National Football League
NFL News Wire
  • Texans preaching patience with struggling offense
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, October 28, 2016

    Devoting a considerable amount of time and financial resources into upgrading their offense, the Texans overhauled that unit this offseason.

    • They invested a four-year, $72 million contract in former Denver Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler. They signed former Miami Dolphins running back Lamar Miller to a four-year, $26 million deal. They signed former Kansas City Chiefs offensive guard Jeff Allen to a four-year, $28 million deal and they drafted speedy Notre Dame wide receiver Will Fuller in the first round.

      Although the offense has displayed signs of improvement, especially a running game led by Miller that ranks 12th in the NFL, the passing game, scoring offense and red-zone scoring offense haven't met expectations.

      Texans general manager Rick Smith emphasized the need for patience and perspective as the new personnel learn how to play together.

      "It's interesting you mention there are a lot of new faces," Smith said during a Heads Up Football event at the Houston Methodist Training center. "It takes some time for all of that to come together and certainly the guys are working to do that. I think we've shown flashes, but, again, the consistency is what has to happen for us to be able to play the way we want to be able to play.

      "I think it's important to keep perspective. We've got a lot of young players, particularly on the offensive side of the ball and a lot of guys who haven't played together before. It does take some time for guys to come together and I expect that we will. I think you do that through repetition, you do that by working hard and by having success. I think we're on our way to doing that."

      The Texans rank 29th in total offense, averaging 319.6 yards per contest. They are 30th in passing offense, averaging 204.3 yards per game as Osweiler has a 71.9 passer rating with eight touchdowns and eight interceptions. They are 31st in scoring offense, averaging 16.7 points per game and they are last in red-zone offense.

      The Texans are winless on the road against an elite group -- the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, the Minnesota Vikings and the New England Patriots. They've been outscored in those three road losses by a combined margin of 85-22.

      Despite those shortcomings, the Texans (4-3) are in first place in the AFC South division behind a dramatic comeback win over the Indianapolis Colts on Oct. 16 engineered by Osweiler's two late touchdown passes.

      "No. 1, when you look at our division, we're in good shape," Smith said. "When you look at our play at home, we're undefeated at home. Where we have not been consistent is on the road. We've got to find a way to do that and be more consistent, but that's what the season is all about.

      "I think our team is a hard-working team. I've said many times there's a correlation between the work that goes on during the week and what happens on game day. And we've got to continue to do that."

  • Cutler back at QB for Bears -- at least for now
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, October 27, 2016

    LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Alshon Jeffery is staying healthy during a season in which he was designated the Chicago Bears' franchise free agent because of an inability to avoid injuries.

    • Jeffery is holding up his end so far, but he doesn't have a touchdown catch in seven games. He never previously went this many games without one.

      Someone has to get Jeffery the football, and that person is starting for the first time since Week 2 when the Bears host the Minnesota Vikings on Monday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN.

      It is Jay Cutler, America's scapegoat.

      "We'll be on the same page most of the time," Jeffery said. "I just told him just throw it up and give me a chance.

      "That's how he is with most of our receivers."

      Too often that is true, and it can work well or it can be a disaster for the Bears (1-6). With Brian Hoyer on the field before breaking his left arm last week against the Green Bay Packers, the Bears had no interceptions in 5 1/2 games. Cutler had three in the first 1 1/2 games before spraining his right thumb.

      However, the red zone was like quicksand to the Bears' offense under Hoyer.

      Can it hurt at this point having Cutler make throws that most consider risks with the intent of scoring touchdowns?

      "We've had some penalties down there, some execution errors," Cutler said of the red zone. "It goes across the board. Everyone's got to play better.

      "Red zone's hard. It's a shorter area. Things happen a little bit faster, and guys have got to be ready for that. Minnesota, they've done a tremendous job in the red zone, tremendous job on third down. So it's going to be challenging this week."

      The Bears are 26th in red-zone touchdown percentage at 47.4 percent, but over the past three games, they were the worst in the league at 28.6 percent.

      "You get in the red zone, you've got to score more touchdowns than field goals," Jeffery said. "That's the biggest thing. That's what's really been killing us is the red zone."

      The hope is Cutler can change this by taking a few chances with his stronger arm and willingness to hold the football longer. Then, perhaps Jeffery won't be a stranger to the end zone.

      "I think we want to try to find a way to get him the ball a little bit more in the (season's) second half and try to get him in the end zone," Cutler said.

      Then again, taking chances can lead to sacks or interceptions. Cutler was sacked eight times in 1 1/2 games while Hoyer was sacked only four times in 5 1/2 games.

      Facing linebacker Anthony Barr and the league's No. 1-ranked defense only makes the situation appear more bleak. Doing it with guards Josh Sitton and Kyle Long missing practices due to injuries only adds to the tension if the Vikings turn loose their famed A-gap blitz.

      "Yeah, coulda picked a different game to come back, huh?" Cutler said. "They're a good defense, they're a really good defense. You look at the numbers and it's: 1, 1, 2, 1, 3, 5. They're top five in about everything. They've been together for a while, they're relatively healthy, and they're playing good football.

      "They've shown a lot of different looks, especially on third downs, but we've got a group of guys, we've seen a lot of it. We kind of know how to attack it, but it's just going to be about execution and guys doing exactly what we need to do."

      The ground game will be key, and it may have running back Jeremy Langford back from an ankle injury this week. He has been out since Week 3.

      "It's an uphill battle," Cutler said. "If you stay third-and-manageable against these guys you've got some shots. If you're in a lot of third-and-longs, you're going to have some problems."

      Cutler said there are no issues with his thumb.

      "Strength was the biggest thing, getting that back," he said. "There was soreness for a while, and just getting the strength back was the ultimate hurdle."

      The Bears' offense is last in the league in points scored and 16th in yardage, which speaks volumes about lack of production.

      Short term, Cutler might be the answer to those troubles.

      Long term, no one expected him to be in Chicago after this season anyway because his contract terms allow for his departure without a big salary-cap hit in 2017. A Chicago Tribune report this week indicated coach John Fox wants nothing more to do with Cutler following this season only seemed to verify this.

      "There is absolutely no truth to that," Fox said about the report. "People can say whatever they want. That's the unfortunate part of this profession. But absolutely not true."

      What is certainly true is that for now, the only other viable alternative is backup Matt Barkley, who has been with the team since early September and struggled against the Packers after Hoyer's injury.

      "He doesn't have a choice, I guess, at this point," Cutler said about Fox earlier this week. "Brian is out, so I've got to go.

      "I've had good conversations with Foxy this week, last week, the week before. There's never been any strain in our relationship. We're both very open and honest, and we're on the same page. We just want to win football games."

  • Vikings' Zimmer 'moves on to Chicago'
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, October 27, 2016

    EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer didn't "move on to Chicago" as quickly as Patriots coach Bill Belichick did a couple of years back when he famously repeated "we're on to Cincinnati" immediately following a blowout loss to Kansas City. But Zimmer has, well, "moved on to Chicago" after calling last week's loss at Philadelphia "embarrassing" and accusing some of his offensive players of being "soft."

    • "I know how this football team reacts to adversity and the way that they have done things," said Zimmer, whose team travels to Chicago to face the Bears on Monday Night Football this week. "I anticipate that we will come out and play a lot better this week. You never know with each team but if you go back throughout the three years I've been here after some bad losses we usually play pretty good the next week. We might not have won, but we played pretty good."

      The reaction to the Vikings' 21-10 loss at Philadelphia makes it difficult to remember that the team is 5-1 and tied atop the NFC with Dallas, and only a half-game worse than the Patriots' league-leading 6-1 record. But perception tends to change when an offense is so soundly overwhelmed by a pass rush that hit Sam Bradford 12 times, sacked him six times and recovered two of his four strip-sack fumbles.

      But the good news for the Vikings is a trip to Chicago -- even on Halloween -- isn't nearly as daunting as a game at Philadelphia. The Bears are 1-6 and don't hold home-field mastery over the Vikings like they did before last year's meeting.

      Blair Walsh's 40-yard field goal as time expired a year ago snapped a seven-year losing streak at Soldier Field. Zimmer also has won three straight NFC North games and is 7-1 overall and 3-0 on the road since starting his Vikings coaching career with five straight division losses.

      "Obviously, I know the division a lot better now and what's at stake with everything," he said. "But, to me, it's still about trying to win this week and then whoever we play next week, we'll worry about that one."

      The Vikings head to Chicago tied for first in the league in scoring defense (14 points allowed per game). The Bears, meanwhile, are last in scoring (15.8).

      "I don't think (the Bears) are bad, honestly," Zimmer said. "What I do think is they've moved the ball offensively but they haven't scored very many touchdowns and very many points. They've had the lead in three out of the six losses in the fourth quarter and didn't finish the game. Like a lot of young teams and programs, I think they're trying to figure out how to finish games."

      The Vikings, meanwhile, are trying to figure out how to complete passes more quickly. And that, according to Bradford, is a fix that will require a total team effort.

      "I think, obviously, there were times I could have gotten it out quicker," he said. "But I think when you look at it, it's all of us. I've got to find ways to get the ball out. We've got to find different schemes to get it out. We've got to get open out wide quicker, and sometimes protection has to be a little bit better up front. But I think we all have a hand in it, and this week, going out to practice, I think we realize that we all have to do our jobs to solve the problems that showed up on Sunday."

      By now, the sting of last week's loss has subsided and players can't wait to play another game to fully put the Eagles loss behind them.

      "I know I wasn't happy with our team last week, but I believe in this football team," Zimmer said. "I believe that this team still has a lot of great people on it. They want to be good. I think they are focused on the task at hand all of the time. The way they work. I wouldn't want to coach any other football team."

  • Vikings' Zimmer defends himself in "fat cat" incident
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, October 27, 2016

    EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Coach Mike Zimmer kicked off Thursday's press conference by setting the record straight regarding an error made and since corrected by the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

    • In reporting that Zimmer had distributed fat stuffed-animal cats around Winter Park as a motivational tactic to remind players not to become complacent, the newspaper erroneously reported that Zimmer had the stuffed animal's throats slit and red paint applied to the slash. Someone else did that to one of the stuffed animals after Zimmer had distributed them.

      Zimmer opened by reading 10 headlines from news outlets around the country referring to Zimmer slashing the throats of stuffed animals.

      Here they are, according to Zimmer: Mike Zimmer mass slaughtering of stuffed animals; Motivational tactic didn't help; Failed to motivate Vikings with bloodied stuffed animals; Weird motivational techniques; Slaughtered a bunch of stuffed animals; Violent stuffed animal message didn't help Vikings in loss; Commits stuffed-animal genocide; Staging stuffed-animal massacre; Stuffed-animal slaughter karma turns on Vikings; Slitting the throats of stuffed animals not enough to motivate.

      "I want to set the record straight on an erroneous report that I feel like attacked my character and my reputation," said Zimmer, who added that he donated the stuffed animals to charity. "It bothers me. ... My foundation website is getting things saying, 'Your dad's crazy and blah, blah, blah and all this stuff.' I do a lot of crazy stuff, but I'll admit it when I do it."

  • Viking denies team had bounty program
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, October 27, 2016

    EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Former Minnesota offensive lineman Artis Hicks claimed in Brett Favre's new biography that the Vikings ran a bounty program similar to the NFL's infamous "Bountygate" scandal that led to stiff punishment of the New Orleans Saints back in 2012.

    • Current Vikings defensive end Brian Robison couldn't have denied that allegation any harder than he did Thursday.

      "I haven't heard of any bounty program since I got here (in 2007)," Robison said. "I'm very unaware of a bounty program. So I'm not going to sit here and talk about it all day. It is what it is.

      "If Artis wants to say stuff like that, obviously he's trying to bring attention on him. So what? At the end of the day, I'm unaware of any bounty program that has happened here in the time that I've been here."

      A significant portion of the Bountygate investigation centered on questionable hits on then-Vikings quarterback Brett Favre during the NFC Championship Game in January 2010.

      Hicks, who was on that team, told Jeff Pearlman, the author of a new biography on Favre, that the Vikings had a similar program in which players were paid to injure opponents.

      "It was part of the culture," Hicks is quoted as saying. "I had coaches start a pot and all the veterans put in an extra $100, $200, and if you hurt someone special, you get the money. There was a bottom line, and I think we all bought in: you're there to win, and if taking out the other team's best player helps you win, hey, it's nothing personal. Just business."

      Robison said he didn't know about Hicks' comments until Wednesday.

      "I was very surprised," he said. "Basically, the first thing, in the car with my wife, was, 'What the hell?' It was very shocking to me."

  • NFL notebook: Bears coach Fox "done" with Cutler
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, October 27, 2016

    Veteran quarterback Jay Cutler's immediate future will be under center when the Chicago Bears host the Minnesota Vikings on Monday.

    • As for after this season, the Chicago Tribune cited two independent sources as saying that head coach John Fox told friends that he's "done" with the 33-year-old Cutler.

      The newspaper did not detail if the Bears plan to trade or release him, however.

      Cutler is prepared to return to the starting lineup after sustaining a thumb injury in Week 2. His return was needed as backup Brian Hoyer (broken forearm) landed on injured reserve and third-string quarterback Matt Barkley struggled mightily in a 26-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers last Thursday.

      --Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo took part in a practice for the first time this season. Romo was only a limited participant in the workout, but it suggests he is getting closer to being ready to return.

      He participated in some scout-team activities, but did not take part in 11-on-11 drills. Romo is recovering from a compression fracture in his back suffered on Aug. 25.

      Romo will not play this Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, but a return for the Nov. 6 game against the Cleveland Browns has not been ruled out.

      It remains unclear whether Romo would reclaim the starting quarterback spot when he returns. Rookie Dak Prescott has led the Cowboys to a 5-1 record, and has won five games in a row.

      --Right knee surgery will send Denver Broncos running back C.J. Anderson to injured reserve.

      The Broncos said earlier in the day that Anderson had avoided damage to the ACL in his right knee, but arthroscopic surgery determined damage to the meniscus. The Broncos did not announce the severity of the damage; a complete meniscus tear would end Anderson's season.

      --New England Patriots running back Dion Lewis returned to practice, marking the first time he has done so since opening the regular season on the physically unable to perform list.

      Lewis' return to practice begins a three-week clock that the Patriots have to activate the electric passing back to the 53-man roster.

      The 26-year-old Lewis is working his way back from tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on Nov. 8.

      --Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews once again is dealing with an ailing hamstring, coach Mike McCarthy said.

      Matthews initially sustained a hamstring injury against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 2, prompting the six-time Pro Bowl selection to be sidelined for the next game versus the Detroit Lions.

      --Oakland Raiders linebacker Aldon Smith has applied for reinstatement from the NFL with his one-year suspension set to end on Nov. 17.

      Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie told the San Francisco Chronicle that Smith has submitted his application to return to the club.

      Smith was suspended for a year for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Under league rules, the 27-year-old is eligible to apply for reinstatement 60 days before the one-year anniversary of the suspension.

      --Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy missed his second straight day of practice, raising concerns about his availability for Sunday's home game against the New England Patriots.

      McCoy, who is nursing an ailing hamstring, was limited in last Friday's practice and didn't fare well two days later in a 28-25 loss to the Miami Dolphins. The 28-year-old rushed eight times for 11 yards before exiting the contest in the third quarter.

      --Marcell Dareus is primed for his 2016 season debut with the Buffalo Bills on Sunday against the New England Patriots.

      Dareus returned from a four-game suspension with a strained hamstring and has not played during the Bills' 4-3 start, which included allowing 214 rushing yards to Jay Ajayi of the Miami Dolphins last week.

  • Cowboys QB Romo returns to practice
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, October 27, 2016

    Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo took part in a practice for the first time this season on Thursday.

    • Romo was only a limited participant in the workout, but it suggests he is getting closer to being ready to return.

      He participated in some scout-team activities, but did not take part in 11-on-11 drills.

      Romo is recovering from a compression fracture in his back suffered on Aug. 25.

      When the injury was diagnosed, the expected recovering time was six-to-10 weeks. As of Thursday, Romo had been sidelined for nine weeks.

      Romo will not play this Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, but a return for the Nov. 6 game against the Cleveland Browns has not been ruled out.

      "I don't think we knew exactly how long or still know how long it will be," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said, according to "I'm sure he's been champing at the bit to get back out there, but he's got to listen to the doctors, trainers and his body and just don't be impatient. Just get better on a daily basis."

      Romo has been throwing on the sidelines for a few weeks, and he was on the field during practice Wednesday. On Thursday he wore a helmet and a practice jersey for the first time.

      Romo is also taking part in meetings now.

      "He's making really good progress," Linehan said. "I think he's feeling better. He's able to throw on the run and do some things like that, so it shows he's getting closer. I don't know how far that is. There's no timeline or any of that stuff, but we're just really happy to see him back out there, see that No. 9 jersey back on the field."

      It remains unclear whether Romo would reclaim the starting quarterback spot when he returns. Rookie Dak Prescott has led the Cowboys to a 5-1 record, and has won five games in a row. He has thrown seven touchdown passes and just one interception.

      "We're just getting ready to play this game this week," Linehan said. "We're not focused on when, what and all those things. We know what our challenge is this week as far as the football team and who's playing quarterback, and that's all we've looked at."

  • Rams' Keenum: 'We're just not doing enough'
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, October 27, 2016

    A frustrated group of Los Angeles Rams wrapped up their final practice Wednesday before taking the next four days off for the bye week.

    • A season that began with a decade-best 3-1 start had deteriorated into a 3-4 record at the break. With hopes and aspirations high one month into the season, the goal was simply to get back on track.

      Or, at the very least, figure out a way to play a complete game in which the offense and defense are playing at a high level together. In addition, the team looks to avoid silly mistakes, costly turnovers and back-breaking penalties.

      Save for an opening-night blowout loss to the San Francisco 49ers, the Rams have been competitive in their six other games this year. Their four losses have come down to a missed play, an ill-timed penalty or a crushing turnover.

      They aren't miles away, they are inches away - but making up that inch has been a major issue.

      "You know, it's tough to say," Los Angeles quarterback Case Keenum. "We're just not doing enough. Whatever it is, we need to go back, look at film, correct it, and keep going."

      They've been saying that for the last few years - and it's getting old.

      The key is, are they closing in on answers?

      "I'm trying to figure that out myself," running back Todd Gurley said. "I don't know. I don't know, man. We've just got to get it together."

      So the Rams will take the rest of the week off, the hope being they return with some solutions.

      They aren't out of the playoff race by any means, but they can't keep playing uneven football and expect to remain it in much longer.

      Figuring things out will be a topic Rams coaches will focus on during the week off.

      "That's where the staff has spent a lot of time. You say 'Bye week - oh, you'll be home for dinner at 6 (p.m.)' No, we push it pretty hard over the last few days, just to do the self-scout and those kind of things - what's good and what's not," Los Angeles head coach Jeff Fisher said.

      "Where do we need to improve, what are teams doing against us and what are we not doing - those kind of things. We barely scratched the surface on our next opponent. Right now, our biggest opponent is ourselves, so spend time with yourselves."

      The Rams return action on Nov. 6 against the Carolina Panthers. Fisher has said it will be Keenum, not first round pick Jared Goff, at quarterback. The defense is playing solid football, now it's on Keenum, Gurley and the offensive line to produce as well.

      Time hasn't run out, but it's running out.

      "These games have been close, we've been competitive," Fisher said. "You look at some of the outstanding effort plays on defense, and their contact, and just everything. You just kind of wonder at some point, this thing is going to get turned around. That's where we are right now, is holding on to hope that the health of this football team, and the experience is going to get it turned around."

      -- Goff got the bulk of the first-team reps when the Rams practiced Wednesday, and his reps with the first unit are expected to increase next week when the team returns.

      The extra work seems to be paying off.

      "I feel tremendously more comfortable than I've ever felt," Goff said. "I feel confident that if my number's called, I'll be ready to go. Just waiting for that time."

      When that happens is anyone's guess. For now, Goff will just bide his time.

      "It's part of the process part of what's going on," Goff said. "I'm not going to sit here and complain or gripe. I'm going to support Case and continue to get ready and be ready and continue to be confident in myself and be ready when the time comes."

      Fisher indicated he is confident Goff will excel if his number is called.

      "We would not change a thing. We wouldn't scale anything back, we wouldn't change a thing," Fisher said. "He's got that good of a feel for what we're doing."

      --OT Greg Robinson is struggling again. The second pick overall in the 2013 draft, Robinson has not developed the way the Rams hoped and is currently grading out among the worst starting linemen in the league.

      His 10 penalties are the most among offensive linemen.

      "I feel like I've made a lot of strides," he said. "It's not perfect. I don't expect it to be. I can't be too hard on myself because there are a lot of good things that I see, but the main thing is fixing mistakes and trying my best to really be strict on myself."

      Fisher continues to have hope Robinson will develop into a productive left tackle.

      "You have to look at each individual play, and the technique, and why. Like I said, Greg is going to be a really good player," Fisher said. "He's highly athletic. I thought, for the most part, he played an outstanding rusher in (New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul) 'JPP and he held his own in this game. There's no harder position to play besides the quarterback position, like I said, than the left tackle position, especially when you're going to throw the ball."

  • Bears coach Fox "done" with QB Cutler
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, October 27, 2016

    Veteran quarterback Jay Cutler's immediate future will be under center when the Chicago Bears host the Minnesota Vikings on Monday.

    • As for after this season, the Chicago Tribune cited two independent sources as saying that head coach John Fox told friends that he's "done" with the 33-year-old Cutler.

      The newspaper did not detail if the Bears plan to trade or release him, however.

      Cutler is prepared to return to the starting lineup after sustaining a thumb injury in Week 2. His return was needed as backup Brian Hoyer (broken forearm) landed on injured reserve and third-string quarterback Matt Barkley struggled mightily in a 26-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers last Thursday.

      "He doesn't have a choice," Cutler said of Fox tabbing him as the starter this week. "That about says it all."

      Cutler was 28 for 46 for 373 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions in 1 1/2 games for the Bears (1-6), who have a stern test in the NFC North-leading Vikings (5-1).

  • Patriots RB Lewis nears return
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, October 27, 2016

    New England Patriots running back Dion Lewis returned to practice on Thursday, marking the first time he's done so since opening the regular season on the physically unable to perform list.

    • Lewis' return to practice begins a three-week clock that the Patriots have to activate the electric passing back to the 53-man roster.

      The 26-year-old Lewis is working his way back from tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on Nov. 8. He returned to practice in June, but a setback led to follow-up surgery on his knee.

      Lewis had 36 receptions for 388 yards and two touchdowns in seven games last season before sustaining the injury. He also rushed for 234 yards and two scores.

      James White has fared well this season in the pass-catching role out of the backfield, reeling in 27 receptions for 244 yards and three touchdowns.

      White also has 92 yards rushing for the Patriots (6-1), who look to avenge their lone loss on Sunday (1 p.m., ET) when they visit the Buffalo Bills (4-3) before heading into their bye week.

  • Packers LB Matthews battling hamstring issue
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, October 27, 2016

    Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews once again is dealing with an ailing hamstring, coach Mike McCarthy said.

    • Matthews initially sustained a hamstring injury against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 2, prompting the six-time Pro Bowl selection to be sidelined for the next game versus the Detroit Lions.

      "The plan for him is to (practice) more in a limited fashion (Thursday)," McCarthy said of Matthews, who did not participate in Wednesday's practice.

      Green Bay (4-2) will need all hands on deck on Sunday (4:25 p.m., ET) as it faces the NFL's top-ranked offense in the Atlanta Falcons (4-3).

      After playing as an inside linebacker last season, Matthews was shuffled back to the outside to begin the 2016 campaign. The 30-year-old has recorded three sacks, which trails only fellow linebacker Nick Perry (5.5) for the team lead.

      Matthews has recorded 71 sacks in his career, which is second-best on the Packers' all-time list. He also has 381 tackles, 12 forced fumbles and six interceptions since being selected with the 26th overall pick in the 2009 draft.

  • Raiders LB Smith applies for reinstatement to NFL
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, October 27, 2016

    Oakland Raiders linebacker Aldon Smith has applied for reinstatement from the NFL with his one-year suspension set to end on Nov. 17.

    • Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie told the San Francisco Chronicle that Smith has submitted his application to return to the club.

      "Aldon is doing well," McKenzie told the newspaper. "That situation is going to be totally up to the league because he's been in the program and they've monitored him. It's up to (commissioner Roger) Goodell to say yah, nay or when. And he could say no to everything. ... That part is out of our hands."

      In September 2015, Smith pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor counts of hit-and-run, drunken driving and vandalism charges that stemmed from an incident on Aug. 6.

      Smith was suspended for a year on Nov. 17 for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Under league rules, the 27-year-old is eligible to apply for reinstatement 60 days before the one-year anniversary of the suspension.

      Smith, who was the seventh overall pick of the 2011 draft, spent his first four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, with whom he recorded 44 sacks in 42 games.

      While with the 49ers, Smith had multiple run-ins with law enforcement and was arrested four times. San Francisco finally released Smith last year after his DUI and hit-and-run arrest in August.

      Smith, who signed with Oakland the following month, recorded 28 tackles and 3 1/2 sacks in nine games last season with the Raiders.

  • Bills RB McCoy sits with sore hamstring
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, October 27, 2016

    Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy missed his second straight day of practice on Thursday, raising concerns about his availability for Sunday's home game against the New England Patriots.

    • McCoy, who is nursing an ailing hamstring, was limited in last Friday's practice and didn't fare well two days later in a 28-25 loss to the Miami Dolphins. The 28-year-old rushed eight times for 11 yards before exiting the contest in the third quarter.

      McCoy performed considerably better in the first meeting with the Patriots, a 16-0 win for Buffalo on Oct. 2. He rushed for 70 yards and reeled in a season-best six catches for 38 yards and a touchdown.

      McCoy has rushed 112 times for 598 yards with six touchdowns this season. He also has 20 catches for 97 yards and a score.

      Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, safety Aaron Williams, left tackle Corey Glenn and linebacker Zach Brown also missed their second practice of the week on Thursday.

  • Broncos RB Anderson out after knee surgery
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, October 27, 2016

    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Right knee surgery will put Denver Broncos running back C.J. Anderson on the shelf indefinitely.

    • The Broncos said earlier in the day Thursday that Anderson had avoided damage to the ACL in his right knee, but arthroscopic surgery determined damage to the meniscus. The Broncos did not announce the severity of the damage; a complete meniscus tear would end Anderson's season.

      Anderson missed Wednesday's practice when he went to seek a second opinion on the knee, and if he is out for an extended period, it would be up to rookie Devontae Booker and reserve Kapri Bibbs to pick up the slack.

      Booker has already begun proving his pro worthiness as a runner; he has 129 yards in the last two games and has averaged 5.8 yards per carry in that span. His sprints on draw plays against the Chargers in Week 6 helped get the Broncos snap out of a series of punts, starting a comeback that ultimately fell short.

      But where Anderson could be most missed is in pass protection, and with pass rushers like San Diego's Joey Bosa and Oakland's Khalil Mack looming in the next two weeks, the Broncos could miss Anderson's ability to diagnose blitzes and stunts if he can't play.

      "C.J. does a great job in protections; pass, pro, all of that stuff," quarterback Trevor Siemian said. "Between him, Matt (Paradis) and me, we try to be on the same page as best as we can."

      Anderson's knee issue could be a setback at a time when the Broncos need their offense to find balance. Against the Texans on Monday, Denver ran for a season-high 190 yards, and the work of Anderson and Booker set the play-action game up for Siemian, and he responded with a 31-yard deep strike to Emmanuel Sanders up the left sideline to set up a Booker 1-yard run that put the Texans down 21-9; ultimately that sequence put the game out of the Texans' reach.

      The Broncos will need the play-action game Sunday against the Chargers, particularly if it can help keep Bosa out of their backfield. Bosa has four sacks in three games, and although he didn't sack Siemian, he did hit him twice, and with Siemian still coming off the left shoulder injury he suffered against Tampa Bay, the Broncos need to minimize his exposure to hits from Bosa and San Diego's front seven.

      Anderson's injury also comes just at the point in the season where he has typically caught fire.

      In 2014, he didn't break into the regular rotation until November, and then went on a tear that propelled him to the Pro Bowl, A year later, he didn't record a 100-yard game until Nov. 1, then improved down the stretch as he split time with Ronnie Hillman until he was the primary ball carrier in Super Bowl 50.

      His 107-yard effort Monday night marked his first 100-yard game as a pro prior to November. Now the next one might have to wait.

  • Bills DT Dareus primed for 2016 debut
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, October 27, 2016

    Marcell Dareus is primed for his 2016 season debut with the Buffalo Bills on Sunday against the New England Patriots.

    • Dareus returned from a four-game suspension with a strained hamstring and has not played during the Bills' 4-3 start, which included allowing 214 rushing yards to Jay Ajayi of the Miami Dolphins last week.

      "We've gone the whole year and he hasn't played a single snap yet, so we're hoping that he's out there," head coach Rex Ryan said. "Obviously he's one of the best players at his position in the league so it'd be a big boost for us if he's ready to play."

      Dareus said some of his issues away from the field were related to attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), which he was first diagnosed with during his college days at Alabama. He said he worked on getting that under control during his four-week hiatus, and to that end he has put together a support team that includes a doctor who specializes in treating ADHD, and a life coach who he will lean on for guidance away from the field.

      "We just took a positive course of action and I wanted to seek out professionals to help me with my every day situation," Dareus explained. "From there, I'm looking to move past and continue my ongoing health and my decision making. I saw some issues with myself that I never sought out help for. I read a couple books and wanted to get in contact and the team helped me put forth this action to seek out the help I really needed."

      Ryan said there is trust to rebuild with the Bills after Dareus works his way back for the final nine regular-season games. Dareus said he's motivated to prove his worth on and off the field.

      "I'm playing Sunday, man. I can't wait," Dareus said Wednesday. "I'm ready to enjoy myself. Just happy to be out there with the guys. Running around, feeling good. We're ready to go pull it off, man. We're going to make it happen."

      Dareus also sought the advice of Bills' all-time great Bruce Smith who endured some problems of his own early in his career. Dareus visited Smith at his home in Virginia, and Smith told USA Today, "We all have defining moments in our lives and careers. Right now, he's at a defining moment."

      The Bills went 2-2 in Dareus' absence, and outside of the awful performance against the Jets in a 37-31 Week 2 loss, the defense played well without him.

      Corbin Bryant has been starting in Dareus' spot along the defensive line, and that may be the case in Los Angeles if Dareus still needs to get into game shape, which is possible. Ryan said he was unsure how much Dareus would play, but he made it clear he would definitely play.

  • Bears down: Trigger-happy formula equals L squared
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, October 27, 2016

    There's an old saying in sports that too frequently, oafish owners or their general managers fail to heed, and it gets them into trouble. It's a simple phrase.

    • "Or else, what?"

      Following the 2012 season, the Chicago Bears became the 10th team in NFL history to push out a coach after a 10-win season. It wasn't good enough for the Bears that Lovie Smith kept the team competitive and reached two NFC championship games and one Super Bowl.

      Chicago's record in the three-plus seasons since then under Marc Trestman and now John Fox: 20-35.

      Chicago's record in Smith's last three seasons: 29-19.

      Sometimes, teams have managed to succeed despite pushing out a winning coach if (a) they had a plan of succession with their eye already on a coach, (b) they had a strong organization with a proven history of acquiring talent, or (c) if they got really lucky.

      The Bears had none of that. Instead, they dumped both the coach and general manager who had kept them competitive. Now, they are on their second coach and second GM since then, firmly entrenched in last place in their division and, perhaps, finally, realizing that they need to replace quarterback Jay Cutler as part of their rebuild next year.

      Their situation most closely approximates that of the San Francisco 49ers, whose near two-decade dynasty was petering out when Steve Mariucci was shown the door following a playoff loss to eventual Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay after a 10-6 season in 2002.

      San Francisco, which hired Dennis Erickson as its coach after a comical, month-long search, did not have another winning season for nine years.

      Contrast those situations with Denver, which dumped Fox after the 2014 season despite a four-year record of 49-22 because John Elway, the general manager, wanted a more quarterback-friendly coach. He got one in Gary Kubiak, and the Broncos won the Super Bowl last year.

      That made the Broncos by far the most successful of the 10-win teams to sack its coach.

      It's not just coaches, of course. The path to success for any team in professional sports involves planning ahead, because players get injured, retire or have other issues, and the franchise has to go on without them. Baseball's Chicago Cubs were a great example of that this year, losing catcher Kyle Schwarber the first week of the April to a season-ending injury, although Schwarber now has returned for a role in the World Series.

      But those teams who throw away a coach or player in what usually amounts to little more than a fit of pique, well, history is not so kind to them.

      Perhaps there is no better example than former coach Marty Schottenheimer, who was fired by the Browns after a nice run in 1988 and fired by the Chargers after a 14-2 season in 2006.

      When the late Art Modell fired Schottenheimer because the coach refused to hire an offensive coordinator, Cleveland was coming off three straight 10-win or better seasons. The Browns have won 10 games just twice in the quarter-century since then.

      Schottenheimer's teams won 35 games during his last three years in San Diego. The Chargers haven't done that since then.

      After the 1980 season, Houston fired coach Bum Phillips, whose teams had lost three years running in the playoffs to the eventual Super Bowl champion. It was seven years before the Oilers finished a season over .500 again.

      Sometimes, it takes a year before decay sets in as teams succeed briefly on the fumes of their former coach.

      The Raiders did that in 2002, getting to the Super Bowl under Bill Callahan a year after trading Jon Gruden to Tampa Bay. Oakland has not had a winning season or reached the playoffs since then.

      The Dallas Cowboys, with most of their players in the prime of their careers, still had three playoff seasons and another Super Bowl victory after Jerry Jones fired Jimmy Johnson in the middle of the night following the 2003 season and back-to-back Super Bowl championships. The Cowboys have won just two playoff games in the last 20 years.

      On the other hand, winning teams with a plan frequently can survive a voluntary coaching transition.

      The 49ers, under former owner Eddie DeBartolo, did that the first time, when Bill Walsh retired following the 1988 season and defensive coordinator George Seifert replaced him. The 49ers won the Super Bowl the next year.

      Indianapolis was 14-2 under Jim Caldwell the year after Tony Dungy retired. The Rams were in the Super Bowl two years after they won it under Dick Vermeil, who then retired. Cincinnati was 10-4 the season after founder Paul Brown retired. All three of those teams maintained stability in the front office.

      There is a great example of all this in the World Series. After a century of futility, the Cubs hired Theo Epstein as their general manager. He was roundly criticized for tearing the organization apart through a series of years that were worse than anything the team recently had experienced.

      But all the while, Epstein was collecting young talent and building the foundation of what this year became baseball's winningest team. It takes a plan. Perhaps his town's NFL franchise can learn something from that.

      --Ira Miller is an award-winning sportswriter who has covered the National Football League for more than five decades and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. He is a national columnist for The Sports Xchange.

  • Week 8 GameScout: Eagles at Cowboys
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, October 27, 2016

    Philadelphia Eagles (4-2) at Dallas Cowboys (5-1)

    • KICKOFF: Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET, AT&T Stadium. TV: NBC, Al Michaels, Chris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya.

      SERIES HISTORY: 111th meeting. Cowboys lead the series, 61-49. The teams have split the last six meetings, with the Eagles winning all three games down in Dallas and the Cowboys winning all three in Philadelphia.

      GAMEDATE: 10/30/16

      KEYS TO THE GAME: Carson Wentz worked for one week under the watchful eye of Jason Garrett and Cowboys, who might have considered Wentz with the fourth overall pick in the draft had Philadelphia not selected him second.

      The scenario is playing out as a win-win through six games. The Cowboys appear closer to the 2014 version, a mean running back and break-your-spirit offensive line winning without burdening a defense short of edge talent. Ezekiel Elliott has been dominant and brings fresh legs this week out of the bye, and now the Cowboys have WR Dez Bryant in the lineup after a three-game absence.

      Two games ago, the Eagles were smashed by the Washington Redskins for 230 rushing yards. Stopping Elliott will be the focus of Jim Schwartz's hyper-aggressive, blitz-heavy defense. That opens plays downfield for Cowboys QB Dak Prescott.

      Philadelphia would like to establish the same run-pass equation the Cowboys thrive under, but are relying on Wentz to make quick -- mostly safe -- decisions in a West Coast-style passing offense. Of his 28 attempts against the Vikings, 19 went five or fewer yards. The Cowboys have been overwhelmed by elite tight ends in Rod Marinelli's tenure and Zach Ertz could play a massive role if Wentz gets the protection he needs to survey from the pocket.


      --Cowboys WR Cole Beasley vs. Eagles defensive backs. Beasley is Prescott's top target and a third-down threat from the slot, where Dallas will go after the Eagles minus Ron Brooks. Brooks, the team's top nickel cornerback, was placed on injured reserve.

      --Eagles TE Zach Ertz v. Cowboys S Byron Jones. Ertz had 75 receptions last season, but has just five in the last three games. Part of the production drop is the Eagles need Ertz to help protect Wentz, but that might not be true against Dallas, a team with no real threat at defensive end. The Cowboys have had matchup problems with tight ends.

      PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Eagles S Malcolm Jenkins. Jenkins is expected to move into the slot in nickel situations after last week's season-ending injury to nickel corner Ron Brooks. Jenkins, who began his NFL career as a corner, played in the slot in nickel last year under previous defensive coordinator Billy Davis. He enjoyed it. "I'm looking forward to it," he said. "I think it's the best position for me."

      FAST FACTS: Cowboys QB Dak Prescott averages 30.3 pass attempts per game, fewest of any full-time starter this season. ... Dallas has faced only 28 situations of 3rd-and-8 or more to go, best in the NFL. ... Wentz has a 63.5 passer rating and 54.0 completion percentage in the past two games.

      PREDICTION: Power football again serves as the winning recipe for the Dallas Cowboys and, unless the Eagles can erase Ezekiel Elliott, the NFC East perch is Dallas' to own.

      OUR PICK: Cowboys 26-21.

      --Jeff Reynolds

  • Week 8 GameScout: Packers at Falcons
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, October 27, 2016

    Green Bay Packers (4-2) at Atlanta Falcons (4-3)

    • KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:25 ET, Georgia Dome. TV: FOX, Thom Brennaman, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews.

      SERIES HISTORY: 28th regular-season meeting. The Packers lead the series 15-12. The Packers won the last meeting 43-37 on Dec. 8, 2014, at Lambeau Field. The Packers fell behind 14-0 but came back to win 25-14 in the last meeting at the Georgia Dome on Oct. 9, 2011.

      GAMEDATE: 10/30/16

      KEYS TO THE GAME: Atlanta has the NFL's top-ranked offense. Buoyed by quarterback Matt Ryan and receiver Julio Jones, the Falcons are averaging 433.6 total yards per game.

      They also lead the league in scoring, averaging 33 points per contest.

      Whether the Falcons can slow down the Packers could decide the game, and Green Bay is 21st in total offense with just one game of 30 points.

      After a busy stretch that taxed their bodies with three home games in just 12 days earlier this month, the Packers can't complain about not having ample time to get right physically again for Sunday's road matchup with the Falcons.

      Ball control might be Green Bay's best strategy. To be determined is how ready Knile Davis is to assume a bigger role in the offense at running back after he played sparingly in his Green Bay debut against the Bears, just two days after he joined the Packers following a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs. Green Bay's only other potentially available halfback, undrafted rookie Don Jackson, suffered a hand injury in the last game. That left Green Bay to line up receiver Ty Montgomery nearly 50 times in the backfield.


      --Packers pass offense vs. Falcons secondary. Aaron Rodgers' right arm should be well-rested by the weekend after he threw 56 passes and completed a team-record 39 of them in Green Bay's last outing, an Oct. 20 win over the Chicago Bears. Rodgers figures to be throwing a lot again in what could be a shootout on the Georgia Dome turf. The Packers are again decimated at running back as they try to get recent addition Knile Davis more up to speed to contribute after a cameo appearance against the Bears. And, Green Bay certainly will be looking to pick apart the Falcons' underwhelming group of defensive backs, particularly penalty-prone cornerback Robert Alford and undrafted rookie nickel back Brian Poole.

      --Packers defensive front vs. Falcons offensive line. Considering how overmatched Green Bay's injury-depleted cornerbacks are predicted to be against the great Julio Jones and the rest of quarterback Matt Ryan's passing targets, the best hope the Packers have for disrupting some of those throws is to rattle Ryan. "Get to the quarterback, disrupt the quarterback, be as disruptive as we can and make it easier on the back end," defensive end/linebacker Datone Jones said. For as prolific as Ryan has been this season in delivering the football through the air, his limitations for eluding the rush in the pocket make him ripe for the sacking. Opponents have sacked Ryan 18 times in seven games.

      PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Packers LB Clay Matthews. The Packers' longtime defensive leader has been underwhelming of late. Matthews is without a sack the last two games, leaving him stuck at three for the season and losing ground to fellow outside linebacker Nick Perry, who has a team-high 5 1/2 sacks. Sunday's game at the Atlanta Falcons may give Matthews extra motivation to get back to being a difference maker again for Green Bay's defense. He could have many frequent run-ins with his cousin, Jake Matthews, the Falcons' starting left tackle.

      FAST FACTS: Rodgers has nine touchdowns and one interception in four games against the Falcons. ... Packers WR Jordy Nelson had two touchdowns in his last meeting against the Falcons. ... Ryan has 300-plus passing yards in four of five games at home.

      PREDICTION: The Falcons are itching to end a tough two-game slide, and Ryan should be able to outshoot Rodgers at home.

      OUR PICK: Falcons, 35-29.

      --Jeff Reynolds

  • Week 8 GameScout: Chargers at Broncos
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, October 27, 2016

    San Diego Chargers (3-4) at Denver Broncos (5-2)

    • KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, Sports Authority Field at Mile High. TV: CBS, Greg Gumbel, Trent Green, Jamie Erdahl.

      SERIES HISTORY: 114th regular-season meeting. Broncos lead series, 62-50-1. Broncos have won five of the last six. Most historic meeting between these two teams was on Dec. 17. 1979, when the Chargers turned back the Broncos 17-7 in the final game of the regular season to prevent the Broncos from winning their third consecutive AFC West title, consigning them to a wild-card game they lost at Houston six days later.

      GAMEDATE: 10/30/16

      KEYS TO THE GAME: On Oct. 13, the formerly luckless Chargers beat the visiting Super Bowl champs 21-13 to stifle talk about coach Mike McCoy's job insecurity. Now the Chargers are looking for a third straight win and are the darlings of NFL talk shows that suggest the injury-battered Bolts can beat anybody in the NFL.

      So this game will start a mile high and go up from there as the Broncos are out to prove they are the best in the AFC West -- all due respect to the 5-2 Raiders, whom they play the following Sunday night.

      Trap game? No such thing in the AFC West, aka the NFL's best.

      Just when the Broncos' offense was showing signs of blossoming, RB C.J. Anderson suffered a knee injury. Anderson missed Wednesday's practice to seek a second opinion on the knee, and if he is out for an extended period, it would be up to rookie Devontae Booker and reserve Kapri Bibbs to pick up the slack. Booker has 129 yards in the last two games at 5.8 yards per carry.

      The Chargers know it won't take as many points as in the previous week against NFL's highest scoring team in the Falcons. So that should make McCoy more conservative in his approach, relying on running back Melvin Gordon to collect yards and the less-risky underneath routes to tight ends Antonio Gates and rookie Hunter Henry, if Henry can go after sustaining a concussion in the last game. Philip Rivers' role will be as a game manager, instead of being the gunslinger and forcing throws that he shouldn't. That said, if the Chargers can strike quickly and build a lead, the defensive-minded Broncos would be challenged in trying to rally behind an inexperienced quarterback.


      --Broncos offensive line vs. Chargers DE Joey Bosa. In three games, Bosa has four sacks, and even though he didn't sack Trevor Siemian in the teams' Week 6 matchup, he hit the quarterback twice, and the attention he drew helped set the Chargers up for two sacks and five quarterback hits by players other than their first-round pick. Bosa's pressure worked hand-in-hand with good downfield coverage, forced Siemian to settle for checkdowns on third-and-long that stifled the Broncos' offense.

      --Chargers RB Melvin Gordon vs. Denver run defense. The Chargers will ride Gordon and why not? He has an NFL-high 10 touchdowns and is proving it takes more than an arm tackle to bring him down. The Broncos have the AFC's top defense, but there are some holes in the run unit. Denver is allowing nearly 117 rushing yards a game, which is clearly a middle-of-the-road ranking. Linebacker Brandon Marshall is also nursing a sore hamstring, which could compromise him on Sunday. But keep an eye on pass-rushing stud Von Miller. He lends a hand in run support as well and he smacked Gordon seven times in the backfield nearly two weeks ago.

      PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Broncos RB Devontae Booker. His hard running not only helped spark the offense late in the Oct. 13 loss at San Diego and again against the Texans last Monday night, but seemed to light a fire under C.J. Anderson, who immediately found a burst he had not been able to discover in the Broncos' previous three games against Cincinnati, Tampa Bay and Atlanta. With Anderson seeking a second opinion on the knee injury he suffered Monday, Booker might be needed for extensive work.

      FAST FACTS: Chargers QB Philip Rivers passed for 371 yards last week, giving him 2018 pass yards on the season and 11 seasons with at least 2000 pass yards, tied with Dan Fouts for the most in Chargers history. ... Broncos QB Trevor Siemian threw one touchdown pass and zero interceptions last week, his fourth straight start with at least one touchdown pass and zero picks, good for a tie Andy Dalton and Tyrod Taylor for the longest active streak in the NFL).

      PREDICTION: The Chargers are beginning to believe in their ample ability to win, rather than lose the close ones. The Broncos are still struggling on offense, but should give Chargers' QB Philip Rivers another hard day at the office.

      OUR PICK: Chargers, 24-21.

      --Frank Cooney

  • Week 8 GameScout: Raiders at Buccaneers
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, October 27, 2016

    Oakland Raiders (5-2) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-3)

    • KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Raymond James Stadium. TV: CBS, Andrew Catalon, Steve Tasker, Steve Beuerlein.

      SERIES HISTORY: Ninth regular-season meeting. Raiders lead series, 6-2. The two teams had one famous meeting in the post-season, when the Bucs beat the Raiders 48-21 in Super Bowl XXVII. The Bucs have only played the Raiders twice in Tampa, winning 20-17 in overtime in 1996 and losing 31-24 in 2008, Jon Gruden's final game as Bucs head coach.

      GAMEDATE: 10/30/16

      KEYS TO THE GAME: Raiders coach Jack Del Rio is convinced the Raiders run defense is getting better, and it will need to be against a Tampa team emboldened by success against the porous 49ers last week.

      But if the Bucs do manage to get Jacquizz Rodgers going inside at anywhere near 5 yards per carry, then Jameis Winston can attack the secondary and do some damage.

      Raiders QB Derek Carr has sized up the opponent on defense, then fired at will at either Michael Crabtree or Amari Cooper. To double one is to leave the other alone. On the ground, Latavius Murray's return gives the Raiders a between-the-tackles presence to go with smaller backs DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard.

      But the Bucs defense under Mike Smith has been playing better. This week, they could get back DT Clinton McDonald and DE Robert Ayers which would be a boost to the pass rush. On the back end, the Bucs have done a better job limiting big plays. Cornerbacks Vernon Hargreaves and Brent Grimes played well the past two weeks.


      --Raiders WR Amari Cooper vs. Bucs CB Vernon Hargreaves. These two met in the SEC when Cooper was at Alabama and Hargreaves was at Florida. Cooper got the best of Hargreaves then, but this could be an interesting matchup. Chances are the Bucs will give Hargreaves a little safety help.

      --Buccaneers WR Mike Evans vs. Raiders CBs David Amerson, Sean Smith. After never developing an end zone rapport with Jameis Winston in 2015, Evans has been at his best in the red zone and beyond a year later. One game shy of the midway point of the season, Evans has 40 catches for 545 yards and has six receiving touchdowns after having only three last season. At 6-foot-5, 231 pounds, Evans presents a physical mismatch for every corner he faces, but slightly less so with the Raiders. If anything, Amerson and Smith are tall, rangy corners who do their best work against bigger men, rather than smaller, quicker receivers.

      PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Raiders LB Perry Riley Jr. In only three weeks on the roster, Riley established himself as the starting middle linebacker. Riley arrived as a street free agent after recovering from a foot injury following six years with the Washington Redskins. The Raiders opened with second-year player Ben Heeney in the middle, who was ineffective before breaking an ankle and going on injured reserve. Cory James, a quick but undersized player for a middle linebacker, was next. Riley, however, played every snap against Jacksonville, with James on special teams. Del Rio likes having a veteran on the field.

      FAST FACTS: Raiders punter Marquette King was named AFC Special Teams Player of the week after a 50.6 net punting average, placing four kicks inside the 20, and also ran 27 yards to convert a third-and-23 after fielding a low snap. "You know, I could be a running back," King said. "I'm going to start doing some more running back drills this week." ... Bucs DT Gerald McCoy collected a sack, forced a fumble, recovered a fumble last week. H has 7.5 sacks in past seven games vs. AFC teams.

      PREDICTION: Two stubborn young teams fighting for acceptance should make this a brutal skirmish. Raiders have been at home on the road and this week went one better by staying in Florida after knocking off Jacksonville. Raiders defense is improving, but key is causing turnovers, where they are plus-8, tied for 2nd in NFL, while the Bucs are minus-3.

      OUR PICK: Raiders, 35-21.

      --Frank Cooney

  • Week 8 GameScout: Vikings at Bears
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, October 27, 2016

    Minnesota Vikings (5-1) at Chicago Bears (1-6)

    • KICKOFF: Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET, Soldier Field. TV: ESPN, Sean McDonough, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters.

      SERIES HISTORY: 110th regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series 57-50-2. The Vikings have won the last three, including last year's game at Soldier Field, 23-20. The Bears have won seven of the last eight against the Vikings at Soldier Field.

      GAMEDATE: 10/31/16

      KEYS TO THE GAME: Line issues are the chief concern for the Minnesota Vikings, reeling after their first loss of the season at Philadelphia last week.

      The Bears are equipped with edge rushers and rookie first-round pick Leonard Floyd had his best game of the year last week. Adjustments are coming from offensive coordinator Norv Turner, and getting rid of the ball on quick reads in shotgun formation could ease pressure on Bradford.

      The Packers had three receivers with at least 10 catches against Chicago in Week 7. The Vikings, who are growing the role of wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, needed points from their special teams -- Marcus Sherels' punt return and a last-second field goal -- to tip the Bears at Soldier Field last season.

      Predicting what's coming from Chicago's offense is a bit of a Rubik's Cube with Jay Cutler reinstalled at quarterback and paired for the first time with rookie RB Jordan Howard.

      Cutler and WR Alshon Jeffery have dinged the Vikings' defense for five touchdown catches in the past five meetings.


      --Bears WR Alshon Jeffery vs. Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes. Jeffery averaged 100 yards receiving in games Cutler played and 63 in the games Brian Hoyer started. Rhodes has four career interceptions. These two usually get matched up in Bears-Vikings games, and Rhodes is bigger and more equipped to handle Jeffery in jump ball situations than other Vikings cornerbacks. He'll face this and the back-shoulder throws because these are two of Cutler's favorite weapons when going to Jeffery, both in goal line situations and on the rest of the field.

      --Bears LB Leonard Floyd vs. Vikings LT T.J. Clemmings or OT Jake Long. Floyd two sacks, a forced fumble and TD recovery last week. Long gave up two strip sacks that helped turn the game against the Eagles. Long has only been with the Vikings a short time, so expecting him to know the offense well enough to step right in and play due to injuries wasn't realistic -- coach Mike Zimmer admitted as much this week. However, Long was beaten in matchups that had little to do with not knowing an assignment.

      PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Bears LB Pernell McPhee. The Bears got their most dynamic defensive player back against Green Bay when he played 19 snaps with virtually no practice time since the 2015 season due to knee surgery. McPhee had minimal impact, just one quarterback hurry. His strength and explosiveness are critical off the edge against both the run and pass, but in his 19 snaps against the Packers he showed little burst as he tries to work himself back into game shape. Whether he's able to do this in the second half of the season will dictate largely how well the defense bounces back from an injury-plagued, difficult start to the season.

      FAST FACTS: Vikings WR Stefon Diggs had three TD receptions in two games against the Bears last season. ... Bears RB Jordan Howard ranks second among NFL rookies with 352 rush yards. ... Bears WR Cameron Meredith has nine-plus receptions in two of the past three games.

      PREDICTION: Spending a week with a honked-off head coach, Mike Zimmer, will be motivation for the Vikings, and their defense needs no prodding to put the squeeze on the Chicago Bears.

      OUR PICK: Vikings, 24-15.

      --Jeff Reynolds

  • Week 8 GameScout: Lions at Texans
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, October 27, 2016

    Detroit Lions (4-3) at Houston Texans (4-3)

    • KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, NRG Stadium. TV: FOX, Chris Myers, Ronde Barber, Jennifer Hale.

      SERIES HISTORY: Fourth regular-season meeting. Texans lead series, 2-1. The most historic matchup between the teams came on Thanksgiving in 2012, when Lions coach Jim Schwartz illegally tried to challenge Justin Forsett's 81-yard touchdown run and the Lions missed a field goal and lost a fumble in overtime.

      GAMEDATE: 10/30/16

      KEYS TO THE GAME: When the Lions beat the Los Angeles Rams two weeks ago, they focused their defense on stopping Todd Gurley. Given Houston's problems at quarterback, expect the Lions to turn their attention to Lamar Miller this week. Whether it's from defensive tackles Khyri Thornton, Stefan Charles and A'Shawn Robinson or through run blitzing, the Lions must win their matchups up front.

      On offense, Houston is down its top pass rusher in J.J. Watt and top cornerback in Kevin Johnson. The Lions haven't run the ball effectively this year; but, as long as Matthew Stafford remains upright, they should have opportunities to throw the ball downfield.


      --Lions DE Ziggy Ansah vs. Texans RT Chris Clark. Ansah plays more right end than left end, but the Lions have moved him around plenty this year and they'll no doubt try to match him up against Clark at times Sunday. Coming off a 14.5-sack season, Ansah still is looking for his first sack this year. He missed three games with a high ankle sprain and has just three tackles in his two games since returning. Clark is expected to start in place of Derek Newton, who tore the patellar tendons in both knees on Monday.

      --Lions WR Anquan Boldin vs. Texans CB Kareem Jackson. Boldin has been quietly productive as the Lions' slot receiver this year. He's second on the team with 32 catches, and he has caught a touchdown pass each of the last two weeks. Jackson has taken on a more prominent role since Kevin Johnson's injury, but he still plays inside in nickel packages. Last week, he got beat for a touchdown in the red zone.

      PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Lions CB Nevin Lawson. Darius Slay is expected to miss Sunday's game with a hamstring injury, which means Lawson slides over to the No. 1 cornerback spot, where he'll match up plenty with DeAndre Hopkins. Lawson has been inconsistent in his first full season as a starter. He has four penalties and lost playing time to Johnson Bademosi earlier this month because of his uneven play, but he's physical with receivers and seems unfazed when he allows a big play. If officials call a tight game, Lawson could be in for a long afternoon.

      FAST FACTS: The Lions haven't played a game with more than a touchdown difference this season. Their four wins have been by a total of 11 points, and their three losses also have been by 11 points. ... Lions QB Matthew Stafford has 27,890 passing yards, the most in NFL history in a player's first 100 games. He threw for 441 yards and two TDs in the last meeting with the Texans. ... Lions WR Anquan Boldin caught the winning 18-yard TD pass with 16 seconds remaining in Week 7. He is looking for a third straight game with a TD catch. ... LB Tahir Whitehead led Detroit with 12 tackles last week and has nine or more tackles in six of the past seven games. He is fourth in the NFL with 67 tackles. ... In his past four at home, RB Lamar Miller has 500 scrimmage yards (420 rushing) and two TDs. His 581 rushing yards are fifth in the NFL. ... Houston LB Bernardrick McKinney ranks second in the NFL with 69 tackles. DE Jadeveon Clowney leads all NFL defensive ends with eight tackles for loss.

      PREDICTION: The Lions have won three straight close games at home, but can they do it on the road? Houston's inconsistent passing game and poor run defense says yes.

      OUR PICK: Lions, 20-13.

      --Chris Cluff

  • Week 8 GameScout: Seahawks at Saints
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, October 27, 2016

    Seattle Seahawks (4-1-1) at New Orleans Saints (2-4)

    • KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Mercedes-Benz Superdome. TV: FOX, Justin Kutcher, Charles Davis, Chris Spielman, Holly Sonders.

      SERIES HISTORY: Seventh meeting. Series tied 6-6. The Seahawks have won the past three games, including two playoff contests. They won 34-7 on a Monday night in Seattle in 2013. They then also beat the Saints in a divisional playoff game that season. The last time these teams played in New Orleans, in 2010, the Saints won 34-19. The Seahawks then pulled off a major upset in that season's playoffs in what quickly became known as the "Beast Quake" game.

      GAMEDATE: 10/30/16

      KEYS TO THE GAME: Because they rank 28th in rushing and the Seahawks are fifth against the run in allowing just 84.2 yards per game, the Saints will probably do better to get their top-ranked passing game going early. But even that might be dicey for the Saints, who average 339.3 yards per game, because the Seahawks are ninth against the pass, allowing 226 yards per outing. That means the Saints are going to have to take their shots and hope they can make enough happen with Drew Brees and his receivers to force the Seahawks to honor the running game, which is coming off its most productive game of the season in last week's loss to the Chiefs.

      Seattle must find a way to pressure Brees without leaving itself vulnerable to the Saints' prolific passing attack. Getting pressure with their front four alone could be critically important.

      The Saints must stop the run against the struggling Seahawks. While Seattle has had a tough time running and throwing the ball, especially in Sunday's 6-6 tie with the Arizona Cardinals, the Saints know that can change in a heartbeat considering Russell Wilson is more than capable as a passer and runner. But his role has changed this season and he has only 33 rushing yards and a 1.5-yard average, which means the Saints hope he doesn't break loose this Sunday against their 23rd-ranked run defense that is allowing 116.8 yards per game. On the other hand, the Saints rank 30th against the pass, allowing 287 yards per game -- so that's a concern regardless of the Seahawks' woes on that side of the ball.


      --Saints DE Cameron Jordan vs. Seahawks LT George Fant. Fant will likely be making his first career start at left tackle on Sunday in place of an injured Bradley Sowell. While Jordan isn't a premier defensive end in the NFL, he's a solid starter who will provide a stiff test for Fant's first game.

      --Seahawks FS Earl Thomas vs. Saints WR Brandin Cooks. Thomas has been stellar over the last two weeks and will play an important role against the Saints' most dynamic receiver. He'll be tasked with keeping Cooks from getting behind Seattle's defense for explosive pass plays.

      PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Seahawks DE Cliff Avril. While Michael Bennett has been the more heralded pass rusher on Seattle's roster, Avril has been the most productive in recent weeks. Avril has 5.5 sacks over the last three games against the Jets, Falcons and Cardinals. Additionally, Avril has pledged to build a house in his parents' home country of Haiti for every sack he records this season.

      FAST FACTS: This game features the return of TE Jimmy Graham, who was traded from the Saints to the Seahawks in March 2015. Graham is playing a lot like he did in New Orleans, where he caught 386 passes for 4,752 yards and 51 TDs in five years. In the past four games, he has 23 catches for 355 yards and a TD. ... Saints QB Drew Brees hit another milestone in his 16-year NFL career on Sunday when he threw for 367 yards against the Chiefs. It was the 100th career game with at least 300 passing yards, which extended his NFL record. ... Five players have started at cornerback for the Saints in just six games. B.W. Webb added his name to the list last Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs, joining Delvin Breaux, P.J. Williams and Sterling Moore -- who are all injured -- and Ken Crawley.

      PREDICTION: This game features the NFL's best scoring defense (Seattle) vs. the worst, and even Drew Brees probably can't overcome that.

      OUR PICK: Seahawks, 20-17.

      --Chris Cluff

  • Week 8 GameScout: Chiefs at Colts
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, October 27, 2016

    Kansas City Chiefs (4-2) at Indianapolis Colts (3-4)

    • KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Lucas Oil Stadium. TV: CBS, Spero Dedes, Solomon Wilcots.

      SERIES HISTORY: 21st regular-season meeting. Colts lead series, 12-8. They also have a 4-0 edge in the playoffs (1995, 2003, 2006 and 2013.) The last time they faced each other was the first round of the 2013 AFC playoffs, when the Colts were 17 points down with 19 minutes to play. Led by quarterback Andrew Luck, Indianapolis fought back and won 45-44 in one of the biggest comebacks in postseason history. The most recent Chiefs victory came in 2011.

      GAMEDATE: 10/30/16

      KEYS TO THE GAME: Last week, the Kansas City defense played with a bend-don't-break attitude and allowed the Saints a lot of yards but just three touchdowns. The same approach would serve them well on the road against the Colts. The Indianapolis offense is ninth in the league at 372.4 yards per game. The Chiefs lead the NFL with 10 interceptions, but they rank among the league's least productive pass rushes with only eight sacks.

      The Colts have 31 passing plays of 20 yards or more, with Luck connecting with nine receivers on those plays. The Kansas City defense has given up 20 pass plays of 20 yards or more. A balanced offense and ball control will help the K.C. defense when facing Luck. They know what is possible from the Colts' offense. The last time the teams met, Luck threw three second-half touchdown passes and Indianapolis overcame a 17-point deficit with 19 minutes to play.

      The Colts have to figure out a way to be more consistent with their pass rush and to force more turnovers. Indianapolis has recorded just 11 sacks while coming up with two interceptions and recovering five of the 11 fumbles that have been forced.


      --Chiefs RT Mitchell Schwartz vs. Colts OLB Erik Walden and DE Robert Mathis. Kansas City's pass protection group has improved in recent games. They gave up 13 sacks in the first four games, but just one in the last two outings. The highest-rated blocker in five of the six games has been Schwartz, who turned in two of his best K.C. performances in the victories over Oakland and New Orleans. He should see plenty of Walden (five sacks) and Mathis (119 career sacks). Schwartz and his blocking mates must first create running room for K.C. rushers and then protect Smith from Walden and Mathis.

      --Chiefs DT Dontari Poe vs. Colts C Ryan Kelly. The Kansas City defense lost defensive end Allen Bailey before last Sunday's game, and the absence of the veteran appeared to affect Poe. The big tackle played 62 of 74 defensive snaps and was not credited with a tackle, assist, sack or quarterback pressure. That is not the type of afternoon he can have against the Colts and Kelly, the first-round rookie. Kelly has been the Indianapolis starter since the preseason and he's frequently one of the highest-rated offensive players for the Colts. A big mauler (6-4, 313), Kelly has the body type to battle Poe (6-3, 346) in the middle, whether in pass protection or the run game.

      PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Chiefs LB Dee Ford. Last week, the Chiefs defense produced one sack against New Orleans and that was from blitzing safety Daniel Sorensen. Ford had two sacks in the victory over Oakland, but did not get New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees on the ground last Sunday. Rehabbing starter Justin Houston is likely just one more week from being activated from the physically-unable-to-perform list. Ford's production has been up and down in the first six games. Against the Colts, he needs pass rush production.

      FAST FACTS: In the 2013 wild-card meeting at Indianapolis, Chiefs QB Alex Smith threw for 378 yards and four TDs. ... Colts QB Andrew Luck threw for 443 yards and four TDs in that game. He has thrown for 300 yards in five of his past six home games, with 15 TDs. His 31 completions of 20-plus yards this season are tied for second in the NFL. ... Colts WR T.Y. Hilton had 224 receiving yards and two TDs in the wild-card meeting. He has been hot in the past two games at home, with 345 yards and two scores. ... Colts LB Robert Mathis had two forced fumbles and a sack in the last meeting. He scored on a fumble return last week. ... Colts K Adam Vinatieri's 43 consecutive field goals are the most in NFL history.

      PREDICTION: The Colts have been much better at home than on the road this season, and Luck should be able to hit enough big plays to offset any turnovers.

      OUR PICK: Colts, 24-21.

      --Chris Cluff

  • Week 8 GameScout: Redskins at Bengals
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, October 27, 2016

    Washington Redskins (4-3) at Cincinnati Bengals (3-4)

    • KICKOFF: Sunday, 9:30 a.m. ET, Wembley Stadium, London. TV: FOX, Kenny Albert, John Lynch, Pam Oliver.

      SERIES HISTORY: 10th meeting. Cincinnati leads 5-4, including wins in three straight. The Redskins haven't beaten the Bengals since 1991. The most notable Cincinnati win in the series came in 1988 when Jim Breech's game-winning field goal in overtime gave the Bengals home-field advantage in the playoffs, culminating with a Super Bowl appearance.

      GAMEDATE: 10/30/16

      KEYS TO THE GAME: Washington must figure out its running back rotation as Matt Jones has struggled with fumbles, but there are questions about how much they can use Chris Thompson. He has been effective, but isn't durable. Rookie Rob Kelley could get more carries this week.

      Meanwhile, expect the Bengals to drop into soft zone coverages that have given Redskins QB Kirk Cousins fits. that takes away deep balls to DeSean Jackson and forces the Redskins to go on sustained drives. One mistake and the defense wins. Field goal kicker Dustin Hopkins consistently put points on the board, but the Redskins might need more than that to keep up with the Bengals' offense.

      Bengals QB Andy Dalton has been sacked 22 times through seven games and pressured often but consistently makes good decisions with the ball. Dalton has passed for 2,056 yards with eight TDs and only two interceptions

      "It's just making smart decisions with the ball," Dalton said. In fact, one of Dalton's picks was a tipped pass. The lack of interceptions says more about Dalton's growth as a passer than his yards or touchdowns. And, the numbers are made more impressive because he was working behind a struggling offensive line and an inconsistent running game for most of this season.

      Cincinnati a repeat performance from running backs Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard this week. Hill rushed for a career-high 168 yards last week and Bernard ran for 80. Another solid performance from them could help keep Dalton upright at Wembley Stadium as the OL could be without veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth (concussion protocol). Dalton and A.J. Green are a potent combination and could have a big day if Redskins All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman remains out with a concussion.


      --Redskins CB Bashaud Breeland vs. Bengals WR A.J. Green. With All-Pro corner Josh Norman in concussion protocol, it's possible that Breeland will have the tall task of covering Green, who has 775 receiving yards and three TDs.

      --Redskins LB Ryan Kerrigan and DE Trent Murphy vs. Bengals' offensive line. The Bengals' line has struggled this season, allowing Andy Dalton to be sacked 22 times. Murphy and Kerrigan have six sacks each for Washington, which has 19 as a team.

      PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Redskins RB Chris Thompson. He emerged as a valuable weapon out of the backfield last season in a third-down role. Thompson is pushing for more than that with the running back situation in Washington in flux. Thompson had 73 rushing yards on just 12 attempts and seven catches for 40 yards last week against Detroit. Thompson has topped 40 yards of total offense each of the last four games and is averaging 5.1 yards per carry.

      FAST FACTS: Redskins QB Kirk Cousins passed for 301 yards last week, his 14th career game with 300 yards. Only one quarterback in Washington franchise history has more 300-yard games, Sonny Jurgensen, who had 15 such games. ... The 168 yards rushing on only 8 carries by Bengals RB Jeremy Hill last week ranks in rare air. Only two players in NFL history rushed for more yards in a game with fewer than 10 carries -- Maurice Jones-Drew (8-for-177 on 2009) and "Hurrying" Hugh McElhenny (7-for-170 on 1952). Hill's 24 rushing TDs since 2014 is tied for most in NFL over that time.

      PREDICTION: Washington is struggling on defense just when Cincinnati is getting confident on offense. Could be a tight one.

      OUR PICK: Redskins, 30-27.

      --Frank Cooney