New England Patriots: Tom Brady missed Rob Gronkowski during last week’s 34-10 loss to Tennessee. A lot. In his news conference Wednesday, Brady had this to say about his longtime tight end. “When he’s not there, there’s just a different level with other players. Sometimes we don’t try some things because Gronk’s not in there, sometimes we do,” Brady told reporters. He continued: “Whenever we get him back, I think everyone’s going to be excited about that. Hopefully it’s soon, but those things are really up to him and the trainers and so forth. I know he works extremely hard at preparing and I know he wants to be out there.” Gronkowski missed the past two games with back and ankle injuries.
Buffalo Bills: So much attention has been paid to the Bills’ quarterback situation and the struggling offense that the defense’s accomplishments have been overlooked this year, but they deserve some attention. The Bills (3-7) are the best defensive squad in the NFL. They lead the NFL in fewest yards allowed at 302.2 yards per game, and they are second in the league in pass defense (202.4), narrowly behind the Jacksonville Jaguars (200.6). The Bills’ pass rush ranks 12th. “Coach (Leslie) Frazier and his staff have done a phenomenal job.” head coach Sean McDermott said of the defensive coordinator, per the team website. “There’s still a lot of work (that) remains, but the growth that they’ve undergone since those first two games in particular and the culture that they’ve started to build on that side of the football with the discipline and effort (is impressive).”
Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins signed wide receiver Brice Butler on Wednesday to help rebuild their injury-ridden receiving corps. Butler has been in the NFL six seasons — two with the Oakland Raiders and the last four with the Dallas Cowboys. The Dolphins need replacements for DeVante Parker, who injured the AC joint in his shoulder, and Jakeem Grant, who has a leg injury. Both injuries occurred last week in the team’s loss to Green Bay, and both players are expected to miss a few weeks. The Cowboys waived Butler last month when they traded for receiver Amari Cooper. Butler, 28, has 73 career receptions for 1,177 yards and has scored eight touchdowns.
New York Jets: Jets safety Jamal Adams admitted this week that his team was unprepared before Sunday’s 41-10 drubbing by the Buffalo Bills. The Jets, he said, weren’t expecting to face quarterback Matt Barkley, signed by the team just 12 days earlier. “We obviously planned for Josh Allen to come in there,” Adams said Tuesday on his weekly show on WFAN radio. “We thought he was going to play. Obviously, he didn’t play. Obviously, we didn’t have a lot of film on Barkley. We definitely didn’t have film on him.” Allen was listed as limited in practice throughout the week.
Baltimore Ravens: Though he has had 10 days to rest since the Ravens’ last game, quarterback Joe Flacco remains unable to practice because of a hip injury. And with fewer than four full days until his club’s next game, Sunday at home against the Bengals, coach John Harbaugh is giving more time under center to rookie first-round pick Lamar Jackson. Harbaugh didn’t tip his hand at who would start at QB, but Jackson said he’d be ready if needed. “I feel like I’d be very prepared,” Jackson said, per ESPN. “I’m trying to sponge everything in. Whatever happens, will happen.” Jackson has taken part in 84 plays, frequently as a runner, and has thrown for 87 yards, but he said he’s improved. “Before I had to ask coach 100 times, ‘Say it again, say it again,'” Jackson said. “Now, he’ll say it one time to me. Sometimes, don’t get me wrong, if it’s longer, I have to say, ‘Say it again.’ But, other than that, I’m getting better at that.”
Cincinnati Bengals: After firing defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and taking over play-calling duties, then hiring former Cleveland head coach Hue Jackson to be a special assistant, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis met with the media to discuss how he anticipates the changes to impact his club. “Hue is here to right now trying to … just get immersed back in what we’re doing, how we’re doing it,” Lewis said of his former offensive coordinator. “He assists with the players on the field. He’ll continue to look at things analytically.’ But Lewis added Jackson won’t have a hands-on role with the offense right now. As for himself? “We’re not reverting back to 2002 the last time I did this. I’ve been involved throughout and I study everybody throughout the league throughout the season … Don’t worry about that part. I got it.”
Cleveland Browns: With his team heading into a bye week and his head coach position still in flux, Browns general manager John Dorsey met with the media to speak about the state of his club. And he started out with an update on the coaching search. “Senior management and I have kind of gotten together the last 10 days and we’ve kind of begun to walk through the process. … (At the conclusion of the regular season) we’ll be planned, we’ll be prepared and we’re going to get the best coach possible for this organization.” While hesitant to name any potential candidates, Dorsey did say two names: “(Interim head coach Gregg Williams) will get interviewed for the head coaching position, I think he deserves that. I think (offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens) has done a heck of a job.”
Pittsburgh Steelers: Le’Veon Bell isn’t coming back this season, so his teammates decided to help him clean out his locker. His locker had been fully stocked awaiting his arrival, but by Wednesday afternoon, everything was gone. “Awww, they’re ransacking his locker,” guard Ramon Foster said, per Yahoo! Sports. His nameplate was removed, then Steelers players decided to help themselves to the footwear reserved for Bell, along with his CDs, and some other clothing. Even a suit.
Houston Texans: Rebounding from an 0-3 start to post six straight wins is a nice deal but coach Bill O’Brien keeps trying to diffuse the excitement. Quarterback Deshaun Watson doesn’t see that to be a problem, not with seven regular-season games remaining, including Sunday’s game against the Washington Redskins. “He’s not saying that we don’t deserve to enjoy the six wins and we haven’t done anything, he was just saying we just got ourselves out of the hole, but at the same time, there’s still a lot more football to play,” Watson told reporters. “We can’t get ahead ourselves and think we’re just going to walk in to any situation. Every week is going to be a task, every week is going to be a battle.”
Indianapolis Colts: Versatile offensive lineman Joe Haeg was designated as the team’s second and final player to return from injured reserve, beginning a 21-day window in which the team can place him on the active roster or put him back on the IR. Haeg started the first three games at right tackle before suffering an ankle injury. The Colts will watch him closely as they integrate him back into practice to see what type of progress he is making. Haeg started in 15 games last season at either right guard or right tackle and can play all five positions.
Jacksonville Jaguars: A team that ranks near the top of the list when it comes to the NFL’s biggest disappointments is aware it is running out of time to turn things around. The Jaguars have dropped five straight games entering Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. “I think as an organization, I think we are all frustrated,” Jacksonville coach Doug Marrone told reporters. “I have to lead it and they have to pull it together and we have to go. We have to get on the field, we have to be able to coach them as well as we can, they have to get out there and be able to perform. We’ve got to go win a game. I look at it as it’s more of a whole than one person.”
Tennessee Titans: Quarterback Marcus Mariota is suddenly playing sharper football after struggling earlier in the season. Mariota is 37-of-53 passing for 468 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions over the last two weeks when Tennessee defeated the Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots. “I think we’ve done a good job on third down, and definitely done a whole lot better in the red zone, being able to score touchdowns,” Mariota told reporters. “If we can continue that, I think we have a chance to be pretty good. When it comes down to it, we can build off of it, we can continue to use the momentum. Guys are flying around. I thought (Wednesday) was a good practice, and we have to continue to build off of it.”
Denver Broncos: The trade of Demaryius Thomas was made possible in large part because of the emergence of second-round rookie Courtland Sutton, but he’s not the only rookie the team wanted to give a larger role. Fourth-rounder DaeSean Hamilton, who had three catches for 44 yards in Week 5 but has missed the last two games due to a knee injury, is expected to take a large role in three-WR sets when he returns Sunday against the Chargers. “He’s a young player still, but he’s a great route runner,” head coach Vance Joseph said of Hamilton. “I’m excited to see him get more opportunities now. He’s going to be a good football player for us. He does the dirty work. He blocks and he plays on special teams, so whatever you ask him to do, he does. He’s got a bright future.”
Kansas City Chiefs: With the Chiefs’ offense lighting the league on fire, there’s one player who has gotten fewer chances to perform than he’s used to: punter Dustin Colquitt. In a video released by the team Wednesday showing clips of quarterback Patrick Mahomes mic’d up from Sunday’s game, Colquitt joked with the quarterback about finally getting on the field. “Thanks for letting me punt,” Colquitt said with a laugh. “I appreciate it. It felt good to get out there again.” Among punters who have played the whole season, only the Rams’ Johnny Hekker (25) has booted fewer punts than Colquitt (28), meaning Monday night’s matchup could be notably short on special teams. A two-time Pro Bowler, Colquitt is tied for fifth in the NFL in net average (41.4).
Los Angeles Chargers: A major part of the Chargers’ hot streak this season has been getting ahead early in games, allowing the team to play with the lead rather than chase a deficit. “We’re trying to start with more urgency this year, playing from ahead,” head coach Anthony Lynn said. “…You force teams in obvious situations where you’ve got to pass the football, our guys get a chance to come off the ball and tee off a little bit.” This week, Lynn is particularly focused on getting out in front so the Broncos’ fierce pass rush can’t be the group teeing off. “If they put you in a situation where you have to pass the football to beat them, it could be a long day because their pass rush is excellent,” Lynn said. Denver is seventh in the NFL with 28 sacks, but the Chargers have allowed just 13 this season (fourth fewest).
Oakland Raiders: A few weeks after trading Amari Cooper, the Raiders could be awfully short-handed at wide receiver on Sunday against the Cardinals. Martavis Bryant is out with a PCL injury, and Jordy Nelson will likely be listed as questionable with a bone bruise in his knee. That should open up opportunities for seventh-round rookie Marcell Ateman, who was promoted from the practice squad in late October but has yet to play in a game. “Coach said I was going to get my opportunity sometime, and it’s here,” Ateman told reporters. “…I just didn’t take a backseat when I got on the practice squad. I just was like, I’m going to keep grinding, keep working, and when I get my opportunity, I’m going to be better.” A 6-foot-4, 216-pounder, Ateman had 12 catches for 139 yards in the preseason.
Dallas Cowboys: All-Pro center Travis Frederick has been sidelined all season by Guillain-Barre syndrome but he has encouraging news. He has sensation back in his hands for the first time in almost three months, according to the Dallas Morning News. “It’s starting to come back in my hands a little bit here, which is good,” Frederick said. “Now it’s more just numbness, no tingling, and it’s more in the tips. I mean the fact there is some light at the end of the tunnel is definitely a positive.” Frederick said he still doesn’t have any feeling in his feet, but he cited statistics that said almost all people who suffer from Guillain-Barre — an autoimmune disease that attacks the nervous system — make a full recovery. “I’m doing good. I’m getting better, slowly but steady.”
New York Giants: He doesn’t sign the paychecks for the Giants, and he doesn’t make the roster decisions, but legendary anchorman Dan Rather has a strong opinion on one New York player — Eli Manning. “I’ll tell you what, whatever you think of the Giants — and they are terrible — I love Eli Manning,” Rather told TMZ Sports on Tuesday. “As an anchorman on the fade, on the way out, you say to yourself, ‘I’m not as good as I once was. But, for once, I’m as good as I ever was.’ That was Eli Manning last night against San Francisco.” Monday night, Manning completed 61.3 percent of his passes for 188 yards and three touchdowns.
Philadelphia Eagles: Coach Doug Pederson and New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton played some golf at league meetings in March, and Payton lost. When the two teams meet on Sunday, Payton’s team will pay off the bet between the two coaches. They’ll be wearing their all-white “color rush” uniforms at home, while the Eagles will wear their home green on the road. “We wanted to liven up the match, and we decided to bet and we chose jersey colors,” Pederson said Wednesday. “Three holes into it I ended up beating him, and that was it.” Payton lost twice to Pederson on the course this year. In his second loss, in July, he made a donation to the Eagles Autism Challenge.
Washington Redskins: Safety D.J. Swearinger isn’t mincing any words about his first team, the Houston Texans, who the Redskins meet on Sunday. The Texans selected him in the second round of the NFL draft in 2013 and released him during the offseason in 2015. Tampa Bay claimed him off waivers. “I never got a fair chance from Tampa,” Swearinger told ESPN recently. “I remember my first interview with (then-coach) Lovie (Smith), he asked me about all the things Houston bashed me on. I was sitting there shocked, like, ‘They really said that about me? This is horrible.’ I took that and put that chip on my shoulder, like I never got that fair opportunity.” He blames Texas coach Bill O’Brien for that, and on Instagram this week he referenced O’Brien: “That Same Coach Told Me I Would Be Outta The League In 3Years. Unfortunately, My God & Grind Had A Plan And Knew That 6years Later….I Would Make Him Eat His Words!”
Chicago Bears: At Soldier Field, the Bears plan to leave the lights on for kicker Cody Parkey on Wednesday night and again Thursday. Parkey, who missed four kicks by clanging the ball off the upright last week against the Lions, will practice with the Bears all week but his evening plans include spending time kicking at the Bears’ gameday home to replicate the environment the team will play in Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings. Head coach Matt Nagy hinted that the primary concern would be lakefront wind conditions that can’t be produced at Halas Hall, the team’s northeast suburban practice facility in Lake Forest. Parkey said the exercise was more about checking boxes in mental preparation. Parkey said he will travel into the city with long snapper Patrick Scales and special teams coordinator Chris Tabor.
Detroit Lions: With three games in a 12-day span, the Lions skipped practice Wednesday and ran only a light walkthrough. Head coach Matt Patricia said he is anticipating a highly physical game with the Carolina Panthers, who were lit up for 52 points by the Pittsburgh Steelers last Thursday. Patricia said there is no sign of surrender in his locker room after three consecutive blowout losses and big hits absorbed by quarterback Matthew Stafford. “We’re not hitting the panic button,” Patricia said.
Green Bay Packers: The Packers flew to Seattle on Tuesday after a light workout and game plan installation for Thursday’s game, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he’s glad to see running back Aaron Jones continue to get prime billing. Jones rushed for 145 yards last week against the Miami Dolphins. Notably, he was a regular option in the red zone. Attacking via the run is typically low on the play sheet when coach Mike McCarthy’s teams get to the red zone. “Running the football in the red zone has not been a high priority for us, but the abilities that he brings slashing inside can give us some opportunities to run some more of those plays in the red zone,” Rodgers said of Jones.
Minnesota Vikings: Chicagoan Mike Zimmer is excited to test the Bears’ offense in the Sunday night showdown this week. Zimmer, who called the Bears’ passing game “Kansas City-ish” gave a lot of credit to quarterback Mitchell Trubisky for avoiding mistakes. Trubisky has 22 total touchdowns this season. But he has not faced a blitz-heavy man scheme the caliber of Minnesota’s, and the Vikings are coming off of a bye week. In his only start against the Vikings last season, Trubisky had six completions and saw 18 blitzes. According to Pro Football Focus, Trubisky has a completion percentage of 45 (45 of 100) facing a rush of five or more in 2018.
Atlanta Falcons: Pro Bowl linebacker Deion Jones (foot) was a limited practice participant Wednesday after being removed from injured reserve two days earlier. Atlanta coach Dan Quinn is promising caution when it comes to the handling of Jones, so there is not yet a verdict as to whether he could play in Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys. “Well, we’re going to great care of him, No. 1, because he is so important,” Quinn said a radio appearance. “I think the best way to go about it is, let’s take him all the way through a full week where he can really get ready to play. And when he’s ready to go, that’s when we’ll make him active. Until that time, we’re not going to put him out there until he’s 100 percent ready.”
Carolina Panthers: Cameron Artis-Payne doesn’t have a carry this season but he is now the No. 2 running back entering Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions. The team released C.J. Anderson on Monday, giving Artis-Payne the opportunity to get some snaps whenever lead back Christian McCaffrey needs a breather. “You don’t want to go out there and do too much. You just want to go out there and play to the best of your ability,” Artis-Payne told reporters. “The offense has been rolling. Christian has shown he’s one of the better backs in this league. When you go in there to spell him, you got to do your job and make sure you’re taking care of the ball.” Carolina also claimed running back Kenjon Barner off waivers and waived cornerback Josh Hawkins.
New Orleans Saints: The team is taking a long look at receiver Brandon Marshall after signing the veteran earlier this week. Marshall was signed after Dez Bryant tore his Achilles late last week, but he is in football shape after being with the Seattle Seahawks earlier this season. The test is finding out if being available to play this Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles is too ambitious or if the fact Marshall has been on an NFL roster will speed up the curve. “Having had the training camp experience and he was not 100 percent healthy, this gives us a chance to see where he is at, week by week, take a peek and try to evaluate his skillset to where and if it fits with what we are doing,” Saints coach Sean Payton said.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul didn’t need a reminder that the New York Giants are the opponent on Sunday, and he still has hard feelings about the offseason trade from New York to Tampa Bay. “I didn’t speak to no owners or nothing,” Pierre-Paul told reporters. “Obviously, I gave a hard eight years with the New York Giants and won a Super Bowl there, and the only thing you get is a phone call. I wouldn’t say I was hurt but it was just shocking. You know what I mean? Honestly, I had this game checked off since I left there. Emotions running big. I’m coming, man. I’m bringing the house down.” Pierre-Paul did indicate that he received phone calls from general manager Dave Gettleman and quarterback Eli Manning after the trade.
Arizona Cardinals: No team wants to put its rookie quarterback under regular pressure, as Arizona has with Josh Rosen this season, but the Cardinals have been pleased with how well Rosen has handled it. “Quarterbacking in this league is hard,” interim offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich told reporters. “When things get bad, this kid tends to be fine.” Rosen added that he has always emphasized the ability to stay strong in the face of pressure. “It’s definitely a point of pride for me, to stand in the pocket and not get flustered,” he said. “Whenever I see ghosts, I get mad at myself. That’s what quarterback is all about.” The No. 10 overall pick is also intent on maintaining a high standard despite his team’s 2-7 record. “It’s about consistency,” Rosen said. “You kind of want to be a rock for other guys who may be looking for some sort of steadying force.”
Los Angeles Rams: A day after their Monday night matchup with the Chiefs was moved from Mexico City to Los Angeles over field quality concerns, the Rams had another — more minor — schedule change made. The NFL announced the Rams’ Week 14 visit to Chicago has been flexed into prime time, meaning L.A. will play on Sunday Night Football in back-to-back weeks, including hosting the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 15. That will give the Rams the maximum of five prime-time games this year, after they had previously played in a total of 12 since 2008. The last time the franchise played more than two prime-time games in a season was in 2004, Marshall Faulk’s second-to-last season.
San Francisco 49ers: Meanwhile, the 49ers are done playing under the lights this year after playing in consecutive prime-time games the last two weeks, on Thursday night in Week 9 and Monday night in Week 10. The NFL announced that San Francisco’s Week 13 visit to Seattle has been flexed out of the Sunday night slot and into the typical late afternoon start, with the Chargers-Steelers game moving to SNF. The Niners will play their final five games in that late afternoon slot after a Week 12 visit to Tampa Bay in the early window. Including their Monday night game in Week 6 at Green Bay, the 49ers played three prime-time games this season after having a total of three over the last two years.
Seattle Seahawks: One surprisingly important contributor for the Seahawks this season has been a former first-round Cleveland Browns draft bust, linebacker Barkevious Mingo. Playing on a two-year, $6.8 million free agent deal, Mingo has played 333 of Seattle’s defensive snaps (59.5 percent) and 207 snaps on special teams (83.1 percent), notching 26 tackles (three for loss) on defense and four more on special teams. “He has done a really good job of spreading his availability across the board,” head coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s a great (special) teams player… he’s been a rusher, he’s been an outside guy playing Sam linebacker, he’s played the Will backer spot for us, nickel, done some specialty things in rushes as well. …He’s been a really fantastic addition and surprised us in so much versatility.”
–Field Level Media