2014 DRAFT GUIDE
Patriots at Dolphins opens 3 weeks of showdowns

By JOE KAY - AP Sports Writer
    2013-12-10 14:15

Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Adam ''Pacman'' Jones knows how it goes this time of the season, with so much at stake for so many teams.

Division titles. Wild card berths. Home field advantage. All those wacky games decided in downpours, blizzards and domes have set the stage for deciding the NFL playoff field in the next three weeks. And right now, that field is about as clear as a wintery afternoon in Philadelphia.

Denver, Indianapolis and Seattle are the only teams that have clinched playoff berths with three weeks left.

And the conferences' playoff seeds are still wide open.

''If we just win out, we'll be OK,'' said Jones, whose Bengals are closing in on the AFC North title. ''That's all we've got to do. Win out and let everything else take care of itself.''

Every other contender is saying the same thing. Easy to say, tough to do. Given the league's unpredictable nature, there are going to be a lot of upsets and unforeseen plot twists in the next three weeks.

Six games with extra significance in the closing weeks:

PATRIOTS AT DOLPHINS, Sunday, Dec. 15: New England (10-3) leads the AFC East and currently has the No. 2 seed, a game ahead of Cincinnati (9-3). But the Bengals beat them during the season, so Cincinnati would be No. 2 if they end tied. It'll be New England's first game since losing tight end Rob Gronkowski again, this time to a knee injury. The Patriots went 5-1 without him at the start of the season, but their offense picked up measurably when he returned. Gronkowski had 37 catches for 560 yards in six games, the most by an NFL tight end. They're back to trying to reach the playoffs without him, facing a Miami (7-6) team tied with Baltimore (7-6) for the final wild card slot. The Ravens beat the Dolphins 26-23 on Oct. 6 for the head-to-head tiebreaker.

BEARS AT EAGLES, Sunday, Dec. 22: The game has been flexed to Sunday night because of its significance. Philadelphia (8-5) has won five in a row, including that snowy 34-20 victory over Detroit last Sunday, to take sole possession of first place in the NFC East, a game ahead of Dallas. Chicago's 45-28 win over Dallas on Monday night left the Bears and Lions tied at 7-6 atop the NFC North. Many playoff implications all around in this one.

SAINTS AT PANTHERS, Sunday, Dec.22: The NFC South title could be decided. The Saints (10-3) took a one-game lead with a 31-13 win over the Panthers in New Orleans on Sunday, with Drew Brees throwing for four touchdowns against the NFL's stingiest defense. The Panthers (9-4) are currently in line with San Francisco (9-4) for the two wild card spots.

PATRIOTS AT RAVENS, Sunday, Dec.22: The defending Super Bowl champions have struggled on offense all season, but have managed to hang in there in the playoff chase. The Ravens are 6-1 at home but have a tough closing stretch: at Detroit on Monday night, New England, at Cincinnati. The Patriots also have a tough go, playing at Miami and Baltimore before hosting Buffalo.

49ERS AT CARDINALS, Sunday, Dec. 29: San Francisco (9-4) trails Seattle (11-2) by two games for the NFC West lead, so a wild card seems the more likely route for a team that came up just short in last season's Super Bowl. Arizona (8-5) is a game behind the 49ers and Panthers for the two wild cards. The 49ers play at Tampa Bay and host Atlanta on Monday night before finishing at Arizona. Seattle plays at the Giants before hosting the Cardinals and Rams.

TEXANS AT TITANS, Sunday, Dec. 29: A showdown of sorts - for the top pick in next year's draft. Also, it's open season for coaching changes. Houston started it by firing Gary Kubiak last Friday, a day after the Texans suffered their 11th straight loss. The Texans are at the bottom of the league and the top of the draft list with a 2-11 mark. Washington and Atlanta are a game behind at 3-10, followed by Minnesota at 3-9-1. Houston will have a tough time climbing out of the bottom spot. The Texas finish at Indianapolis, which has clinched the AFC South, and at home against Denver, which leads the AFC, before playing at Tennessee (5-8).

---

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Fantasy Football Player Notes RSS FeedPLAYER NOTES

Pierre ThomasOct 30 07:22p

New Orleans Saints RBs Khiry Robinson (forearm) and Pierre Thomas (shoulder) are both inactive in Week 9 against the Carolina Panthers Thursday, Oct. 30.

David HawthorneOct 30 07:12p

The New Orleans Saints have declared LB Austin Johnson, LB David Hawthorne, C Jonathan Goodwin, RB Khiry Robinson, WR Nick Toon, RB Pierre Thomas, CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste inactive for Week 9.

Amini SilatoluOct 30 07:12p

The Carolina Panthers have declared OG Amini Silatolu, CB Bene Benwikere, OT Byron Bell, RB Fozzy Whittaker, WR Philly Brown, FS Thomas DeCoud, OG Trai Turner inactive for Week 9.

Brandon BrownerOct 30 04:32p

New England Patriots DT Alan Branch (non-injury related) and DE Chandler Jones (hip) did not practice Thursday, Oct. 30. S Nate Ebner (finger), DL Dominique Easley (knee), OL Cameron [ More ]

Brandon ThompsonOct 30 04:22p

Cincinnati Bengals CB Darqueze Dennard (hamstring), LB Rey Maualuga (hamstring) and OG Kevin Zeitler (calf) did not practice Thursday, Oct. 30. DT Domata Peko (toe) and OT Andre Smith [ More ]

Dwight FreeneyOct 30 04:22p

San Diego Chargers LB Manti Te'o (foot), CB Jason Verrett (shoulder) and S Jahleel Addae (concussion) did not practice Thursday, Oct. 30. LB Jeremiah Attaochu (hamstring) was limited. CB [ More ]

Donald BrownOct 30 04:12p

San Diego Chargers RB Donald Brown (concussion) practiced fully Thursday, Oct. 30.

Terrell SuggsOct 30 04:02p

Baltimore Ravens WR Michael Campanaro (thigh), CB Jimmy Smith (foot) and LB Terrell Suggs (neck) all did not participate in practice Thursday, Oct. 30. OG Marshal Yanda (knee) [ More ]

Brett KeiselOct 30 03:52p

Pittsburgh Steelers DE Brett Keisel (non-injury), SS Troy Polamalu (non-injury) and SS Ross Ventrone (hamstring) did not participate in practice Thursday, Oct. 30. CB Ike Taylor (forearm) and FS [ More ]

Bruce CarterOct 30 03:22p

Dallas Cowboys LB Bruce Carter (finger) suffered a broken ring finger during practice Thursday, Oct. 30, but expects to play in Week 9. He will wear a splint on his finger for protection.

Cullen JenkinsOct 30 03:12p

New York Giants DT Cullen Jenkins (calf) did not participate in practice Thursday, Oct. 30. CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (back, hamstring) and P Steve Weatherford (ankle) were both limited in practice.

Brandon BoykinOct 30 03:12p

Philadelphia Eagles FS Nate Allen (hamstring) did not participate in practice Thursday, Oct. 30. TE Brent Celek (back) and WR Brad Smith (groin) were both limited in practice. CB [ More ]

D'Qwell JacksonOct 30 03:12p

Indianapolis Colts LB D'Qwell Jackson (toe), DT Arthur Jones (ankle), LB Erik Walden (quadriceps) and LB Josh McNary (ankle) did not participate in practice Thursday, Oct. 30. CB Vontae [ More ]

Rashad JenningsOct 30 02:42p

New York Giants RB Rashad Jennings (knee) said he is on track in terms of his rehab, but there is no timetable for his return. Jennings said he has [ More ]

Jordan CameronOct 30 02:32p

Cleveland Browns TE Jordan Cameron (concussion) did not participate in practice Thursday, Oct. 30.

Anthony CollinsOct 30 02:32p

Tampa Bay Buccaneers OT Oniel Cousins is working at left tackle with the first-team offense during practice Thursday, Oct. 30, because OT Anthony Collins (foot) is sitting out practice.

Doug MartinOct 30 02:22p

Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Doug Martin (ankle) is not participating in practice Thursday, Oct. 30.

Jason VerrettOct 30 01:52p

San Diego Chargers CB Jason Verrett (shoulder) is expected to miss two to three weeks with a torn labrum, according to two sources.

DeAngelo WilliamsOct 30 01:52p

Carolina Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams (ankle) will start the team's Week 9 game against the New Orleans Saints Thursday, Oct. 30, according to head coach Ron Rivera.

R. Griffin IIIOct 30 01:42p

Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III (ankle) received most of the work with the first-team offense during practice Thursday, Oct. 30, and will start in Week 9 if he [ More ]

Jaylen WatkinsOct 30 01:32p

Philadelphia Eagles SS Earl Wolff, FS Chris Maragos and CB Jaylen Watkins could be options to start at safety if FS Nate Allen (hamstring) is not able to play in Week 9.

Giovani BernardOct 30 01:22p

Cincinnati Bengals RB Giovani Bernard (hip, shoulder) did not participate in practice Thursday, Oct. 30.

Tony RomoOct 30 01:02p

Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo (back) didn't take part in the walk-through Thursday, Oct. 30, and will not practice with the team. However, head coach Jason Garrett remains hopeful [ More ]

Trent RichardsonOct 30 12:42p

Indianapolis Colts RB Trent Richardson (hamstring) is participating in practice Thursday, Oct. 30.

Reggie WayneOct 30 12:42p

Indianapolis Colts WR Reggie Wayne (elbow) is not participating in practice Thursday, Oct. 30.

Tony RomoOct 30 12:22p

Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo's (back) status is making head coach Jason Garrett feel optimistic about his availability for Week 9.

Dallas ThomasOct 30 11:43a

Miami Dolphins OG Dallas Thomas would be the most likely candidate to start at left guard if OG Daryn Colledge (illness) is not able to play in Week 9.

Rashad JenningsOct 30 11:12a

New York Giants RB Rashad Jennings (knee) has been ruled out for Week 9.

Phil BatesOct 30 10:52a

The Cleveland Browns signed free-agent WR Phil Bates (Seahawks) to the practice squad and released CB Marcus Cromartie Thursday, Oct. 30.

Charles SimsOct 30 10:13a

Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Charles Sims could have 10 or more touches in Week 9, in the opinion of beat writer Greg Auman.

Ryan MathewsOct 30 09:52a

San Diego Chargers RB Ryan Mathews (knee) is likely to sit out of the Week 9 game and return after the Week 10 bye.

Dennis PittaOct 30 09:52a

Baltimore Ravens TE Dennis Pitta (hip) may never be able to play football again after two surgeries on a fractured and dislocated hip in as many seasons.

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