Antonio Brown has a four-catch lead on Larry Fitzgerald heading into the regular-season finale


With the No. 3 playoff seed locked up, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin acknowledged he’s considering resting several star players for Sunday’s finale against the Cleveland Browns.

He cited Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and Maurkice Pouncey as candidates, the last three of whom have missed past playoff games as a result of injury.

Antonio Brown has a four-catch lead on Larry Fitzgerald heading into the regular-season finale.

That decision is smart for playoff preparation but affects the statistical bottom line for a few of his players, which obviously is secondary to winning in January but is noteworthy nonetheless.

Limited Youth Rob Ninkovich Jersey “We’re not going fear the what ifs,” Tomlin said. “We’re going to prepare and play this game. We’re going to give Steeler Nation what they deserve, which is preparation that leads to a winning performance.”

Roethlisberger is cool with sitting, saying on 93.7 The Fan this week that resting his “old bones” wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
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The Steelers don’t include performance-based incentives in contracts, so motivation to play won’t have anything to do with money. For those who care about numbers, though, the implications are obvious:

Brown has four-catch lead in race for NFL receptions crown: Brown’s 106-catch total edges Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who enters the season finale against the Los Angeles Rams with 102 grabs.

The Saints paid Drew Brees too much and are now annoyed with him about it


Drew Brees is scheduled to become a free agent in the 2017 offseason, but not before he counts $30 million against the New Orleans Saints salary cap in 2016. His huge contract has become a burden for the talent-deficient Saints and the team is frustrated internally about the fact that the quarterback maximized his contract, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.

The five-year, $100 million contract signed by Brees in 2012 has a base salary that has increased in each year, beginning with $3 million in the first season and climbing all the way to $13.55 million this season and $19.75 million in 2016. If Brees isn’t willing to take a hometown discount to lower his tremendous cap hit next season, his time with the Saints could be through.
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Elite Mens Marco Belinelli Jersey Brees is expected to start against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 16, despite suffering a torn plantar fascia in Week 15. He is No. 4 in NFL history in passing yards with 60,168 and needs just 1,194 more yards to pass Dan Marino for third all-time.

The Panthers lead the league in takeaways, with 22 interceptions and 21 forced fumbles, and that’s an area in which the Falcons have struggled this season. Atlanta has fumbled the ball 11 times this season, and Matt Ryan and backup quarterback Sean Renfree have thrown 16 interceptions. The Panthers took advantage of this in Week 14. Ryan and Renfree each threw one interception and the Falcons lost two fumbles.

This time around, the Falcons will look to clean up their mistakes in front of a friendly home crowd. If they can’t, the Panthers will be the third team in NFL history to get to 15-0.

this was Boston’s first signature win of the season


Game Mens Will Clarke Jersey This might affect free agents like Curry and Blake Griffin this coming summer and perhaps players like Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins in 2018. It’s a small group, but these are important players to their teams, and this time frame has been when most of the megastars have been leaving their teams. Also, the new rules mean superstars who meet these criteria can be offered extensions and the promise of this huge money before they even become free agents.

The life cycle of an NBA superstar will now look like this: After being drafted, he signs a four-year rookie contract. Before that contract ends he signs a four or five-year extension. Before that contract ends he signs a five-year extension. A superstar who wants to maximize his salary may not hit the open market until he’s played 14 seasons in the league.

All of this while his cupboard is stacked with dead-weight contracts in Andersen and Mo Williams that he would love to move to cut down on what is easily the highest payroll — and thus highest luxury tax bill down the line — in NBA history.

In a season that has been hampered by complacency — that’s what that three-game losing streak last month was all about — Smith’s injury also could delay what many believed would be the unofficial starting point of the season come Christmas Day. Either the Cavs would beat the Golden State Warriors and get a boost in the arm as they head toward the final two-thirds of the schedule, or the Cavs lose to the Dubs and know how much they have to work on.

Game Mens Sebastian Janikowski Jersey That he wore a shirt with the LeBron James Family Foundation’s logo emblazoned on the breast pocket for his first media remarks since skipping the road game against the Memphis Grizzlies certainly could have been taken as him trying to send a message: Want to criticize me? Look at what’s across my heart.

The Packers’ backfield is in a shambles due to injury


Shane Vereen, New York Giants, concussion, (Q): As the week progressed it appeared Vereen was making progress through the concussion protocol, participating on a limited basis each day. On Saturday he received the final clearance from the independent neurological consultant and he is expected to play Sunday.

Matt Asiata, Minnesota Vikings, ankle, (Q): Asiata’s status appears to be truly in question after he was downgraded to a nonparticipant in Friday’s practice.
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Dre Kirkpatrick Game Jersey He had been a full participant both Wednesday and Thursday and the move Friday came as a surprise. If Asiata is active, there could be three backs available for the Vikings as Adrian Peterson is expected back Sunday, just over 12 weeks removed from a lateral meniscus repair (normal recovery is in the four-to-six month window).

Matthew Stafford’s finger is definitely a concern, but he has led the Lions to fourth-quarter comeback wins in eight of their nine victories, so why can’t he come back from a finger issue? The story of this game to me is that both defenses are quietly playing better than expected. Neither team can really run the ball, so expect this to be a close, low-scoring game. I like Detroit by a field goal.

The Chiefs don’t score a lot, but their defense is strong, even with Derrick Johnson lost for the season. Kansas City will be motivated by a shot to still be the top seed in the AFC. It’s time for the Chiefs to make Harry Houdini inactive for this one and just claim a normal win. The front seven will be the difference here.

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.

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