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Seahawks, 49ers battle for division crown in NFL season finale

“Beast Mode” is back in Seattle as Marshawn Lynch returns Sunday to the Seahawks, who host the San Francisco 49ers in the final game of the NFL regular season with the NFC West division title on the line.

The 49ers can clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a victory over Russell Wilson and the Seahawks.

If the 12-3 Niners falter, the Seahawks could gain home field advantage with a win and defeats for both Green Bay and New Orleans.

“Can’t wait for it,” 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said of the loud, hostile environment of CenturyLink Field.

San Francisco arrive as favorites, not least because of the rash of injuries affecting Seattle that prompted the Seahawks to take a chance that 33-year-old running back Lynch can make an immediate impact even though he hasn’t played since midway through last season with Oakland.

“Only one person can pull this off and that’s No. 24,” linebacker K.J. Wright said of Lynch, who played for the Seahawks from 2010-15. “Back in the building, it feels good. When I heard the news I was like, ‘Perfect.'”

Seahawks quarterback Wilson said he was “super-excited” to welcome back Lynch, and added that to his eye “Beast Mode” hasn’t lost a step.

“He’s been working,” Wilson said. “He looks great, looks explosive, looks fast, looks strong as ever. He’s got some special things he can do.”

While the loser of the game will still make the playoffs as a wild card, Seattle coach Pete Carroll said the Seahawks were “thrilled” to find themselves playing for the division and a possible first-round bye.

“It’s the last week of the season, playing for everything, for a division and all that,” Carroll said. “It is what we aim for.”

Garoppolo admitted he was “kind of surprised” by the Seahawks decision to bring in Lynch and Robert Turbin after injuries to C.J. Prosise and Chris Carson.

“Guy is a hell of a player,” Garoppolo said. “He was unreal when he was playing. We’ll see what he’s got.”

The NFC West is one of two division titles still up for grabs as all 32 teams are in action on Sunday.

Five teams are in contention for two remaining playoff berths and six clubs have a shot at three remaining first-round byes.

The Green Bay Packers can clinch a first-round bye with a victory over the Detroit Lions — who have lost eight straight.

If the Packers win and San Francisco lose, Green Bay can also secure home field advantage.

The New Orleans Saints’ post-season schedule could also be affected by the outcome in Seattle.

Drew Brees and the Saints can secure home field advantage with a victory at Carolina and defeats or ties by either San Francisco or Green Bay.

The Philadelphia Eagles have the upper hand in the battle for the NFC East. They can lock it up with a victory over at the New York Giants.

– Spoiler alert? –

The Eagles are riding a season-high three-game winning streak that includes their win last week over division rivals Dallas — who now must beat the Redskins and hope for Philadelphia to falter.

The Giants aren’t shy about their desire to play spoiler to the Eagles’ playoff aspirations.

“We are not going to the playoffs, so we definitely want to get this W and knock them out,” veteran safety Antoine Bethea said. “We don’t want anyone celebrating on our field.”

In the AFC, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots have clinched their 11th straight AFC East title, and can secure a first-round bye with a victory over the Miami Dolphins.

The playoff-bound Houston Texans host a Tennessee Titans team who can earn a playoff berth with a win.

The Baltimore Ravens, already assured of the top seed in the AFC, are expected to rest starters including quarterback Lamar Jackson when they take on the Pittsburgh Steelers — who are still in the chase for a playoff berth.

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Week 13

Thursday, Nov. 28

Chicago -4 63%
Detroit 37%
Buffalo 34%
Dallas -4.5 66%
New Orleans -3.5 62%
Atlanta 38%

Sunday, Dec. 1

Cleveland 43%
Pittsburgh -2 57%
Green Bay -9 78%
N.Y. Giants 22%
N.Y. Jets -6 70%
Cincinnati 30%
1 p.m.
Philadelphia -6.5 72%
Miami 28%
1 p.m.
San Francisco 33%
Baltimore -5 67%
1 p.m.
Tampa Bay 31%
Jacksonville -5.5 69%
1 p.m.
Tennessee 37%
Indianapolis -3.5 63%
1 p.m.
Washington 20%
Carolina -9.5 80%
4:05 p.m.
L.A. Rams -4.5 66%
Arizona 34%
4:25 p.m.
L.A. Chargers -3 60%
Denver 40%
4:25 p.m.
Oakland 20%
Kansas City -9.5 80%
8:20 p.m.
New England -2.5 60%
Houston 40%

Monday, Dec. 2

Minnesota -0.5 53%
Seattle 47%
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Week 11

Thursday, Nov. 14

Pittsburgh 49%
Cleveland -0.5 51%

Sunday, Nov. 17

Atlanta 30%
Carolina -6 70%
Buffalo -4.5 65%
Miami 35%
Dallas -2 58%
Detroit 42%
1 p.m.
Denver 17%
Minnesota -11 83%
1 p.m.
Houston 40%
Baltimore -3 60%
1 p.m.
Jacksonville 43%
Indianapolis -2 57%
1 p.m.
New Orleans -8.5 78%
Tampa Bay 22%
1 p.m.
N.Y. Jets 48%
Washington -0.5 52%
4:05 p.m.
Arizona 13%
San Francisco -13 87%
4:25 p.m.
Cincinnati 15%
Oakland -12 85%
4:25 p.m.
New England -2 57%
Philadelphia 43%
8:20 p.m.
Chicago 30%
L.A. Rams -6 70%

Monday, Nov. 18

Kansas City -5.5 69%
L.A. Chargers 31%
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2019 NFL Predictions-Week 1

Week 1

Thursday, Sept. 5

Green Bay 36% 10
Chicago -4 64% 3

Sunday, Sept. 8

Atlanta 41%
Minnesota -2.5 59%
Baltimore -3 61%
Miami 39%
Buffalo 45%
N.Y. Jets -1.5 55%
1 p.m.
Kansas City -2.5 58%
Jacksonville 42%
1 p.m.
L.A. Rams -0.5 52%
Carolina 48%
1 p.m.
Tennessee 40%
Cleveland -3 60%
1 p.m.
Washington 23%
Philadelphia -8.5 77%
4:05 p.m.
Cincinnati 25%
Seattle -8 75%
4:05 p.m.
Indianapolis 28%
L.A. Chargers -6.5 72%
4:25 p.m.
Detroit -0.5 51%
Arizona 49%
4:25 p.m.
N.Y. Giants 26%
Dallas -7.5 74%
4:25 p.m.
San Francisco 45%
Tampa Bay -1.5 55%
8:20 p.m.
Pittsburgh 32%
New England -5 68%

Monday, Sept. 9

Houston 32%
New Orleans -5 68%
Denver 49%
Oakland -0.5 51%
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If Vegas Predicts Your NFL Team For Six Wins, You May Be In Luck

We’ve already published our Elo projections, and we think they’re the best we’ve ever produced for the NFL, but there will still be lots of misses to grouse about come January. Forecasting a sport as luck-driven as the NFL is rough that way.

It raises the question: How good are betting markets at predicting team wins? To find out, I got my hands on a tranche of win prediction data stretching back to 1989, courtesy of Sports Odds History, and checked how well Vegas preseason win totals predict actual team wins. While Vegas overall does a good job identifying good and bad teams, it turns out that at the lower end of the range of projected wins, Vegas predictions don’t seem particularly well calibrated — though the confidence intervals at the lower end are large because of the small sample size, so the results aren’t statistically significant.

Projected win totals of six and fewer undersell teams’ prospects by about a win on average, with the exception of teams forecast for five wins.

Win totals don’t change as frequently as the moneyline odds, so we probably shouldn’t take win totals at face value — at least for teams with low projected wins. What does this mean for non-bettors? It should be decent news for the Cincinnati Bengals, New York Giants, Oakland Raiders and Washington Redskins — teams that both Elo and Vegas have pegged for six wins in 2019 — since we should be more bullish on their chances than we currently are.

Optimism for these probable cellar dwellers might feel forced. But we should fight the urge toward overconfidence, especially in the face of history. A few of these teams will end up surprising us — in a good way — at the end of the year for reasons inscrutable to us now.

Which NFL teams might beat expectations?

Average actual wins (1989-2018) by Vegas preseason expected wins, and the 2019 teams at each number of expected wins

11.0 10.2 New England
10.5 9.9 Kansas City, L.A. Rams, New Orleans
10.0 8.8 Philadelphia
9.5 9.0 Chicago, Green Bay, L.A. Chargers
9.0 8.5 Cleveland, Dallas, Indianapolis, Minnesota, Pittsburgh
8.5 8.9 Atlanta, Baltimore, Houston, Seattle
8.0 7.4 Jacksonville, San Francisco, Tennessee
7.5 7.6 Carolina
7.0 6.9 Buffalo, Denver, N.Y. Jets
6.5 6.4 Detroit, Tampa Bay
6.0 6.7 Cincinnati, N.Y. Giants, Oakland, Washington
5.0 4.6 Arizona, Miami


Well … maybe not the Bengals. Not only is Cincinnati saddled with an injured A.J. Green, who appears to be out until around Week 8, the Bengals have an offense that is bereft of top talent at nearly every position. Cincinnati replaced head coach Marvin Lewis after 16 seasons of on-again, off-again contention and turned instead to Zac Taylor, a coach best known for being friends with L.A. Rams wunderkind Sean McVay. The hope must be that Taylor can revitalize the career of quarterback Andy Dalton, who sports a middling career yards per attempt of 7.2 and is one of the few starting quarterbacks who Vegas believes wouldn’t move a line if he were to be replaced in the lineup. The defense doesn’t offer a compelling reason for optimism: The Bengals ranked 28th in defensive Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) last season. Perhaps we should view that as a reason to be bullish on their prospects in 2019 simply due to regression, since defensive performance year to year isn’t terribly stable. If that seems like a bridge too far, magic might be the answer: Taylor may give lip service to the notion that he isn’t trying to be like his mentor McVay, but McVay’s brand of QB sorcery seems like the best hope for the Bengals to crest seven wins this year.

The Giants are more interesting. After a promising preseason performance by first-round pick Daniel Jones, New York fans are clamoring for a change of the guard at quarterback. As big of a reach as many believed Jones to be, I still see him as a better use of first-round draft capital than “generational talent” Saquon Barkley. Hailed as a potential savior and the missing piece for Eli Manning’s final championship push, Barkley helped the Giants improve from a terrible three-win team in 2017 to a merely bad five-win unit in 2018.

The Giants were second-worst in the league on Expected Points Added per play on first-down play-action passes after adding Saquon to the backfield,1 and prospects for a bounceback in play-action efficiency seem bleak. After trading all-world wideout Odell Beckham Jr. to the Browns, the Giants lost free agent acquisition Golden Tate to a four-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs and their expected No. 3 wideout Corey Coleman to a season-ending ACL injury. Their best hope for a productive season may rest in ownership’s willingness to bench Manning for good this time.

The other team to somehow accumulate negative value on first-down play action was Oakland. In what seems to be a pattern for teams at the bottom of the win total forecast, Vegas sees Derek Carr as a quarterback worth just 1 point to the spread. The stats back up that view. Carr’s career yards per attempt is, at 6.7, below league average, and his best season as judged by QBR is an anemic 54.6. His weapons are improved from a year ago, but they are volatile. New Raiders wideout Antonio Brown sat out of practice because he wasn’t allowed to wear a helmet the NFL deems dangerous and is now likely to be suspended for some period of time, and Tyrell Williams is a boom or bust weapon who likes to be targeted deep — something Carr may be reluctant to do given his career average depth of target of just 7.7 yards. Meanwhile “Hard Knocks” captured head coach Jon Gruden disparaging “all the football stats and all the fantasy bullshit” in favor of running backs that will “BOOF” the opposing team in pass protection. Of all the six-win teams, Oakland may be the most unpredictable — and that unpredictability could manifest itself in good ways, as well as bad. Brown’s antics could end with a fashionable and safe new helmet, Carr might be coaxed into throwing the deep ball to a talented field stretcher, and Gruden might use rookie running back Josh Jacobs optimally, leading to wins we simply can’t foresee at this point.

The final team projected for six wins in 2019 is Washington, a team that somehow came to the determination that Mark Sanchez and Josh Johnson were better choices than Colin Kaepernick to take over for quarterback Alex Smith when his 2018 season — and perhaps his career — ended with a gruesome leg injury.

In the draft, Washington team president Bruce Allen added Ohio State QB Dwayne Haskins in the first round but then failed to surround him with receiving weapons. Jamison Crowder left via free agency, former first-round bust Josh Doctson was released at the end of the preseason and tight end Jordan Reed suffered another concussion heading into Week 1. Their current starting wide receivers are third-round pick Terry McLaurin — also from Ohio State — and Paul Richardson.

The outlook at running back is brighter with the return of Derrius Guice from an ACL tear that derailed his rookie season, but there is little evidence to suggest they will put him in advantageous spots to run the ball. With the ageless, tackle-breaking cyborg Adrian Peterson in 2018, Washington lined up against neutral or stacked boxes on first-and-10 or second and long 174 times, decided they liked the look and ran right into the scrum 72 percent of the time. But if Washington can flip the script on downs tailor-made for passing and eke out some yards where they should come easy, the duo of Guice and Peterson could be enough to protect current starter Case Keenum or rookie Haskins while he learns on the job — and possibly beat the team’s six-win projection.

Check out our latest NFL predictions.

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2018 NFL Predictions-Week 15-Week 16

Week 15- Thursday, Dec. 13

FINAL Elo point spread Win prob. Score
L.A. Chargers 34% 29
Kansas City -4.5 66% 28

Saturday, Dec. 15

4:30 p.m. Eastern Elo point spread Win prob. Score
Houston -4 64%
N.Y. Jets 36%
8:20 p.m. Elo point spread Win prob. Score
Cleveland 31%
Denver -5.5 69%

Sunday, Dec. 16

1 p.m. Eastern Elo point spread Win prob. Score
Arizona 27%
Atlanta -7 73%
1 p.m. Elo point spread Win prob. Score
Dallas -1 53%
Indianapolis 47%
1 p.m. Elo point spread Win prob. Score
Detroit -0.5 51%
Buffalo 49%
1 p.m.
Green Bay 26%
Chicago -7.5 74%
1 p.m.
Miami 28%
Minnesota -6.5 72%
1 p.m.
Oakland 34%
Cincinnati -4.5 66%
1 p.m.
Tampa Bay 24%
Baltimore -8 76%
1 p.m.
Tennessee -0.5 51%
N.Y. Giants 49%
1 p.m.
Washington 40%
Jacksonville -3 60%
4:05 p.m.
Seattle -6.5 71%
San Francisco 29%
4:25 p.m.
New England 49%
Pittsburgh PK 51%
8:20 p.m.
Philadelphia 30%
L.A. Rams -6 70%

Monday, Dec. 17

8:15 p.m. Eastern Elo point spread Win prob. Score
New Orleans -5.5 69%
Carolina 31%

Week 16

Saturday, Dec. 22

4:30 p.m. Eastern Elo point spread Win prob. Score
Washington 28%
Tennessee -6.5 72%
8:20 p.m. Elo point spread Win prob. Score
Baltimore 32%
L.A. Chargers -5 68%

Sunday, Dec. 23

1 p.m. Eastern Elo point spread Win prob. Score
Atlanta 35%
Carolina -4 65%
1 p.m. Elo point spread Win prob. Score
Buffalo 14%
New England -12.5 86%
1 p.m. Elo point spread Win prob. Score
Cincinnati 39%
Cleveland -3 61%
1 p.m.
Green Bay -1.5 56%
N.Y. Jets 44%
1 p.m.
Houston 36%
Philadelphia -4 64%
1 p.m.
Jacksonville 39%
Miami -3 61%
1 p.m.
Minnesota -0.5 51%
Detroit 49%
1 p.m.
N.Y. Giants 33%
Indianapolis -5 67%
1 p.m.
Tampa Bay 23%
Dallas -8.5 77%
4:05 p.m.
Chicago -6 70%
San Francisco 30%
4:05 p.m.
L.A. Rams -9 78%
Arizona 22%
4:25 p.m.
Pittsburgh 25%
New Orleans -7.5 75%
8:20 p.m.
Kansas City PK 51%
Seattle 49%

Monday, Dec. 24

8:15 p.m. Eastern Elo point spread Win prob. Score
Denver -3 60%
Oakland 40%

Week 17

Sunday, Dec. 30

1 p.m. Eastern Elo point spread Win prob. Score
Atlanta 44%
Tampa Bay -1.5 56%
1 p.m. Elo point spread Win prob. Score
Carolina 17%
New Orleans -11 83%
1 p.m. Elo point spread Win prob. Score
Chicago 47%
Minnesota -1 53%
1 p.m.
Cincinnati 18%
Pittsburgh -10.5 82%
1 p.m.
Cleveland 21%
Baltimore -9.5 79%
1 p.m.
Dallas -3 61%
N.Y. Giants 39%
1 p.m.
Detroit 41%
Green Bay -2.5 59%
1 p.m.
Indianapolis 38%
Tennessee -3.5 62%
1 p.m.
Jacksonville 28%
Houston -6.5 72%
1 p.m.
Miami 48%
Buffalo -0.5 52%
1 p.m.
N.Y. Jets 12%
New England -14 88%
1 p.m.
Oakland 10%
Kansas City -15.5 90%
1 p.m.
Philadelphia -3 61%
Washington 39%
4:25 p.m.
Arizona 14%
Seattle -12.5 86%
4:25 p.m.
L.A. Chargers -3.5 63%
Denver 37%
4:25 p.m.
San Francisco 13%
L.A. Rams -13.5 87%
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NFL notebook: Giants WR Beckham (quad) ruled ou

The New York Giants’ ultra-slim chances of making the playoffs took another hit when wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was ruled out of Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans because of a quadriceps injury.
The decision to rule out Beckham on Friday came one day after the star wideout underwent further evaluation at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan. Beckham said tests were conducted to double-check the injury and ensure that he was healing.
The injury was described as being consistent with a hematoma, where a mass of blood pools in one area, the New York Daily News reported Thursday.
Beckham initially was hurt in a 25-22 loss at Philadelphia on Nov. 25 but played the following week against the Chicago Bears, posting three catches for 35 yards and a touchdown in a 30-27 victory.
Although he practiced during the week, Beckham reported discomfort in the quad a week ago and the Giants announced last Saturday that he would not accompany the team to Washington for last weekend’s game.
Limited to four games because of a fractured ankle in 2017, Beckham has 77 catches for 1,052 yards and six touchdowns this season.
A first-round pick (No. 12 overall) in the 2014 NFL Draft, Beckham had at least 90 catches and 1,300 yards in each of his first three seasons with New York. He also had double-digit touchdowns in each of those seasons, including a career-best 13 in 2015.
Beckham reached 200 receptions and 3,000 receiving yards in just 30 games, getting to those milestones faster than anyone in NFL history.

-Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones returned to practice Friday and is expected to play Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.
There was concern about Jones’ availability after Falcons coach Dan Quinn told reporters on Thursday that his star wide receiver was sent home because of illness.
Jones has been among the few bright spots in a dismal season for Atlanta, which is mired in a five-game losing streak. In last week’s 34-20 setback at Green Bay, Jones had eight receptions for 106 yards and two touchdowns, pushing his NFL-best total to 1,429 receiving yards.
It was the ninth 100-yard game of the season and the seventh in the past eight for Jones, tying his franchise record. He has all five of his touchdown catches in the past six games. Jones also set an NFL record by becoming the first receiver in history with five consecutive seasons of at least 1,400 yards.

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz will not need surgery for his back injury and might be able to play Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams, coach Doug Pederson told reporters on Friday.
Wentz has a fracture in his back and originally was listed as questionable, but later in the day he was downgraded to doubtful.
“He has a stress injury evolved over time and requires no surgery,” Pederson told reporters. “I’m not asking or answering any more questions about it. We’re playing the Rams in two days if you guys haven’t figured this out. “If we put him out there, there has to be 100 percent that there is no risk of anything further.”
Wentz has not practiced all week and Pederson said full recovery could take up to three months. Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles is expected to start Sunday for the Eagles (6-7).

Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner, who missed last week’s loss to the Oakland Raiders because of an ankle injury, practiced on a limited basis Friday and was listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots. Conner sat out practice on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Jaylen Samuels replaced Conner in the starting lineup against Oakland and rushed for only 28 yards on 11 carries, but he did catch seven passes for 64 yards. Stevan Ridley also played and managed only four yards on five carries, but he did score on a 2-yard run.
Conner has stepped up this season after All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell held out for a new contract and has not reported, leading the Steelers with 909 yards rushing on 201 carries, a 4.5-yard average, and 12 touchdowns, in addition to catching 52 passes for 467 yards and another score.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who missed most of the second half against the Raiders because of a rib injury but returned late in the game, was a full participant in practice on Thursday and Friday, and will start against the Patriots. The Steelers also listed wide receiver Ryan Switzer as questionable because of an ankle injury and he was a limited participant in practice on Friday.

–Former NFL All-Pro guard Bill Fralic died Friday after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 56. Fralic’s passing was announced by the University of Pittsburgh, where he was named a three-time All-American during the early 1980s. Fralic made history while at Pitt, becoming the first offensive lineman to finish among the top 10 in the Heisman Trophy voting on two occasions.
“Bill is truly one of the iconic figures in the history of Pitt athletics,” Panthers athletic director Heather Lyke said in a statement. “He set a tremendous standard for our current generation of student-athletes, not only as an athlete but also for what he went on to accomplish once his playing days concluded. Bill’s reputation for giving back might even transcend his Hall of Fame football career. He was a passionate supporter of Pitt and Penn Hills. Our deepest sympathies to his wife, Susan, and his many loved ones and friends.”
Fralic was the No. 2 overall pick of the Atlanta Falcons in the 1985 NFL Draft. A tackle at Pitt, Fralic was shifted to guard with Atlanta and earned first-team All-Pro honors in his second and third seasons. That started a string of four straight years in which Fralic was named to the Pro Bowl.
Fralic wound up playing eight seasons for the Falcons before ending his nine-year career by starting all 16 games for the Detroit Lions in 1993.

Oakland Raiders wide receiver Martavis Bryant was suspended indefinitely by the NFL on Friday for a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. It was the third such suspension for Bryant, who is on injured reserve.
“Effective immediately, Martavis Bryant has been returned to the Reserve/Commissioner Suspended list indefinitely for violating the terms of his April 2017 conditional reinstatement under the Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse,” the league said in a statement.
The 26-year-old Bryant was suspended for four games in 2015 and was suspended for the 2016 season because of previous policy violations. Bryant is not under contract for the 2019 season, so no team will hold his rights of and when he is reinstated from his latest ban.
Bryant was placed on IR by the Raiders on Dec. 5 because of a knee injury. In eight appearances, he made two starts in his first season with the Raiders. He had 19 receptions for 266 yards before the knee injury kept him inactive for three games.

Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed has been ruled out of Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars because of a toe injury he suffered in last weekend’s 40-16 drubbing by the New York Giants.
Washington (6-7) has dropped four games in a row to lose control of first place in the NFC East and fall a half-game behind Minnesota for the sixth and final playoff spot.
Redskins coach Jay Gruden said earlier this week that Reed might not return this season. The sixth-year tight end underwent surgery on both of his toes in the offseason. Veteran Vernon Davis is expected to start in Reed’s place.
Washington also could be without wide receiver Josh Doctson (concussion) and third-down back Chris Thompson (illness). Both are listed as questionable for Sunday’s game.

Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Kendall Fuller played through what is believed to be a broken wrist against the Los Angeles Chargers and had surgery on Friday morning, NFL Network reported.
Fuller will be out for an undetermined length of time, a blow to the Kansas City defense because he is perhaps the best player in a secondary that has allowed the most yards in the NFL this season.
Orlando Scandrick is expected to take over for Fuller for the Chiefs, who also could go with Charvarius Ward or Tremon Smith opposite Steven Nelson.
Fuller was penalized twice in Thursday night’s game against the Chargers — a 5-yard defensive holding call in the second quarter and crucial pass interference penalty in the end zone with eight seconds left in the game. The Chargers capitalized on both infractions by scoring touchdowns and won the game 29-28 with a two-point conversion.

San Diego Chargers veteran tight end Antonio Gates never expected to be in the playoffs this season. He was not even certain if he’d be playing football. Yet 7 1/2 months after he was released by the Chargers, Gates was basking in the glow of reaching the postseason for the first time since 2013 after the dramatic 29-28 win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night.
“Very emotional,” Gates told the team’s official website after the Chargers rallied from 14 points down in the fourth quarter. “I think what happens is that you think about all the hard times and the things you had to go through to get to this point.”
Gates was uncertain if he would play at all in 2018 after the Chargers informed his representatives in late April that they would not seek to re-sign the future Hall of Famer.
An eight-time Pro Bowl selection and three-time All-Pro, Gates had only 30 receptions for a career-low 316 yards and three touchdowns in a reduced role in 2017. He has 25 receptions for 312 yards and two scores this season

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NFL notebook: Broncos WR Sanders reportedly tears ACL

Denver Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders sustained a torn Achilles tendon during practice on Wednesday, and probably will be placed on injured reserve, multiple media outlets reported. 
Sanders was helped to the locker room by trainers after falling to the ground on a pass play near the end of the open portion of practice.
A two-time Pro Bowl selection, Sanders leads the Broncos (6-6) with 71 receptions and 868 yards in 12 games this season. In addition to reeling in four touchdown passes, the 31-year-old also has rushed and thrown for a score in 2018.
Sanders has collected 535 catches for 7,024 yards and 37 touchdowns in 127 career games with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Broncos. He was a third-round selection of the 2010 draft by the Steelers.

–Quarterback Mitch Trubisky of the Chicago Bears said that he expects to play on Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams. Trubisky has missed the last two games because of a right shoulder injury.
Chase Daniel started the two games in place of Trubisky, a victory over the Detroit Lions and an overtime loss to the New York Giants.
Nagy was optimistic when talking about Trubisky’s availability. “I feel strong that he will play, but I have to see more,” Nagy said. “I feel good about it. I’m anxious to get him out there and see him throw the ball around in practice with the guys.”

–Quarterback Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers was a limited participant in practice because of discomfort in his right shoulder, but that doesn’t necessary mean he will miss Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns. Newton did not throw during the portion of practice open to the media, but said that he will continue to play through the pain.
Newton, who had surgery on the shoulder last year, tied a career high by throwing four interceptions and was sacked four times last Sunday as the Panthers (6-6) lost their fourth consecutive game, 24-17, to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Head coach Ron Rivera didn’t commit when asked if Newton would start against the Browns. “We’ll see,” Rivera said. “We just do the best we can with it. … He’s going to do whatever he can to try to win.”

–Cornerback Xavien Howard of the Miami Dolphins, who was selected the AFC’s defensive player of the week on Wednesday, might not be able to face the New England Patriots this week because of a knee injury. Howard did not practice on Wednesday and head coach Adam Gase later revealed that Howard is dealing the knee injury.
Howard missed only one snap last Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, when he made two interceptions and had three tackles in a 21-17 victory. He suffered the injury on his second interception.
Nickel cornerback Bobby McCain is expected to replace Howard if he can’t play against the Patriots. The Dolphins bolstered their secondary by claiming cornerback Dee Delaney, formerly with the Carolina Panthers, on waivers.

–The Green Bay Packers parted ways with associate head coach Winston Moss, the team announced. Moss, who also coached outside linebackers, was let go on Tuesday by interim head coach Joe Philbin.
Moss, 52, was part of former head coach Mike McCarthy’s original staff in 2006. McCarthy was fired on Sunday after the Packers (4-7-1) lost their third straight game with a 20-17 setback to Arizona Cardinals at Lambeau Field.
Earlier on Tuesday, Moss tweeted his thoughts on what the Packers needed in a head coach: “Ponder this… what Championship teams have are great leadership! Period! It’s not the offensive guru trend, it’s not the safe trend. Find somebody that is going to hold #12 (Aaron Rodgers) and everybody in this building to a #LombardiStandard! Period! #losingsucks!”

–NFL umpire Roy Ellison was placed on administrative leave by the league Tuesday after he was accused of using derogatory language toward the Buffalo Bills’ Jerry Hughes on Sunday.
Hughes confronted Ellison, a 16-year veteran, after Buffalo’s 21-17 loss to the Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami. A video taken in the tunnel near the Bills locker room showed Hughes as he screamed at Ellison.
Ellison was suspended one game in 2013 for using derogatory language toward Washington’s Trent Williams.
This has been an unusual year for the NFL as far as disciplining officials. Down judge Hugo Cruz was fired in October for not meeting the standard performance level — the first removal of an official during a season in the Super Bowl era.

San Francisco 49ers long snapper Kyle Nelson has been suspended without pay for 10 games for violation of the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances, the NFL announced. This is the second offense for the 32-year-old Nelson, who was also banned for violation of the same policy prior to his time with the 49ers.
Nelson, who will become an unrestricted free agent after the season, will miss the final four contests of 2018 and the first six of the 2019 campaign.

–The Arizona Cardinals signed free agent Joe Barksdale and placed fellow tackle D.J. Humphries on injured reserve, the team announced.
Barksdale was released by the Los Angeles Chargers on Monday after missing the team’s 33-30 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers the previous night due to personal reasons.
The 6-foot-5, 326-pound Barksdale was a former starter at right tackle before losing his job to Sam Tevi with the Chargers. Barksdale, 29, is an eight-year NFL veteran who has played in 102 games (74 starts) in his career with the Oakland Raiders (2011), then-St. Louis Rams (2012-14) and Chargers (2015-18).
The Cardinals also secured the services of offensive lineman Rees Odhiambo on Wednesday by signing him off the Indianapolis Colts’ practice squad. Odhiambo started seven games for the Seattle Seahawks in 2017 before a hand injury ended his season. Earlier this season, the 6-4, 315-pound Odhiambo was signed to the Atlanta Falcons’ active roster off the Colts’ practice squad before being released.

–The Washington Redskins signed journeyman quarterback Josh Johnson, the team announced.
The Redskins also signed defensive end Marcus Smith, guard Zac Kerin and center Demetrius Rhaney while placing cornerback Quinton Dunbar, wide receiver Trey Quinn and guard Jonathan Cooper on injured reserve.
The move for Johnson was necessitated after quarterback Colt McCoy sustained a fractured right fibula during the final play of the first quarter of Monday’s 28-13 setback to the Philadelphia Eagles. McCoy previously replaced Alex Smith, who is out for the season with a broken leg.
Coach Jay Gruden offered the following on Tuesday when asked if free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick had been discussed for the position: “Oh, he’s been discussed for sure and right now at this point, we already had a workout last week for the few guys. … He’s been talked about and discussed, but we’ll probably go a different direction.”

–Free-agent running back C.J. Anderson is expected to sign a contract with the Oakland Raiders, according to published reports. Anderson would join a backfield that consists of Doug Martin, Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington.
Oakland saw workhorse back Marshawn Lynch placed on injured reserve on Oct. 22 with a groin injury. At the time, the 32-year-old Lynch led the Raiders with 376 yards rushing through six games and was averaging 4.2 yards per carry with three touchdowns.
Anderson was released by the Carolina Panthers on Nov. 12, mere months after signing a one-year, $1.75 million contract with the club. The 27-year-old had 104 yards on 24 carries this season to go along with one reception that went for 24 yards and a touchdown.
Anderson was a Pro Bowl selection in 2014, and he rushed for a career-high 1,007 yards for the Denver Broncos last season, when he started all 16 games. For his career, Anderson has 717 carries for 3,155 yards and 20 touchdowns. He has totaled 104 receptions for 883 yards and five touchdowns.

New York Giants safety Landon Collins is in need of shoulder surgery and will be placed on injured reserve, multiple media outlets reported on Wednesday. Coach Pat Shurmur told reporters that Collins will “most likely require surgery,” but noted a final decision has not been made on the status of the 24-year-old for the rest of the season.
Collins sustained the injury during Sunday’s 30-27 overtime win over the Chicago Bears. He has been ruled out as the Giants (4-8) bid for their fourth victory in five outings on Sunday (1 p.m.) against the host Washington Redskins (6-6).
A two-time Pro Bowl selection, Collins has recorded a team-leading 96 tackles and one forced fumble through 12 games this season. The 6-foot, 222-pound Collins has collected 437 tackles, eight interceptions and four sacks in 59 career contests since being selected by the Giants in the second round of the 2015 draft.
Collins is in the final year of his contract and is eligible to become a free agent in 2019, unless the Giants designate him as a franchise player or sign him to a contract extension ahead of the league’s new calendar year.
With Collins injured, New York likely will look to fellow safeties Curtis Riley, Michael Thomas and Sean Chandler.

Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley recorded his second NFC Offensive Player of the Week honor this season, the NFL announced Wednesday. Gurley helped the Rams clinch the outright NFC West title after rushing for 132 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday’s 30-16 win over the Detroit Lions. He also had three receptions for 33 yards.
Denver Broncos rookie running back Phillip Lindsay captured AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors after erupting for 157 yards on just 19 carries in Sunday’s 24-10 victory over the struggling Cincinnati Bengals.
Miami Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week after reeling in two interceptions and making three tackles in Sunday’s 21-17 win over the Buffalo Bills.
Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner secured NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors after recording a game-high eight tackles and a 98-yard interception return for a touchdown in Sunday’s 43-16 triumph over the San Francisco 49ers.
Los Angeles Chargers returner Desmond King was tabbed as the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week after collecting nine tackles and a 73-yard punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of Sunday night’s 33-30 victory versus the Pittsburgh Steelers.
New York Giants kicker Aldrick Rosas captured NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors after making all three field-goal attempts — including a 44-yarder in overtime — during Sunday’s 30-27 win versus the Chicago Bears. He is 26 of 27 on field-goal attempts, with his lone misfire coming from 52 yards out

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Did The Packers Squander Aaron Rodgers?

Perennially tabbed as a Super Bowl contender out of the NFC, McCarthy’s team had gone just 11-16-1 over the past two seasons, including a disappointing 8-9-1 in games that featured future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers as Green Bay’s primary passer.1 It was time for a change along the sidelines that Vince Lombardi once roamed.

Things weren’t always so bleak on the frozen tundra. The McCarthy era had its high points, particularly early on — when he and Rodgers appeared to have Green Bay positioned on the cusp of a potential dynasty. But between postseason near-misses, roster changes, injuries and coaching miscues, McCarthy’s Packers never fulfilled that promise. Instead, it’s fair to wonder whether Green Bay squandered the prime of one of the most talented QBs in NFL history.

The Packers team that McCarthy inherited in 2006 from Mike Sherman2 was one in transition — and that meant navigating some heavy-duty Brett Favre melodrama in his first two seasons at Green Bay’s helm. However, McCarthy quickly found that he had an all-time great on his hands in Rodgers, who, when he took over the starting job at age 25, was just entering his best years as a passer. The McCarthy-Rodgers marriage sputtered to a 6-10 finish in its first season but yielded great results shortly thereafter: an 11-5 playoff campaign in Year 2, then a Super Bowl crown in Year 3 and a 15-1 regular season (with Rodgers winning MVP) in Year 4. The sky seemed to be the limit for McCarthy and his star QB.

Since the end of the 2011 regular season, however, the Packers have gone just 5-6 in the playoffs; by comparison, Tom Brady and the postseason Patriots are 13-5 over the same span. Green Bay’s record includes a crushing home defeat against the New York Giants two weeks after that 15-1 season ended and another loss in which they watched helplessly as ex-49er Colin Kaepernick destroyed their defense in 2012 — still one of the greatest individual QB games in playoff history. The Packers’ postseason circumstances have not always been ideal: For instance, that Giants game was actually the only time since 2011 that Green Bay lost in the playoffs while favored — meaning the rest of the losses were as underdogs. But at the same time, the Pack have also had clear chances to return to the Super Bowl, and they came up short in each of them.

All told, it remains mystifying that a quarterback of Rodgers’s stature hasn’t won more frequently. If we run a simple logit regression between a QB’s Yards Above Backup in a season and whether his team made the Super Bowl,3 we’d expect Rodgers to have made 1.86 Super Bowls in his career through 2017 — roughly twice as many as he’s actually been to. (Meanwhile, other contemporary QBs — such as Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning and even Brady — have gone to more than twice as many Super Bowls as we’d expect from their individual stats.)

Rodgers hasn’t won as much as he should have

Top 10 NFL starting quarterbacks by Yards Above Backup QB, 1990-2017, with their actual and expected Super Bowl appearances

1 Peyton Manning 17 21,585 4 4.15 -0.15
2 Tom Brady 16 19,735 8 3.63 +4.37
3 Drew Brees 16 17,250 1 2.89 -1.89
4 Brett Favre 19 13,047 2 1.86 +0.14
5 Aaron Rodgers 10 10,988 1 1.86 -0.86
6 Ben Roethlisberger 14 10,945 3 1.35 +1.65
7 Philip Rivers 12 10,721 0 1.54 -1.54
8 Steve Young 8 10,022 1 1.65 -0.65
9 Matt Ryan 10 8,251 1 1.14 -0.14
10 Tony Romo 9 8,192 0 1.11 -1.11

1990 was the first season of the NFL’s current playoff format. Expected Super Bowls are based on a season-by-season logit regression between a QB’s Yards Above Backup and whether his team made the Super Bowl.


Over time, it became more and more difficult for the Packers to come within striking distance of the Super Bowl. In 2015, Rodgers slumped to career-worst numbers without top wideout Jordy Nelson, though the team as a whole was still good enough to get to the divisional playoffs before losing. In 2016, it was more of the same when Rodgers mused that Green Bay could still “run the table” — sparking an eight-game winning streak that saw the QB return to vintage form and left the Packers a win away from the Super Bowl.4 By then Rodgers was 34 years old, so a sense of urgency was setting in when 2017 came and went without a playoff berth — even though that could be written off as the byproduct of Rodgers missing nine starts.

The 2018 season was always going to be the real crossroads for McCarthy. With a healthy Rodgers leading the way, the Pack could always count on contending in the past, so this year’s expectations were no different. But Rodgers’s numbers have been merely good, not great. Brett Hundley isn’t around anymore to take any blame. And unlike in 2015, when Green Bay was talented enough to survive despite a downturn in its QB’s individual stats, there has been no answer from the team’s supporting cast this time around. It all came crashing down around McCarthy in the loss to Arizona as 13½-point favorites, Green Bay’s single most disappointing defeat since the merger according to Pro-Football-Reference’s point-spread data.

We can visualize the Packers’ decline over McCarthy’s final few years at the helm using FiveThirtyEight’s Elo ratings. Specifically, I’ve been tinkering with an experimental version of Elo that keeps a separate adjustment for the primary QB in each game, similar to how we treat starting pitchers in our MLB ratings.5 Using this, we can trace how a team’s performance rises and falls independent of its QB — which is useful in cases like 2017, when Rodgers was hurt and Hundley started nine games. (For instance, by season’s end, the Packers would have projected to be a 1529 Elo team with Rodgers starting — compared to a 1427 team with Hundley. And remember, 1500 is average.)

At the beginning of 2015, the Packers had an effective Elo of 1622, which included a 73-point boost from having Rodgers at QB and a 49-point boost from his teammates. By the end of the year, Green Bay’s effective Elo was still in the same neighborhood (1597), despite Rodgers’s adjustment actually dropping to negative 11, because the rest of the team carried a larger share of the weight (+108). Meanwhile, at the peak of the Packers’ run-the-table surge in 2016, the team’s 1657 effective Elo arose out of a 61-point boost from Rodgers and 97 additional points (relative to league average) from the rest of the team.

But fast-forward to now, and it’s clear how much the Packers have crumbled around Rodgers. His own adjustment is 16 points of Elo above an average QB, the lowest it’s been since Week 10 of the 2016 season. But he’s still expected to be above average; his supporting cast, by contrast, has fallen to a negative-67 score relative to the average team. That’s the worst they have been in Rodgers’s entire NFL career, and it isn’t especially close. Keeping QB play constant, the Packers’ Elo has dropped by a total of 139 points since the end of the 2016 season, which is essentially the difference in current Elo ratings of the 11-1 Los Angeles Rams and the 6-6 Carolina Panthers.

The reasons for the slide are varied, but many can be traced back to a series of poor drafts under former general manager Ted Thompson, who was replaced by current front-office chief Brian Gutekunst in January. As Sports Illustrated’s Kalyn Kahler pointed out last week, only three of Green Bay’s 17 draftees from 2014 and 2015 remain on the current roster. While no team can avoid dry spells in the NFL draft if given enough time, the Packers also — largely by design — did little in the way of enlisting outside help as a backup plan.6 Combine those infrastructural problems with criticisms of McCarthy’s offensive scheme (criticisms of a perceived lack of innovation that Rodgers apparently shared), plus legitimate complaints about Rodgers’s own decline in performance, and a season like this was bound to happen to Green Bay sooner or later.

Even so, it came contrary to preseason predictions. Going into the schedule, you might have penciled in this week’s matchup against the Atlanta Falcons as a marquee game with playoff implications. Instead, it will be the third-worst game of the week, according to our combination of matchup quality (i.e., the harmonic mean of the teams’ Elo ratings in each game) and game importance (how likely it is to swing every team’s odds of making the playoffs):7

The best matchups of Week 14

Week 14 games by the highest average Elo rating (using the harmonic mean) plus the total potential swing for all NFL teams’ playoff chances based on the result, according to Sportseconds NFL predictions

BAL 65.0% +/-15.1 KC 100.0% +/-0.0 31.8 1628
PHI 28.3 24.2 DAL 81.1 19.4 51.0 1578
MIN 59.7 19.9 SEA 87.7 11.8 41.4 1572
CHI 94.4 4.3 LAR 100.0 0.0 10.8 1615
IND 9.8 10.1 HOU 98.2 2.4 23.6 1515
MIA 6.6 7.4 NE 99.7 0.5 16.2 1537
WSH 26.4 11.7 NYG 0.1 0.1 24.9 1435
TB 1.7 2.0 NO 100.0 0.0 6.9 1570
TEN 18.9 10.6 JAX 0.1 0.1 21.9 1478
PIT 83.8 11.0 OAK 0.0 0.0 23.7 1453
CAR 17.8 9.9 CLE 0.3 0.4 22.0 1454
DEN 20.9 11.1 SF 0.0 0.0 24.7 1427
LAC 96.0 3.6 CIN 0.9 1.3 9.1 1504
GB 1.4 1.3 ATL 1.1 1.2 5.5 1469
DET 0.3 0.3 ARI 0.0 0.0 4.2 1412
BUF 0.0 0.0 NYJ 0.0 0.0 2.4 1377

Game quality is the harmonic mean of the Elo ratings for the two teams in a given matchup. Total Change adds up the potential swing in playoff odds for every team in the league (not just the two teams listed).

*Average change is weighted by the likelihood of a win or loss. (Ties are excluded.)


Although the Packers hadn’t replaced a coach at midseason since 1953, Sunday’s loss forced their hand. Now they’ll need to figure out who’s next, from a candidate list that includes big names among both pro coordinators(Josh McDaniels) and up-and-coming college coaches (Lincoln Riley). They’ll also need to hope Rodgers’s issues were more related to McCarthy’s offense and less to his getting older and less productive — basically, that the next Packer coach will be more Mike Shanahan to Rodgers’s John Elwaythan Jimmy Johnson to his Dan Marino. So while the Packers may not have much on the line over the rest of their games, this promises to be the most interesting offseason Green Bay has had since Favre was retiring and unretiring more than a decade ago.

Sportseconds vs. the readers

Make sure to check out Sportseconds Elo ratings using our NFL prediction interactive, which simulates the rest of the season 100,000 times and tracks how often each team should make the playoffs and win the Super Bowl. And did you know you can also pick against the Elo algorithm in our prediction game? Maybe you can also climb up our giant leaderboard (or, if you’re like me, fall down it with each passing week).

Here are the games in which Elo made its best — and worst — predictions against the reader picks last week:

Elo’s dumbest (and smartest) picks of Week 13

Average difference between points won by readers and by Elo in Week 13 matchups in Sportseconds NFL prediction game

CIN 52% DEN 59% DEN 24, CIN 10 +8.5
PIT 62 PIT 54 LAC 33, PIT 30 +6.7
LAR 68 LAR 79 LAR 30, DET 16 +4.1
ATL 53 ATL 50 BAL 26, ATL 16 +1.5
KC 83 KC 89 KC 40, OAK 33 +0.4
SEA 83 SEA 83 SEA 43, SF 16 -1.5
MIA 58 MIA 57 MIA 21, BUF 17 -2.3
NE 67 NE 65 NE 24, MIN 10 -3.8
PHI 69 PHI 66 PHI 28, WSH 13 -4.1
TEN 78 TEN 72 TEN 26, NYJ 22 -4.4
CHI 69 CHI 72 NYG 30, CHI 27 -6.1
HOU 77 HOU 69 HOU 29, CLE 13 -6.6
CAR 59 CAR 64 TB 24, CAR 17 -7.8
GB 73 GB 79 ARI 20, GB 17 -10.5
IND 51 IND 62 JAX 6, IND 0 -14.0
NO 64 NO 74 DAL 13, NO 10 -15.3
Home teams are in bold.

The scoring system is nonlinear, so readers’ average points don’t necessarily match the number of points that would be given to the average reader prediction.

After a series of narrow wins at midseason, the algorithm handed the readers their worst loss (-55.2 points on average) since Week 3. Some of the blame can go to the subject of this column — the Green Bay Packers, whose loss not only cost Mike McCarthy his job but also cost users 10.5 points on average. But readers were also burned by the Jaguars’ win over the Colts and the Cowboys’ upset victory over the Saints. Add it up, and Elo has beaten the average reader 12 times in 13 weeks this season.

But congrats to Mike Edelstein, who led all users in Week 13 with 137.0 points, and to one of my favorite leaderboard names, Greg Chili Van Hollebeke, who maintained his No. 1 ranking on the season with 1,002.1 points. Thanks to everyone who has been playing — and if you haven’t, be sure to get in on the action! You can make picks now and still try your luck against Elo, even if you haven’t played yet.

Check out our latest NFL predictions.

(Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight. )

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2018 NFL Predictions-Week 14

Week 14

Thursday, Dec. 6

Jacksonville 34%
Tennessee -4.5 66%

Sunday, Dec. 9

Atlanta 47%
Green Bay -0.5 53%
Baltimore 29%
Kansas City -6 71%
Carolina -3.5 62%
Cleveland 38%
1 p.m.
Indianapolis 32%
Houston -5 68%
1 p.m.
New England -6.5 72%
Miami 28%
1 p.m.
New Orleans -7 74%
Tampa Bay 26%
1 p.m.
N.Y. Giants 31%
Washington -5.5 69%
1 p.m.
N.Y. Jets 30%
Buffalo -6 70%
4:05 p.m.
Cincinnati 16%
L.A. Chargers -11.5 84%
4:05 p.m.
Denver -3.5 63%
San Francisco 37%
4:25 p.m.
Detroit 49%
Arizona PK 51%
4:25 p.m.
Philadelphia 41%
Dallas -2.5 59%
4:25 p.m.
Pittsburgh -9 78%
Oakland 22%
8:20 p.m.
L.A. Rams -2 56%
Chicago 44%

Monday, Dec. 10

Minnesota 38%
Seattle -3.5 62%