. They’ve had 12 games combined decided by three points or less. The Giants are 4-1 and the Lions are 5-2. The deciding factor in this one is that the Giants are at home, have the better defense and Stafford is dealing with a hand injury that could affect how he throws the football on a rainy December afternoon. The Giants improve to 5-1 in games decided by three points or less.

Calvin Johnson stirs speculation that he might want to retire


Calvin Johnson’s NFL career may be coming to a close. The Detroit Lions wide receiver is reportedly mulling over retirement, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, and potentially ending a prolific career after nine seasons.

Jakub Kindl Womens Jersey Johnson released a joint statement with the Lions on Wednesday saying, “Like many players at this stage of their career, I am currently evaluating options for my future” and pledging to make a decision about his career soon. The Lions reiterated their respect for Johnson and whatever his decision may be.

Jack Lambert Elite Jersey They’ve been losing the battle of attrition, Tom Brady now has a high-ankle sprain, and there are still quite a few question marks along the offensive line. The good news is that they will have a couple of weeks to get healthy and back into their early-season form. If any team can do it, it’s the Patriots.

It’s a similar situation for the Bengals, who will have to do the unlikely and win in the postseason with a backup quarterback at the helm. They’re balanced, though, with a strong run game featuring Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard, an elite No. 1 receiver in A.J. Green, and a tough defense, so once the tournament starts, anything is possible.

Their not-so-secret weapon is of course Hue Jackson, whose playcalling and offensive design brilliance has been on full display this season and hasn’t ended with Andy Dalton’s thumb injury. A.J. McCarron is young and inexperienced, but Jackson’s surely going to put together a smart gameplan to get the most out of him.

Prescott will be the starter again this week against the hot Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But if he has another bad showing, I would be surprised if Romo doesn’t start to get at least a few snaps.

Vikings vs. Packers 2016 final score: Minnesota holds off comeback attempt to win NFC North


The Minnesota Vikings held off a frantic comeback attempt by the Green Bay Packers to come away with the 20-13 win and clinch the NFC North. It’s the Vikings’ first division title since 2009.

With the win, the Vikings also lock up the No. 3 seed and will face the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card round. The Packers drop to No. 5 and will travel to Washington next week.

The first quarter was defined by long, grinding drives that ultimately ended in field goals. The Vikings went 10 plays and 59 yards on the game’s opening drive, with the key play being a fake punt that went for 41 yards.

Cincinnati opened as a slim 1-point favorite against Pittsburgh for their matchup, while the other AFC contest for Wild Card Weekend has the Kansas City Chiefs as an opening 3-point favorite on the road against the Houston Texans – who were left standing as the AFC South champions for this season. The Texans fell 27-20 to the Chiefs back in Week 1, losing that game as a 1-point home underdog.

The Kansas City at Houston matchup kicks off Wild Card Weekend at 4:35 p.m. ET on Saturday, with the Pittsburgh at Cincinnati matchup following at 8:15 p.m. ET. The Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots will have the two first-round byes in the AFC.

Jed York’s megalomania might be so great that the answer is yes, but at the end of Jim Tomsula’s tenure, the stadium’s still standing, the Niners don’t have the worst record in the league, and some of the players experienced positive development. You were their Uncle Buck, Jim Tomsula. Hell, you even had your giant pancake moment.

But even though Uncle Buck proves he’s not a slovenly, incompetent danger to others as everyone fears, that doesn’t change the end of the movie. He doesn’t move into his brother’s house. He’s not asked to stay with the kids for another week. He doesn’t get an extension as the family patriarch.

Uncle Buck just goes home.

It’s what Jerry Dipoto and Hazen did in the Taijuan Walker-for-Jean Segura deal


This suggests front offices have to take more risks. In a sense, that’s what Dave Dombrowski of the Red Sox and Mike Rizzo of the Nationals did in giving up several of the top prospects in the game to acquire Chris Sale and Adam Eaton. Conventional wisdom says prized prospects are to be kept, as they are invaluable lifeblood when veteran free agents cost so much to sign. It’s what Jerry Dipoto and Hazen did in the Taijuan Walker-for-Jean Segura deal, a rare exchange of talent for talent that could work for both teams or blow up for one.

But in this new world, the Red Sox and Nationals understood that repeating their success in 2016 isn’t necessarily guaranteed unless you make the team better. So they went out and made those trades.

As Jayson Stark wrote about Dombrowski,

He came to Boston to spray champagne and ride the duck boats, as confetti floats out of the New England sky. And if that means paying a price that the other baseball decision-makers of his era are too cautious to pay, then guess what?

Dave Dombrowski doesn’t care. …

“This is what Dave Dombrowski was brought there for,” one rival AL executive said Tuesday, as he and his peers around baseball did their best to digest this whopper of a deal. “He was brought in there to take a good team with a good system and push them over the edge. And that’s what he’s done. This is a really good team.”

And through Hahn’s work, Quintana has a tremendous team-friendly contract that guarantees him only $15.85 million over the next two years, with club options for 2019 and 2020 at $10.5 million and $11.5 million, respectively.

Robert Griffin III warms up before the season opener as coach Hue Jackson looks on.


“It’s important, but we want to make sure it’s in the right context,” Jackson said. “I think it’s important that he’s able to go out there and play well. Not just play. Play well. What I’ve seen in practice is that he’s up to the challenge.”

Griffin has not played since he broke the coracoid process in his left collarbone in a season-opening 29-10 loss to the Eagles. In that game, Griffin completed 12-of-26 for 190 yards with an interception and no touchdowns.

“I thought it was like I thought it would be, the first game,” Jackson said. “Hadn’t played a lot of football. Here he was, the first game in Philadelphia, on the road and it didn’t happen as well as we would have liked. But the good part about that game that day is he was out there and played.”

Mangold also could opt to retire. His close friend, former left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson, retired last spring at the age of 31. They were drafted the same year.

Mangold, a first-round pick in 2006, has played in seven Pro Bowls. Twice he was named to the All-Pro team. Prior to this season, he was one of the most durable players in the league, having missed only four games in his first 10 seasons.

Everything changed on a fluke play on Oct. 23 against the Baltimore Ravens. Early in the game, left tackle Ryan Clady rolled up the back of Mangold’s right leg, causing ligament damage.

“It’s been frustrating and disappointing, not being out there and not contributing,” Mangold said recently.
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Wesley Johnson will return to the starting role, replacing Mangold. To fill his roster spot, they signed rookie safety Doug Middleton from the practice squad.

Griffin did not play a down in 2015 in Washington, which means that heading into Sunday he has played in one of his team’s past 28 games.

Limited Cam Neely Jersey “There was a lot of time that needed to be made up,” Jackson said. “Hopefully we’re past that. I can’t tell you that we are. I can’t tell you that we’re not.”

Browns to start quarterback Robert Griffin III against Bengals


The Cleveland Browns’ final four games could go a long way toward determining the future of Robert Griffin III — whether it’s in Cleveland or elsewhere.

“It’s all about being in the right situation at the right time,” Griffin said Thursday after he was named the starter for Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals. “My job is to make sure that this is the right situation and the right time.”

Coach Hue Jackson said he decided on Griffin — Cody Kessler will be the backup ahead of Josh McCown — because Griffin gives the team its best chance to win for the first time in 13 games.

But Jackson also said it’s important to see Griffin so the Browns can garner more information before deciding if they should bring him back in 2017.

As Garrett stands one win away from his second 12-win season in three years, there’s a case to be made that he has turned out to be a better head coach than he was an offensive coordinator or playcaller — and that his skills as a head coach have flourished since he gave up those jobs. That’s not weird or even unprecedented, but it’s also not a trick every coordinator can pull off.

The Coach of the Year award often goes to the coach whose team most drastically exceeds preseason expectations. It should more often go to the coach whose team’s success most closely reflects his leadership. Garrett fits both bills and deserves to be the front-runner for this year’s award with four games to go.

Jason Garrett is now 56-44 in his 100 games as Dallas Cowboys head coach.

Veteran coordinators like Rod Marinelli and Scott Linehan not only defer to Garrett, but clearly respect him as their leader in spite of his being their junior. Linehan was Garrett’s first NFL boss in 2005, when Garrett got a job on the Dolphins’ coaching staff and Linehan was the offensive coordinator. But the streamlining of the playcalling and decision-making on the offensive side of the ball for the Cowboys since Linehan arrived is a big part of the stability story in Dallas, and it works because Linehan has so much respect for Garrett’s growth as a coach and leader.

Former Dolphins interim head coach Dan Campbell joins Saints staff


Former Miami Dolphins interim head coach Dan Campbell will join the New Orleans Saints’ staff as their tight ends coach and assistant head coach, according to ESPN’s Mike Triplett. Current tight ends coach Dan Roushar is expected to remain on staff, though it is unclear at this time what his role will be.

Former Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi will also join the Saints as their new quarterbacks coach. Lombardi was fired after the Lions got off to a 1-6 start to the 2015 season.

The Dolphins named Campbell interim head coach after they fired Joe Philbin following the Dolphins’ Week 4 loss in London to the New York Jets. After starting the season 1-3 with Philbin, the Dolphins went 5-7 under Campbell’s leadership, finishing the year with a 6-10 record. Campbell asked to be released from his contract with the Dolphins after the team hired Adam Gase as its new head coach, leaving Campbell free to seek other opportunities.

His AFC playoff record since 2005 is 7-6. Add in the 1-2 record in Super Bowl appearances, and Manning is 8-8 overall in that time. His postseason history suggests that if the Broncos beat the Steelers, they are likely to win the AFC title the next week, regardless of whether they play the Patriots or Chiefs.

I’m starting with 2005, when Manning’s team was the No. 1 seed and the conference favorite for the first time in his career. In his six first-game playoff losses since (he missed the 2011 season), his teams have been the 1, 2, 5, 3, 1 and 2 seeds. In his three Super Bowl appearances, they have been the 3, 1 and 1 seeds. The Broncos are the No. 1 seed this season.

Contrary to widespread belief, Manning has not “choked” in these games. His stats as a loser in the AFC playoffs in the last nine seasons are comparable to when he wins, and he has actually thrown more interceptions in the wins.

Sanders is listed on the practice injury report because of his thumb


Emmanuel Sanders, Denver Broncos, thumb: Sanders is listed on the practice injury report because of his thumb, but it didn’t force him to miss any practice reps. His removal from the game status injury report should instill confidence in his availability.

Will Fuller V, Houston Texans, knee: Fuller increased his practice level this week to full participation daily. He has already played through this knee issue, and his ramped-up activity indicates improvement. He is expected to play as usual.

Martellus Bennett, ankle/shoulder, New England Patriots, (Q): Lather, rinse, repeat. He appears on the injury report weekly and is routinely listed as questionable. With teammate Rob Gronkowski not only out this week but now placed on injured reserve, Bennett is likely to see even more targets come his way. He is expected to play Sunday when the Rams come to town.

Julius Thomas, Jacksonville Jaguars, back, (D): Thomas missed the Week 12 game with a back injury then sat out practice every day this week. Despite the opportunity to face his former team when the Broncos come to town, the doubtful tag hints at Thomas missing another game.

Matthew Stafford, Lions: In the six home games the Saints have played this season, there has been an average of 64.7 total points scored. The Saints have allowed multiple passing scores or at least 315 passing yards in nine of 11 games this season. This is going to be a shootout, and when it gets like that, Stafford puts up numbers. In the five games Stafford has played in which at least 40 total points have been scored, he’s averaging 290 passing yards a game along with an impressive ratio of 13 passing touchdowns to just one interception. I know Stafford has been fairly pedestrian recently, but the Saints have given up multiple passing scores to Jared Goff, Trevor Siemian and Colin Kaepernick recently. He’s an easy top-10 play this week.

Philip Rivers, Chargers: Rivers has multiple passing touchdowns in four straight games and is averaging 317 yards a game in his past seven non-Denver games. Yes, the Bucs defense has looked a lot better recently, but it’s one thing to shut down Russell Wilson at Tampa Bay (traveling cross-country after a tough win, that one always felt like a trap game for Seattle). This feels different, as the Bucs are the ones who have to fly with the game in San Diego. It’s a bit of a gut feel here as well, but I’m going with the “Rivers is a stud who keeps throwing in this one” trend over the “Bucs have played good defense for two games” trend.

Charles Clay, Buffalo Bills, knee, (Q): Clay has been managing a knee injury throughout much of the season, but he has yet to miss a game. He was given a rest day Wednesday but returned to limited practices both Thursday and Friday. Clay is expected to play Sunday, but his production has been very limited over the last six weeks.

Pro Bowl 2016 preview: Team Irvin, Team Rice ready to light up scoreboard in Hawaii


Just in case you couldn’t fathom an entire Sunday without football, the NFL has you covered this weekend. The 2016 Pro Bowl is scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday night at Aloha Stadium in Hawaii, and will be televised live on ESPN.

For the third straight year, the NFL’s version of an All-Star game will be played with mixed rosters, eschewing the traditional AFC vs. NFC battle. Instead, the league now picks two honorary captains, who then choose their teams and round out the rosters in a fantasy draft. This year’s captains are two Hall of Famers, Michael Irvin and Jerry Rice.

The first overall pick of the draft was Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, selected by Irvin to headline his squad. Wilson, named to his third Pro Bowl in four seasons, is certainly deserving of the honor. He put up career-best numbers across the board and led the league in passer rating.

He’ll be surrounded by a bevy of talented playmakers, including a wide receiver corps that features four of the top eight guys on the receiving yardage leaderboard: Julio Jones (first), DeAndre Hopkins (third), Allen Robinson (sixth) and A.J. Green (eighth).

The first pick by Team Rice was another quarterback, Eli Manning, who was selected to his fourth Pro Bowl after throwing a career-best 35 touchdowns in 2015. He should be thrilled to be paired up with his teammate Odell Beckham Jr., as the two players formed one of the most dynamic receiver-quarterback duos in the league.

While Manning doesn’t have the same depth of talent at receiver as Wilson does, he arguably has the more balanced offensive roster. Team Rice is stacked at running back with the league’s first- and second-ranked rushers, Adrian Peterson and Doug Martin, who combined to run for more than 2,800 yards this season.

The running joke of this year’s Pro Bowl is that it should be renamed the Replacement Bowl because so many guys declined to participate in the game. Players often choose not to attend for different reasons, including injuries and if they are playing in the Super Bowl next week. The final tally was 133 players that were either voted in or added as alternates, the most in NFL history and easily surpassing the previous record of 119 set in the 2010 game.

Cardinals release wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr.


While the Arizona Cardinals opted to keep Larry Fitzgerald in the desert, another veteran receiver was not so fortunate. On Monday, the team announced the release of Ted Ginn Jr.

Another shakeup came at the wide receiver position, where West Virginia’s Kevin White supplanted Alabama’s Amari Cooper as the first wideout taken, following his eye-opening 40 time (4.35) and strong showing in the positional drills at the Combine. McShay swapped the two receivers and now has the Oakland Raiders selecting White at fourth overall and Cooper going to the St. Louis Rams at No. 10.

Top running back prospect Melvin Gordon put up a 4.52 on his first attempt and a 4.53 on his second attempt. It wasn’t the best among running backs but it was better than plenty of others. A good showing at the combine is important for Gordon, given that he typically shares the “top prospect” label with Todd Gurley of Georgia.

Gurley is recovering from a torn ACL and did not participate in drills at the combine. He also refused a medical checkup, giving Gordon a further edge. Most expect Gordon will be the first running back off the board in the NFL Draft, possibly in the first round.

McShay believes that if Mariota falls this far, it provides the perfect opportunity for new general manager Mike Maccagnan to grab the reigning Heisman winner and draft his handpicked quarterback. Although he is considered to be a step below Winston in terms of pure quarterback talent, Mariota still has the potential to be a star if a team has patience with him and lets him develop. McShay adds that Jets offensive coordinator Chan Gailey is a good fit for Mariota, given his experience with spread-formation offenses.

Washington has a ton of holes to fill this offseason, but perhaps none is more important than finding a dominant pass rusher, especially with Brian Orakpo set to hit free agency in March. McShay notes that Gregory has “freakish athleticism” for a player his size (6’6, 245 pounds), and would be an excellent guy to pair with Ryan Kerrigan at outside linebacker.

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