Fri Dec 14 10:44am ET
By BARRY WILNER
AP Pro Football Writer
In this Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018 file photo, Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Fred Brown fumbles between New Orleans Saints defensive back Marcus Williams (25) and linebacker Nate Stupar (54) as he is tackled by New Orleans Saints cornerback Kam Moore in the second half of an NFL preseason football game in New Orleans. The NFC is a two-team race between the Saints and Rams, who met in a high-scoring affair won by host New Orleans in early November. Both are 11-2, making their final three weeks critical in that race.(AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)
In this Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018 file photo, Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel watches play against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the first half of an NFL football game in Nashville, Tenn. Titans coach Mike Vrabel is trying to ignore any playoff chatter as his team heads to the Meadowlands to face the Giants, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2019.(AP Photo/James Kenney, File)
Forget Carrie Underwood. Well, don't forget her, she's terrific.
But the NFL's theme song these days belongs to Maren Morris, Zedd and Grey. You know, ''Meet Me In The Middle.''
That's where a bevy of NFL teams sat through Week 14 - all with shots, both reasonable and long, at making the playoffs.
Take a deep breath and consider:
-Seattle and Dallas at 8-5.
-Pittsburgh at 7-5-1.
-Indianapolis, Baltimore, Tennessee and Miami at 7-6.
-Minnesota at 6-6-1.
-Philadelphia, Carolina, Denver and Washington at 6-7.
-Green Bay and Cleveland at 5-7-1.
And, yes, Tampa Bay, Detroit, Cincinnati and the New York Giants at 5-8.
All are alive for the postseason.
Even Atlanta, at 4-9, if you can imagine, isn't eliminated.
Just what the league loves heading toward Christmas: charity for nearly all.
So let first-year Titans coach Mike Vrabel play the Grinch, trying to ignore any playoff chatter as his team heads to the Meadowlands to face the Giants.
''We haven't talked much. We try to eliminate all the scenarios,'' he says. ''The only scenario that we try to focus on is our preparation right now as we head into a road game against the Giants.
''You could talk about scenarios all day. There's scenarios where the Dolphins give up two punt blocks and score on a 70-yard hook-and-ladder; a scenario where a player jumps offside on a third-and-1 in a four-minute situation; a situation where a team executes a 50-yard hook-and-ladder and then the kicker slips. Those are all the scenarios that are crazy that happen in this league every week, so the one we're going to try to focus on is our preparation versus the Giants.''
Fair enough, because all of the playoff-qualifying scenarios for this week are enough to spark a migraine.
The questions that should be raised are:
-Is all of this competitive balance or simply mediocrity? Oasis or swamp?
-Is it good for the NFL that such spiraling messes as the Falcons and Bengals remain in the running?
-Do people really want to see a .500 (or worse) team playing in January, perhaps against a 14-2 opponent?
LEVEL OF PERFORMANCE
Nearly all the teams in the middle of the standings belong there. It's fair to point out that the Redskins, Bengals and Falcons have been severely damaged by injuries - hey, Cincinnati was once 4-1 and Washington held the top spot in the NFC East until its current four-game slide.
Still, there's a flawed bunch of ''contenders'' for the playoffs. They are profiting because they are keeping company with equally blemished clubs.
All of them have had impressive stretches and pretty much unwatchable ones, though Seattle and Dallas probably don't deserve to be lumped with the stragglers because they seem to be legitimate threats to do something in January.
What's missing with the others is the consistency that the top teams possess. Look at the Colts, who went from 1-1 to 1-5, then won five in a row, only to get blanked at lowly Jacksonville before going to Houston, the league's hottest team, and winning.
Do fans in Atlanta and Cincinnati and Washington envision any sort of turnaround in the final three games that would lift those teams into the postseason? Do those clubs' front offices?
They shouldn't, even as the NFL boasts that 26 teams still have a shot at the Super Bowl.
One likely good thing about such deficient teams being in the running in mid-December is that it should cool talk of expanding the playoff field - something that virtually would guarantee impostors getting in.
Once in a while, a team scrapes into the postseason and catches fire. Wild-carders have won the Super Bowl often enough to keep that dream alive once you get in.
But should, say, a 7-8-1 Packers or 8-8 Lions sneak in, does that make for must-watch TV in the playoffs? Is a game with 8-8 Miami at 12-4 Houston enticing?
What is nice about the chase in December is the intrigue of seedings. The general feeling in the AFC is that avoiding a trip to Foxborough in January is necessary. So, the other division winners not only want and likely need to win their games, they're hoping the Patriots, currently seeded second, don't win out. Kansas City tops the conference right now, but barely.
The NFC is a two-team race for the top spot between the Saints and Rams, who met in a high-scoring affair won by host New Orleans in early November. Both are 11-2, making their final three weeks critical in that race.
And then they have the prospect of sitting out wild-card weekend while a team or two emerging from the quagmire stokes up its fan base before probably getting routed.
The San Francisco 49ers agreed to terms on a three-year, $8.7 million deal with running back Raheem Mostert on Saturday, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. The deal will include $3 million guaranteed. Mostert spent the last two years with San Fran, compiling 40 rushing attempts, 291 yards and a touchdown in 20 games. He'll be buried on the depth chart behind Jerick McKinnon, Matt Breida and newly-signed Tevin Coleman, so Mostert is unlikely to have any fantasy value.
The Tennessee Titans released quarterback Blaine Gabbert after they traded for Ryan Tannehill on Friday. Gabbert's only season in Tennessee in 2018 saw him make three starts while filling in for an injured Marcus Mariota. Gabbert spent 2017 with the Cardinals, three in San Francisco before that and three years in Jacksonville after being drafted 10th overall in 2010. He'll only attract backup work on the open market.
The Jacksonville Jaguars signed free-agent wide receiver Chris Conley to an undisclosed deal on Saturday, according to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo. The team also signed offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi and linebacker Jake Ryan. Conley spent the first four years of his career with the Chiefs and started 34 of 53 games while catching 104 passes for 1,238 yards and six touchdowns. The 26-year-old will likely compete for a role with the Jags and won't be fantasy relevant.
The Atlanta Falcons agreed to terms on an undisclosed one-year deal with free-agent tight end Logan Paulsen on Saturday. Paulsen returns to Atlanta, where he had only nine catches for 91 yards and one touchdown in 15 games in his first season with the Falcons last year. He should not be on anyone's fantasy radar as mostly a blocking tight end behind pass-catcher Austin Hooper and Luke Stocker.
The Cincinnati Bengals re-signed tight end Tyler Eifert to an undisclosed one-year deal on Saturday, a source told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. The 28-year-old former first-rounder has been hurt by injuries over the course of his six-year career in the NFL and has played in more than eight games in just two seasons. He missed the final 12 games in 2018 with a broken ankle, although he's expected to be ready for organized team activities this spring. Eifert played in only 14 games since his Pro Bowl season in 2015, and fantasy owners are now staying away from him altogether most likely. With C.J. Uzomah also re-signing, Eifert will have to prove to both the Bengals and fantasy owners that he can stay on the field.
The Washington Redskins are expected to sign free-agent cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to an undisclosed deal, a source informed of the situation told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. DRC announced his retirement just five months ago but has decided to give it another go. He'll be reunited with former Giants teammate Landon Collins, so signed a six-year deal this week. Rodgers-Cromartie will turn 33 on April 7, and it's fair to wonder how much he has left physically. He has plenty of experience and is expected to offer cornerback depth on a team that also has Josh Norman.
The Oakland Raiders signed free-agent wide receiver J.J. Nelson to an undisclosed deal on Friday. Nelson spent the last four seasons with the Cardinals and caught 81 passes for 1,439 yards in 56 career games. The former fifth-rounder had his worst season in 2018, though, catching just seven passes for 64 yards and no scores in 14 games in Arizona's inept offense. The speedster does boast 17.8 yards per catch in his career and will provide another deep threat in Oakland alongside Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams after the team released veteran Jordy Nelson.
The Tennessee Titans acquired quarterback Ryan Tannehill from the Miami Dolphins on Friday and signed him to a one-year deal worth $7 million guaranteed and worth up to $12 million with incentives. The Dolphins will receive a seventh-round pick in this year's draft and a 2020 fourth-round pick in exchange. Tennessee will also get a 2019 sixth-rounder. Tannehill, a former eighth overall pick in 2012, never lived up to his draft status while going 42-46 over six seasons in Miami. He has a career 62.8 completion percentage and an 87 passer rating and will have zero fantasy appeal as Marcus Mariota's backup in his new digs. The rebuilding Dolphins are likely to look to the draft for their next signal-caller, especially after Teddy Bridgewater elected to re-sign with the Saints this week.
The Denver Broncos re-signed tight end Jeff Heuerman to a two-year deal worth up to $9 million on Friday, a source told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. The former third-round pick in 2015 played in just 11 games due to injury last year and caught a career-high 31 passes for 281 yards and two touchdowns in his third NFL season. Unless the Broncos add to the position in the draft or free agency, Heuerman will likely be the starter at the position. New quarterback Joe Flacco has targeted tight ends often in his career, so Heuerman could be a TE2 deep sleeper this year.
The Cincinnati Bengals signed free-agent offensive guard John Miller to a three-year, $16.5 million deal on Friday, according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero. Miller started 47 games the last four years at right guard with the Bills and will likely be viewed as an upgrade over Alex Redmond at the spot in 2019. Cincy also re-signed right tackle Brian Hart to a three-year deal earlier in the week to shore up their offensive line. Quarterbacks Andy Dalton and Jeff Driskel were sacked a combined 37 times last year.
The Jacksonville Jaguars signed free-agent tight end Geoff Swaim to an undisclosed deal on Friday. Ben Koyack and Pharoah McKever are the only other tight ends on roster as of now, so Swaim could become a big part of the offense in 2019. A seventh-round pick by the Cowboys in 2015, Swaim has 35 career catches for 336 yards and one touchdown in four seasons. He caught a career-high 26 passes for 242 yards and a score last year. Quarterback Nick Foles and offensive coordinator John DeFilippo have leaned on the tight end in the past, but Swaim is still likely to be more of a fantasy afterthought.
The New York Jets signed free-agent kicker Chandler Catanzaro to an undisclosed deal on Friday. Catanzaro spent the 2017 season with Gang Green before spending time with the Panthers and Buccaneers last year. He made a career-low 73 percent of his field-goal tries in 13 games in 2018, including going 2-for-2 from 50-plus yards. He represents a downgrade from Pro Bowler Jason Myers a year ago and can be avoided for fantasy purposes.
Updating an immediate report, Cleveland Browns RB Kareem Hunt will not appeal his eight-game suspension.
The NFL has suspended Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt for eight games for violating its personal conduct policy. Hunt violated the personal conduct policy while he was a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, which led to his release in November. The Browns took a chance on the running back, signing him to a one-year contract in February. While Hunt is suspended, running backs Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson will be asked to lead the backfield, although there have been persistent rumors that the team would like to trade Johnson. When he does return from suspension, Hunt's role in the team's backfield is unclear.
Cleveland Browns RB Kareem Hunt was suspended eight games Friday, March 15, for violating the personal conduct policy, according to a source.
Fantasy Spin: Hunt can still appeal the ruling, but he's gone for 75 percent of the fantasy season in a lot of leagues. You're really going to have to be lucky avoiding the injury bug if you're going to carry him as an RB5 all season. There is obvious risk of rust and obvious reward for the latter part of the season and playoffs. Nick Chubb will be an RB2 or RB3 in Hunt's stead.
Free-agent PK Chandler Catanzaro (Panthers) signed an undisclosed deal with the New York Jets Friday, March 15.
Free-agent DT Steve McLendon re-signed with the New York Jets on Thursday, March 14, agreeing to an undisclosed contract.
Free-agent WR Chris Hogan (Patriots) and his representatives have been in contact with the New York Giants, according to a source.
Free-agent S Eric Berry has reportedly been told he should be able to play through the ankle problems that plagued him in 2018, according to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo.
Free-agent LB Shaquil Barrett (Broncos) visited with the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday, March 14.