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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.”

NFL Weighing Change To Anthem Policy For Next Season

The Free Press WV

Some NFL owners believe there is a strong possibility they will enact an offseason change to the league’s national anthem policy if the players’ protests during the anthem persist through the end of this season, reverting to a previous approach of keeping players in the locker room while the anthem is played, according to several people familiar with the league’s inner workings.

“I think that if players are still kneeling at the end of the year, then it could very well happen,“ said one person familiar with the owners’ deliberations on anthem-related issues.

That person said it was “too early to tell” for certain if the change to the anthem policy will be made by owners and the league. The person was “not sure” if a formal vote of the owners would be required to enact such a change but said, “I think most owners would support it, particularly if players continue to kneel this season.“

Those sentiments were echoed by several others with knowledge of the owners’ thinking on the matter. They said they did not know at this point exactly how many owners would favor such an approach, and they cautioned that there have been no detailed discussions yet about leaving teams and players in the locker room for the anthem because owners did not consider it appropriate to make an in-season change to the policy.

But they agreed that if the protests last all season and remain intensely controversial among fans, the issue will be raised during the offseason and a policy change to having players remain in the locker room until the anthem’s conclusion would have the support of a significant number of owners. They said the matter could be addressed at the annual league meeting in March.

“It would certainly have to be considered very strongly,“ said an official with an NFL franchise who is familiar with the thinking of that team’s owner on the matter.

The NFL declined to comment.

The change to having players and coaches on the sideline for the anthem was made in 2009. The current league policy says that players must be on the sideline for the anthem. It suggests but does not require that players stand for the anthem.

At various points this season some players, including full teams, have remained off the field during the playing of the anthem. They have not been fined or otherwise disciplined by the NFL.

The league has been under intense pressure from President Donald Trump and some fans to require players to stand during the anthem. In September, Trump said during a campaign speech in Alabama that owners should fire any player who protested during the anthem. His fiery speech included a reference to such a player being a “son of a #####” and it fueled an intense national controversy over the issue.

The pressure from the White House has not relented. After Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch refused to stand for the U.S. anthem before Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots in Mexico City, Trump offered critical comments Monday on Twitter.

“Marshawn Lynch of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders stands for the Mexican Anthem and sits down to boos for our national anthem,“ Trump wrote. “Great disrespect! Next time NFL should suspend him for remainder of season. Attendance and ratings way down.“

Owners held a series of meetings last month in New York focused on the anthem and related topics. Owners met with representatives of the players, then held their regularly scheduled fall owners’ meeting. Owners emerged from those meetings without enacting a rule requiring players to stand for the anthem. But even without such a requirement, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and owners said they wanted players to stand.

“We believe everyone should stand for the national anthem,“ Goodell said at the conclusion of the October owners’ meeting. “That’s an important part of our policy. It’s also an important part of our game that we all take great pride in. And it’s also important for us to honor our flag and our country, and we think our fans expect us to do that.“

Goodell and owners said then that they were focused on discussions with the players about league support of players’ community activism. They said they hoped that such support would convince players to voluntarily stand for the anthem, although they cautioned there was no formal or implied agreement that NFL support of players’ activism would lead to all players standing.

“This is not a trade off,“ Jed York, the chief executive officer of the San Francisco 49ers, said at the October meeting. “From what I’ve read, there are some players that have said that they’re still not considering standing yet. And that never came up in the meeting. . . . This has been, ‘How do we take protest to progress?‘ How do we make sure that we move these issues forward that matter to the players and I think that matter to the owners?“

Players and owners have not had a face-to-face meeting since then and have not completed a formal policy for league support of players’ activism. But the conversations have continued and an agreement could be coming.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he would bench any player on his team who protested during the anthem and thereby, in Jones’s view, showed disrespect to the American flag. But other owners said at the October meeting that the overwhelming majority of owners wanted players to stand for the anthem but did not want to enact a rule requiring it.

The players’ protest movement began last season with quarterback Colin Kaepernick, then with the 49ers. He refused to stand for the anthem to protest racial inequality in the U.S. and the treatment of African Americans by police. Kaepernick was not signed by an NFL team this season and has filed a grievance accusing teams of collusion.

The NFL’s current policy is in its game operations manual, sent by the league to teams, and not in its publicly available rule book. The policy says: “The national anthem must be played before every NFL game, and all players must be on the sideline for the national anthem.

“During the national anthem, players on the field and bench area should stand at attention, face the flag, hold helmets in their left hand, and refrain from talking. The home team should ensure that the American flag is in good condition. It should be pointed out to players and coaches that we continue to be judged by the public in this area of respect for the flag and our country. Failure to be on the field by the start of the national anthem may result in discipline, such as fines, suspensions, and/or the forfeiture of draft choice(s) for violations of the above, including first offenses.“

One NFL sponsor, Papa John’s, recently criticized the NFL for a lack of leadership related to the players’ protests, although the pizza maker later issued an apology to those who believed its stance was divisive. With TV ratings sagging and Jones citing the league’s current financial circumstances as a reason for his bid to stall Goodell’s pending five-year contract extension with the owners, some owners have acknowledged that the anthem controversy and the protests have had an effect on the business of the NFL.

“We know how important this is to our sponsors, our partners, our licensees,“ Goodell said at last month’s owners’ meeting. “It’s important to us, also. We all share that.“

NFL Power Rankings – Week 10

The Free Press WV

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

This week, the New Orleans Saints left no doubt that they’re a contender after destroying the Bills in Buffalo, 47-10, on the strength of six total rushing touchdowns and dual 100-yard performances from running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. The Saints creep up on the Eagles and Patriots, who remain atop the list in the top two spots. The Rams and Steelers, each winners on Sunday, round out the top five, while the Vikings, Jaguars, Panthers, Titans and Chiefs finish off the top 10.

1. Philadelphia Eagles (8-1) – Last Week’s Rank: 1

The Eagles return from their bye rested and clearly feeling good about themselves. They play Sunday night at Dallas against the Cowboys, who will be without Ezekiel Elliott and have key injuries at other positions. The Eagles have a great opportunity to all but wrap up the division title, which is already a near certainty.

2. New England Patriots (7-2) – Last Week’s Rank: 2

The win Sunday night in Denver was routine and the Patriots are spending the week in Colorado, practicing at the Air Force Academy, for this weekend’s meeting with the Raiders in Mexico City. The AFC East race is over. It’s all about the race with the Steelers for the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs.

3. New Orleans Saints (7-2) – Last Week’s Rank: 5

The Saints are a very balanced and very good team. It’s time to put aside the old notions about their suspect defense and lack of commitment to the running game. They can play defense. And they can - and will - run the ball. They overwhelmed a Bills team that had been playing very well at home for their seventh straight win.

4. Los Angeles Rams (7-2) – Last Week’s Rank: 4

The Rams have games left against the Vikings, Saints, Eagles and Seahawks. It should be pretty clear by the end of the regular season exactly how they measure up against the NFC’s other top contenders.

5. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-2) – Last Week’s Rank: 3

The Steelers emerged with the win in Indianapolis, but they simply have to play better. It shouldn’t be that difficult against the Colts for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.

6. Minnesota Vikings (7-2) – Last Week’s Rank: 7

Teddy Bridgewater is back but Case Keenum continues to excel at QB. There’s no immediate need to make a change. Bridgewater’s comeback is to be admired and his future still could be great. But for now, he should be the fallback plan in case Keenum begins to struggle.

7. Jacksonville Jaguars (6-3) – Last Week’s Rank: 8

It quietly has become a pretty good division race between the Jaguars and Titans. They’re good, young teams filled with new faces, and both are playing well right now. The Jaguars play their next three games against the Browns, Cardinals and Colts and cannot afford a misstep.

8. Carolina Panthers (7-3) – Last Week’s Rank: 9

The Dolphins offered little resistance Monday night. Still, it was an excellent performance by the Panthers, with Cam Newton excelling both as a passer and a runner.

9. Tennessee Titans (6-3) – Last Week’s Rank: 10

The Titans have a chance to show what they can do against a top AFC playoff contender when they play Thursday night at Pittsburgh. A victory over the Steelers would signal that the Titans might be capable not only of reaching the postseason, but of being a factor once they get there.

10. Kansas City Chiefs (6-3) – Last Week’s Rank: 11

The Chiefs return from their bye needing to reestablish that they are among the league’s top teams. It hasn’t looked that way lately, with three losses in four games since a 5-0 start. They play Sunday in the Meadowlands against the Giants, who are in total disarray. Anything less than a decisive victory would raise further questions about the Chiefs.

11. Seattle Seahawks (6-3) – Last Week’s Rank: 14

The ruptured Achilles’ tendon suffered by CB Richard Sherman during Thursday night’s victory over the Cardinals represents a terrible loss for the Seahawks. But their complaints about the injury risks in Thursday night games may not be well founded. At least going into this season, the rate of injuries suffered by players was greater in Sunday games played on a six-day break than in Thursday games following a Sunday game, according to the NFLPA.

12. Atlanta Falcons (5-4) – Last Week’s Rank: 19

When is it really a must-win game? When your team’s owner is in the midst of a very public feud with the opposing team’s owner. Arthur Blank didn’t greet Jerry Jones on the field before the game Sunday in Atlanta, and Blank’s team gave him an undoubtedly satisfying triumph by beating Jones’s Cowboys.

13. Detroit Lions (5-4) – Last Week’s Rank: 17

Was there any doubt that the Lions would find a way to win in the fourth quarter against the Browns? Or that the Browns would find a way to lose?

14. Oakland Raiders (4-5) – Last Week’s Rank: 15

The groundbreaking ceremony for the Raiders’ new stadium in Las Vegas took place Monday. Meanwhile, trying to salvage this season in Oakland remains very much a work in progress.

15. Green Bay Packers (5-4) – Last Week’s Rank: 26

So the Packers can win a game with Brett Hundley at QB after all. But can they actually remain in the playoff race with Hundley? That could be another matter entirely.

16. Dallas Cowboys (5-4) – Last Week’s Rank: 6

The absence of suspended RB Ezekiel Elliott was significant Sunday in Atlanta. But the injuries to LT Tyron Smith and LB Sean Lee may be even more significant. Lee probably will miss at least a couple games and it’s not clear if Smith will be able to return this week. The Cowboys desperately need him after struggling so badly to protect QB Dak Prescott during the loss to the Falcons.

17. Buffalo Bills (5-4) – Last Week’s Rank: 12

The loss to the Jets followed by Sunday’s embarrassingly lopsided defeat at home to the Saints has all but knocked the Bills out of the division race and raised questions about their viability as a contender for even a wild-card spot. They need to regroup quickly, settle down and realize they remain very much in the chase for what would be their first postseason berth since the 1999 season.

18. Washington Redskins (4-5) – Last Week’s Rank: 13

The shocking win in Seattle was followed by Sunday’s loss at home to the Vikings. There’s no disgrace in losing to a very good Minnesota team. But it remains one step forward and one step back for these Redskins, who perhaps have found their level. Unfortunately for them, that level appears to be right around the .500 mark.

19. Baltimore Ravens (4-5) – Last Week’s Rank: 20

The Ravens return from their bye with plenty of work needing to be done to make themselves relevant. At the moment, they’re not.

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-6) – Last Week’s Rank: 29

The Buccaneers were one of the league’s bigger disappointments this season with Jameis Winston at QB. The forced move to Ryan Fitzpatrick, with Winston sidelined by an ailing shoulder, certainly isn’t a long-term situation. But in the short term, maybe things will look a little better and perhaps Winston will come back healthier and mentally refreshed.

21. Arizona Cardinals (4-5) – Last Week’s Rank: 16

The Cardinals could be down to Blaine Gabbert at QB with starter Carson Palmer sidelined with a broken arm and his replacement, Drew Stanton, dealing with a knee injury. An already difficult season becomes even more so.

22. New York Jets (4-6) – Last Week’s Rank: 18

Yes, the Jets are far better than anyone expected them to be this season. But losing to Fitzpatrick was an indignity even for a team once accused of being in tank-the-season mode.

23. Chicago Bears (3-6) – Last Week’s Rank: 21

If someone doesn’t take the challenge flag away from Coach John Fox before the Bears play again, there’s a problem.

24. Los Angeles Chargers (3-6) – Last Week’s Rank: 22

Part of the equation for making the Chargers matter in L.A. was putting an interesting team on the field. They certainly aren’t doing that, and they’re providing few reasons for anyone in their new city to pay any attention to them.

25. Miami Dolphins (4-5) – Last Week’s Rank: 25

Did the Dolphins have any real interest in playing that game at Carolina Monday night?

26. Indianapolis Colts (3-7) – Last Week’s Rank: 23

The Colts enter their bye week with QB Jacoby Brissett in the concussion protocol. If he’s not cleared by the time the Colts play again, it would be back to Scott Tolzien as the starter.

27. Houston Texans (3-6) – Last Week’s Rank: 24

The Texans took a look at their current roster and decided that sticking with Tom Savage at QB was their best option. That tells you all you need to know about their current roster.

28. Cincinnati Bengals (3-6) – Last Week’s Rank: 27

Vontaze Burfict is a key member of the Bengals’ defense when he actually can keep his emotions under control and remain on the field. But his inability to keep his temper in check more than offsets his contributions as a player.

29. Denver Broncos (3-6) – Last Week’s Rank: 28

The QB issue is big. But it’s not the only issue. This Broncos team is simply falling apart.

30. San Francisco 49ers (1-9) – Last Week’s Rank: 31

The Niners undoubtedly were relieved to finally get a win. But if that keeps QB Jimmy Garoppolo on the bench for at least a while longer, was it necessarily a good thing in the bigger picture?

31. New York Giants (1-8) – Last Week’s Rank: 30

Giants co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch announced Monday that they will retain Coach Ben McAdoo for the remainder of the season and then evaluate him. McAdoo, at this point, appears to be making that evaluation pretty simple. He’s not getting his players to play very hard or very well at all for him. Mara and Tisch are patient, as they demonstrated again Monday by not firing McAdoo sooner rather than later. But no one is patient enough to keep McAdoo beyond season’s end if he can’t get the Giants to play much better in their final seven games.

32. Cleveland Browns (0-9) – Last Week’s Rank: 32

Maybe the Browns should have refused to file the final score from the Detroit game with the league office and perhaps the loss would have been disallowed.

NFL vs. Cowboys

The Free Press WV

The Associated Press has obtained a letter sent by the NFL to Jerry Jones’ attorney accusing the Dallas Cowboys owner of “conduct detrimental to the league’s best interests” over his objection to a contract extension for Commissioner Roger Goodell.

The letter accusing Jones of sabotaging the negotiations was sent to David Boies on Wednesday. Jones hired Boies and threatened to sue the NFL if Goodell’s contract extension was approved by the compensation committee, made up of six owners. All 32 owners voted unanimously in May to let the committee finalize a deal with Goodell.

The letter, first reported by The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, was written by outside counsel for the compensation committee and given to the AP by a person who requested anonymity because it was not intended to be made public.

It’s the latest escalation of a feud between the NFL and one of its most powerful owners. Jones has denied that his objections to the extension are tied to Goodell’s decision to suspend star running back Ezekiel Elliott for six games over alleged domestic violence.

Elliott abandoned his legal fight over the suspension Wednesday. He has five games left to serve.

“Your client’s antics, whatever their motivation, are damaging the league and reflect conduct detrimental to the league’s best interests,” the letter said.

Jones has said he has issues with compensation in the deal, along with concerns about the escalation of player protests involving the national anthem and how the league has handled them. He also has suggested that owners should revisit the power that the position wields.

The letter confirmed that Jones was removed as a non-voting member of the compensation committee after threatening to sue.

Jones, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August, was accused of sharing with all the owners an outdated document related to the negotiations with Goodell.

“Someone who is genuinely concerned ‘that the owners know the truth about the negotiations’ would not deliberately distribute such an outdated document, particularly when he has in his possession drafts that are current and accurately reflect the actual state of negotiations, or threaten to sue the league and its owners if he does not get his way,” the letter said.

Jones has acknowledged being at odds with the compensation committee chairman, Atlanta owner Arthur Blank, over the Goodell talks. They didn’t speak on the field before the Falcons’ 27-7 victory over the Cowboys on Sunday.

Blank issued a statement Monday saying the committee planned to proceed with finalizing the Goodell deal and would keep other owners updated.

A spokesman for Jones didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Jones claimed Tuesday on his radio show that “well over half” the owners agree with him in wanting a final vote after the committee is finished negotiating the deal.

“With due respect, we urge Mr. Jones to drop his misguided litigation threats and media campaign to undermine the committee’s mandate,” the letter said. “And we urge Mr. Jones to support the committee’s deliberations, not attempt to sabotage them.”

Sports News

The Free Press WV

►  Colin Kaepernick’s lawyers seek to depose NFL owners in collusion grievance case

Attorneys for quarterback Colin Kaepernick have notified the NFL that they are requesting that several owners of teams, including the Dallas Cowboys’ Jerry Jones and the Houston Texans’ Robert McNair, participate in depositions as part of Kaepernick’s grievance accusing owners and teams of colluding to keep him out of the league, a person familiar with the case said Friday.

The request also seeks access to electronic communications, including emails and text messages, involving several teams that were linked to Kaepernick, according to that person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because Kaepernick’s grievance remains pending.

The NFL declined to comment. The teams involved either declined to comment or did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Kaepernick has remained unsigned since opting out of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers following last season. He began the movement of players protesting during the national anthem while with the 49ers last season. He is being represented in his collusion grievance by Los Angeles-based attorney Mark Geragos, with support being offered by the NFL Players Association.

Under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the NFLPA, Kaepernick must prove that teams conspired with each other or with the league. The fact that he remains unsigned, in comparison to players who have been signed and are on rosters, does not by itself prove collusion, under the CBA.

Jones has said he would bench any Cowboys player who protests during the anthem. McNair created a controversy when he reportedly said during a recent owners’ meeting that the NFL “can’t have the inmates running the prison.“

The request by Kaepernick’s legal team was previously reported by other media outlets, including CBS and ESPN. Those reports also mentioned Jed York of the 49ers, Paul Allen of the Seattle Seahawks and Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots among the owners who could be deposed, and the Seahawks, Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens among the teams from which electronic communications are being sought.


►  WVSSAC High school soccer state championship scores

The high school soccer state championships wrapped up on Saturday as Hurricane, Cabell Midland, Robert C. Byrd and Nitro all won titles.

CLASS AAA BOYS SOCCER CHAMPIONSHIP

Hurricane 2, Wheeling Park 0

CLASS AAA GIRLS SOCCER CHAMPIONSHIP

Cabell Midland 1, University 0

CLASS AA-A BOYS SOCCER CHAMPIONSHIP

Nitro 2, Robert C. Byrd 1

CLASS AA-A GIRLS SOCCER CHAMPIONSHIP

Robert C. Byrd 3, Charleston Catholic 2 (OT)


►  WVSSAC Women Cross Country: Pineault, Chambers Qualify For NCAA Championships

West Virginia Wesleyan’s Sydney Pineault and Wheeling Jesuit’s Kelsey Chambers each qualified for the NCAA Championships after their finish at the Atlantic Regional Championships on Saturday at West Branch Cross Country Course in Lock Haven, Pa.

A large pack came in behind winner Julie Friend of California (Pa.), and Pineault emerged as the runner-up with a time of 21:17.4 on the 6,000-meter course. Summer Hill of Cal was next at 21:18.2, Edinboro’s Stefanie Parsons was fourth with a time of 21:19.3 and Chambers was fifth with a time of 21:20.7. WJU’s Kaitlyn Workman was next with a time of 21:24.1

With California, Shippensburg and Edinboro earning berths into the NCAA Championships by finishing in the top three, the next two individuals from non-qualifying teams earned berths to the NCAA Championships in Evansville, Ind., on November 18. Those two spots went to Pineault and Chambers, and Workman will be in the pool of individuals up for an at-large berth when the entire team and individual field is announced on Monday.

West Virginia Wesleyan finished ninth with a score of 243 points, and Wheeling Jesuit was next with 249. Concord was 15th (359), Charleston was 19th (535), Fairmont State was 21st (630) and West Liberty was 22nd (690).


►  WVSSAC Men Cross Country:  Weitzel, Concord Lead MEC Teams

Concord led all Mountain East Conference teams with a fourth place finish at the NCAA Atlantic Regional Championships at West Branch Cross Country Course in Lock Haven, Pa.

CU just missed an automatic spot to the NCAA Championships for a second-straight year as the top three teams qualify. The Mountain Lions will be in the pool of teams up for an at-large berth as the complete field is announced on Monday. The NCAA Championships will be held Nov. 18 in Evansville, Ind.

Concord was fourth with 138 points. Charleston had an impressive eighth-place finish with 240 points. West Virginia Wesleyan was 11th (277) and Wheeling Jesuit was 15th (409) and West Liberty was 18th (512).

CU’s Jason Weitzel became the first MEC athlete to earn an individual berth into the NCAA Championships by virtue of his eighth place finish on Saturday. He completed the 10,000-meter course with a time of 31:20. He was seconds ahead of teammate Justin Snyder (31:26) who was ninth. Snyder, along with West Virginia Wesleyan’s Matt Dearth, are up for individual berths into the championship. Dearth was 11th in the race with a time of 31:46.

Wetizel, Snyder, Dearth, along with Concord’s Tyler Kosut (13th, 31:51) and Charleston’s David Cecchi (24th, 32:22), earned All-Atlantic Region honors by virtue of their top 25 finish.

Sports News

The Free Press WV

►  NFL Power Rankings – Week 7: As good as Carson Wentz and the Eagles are, the Patriots get back to No. 1

This week, despite a convincing win on “Monday Night Football” over the Redskins, last week’s No. 1 team, the Philadelphia Eagles, get passed by Tom Brady and the Patriots, who won Sunday night’s Super Bowl rematch against the Atlanta Falcons with their most convincing, all-around effort of the season. The top five this week also includes the Los Angeles Rams, who rode Sunday’s rout of the Cardinals in London to a 5-2 record and the fifth spot in the rankings.

1. New England Patriots (5-2)

Last Week’s Rank: 2

Remember those panicked claims in the season’s first few weeks that the Patriots wouldn’t be able to figure things out this time? As usual, those who doubt Bill Belichick and Tom Brady end up looking foolish. That’s not to say that the Patriots will win another Super Bowl title. But they certainly will be a factor in the postseason and they are back to playing like the league’s top team.

2. Philadelphia Eagles (6-1)

Last Week’s Rank: 1

QB Carson Wentz was terrific Monday night against the Redskins and is becoming very prominent in the race for the NFL’s MVP award. It wasn’t only his passing, it was his ability to escape the Washington pass rush and make something out of nothing. That could serve him well for the remainder of the season with Monday’s loss of left tackle Jason Peters to an injured right knee, a huge blow that plays a part in the Patriots overtaking the Eagles for the top spot. How to replace Peters will be a major issue going forward. Will Lane Johnson be moved from right to left tackle?

3. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2)

Last Week’s Rank: 3

WR Martavis Bryant reportedly wants out of Pittsburgh and the Steelers should accommodate him. If Bryant can’t keep his discontent in check after the performance of Pittsburgh’s offense on Sunday, then both sides are better off with a parting of ways. The emergence of rookie WR JuJu Smith-Schuster makes Bryant’s presence unnecessary, anyway.

4. Seattle Seahawks (4-2)

Last Week’s Rank: 5

There was plenty of turmoil Sunday for the Seahawks, including the sideline spat between WR Doug Baldwin and offensive line coach Tom Cable. But Coach Pete Carroll doesn’t seem to mind, and the Seahawks, even with their flawed performance on offense against the Giants, emerged with a victory.

5. Los Angeles Rams (5-2)

Last Week’s Rank: 6

It might be time to take the Rams seriously as a contender right here, right now, this season. That’s way ahead of schedule. It would be enough for Coach Sean McVay merely to have things headed in the right direction with QB Jared Goff and the rest of the team. But with no superpowers or complete teams in the NFC, maybe McVay can accomplish even more in Year 1.

6. Minnesota Vikings (5-2)

Last Week’s Rank: 7

Can the Vikings be a contender with Case Keenum at QB? Apparently so, at least in this version of the NFC North and the NFC as a whole. The big day by RB Latavius Murray against the Ravens points to some good work being done by an offensive line that did the same for rookie Dalvin Cook before his injury.

7. Kansas City Chiefs (5-2)

Last Week’s Rank: 4

The 5-0 beginning has given way to losses to the Steelers and Raiders. The defense failed to come through in crunchtime Thursday night in Oakland. This remains a very good team. But the Chiefs are no longer the Super Bowl favorite in the AFC. They probably never were, realistically, even when their record suggested they might be.

8. New Orleans Saints (4-2)

Last Week’s Rank: 12

First-place Saints? Who knew? Of course, facing Brett Hundley in Green Bay instead of Aaron Rodgers helps just a little bit.

9. Buffalo Bills (4-2)

Last Week’s Rank: 14

The Bills continue to surprise, rebounding from a pre-bye loss to the Bengals to beat the Buccaneers on Sunday. They host the Raiders this weekend in a matchup of two teams attempting to remain in the playoff contender conversation.

10. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-3)

Last Week’s Rank: 17

The young defense is a sight to see on its dominating days. Two 10-sack performances in the same season is ridiculous. If QB Blake Bortles can stay out of the way and permit the defense to win games - which, granted, is a mighty big “if” - the Jaguars have a reasonable chance to win the AFC South.

11. Miami Dolphins (4-2)

Last Week’s Rank: 18

All of those proclaiming that the Dolphins are better off with Matt Moore at QB in place of Jay Cutler should slow down just a little bit. Adam Gase is a very good coach and he knows what he’s doing, particularly when it comes to QBs. If he wanted Cutler over Moore, give him the benefit of the doubt. Moore is a very good backup but he’s a backup for a reason. Still, he’s plenty good enough for the Dolphins to get by with him starting for short stretches.

12. Houston Texans (3-3)

Last Week’s Rank: 11

The Texans returned from their bye and welcomed back left tackle Duane Brown, who ended his holdout. He was desperately needed and it should surprise no one if he’s in the lineup Sunday at Seattle.

13. Washington Redskins (3-3)

Last Week’s Rank: 10

The loss in Philadelphia on Monday night was bad enough, in that the Redskins have been swept by the Eagles this season. The state of the offensive line, with the injuries to Brandon Scherff and Trent Williams, could be even worse.

14. Dallas Cowboys (3-3)

Last Week’s Rank: 24

RB Ezekiel Elliott remains eligible to play against the Redskins on Sunday at FedEx Field. But the ongoing courtroom maneuvering in his case could result in his suspension being enforced at any point, so the Cowboys had better take advantage of Elliott’s presence while he’s available.

15. Tennessee Titans (4-3)

Last Week’s Rank: 25

Requiring OT to beat the Browns should count as only half a win.

16. Chicago Bears (3-4)

Last Week’s Rank: 22

The Bears won a game in which rookie QB Mitchell Trubisky completed just four passes. It’s a great way to win if you can pull it off. At some point, however, the Bears will need more production from Trubisky if they’re going to keep it up.

17. Los Angeles Chargers (3-4)

Last Week’s Rank: 26

The Chargers have followed their 0-4 start with three straight wins. Their early on-field struggles were overshadowed by their lack of fan support in L.A. But some thought going into the season that this would be a good team. The Chargers might be finally getting around to justifying that optimism about their level of play.

18. Oakland Raiders (3-4)

Last Week’s Rank: 29

The win over the Chiefs on Thursday night saved the Raiders’ season. It was a stirring victory and a good start for the NFL in trying to return the focus to the football being played on the field. But the Raiders had considerable help. Their first TD should have been negated by offensive pass interference and a first-half turnover generated by the Chiefs was nullified by a phantom call. The suspension of RB Marshawn Lynch won’t hurt much, given his lack of production.

19. Carolina Panthers (4-3)

Last Week’s Rank: 8

Just when it seemed like time to believe in the Panthers, things have come undone after losses to the Eagles and Bears. The defeat in Chicago was particularly galling, especially given the manner in which Carolina controlled the game. Mistakes by QB Cam Newton have been costly but the struggles of the offensive line and the lack of production by the running backs have factored into that.

20. Denver Broncos (3-3)

Last Week’s Rank: 9

Opposing defenses have decided to take away the running game and force Broncos QB Trevor Siemian to try to beat them. He can’t do it.

21. Detroit Lions (3-3)

Last Week’s Rank: 20

The Lions return from their bye to play a difficult game Sunday night at home against the Steelers. They cannot afford too many more missteps as they chase both the Vikings and Packers in the NFC North.

22. New York Jets (3-4)

Last Week’s Rank: 15

A healthy lead against the Dolphins disappeared on Sunday and the Jets fell below .500. Still, Coach Todd Bowles deserves plenty of credit for the job that he has done keeping this team competitive. The roster simply is not very good, but the accusations that the Jets were tanking the season may have been overstated. Still, they weren’t based on nothing.

23. Atlanta Falcons (3-3)

Last Week’s Rank: 19

The Falcons talked a good game when it came to putting their Super Bowl defeat behind them. In truth, there was no way to put THAT Super Bowl defeat behind them quickly or easily. They were overmatched Sunday night at New England and they’ve been outscored by the Patriots, 54-7, since taking that 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl. The offense misses Kyle Shanahan, despite his play-calling role in the Super Bowl meltdown.

24. Green Bay Packers (4-3)

Last Week’s Rank: 16

About those three years that Coach Mike McCarthy said he had invested in Brett Hundley as a backup QB? McCarthy might not want to keep mentioning that if Hundley continues having 87-yard passing performances. It makes you wonder what he was doing during all that time.

25. Cincinnati Bengals (2-4)

Last Week’s Rank: 13

LB Vontaze Burfict won’t be suspended but could be fined by the league after appearing to kick a Steelers player in a pileup on the Bengals’ second defensive play Sunday. If Burfict can’t keep his emotions in check even after he began the season serving a three-game suspension, there’s a serious issue.

26. Arizona Cardinals (3-4)

Last Week’s Rank: 21

Is it even worth mentioning any longer when an NFL team would benefit from signing Colin Kaepernick? Perhaps not. But so what: The Cardinals would benefit from signing Colin Kaepernick.

27. Baltimore Ravens (3-4)

Last Week’s Rank: 23

Another season is slipping away. This would be three straight seasons out of the playoffs after Coach John Harbaugh got there in six of his first seven seasons.

28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4)

Last Week’s Rank: 27

This is really disappointing for a team that was supposed to have turned the corner by now and become both a winner and a contender.

29. New York Giants (1-6)

Last Week’s Rank: 28

So maybe the play-calling switch from Coach Ben McAdoo to offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan couldn’t fix everything, huh? Oh, well. It did produce one victory and it made things interesting for another week. The Giants aren’t going to get things fixed this season and now it’s all about the futures of GM Jerry Reese, McAdoo and QB Eli Manning with the organization.

30. Indianapolis Colts (2-5)

Last Week’s Rank: 30

Would it be fair for the Colts to fire Chuck Pagano as their coach with Andrew Luck not playing? That’s debatable. It’s not like Pagano is being judged solely on this season’s results. But it really doesn’t matter either way. This team, as presently constituted, is not going to be very good no matter who is coaching it, and it is becoming less and less likely that Luck comes back this season.

31. San Francisco 49ers (0-7)

Last Week’s Rank: 31

Coach Kyle Shanahan had managed to keep the Niners mostly competitive during the 0-6 start. That changed with defeat No. 7, Sunday’s lopsided loss to the Cowboys.

32. Cleveland Browns (0-7)

Last Week’s Rank: 32

The Browns deserve every bit of the ridicule they receive. They have become a subcaliber franchise and their QB follies are laughable. But take a moment to appreciate the reliably consistent excellence of offensive tackle Joe Thomas, with the season-ending triceps injury that befell him Sunday after hadn’t missed a single snap in his entire NFL career. He is professionalism personified and he will be in the Hall of Fame someday.


►  NFL expects Colin Kaepernick to be invited to next week’s meeting with players

The NFL expects to meet with representatives of its players again early next week and expects that the players will invite Colin Kaepernick to that meeting, a league spokesman said Wednesday.

Joe Lockhart, the NFL’s executive vice president of communications and public affairs, said in a conference call with reporters he does not know whether Kaepernick plans to attend the meeting.

“I expect he will be invited to this meeting,“ Lockhart said. “We look forward to him joining the conversation.“

The meeting will be part of the ongoing dialogue between the league, owners of teams, players and the NFL Players Association about support by the league and owners for players’ community activism endeavors.

Representatives of players and owners met on Tuesday of last week at the NFL’s offices in New York. The owners held their regularly scheduled fall meeting later that day and last Wednesday at a Manhattan hotel, and emerged without a requirement for players to stand for the national anthem before games. The NFL has been under intense pressure from the White House and some fans to require players to do so.

Instead, owners and NFL officials spoke of cooperating with the players to provide a platform for the players’ social activism. Owners said they hope that players voluntarily will stand for the anthem, although they added there was no stated or implied agreement with the players that supporting their activism would lead to all players standing. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and some owners reiterated their belief that players should stand for the anthem.

Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said after the players’ meeting with the owners last week that Kaepernick had been invited to participate.

“He was invited, actually,“ Jenkins said. “He was invited.“

Asked why Kaepernick didn’t attend, Jenkins said then: “I don’t know. I can’t answer that question.“

Kaepernick’s legal representatives issued a written statement later that day saying that Kaepernick had been asked by players to attend but had received no formal invitation from the league. They left open the possibility of Kaepernick participating in future meetings.

League officials have said it is up to the players to decide who will attend the meetings on their side.

Kaepernick began the players’ protest movement last season, while with the San Francisco 49ers, by refusing to stand for the anthem before games to bring attention to racial inequality in the U.S. He has not been signed since opting out of his contract with the 49ers following last season. He has filed a grievance accusing NFL teams of colluding against him.

Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett said after his team’s victory over the New York Giants on Sunday in East Rutherford, N.J., that Kaepernick’s unemployment should be discussed at the next meeting with the owners.

“I think we should go meet and talk about that issue and talk about the other issues and bring it up,“ Bennett said Sunday. “I don’t really care for the word owner. But I like the word employer. So when you get a chance to talk to your employer and get the opportunity to bring up what you want to make a change in, I think one of the changes should be bringing Kaepernick in.“

Bennett said he has remained in touch with Kaepernick on a weekly basis and wants to see Kaepernick signed by an NFL team.

“I’m hoping he has an opportunity to play,“ Bennett said. “Obviously I believe that he’s had an impact in the country. You see what he started, taking a knee, and how he’s affected the communities from young children to even older Americans and finding a way to have an impact. I believe that if this conversation is happening with the commissioner and happening with our employers, his job situation should be brought up and it should have some kind of resolution.“

Bennett was among a group of eight Seahawks players in uniform who sat on the bench on the team’s sideline during the anthem Sunday. He said the status of Kaepernick is not the only issue of concern for the players.

“It’s always been broader than that,“ Bennett said. “It’s always been about justice and discrimination in America, police brutality, women’s rights, all these different issues – clean water; Flint, Michigan – issues that are pertaining to America that we all need to pay attention to because it’s not that it happens to one of us that [makes it] important. It’s important every single day regardless of what we’ve got going on.“

Sports News

The Free Press WV

►  NFL Power Rankings: It’s Chiefs and then Packers . . . and then what?

Each week, national NFL writer Mark Maske will provide his ranking of the league’s 32 teams. This week, Kansas City holds on to the top spot after maintaining the league’s only unbeaten mark with a convincing Sunday night win over the Texans in Houston. Nipping at the Chiefs’ heels are the Green Bay Packers, who broke more Dallas Cowboys hearts thanks to another sensational last-minute comeback authored by Aaron Rodgers. Things get a little muddy thereafter, with plenty of solid squads filling out the top 10.

1. Kansas City Chiefs (5-0) / Last Week’s Rank: 1

The Chiefs are quite simply the league’s best team. The offense has been next to unstoppable while the defense has been more than adequate, even if it permitted Deshaun Watson to post some impressive numbers Sunday night. Get used to the idea of Alex Smith as an MVP candidate. Does Smith’s excellence this season complicate the Chiefs’ long-term plan to move on to Patrick Mahomes at QB? That’s an issue for another day.

2. Green Bay Packers (4-1) / Last Week’s Rank: 2

Aaron Rodgers did it to the Cowboys again. Was there any doubt when he took the field Sunday for that final drive that he would guide the Packers to at least a tying FG attempt? He and the Packers got the winning TD, however, and they continue to pile up victories as some of their injured offensive contributors begin to return. Rookie RB Aaron Jones looks capable of helping out considerably.

3. Philadelphia Eagles (4-1) / Last Week’s Rank: 5

The toughest part of the Eagles’ schedule is still to come. That is undeniable, and it begins with Thursday night’s game at Carolina. But win or lose against the Panthers, the Eagles have shown enough to prove they should have staying power. Carson Wentz is legitimate, making the Eagles a factor in the division chase all season.

4. Denver Broncos (3-1) / Last Week’s Rank: 4

The Broncos return from the bye with a favorable matchup Sunday night against the Giants, who are winless and basically out of wide receivers. If they can beat the Giants and then the one-win Chargers, the Broncos would take a 5-1 record into an October 30 showdown with the Chiefs in Kansas City on “Monday Night Football.“

5. Carolina Panthers (4-1) / Last Week’s Rank: 8

QB Cam Newton has completed 48 of 62 passes for 671 yards with six TDs and one interception in his past two games. His return from shoulder surgery was gradual but now he has emerged as an accurate pocket passer who clearly has changed his game, with a relatively modest 90 rushing yards this season. Newton was criticized last week, and rightfully so, after his sexist remark for which he later apologized. But things are going extremely well on the field, and if this continues he will be an MVP candidate again and the Panthers will be Super Bowl contenders once more.

6. New England Patriots (3-2) / Last Week’s Rank: 9

The defense was better, but still far from perfect in Thursday night’s win at Tampa. The offense struggled without TE Rob Gronkowski, managing only one TD. The Patriots prevailed only because of three missed FGs by now-former Bucs kicker Nick Folk and Jameis Winston’s last-second incompletion at the goal line. But there’s no sense worrying about lost style points, and now the Patriots have a chance to get a winning streak going when they visit the Meadowlands on Sunday to face the Jets.

7. Seattle Seahawks (3-2) / Last Week’s Rank: 13

It could have been a passing-of-the-torch day in the NFC West. Instead, the Seahawks beat the Rams in L.A. in a game with unusual significance for early October. The Seahawks remain the team to beat in the division, and the future perhaps is not quite now for the Rams.

8. Atlanta Falcons (3-1) / Last Week’s Rank: 11

The Falcons return from their bye with, they hope, WR Julio Jones ready to play Sunday without missing any games due to his hip injury. The playing status of pass rusher Vic Beasley, out since Week 2 because of a hamstring injury, is to be determined as the week progresses.

9. Detroit Lions (3-2) / Last Week’s Rank: 6

The Lions are good but perhaps not quite good enough to match up with the NFC’s best teams, as narrow losses to the Falcons and Panthers demonstrate. Now QB Matthew Stafford is dealing with hamstring and ankle injuries heading into Sunday’s game at New Orleans.

10. Los Angeles Rams (3-2) / Last Week’s Rank: 7

The Rams had their chances against the Seahawks but couldn’t deliver. They’ve still become competitive ahead of schedule. Overtaking the Seahawks so soon was a lofty ambition.

11. Baltimore Ravens (3-2) / Last Week’s Rank: 24

The Ravens ran into the Raiders at a good time, with Derek Carr sidelined. Still, it badly needed a solid performance after lopsided losses to the Jaguars and Steelers.

12. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-2) / Last Week’s Rank: 22

The good version of the Jaguars showed up Sunday in Pittsburgh. They can’t actually play well two weekends in a row, can they?

13. Cincinnati Bengals (2-3) / Last Week’s Rank: 25

The 0-3 start has been followed by wins over the Browns and Bills, so the Bengals can rest a little easier on their bye week. All is not well yet. But their season at least has possibilities again.

14. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2) / Last Week’s Rank: 3

That unraveled quickly, didn’t it? The Steelers went from celebrating a big win in Baltimore with a breakout performance by RB Le’Veon Bell to lamenting a lopsided defeat to the Jaguars with QB Ben Roethlisberger throwing five interceptions and then questioning whether he still has it. Is Roethlisberger done? Probably not. But it’s never a good sign for a player to be even wondering that.

15. Buffalo Bills (3-2) / Last Week’s Rank: 10

No, the Bills are not for real, at least not in terms of being an honest-to-goodness contender. Their loss to the Bengals demonstrated that pretty clearly. The offense simply isn’t good enough. But that doesn’t diminish the very good job being done by their first-year coach, Sean McDermott, in simply having them competitive and above .500.

16. Minnesota Vikings (3-2) / Last Week’s Rank: 17

Sam Bradford quite simply should not have been on the field Monday night. His knee clearly was not ready for him to return to the lineup. Case Keenum should have gotten the start. The in-game switch to Keenum was the obvious move and it resulted in the Vikings’ victory over the Bears.

17. Washington Redskins (2-2) / Last Week’s Rank: 16

The Redskins return from their bye week feeling relatively good, and rightfully so, about how they’ve played. They appear to be the main challenger to the Eagles in the NFC East. Who would have predicted that two-team race? The Redskins have the winless Niners coming to FedEx Field this weekend but cannot afford to be complacent, particularly with CB Josh Norman out of the lineup. His absence will be felt.

18. New York Jets (3-2) / Last Week’s Rank: 19

The Jets are competent, but don’t get carried away. A win over the Browns means next to nothing. And there could be a reality check when the Patriots show up across the field Sunday at the Meadowlands.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-2) / Last Week’s Rank: 12

Maybe it’s time to do something dramatic, such as use a second-round draft pick on a kicker. In the meantime, Patrick Murray takes over for Nick Folk and tries to bring some stability to what is beginning to seem like a cursed position for this organization.

20. Houston Texans (2-3) / Last Week’s Rank: 14

Rookie QB Deshaun Watson continues to dazzle, but the Houston defense simply had no answers for the Chiefs. The Texans led the league in total defense last season even without J.J. Watt, but now that defense is in disarray and is without Watt again. Watt pushed his body to the brink for so long while becoming a three-time NFL defensive player of the year. But that approach clearly took its toll, and now it is fair to wonder if Watt’s days of playing at that level are done.

21. Indianapolis Colts (2-3) / Last Week’s Rank: 27

So much for what could have been a pretty pleasant day for the Colts, with the ceremony honoring Peyton Manning followed by Adam Vinatieri’s game-winning FG in OT against the 49ers. Instead, the day was all about Pence’s early exit.

22. Miami Dolphins (2-2) / Last Week’s Rank: 29

The Dolphins had little time to savor their win over the Titans, needing to deal with that video of offensive line coach Chris Foerster ingesting a powdery substance. Foerster resigned Monday, and the organization must move on from that episode while players come to terms with a new policy requiring them to stand for the national anthem if they’re on the sideline or opt to remain in the locker room or tunnel.

23. New Orleans Saints (2-2) / Last Week’s Rank: 20

The Saints emerge from their bye on a two-game winning streak but with a pair of difficult games, Sunday at home against the Lions and then at Green Bay a week later.

24. Dallas Cowboys (2-3) / Last Week’s Rank: 15

The Cowboys are below .500 and two games behind the Eagles in the NFC East heading into their bye week. They also could lose RB Ezekiel Elliott at any time if a federal appeals court lifts the injunction that is keeping his six-game suspension on hold. This is not at all how things were supposed to be going, is it? In retrospect, the Cowboys needed to take more time off the clock before scoring their late go-ahead TD Sunday – they know as well as anyone by now that you simply cannot give Aaron Rodgers that much time to beat you. He will.

25. Oakland Raiders (2-3) / Last Week’s Rank: 18

The Raiders say they expect QB Derek Carr to return after missing only one game due to a transverse process fracture in his back. That’s good. They certainly need him. Losing at home to a team that was struggling like the Ravens is not what a top contender should be doing. There is plenty of reason to question if the Raiders are as good as was advertised entering the season.

26. Tennessee Titans (2-3) / Last Week’s Rank: 21

Good thing the Titans had that rock-solid, no-need-to-do-anything-else backup-QB situation, huh? Otherwise they might have had to make a call to Colin Kaepernick.

27. Los Angeles Chargers (1-4) / Last Week’s Rank: 30

The Chargers went on the road to beat the Giants for their first victory of the season. But after playing in front of opposing teams’ fans at StubHub Center, does it even make a difference where they play?

28. Arizona Cardinals (2-3) / Last Week’s Rank: 23

When the Cardinals are bad, they’re really bad. Their three losses have come by a combined 50 points. And those poor outings are happening far too often these days.

29. Chicago Bears (1-4) / Last Week’s Rank: 28

Rookie QB Mitchell Trubisky had some good moments Monday night in his first NFL start. One of them was not the late interception that he threw to set up the Vikings’ winning FG. No one should have expected any miracles right away. This will be a long process with ups and downs. But Trubisky provided enough glimpses of his talent to believe he just might get there eventually.

30. New York Giants (0-5) / Last Week’s Rank: 26

The season is as done as it gets. The Giants are winless. Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall are out for the remainder of the season as part of a severe shortage of WRs. It’s amazing that it has come to this. But now thoughts turn to the fallout. Will Coach Ben McAdoo’s job be safe? And would the Giants use a top draft pick on a QB even if Eli Manning isn’t ready to retire? The answers here are yes and maybe.

31. San Francisco 49ers (0-5) / Last Week’s Rank: 31

Politics aside, the Niners lost another game they had a chance to win. They’re not Browns-level bad, based on the eye test. But their record says that they are.

32. Cleveland Browns (0-5) / Last Week’s Rank: 32

Carson Wentz is in Philly. Deshaun Watson is in Houston. And now the Browns are left wondering if Kevin Hogan possibly can be the answer at QB, if indeed they’re ready to be done wondering that about DeShone Kizer. The answer: Probably not. These are, after all, the Browns.


►  MEC: Women’s Tennis: Tadic Named Player Of The Week

West Virginia State’s Nika Tadic has been named Mountain East Conference Player of the Week.

Tadic, a freshman from Split, Croatia, came up with several key victories over the week as the Yellow Jackets won a pair of 5-4 matches and took another step towards a fifth-straight Mountain East Conference regular season title. In the win over Charleston, she teamed with Kayla McKnight to win a narrow 9-7 decision at No. 3 doubles, and later picked up a win at No. 6 singles. Against West Liberty, she moved up to No. 5 singles and rallied from a set down to win her mach against the Hilltoppers. She closed out the week with a win at No. 5 singles against Notre Dame College.


►  MEC: Concord Sweeps Cross Country Honors

Concord’s Justin Snyder and teammate Sydney Haynes have earned Mountain East Conference Runner of the Week honors for their efforts on the cross country course last week.

Snyder, a senior from Princeton, WV, earns the honor for the third time this season after his first place finish at the Concord Alumni Invitational. He covered the 8,000-meter course with a time of 26:52 to claim his second individual victory of the season.

Haynes, a freshman from Cana, Va., also had a first place finish at the Concord Invitational. She stopped the clock with a time of 19:29 on the 5,000-meter course.


►  MEC: Hill Earns Volleyball Honor

Shepherd’s Cambriea Hill has been named Mountain East Conference Player of the Week after for her efforts last week.
Hill, a sophomore from Columbia, Md., led the Rams to a 3-0 record in conference play last week. She opened the week with 18 kills, 21 digs and four aces in a five-set win over Fairmont State. After recording 15 kills in a win over Notre Dame, she tallied 16 kills and 10 digs in the victory against Urbana. She averaged 4.1 kills per set and 2.9 digs per set.


►  ESPN suspends Jemele Hill after tweet about Cowboys owner Jerry Jones

ESPN suspended “SportsCenter” anchor Jemele Hill for two weeks on Monday, the network announced, after Hill violated the company’s social media guidelines over the weekend. Hill suggested NFL fans boycott vendors and advertisers associated with the Dallas Cowboys after franchise owner Jerry Jones told players they’d be benched if they demonstrated during the national anthem.

Hill had previously run afoul of network executives in September after she tweeted Donald Trump was a “white supremacist.“ White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the remarks “a fireable offense” days later during a press briefing.

ESPN at the time warned Hill her remarks were in violation of the company’s policy, but declined to punish her after other anchors threatened not to appear on “SportsCenter” without her. Hill hosts the 6 p.m. hour of the show with Michael Smith.

Over the weekend, Hill made her boycott suggestion on Twitter:

“This play always work. Change happens when advertisers are impacted. If you feel strongly about JJ’s statement, boycott his advertisers.“

- Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) October 09, 2017

“Or, how about not patronizing the advertisers who support the Cowboys? You can watch and do that, right?“

- Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) October 09, 2017

ESPN’s statement called Hill’s previous tweet, presumably about Trump, “impulsive” and said her subsequent apology for it acknowledged she was “letting her colleagues and the company down.“

The network in September claimed Hill’s tweets appeared as though she was speaking on behalf of ESPN. But Hill stood by her tweets, which included one that read, “Trump is the most ignorant, offensive president of my lifetime. His rise is a direct result of white supremacy. Period.“

She said in statement afterward that she regretted her words “painted ESPN in an unfair light.“

Trump demanded an apology from ESPN for what he called “untruths.“

His administration has also taken the NFL on as players have demonstrated during the national anthem in recent weeks. On Sunday, Mike Pence attended an Indianapolis Colts game, but left after “The Star-Spangled Banner” when players from the San Francisco 49ers knelt during the anthem.

Hill joined ESPN in 2006 as a national columnist and made television appearances on “SportsCenter,“ “First Take,“ “Around the Horn” and “Outside the Lines.“ She has been active covering the intersection of sports and race for ESPN. She hosted a town hall meeting with then-President Barack Obama in July 2016 about race relations, policing and racial equality.

She began hosting her own hour of “SportsCenter” in February.

ESPN has a history of harsh punishments for staffers who cross the NFL. The network suspended then fired columnist and TV personality Bill Simmons in 2017 after intense criticism of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

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