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Colin Kaepernick Collusion Complaint Moves Forward

The Free Press WV

They’ll allow it. An NFL-appointed arbitrator has refused to dismiss an official grievance by the former 49ers quarterback alleging a plot by the league and team owners to keep him off the field.

Although Kaepernick, who led players in national anthem protests to highlight racial injustice, has been a free agent since March 2017, no team has signed him.

His complaint, if successful, could lead to the invalidation of the league’s collective bargaining agreement.

Meanwhile, the NFL’s regular season will start September 06 without a clear-cut policy on player protests.


Learn More:    Slate    NBC    Deadline

Female ESPN Host: That’s It, I’m Done With NFL

Michelle Beadle has some more free time on the weekends—and the ESPN pundit says she has the NFL to thank for it. The co-host of the network’s Get Up! program tweeted an image of a cringing Jerry Seinfeld Wednesday along with the line: “Me, pretending to be surprised at each story out of the ol’ football world.“ It was in response to a presser by suspended Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer, and on Thursday, she elaborated on Get Up!, announcing she’s not watching the NFL, or college football, either. “I believe that the sport of football has set itself up to be in a position where it shows itself in the bigger picture to not really care about women,“ she said. “As a woman, I feel like a person who has been marginalized. And every single one of these stories that comes out, every single time, pushes me further and further away. I realize that they don’t care, but for me, it’s opened up my weekends. … I don’t care anymore.“

Beadle blasted Meyer for his presser touching on domestic abuse, saying he “didn’t have the grace enough to at least look over the statement that you were handed seven seconds before and pretend ... you meant a single word in it. The entire thing is a disgrace. I’m just numb to it.“ One person sniffing at Beadle’s boycott: Andrew Marchand, who writes for the New York Post, “If you are a panelist on a sports talk show that is pivoting fully to football … it is hard to see how you can be a regular part of the conversation” if you’re not watching. And at Yahoo Sports, Liz Roscher calls Beadle’s words “bad timing,“ as last week ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro said he wanted to smooth over tensions between ESPN and the NFL. In response to online vitriol, Beadle posted a NSFW message she received, noting: “A reminder: (I didn’t beat a woman. I didn’t lie about someone beating a woman. I didn’t claim to be a leader of men and hide behind memory loss.) but I’m the enemy?“

NFL Freezes Anthem Policy

The Free Press WV

The NFL’s two-month old national anthem policy is on hold. Hours after the AP reported that Miami Dolphins players who protest on the field during the anthem could be suspended for up to four games under a team policy issued this week, the league and the players union issued a joint statement late Thursday night saying the two sides are talking things out. “No new rules relating to the anthem will be issued or enforced for the next several weeks while these confidential discussions are ongoing,“ the statement read. Miami’s discipline document included section on “Proper Anthem Conduct,“ which classified anthem protests under a large list of “conduct detrimental to the club,“ all of which could lead to a paid or unpaid suspension, a fine, or both.

The NFL rule that was passed in May forbid players from sitting or taking a knee if they are on the field or sidelines during anthem but allowed them to stay in the locker room if they wish. The policy said teams would be fined if players didn’t stand during the anthem while on the field. The league left it up to teams on how to punish players. The new league rules were challenged this month in a grievance by the players union. The NFLPA said the NFL policy, which the league imposed without consultation with the players union, is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement and infringes on player rights. Now, the two sides are hoping to reach a solution without litigation.

Papa John’s Drops NFL Sponsorship

The Free Press WV

The NFL is now lacking an “official pizza.“ Papa John’s has announced that it is cutting ties with the league, ending a sponsorship deal that began in 2010, CNN reports. Steve Ritchie, the pizza chain’s new CEO, says the company will now focus on deals with star players and 22 individual teams instead of a broader sponsorship deal. “While the NFL remains an important channel for us we have determined that there are better ways to reach and activate this audience,“ he told investors Tuesday, per CNBC. He said the NFL and Papa John’s are parting ways by mutual agreement.

Amid slumping sales, stock in Papa John’s is down by more than a third since last summer. It sank another 3.9% after Ritchie’s announcement. In November, founder “Papa” John Schnatter claimed that NFL anthem protests were the reason for falling pizza sales and urged NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to force all players to stand for the anthem. “Leadership starts at the top, and this is an example of poor leadership,“ he said. The company later apologized for his remarks and Schnatter resigned as CEO the following month.

NFL Power Rankings, Week 16

The Free Press WV

Each week, national NFL writer Mark Maske ranks the league’s 32 teams. This week, the New England Patriots maintain the top spot in the rankings but find a new contender for No. 1 right below in the Minnesota Vikings. The Panthers, Steelers and Rams round out the top five headed into the final week of the regular season, while the biggest mover, the San Francisco 49ers, rocket into the No. 14 spot thanks to a four-game winning streak engineered by quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

1. New England Patriots (12-3) — Last Week’s Rank: 1

The Patriots still have a bit of Week 17 work to do to secure the top seed in the AFC playoffs. That means no chance to rest QB Tom Brady and other key starters. Coach Bill Belichick seems to prefer it that way, anyway.

2. Minnesota Vikings (12-3) — Last Week’s Rank: 3

The defense pitched the shutout Saturday night in Green Bay to compensate for a mediocre outing by QB Case Keenum and the offense. The Vikings probably will enter the playoffs as the favorite in the NFC given the diminished state of the Eagles. But only slightly so amid the conference’s balanced field of very good but not quite great teams.

3. Carolina Panthers (11-4) — Last Week’s Rank: 2

The Panthers probably are headed to a wild-card berth. But they would be a very good in that role, and fully capable of running the table to reach the Super Bowl.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-3) — Last Week’s Rank: 4

The Steelers bounced back from their defeat to the Patriots and took care of business Monday against the overmatched Texans, even without WR Antonio Brown in the lineup. Despite Brown’s uncertain status for the playoffs, there remains no reason to doubt a Steelers-Patriots rematch in the AFC championship game.

5. Los Angeles Rams (11-4) — Last Week’s Rank: 6

Todd Gurley is very unlikely to be the league’s MVP. It’s difficult to imagine the award going to anyone but Tom Brady. But Gurley is having a terrific season and he certainly belongs in the conversation.

6. Philadelphia Eagles (13-2) — Last Week’s Rank: 7

The Eagles clinched the NFC’s top seed with the triumph Monday night over the Raiders. But they looked like anything but a Super Bowl team. The defense was much improved after struggling so badly against the Giants, but fill-in QB Nick Foles was shaky and the offense was unimpressive. The Eagles appear extremely vulnerable heading into the postseason.

7. New Orleans Saints (11-4) — Last Week’s Rank: 9

A playoff spot is secured. But the Saints cannot take their foot off the accelerator, needing a victory Sunday at Tampa to wrap up the NFC South.

8. Baltimore Ravens (9-6) — Last Week’s Rank: 10

The Ravens made it far tougher than it needed to be Saturday against the Colts. But at least they got the victory. A win Sunday against the Bengals gets them back into the AFC playoffs after a two-year drought. That’s what this season was all about.

9. Jacksonville Jaguars (10-5) — Last Week’s Rank: 5

Yes, the 49ers are playing well with Jimmy Garoppolo at QB. And yes, it was on the road. Even so, that was an embarrassing and bewildering loss for a team that’s supposed to be the main threat to a Steelers-Patriots rematch in the AFC championship game. Most troubling of all, Blake Bortles was back to being Blake Bortles with his three-interception performance.

10. Atlanta Falcons (9-6) — Last Week’s Rank: 8

The Falcons still can reach the playoffs with a victory over the Panthers or a Seahawks loss. But this simply is not the same offense that it was last season. And this season is bound to end in disappointing fashion for Atlanta, whether it’s this coming weekend or soon thereafter.

11. Kansas City Chiefs (9-6) — Last Week’s Rank: 13

The Chiefs have pulled things together with three straight wins. But it’s still impossible to forget that 1-6 stretch of miserable play, and nearly as impossible to envision them being a major factor in the AFC playoffs.

12. Los Angeles Chargers (8-7) — Last Week’s Rank: 15

The Chargers still can reach the playoffs but need plenty of help. They have only themselves to blame for the way they started the season.

13. Seattle Seahawks (9-6) — Last Week’s Rank: 17

This is a very flawed team. Winning a playoff-elimination game against the Cowboys with more penalty yards than yards of total offense was next to unthinkable. But the Seahawks retain their playoff possibilities, needing a win Sunday over the Cardinals and a Falcons loss to the Panthers.

14. San Francisco 49ers (5-10) — Last Week’s Rank: 20

The success of QB Jimmy Garoppolo playing in Coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense provides plenty of hope for next season in Year 2 of the Niners’ new regime. The 49ers are playing like a playoff team right now. Unfortunately for them, it took them until December to get Garoppolo into the lineup.

15. Buffalo Bills (8-7) — Last Week’s Rank: 14

Okay, the instant-replay reversal that overturned Kelvin Benjamin’s TD catch was debatable at best. Fine. But does that explain the Bills being outscored, 24-3, by the Patriots in the second half Sunday? The criticism of the officiating was off target. Some of the players needed to take a look at their own play instead. They must move on quickly, though. The Bills still have a Week 17 chance to end the franchise’s long playoff drought, although they’ll need help.

16. Dallas Cowboys (8-7) — Last Week’s Rank: 11

Very little went as planned this season for the Cowboys, and there was nothing but frustration Sunday as they lost to the Seahawks and were eliminated from the playoffs even with Ezekiel Elliott back in the lineup. The Cowboys certainly can hope for better next season, with Elliott presumably available for a full season and QB Dak Prescott another year wiser following this season’s ups and downs. But that Super Bowl-filled future for Prescott and Elliott no longer looks as certain as it did at the conclusion of last season, does it?

17. Washington Redskins (7-8) — Last Week’s Rank: 21

Finishing .500 would be nice. But really, it’s all about what happens next with Coach Jay Gruden and QB Kirk Cousins. The Redskins have total control over the decision with Gruden. They can keep him if they want, and they should. Unfortunately for them, their past sets of negotiations with Cousins have put that situation somewhat out of their control, given how costly a third straight franchise tag would be.

18. Cincinnati Bengals (6-9) — Last Week’s Rank: 27

Can the Bengals come up with a big performance Sunday in Baltimore to knock the Ravens from the playoffs and, if the speculation about Coach Marvin Lewis’s future is accurate, send him off with a victory?

19. Detroit Lions (8-7) — Last Week’s Rank: 12

Coach Jim Caldwell probably deserves to stay. The Lions reached the playoffs last season and still could go 9-7 this season. But the lack of clarity on that issue to this point could be telling.

20. Tennessee Titans (8-7) — Last Week’s Rank: 18

The Titans’ playoff “push” has been an embarrassment. They still can reach the postseason with a triumph Sunday at home over the Jaguars, who are locked into the AFC’s No. 3 seed and have nothing at stake. But the Titans look like a complete playoff non-factor, and their late-season spiral feels like a step backward for their once promising development even if they sneak in.

21. Green Bay Packers (7-8) — Last Week’s Rank: 16

Other NFL teams think the Packers should be forced to release Aaron Rodgers? Great. They can think that all they want. It’s not going to happen. Even so, the Packers got a little too cute by placing Rodgers on IR. It wasn’t necessary. Shutting him down for the remainder of the season was fine. That was the right move. But he didn’t need to be placed on IR. Did the Packers really need to free up that roster spot so badly for two meaningless games? Did anyone tell them that there’s a game-day inactive list?

22. Arizona Cardinals (7-8) — Last Week’s Rank: 23

It remains unclear whether Bruce Arians will opt to return for another season or walk away from coaching the Cardinals. If Arians is not back, it would stand to reason that the Cardinals would overhaul the roster and make it a team-wide reset.

23. Chicago Bears (5-10) — Last Week’s Rank: 26

It hasn’t been a great rookie season at QB for Mitchell Trubisky. But it has been a necessary part of the learning process. Enough good things have happened for the Bears to hope that he makes a big jump in Year 2 and becomes a reliable starter.

24. Denver Broncos (5-10) — Last Week’s Rank: 19

Did Sunday’s loss at FedEx Field amount to Kirk Cousins’s in-person audition for the Broncos’ QB job in 2018? If so, he was impressive enough. But before they address their QB situation, the Broncos must decide whether it will be one and done for Vance Joseph as their coach.

25. Miami Dolphins (6-9) — Last Week’s Rank: 22

The Dolphins are stumbling to the finish line in a forgettable season. The major offseason task is to clarify the QB situation and decide whether Ryan Tannehill returns to being the unquestioned starter.

26. Oakland Raiders (6-9) — Last Week’s Rank: 24

The Eagles gave the Raiders every chance to beat them Monday night in Philadelphia. And the Raiders couldn’t do it. It’s been that kind of season for a team that was supposed to be so much better.

27. New York Jets (5-10) — Last Week’s Rank: 25

The Jets have five more wins than many thought they’d have this season. But is that enough for Todd Bowles to stay?

28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-11) — Last Week’s Rank: 28

The Jon Gruden speculation has intensified and it doesn’t look particularly promising for Dirk Koetter to be given a third season.

29. Houston Texans (4-11) — Last Week’s Rank: 29

Things went about as expected Monday against the Steelers. The combination of T.J. Yates and Taylor Heinicke at QB was forgettable. At least WR DeAndre Hopkins provided one highlight with his unreal TD catch.

30. Indianapolis Colts (3-12) — Last Week’s Rank: 30

The coaching tenure of Chuck Pagano presumably comes to an end Sunday against the Texans. Pagano never had a chance this season without Andrew Luck or a viable Plan B at QB until the Jacoby Brissett trade was made just before the season. But it’s not always about fairness when the firing-and-hiring season for NFL coaches arrives.

31. New York Giants (2-13) — Last Week’s Rank: 31

Will Sunday’s matchup against the Redskins at the Meadowlands be Eli Manning’s final game with the Giants? The possibility of that adds considerable intrigue to an otherwise unwatchable game.

32. Cleveland Browns (0-15) — Last Week’s Rank: 32

The Browns are on the clock. The No. 1 overall selection in the NFL draft is secured. In the meantime, they seek their own brand of perfection when they play Sunday at Pittsburgh with a winless season still within reach.

NFL Power Rankings – Week 15

The Free Press WV

Each week, national NFL writer Mark Maske ranks the league’s 32 teams. This week, the New England Patriots take advantage of the rule book and a questionable late-game decision by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to move back into the No. 1 spot. Pittsburgh stays in the top five despite the loss, but is now looking up at the Panthers and Vikings, who look like the class of the NFC. Speaking of which, the L.A. Rams jump three spots after their destruction of the Seahawks in Seattle. And the Jaguars, now with double-digit wins for the first time since 2007, clock in at No. 5 with a return to the playoffs just a few weeks away.

1. New England Patriots (11-3) — Last Week’s Rank: 2

The Patriots reclaim the No. 1 spot after their victory over the Steelers. It certainly wasn’t easy. But Tom Brady yet again was at his best in crunchtime. Rob Gronkowski was a difference-maker for the offense in his return from his one-game suspension. And good luck and meticulous preparation came together for the Patriots in the wild final sequence when the catch-rule replay reversal went their way and their defense was more than ready for the fake-spike throw into the end zone.

2. Carolina Panthers (10-4) — Last Week’s Rank: 3

Owner Jerry Richardson’s announcement that he will sell the franchise after the season amid the NFL’s investigation into allegations of workplace misconduct against him, along with his exit from the team’s day-to-day operations, coincide with the Panthers potentially headed to their second Super Bowl in three years. They certainly can compete with the NFC’s best teams, and TE Greg Olsen’s return to form in Sunday’s victory over the Packers could give QB Cam Newton the help he needs on offense.

3. Minnesota Vikings (11-3) — Last Week’s Rank: 4

The ovation for QB Teddy Bridgewater in his appearance Sunday was a terrific moment. But this is undeniably Case Keenum’s team at this point, and the Vikings will go as far as Keenum is able to take them. Who would have thought those words would be said this season?

4. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3) — Last Week’s Rank: 1

The Steelers couldn’t beat the Patriots in last season’s AFC championship game and they couldn’t beat the Patriots on Sunday in Pittsburgh despite having an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter. There’s little reason to be confident they can win at New England this season if indeed it comes to that. One obvious key will be WR Antonio Brown’s recovery from the calf injury he sustained Sunday. His MVP hopes were dashed, and it remains to be seen how effective he’ll be able to be during the postseason.

5. Jacksonville Jaguars (10-4) — Last Week’s Rank: 5

The Jaguars may be the one team capable of preventing the expected Steelers-Patriots rematch in the AFC championship game. They can play rugged defense and run the football, and they could face the Steelers in what could be a competitive conference semifinal. But the problem remains: Can QB Blake Bortles, even with his recently improved play, be trusted in games of real consequence?

6. Los Angeles Rams (10-4) — Last Week’s Rank: 9

Their shockingly lopsided victory in Seattle reestablishes the Rams as a top NFC contender. They went 2-2 in their four recent games against the Vikings, Saints, Eagles and Seahawks, and close the regular season against the faltering Titans and the 49ers. A 12-win season is well within reach.

7. Philadelphia Eagles (12-2) — Last Week’s Rank: 8

What happened to the defense against the Giants? The secondary was carved up by Eli Manning and the pass rush was nonexistent. The good news was the play of fill-in QB Nick Foles, who took over for the injured Carson Wentz and threw four TD passes. But the Eagles did not look like a Super Bowl team Sunday, and it had nothing to do with Foles.

8. Atlanta Falcons (9-5) — Last Week’s Rank: 6

The Falcons made it tougher than it needed to be Monday night in Tampa but managed to get the win they needed. They’ve held things together in a reasonably good season on the heels of their brutal Super Bowl defeat. Even so, it’s difficult to imagine them being a major factor in the NFC playoffs.

9. New Orleans Saints (10-4) — Last Week’s Rank: 7

Beating the practically QB-less Jets was not exactly a major feat but at least the Saints took care of business. Now they face the Falcons for the second time in three games and have a chance to make amends for their loss in Atlanta. The late-game mistakes by QB Drew Brees and Coach Sean Payton were costly in that defeat, so they must be more reliable this time around.

10. Baltimore Ravens (8-6) — Last Week’s Rank: 12

The Ravens are well positioned to get back into the playoffs after a two-year absence. But nothing can be taken for granted. Their remaining schedule is favorable, with home games against the lowly Colts and Bengals. They cannot afford any missteps, however.

11. Dallas Cowboys (8-6) — Last Week’s Rank: 13

RB Ezekiel Elliott is back from his six-game suspension and the Cowboys still have some hope in the NFC playoff chase. Maybe Elliott should take the opposite approach of Aaron Rodgers and say that yes, he is back to save the season.

12. Detroit Lions (8-6) — Last Week’s Rank: 15

The Lions are out of the division race and would need help to reach the playoffs as a wild card. But no one should be questioning the job security of Coach Jim Caldwell. He’s done a good job.

13. Kansas City Chiefs (8-6) — Last Week’s Rank: 16

They’ve righted themselves with two straight wins and were clearly the better team in the “showdown” (by the modest standards of the AFC West) Saturday night with the Chargers. But it’s difficult to simply forget that 1-6 stretch of miserable play.

14. Buffalo Bills (8-6) — Last Week’s Rank: 18

The Bills visit New England this weekend with their playoff hopes still alive. They must focus on that rather than on seeking any type of revenge for Rob Gronkowski’s hit on Tre’Davious White.

15. Los Angeles Chargers (7-7) — Last Week’s Rank: 10

That was a truly disappointing performance Saturday night in Kansas City. The Chargers simply handed away the game. They are probably the best team in a bad division. But they also are probably headed to missing the playoffs, with their 0-4 start to blame.

16. Green Bay Packers (7-7) — Last Week’s Rank: 14

Aaron Rodgers said he wasn’t coming back to save the Packers’ season. Unfortunately for him, he was right. He gave a distinctly un-Rodgers-like performance with three interceptions in the loss to the Panthers, and now there’s no reason for the Packers to play Rodgers any more this season and expose him to the risk of reinjuring himself. Remember Tony Romo re-breaking his collarbone? The Packers should avoid that scenario with Rodgers. The season is done, made official by the Falcons’ win Monday night. Rodgers should be shut down.

17. Seattle Seahawks (8-6) — Last Week’s Rank: 11

Instead of there being hopes for a deep playoff run, the lopsided defeat to the Rams has produced speculation that a teardown of the roster could be in store. Would Coach Pete Carroll stay around for a rebuilding project around QB Russell Wilson and LB Bobby Wagner? The narrative certainly can change quickly in the NFL, can’t it?

18. Tennessee Titans (8-6) — Last Week’s Rank: 17

Losses to the Cardinals and 49ers are unforgivable for a team that should be making a late-season playoff push. The Titans no longer are deserving of a spot in the postseason. They have played their way out.

19. Denver Broncos (5-9) — Last Week’s Rank: 22

Brock Osweiler, promising-once-more QB prospect? OK, let’s not get carried away. But he did play well Thursday night in Indianapolis.

20. San Francisco 49ers (4-10) | Last Week’s Rank: 25

The future is bright with Jimmy Garoppolo at QB. The three straight wins with Garoppolo as the starter have raised expectations for next season. It always seemed like a near certainty that the Niners would franchise-tag Garoppolo this coming offseason if they couldn’t re-sign him first. But if anyone had any doubts about that, they should be erased. Garoppolo cannot be allowed to leave.

21. Washington Redskins (6-8) — Last Week’s Rank: 27

A .500 season remains within reach as the Redskins close with the Broncos and Giants. That would be a decent accomplishment, given the circumstances.

22. Miami Dolphins (6-8) — Last Week’s Rank: 19

Beat the Patriots and then lose to the Bills? Jay Cutler outplays Tom Brady and then is outplayed by Tyrod Taylor? Even after 14 games, the 2017 Dolphins remain a mystery.

23. Arizona Cardinals (6-8) — Last Week’s Rank: 20

Blaine Gabbert is still Blaine Gabbert, unfortunately for the Cardinals. There was no reason that the Cardinals should have lost Sunday at FedEx Field, but Gabbert simply could not get the offense into the end zone.

24. Oakland Raiders (6-8) — Last Week’s Rank: 21

The Raiders shouldn’t be upset with referee Gene Steratore’s use of an index card to measure a Cowboys’ first down Sunday night. They should be mad at themselves for botching their final drive with QB Derek Carr’s fumble through the end zone. The Raiders remain a major disappointment and their nonwinning season could add Coach Jack Del Rio’s employment status to the list of uncertainties engulfing the franchise.

25. New York Jets (5-9) — Last Week’s Rank: 23

Bryce Petty had his chance. Isn’t it time to give second-year QB Christian Hackenberg a look?

26. Chicago Bears (4-10) — Last Week’s Rank: 24

Coach John Fox heaped praise on Mitchell Trubisky’s three-interception performance against the Lions. Maintaining the confidence of a rookie QB is important, but that’s taking it too far.

27. Cincinnati Bengals (5-9) — Last Week’s Rank: 26

If Coach Marvin Lewis indeed is headed out the door at season’s end, his players aren’t giving him much of a farewell gift. The performance against the Vikings was dreadful. The Bengals may end up appreciating what they had in Lewis as their coach if they return to their status as a league laughingstock after he leaves.

28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-10) — Last Week’s Rank: 28

It’s becoming tougher and tougher to construct an argument - any argument - that the Buccaneers should retain Dirk Koetter as their coach.

29. Houston Texans (4-10) — Last Week’s Rank: 29

It still says here that Bill O’Brien deserves to stay in place as coach, based on what he accomplished in previous seasons. But that’s not looking quite so certain any longer. The one question that should guide everything the Texans do is, what’s best for the development of QB Deshaun Watson?

30. Indianapolis Colts (3-11) — Last Week’s Rank: 30

Is it beginning to feel like no sure thing that QB Andrew Luck will be in the Opening Day lineup next season, either?

31. New York Giants (2-12) — Last Week’s Rank: 31

If Eli Manning needs to audition for other NFL teams, he gave a pretty good one Sunday by throwing for 434 yards and three TDs against the Eagles.

32. Cleveland Browns (0-14) — Last Week’s Rank: 32

Wanted: Real players. New GM John Dorsey isn’t exactly sparing the feelings of the previous regime, is he? It will be interesting to see if the Browns and Coach Hue Jackson remain so committed to one another beyond this season, given that Jackson now could have a potential landing spot in Cincinnati.

NFL QB power rankings: The best and worst starters going into Week 15

The Free Press WV

 32. Bryce Petty, New York Jets

Ranking after Week 12: N/A (replacing Josh McCown, No. 21)

Record as starter: N/A

DYAR rank: N/A

QBR rank: N/A

One thing to know: Most fans thought that Petty would eventually get a chance to start this season, but it took an injury to Josh McCown to make it really happen. The Baylor product came in near the end of last week’s game, completing just two out of nine passes for a 39.6 rating. In four games last year, he threw a whopping seven interceptions.

 

31. T.J. Yates, Houston Texans

Ranking after Week 12: N/A (replacing Tom Savage, No. 31)

Record as starter: N/A

DYAR rank: N/A

QBR rank: N/A

One thing to know: The Texans can’t be feeling good about their chances with Yates under center, but at least he isn’t much of a downgrade from Tom Savage. The UNC product hit under 54% of his targets in Week 14, and despite throwing for two touchdowns and going interception-free, the result was a 26-16 loss. It would be highly optimistic to expect a better performance this week.

 

30. Trevor Siemian, Denver Broncos

Ranking after Week 12: 28

Record as starter: 4-5

DYAR rank: 31

QBR rank: 31

One thing to know: Siemian didn’t do much for Denver in the first half of the season, and it has been the same old story since his Week 12 return from a month-long stay on the bench. Broncos fans can’t be happy with his performance, but after watching Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch start games, they’re fully aware that he gives them the best chance of anyone in the quarterback room.

 

29. Blaine Gabbert, Arizona Cardinals

Ranking after Week 12: 24

Record as starter: 2-2

DYAR rank: N/A

QBR rank: N/A

One thing to know: The Cardinals have a history of stashing effective game managers on their bench, and Gabbert has been exactly that since taking over for the injured Carson Palmer, leading them to a .500 record with an 80.8 passer rating. He’s not going to set the league on fire, but Arizona is still reportedly interested in bringing him back next season.

 

28. DeShone Kizer, Cleveland Browns

Ranking after Week 12: 30

Record as starter: 0-12

DYAR rank: 32

QBR rank: 30

One thing to know: Kizer delivered an up-and-down performance in Week 14. He completed over 71% of his passes and threw for 3 touchdowns, both career highs, but he also lost the game in overtime with a lazy floater that was picked off in Browns territory. It was a good indication of what to expect the rest of the way — there will still be growing pains, but Kizer is now a much better quarterback than the one we saw in the first six weeks of the season.

 

27. Mitch Trubisky, Chicago Bears

Ranking after Week 12: 29

Record as starter: 3-6

DYAR rank: 26

QBR rank: 32

One thing to know: Trubisky certainly hasn’t been the best rookie quarterback of this season — that title belongs to the injured Deshaun Watson — but he has demonstrated enough talent to inspire hope among Bears fans. With a 97.3 passer rating on third down, he seems to get better as the pressure grows.

 

26. Jacoby Brissett, Indianapolis Colts

Ranking after Week 12: 25

Record as starter: 3-9

DYAR rank: 29

QBR rank: 28

One thing to know: It’s tempting to write off Brissett’s terrible Week 14 performance as a snow-induced aberration, but the reality is that he has been mired in a slump for three weeks now. After a 2-3 start, the Colts have gone just 1-7 in their last eight games. The final month of the season could be a long one, even with their easy schedule.

 

25. Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles

Ranking after Week 12: N/A (replacing Carson Wentz, No. 2)

Record as starter: N/A

DYAR rank: N/A

QBR rank: N/A

One thing to know: Foles was electrifying the last time he took the field as the Eagles’ midseason replacement under center, posting 9.1 yards per attempt and a 118.7 passer rating en route to the 2014 Pro Bowl. No one is expecting that kind of performance this time around, but if he can be even half the quarterback Carson Wentz was, Philadelphia will be in decent shape.

 

24. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens

Ranking after Week 12: 27

Record as starter: 7-6

DYAR rank: 30

QBR rank: 26

One thing to know: The 2012 Super Bowl MVP has been ineffective across the board this year, but believe it or not, the Ravens’ offense has exploded for a combined 82 points over the past two weeks, their best stretch of the season by a wide margin. That dominance could continue against the Browns in Week 15.

 

23. Eli Manning, New York Giants

Ranking after Week 12: N/A (replacing Geno Smith, No. 32)

Record as starter: 2-10

DYAR rank: 24

QBR rank: 22

One thing to know: Without a competent line to protect him, Manning just doesn’t have what it takes to power an offense — and it certainly doesn’t help that the Giants receiving corps has been ravaged by injuries this year. The Ole Miss product isn’t the worst signal caller out there, but with only tenuous job security, there’s not much reason to give him a bump on this list.

 

22. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals

Ranking after Week 12: 18

Record as starter: 5-8

DYAR rank: 22

QBR rank: 24

One thing to know: Dalton posted a 59.7 passer rating against the Bears in Week 14, leading head coach Marvin Lewis to put in backup A.J. McCarron for the last few snaps. Dalton is clearly good enough to start in the NFL, but whether his skills are worth building an offense around is a much more difficult question. The Bengals will be on the hook for just $2.4 million if they release him after this season, so they may want to come up with an answer soon.

 

21. Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans

Ranking after Week 12: 16

Record as starter: 8-4

DYAR rank: 25

QBR rank: 16

One thing to know: Mariota may be having a disappointing season, but he still ranks among the league leaders when it comes to politeness. After being scolded by his mother, he apologized for his “rude” behavior during a Week 14 press conference, in which the worst thing he said was that he was “###### off.“

 

20. Jay Cutler, Miami Dolphins

Ranking after Week 12: 26

Record as starter: 6-5

DYAR rank: 21

QBR rank: 25

One thing to know: This Vanderbilt product was far better than Tom Brady on Monday night, throwing for 263 yards and 3 touchdowns en route to a huge 27-20 win over New England. It looks like the Dolphins are going to miss the playoffs, but even if the Cutler experiment goes bust, Week 14 will be remembered as a true highlight.

 

19. Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills

Ranking after Week 12: 15

Record as starter: 6-5

DYAR rank: 23

QBR rank: 18

One thing to know: At 7-6, the Bills are still alive in the playoff hunt, so it seems more likely than not that Taylor will start on Sunday. If his injured left knee doesn’t improve enough, we’ll see either the backup Nathan Peterman, who remains in concussion protocol, or the third-stringer Joe Webb, who just threw his first pass in a game since the 2011 season.

 

18. Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers

Ranking after Week 12: 22

Record as starter: 2-0

DYAR rank: N/A

QBR rank: N/A

One thing to know: Four starts into his NFL career, Garoppolo’s winning percentage sits at a shiny 1.000. It seems that he brought some of the Patriot Way with him to the Bay Area, as the 49ers have now taken back-to-back games for the first time since 2014. The late-season success won’t help them in the draft, but it’s hard not to get excited about their young quarterback’s future.

 

17. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

Ranking after Week 12: 17

Record as starter: 9-4

DYAR rank: 18

QBR rank: 19

One thing to know: Newton has failed to top 200 passing yards on seven occasions this season, a high number even for a quarterback who does his best work on the ground. On the bright side, he has a chance to post his highest rushing total since 2012 — but that doesn’t mean you should expect to see him at the Pro Bowl come January.

 

16. Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Ranking after Week 12: 19

Record as starter: 2-8

DYAR rank: 13

QBR rank: 23

One thing to know: Winston hasn’t appeared in a Buccaneers victory since Week 4, but that isn’t entirely his fault — he’s actually been pretty good since returning from a shoulder injury, completing 67.1% of his passes for 555 yards in two games. But with three brutal division matchups ahead, Tampa Bay could easily finish the year at 4-12. They will have a lot to think about this offseason.

 

15. Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars

Ranking after Week 12: 20

Record as starter: 9-4

DYAR rank: 16

QBR rank: 13

One thing to know: Jaguars fans have to be pinching themselves. Just as the league was beginning to wonder how in the world Jacksonville was going to survive in the playoffs without a legitimate quarterback, Bortles led them to back-to-back wins, posting a 70.97 completion rate and a 121.5 passer rating in the process. Perhaps most surprisingly, he did it without throwing a single interception.

 

14. Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders

Ranking after Week 12: 12

Record as starter: 6-6

DYAR rank: 11

QBR rank: 20

One thing to know: Carr was wholly ineffective during last week’s crucial division matchup against the Chiefs, completing just 58.5% of his passes and making terrible decisions under pressure, which led to two interceptions. At least one of his predecessors was alarmed — the former Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon described the performance as “terrible.“

 

13. Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins

Ranking after Week 12: 6

Record as starter: 5-8

DYAR rank: 15

QBR rank: 12

One thing to know: Several of the Redskins’ top skill players have underachieved or become injured this season, and while Cousins has done a good job of making the most of his limited arsenal, he doesn’t have much to show for it in the past few weeks. That’s too bad, because his upcoming opponents — the Cardinals, Broncos, and Giants — would have provided a cake walk to the playoffs. At least they’ll give him a final opportunity to show what he can do before Washington makes a decision on his future.

 

12. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

Ranking after Week 12: N/A (replacing Brett Hundley, No. 23)

Record as starter: 4-2

DYAR rank: 17

QBR rank: 6

One thing to know: Rodgers spent much of the fall impressing fans and teammates with his quick recovery from a broken collarbone, and he has finally been cleared to return for Week 15. His sterling reputation aside, we can’t expect too much in his first game back in action, especially against the Panthers’ tough defense. But if nothing else, the Cal product will be among the most intriguing players of the final three weeks of the season.

 

11. Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs

Ranking after Week 12: 14

Record as starter: 7-6

DYAR rank: 10

QBR rank: 10

One thing to know: In just 13 games, Smith has already set a new career high in passing yards, and he’s on pace to lead the league in interception rate for the second time in his career. With Patrick Mahomes waiting in the wings, there’s still a good chance he’ll be out of a job after this season, but at least he’s set himself up for a healthy payday.

 

10. Case Keenum, Minnesota Vikings

Ranking after Week 12: 9

Record as starter: 8-3

DYAR rank: 5

QBR rank: 2

One thing to know: The Vikings can practically taste the NFC North crown, and with 2,983 passing yards and a 96.2 passer rating, Keenum has been a huge part of that success. Per ESPN, he has also posted a 120.6 passer rating from outside the pocket, far ahead of the next signal caller on the list. A free agent at the end of the season, he should be in line for a contract that will set him up for life.

 

9. Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams

Ranking after Week 12: 7

Record as starter: 9-4

DYAR rank: 7

QBR rank: 15

One thing to know: In a clash of breakout stars — as well as the top two picks in the 2016 draft — Carson Wentz and the Eagles defeated Goff and the Rams by a score of 43-35, a thrilling outcome for a much-anticipated matchup. We’ll soon see if the big-game atmosphere helped Goff prepare for this Sunday’s showdown with the Seahawks, who trail Los Angeles by a single game in the NFC West.

 

8. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys

Ranking after Week 12: 13

Record as starter: 7-6

DYAR rank: 14

QBR rank: 4

One thing to know: While Prescott struggled in his first few games without Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield, he eventually figured things out and has been back to his old self over the past two weeks, going interception-free to post a 118.6 passer rating. Jerry Jones rewarded him with heaps of praise, saying, “We’ve got a better future because he’s gone through this period of time without Zeke.“

 

7. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

Ranking after Week 12: 8

Record as starter: 8-5

DYAR rank: 12

QBR rank: 8

One thing to know: Wilson will very likely receive MVP support, and his case is heavily reliant on his skills as a rusher — his 482 yards on the ground are more than double the next man on Seattle’s roster. As far as advanced stats go, the passing numbers just aren’t quite there, especially when compared to those of Tom Brady.

 

6. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

Ranking after Week 12: 11

Record as starter: 7-6

DYAR rank: 9

QBR rank: 7

One thing to know: Stafford played with his fingers taped in Week 14, throwing a pair of interceptions, but there isn’t much concern about his status going forward. With Chicago, Cincinnati, and Green Bay on tap, the Lions will face an easy schedule as they make a last-ditch playoff push.

 

5. Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers

Ranking after Week 12: 10

Record as starter: 7-6

DYAR rank: 2

QBR rank: 14

One thing to know: With four straight victories, the Chargers are quietly surging, and Rivers has been nothing less than the architect of that success, squeezing as much as he can out of his weapons. He’s put up an amazing statline over their latest winning stretch: 1,348 passing yards, 8 touchdown passes, a 119.2 passer rating, and not a single interception.

 

4. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

Ranking after Week 12: 3

Record as starter: 8-5

DYAR rank: 8

QBR rank: 5

One thing to know: Ryan hasn’t been at his best over the past two weeks, completing 55.4% of his passes for three interceptions and just one touchdown. Luckily for the Falcons, he’ll get another week to steady himself before a pair of incredibly important matchups against the Saints and Panthers, which should play a major role in deciding the division.

 

3. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

Ranking after Week 12: 4

Record as starter: 9-4

DYAR rank: 3

QBR rank: 11

One thing to know: The Saints suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Falcons in Week 14, but don’t blame Brees. The future Hall of Famer completed nearly three-quarters of his passes for a 103.4 rating, numbers that are completely in line with his season-long standards. He won’t reach 5,000 passing yards, but this could still be New Orleans’ best season in six years.

 

2. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

Ranking after Week 12: 5

Record as starter: 11-2

DYAR rank: 4

QBR rank: 9

One thing to know: While he hasn’t really elevated his game, Roethlisberger is holding steady as one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks. He’s never going to get over his habit of throwing interceptions, but his corps of skill players, one of the best in the league, can pick him up when he stumbles. Roethlisberger threw for 506 yards in Week 14, and he’ll need every bit of that momentum for his showdown with Patriots on Sunday.

 

1. Tom Brady, New England Patriots

Ranking after Week 12: 1

Record as starter: 10-3

DYAR rank: 1

QBR rank: 3

One thing to know: Brady has been hindered by a lingering Achilles injury in recent weeks, but back-to-back lackluster games against Buffalo and Miami weren’t nearly enough to dethrone him from the top spot on this list. The Patriots still have the best passing game in the league, and it’s not particularly close. Their veteran signal caller could soon add another MVP award to his trophy case.

NFL Power Rankings – Week 14

The Free Press WV

Each week, national NFL writer Mark Maske ranks the league’s 32 teams.

This week, the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrate yet another dramatic win by climbing over New England to reach No. 1. The Patriots, who saw their eight-game winning streak and 14-game road winning streaks snapped in a “Monday Night Football” defeat in Miami, fall one spot. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Eagles spiral out of the top five thanks to Carson Wentz’s season-ending injury. And the Carolina Panthers, Jacksonville Jaguars and Atlanta Falcons all make big moves up the list on the heels of important home victories.

1. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2) — Last Week’s Rank: 2

Remember when QB Ben Roethlisberger wondered aloud whether he just couldn’t get it done any more? No one was wondering that about Roethlisberger after his 506-yard passing performance in Sunday night’s triumph over the Ravens.

2. New England Patriots (10-3) — Last Week’s Rank: 1

Bill Belichick was outmaneuvered by Adam Gase. Tom Brady was outplayed by Jay Cutler. Nothing was very Patriot-like for the Patriots on Monday night in Miami and they suffered their nearly annual loss there. But it really makes little difference in the big picture. If the Patriots go to Pittsburgh and win Sunday, they will leapfrog the Steelers for the top seed in the AFC playoffs based on the head-to-head victory.

3. Carolina Panthers (9-4) — Last Week’s Rank: 8

The surgically repaired foot of TE Greg Olsen continues to be a concern. There is room to wonder whether the Panthers can be a Super Bowl team without a healthy and productive Olsen. But their win over the Vikings was impressive, especially given the way Carolina churned out yards in the running game.

4. Minnesota Vikings (10-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 3

Case Keenum remains the starter at QB despite throwing two interceptions in the loss at Carolina. Keenum’s performance against the Panthers was an issue. So, too, were the performances of an offensive line that allowed Keenum to be sacked six times, and a defense that permitted the Panthers to run for 216 yards.

5. Jacksonville Jaguars (9-4) — Last Week’s Rank: 12

The crowd’s behavior at the end of Sunday’s game was not acceptable. It’s the Jaguars’ responsibility to ensure that things like that don’t happen in their stadium, and they must keep their fans under control. As for the game, beating Seattle counts as a very good win for a team that looks more promising all the time.

6. Atlanta Falcons (8-5) — Last Week’s Rank: 13

Matt Ryan’s non-MVP-like season continued with his three-interception performance Thursday night against the Saints. But the Falcons still found a way to win a game they had to have. They’re hanging around the NFC South race and they close the regular season with games against the Saints and then the Panthers.

7. New Orleans Saints (9-4) — Last Week’s Rank: 6

The late-game mistakes by QB Drew Brees and Coach Sean Payton on Thursday night in Atlanta were as surprising as they were damaging. Payton needed to worry a lot less about the performance of the officials and a lot more about controlling his own emotions.

8. Philadelphia Eagles (11-2) — Last Week’s Rank: 4

It remains a very good team around the fill-in QB, Nick Foles. But you can’t believe on one hand that Carson Wentz was the NFL’s MVP and then believe on the other hand that his absence due to a torn ACL doesn’t threaten to undo the Eagles’ season. He was the MVP for a reason.

9. Los Angeles Rams (9-4) — Last Week’s Rank:  5

The Rams are 1-2 thus far during their four-game, late-season test against the Vikings, Saints, Eagles and Seahawks (with a victory over a lesser team, the Cardinals, thrown into the mix). That stretch concludes Sunday in Seattle. If the Rams lose to the Seahawks, there will be little choice but to conclude that they aren’t quite ready yet to be on even terms with the NFC’s other top contenders.

10. Los Angeles Chargers (7-6) — Last Week’s Rank: 10

Could there actually be an argument by season’s end about which of L.A.’s two winning NFL teams is better? Few could have seen that coming at the outset of the season.

11. Seattle Seahawks (8-5) — Last Week’s Rank: 7

Seahawks players receive their share of the blame for the chaos at the end of the loss in Jacksonville. The fans should have behaved better. So, too, should have Seattle’s players. The Seahawks’ on-field performance wasn’t so great, either.

12. Baltimore Ravens (7-6) — Last Week’s Rank: 9

The Ravens cannot afford to waste an offensive performance such as the one they got Sunday night in Pittsburgh. Even the passing game was productive. They might find a way to sneak into the playoffs. But if they do, don’t expect anything more.

13. Dallas Cowboys (7-6) — Last Week’s Rank: 16

The Cowboys finally figured out how to play without suspended RB Ezekiel Elliott, winning their past two games. Unfortunately, it took them three losses without Elliott to figure it out. Facing the Redskins and Giants in the two victories didn’t hurt, either.

14. Green Bay Packers (7-6) — Last Week’s Rank: 17

The Packers most likely are not reaching the NFC playoffs, with or without Aaron Rodgers back at QB. The wise move might be to protect Rodgers from himself and keep him safely on the sideline for the remainder of the season. But there will be great pressure to allow Rodgers to play Sunday at Carolina if he’s given medical clearance to return from his broken collarbone.

15. Detroit Lions (7-6) — Last Week’s Rank: 19

It’s fair to question whether Matthew Stafford has played to the level demanded by his monstrous contract. But don’t ever question the QB’s toughness or late-game mettle. Both were on vivid display in Sunday’s gritty victory in Tampa.

16. Kansas City Chiefs (7-6) — Last Week’s Rank: 20

The Chiefs got back into the win column, but they had plenty of help from the Raiders. The competition should be far tougher Saturday night against the Chargers, who are the one team in the division actually playing well.

17. Tennessee Titans (8-5) — Last Week’s Rank: 11

There’s no excuse for the feeble loss in Arizona at a time when the Titans should be making a stretch-drive push for the playoffs.

18. Buffalo Bills (7-6) — Last Week’s Rank: 22

The Bills found the perfect cover for playing rookie QB Nathan Peterman: Have it snow so hard that even if Peterman throws an interception (or five), no one can actually see it.

19. Miami Dolphins (6-7) — Last Week’s Rank: 23

The Dolphins played well and earned their win Monday night over the Patriots. QB Jay Cutler was superb. RB Kenyan Drake was a workhorse. The Miami pass rush bothered Tom Brady and CB Xavien Howard intercepted him twice while shutting down Brandin Cooks.

20. Arizona Cardinals (6-7) — Last Week’s Rank: 24

It will be interesting to see whether Bruce Arians wants to keep coaching in Arizona beyond this season. He has done a pretty good job to keep this Cardinals team near .500. But how wearying is it at this point in his career to struggle so hard just to be mediocre?

21. Oakland Raiders (6-7) — Last Week’s Rank: 14

Did anyone tell the Raiders that they actually were playing for first place Sunday? They looked like they were going through the motions in a playing-out-the-string game. That’s actually what it should be when .500 teams get together this late in a season. But this is the pitiable AFC West.

22. Denver Broncos (4-9) — Last Week’s Rank: 31

Either the Broncos haven’t quite given up, or the Jets are truly awful. Maybe both.

23. New York Jets (5-8) — Last Week’s Rank: 15

Josh McCown’s broken hand forces the Jets to give Bryce Petty another look at QB. Why not get some playing time for Christian Hackenberg as well? There’s little reason to believe that either is the answer. But it certainly can’t hurt to find out a little more.

24. Chicago Bears (4-9) — Last Week’s Rank: 29

Mitchell Trubisky has put up the two most efficient passing games of his rookie season the past two weeks. The prized young QB perhaps could help the Bears attract a respected coach if they decide to fire John Fox.

25. San Francisco 49ers (3-10) — Last Week’s Rank: 28

So does Kyle Shanahan deserve credit for waiting until Jimmy Garoppolo was ready – really ready – to play before putting him in the lineup? Or does he deserve blame because Garoppolo should have been playing sooner? The Niners still have never lost a game started by Garoppolo.

26. Cincinnati Bengals (5-8) — Last Week’s Rank: 18

The physical and emotional toll of last Monday’s loss to the Steelers was evident in Sunday’s listless defeat to the Bears.

27. Washington Redskins (5-8) — Last Week’s Rank: 21

The Redskins’ regression over the past couple weeks undercuts the argument that Coach Jay Gruden has gotten the most out of his injury-depleted team and kept his players competing. Even so, it says here that Gruden should stay as coach and there shouldn’t be too much deliberation about it. He’s not the issue.

28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-9) — Last Week’s Rank: 25

It isn’t looking particularly promising for Coach Dirk Koetter. The team is playing poorly and has been one of the league’s biggest disappointments this season. And now there is talk about Koetter’s relationship with QB Jameis Winston being strained.

29. Houston Texans (4-9) — Last Week’s Rank: 26

Bill O’Brien says he wants and expects to be back as the Texans’ coach. He is probably deserving of that despite this season’s struggles, given his overall performance over four years in Houston.

30. Indianapolis Colts (3-10) — Last Week’s Rank: 27

The NFL’s TV-ratings woes undoubtedly are about to end with a scintillating Colts-Broncos game on tap Thursday night.

31. New York Giants (2-11) — Last Week’s Rank: 30

A dreary season keeps getting drearier. But the guess here is that Steve Spagnuolo, the team’s interim coach, won’t consider benching QB Eli Manning this week.

32. Cleveland Browns (0-13) — Last Week’s Rank: 32

New GM John Dorsey inherits a team with a 1-28 record since the start of last season but also with two first-round picks and three second-rounders in the upcoming draft. The tendency is to say it can only get better. But it’s the Browns. So how about settling for: Even if it does get worse, it can’t get that much worse.

NFL Power Rankings – Week 13

The Free Press WV

Each week, national NFL writer Mark Maske will provide his ranking of the league’s 32 teams.

This week, the Patriots celebrate their eight-game winning streak with a return to top spot, immediately followed by the AFC’s other powerhouse, the Steelers, who will host New England in what could be a candidate for the game of the year a week from Sunday. Current NFC No. 1 seed Minnesota finds itself in the top three. Then, the Eagles, who had their nine-game winning streak snapped in Seattle Sunday night, and the Rams, who will host those Eagles this weekend, round out a competitive top five.

1. New England Patriots (10-2) — Last Week’s Rank: 2

The Patriots reclaim the No. 1 spot with their victory in Buffalo and the Eagles’ loss in Seattle. This is where the Patriots were supposed to spend the entire season, out in front with the rest of the NFL chasing them. It didn’t work out that way. But the Patriots have regained their front-runner status, even if they now are facing the prospect of being without TE Rob Gronkowski for a game. His one-game suspension by the NFL was fully justified for a late hit that was both egregious and extremely dangerous.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-2) — Last Week’s Rank: 3

Concern over the injury suffered by Ryan Shazier took precedence over the outcome of the game Monday night in Cincinnati, won by the Steelers on a last-second field goal.

3. Minnesota Vikings (10-2) — Last Week’s Rank: 4

Case Keenum is for real. He’s not quite an MVP candidate but he’s not that far away from that. The Vikings are for real. The defense was terrific Sunday in Atlanta. Minnesota is as good as anyone in the NFC. That guarantees nothing come playoff time. But there’s a chance the Vikings could win a Super Bowl while playing all their postseason games at home.

4. Philadelphia Eagles (10-2) — Last Week’s Rank: 1

The Eagles are still a very good team, even after the defeat in Seattle. They still have a chance to secure the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. But they might not be the conference’s Super Bowl favorite any longer. The Vikings have, at the very least, achieved co-favorite status.

5. Los Angeles Rams (9-3) — Last Week’s Rank: 5

Sean McVay had better get plenty of NFL coach of the year votes. The Rams haven’t faded away and get two more games against the NFC’s elite, the Eagles and then the Seahawks, up next on the schedule.

6. New Orleans Saints (9-3) — Last Week’s Rank: 7

The season sweep of the Panthers puts the Saints firmly in control of the NFC South race. But they still must face the Falcons twice, beginning with Thursday night’s game in Atlanta.

7. Seattle Seahawks (8-4) — Last Week’s Rank: 9

The Seahawks still are capable of beating anyone, as the triumph Sunday night over the Eagles demonstrated. Unfortunately for them, they haven’t looked like that consistently enough to believe with much conviction they can make a run through the entire NFC playoffs and reach another Super Bowl.

8. Carolina Panthers (8-4) — Last Week’s Rank: 6

The Panthers probably can forget about overtaking the Saints, but they remain in very good position to secure a wild-card spot. It is crucial that TE Greg Olsen’s surgically repaired foot is sound and that he returns to the lineup to give QB Cam Newton another reliable receiver.

9. Baltimore Ravens (7-5) — Last Week’s Rank: 10

The Ravens are playing much better, with three straight wins, and securing a wild-card spot is a realistic possibility. Their meeting with the Steelers on Sunday night in Pittsburgh will be difficult but the Browns and Colts are up next after that.

10. Los Angeles Chargers (6-6) — Last Week’s Rank: 11

The Chargers have given L.A. two contending NFL teams and they are, at the moment, the best team in the AFC West. Which isn’t saying very much at all.

11. Tennessee Titans (8-4) — Last Week’s Rank: 12

The Titans and Jaguars are stride for stride in the AFC South race as the season’s stretch run arrives. A crucial road trip comes next for the Titans, with games at Arizona and at San Francisco the next two Sundays.

12. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-4) — Last Week’s Rank: 13

While the Giants are about to move on to their second coach since Tom Coughlin’s exit - a less-than-voluntary departure, in Coughlin’s telling of it - he is enjoying great success as the front office architect of the Jaguars. If the best revenge is to live well, Coughlin is doing it.

13. Atlanta Falcons (7-5) — Last Week’s Rank: 8

The Falcons have hung tough and are having a pretty good season. But pretty good is not quite good enough in the NFC. The Falcons were exposed Sunday by an excellent Vikings team. Julio Jones disappeared from the offense and no one else stepped forward to be a difference-maker.

14. Oakland Raiders (6-6) — Last Week’s Rank: 18

The Raiders go from playing a team in the Giants that just had benched its starting QB for no good reason, to facing a team in the Chiefs that probably should be benching its starting QB but won’t.

15. New York Jets (5-7) — Last Week’s Rank: 23

The Jets are the very best NFL team in all of East Rutherford, N.J. That’s not exactly high praise at the moment. But it’s more than anyone had a right to expect from them this season.

16. Dallas Cowboys (6-6) — Last Week’s Rank: 24

The Cowboys took care of business Thursday night against the Redskins and get to play the Giants this Sunday. They’ve endured four of the six games of RB Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension. But time is running short and they’re simply too far behind some very good teams in the NFC playoff chase.

17. Green Bay Packers (6-6) — Last Week’s Rank: 25

By the time Aaron Rodgers is ready to play, the Packers probably won’t have realistic playoff hopes. The top-heavy NFC just has too many good teams ahead of them. There might not be any good reason for Rodgers to come back this season.

18. Cincinnati Bengals (5-7) — Last Week’s Rank: 14

The most meaningful issues arising from Monday night’s game in Cincinnati were concerns over the severity of the injury suffered by the Steelers’ Ryan Shazier and the alarm over the brutality of the illegal hits delivered by both teams. The competitive implications of the Bengals’ loss were far less significant, although their playoff chances were damaged.

19. Detroit Lions (6-6) — Last Week’s Rank: 15

The injuries are accumulating for QB Matthew Stafford and the Lions are becoming an afterthought in the NFC playoff chase.

20. Kansas City Chiefs (6-6) — Last Week’s Rank: 16

Was that really this season when the Chiefs were 5-0? It seems like several years ago right about now. Maybe Coach Andy Reid will snap to his senses at some point and figure out that a dramatic change or two must be made. Otherwise, there is no indication whatsoever that the Chiefs are going to find a way to reverse their downward spiral. And it might be too late now, anyway.

21. Washington Redskins (5-7) — Last Week’s Rank: 17

Whatever happens between now and the end of the season has absolutely nothing to do with whether QB Kirk Cousins remains in Washington. The Redskins have had plenty of time to know what they have in Cousins, and Cousins has had plenty of time to figure out what he thinks about the team. It comes down to financial considerations now. The negotiating history between both parties and the numbers involved for Cousins to be franchise-tagged again make it difficult to believe that he will be a Redskin next season.

22. Buffalo Bills (6-6) — Last Week’s Rank: 19

The Bills are on a 1-4 skid and their postseason hopes are slipping away.

23. Miami Dolphins (5-7) — Last Week’s Rank: 28

Being far better than the Broncos doesn’t prove all that much at this point.

24. Arizona Cardinals (5-7) — Last Week’s Rank: 20

Even a .500 season is a long shot now. It feels more and more like major changes could be in store in the offseason.

25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-8) | Last Week’s Rank: 21

Jameis Winston was sharp in his return to the lineup. It didn’t help. This has been a miserable season for the Buccaneers and it’s time for them to reassess whether they’re on the right path to being a contender.

26. Houston Texans (4-8) — Last Week’s Rank: 22

The Texans have clinched their first nonwinning season in four years with Bill O’Brien as their coach. It will become their first losing season under O’Brien unless they can run the table, and there seemingly is little chance of that.

27. Indianapolis Colts (3-9) — Last Week’s Rank: 26

The Colts are about as irrelevant as it gets. If they didn’t show up for any of their remaining games, would anyone notice?

28. San Francisco 49ers (2-10) — Last Week’s Rank: 31

The Jimmy Garoppolo era got off to a promising start with the win over the Bears. Garoppolo was pretty good even with a pared-down version of Coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense. He should only get better from this point forward.

29. Chicago Bears (3-9) — Last Week’s Rank: 27

Not much that Coach John Fox is doing is working. It would be an upset at this point if he makes it to the end of the season before the Bears dismiss him.

30. New York Giants (2-10) — Last Week’s Rank: 29

Memo to current and future NFL head coaches: Don’t ever use the line, “I’m going to coach this team as long as my key card works.” Ben McAdoo used it, then got fired the next day. Eli Manning presumably gets his starting job back and the Giants presumably avoid what could have been a very ugly scene at this Sunday’s home game against the Cowboys.

31. Denver Broncos (3-9) — Last Week’s Rank: 30

John Elway was being overly kind, as it turned out, when he called the Broncos soft.

32. Cleveland Browns (0-12) — Last Week’s Rank: 32

Josh Gordon looked pretty good in his return. The fact that he immediately became the focal point of the Browns’ offense was another sign of just how terrible this team is.

High court betting case pits states against sports leagues

The Free Press WV

With its spacious bar and banks of TVs tuned to all-sports stations, the lounge at New Jersey’s Monmouth Park Racetrack is a sports gamblers’ paradise-in-waiting. All that’s standing in its way: a 25-year-old federal law that bars betting on sports in most states.

An hour before Thursday night’s Washington-Dallas NFL game, only about half a dozen people sat at the bar, most of them workers at the horse-racing track or nearby residents. But a case the Supreme Court will take up Monday could change that, packing the bar and making wagering on sports widely available nationwide.

The high court is weighing whether a federal law that prevents states from authorizing sports betting is constitutional. New Jersey is leading the challenge against that law, with all four major U.S. professional sports leagues and the federal government on the other side.

If the Supreme Court strikes down the law, giving sports betting the go-ahead, dozens of states could quickly make it legal. Monmouth Park is gambling on a win for New Jersey and has already spent $1 million on its sports lounge, ready to turn it into a sports betting parlor in short order. British bookmaking company William Hill would run the operation.

“I don’t think it’s unfair to say if there is a broad ruling, you could be witnessing a reshaping of the global gambling industry around that ruling,” said Chris Grove, managing director of Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, a California-based research firm that believes 32 states would probably offer sports betting within five years if the Supreme Court makes that possible.

Daniel Wallach, a legal expert in sports and gambling, says the case could “transform how sporting events are consumed and watched in this country.”

Monday’s case pits New Jersey and other states against the four big sports leagues and the federal government. The stakes are high. The American Gaming Association estimates that Americans illegally wager about $150 billion on sports each year. In court, the NBA, NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball have fought New Jersey, arguing that expanding gambling would hurt the integrity of their games, though leaders of all but the NFL have shown varying degrees of openness to legalized sports gambling. More than a dozen states are supporting New Jersey.

Shawn Fluharty, a West Virginia lawmaker who has sponsored sports gambling legislation, says he believes his state would be one of the first to offer sports betting if the Supreme Court permits it. The Democrat says sports gambling is “a way to raise new revenue without raising taxes.”

New Jersey has spent years and millions of dollars in legal fees trying to legalize sports betting at its casinos and racetracks. In 2012, with voters’ support, state lawmakers passed a law authorizing sports betting there. The state’s action was a direct challenge to a federal law, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.

The 1992 law bars state-authorized sports gambling with exceptions for Nevada, Montana, Oregon and Delaware, states that had some form of sports wagering before the law took effect. Nevada is the only state where a person can bet on a single game, though the law doesn’t cover wagering between friends. In passing the law, Congress gave New Jersey a yearlong window to authorize sports betting at its casinos but the state didn’t act in time.

Two decades later, when New Jersey decided to legalize sports betting, the four major professional sports leagues and the NCAA sued. New Jersey argued that Congress exceeded its authority when it prohibited states from authorizing sports betting, but it lost in court. In 2014, New Jersey tried a different approach, repealing laws prohibiting sports gambling at casinos and racetracks. Again, it lost in court.

Now that the Supreme Court has taken the case, the outcome could be sweeping but doesn’t have to be. If the court strikes down the 1992 law, it would be greenlighting the expansion of sports gambling nationwide. But the court could also rule narrowly, agreeing that the way New Jersey changed its laws to allow sports betting at racetracks and casinos in 2014 was permissible. Few states may be willing to follow that route and have no say in licensing or regulating sports gambling. The court could also uphold the law, keeping the status quo.

And even if the law is struck down, Congress could try to step in again.

Florida State University professor Ryan Rodenberg, in a filing with the court, urged justices not to rule broadly. And, in an interview, the sports law expert said he doesn’t think the justices’ ruling will ultimately be sweeping. The court’s conservatives are generally in favor of states’ rights and would be expected to rule for New Jersey, but they’re also generally against gambling, he said. The policy implications have to be in the back of the minds of the justices, he said.

Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who pushed his state’s sports betting legislation, says he is “cautiously optimistic” about the outcome.

New Jersey resident Vito Paolantonio, who was at Monmouth Park Racetrack’s bar Thursday, said he’d wager on sports if he could in the state.

“I’m a 52-year-old male who loves sports,” he said. “If we were here and I was watching a game, I would absolutely throw in a few dollars to make it more interesting. I think as a middle-class American, a lot of others would do the same.”

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