Vote: Most disappointing team in the NFL this season?

The NFL is entering its closing stretch, with the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders appear to be headed for for surprisingly high playoff berths.

On the other hand, several teams that had high hopes before the season have Sean Mannion Youth Jersey been struggling. So, #PulseOfTheNation asks:

The Carolina Panthers (4-7), of course, reached last season’s Super Bowl after a long unbeaten run to start the season. The Arizona Cardinals (4-6-1) were the Panthers’ opponent in the NFC Championship Game after beating the Green Bay Packers (5-6) in the divisional round. The Cincinnati Bengals (3-7-1) are coming off five straight playoff appearances, while the New York Jets (3-8) went 10-6 last year, missing the playoffs on a tiebreaker.

“I kicked the ground, and from that distance you can’t kick the ground,” McManus said. “I can probably make that kick eight or nine out of 10 times, so I’m disappointed in that. When you’re that far, you just want to hit a good ball and give it a chance.”

Said Kubiak: “The fact that we had no timeouts made me want to go in that direction. If you did have your timeouts maybe you think about punting it down there and see if you can get the ball back. I don’t know, we’re going to try to win, I’ve seen [McManus] do that many times in practice. It’s on me … I thought we could do it and we didn’t get it done.”

McManus’ miss will be the play to remember for some. But the Broncos’ defense gave up three consecutive scoring drives to close out the fourth quarter and in overtime, the special teams were shaky at best and the offensive line had plenty of struggles as quarterback Trevor Siemian was sacked five times, including once for a safety.

The Broncos let Siemian’s 368-yard, three-touchdown evening go to waste, and as a result they find T.J. McDonald Youth Jersey themselves in the unfamiliar position of potentially missing the playoffs. This is, after all, a team that has won five consecutive division titles and made two Super Bowl trips in the past three seasons.

“It is do or die,” wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. “… That is how we’re looking at it.”

“I think we have to win out,” linebacker Brandon Marshall said. “We’re not used to this, but we know what we have to do.”

Cam Newton’s performance in Oakland: The Carolina Panthers are two games out of first place in the NFC South

The number of touchdown catches for Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin since Week 12 of last year. That’s more than any other player in the NFL. When targeting Baldwin this year, Russell Wilson is 50-for-63 (79.4 percent) for 684 yards (10.86 YPA), four touchdowns and no interceptions. That equates to a passer rating of 133.1 and a QBR of 99.4. Wilson, Baldwin and the Seahawks travel to Tampa as six-point favorites against the Buccaneers.

The total QBR of opposing quarterbacks Dontari Poe Authentic Womens Jersey against the Miami Dolphins since Week 6. That’s the best mark of any passing defense in the NFL. Opponents are completing just 54.5 percent of their passes with six touchdowns and eight interceptions during the Dolphins’ current five-game winning streak. Miami is a 7.5-point favorite against the San Francisco 49ers, who have now lost nine games in a row.

“He can make all the throws,’’ linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “He’s not limited in that area at all.

“Have they had the amount of success they want to have on offense up to this point? No. Their team is built on defense. That’s fair to say. But … they run the ball pretty good; they have really good playmakers on the outside as far as their receivers. They’re a dangerous team.’’

Whether the Chiefs can force Siemian into some turnovers will Dustin Colquitt Authentic Womens Jersey be a key to determining a winner in Sunday night’s game.

It’s not often that a team leans heavily this late in the year on a defensive player with two tackles and no sacks for the season, but that will be the case for the Chiefs and linebacker Justin Houston. He returned to play last week for the first time since having surgery to repair a balky left ACL in February.

The Chiefs are tied for first in the league in turnover margin (plus-13), while the Broncos will give the ball away (15 turnovers, including seven in the past three games). Given the way the Chiefs have struggled to score offensively, combined with the strength of the Denver defense, it’s difficult to picture the Chiefs winning without taking the ball away from the Broncos two or more times.

Players in the locker room referenced several big hits on Colts playmakers that seemed to wear them down

Players in the locker room referenced several big hits on Colts playmakers that seemed to wear them down.

“We love hard hits,” Davis said. “We love smart, clean hits. When we get the chance to unleash and hit people, we get pumped up.”

Ben Roethlisberger capitalized Lester Hayes Authentic Jersey on Mitchell’s pick with a 22-yard strike to Antonio Brown for the wide receiver’s third touchdown. That capped a back-to-form night for the offense, reminiscent of the 38-point road showing at Washington in Week 1.

The Steelers turned conservative while maintaining their lead and ran the ball on 25 of their first 45 offensive plays. You can get away with that when Roethlisberger is averaging 11 yards per attempt (221 yards on 14 completions and 20 throws). Plus, Brown and Le’Veon Bell finally got help! Ladarius Green had his welcome-to-the-Steelers moment with 67 receiving yards.

The Saints bolstered the running game by signing running back Mark Ingram to a four-year extension and taking one of the best run-blocking centers in football, Max Unger, from the Seahawks. Those moves, coupled with reports that the team is trying to trade wide receiver Kenny Stills, suggest that New Orleans may be trying to make over its pass-happy, Brees-heavy identity.

Prescott’s poise was evident on Lyle Alzado Authentic Jersey a pair of third-down plays in the fourth quarter, one a 7-yard run that netted a first down (and a late-hit penalty), the other a 26-yard throw to Dez Bryant that gave the Cowboys a first-and-goal at the Redskins 1. The Cowboys scored to extend their lead to 31-19.

Prescott’s most effective fourth-quarter target is not Bryant or Jason Witten, but wide receiver Cole Beasley. Prescott is 23-of-26 for 272 yards when throwing to Beasley in the fourth quarter or overtime this season, 22-of-23 since Week 2. Prescott was 2-of-2 for 20 yards and a pair of first downs connecting to Beasley in the final 15 minutes on Thursday.

the Colts likely will have to turn to Scott Tolzien, left, against the Steelers on Thursday

The Indianapolis Colts are riding their ability to stay in the AFC South hunt on a quarterback that they don’t know much about.

Scott Tolzien is in line to start against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thanksgiving night because it’ll be surprising if starting quarterback Andrew Luck completes the NFL’s concussion protocol in time for Julio Jones Womens Jersey the game.

Who is Scott Tolzien?

Not even coach Chuck Pagano could give a definitive answer on what Tolzien gives them from an offensive standpoint.

More disconcertingly, after running out one of the league’s best offensive lines last year, Cincinnati’s line has been a mess in 2016. Last year, Dalton was pressured on just 21.0 percent of his dropbacks, the fourth-lowest rate in the league, despite the fact that he was blitzed on 35.8 percent of those dropbacks, which was the sixth-highest rate in football.

This year, teams are blitzing Dalton less frequently (26.7 percent) and getting pressure without it, as Dalton’s pressure rate is in the middle of the pack at 25.7 percent. The biggest problem has been at right tackle, where 2015 first-rounder Cedric Ogbuehi has been a major disappointment in his first year as a starter.

It’s difficult to imagine the Bengals generating enough offense to run the table, which is what they will likely need to do to win the AFC North. They do have four games left within the division, which helps, but their pair of narrow losses and a tie over the past three Justin Hardy Womens Jersey games have likely clinched their fate. The same Bengals team that was 7-2-1 in games decided by one score or less last year is 1-2-1 in those same contests this year.

Father of Packers LB Thomas expected to play in game at son’s alma mater

It’s usually the father worried about the son getting hurt on the football field, but in the case of Green Bay Packers linebacker Joe Thomas Jr., it’s the other way around.

On Saturday afternoon, when Joe Jr. is on the Packers’ team plane headed for Sunday’s game at Washington, his 55-year-old father is expected to make history and play in a college football game. If all goes as planned, Joe Sr. will Trevor Linden Authentic Jersey take the field as the oldest walk-on running back for South Carolina State University, where Joe Jr. played from 2010 to 2013.

Joe Jr. has been with the Packers since 2015, but hardly anyone around the team knew that his father was enrolled at his alma mater, let alone on the football team.

Joe Jr. has been with the Packers since 2015, yet hardly anyone around the team knew his father was enrolled at his alma mater, let alone on the football team, until a story appeared this week in Sports Illustrated’s Campus Rush.

“A lot of people are wanting to criticize Andrew Luck instead of really, in my opinion, going after what the big problem is,” Wayne said on NFL Network last month. “I think that big problem is a lot of the front-office decisions. Whether it’s draft picks or it’s free-agent picks, they’ve missed on a lot of guys.”

“We have a defense that is a work in progress,” Grigson said on Fox Sports Radio last month. “When you pay Andrew what we did, it’s going to take some time to build on the other side of the ball.”

“It’s best on best. It doesn’t matter what school you came from,” Pierce said. “For me and Zack Kassian Authentic Jersey Brandon, we’re just trying to prove our worth. We want to show we’re one of the most dominant fronts in the league.”

Stopping the run is not only a source of pride with the Ravens. It’s become tradition.

Since the franchise moved to Baltimore in 1996, the Ravens have never allowed an opponent to average more than four yards per carry in any of their 20 seasons, which is an NFL record.

Can Rick Porcello repeat his surprising Cy Young success?

Dave Dombrowski’s story, the one he stuck to throughout the season, is that he never stopped believing in Rick Porcello as an elite top-of-the-rotation starter, maybe even one of the best in baseball.

Easy to say that now, right?

But long before Porcello went 22-4 with a 3.15 ERA for the Boston Red Sox and finished on top in the American League Cy Young Award voting that was revealed Wednesday night, he was a first-round draft pick of a Detroit Tigers team run by Dombrowski. It was Dombrowski who gave Porcello a $3.5 million signing bonus out of high school and brought him to the big leagues at age 20. And although Dombrowski traded Porcello after the 2014 season, that was mostly about money.

And after desperately trying to be the former during a dreadful first season with the Red Sox in which he matched his career-worst 4.92 ERA, he realized there isn’t anything wrong with being an exceptional form of the latter.

“I’m not going to go out there and blow 98 [mph] by guys or have some nasty wipeout pitch, but I can go after a lineup with my repertoire,” Porcello said. “Hopefully I have a weapon for each hitter, and the things they don’t like to hit, I can go Zach Line Authentic Womens Jersey after them with. Getting back to understanding how I’m going to get guys out, how I’m going to set guys up, how I’m going to limit damage, once that clicked, I had something I could kind of grab onto and build off.”

There’s little denying that Porcello benefited from tremendous run support. The Red Sox were the majors’ highest-scoring team, and when Porcello Trae Waynes Authentic Womens Jersey pitched, they went crazy, averaging 6.83 runs per game. And Porcello got help from reliable defense, a necessity for a pitcher who doesn’t miss many bats. Opponents batted .269 on balls in play, down from .333 in 2015 and .308 throughout his career.

Those factors would seem to indicate Porcello might be due for some regression next season. But he also allowed three or fewer earned runs in 27 of his 33 starts and pitched into the seventh inning 23 times, remarkable consistency that proves good fortune was hardly the sole reason for Porcello’s success.

So maybe the season of Porcello’s life is repeatable. Maybe he can be the anchor of a rotation. Maybe Dombrowski was right all along.

“I mean, this guy won 14 games as a 20-year-old, so he’s always been a good pitcher,” Dombrowski said. “People don’t realize how many games he’s won at the big league level for his age. He’s got great makeup, great work ethic, very competitive. I Xavier Rhodes Authentic Womens Jersey think he’s settled in with his experience, realizing his own abilities. He’s become a much better overall pitcher.”

Perhaps even for years to come.

Josh Norman can only ��laugh�� at Odell Beckham��s jab

Norman��s amusement and subtle jab about Beckham��s penchant for self-promotion came in response to the following quote from the Giants wide receiver:

��It goes back to what I was saying. If I wasn��t playing him twice a year, maybe people wouldn��t bring it up as much. But now it��ll be a lot more media attention for him, attention that I don��t really look for, attention that I don��t need. The reason that he��s become so relevant is because of me.��

Both players have seemingly gone out of their way to avoid the high road ever since their over-the-top Week 15 matchup that ultimately led a new automatic ejection rule for repeated unsportsmanlike conduct.

Fortunately for Norman and Beckham, there��s no penalty for unsportsmanlike rhetoric.

Even while tacitly acknowledging how silly it is, most every sports website grades NFL draft picks within days (or sometimes hours or even minutes) of the draft occurring. We at did it ourselves: we had grades live during the draft, plus winners and losers after Day 1, after Day 2, and at the end of the whole thing, plus another full round of grades at the end of the draft as well.

It��s fun, but it��s mostly guesswork, baking in the biases of whoever is doing the grading. Falcons owner Arthur Blank has an interesting system for grading the draft, one that��s just as valid (if not more so) than the one we used.

��Every team should get a grade A,�� Blank said, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. ��Then when you look back two or three years, that��s when you judge whether or not if you had a good draft or not.��

Basically, Arthur Blank is like Oprah. ��You get an A! And you get an A! And YOU get an A!�� It��s a very kind grading system, one based on [gasp] having the patience to evaluate picks once we actually know how the players turned out, rather than before they step onto the field.

In explaining his reasoning for why his Falcons in particular get an A grade, here��s what Blank had to say. ��I would give our coach and General Manager a grade A because I know that every single position they drafted very specifically for exactly what the coach wanted and the coaching needs in terms of defense or in terms of the offense. Hopefully, that will play out in a successful way over the next couple of years.��

Of first-round pick Keanu Neal, Blank said, ��It wasn��t just the best player on the board. It was the best player that had a specific skill-set that we feel fit that position and we are always drafting for character.��

Saints exercise 5th-year option on safety Kenny Vaccaro

The New Orleans Saints have exercised the fifth-year option on the contract of safety Kenny Vaccaro, according to NFL Media’s Albert Breer.

Vaccaro was drafted by the Saints with the 15th overall pick of the 2013 draft and and he is now under contract through the 2017 season. He is the first player from the 2013 draft class to officially have his option picked up. Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman has said that the team will pick up the fifth-year option for defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. The deadline for picking up a player’s fifth-year option is May 3.

As the 15th overall pick, Vaccaro’s salary will be the average of the third through 25th-highest salaries at the safety position. He should get paid approximately $5.6 million in 2017. This coming season, which was the final year of his $9.4 million rookie contract, Vaccaro is set to make $1.6 million. His $1.3 million prorated signing bonus will count $2.9 million against the cap this season.

He went so far as to say that he didn’t even feel safe going home anymore, noting he flies in and right back out again whenever he has to visit. He also talked about how kids don’t get the same kind of investment that the city puts into hosting larger-than-life festivals, and added that he’s planning to give back to the community.

Despite his emotional plea for the city he calls home, Mathieu acknowledged he doesn’t have all the answers either, but that starting a discussion and raising awareness was at least somewhere to start. This sentiment was echoed by the head coach of the New Orleans Saints, Sean Payton.

Payton spoke from the heart on Monday to USA TODAY Sports about the dangers of guns and — in a rare move by a current coach — about his political beliefs. “I’m not an extreme liberal,” Payton said. “I find myself leaning to the right on some issues. But on this issue, I can’t wrap my brain around it.”

It was depicted as a raw conversation, in which Payton discussed the events that led to Will Smith’s death just days earlier. The head coach couldn’t sleep after he got the news late Saturday night, and he later stopped by the hospital in support of Smith’s wife and family.

“It’s like our big little secret,” Payton said, in his call with USA TODAY Sports. “They don’t want to kill tourism. But right now, it’s like the Wild, Wild West here.

“I don’t know how he felt about guns,” Payton said. “I know he loved this city. And I know he was going to be a heck of a coach. He had such a presence about him. Not only would he have made the transition to be a great defensive line coach, he had all the tools to become a head coach.”

Smith was going to be a coaching intern for the Saints this season.

Gerald McCoy forgives teen who broke into home, asks people to pray for him

Buccaneers Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy had one request Thursday: pray. Last week, his home was broken into just a few hours before the Bucs’ Thursday Night Football game.

“I would just advise people to just pray for him. Just a kid who is lost and thinks that that’s the way to make it, and it’s not.”

McCoy said he may even visit the teen in hopes that he can help him.

“Maybe it was supposed to happen that way,” McCoy said. “Maybe he was supposed to break into my house. … I forgive him.”

The small-market Pirates have no room for sentimentality, however, and McCutchen is signed for 2017 at $14 million with a $14.75 million team option for 2018, a contract that certainly isn’t prohibitive to blocking a trade. Prospect Austin Meadows is close to the majors, although he could use half a season in Triple-A. As Keith Law wrote the other day, the Pirates have “at least signaled to potential buyers that they’re willing to discuss a McCutchen deal.”

The difficult thing is determining who McCutchen is at this point in his career. He hit .256/.336/.430, good for an OPS+ of 103, making him about a league-average hitter, a huge decline from a 157 OPS+ he posted from 2012 to 2015.

I wrote back in August that McCutchen’s decline for a hitter of his caliber at age 29 is historically unprecedented. Superstar hitters are superstars precisely because they don’t collapse at such a relatively young age.

This could be a learning tool for a young quarterback. It more likely seems to be a sign that the record weighs heavily on the coach, and that Kessler is not in the short term providing the answers the Browns want. Whether he can provide the answers long term will be determined.

The Giants are another possibility. Angel Pagan is a free agent, they need a left fielder and they struggled against lefties. Their farm system isn’t highly rated, and the Pirates might ask for infielder Christian Arroyo.

“Obviously there was miscommunication with what the personnel was,” coach Hue Jackson said after the 28-7 loss. “I think they were yelling to try to get the guy off, and he didn’t hear them. I think he was so wired and dialed in to what he thought the personnel was that he didn’t hear everybody trying to get him off the field.

Pete Carroll wishes Rex Ryan would ‘coach his own team’

Bills head coach Rex Ryan was visibly angry with Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman following Buffalo’s loss to the Seahawks on Monday night. Ryan didn’t mince words, telling Sherman he was acting like “an ass” during the game.

On Tuesday, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll responded, saying Ryan should worry about his own players.

He added a caveat.

“(Carpenter) hams it up a little bit, too, which makes it bad,” Carroll said.

The Seahawks beat the Bills 31-25, and the fallout from this game continues.

So let’s just go with a firm no to this question.

Who is going to win the AFC West?

It might be boring to place the Patriots back in another Super Bowl, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be any suspense before we reach that point in the season. In fact, the smart money should be on the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs coming out of the AFC West, which quickly has emerged as the best division in football. It’s quite conceivable that both AFC wild-card teams could come from the West — the Raiders are 7-2, the Chiefs are 6-2 and Denver is 6-3 — while San Diego might be the best 4-5 team in football (if only the Bolts hadn’t blown four second-half leads this season …).

One thing we do know for sure: Denver is trending in the wrong direction. The Broncos still have a talented defense, but they’ve struggled against the run and they’re also hurting on offense. The Raiders exploited both those issues in a win this past Sunday night, one that cemented Oakland’s stature as one of the best young teams in the game.

The Chiefs also quietly have positioned themselves to make a strong run at this division title. They’re 2-0 in the division, and one of the best-kept secrets in the NFL is that Kansas City now has won 16 of its last 18 regular-season games. If the Chiefs stay healthy — they beat the Jaguars last week despite injuries to several key players, including quarterback Alex Smith — don’t be surprised if they win out. They always play Denver tough, and they’ve already beaten the Raiders in Oakland.