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Baker Mayfield won’t lobby Cleveland Browns to hire Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma Sooners

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BEREA, Ohio — Baker Mayfield won’t lobby for Lincoln Riley, but Mayfield believes his former college coach is ready for the NFL.

“Lincoln’s been ready,” Mayfield said Wednesday as the Browns prepared for Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers. “Just who he is, how he coaches, the respect level he’s had from all of his players. How detailed he is. He’s ready. But that’s his decision. He’s got something special there (at Oklahoma). I don’t think anybody’s going to blame him if he stays there for the next 20 years.”

The Browns and Green Bay Packers both need a coach and though neither team has commented publicly on candidates, Riley is projected to be on both lists. He commented in late October after Hue Jackson was fired that he doesn’t have “that itch” to coach in the NFL.

Mayfield played his final season at Oklahoma with Riley as his coach. The two years prior, Riley, 35, was the Sooners’ (and Mayfield’s) quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator.

“Obviously you guys can take it how you want,” Mayfield said. “I have a relationship with Lincoln. It’s been great. We had success. But whatever decision is made here I’m going to make the most of it. Obviously there’s been a level of comfortability with him in the past that I’ve had. But whatever happens, happens.”

Browns general manager John Dorsey has personally scouted the last two Oklahoma games, against West Virginia and Texas. All the teams have NFL prospects — including West Virginia receivers David Sills and Gary Jennings Jr. — but if Dorsey is even a little interested in Riley it was wise to see him coach a game in person.

Mayfield said he will not speak to Dorsey about Riley, nor will he try to convince Riley to join the Browns, saying, “It’s not my decision.”

But he voiced strong feelings about why Riley could make a transition not many have made.

“Like I said earlier, some of those coaches that are so successful, they have a standard and they live by that standard every day,” Mayfield said. “He does it with football, family. He’s just a great human being. Wants the best for everybody. Always encouraging.”

Mayfield said Riley the person would generate respect in NFL locker rooms.

“You get a locker room full of guys making a lot of money, obviously the egos are going to be there,” Mayfield said, “You have to have the respect of guys. You got to be able to get the best out of them even when they … they’re going to get paid regardless. So you got to be able to get the most out of them and demand it just by respect.”

Does Riley have the urge to try the NFL?

“I think down the road probably,” Mayfield said. “But, like I said, right now I’m not going to speak for him. But he’s ready whenever that time comes.”

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Week 15 NFL guide – score predictions, playoff scenarios

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We’re previewing the Week 15 NFL slate with score predictions for each game from our Nation reporters, what’s at stake for the playoff picture and potential draft order from Kevin Seifert, Football Power Index projections from ESPN Stats & Information and much more.

Thursday Night Football: Chargers 29, Chiefs 28

Jump to a matchup:
HOU-NYJ | CLE-DEN | GB-CHI | DAL-IND
TB-BAL | MIA-MIN | TEN-NYG | ARI-ATL
WSH-JAX | OAK-CIN | DET-BUF | SEA-SF
NE-PIT | PHI-LAR | NO-CAR


SATURDAY’S GAMES

Point spread: HOU -6 | Matchup quality: 26.8 (of 100)

Sarah Barshop’s pick: Even after the Texans fell short against the Colts in Week 14 and failed to continue a nine-game winning streak, it’s hard to pick against them this week. Houston’s running backs struggled against Indianapolis, but the Texans should be able to get back to the success they had during the streak against this 27th-ranked run defense, which is allowing an average of 132 rushing yards per game. Texans 24, Jets 13

Rich Cimini’s pick: There is no compelling reason to pick the Jets. They’re 0-4 against teams that entered the game with a winning record, the worst mark in the league. They’ve lost those games by an average of 15 points. Rookie QB Sam Darnold won’t have his leading rusher (Isaiah Crowell) and his leading receiver (Quincy Enunwa), which means plenty of three-and-outs against J.J. Watt & Co. Texans 31, Jets 13

What’s at stake: The Texans can clinch the AFC South with a win and losses by both the Colts and Titans. Short of that, there are eight scenarios in which the Texans can at least secure a playoff berth. The simplest: a win, and losses by either the Dolphins or Ravens. A win by the Jets could drop them out of the top five of the 2019 draft order. (FPI currently projects them at No. 4.) — Seifert

FPI win projection: HOU, 69.2 percent. Houston is a big favorite on the road to take a step toward the postseason, projected to win 69 percent of the time by FPI. A major reason is that the Texans rank second in the NFL in defensive efficiency this season, while the Jets rank second worst in offensive efficiency.

In case you missed it: Cousins or Darnold? It was best $90 million Jets never spentTexans turn to TEs and even a QB with slot WRs depletedDissecting the most inexcusable playoff drought in Jets historyWatson: Upcoming weather ‘not going to affect my game’


Point spread: DEN -3 | Matchup quality: 41.1 (of 100)

Pat McManamon’s pick: The key to dealing with Denver is stopping the pass rush of defensive end Bradley Chubb and linebacker Von Miller. They have combined for 25.5 sacks. The Browns’ offensive line, though, has given up just one sack in the past three games, in part because Baker Mayfield is so adept at feeling and avoiding the rush. Mayfield is playing at such a high level that it’s hard to go against him. Browns 27, Broncos 20

Jeff Legwold’s pick: The Broncos have had their share of struggles this season, but they have been a different team at home.This one is really about their mindset and how much vocational fuel they have left in the tank after a crushing loss to the 49ers last weekend. They have wafer-thin playoff hopes, but playing without cornerback Chris Harris Jr. against Mayfield will be an enormous challenge. If Chubb and Miller finish with at least four combined sacks in this one, however, things will have gone the Broncos’ way. The Browns haven’t won in Denver since 1990. Broncos 27, Browns 21

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Darren Woodson picks the Browns and Tedy Bruschi takes the Broncos in Week 15.

What’s at stake: Incredibly, given the start to their season, the Browns have not yet been eliminated from playoff contention. But they have five teams to leapfrog if it’s going to happen. The Broncos have “only” four. — Seifert

FPI win projection: DEN, 77.1 percent. The Browns have been a top-five offense in terms of efficiency, according to FPI, since changing coaches after Week 8. But they face a tough test this week against a Broncos team that ranks second in opponent Total QBR this season (52.5).

In case you missed it: Broncos were absolutely right about MayfieldBroncos want more from KeenumGarrett believes his excellent season can be betterWhat’s possible for Baker Mayfield over final three games


SUNDAY’S GAMES

Point spread: CHI -6 | Matchup quality: 68.1 (of 100)

Rob Demovsky’s pick: As rejuvenated as Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense looked last week after the coaching change, there’s one question that seemingly doesn’t have a positive answer for them: How in the world are they going to block Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and rest of the Bears’ pass-rushers? That’s a challenge even with a healthy offensive line. But right tackle Bryan Bulaga is iffy with a knee injury, right guard Byron Bell went on IR last week and left guard Lane Taylor didn’t play in Week 14. Bears 20, Packers 16

Jeff Dickerson’s pick: Green Bay is too banged up on its offensive line to stop the Bears. Chicago’s defense is No. 1 in the league in takeaways (34), interceptions (25) and points off turnovers (107). Much of that stems from the pressure of their front seven. Rodgers is one the greatest quarterbacks who has ever lived, but unless someone blocks Mack, the Bears are poised to clinch their first playoff berth since 2010. Bears 24, Packers 18

What’s at stake: The Bears can clinch the NFC North with a victory or a Vikings loss. It’s possible that the Packers could be eliminated from postseason contention based on a series of other outcomes. — Seifert

FPI win projection: CHI, 62.7 percent. After an impressive performance against the Rams, the Bears now have a defensive efficiency of 79.1 this season (on a 0-to-100 scale), easily the best in the league. Only three teams in our data set (since 2006) have posted a higher defensive efficiency in a season: the 2006 and 2008 Ravens, and the 2017 Jaguars.

In case you missed it: Bears-Packers, Part II: What has changed, lies ahead for rivalsBears get chance for payback against PackersDo’s and don’ts of Packers’ coaching search


Point spread: IND -3 | Matchup quality: 62.8 (of 100)

Todd Archer’s pick: The Cowboys will have to affect Andrew Luck. In his past nine games, he has been sacked just seven times. For comparison, Dak Prescott has been sacked 34 times in the same span. The Cowboys’ pass rush, led by DeMarcus Lawrence, has recorded at least one sack in every game this season and has put up 12 in the five-game winning streak. The Colts have won six of their past seven games but the lone loss came when Luck was sacked three times by Jacksonville in Week 13. Cowboys 23, Colts 13

Mike Wells’ pick: The Colts are facing a team on a significant winning streak for the second straight week. They ended Houston’s nine-game winning streak last weekend. Now they’re going up against a Dallas team that has won five in a row. The Cowboys bring the NFL’s fourth-ranked defense to Indianapolis to face the league’s eighth-best offense. The Colts have won six of their past seven games, with three of those victories coming against teams whose defense was ranked in the top 10 at the time. It wouldn’t be surprising if this game goes back and forth for four quarters. Cowboys 34, Colts 30

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Steve Young explains why he believes if the Colts stop Ezekiel Elliot, Andrew Luck has a chance to lead the Colts to a victory.

What’s at stake: The Cowboys can clinch the NFC East with a win, or losses by the Eagles and Redskins. The Colts need a victory to remain in position to pounce if either the Ravens or Steelers collapse over the final three games, an event that would open up the second AFC wild-card spot. — Seifert

FPI win projection: IND, 60.1 percent. During the Cowboys’ five-game win streak, they rank seventh in offensive efficiency (68.8) and fourth in defensive efficiency (63.4), according to FPI. The Colts also have been good defensively in that span, ranking eighth in defensive efficiency (59.7) and first in opponent Total QBR (41.4).

In case you missed it: By the numbers, the trade for Cooper is measuring upEberflus decision pays off in big way for defenseFive plays that have kept Cowboys’ win streak afloatCrawford, Lawrence have family bondLuck’s faith in his receivers despite drops tightens bond


Point spread: BAL -8 | Matchup quality: 48.9 (of 100)

Jenna Laine’s pick: The Bucs’ offense was held to just 14 points and shut out in the second half against the Saints last week. The Saints took away their explosive playmaking downfield. It’s hard to see them doing more against Don Martindale’s defense, a group known for its suffocating pressure up front, especially with the struggles Tampa Bay’s offensive line is having and the lack of a Bucs ground game. Plus, even with the improvements seen on defense under Mark Duffner since Week 7, the Bucs are still giving up more yardage on the road than any other team in the league. Ravens 27, Buccaneers 17

Jamison Hensley’s pick: The Ravens have all of the motivation in this game, knowing a win will allow them to keep the No. 6 seed in the AFC and possibly move them into first place in the division. The Buccaneers have lost five road games in a row, giving up an average of 39.8 points. This is set up for Lamar Jackson to have his best game of the season. Ravens 31, Buccaneers 10

What’s at stake: The Ravens are trying to hold off three other 7-6 teams for the final AFC wild-card spot, but they also could leapfrog the Steelers into the AFC North lead with a win and a Steelers loss. At the moment, the Buccaneers are solidly in the race for a top-10 draft pick, sitting at No. 8 according to FPI. — Seifert

FPI win projection: BAL, 70.0 percent. Another week, another important game for the Ravens in terms of their playoff chances. Baltimore has the third-largest potential playoff swing of any team this week. The Ravens would have a 59 percent chance to make it if they win and a 20 percent chance if they lose.

In case you missed it: Are Ravens suddenly the favorites to capture the AFC North?Winston faces tough test in Ravens’ defenseToughest decision on Joe Flacco is right oneBucs will have to weigh pros, cons of keeping Koetter


Point spread: MIN -7 | Matchup quality: 44.7 (of 100)

Cameron Wolfe’s pick: These are two playoff contenders are headed in opposite directions. Minnesota, on the heels of losing two straight, seem to be in offensive disarray after firing its offensive coordinator, while Miami is riding the high of the Miami Miracle and a two-game win streak after shaping its offense around the running backs. Adam Gase’s Dolphins have a 76.9 win percentage (20-6) in one-score games since 2016, and they keep the magic going with a huge upset over Minnesota thanks to the NFL’s third-best takeaway defense and big days from Frank Gore and Kenyan Drake. Dolphins 20, Vikings 17

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Steve Young discusses the Vikings’ disappointing season and how QB Kirk Cousins deserves most of the blame, but not all.

Courtney Cronin’s pick: The Dolphins are terrible on the road, having lost five straight games away from Miami by 16.4 points on average. The Vikings’ defense is lights out at U.S. Bank Stadium, ranking first in yards per game and holding opponents to a league-low 29.7 percent conversion rate on third down. The Minnesota offense won’t look all that much different with interim OC Kevin Stefanski, but the shake-up within the coaching staff should give a high sense of urgency. Plus, the Vikings could be the healthiest they’ve been in weeks, with the expectation that cornerback Trae Waynes will play. Vikings 23, Dolphins 10

What’s at stake: The Vikings are clinging to the final spot in the NFC wild-card race, hoping that an easier remaining schedule can allow them to limp into the postseason. The Dolphins need a win to stay within striking distance of the AFC race. — Seifert

FPI win projection: MIN, 82.5 percent. The Vikings have the second-biggest potential swing in playoff chances this week, with a 77 percent to make it if they win and a 36 percent chance if they lose. The Dolphins don’t have quite as big of a swing, but it is still an important game for them. Miami would have a 27 percent chance at the playoffs with a win and just a 9 percent chance with a loss.

In case you missed it: Cousins takes ‘ownership’ for Vikings’ struggles on offenseWhy Gase should remain no matter how 2018 endsVikings turn to OC Stefanski to prevent a ‘wasted’ season


Point spread: NYG -2.5 | Matchup quality: 44.0 (of 100)

Turron Davenport’s pick: The Titans found the other half of the pack and play formula that is needed to win on the road late in the season when Derrick Henry exploded for 238 yards against the Jaguars. The Giants are allowing 121.8 rushing yards per game, so expect Henry to pick up where he left off. Tennessee’s defense is stifling opposing offenses — allowing 19.5 points per game — to complete the formula. The Titans are a dangerous team when they’re balanced on offense. It’s going to take a monster effort to contain Saquon Barkley, but the Titans need this game to stay in playoff contention and will deliver on the road. Titans 27, Giants 19

Jordan Raanan’s pick: These next three weeks against three playoff contenders will be the true test of how far the Giants have come this season. The Titans have allowed the fourth-fewest points in the NFL. Can the Giants do enough on an ugly December day against Tennessee? Not quite. The Giants have averaged 21 points per game at home this season. Titans 23, Giants 21

What’s at stake: Like the Colts and Dolphins, the Titans are hoping to be in position to jump into a wild-card spot if the Ravens or Steelers falter. The Giants’ run of three wins in their past four games has dropped them to No. 8 in FPI’s draft position projection. Another win or two could cost them a top-10 pick. — Seifert

FPI win projection: NYG, 58.5 percent. The Giants have been particularly good over their past four games. They rank seventh in offensive efficiency and second in defensive efficiency in that span, according to FPI, and have allowed the lowest opponent Total QBR (35.3).

In case you missed it: OBJ has quad evaluated, unsure if he’ll playTitans’ plan to slow down Barkley, OBJ: We need to swarmSteady dose of Henry should be Titans’ December approach


Point spread: ATL -8.5 | Matchup quality: 41.6 (of 100)

Josh Weinfuss’ pick: Sunday’s matchup pits a bad Cardinals offense against a bad Falcons defense. And even though two of the Cardinals’ three wins have come on the road, they’re still 2-4 away from home. The Cardinals are ranked last in nine offensive categories while the Falcons are ranked in the bottom quarter of the league in 11. The best matchup of the game will be Arizona’s fourth-ranked passing defense against the Falcons’ fourth-ranked passing offense. Falcons 27, Cardinals 14

Vaughn McClure’s pick: Not much has gone right for the Falcons during their current five-game losing skid. However, the league’s worst rushing offense (81.2 yards per game) was able to rush for 107 yards in last week’s loss to the Packers. Perhaps the Falcons can build on that performance against a 3-10 Cardinals team that allows almost 140 rushing yards per game. Establishing the run should help Matt Ryan and the Falcons hit on some play-action passes downfield. Falcons 28, Cardinals 17

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Darren Woodson and Tedy Bruschi both pick the Falcons to beat the Cardinals in Week 15.

What’s at stake: The Cardinals are very much in the running for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 draft, so a win isn’t necessarily in their best interests. The Falcons aren’t eliminated from the playoffs but, well, that isn’t far away. — Seifert

FPI win projection: ATL, 89.0 percent. The Falcons are massive favorites at home, projected to win 89 percent of the time by FPI. That’s the largest favorite Atlanta has been in a game in our data set (dating back to the start of the 2008 season).

In case you missed it: Rosen has played well in fourth quartersCan Julio catch Jerry Rice?What will the Cardinals do with a near-certain top-three pick?Falcons will consider keeping Freeman-Coleman tandem together


Point spread: JAX -7.5 | Matchup quality: 25.5 (of 100)

John Keim’s pick: The Redskins could easily win this game with Josh Johnson at quarterback, but this isn’t about Johnson. It’s about an offense that is starting two backup guards. The line constantly misses assignments in the running game, partly because players are having to switch spots often. Washington doesn’t have Jordan Reed and might not have Josh Doctson. Johnson played well in relief last week — his legs provide a positive dimension — but the Redskins would prefer the running game to click. It hasn’t been lately. That’s why the defense has been on the field more than any other team the past three weeks. The Skins are also minus-five in turnover differential the past three games. The Jags win in a shootout. Jaguars 9, Redskins 7

Mike DiRocco’s pick: The Jaguars are facing a severely undermanned Redskins team that will start a quarterback who until last week hadn’t thrown an NFL pass since 2011. The Jaguars should win the game with little trouble but there’s one stat that should make everyone pause: one offensive touchdown in the past two weeks. That’s all Cody Kessler has managed since taking over for Blake Bortles. He has been efficient and hasn’t turned the ball over, but the Jaguars have just four plays of 18 yards or longer and have made just four red zone trips in the two games. Plus, there’s the matter of whether the defense will show up after last week’s embarrassing performance against Tennessee. Even with those issues, the Jaguars should be able to eke out a victory over a team that’s falling apart. Jaguars 7, Redskins 6

What’s at stake: The Jaguars are eliminated from the postseason and once again fighting for a top-five draft pick. The Redskins, meanwhile, are as close to a top-10 pick — FPI projects them at No. 13 — as they are to a playoff spot. — Seifert

FPI win projection: JAX, 68.1 percent. Johnson posted a 68.9 Total QBR in relief of Mark Sanchez last week, the highest Total QBR by a Redskins QB since Week 3 (85.4 by Alex Smith). The Jaguars’ backup plan at QB has not gone quite as smoothly. In his two starts since taking over for Bortles, Kessler has posted a 28.6 Total QBR. Bortles has a 49.5 Total QBR this season.

In case you missed it: Redskins’ Foster critical of team, fans on leaked Instagram exchangeHow Jaguars’ run-first formula can workJosh Johnson’s Oakland roots central to maintaining his NFL dreamJaguars ‘don’t have answers’ after embarrassing defensive performance


Point spread: CIN -2.5 | Matchup quality: 20.6 (of 100)

Paul Gutierrez’s pick: As tempting as it is to pick the Raiders over a bad Bengals team here, you have to take into account frigid Cincinnati in December. But perhaps more importantly, the interior of the Raiders’ offensive line is so banged up that not even Jon Gruden knows who will start at both guard spots. Surely, Geno Atkins is salivating. Still, Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther knows Cincinnati intimately, having coached there the previous 13 seasons, as does backup quarterback AJ McCarron. Why not, Oakland? Raiders 27, Bengals 26

Katherine Terrell’s pick: There is no real reason to pick the Bengals considering they have lost five straight games and haven’t looked like the same team since the bye. However, they did put on one of their best defensive performances in a long time last week. The Raiders’ offense is one of the worst the Bengals have faced all year, and their defense isn’t exactly firing on all cylinders. If the Bengals can sustain the momentum from last week, this is certainly a winnable game. Bengals 24, Raiders 21

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Darren Woodson thinks Joe Mixon will lead the Bengals to a win but Tedy Bruschi picks the Raiders in Week 15.

What’s at stake: The Raiders have jeopardized their favored status for the No. 1 overall pick after winning two of their past four games. They probably can’t afford another win if they want to get there. And all you need to know about the Bengals’ playoff chances is that they trail the Browns in the standings. — Seifert

FPI win projection: CIN, 68.0 percent. Both of these teams may be out of the hunt for the playoffs, but we could potentially see some offensive fireworks for the fantasy playoffs. The Raiders rank last and the Bengals rank fourth worst in defensive efficiency this season, according to FPI.

In case you missed it: Conley finally impressing and possibly answering Raiders’ offseason needsMcKenzie firing leaves next Raiders GM with NFL draft capital in Gruden’s worldOwner critical of Oakland’s lawsuit against team and NFLBengals could build around these potential stars in 2019


Point spread: BUF -2.5 | Matchup quality: 15.3 (of 100)

Michael Rothstein’s pick: Somehow, the Lions are still in contention for a playoff berth, and winning in Buffalo would keep the franchise’s postseason hopes alive for at least one more week. Yes, the offense is incredibly beat up, but the defense has improved over the past month, holding three of their past four opponents under 25 points. It will help that Buffalo has the second-worst offense in the league in yards and points scored. That should be enough for the Lions to win their second straight yawnfest. Lions 20, Bills 10

Mike Rodak’s pick: The Bills are 4-0 this season when they have a positive turnover margin and 0-9 with an even or negative turnover margin, so it’s no secret the Bills must protect the ball to beat the Lions. That is an attainable goal for Josh Allen, who will face a Detroit defense that is tied for second-fewest interceptions this season. Buffalo is 2-7 against defenses in the top half of the NFL in interceptions and 2-2 against teams, such as the Lions, in the bottom half. Bills 21, Lions 17

What’s at stake: This matchup features two teams that FPI projects to capture top-10 picks in the 2019 draft. Proceed accordingly. — Seifert

FPI win projection: BUF, 55.0 percent. In the three games since the Bills’ bye week, Allen ranks sixth in the NFL with a 79.7 Total QBR. A large portion of that is due to his rushing ability. Allen has added 18.7 expected points on the ground in the past three weeks, more than three times as many as any other QB in that span.

In case you missed it: Ansah’s time in Detroit probably sacked by latest injuryBills’ Foster finally playing up to vast (and fast) potential


Point spread: SEA -4 | Matchup quality: 40.1 (of 100)

Brady Henderson’s pick: You can bet that Nick Mullens has the Seahawks’ attention after throwing for 414 yard against them two weeks ago, the most Seattle has allowed to any quarterback this season. The Seahawks are a bit banged up coming off their Monday night win over Minnesota, and this game will be played in Santa Clara, so the rematch could be closer than Seattle’s 27-point margin of victory at CenturyLink Field. But letdowns have never been a problem under Pete Carroll. Seahawks 28, 49ers 20

Nick Wagoner’s pick: Seattle won the last meeting largely because the Niners turned it over three times and forced zero takeaways. That has been San Francisco’s biggest issue all season, as it has forced a league-low five takeaways. With the Seahawks coming off a short week and the 49ers off one of their better performances, this should be close. But the Niners’ inability to force Seattle mistakes will allow the Seahawks their 10th straight victory against the Niners. Seahawks 27, 49ers 20

What’s at stake: The Seahawks can clinch a wild-card spot with a victory. A 49ers victory could jeopardize their chance at the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. The Cardinals and Raiders, both 3-10, are their top challengers. — Seifert

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Tedy Bruschi and Darren Woodson both take the Seahawks to run all over the Niners in Week 15.

FPI win projection: SEA, 65.8 percent. The Seahawks are in great shape for the postseason and would still have a 99 percent chance to get in even with a loss, according to FPI. In another department, the Niners would have a 47 percent chance at the top draft pick with a loss and just a 4 percent chance with a win.

In case you missed it: Wilson’s 72 passing yards won’t cut it in playoffsNeed and value could be in line if 49ers land top pickSalty Seahawks could wreak havoc in the postseasonKittle falls just short of record, and Shanahan takes blame


Point spread: NE -2.5 | Matchup quality: 80.4 (of 100)

Mike Reiss’ pick: This is a pride game for the Patriots after the embarrassing way they lost on the final play against the Dolphins. Bill Belichick said the team needs to play better situational football, and it starts with him. While the past is no guarantee for how things will unfold, the Patriots have been a good investor in “pride” games in recent years. This week, players have carried themselves with a noticeable edge. Patriots 31, Steelers 24

Jeremy Fowler’s pick: This might be the last time Ben Roethlisberger gets the Patriots at home. He’ll throw for big yardage in a game the Steelers must have. But the defense is struggling to close games, the kicking situation is a mess and James Conner could miss another week, placing a spotlight on a running game that averaged 2.1 yards per carry in Oakland. Tom Brady has seven wins, 23 touchdowns and one interception against Pittsburgh since 2006. The edge belongs to the defending AFC champs. Patriots 30, Steelers 24

What’s at stake: The Patriots can clinch a playoff spot with a win and a Titans loss. To secure the AFC East title, the Patriots need a win and a loss by the Dolphins. The Steelers can’t clinch anything this week, but they would fall out of the AFC North lead with a loss and a Ravens victory. — Seifert

FPI win projection: PIT, 59.7 percent. The Steelers have the largest potential swing in chances to win their division and make the playoffs of any team this week, according to FPI. The Steelers would have an 89 percent chance to make the playoffs (84 percent chance to win division) with a win and 48 percent chance to make the playoffs (43 percent to win the division) with a loss.

In case you missed it: Ben vs. Brady: Playoff implications add urgency to lopsided rivalryGunslinger ‘artist’: The risk and reward of Ben RoethlisbergerGronk’s revival a silver lining for Patriots in crushing lossSteelers managing tailspin, and Patriots offer no easy escape


Point spread: LAR -11 | Matchup quality: 62.5 (of 100)

Tim McManus’ pick: Nick Foles will be under center in place of Carson Wentz (back), and that’s stirring up some memories of an improbable Foles-led run of a year ago. But this is a different Eagles team — one that has 12 players on injured reserve and sits in a vulnerable position at 6-7. Reality will set in against a top-tier Rams team stinging from a loss to the Bears. Rams 33, Eagles 20

Lindsey Thiry’s pick: The Rams haven’t lost two in a row under second-year coach Sean McVay, so you can bet after a drubbing in Chicago that they’ll bounce back. The Eagles’ defense is ranked 25th in yards allowed per game (384.0). That’s a nice matchup for Jared Goff, who needs to rebound after struggling in back-to-back weeks, and a Rams team that is looking to secure a first-round bye in the playoffs. Rams 34, Eagles 25

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Tedy Bruschi and Darren Woodson both like the Rams to beat the Eagles in Week 15.

What’s at stake: The NFC West champion Rams can clinch a first-round bye with a victory and a Bears loss. They need help from the Saints in order to secure NFC home-field advantage. The Eagles are among three NFC teams with 6-7 records who aren’t yet out of contention for a wild-card spot. — Seifert

FPI win projection: LAR, 78.3 percent. The Eagles are clinging to their playoff life. FPI gives the Eagles just an 18 percent chance to win without Wentz, and a loss would give Philadelphia only a 5 percent chance to make the playoffs.

In case you missed it: Wentz has fractured vertebra; rest of season in doubt The highs, lows and future of the NFL’s top young QB rivalryWhere was Gurley vs. Chicago?History repeating? Foles could lead another underdog charge


MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL

Point spread: NO -6 | Matchup quality: 86.6 (of 100)

Mike Triplett’s pick: The Saints’ offense gets most of the attention. But their defense has quietly been playing some of the best football in the NFL over the past 11 weeks. The front seven — led by Cameron Jordan, Sheldon Rankins and Demario Davis — has helped the D rank second in the league in points allowed over that span (18.0 per game), first in run defense (75.6 yards per game), second in sacks (35) and tied for third in takeaways (19). That should keep them competitive even if the offense starts slow in some outdoor Monday night weather. Saints 26, Panthers 20

David Newton’s pick: The numbers suggest the Saints should win, and win big. That the Panthers were 0-3 against Drew Brees & Co. last season and have lost five straight games this season also doesn’t bode well. But the Panthers are 5-1 at home and have their backs against the wall in terms of the playoffs. They saw what Dallas did in a prime-time win against the Saints a few weeks ago and will use a similar formula. Panthers 24, Saints 23

What’s at stake: The Saints, who already have won the NFC South, can clinch a first-round playoff bye with a victory and a Bears loss. The Panthers have a chance to put themselves back into the NFC wild-card discussion. They’re a half-game behind the Vikings for the No. 6 spot. — Seifert

FPI win projection: NO, 65.8 percent. The Panthers need a win to keep their playoff hopes alive, according to FPI. They would have a 16 percent chance with a win and a 2 percent chance with a loss. The Saints, meanwhile, have a huge potential swing in their chances at the No. 1 seed in the NFC. They would have a 74 percent chance with a win and a 25 percent chance with a loss.

In case you missed it: Benefits of mentor Payton? Campbell is ready to be a head coachResting Newton isn’t an option Panthers should considerCan Saints’ offense ‘dominate’ again after disturbing slump?Kuechly running down Jarvis Landry exemplifies no quit in Panthers

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Tight end Jimmy Graham says ‘my numbers suck’ with Green Bay Packers

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — Jimmy Graham hasn’t made the impact that the Green Bay Packers had hoped when they signed the tight end to a three-year, $30 million contract in free agency.

The five-time Pro Bowl selection apparently feels the same way.

“My numbers suck,” Graham said Friday.

Graham, 32, ranks second on the Packers with 46 catches and 549 yards. He’s already eclipsed his yardage total from 2017 and needs nine more catches to match his production in that category.

However, after catching 10 touchdowns with the Seattle Seahawks last season, he has only two this season.

Graham has played the last three games with a broken left thumb, and he couldn’t haul in what would have been a 57-yard touchdown against the Falcons last Sunday.

“You don’t want to shatter your thumb; that’s not great,” Graham said.

He quickly added that it’s not all about stats.

“That’s not what it’s about,” Graham said. “I just want to win games. If I have one catch for 2 yards and we win, I don’t care. But obviously it’s not great when you’re not helping us win, and that’s what I see.”

When he signed with the Packers in free agency last March, Graham was asked if he could replicate his numbers from his early days with the Saints.

“Hopefully I can do that here,” he said then. “When my number is called, I’m going to be ready, I can tell you that.”

Graham was asked Friday why that hasn’t happened.

“Things are going fine. It’s just in this offense, the tight end does a lot of stuff,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of responsibilities — just not running routes and out here catching the ball like a receiver. That’s just how it is. I’m just trying to do my job and do what I’m told.”

The Packers focused a good portion of their offseason on getting Graham and Aaron Rodgers on the same page. While Rodgers has spoken glowingly about Graham, the connection never blossomed.

“I think Jimmy has done a good job,” Packers tight ends coach Brian Angelichio said this week. “I think, certainly, some games you’re more involved. … Overall, I think he has done a good job. We’ve had some plays we wish we would have went a different way. Each week him and Aaron get to keep playing together, I think you see progress being made. Hopefully, this week is another step we’re looking for.”

The way the Packers structured Graham’s contract, they could move on after this season and pick up cap space.

Graham, who receives $13 million this season, has a $5 million roster bonus due in March. The Packers could decline the bonus and release him. They would have to absorb the remaining two-thirds of the signing bonus proration ($7.333 million) in dead money on their cap in 2019 — or it could be split between 2019 and 2020 if they designed him as a post-June 1 cut. However, they would wipe away the remaining $17 million from their future caps, so there would be a net cap savings of about $9 million.

Graham said he hoped this wouldn’t be his only season in Green Bay.

“I’ve always dominated everywhere I’ve went,” he said Friday. “Obviously, I haven’t done that yet here. So it would be nice to get an opportunity to do it. Come back and maybe just be kind of more comfortable here, but I’m going to give it my all no matter what’s asked of me anywhere I go, or if I stay here.”

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Philadelphia Eagles QB Carson Wentz has stress fracture in back

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PHILADELPHIA — Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz has a stress fracture in his back, coach Doug Pederson said Friday, an injury that could take about three months to heal.

Pederson, during a tense back-and-forth with the media, said that it’s an injury that has “evolved over time” and will not require surgery.

Wentz is being listed as questionable and will travel with the team for Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Rams, Pederson said. However, given the estimated three-month recovery time, it seems unlikely Wentz will play the rest of the season.

Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles will start if Wentz can’t go.

Wentz was listed on the injury report as a limited participant with a back injury on consecutive Wednesdays in late October. Asked if the stress fracture was related to that injury, Pederson raised his voice.

“He has a stress injury, evolved over time and it requires no surgery,” Pederson said. “[I’m not] answering any more questions about it. We’re playing the Rams in two days, if you guys haven’t figured this out.”

The questions persisted for about 10 more minutes, though, and Pederson went on to offer more details. He said he anticipates a full recovery for Wentz.

The fracture was discovered as a result of a scan on Tuesday, according to Pederson.

“Until you do a scan, you don’t know,” he said, but added “we do a lot of testing each week on a lot of players.”

Pederson explained why he had no concern about having Wentz play while this injury was presumably getting worse.

“There were no symptoms,” Pederson said. “He was 100 percent, he practiced. He was not on the injury report for this. So yeah, I had no issue with that.”

Pederson does not anticipate any long-term issues for Wentz as a result of this injury.

“The fact that he doesn’t need surgery on this is the best news that you could possibly have on anybody that has a stress fracture or a stress injury in this case,” he said. “As long as we take the proper steps to make sure that all our players are 100 percent, then [there’s no concern].”

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