New England Patriots: Retired linebacker Rob Ninkovich bristled at the suggestion that Rob Gronkowski’s skill level has diminshed to the point that the tight end still isn’t valuable to the Patriots. He told Boston-based WEEI Radio that while Gronkowski has a few more NFL miles on him, he remains a key piece of machinery. “You buy a set of tires and they say they last 50,000 miles – well, he’s probably at 70,000. I just think that, moving forward, he’s still a great tight end. I think people have the misconception that just because he’s not 24, 25-year-old Rob Gronkowski that he’s not as productive for the team. They wouldn’t be able to run the football if they didn’t have Rob out there with the way that he blocks. And they wouldn’t be able to do certain things that they do offense, if he wasn’t out there.”
Buffalo Bills: Veteran running back LeSean McCoy didn’t start Sunday’s 24-12 loss to New England because of what was termed a “situation” with head coach Sean McDermott. “It was a private situation. I’m a captain and I’ve got to be more accountable,” McCoy said. “Simple as that. He checked me, put me in place. That was it.” On Wednesday, McDermott discussed Sunday’s events with McCoy for the first time and was equally private. “That’s between LeSean and myself,” McDermott said. “I appreciate him being accountable, I really do, and we’ve moved (on) and that’s where we’re headed.” He added: “I’m not perfect, in this case, he wasn’t perfect, and we addressed it and we’re moving forward.”
Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins started the season at 3-0, and optimism abounded in South Florida. Now, the team is hoping to end 8-8, and coach Adam Gase and vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum are on the hot seat. Could a familiar face be called upon to help improve the Dolphins moving forward? Dave Hyde of the South Florida Sun Sentinel speculated Wednesday that ownership just might consider replacing Tannenbaum with Dolphins legend Dan Marino. Fifteen years ago, he accepted a similar job and realized it wasn’t for him, but Hyde said things could be different at this stage of Marino’s life. “He certainly would be a plus from a public-relations standpoint. He would get to compete with Denver’s John Elway on another level,” Hyde wrote.
New York Jets: The Jets have their quarterback of the future in Sam Darnold, so why do they care that Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert has decided to stay in school and skip the NFL draft? He presumably would have been the No. 1 quarterback taken in the 2019 NFL Draft, and without him, the quarterback class is very thin at the top, propelling Ohip State’s Dwayne Haskins to the top QB spot, should he choose to leave the Buckeyes. “Provided he doesn’t botch the pre-draft process, Haskins will be a top-5 pick,” write Steven Ruiz of For the Win. “He’s a big, athletic kid who can get through his progressions and make every throw from inside or outside the pocket. Teams will be fighting over the right to take him.” And that means the Jets, currently sitting with the No. 3 spot in the draft, could command a high price from someone seeking to trade up. Added Ruiz: “Some QB-desperate team is going to be willing to overpay with only one true blue-chip QB prospect on the board.”
Baltimore Ravens: Tight end Mark Andrews has a unique perspective of the rookie quarterbacks at the center of Sunday’s critical contest between Cleveland and Baltimore: Baker Mayfield of the Browns and Ravens wunderkind Lamar Jackson. Andrews played with Mayfield at Oklahoma and has spent as much time as anyone on the practice field with Jackson. One common trait stands out in Andrews’ assessment. “They’re both incredibly good extending plays, (making a) special play when there’s nothing,” he said. “In terms of personality, guys like that have a certain thing about them. The it factor. They are someone you want to be around. There’s something about them that makes people gravitate toward them. They both have that.”
Cincinnati Bengals: Bengals quarterback Jeff Driskel said he’s not concerned about his own future or being a spoiler as the Bengals tackle the playoff-hopeful Steelers on Sunday. “I don’t think it has much to do with the spoiler role. Anytime we play the Steelers or any division opponent it’s a big game for us,” Driskel said Wednesday. “We understand that. We also understand it’s another opportunity to out on a high note.”
Cleveland Browns: Interim head coach Gregg Williams wants to be considered for the job in the offseason, but he said the credit for a turnaround from a 2-5-1 start goes to his players. “You have to focus and rally together and play for each other. They have done a very good job of not only just doing their job but supporting each other. I think people see that in team execution over individual execution,” Williams said. “… We are making more of those plays determining outcomes of the game, and then, the more you make, the easier it is to make. The more you make, the easier it is to buy into understanding of ‘This is how we play as a team.’ A team wins the game, not individuals.”
Pittsburgh Steelers: Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster took responsibility on social media for the Steelers not finishing the job at New Orleans last week, when he lost a fumble late in the game. While head coach Mike Tomlin disagreed with the message, he made sure to share with Smith-Schuster that the sentiment — accountability and not hiding from failure — is the calling card of a great player. “We are all products of experience,” Tomlin said. “In JuJu’s case he is a young guy that is a significant component of our attack, a guy that we depend on to deliver winning quality performance. I appreciate the fact that he is an accountable guy, that he accepts responsibility. I am sure moving forward he is going to have plenty of opportunities in his career to be the significant reason why we are successful.”
Houston Texans: The Texans take a second shot at winning the AFC South on Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and star defensive end J.J. Watt is ready for the task. Watt said he quickly put last Sunday’s failure to clinch against the Philadelphia Eagles in the past. He also remembers how Houston was 0-3 to start the season, so an opportunity to win the division in Week 17 feels extra special. “We’ve done a lot of good things over the course of those games since we were 0-3, but we have to make sure we do what we need to do to make sure that doesn’t all go to waste,” Watt told reporters. “All the work that we put in over the last couple of months, we have to make sure that we make all of that work count. We have to go out there on Sunday and take care of our business and obviously (keep) trying to do that moving forward.”
Indianapolis Colts: Starting middle linebacker Anthony Walker (shoulder) missed last week’s win over the New York Giants and is hoping to play in this Sunday night’s pivotal clash against the Tennessee Titans. Walker was on the practice field Wednesday but wearing a red, no-contact jersey. Walker has been superb with 103 tackles — second behind outside linebacker Darius Leonard (155) — and has 10 stops for loss in 14 games (13 starts). The progress of tight end Eric Ebron (concussion) and center Ryan Kelly (neck) will be observed closely this week. Ebron is in the NFL protocol while Kelly’s status won’t likely be firmed up until later in the week. Receiver T.Y. Hilton (ankle) is expected to play in Sunday’s contest.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Quarterback Blake Bortles was named the starter for Sunday’s game against the Houston Texans in what could be his final game in five seasons with the franchise. Bortles lost the starting gig to Cody Kessler after Week 11 but coach Doug Marrone said he likes Bortles’ mobility and that was the deciding part in returning to him. Safety Tashaun Gipson was among the players happy about the decision. “I’ve been a huge Blake supporter since the beginning,” Gipson told reporters. “Through everything, he has kept an even keel. He’s been a mature guy and still been the same kind of guy around the locker room. … Even more so, giving him the chance to go out there and start Sunday and giving us the best chance to win — nothing against Cody — but it’s awesome for a guy like (Bortles).”
Tennessee Titans: A must-win game looms Sunday versus the Colts, and quarterback Marcus Mariota is hoping to be on the field. He departed Saturday’s game against the Washington Redskins with a stinger and missed Wednesday’s practice while receiving heavy treatment. “Finding every way I can to be available, and we’re just going to take it one day at a time,” Mariota told reporters. “Of course I am optimistic. This is what it is about — you are playing for everything. I am doing everything I can, day and night, to try and make sure that I can be ready.” Mariota was listed on the team’s injury report with neck and foot injures and he said he is willing to take it up until game time before a decision is rendered. Titans coach Mike Vrabel said he is hopeful Mariota can practice Thursday.
Denver Broncos: Head coach Vance Joseph confirmed Wednesday that rookie running back Phillip Lindsay’s wrist injury is serious and will require surgery, with a recovery timetable of three to four months. Lindsay should be ready for OTAs in May, but he’ll miss Sunday’s season finale and won’t play in the Pro Bowl, for which he was the first undrafted offensive rookie ever selected. “To go out that way is not good for him, but it doesn’t take from the year he’s had,” Joseph said. “He’s had a great year. He’s a great find for this football team, and moving forward he’s going to be a great player for this franchise.” Because Lindsay won’t play in the Pro Bowl, the NFL won’t pay his way to attend the event in Orlando.
Kansas City Chiefs: The last time the Chiefs played the Raiders — in Week 13 in Oakland — Tyreek Hill had by far his least productive game of the year, catching just one of six targets for 13 yards. “They had a good game plan for him,” quarterback Patrick Mahomes said Wednesday. “There were a lot of times they were double covering him, had guys on top of him, but there were also opportunities I missed him on where he could’ve had a big game. …I think we just stay within our game plan. If they’re going to devote more players to Tyreek, then more guys will go off like (Travis) Kelce did last time we played them.” While Oakland stymied Hill in the first meeting, Kelce caught 12 of 13 targets for 168 yards and two touchdowns.
Los Angeles Chargers: After battling significant injuries to key players throughout much of the season, the Chargers enter Sunday’s season finale in Denver surprisingly healthy. Not a single player missed practice on Wednesday and only two were limited, with just one (left tackle Russell Okung, ankle) being a starter. “We’ve been through some lumps and recovered, so hopefully our guys are getting ready at the right time,” head coach Anthony Lynn told reporters. Running back Melvin Gordon (knee) has been removed from the report entirely, while backup Austin Ekeler has cleared concussion protocol and will play Sunday. Keenan Allen (hip) practiced in full on Wednesday.
Oakland Raiders: Stuck on the bench early in the season and then the subject of trade rumors before October’s deadline, 2016 first-round safety Karl Joseph is finally turning heads in a positive way for the Raiders. He now has seven tackles and a sack in each of the last two games. “I think he’s just feeling the defense now,” head coach Jon Gruden said of Joseph. “I think he’s learning a new defense… it’s tough on a safety now. He’s got to be the quarterback back there. …It’s a transition period for him. But he’s really accelerated in the last four or five ball games and become a really good player for us.” The team must decide this offseason whether or not to pick up Joseph’s fifth-year option for 2020, which would be guaranteed only for injury.
Dallas Cowboys: Owner and general manager Jerry Jones told 105.3 The Fan that since his team has secured the No. 4 seed in the NFC playoffs, the players who won’t play against the New York Giants on Sunday “are going to be pretty obvious.” He said All-Pro guard Zack Martin, who has struggled with left knee issues all season, won’t play, but Jones wouldn’t detail who else could be in street clothes on Sunday. Jones also said the team will continue to work on the offensive side of the ball. “We have a lot in our playbook that people haven’t seen yet,” Jones said. “I don’t think that we’re satisfied with where we are offensively right now, relative to ways that we can utilize.”
New York Giants: Receiver Odell Beckham Jr. didn’t practice on Wednesday and is a question mark for Sunday’s finale against Dallas. Head coach Pat Shurmur said Beckham and linebacker Alec Ogletree could play Sunday. “They’re both feeling better,” Shurmur said, adding, “We’ll just have to see.” Beckham hasn’t played since Week 13 and has been sidelined by a hematoma in his left quad. Ogletree has a concussion. Tight end Rhett Ellison (concussion), receiver Russell Shepard (ankle) and defensive lineman Mario Edwards (calf) also were held out of practice on Wednesday.
Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles need to beat Washington on Sunday and see Chicago defeat Minnesota to make the NFC playoffs, so maybe head coach Doug Pederson will call Bears coach Matt Nagy to talk shop. “I might. Maybe I’ve done that, we’ll have to see. Maybe I’ve already done that this morning,” Pederson said. Pederson and Nagy are former colleagues who worked together on Andy Reid’s coaching staffs in Philadelphia and Kansas City. While such a call wouldn’t violate any rules, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer seemed perturbed to have to field questions on the topic on Wednesday. “I don’t care who he called,” Zimmer said. “I really don’t. I didn’t hear that. But I don’t care who Doug calls or who anybody calls.”
Washington Redskins: The San Diego Fleet of the new Alliance of American Football league are hoping Redskins quarterback Josh Johnson will head west once the NFL season ends. The Fleet made Johnson the No. 1 overall choice in the league’s draft, and general manager Dave Boller would love to see Johnson in the new league. “From day one, when we sign people, I say, ‘Hey, if an NFL team calls, you can go,’ ” Boller said. “That’s what we want, and then hopefully they come back. (Johnson) doesn’t have a big ego and he has something to prove. He wants to show all these (NFL) teams that he deserved a better chance.” But will Johnson show up in San Diego? “We’re hoping the big guy comes with us, but we’ll see. I still hope he comes back. There’s a chance,” Boller said. “I’m always a glass-half-full guy.”
Chicago Bears: Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky said he put the hit from Vikings safety Harrison Smith last month behind him and is focused only on winning this week at Minnesota. Trubisky said the team is in ideal position by focusing on the task ahead, which this week means playing in an aggressive road environment. “Every road game in the NFL is tough,” he said. “Going in there creates a different type of challenge. The play clock runs a little bit faster. The crowd is louder. Execution in and out of the huddle, we have to be crisp on everything. But also, we need to enjoy the atmosphere.”
Detroit Lions: Team owner Martha Firestone Ford met with head coach Matt Patricia before his scheduled press conference on Wednesday. While Patricia declined to share details of “in-house” conversations, he pointed out the meeting is a weekly occurrence and he has no reason not to be confident in his 2019 return. “I’m pretty confident in everything,” Patricia said. “For me right now is just keep moving forward and getting ready for the game this weekend. Like I said, I meet with Mrs. Ford every week. They’ve been great. Her and her family have been great.” The Lions are 5-10 in Patricia’s first season following a 3-3 start.
Green Bay Packers: Interim coach Joe Philbin wants the Packers to take pride in finishing the season strong, even if it doesn’t include a game in January. “There will be elements — finish the thing you’ve started. By Monday at 5 o’clock, this (facility) is going to be a ghost town,” Philbin said. “The reality is, some of these guys may never see each other again. Things change in the National Football League. … Let’s enjoy the week. They’ll never regret finishing the season strong. You’ll remember the feelings you had in the locker room. It’s still an awesome opportunity to go out there and compete. To do it for the Green Bay Packers is about as good as it gets.”
Minnesota Vikings: Having played in the NFC Championship game last year, most of the Minnesota roster understands when head coach Mike Zimmer calls for playoff intensity. The Vikings, who need a win Sunday at home against NFC North champion Chicago, are preparing for a few specifics — the suddenness of linebacker Khalil Mack and surprising open-field speed of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky — but the focus on a team mentality could be most essential. “It is going to be a heightened sense of urgency,” Zimmer said. “For us, playoffs have already started. We know that we have to win this game in order to get into them. There has to be heightened sense of energy and focus and study time. You have to make sure that your bodies are rested and understand it is going to be a physical football game on Sunday.”
Atlanta Falcons: The future of defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel is in limbo in the wake of the unit’s subpar performance that sees it tied for 25th in scoring defense (26.1 points) and 27th in total defense (381.3 yards) heading into Sunday’s finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Manuel, who is in his second season as defensive coordinator, feels there is nothing wrong with his job performance. “I know one thing, I’ve coached this defense to the best they’ve had in 20 years,” Manuel told reporters. “With that being said, everyone is evaluated, which is a part of why we do this job. And things of that nature will take care of themselves, as they always will.” Manuel was referring to the 2017 campaign when the Falcons finished in the Top 10 in both scoring defense and total defense for the first time since 1998. This season, Atlanta played nearly all of the season without two Pro Bowlers — safety Keanu Neal (knee) and linebacker Deion Jones (foot) — as well as safety Ricardo Allen (Achilles).
Carolina Panthers: Wideout Devin Funchess could be playing in his final contest for the team when the Panthers face the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. The 24-year-old Funchess said he wasn’t overly concerned about his contract ending as he has experienced worse things in life while growing up in Detroit. “I’ve been evicted, I’ve been out on the streets,” Funchess told reporters. “I’m getting a check and I’m blessed to be alive, you know what I’m saying? I get to take care of my family. I’m not going to worry about stuff like that I can’t control.” Funchess has 44 receptions for 549 yards and four touchdowns this season, a significant drop from last season’s output of 63 catches for 840 yards and eight scores. Plus, his playing time has decreased over the second half of the season. “It’s hard because, to me, coming into the season I figured we were going to go to the Super Bowl,” Funchess said. “But it didn’t turn out that way.”
New Orleans Saints: The No. 1 seed in the NFC is wrapped up but New Orleans badly wants one more victory when it closes the regular season against the Panthers. A 14th win would be historic. “No. 1, it’s our job,” Saints coach Sean Payton told reporters. “We’ve got a chance to win more games in the regular season than any team in Saints history. No. 2, it’s not like when you’re playing in the preseason. You have 90 players and you begin to look at how you want to sit all these different players. You can’t do that. You have 46 on game day, coming out of your 53. So any time you line up to play, and any time we prepare to play, there’s really only one way to go about doing that.” The Saints have won 13 games twice before, including the 2009 season in which they won the Super Bowl.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The status of receiver DeSean Jackson (Achilles) will be determined later in the week. Jackson missed Wednesday’s practice and Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter didn’t offer much in terms of insight. “We’ll just have to see how it goes this week,” Koetter told reporters when asked about Jackson. “They followed up with all the stuff. They do that with everybody. No matter how minor it might seem, they’re checking on all of it.” Jackson was injured when he was stepped on during last Sunday’s contest against the Dallas Cowboys. It was Jackson’s first contest after sitting out three games with a thumb injury. Jackson will likely not be back with the Buccaneers if Koetter is retained as coach after the two clashed last month prior to Jackson being sidelined with the thumb injury.
Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals don’t expect many surprises from the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. They expect the NFL’s top rushing team (158.5 yards per game) to stay true to form against Arizona’s league-worst run defense (153.1 yards allowed per game). “We always talk about this is a new NFL — everybody wants to pass the football,” head coach Steve Wilks said Monday. “I think running the football is good, and when you’re effective, that’s the difference. They do a great job of running the ball. I spoke to the defense this morning. They’re first, we’re last, so we’ve got to do a great job of stopping them.”
Los Angeles Rams: Head coach Sean McVay said running back Todd Gurley (knee inflammation) remains day-to-day after he was a nonparticipant for Wednesday’s practice, which was just a walkthrough. But McVay does expect more clarity later in the week, saying he doesn’t expect Gurley’s status to be decided during pregame like it was in Week 16. “I would imagine that we’ll know before Sunday this week, just because now it’ll have been a couple weeks, and I think we’ll have a better indicator on how he’s feeling, and how he responds, specifically just because he didn’t take that pounding last week — just getting that rest,” McVay said. “So, don’t know for sure, but I don’t anticipate it coming down to, really, the last hour and a half like it did last week.” Gurley has had 20-plus touches just twice in his last six games after averaging 25 per game through eight weeks.
San Francisco 49ers: After a scorching finish to the 2017 season, which earned him a three-year extension in March, wideout Marquise Goodwin has managed just 23 catches for 395 yards this season while missing four games due to injury. “I think it’s just been very inconsistent, especially with his health,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said of Goodwin. “He hasn’t missed a ton of games. But he’s definitely missed some. When he has been able to go, he hasn’t been 100 percent throughout those games. It’s tough to be consistent when you’re not healthy and we’re dealing with that this week, too.” Goodwin (calf) missed Wednesday’s practice and appears iffy for Sunday’s finale. Shanahan added he’d like to have Goodwin play fewer snaps per game next year to help avoid injury.
Seattle Seahawks: Head coach Pete Carroll elaborated Wednesday on his philosophy against resting players in games without significant playoff implications. “I think anytime that you back off, you stand the risk of not being able to get back on,” Carroll said. “We just keep pushing. We’ve been pushing for — this is 21 weeks we’ve been going. This is 22 coming up, I think. We’ve been going at it since we started playing games. That’s the only way that we do it. We leave no room for error in that approach, ever. That’s the idea.” Sunday’s game against the Cardinals is not completely meaningless — a win could be the difference between facing the Dallas Cowboys (9-6) instead of the Chicago Bears (11-4) in the first round of the playoffs.
–Field Level Media