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).

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Fantasy Football Player Notes RSS FeedPLAYER NOTES

Lardarius WebbJul 29 10:45a

Baltimore Ravens CB Lardarius Webb (back) missed his third straight day of practice Monday, July 28, and will undergo further testing to determine the extent of the injury, according [ More ]

Jairus ByrdJul 29 10:43a

New Orleans Saints FS Jairus Byrd (back) was activated from the Physically Unable to Perform list.

Alfonso SmithJul 29 10:43a

The San Francisco 49ers signed free-agent RB Alfonso Smith (Cardinals) to an undisclosed deal and waived/injured OT Fou Fonoti (undisclosed).

Eric WinstonJul 29 10:43a

The Seattle Seahawks signed free-agent OT Eric Winston (Cardinals) to a one-year deal.

Kelvin BenjaminJul 29 10:40a

Carolina Panthers WR Kelvin Benjamin (knee) doesn't have a timetable for his return after bruising his left knee, but he is expected to be back in days, not weeks. [ More ]

Josh ThomasJul 29 10:03a

Carolina Panthers CB Josh Thomas (undisclosed) was activated from the Non-Football Injury list and is practicing Tuesday, July 29.

Chris IvoryJul 29 09:53a

New York Jets RB Chris Ivory is likely to be the team's goal line back, according to running backs coach Anthony Lynn.

D'Aundre ReedJul 29 08:53a

The Miami Dolphins signed free-agent TE Brett Brackett (Cardinals), undrafted free-agent QB Seth Lobato (Northern Colorado) and DE D'Aundre Reed. QB Brock Jensen was waived and OG Davonte Wallace (undisclosed) was waived/injured.

Ricky SappJul 29 08:43a

The Houston Texans signed free-agent RB Tim Cornett (Cardinals) and OT Mike Farrell (Broncos) to undisclosed deals. LB Ricky Sapp was waived.

Alan BonnerJul 29 02:23a

Houston Texans WR Alan Bonner (foot) was placed on the Texans' Reserve/Injured list after clearing waivers Monday, July 28.

Brandon JenkinsJul 29 02:13a

OG James Dunbar (Bears), OT Anthony Dima (Texans), OT Jack Breckner (Colts) and LB Brandon Jenkins (Redskins) all cleared waivers Monday, July 28, and are free to sign with any team.

Menelik WatsonJul 29 01:43a

Oakland Raiders OT Menelik Watson is slated to start at right tackle. The coaching staff has confidence in his ability after what was largely viewed as a disappointing 2013 [ More ]

Jimmy ClausenJul 29 12:22a

Chicago Bears QB Jimmy Clausen was accurate with his throws during practice Monday, July 28, and he led a touchdown drive during a two-minute drill. Larry Mayer of ChicagoBears.com [ More ]

Jordan ZumwaltJul 28 11:43p

Pittsburgh Steelers LB Jordan Zumwalt (groin) left practice early Monday, July 28, and WR C.J. Goodwin (shoulder) was held out of drills during practice.

Rod StreaterJul 28 11:33p

Oakland Raiders WR Rod Streater (concussion) is dealing with a concussion, head coach Dennis Allen confirmed Monday, July 28.

Odell Beckham Jr.Jul 28 11:33p

Updating a previous report, New York Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr. (hamstring) is expected to be sidelined at least another week due to his hamstring injury. Beckham was originally [ More ]

Marcus LattimoreJul 28 11:33p

San Francisco 49ers RB Marcus Lattimore (knee) has not been cleared to practice yet due to lingering concerns about his surgically repaired right knee. However, he appears close to joining his teammates.

Chris CantyJul 28 11:33p

Baltimore Ravens DE Chris Canty (family issue) missed practice Monday, July 28. OG Will Rackley (head) and OT Parker Graham (groin) also missed practice.

Alfonso SmithJul 28 11:33p

The San Francisco 49ers are expected to announce the signing of free-agent RB Alfonso Smith (Cardinals) Tuesday, July 29. The team needs healthy reinforcements with RBs Kendall Hunter (knee) [ More ]

Juron CrinerJul 28 11:33p

Oakland Raiders WR Juron Criner (hamstring) has been sidelined from practice due to a hamstring injury, head coach Dennis Allen confirmed Monday, July 28.

Gavin EscobarJul 28 11:23p

Dallas Cowboys TE Gavin Escobar has often lined up out wide during training camp, and offensive play-caller Scott Linehan is experimenting with different ways to get him involved in the offense.

Roy MillerJul 28 10:52p

Jacksonville Jaguars DT Roy Miller (shoulder) returned to practice Monday, July 28, after being given the day off Sunday, July 27, to rest his shoulder that he had surgery on in the offseason.

Cyrus KouandjioJul 28 10:43p

Buffalo Bills OT Cyrus Kouandjio has struggled in training camp, and Joe Buscaglia of 550 Sports Radio believes that OT Erik Pears is now the frontrunner for the starting RT job.

Mario ManninghamJul 28 10:42p

New York Giants WR Mario Manningham (knee) said he is still not 100 percent confident in his surgically repaired knee. 'I'm working on it,' he said of overcoming that [ More ]

John AbrahamJul 28 10:23p

Arizona Cardinals DE John Abraham was detained, questioned and later charged with multiple counts, including DUI, on Sunday, June 29, according to arrest reports in DeKalb County. Abraham missed [ More ]

Anthony DixonJul 28 10:12p

Buffalo Bills RB Anthony Dixon was listed as the No. 3 back on the team's first official depth chart with RB Bryce Brown listed as the No. 4 back.

Scott ChandlerJul 28 10:12p

Buffalo Bills FS Kenny Ladler (hamstring), TE Scott Chandler (groin), TE Tony Moeaki (hamstring) and TE Chris Gragg (cramps) were held out of practice Monday, July 28.

Joe HawleyJul 28 10:02p

Atlanta Falcons C Joe Hawley and C Peter Konz have both been taking reps with the first-team this offseason.

Odell Beckham Jr.Jul 28 09:53p

New York Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr. (hamstring) had tests on his injured hamstring Monday, July 28, and the results were negative, according to two sources briefed on the injury.

Danny AmendolaJul 28 09:43p

New England Patriots WR Danny Amendola has spent the offseason working with trainer Alex Guerrero. Guerrero is also QB Tom Brady's trainer, and he helped WR Julian Edelman prior to last season.

Marlon MooreJul 28 08:42p

The Cleveland Browns signed WR Marlon Moore (Dolphins) Monday, July 28.

Clay HarborJul 28 08:32p

Jacksonville Jaguars TE Clay Harbor (calf) will miss some time with a strained calf, according to John Oehser of Jaguars.com.

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