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Smoot likes Louisville’s Lamar Jackson.

The biggest uncertainty entering Sunday was the availability of the New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who is nursing an ankle injury. The Giants ruled him inactive an hour and a half before their matchup against the Cowboys in Dallas, the first “Sunday Night Football” game of the season. Last week, Beckham said, “I’m itching. I’m itching, but [it’s about] just patience and trusting.”

“They’re completely different backs,” Gruden said. “I think it depends on what your vision is offensively, what you want to do. I know Jonathan Stewart is 30 years old now. Fozzy Whittaker is there. They’ve got some pretty good backup young backs. But if you want a feature back, if you want an I-formation tailback, Fournette is your guy. I just think he’s built for the long haul. He’s a punishing runner. I do like him a lot.

“McCaffrey, he’s a jack of all trades. I think you’ve got to be able to use him creatively in your passing game. That’s where, to me, he is the best. If that’s your offense, I think McCaffrey is for you. If you’re looking to be a little bit more conventional, take the burden off your quarterback and pound the ball, Fournette is your guy.”

So, certainly with Eric Rowe involved, having a full offseason, OTAs, training camp and doing a good job for us from that standpoint. I think all those guys that go out there and play have earned some time on the field and whatever that is, depending on how the game is going, kind of just plays itself out when we’re in the particular situation we’re in as far as the game is concerned.”

If Cousins departs, the Redskins will be forced to do two things: Draft a young prospect, ideally with their first-round pick; and sign a veteran free agent to challenge for the starting job while the rookie learns Gruden’s system.

In his first mock draft of the offseason, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. on Thursday predicted the Redskins will take Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield 13th overall.

But Mayfield would suit owner Daniel Snyder’s style, bringing Heisman Trophy buzz and credentials (for the second time in six years) to energize a dispirited fan base.

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Each week, national NFL writer Mark Maske ranks the league’s 32 teams.

This week, the New England Patriots maintain the top spot in the rankings but find a new contender for No. 1 right below in the Minnesota Vikings. The Panthers, Steelers and Rams round out the top five headed into the final week of the regular season, while the biggest mover, the San Francisco 49ers, rockets into the No. 14 spot thanks to a four-game winning streak engineered by quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

The Steelers bounced back from their defeat to the Patriots and took care of business Monday against the overmatched Texans, even without WR Antonio Brown in the lineup. Despite Brown’s uncertain status for the playoffs, there remains no reason to doubt a Steelers-Patriots rematch in the AFC championship game.

GM Sashi Brown said Monday that he didn’t sabotage the botched trade for Bengals QB AJ McCarron on purpose. That’s good. Unfortunately for him, the alternative explanations are not that much more reassuring.

The Packers remained in position to lock up at least a wild-card berth by beating the Minnesota Vikings, 38-25. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers three two touchdown passes to wide receiver Jordy Nelson, another to Davante Adams, a fourth to tight end Richard Rodgers and added a rushing touchdown of his own to set up a Week 17 clash with the Detroit Lions that could decide the NFC North. That would be contingent on a loss by the Lions on Monday night when they face the NFC-leading Dallas Cowboys.

Meanwhile, the Vikings, burned badly throughout the first half by Green Bay wide receiver Jordy Nelson, have only themselves — or at least their secondary — to blame. It seems that instead of following Coach Mike Zimmer’s game plan to have cornerback Xavier Rhodes shadow Nelson, the defensive backs felt they knew better, and let whoever was on the same side as Nelson take him. jaguars_072

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Either teams want to follow the Rooney Rule, or they don’t.

Walton has had the team go through monthly meditation sessions with Andy Puddicombe, co-founder of a meditation and mindfulness app company Headspace. Phil Jackson used the app and had Puddicombe work with the New York Knicks during part of his tenure as team president in New York. The app guides users through sessions that can be as short as three minutes.

Jamie Redmond, at the time an assistant coach at Ramsey’s private, faith-based high school in Nashville, went to San Antonio in 2013 to watch Ramsey play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. He had come to know a quiet kid who liked to learn, and earlier that season, Redmond’s son asked to meet Ramsey. The player had come over, taken a knee and made eye contact with Cade before connecting with the boy and sharing a long talk with him. Ramsey was Cade’s hero.

Long before he became the Jacksonville Jaguars’ best defensive back and perhaps their most impactful player overall, he couldn’t have been nicer, more patient, more willing to toss the ball and connect with him.

But then the All-America game began, introductions made, and when Ramsey’s name was announced he jogged slowly. He played to the cheers. He ran his mouth.

“Just showboating,” Redmond recalled this week. “I’m like, that’s not the Jalen I know.”

If they don’t, there should be consequences … beyond the ones they keep suffering on the field, that is.

Burfict added to the tension going into Monday’s game with comments published earlier in the day by ESPN, in which he reiterated his previously stated suspicions that Brown had “faked” the severity of his injury. The game was a violent, penalty-marred affair in general, and after Smith-Schuster’s hit on Burfict, Bengals safety George Iloka was penalized for hitting Brown in the head after the latter caught a touchdown pass.

“AFC North football,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said simply, upon asked by ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the game about its roughness. He praised Shazier as a team leader and said he was anxious for more news about the linebacker.

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It’s gotten so bad, so quickly that coach Tyronn Lue’s job could be at stake

The president began Wednesday tweeting that players’ kneeling to protest racial injustice and police violence during the national anthem is disrespectful to the United States.

Why did he want to throw the ball incomplete? As Cousins explained it, when the offense works on the two-minute drill in training camp or practice, if they need a field goal and reaches field-goal range, “we pretty much play conservative at that point.” The Redskins were at the New Orleans 34-yard line, needing only a field goal to win, so Cousins thought that threshold had likely been met.

“And the call came in to run it, and so my thought process is we’re running a one back power play, and I’m gonna hand it off,” Cousins told Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier. “We’re running at all costs. And we had no timeouts left, so once [Samaje Perine] runs it, basically we’ve got to kill it on second down and then the field-goal team comes out on third down and kicks it.”

Devonte’ Graham, Kansas’ leading scorer, finished with 11 points on 4-of-19 shooting.

“I just missed shots,” Graham said. “I told the guys in the locker room that you could put this one on me because I felt like I let the team down today. I had good open shots, but I was just missing them.”

Kansas led for most of the second half before Young made two critical, unselfish plays. James’ 3-pointer with 1:09 remaining on an assist from Young put the Sooners up 82-80. Manek later drained a 3-pointer, also on an assist from Young, to make it 85-80 with 25 seconds to play.

Ty Montgomery, RB, Packers: Montgomery (ribs) didn’t practice Thursday and his chances at playing in Week 11 are looking bleak.

Jordan Reed, TE, Redskins: It’s not a great matchup for Reed and the Redskins, and he appears to be a game-time decision against New Orleans. So what’s an owner to do? Sit Reed and go with the player you’ve been using to fill in.

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Case Keenum has had a storybook season for the Minnesota Vikings

ESPN’s Adam Schefter said on Sunday that NFL general managers across the league are expecting the Vikings to let Sam Bradford walk in free agency and place the franchise tag on Keenum, which could come with a price tag of $22 million-plus next offseason.

I wasn’t mad at him for what he said, Ramsey said this week during a chat in front of his locker. I would want another shot at us too. It’s not like it’s bulletin-board material that he wants to play us. I get it. His reputation is that he isn’t the player he was when we played him. Of course he wants to show that.

That day, Roethlisberger was picked off five times as the Jaguars won 30-9 at Heinz Field, prompting the star quarterback to question himself in the moments after the game. Roethlisberger would back off those comments later that week, but he made it clear last week that he wanted a chance at redemption.

And if you’re looking to exorcise a lifetime’s worth of demons — from four lost Super Bowls to Gary Anderson’s wide left to Brett Favre’s interception to Blair Walsh’s chunked field goal — a hopeless situation like seems a fine place to start.

The Vikings had played a near-flawless first half against the New Orleans Saints in Sunday’s NFC divisional playoff game, smothering the Saints on defense, forcing future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees into two interceptions, and methodically marching down the field with this diverse and balanced offense.

Even with 12 stitches in his hand, Brady was still able to lead the Patriots to a comeback win over the Jaguars on Sunday. Thanks to the 24-20 victory, Brady is now headed to the Super Bowl for the eighth time in his career.

The good news for Patriots fans is that Brady should be close to 100 percent by the time Super Bowl LII rolls around. The biggest thing for Brady is getting the stitches removed, and that’s supposed to happen at some point over the next few days. sabres_001

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Tom Brady’s work in practice helps boost confidence level he’ll be OK

Earlier on Wednesday, three days after the Jaguars ended their season in stunning fashion, the Steelers parted ways with long-time offensive coordinator Todd Haley. By Wednesday night, they zeroed in on his replacement.

The Steelers will promote quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner to fill the vacancy, according to CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora and multiple other reporters, including ESPN’s Chris Mortensen and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac. La Canfora added that Ben Roethlisberger lobbied hard for Fichtner’s promotion.

He’s going to inherit a stacked offense. There’s Roethlisberger, who already has put retirement rumors to rest. There’s Le’Veon Bell (assuming he doesn’t retire), who might be the most complete back in football. There’s Antonio Brown, who might wind up being a top-five all-time receiver. And then there’s JuJu Smith-Schuster, who looks like a worthy receiver to play opposite of Brown. The Steelers have been a top-10 scoring offense in each of the past four seasons.

More than 1,000 shirts were sold online within the first 48 hours.

It has been a busy couple of weeks for the Vikings. Earlier this month, the team filed to trademark Bring It Home, a phrase the Vikings started using when the playoffs began, a reference to the team trying to be the first to win the Super Bowl in its home stadium. The Vikings put Bring It Home towels on every seat for the game against the Saints.

The Vikings play the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.

After a wild divisional round weekend that gave us two upsets, a miracle win in Minnesota and a Bortles-ing of the Steelers, the field is finally set for the AFC and NFC Championship Games.

This was a year ago. I wanted to retire from the NFL, and I really struggled. I couldn’t pick up a football for about eight months. I had no love for the game, and it was tough.sabres_812

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I also like to pretend that he’s wearing that white tape on the back of his arms to demoralize opponents.

The 2018 NFL Playoffs are here. The 2017 NFL season blitzed past us faster than anyone could imagine and it really hasn’t settled in just how shocking this particular playoff field is.

There’s a number of good quarterbacks playing over the next few weeks, but only a couple playing this weekend. Only two teams with a top-three seed in either conferences made the playoffs last year, and only four playoff teams — the Patriots, Steelers, Chiefs and Falcons — were also in the playoffs last year. All but one of the NFC teams fighting for the Super Bowl weren’t even in the postseason last year.

Although several reports suggested that Brady had cut his hand open on Rex Burkhead’s helmet, it turns out that’s not actually what happened. The way Brady explains it, he didn’t cut his hand on anything, his thumb just got mangled during a handoff attempt with Burkhead.

We ran into each other and my thumb just got bent back, Brady said. It wasn’t his helmet or anything. Just kind of got bent back. That is why I felt it was a lot worse. The doctors went in and checked it out and we did things just to kind of check on everything and fortunately, there wasn’t any damage that normally comes associated with that. I think we were very lucky.

If that’s not a boss move, I don’t know what else is. Not only is Kamara out here giving NFL defenses nightmares, but he’s passing out candy on the sideline with time still on the clock.

It’s what they see after he’s already zoomed past them, as if he’s telling them to wave the white flag and give up.

I see a watermelon AirHead in there. If you still got it Al, send it to the SB Nation offices.

The Jacksonville Jaguars weren’t supposed to be here. The perennial AFC South bottom-dwellers — and frequent roast recipient on NBC’s The Good Place — were pegged for another middling season despite a leveled-up defense thanks to uneven quarterback play and a decade’s worth of disappointment.sabres_797

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The field for the divisional round of the 2018 NFL playoffs is set.

There was an upset in each conference on Wild Card Weekend, and because of that we’ll be treated to two rematches next Sunday.

The Steelers got back on track later in the season and, after getting this week off, should be back at full strength with Antonio Brown returning from injury. Jacksonville will need a better performance from Blake Bortles than they got against the Bills in order to keep pace with the explosive Pittsburgh offense.

Late Sunday, the No. 2 seed Minnesota Vikings will host the No. 4 seed New Orleans Saints. These two teams opened the season against each other with the Vikings winning 29-19, but much has changed since that point. Case Keenum is Minnesota’s starter, not Sam Bradford. Adrian Peterson is no longer in New Orleans. The Saints defense is a force to be reckoned with. Alvin Kamara is a star. So is Adam Thielen. The Vikes and Saints are each strong on both sides of the ball, and whoever forces the other into more mistakes should come away victorious.

The Mercury News went through the league team by team and made an educated guess on how each owner (or CEO, chairman, etc.) will vote. See the results in the table below.

It’s almost feels like fate brought these two teams together for this one game. Not only do we have the miracle-makers from Minnesota, but we have the underdogs from Philly — two teams connected by their star-crossed starting quarterbacks who were teammates less than two years ago.

Despite the fact that they’re the top seed in the NFC, the Eagles will be going into Sunday’s game as the underdog, and a big part of that is because of Nick Foles. Although Foles was efficient in Philly’s 15-10 divisional playoff win over the Faclons last week, the vaunted defense of the Vikings will be a much bigger test.bears_015-223x223

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