Alabama associate defensive coordinator / safety coach Charles Kelly before the Texas A&M game at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas on Saturday October 12, 2019.

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Reports: Colorado tabs Charles Kelly as DC

Deion Sanders’ Colorado coaching staff continues to take shape, with Alabama associate defensive coordinator and safeties coach Charles Kelly set to become the Buffaloes’ defensive coordinator, multiple media outlets reported Wednesday night.

Kelly, 55, served in his current role with the Crimson Tide since 2019. Before that, the Auburn alumnus worked at his alma mater as a graduate assistant in 1993, then was on the coaching staffs at Jacksonville State (1994-98), Henderson State (1999), Nicholls State (2002-05), Georgia Tech (2006-12), Florida State (2013-17) and Tennessee (2018).

Sanders was hired as Colorado’s head coach on Saturday, and he immediately set to work on improving a team that went 1-11 (1-8 Pac-12) this year under Karl Dorrell and later interim coach Mike Sanford.

Sanders, a Pro Football Hall of Famer who arrived in Boulder, Colo., after a successful coaching stint at Jackson State, also told the current Buffaloes players to enter the transfer portal as he plans to bring in newcomers. Among those expected to arrive at Colorado is Sanders’ son, Shedeur Sanders, who was the starting quarterback at Jackson State.

Former Kent State head coach Sean Lewis is in line to become Sanders’ offensive coordinator, multiple media outlets reported Monday.

–Field Level Media

Dec 4, 2022; Inglewood, California, USA;  Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett (16) celebrates with quarterback Geno Smith (7) and wide receiver DK Metcalf (14) after a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Seahawks hope to avoid upset against Panthers

The Seattle Seahawks have done enough to be in good position in terms of the NFC playoff picture.

So, they certainly can’t afford a slip-up against an inconsistent Carolina Panthers team in a matchup this Sunday in Seattle.

“To get a win is hard to get,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said.

The Seahawks (7-5) snapped a two-game skid by rallying past the Los Angeles Rams last week in a 27-23 win. In some ways, Seattle could be prone for a letdown.

Carolina (4-8), coming off an open week on its schedule, somehow isn’t far from playoff position in the slumping NFC South, so the Panthers still have plenty to play for under interim coach Steve Wilks. They’re only two games out of first place.

“The message is we still keep it one at a time,” Wilks said. “We have to go do something we haven’t done all year, which is win on the road. Seattle is playing well and they’re pushing for the playoffs. If we want to be in that conversation, we have to create that playoff mentality.”

For years, the Seahawks seemed to have Carolina’s number behind the play of quarterback Russell Wilson. He’s with the Denver Broncos now, and the Panthers pinned a loss on him in their most recent matchup.

Now they’ll try to avenge some of the frustrations they’ve incurred against Seattle. The Seahawks have won eight of 10 matchups since 2010, including playoffs. Overall, Seattle leads the series 10-4, including postseason meetings.

The Seahawks have quarterback Geno Smith rising in popularity.

Running back Kenneth Walker III is hobbled, though, so that could become an issue. He didn’t practice Wednesday.

“Geno is doing an excellent job just running the offense,” Wilks said. “I know there are some questions about their running back position. Their offense, you see they’re very efficient in the things they do.”

Carolina running back D’Onta Foreman is likely to play after sustaining an injured left foot two weeks ago.

The Panthers made news this week by releasing Baker Mayfield, who had been the opening-day starter at quarterback. But with Sam Darnold and PJ Walker ahead of him, Mayfield asked to be let go and was granted his request.

“Baker has been nothing but a professional since he has been here,” Wilks said. “… Just looking at the body of work the last couple of weeks, I feel that PJ has been productive when he has been in there.”

Darnold will be the starter, and he might try to exploit some questionable areas in the Seattle secondary. Seahawks safety Josh Jones has gone on injured reserve with a hamstring injury sustained last week, meaning defensive back Johnathan Abram might be making his debut with the team Sunday.

Safety Ryan Neal has been dinged up as well.

Still, the Seahawks should feel good about the progress of cornerback Tariq Woolen. His six interceptions are the most by a Seattle rookie in franchise history and tied for the NFL lead this season.

Wilks said Carolina needs to show it can win on the road (0-5 this season, nine straight road losses dating back to November 2021), noting that doing so in front of a hostile environment in Seattle is a heightened challenge.

–Field Level Media

Dec 4, 2022; Santa Clara, California, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy (13) calls out the play against the Miami Dolphins during the third quarter at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Brock Purdy hopes to steady 49ers against Tom Brady’s Bucs

The quarterback regarded as the greatest of all time will square off against “Mr. Irrelevant” on Sunday when Tom Brady and Tampa Bay Buccaneers visit rookie Brock Purdy and the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif.

On one hand is Brady, a seven-time Super Bowl champion, three-time NFL MVP and 15-time Pro Bowl selection.

On the other is Purdy, who will make his first career start on Sunday. At the moment, Purdy’s claim to fame is that he was the 262nd pick of the 2022 NFL Draft.

Brady threw two late touchdowns to help Tampa Bay rally from a 13-point deficit to post a 17-16 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Monday. The 45-year-old has thrown two scoring strikes in three straight games for the Buccaneers (6-6), who have won three of their last four contests to rest atop a generously mediocre NFC South.

As for the 49ers (8-4), they find themselves atop the NFC West after winning in five in a row. That fifth victory was costly, however, as the 22-year-old Purdy was ushered in to replace an injured Jimmy Garoppolo (broken foot) in San Francisco’s 33-17 win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.

By all accounts, Purdy acquitted himself well on Sunday by completing 25 of 37 passes for 210 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Purdy had already become the first Mr. Irrelevant ever to complete a forward pass in the NFL back in Week 7 mop-up duty against Kansas City, and now he’s the only one with a touchdown pass.

San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan said Wednesday that the team isn’t interested in making wholesale changes to its offensive approach with Purdy under center this weekend.

“We’re trying not to make it a drastic change,” Shanahan said. “I mean, they (Garoppolo and Purdy) have similar skill sets. We’ve got a lot of confidence in Brock. We’ve seen him in practice; the players have, we have, and that’s why we were confident in him. But he hasn’t played a ton of football, so there is some unknown out there, but we know he’s got the ability to do it, we know he’s got the mentality to do it.”

Also, Purdy isn’t out there by himself. And Tampa Bay coach Todd Bowles is well aware of that fact.

“He’s talented to begin with or he wouldn’t be in this league,” Bowles said. “But they have a lot of talented players around him and he’s going up against a great defense every day in practice. He’s not going to be nervous, he’s going to play his game — we just have to play ours.

“It’s not about the quarterback, it’s about all 11 guys on the offense.”

49ers running back Christian McCaffrey rolled up 146 scrimmage yards (80 receiving, 66 rushing) last week against Miami. He is no stranger to the Buccaneers after his time with the NFC South-rival Carolina Panthers.

McCaffrey (knee irritation) joined versatile Deebo Samuel (quad), defensive lineman Arik Armstead (foot) and offensive lineman Spencer Burford (ankle) as limited in Wednesday’s practice. NFC Defensive Player of the Week Nick Bosa (hamstring), joined Garoppolo, defensive back Tarvarius Moore (knee), defensive lineman Hassan Ridgeway (pectoral) and offensive tackle Trent Williams (veteran day) in sitting out the session.

With Bosa in tow, the 49ers lead the NFL in total defense (283.9 yards allowed per game), rush defense (75.6) and fewest points allowed (15.8).

“We know what they are — the No. 1 defense in the league and they’re going to challenge us, come up on us, and we’re just ready to accept the challenge,” Buccaneers rookie running back Rachaad White said. “… We know what they bring, and they’ve got a lot of good, great guys up front. They have four pass rushers plus more, they come off the bench, substitute, I mean, the backers are in the box and then back in.

“You know what they can do, they compete, high-effort team, and they’re going to keep coming, so we’ve got to keep pressure.”

Tampa Bay’s defense is no slouch either. The Buccaneers rank eighth in the NFL in total defense (313.8), fifth in scoring defense (18.3) and fourth in sacks (38).

Tampa Bay safeties Mike Edwards (hamstring) and Antoine Winfield Jr. (ankle) and offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs (ankle/knee) did not participate in practice on Wednesday. Cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting (quadriceps) and nose tackle Vita Vea (foot/shoulder) were limited in the session.

–Field Level Media

Nov 12, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck leads his team out onto the field before the game against the Northwestern Wildcats at Huntington Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota signs coach P.J. Fleck through 2029

Minnesota announced a new seven-year contract Wednesday with football coach P.J. Fleck.

Financial terms of the deal, which runs through the 2029 season, were not disclosed, but The Athletic reported it to be valued at $42 million.

The Golden Gophers are 8-4 this season heading into a date with Syracuse in the Dec. 29 Pinstripe Bowl.

Fleck, 42, has compiled a 43-27 record in six seasons at Minnesota.

“This is all about cultural sustainability,” Fleck said in a university news release. “We have talked about that from day one, and this new contract is a commitment to continuing to change our best academically, athletically, socially and spiritually. It is also a commitment to our elite staff and our tremendous fans.”

Setting aside the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign, the Gophers have won at least eight games in three straight full seasons. The last time that happened was 1903-05.

“I am excited that P.J., Heather and their family will continue to call Minnesota home,” athletic director Mark Coyle said. “What P.J. and his staff have done in a short amount of time is remarkable. He has recruited and developed some of the best student-athletes to ever play at Minnesota and his team continues to excel academically, athletically and socially.”

The contract agreement is pending approval by the university’s board of regents.

–Field Level Media

Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) looks onto the field from the sideline during the thirds quarter of the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Philadelphia, Pa.

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GM’s firing underscores Titans’ urgency vs. Jaguars

Owning a three-game lead in the AFC South with just five games left, the Tennessee Titans still pulled the trigger on a major move on Tuesday.

Owner Amy Adams Strunk canned general manager Jon Robinson, two days after watching wide receiver A.J. Brown, who Robinson traded in the offseason to Philadelphia, catch eight passes for 119 yards and two scores in the Eagles’ 35-10 rout of Tennessee.

The Titans try to pick up the pieces from that outcome and organizational upheaval Sunday when they host the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are hoping to mount a late challenge to Tennessee in the division.

Fifth-year coach Mike Vrabel, whom Robinson hired in January 2018 after Strunk fired then-coach Mike Mularkey, will team with vice president of player personnel Ryan Cowden to handle player moves for the season’s remainder.

“The message is the same as it’s always been — we’re charged to win,” Vrabel said Wednesday. “We’re here to win championships. We all have a job to do and we’re held to a high standard and we’re evaluated each and every day on that job.

“And it’s the same thing I told the football team and the players this morning.”

The Titans (7-5) have lost their last two games after going 7-1 in their previous eight games to take command in one of the league’s weakest divisions. They are the only team with a winning record in the AFC South.

As things presently stand, they would be the fourth seed in the AFC playoffs and in the first round would face Cincinnati, which knocked them out of the postseason back in January and defeated them in Week 12. With just one winning team left on Tennessee’s schedule, there’s an opportunity to improve its playoff positioning.

For that to happen, the Titans need to get Derrick Henry going. A two-time league rushing champ, Henry has been held under 100 yards in each of the last four weeks, including just 30 on 11 carries at Philadelphia.

“I pride myself on being a playmaker for this team and I feel like I haven’t really done that these last two weeks,” he said.

Meanwhile, Jacksonville (4-8) has one shot to maneuver into some sort of contention. It either wins this week or it will miss the playoffs for the fifth straight year since advancing to the AFC finals in 2017, when it held a fourth-quarter lead before losing in New England.

The Jaguars are coming off one of their worst games of the year, allowing points on Detroit’s first eight possessions last week in a 40-14 loss at Ford Field. The Lions carved up Jacksonville for 437 total yards and never punted, going 8-for-12 on third down.

“It was an ugly day for us, for sure,” said Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who went 17-for-31 for 179 yards and a touchdown in defeat.

And Lawrence didn’t go unscathed, leaving the game after his left leg was twisted during a sack. Lawrence didn’t practice Wednesday with a sprained toe and there’s a chance backup C.J. Beathard may have to play in his place this week.

“He’s been in these situations before in his career so it’s not unfamiliar territory to him,” said Jacksonville coach Doug Pederson of Beathard.

–Field Level Media

Jan 8, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) runs the ball in the first quarter against the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Patrick Mahomes tries to continue Chiefs’ dominance of Broncos

Peyton Manning dominated the Kansas City Chiefs in his Hall of Fame career. He was 12-2 against them and won the first seven times he played them as the Denver Broncos quarterback.

He lost his last head-to-head matchup, back in 2015, which flipped the narrative in the rivalry. Kansas City has won 13 straight games in the series, starting with that 29-13 win, and it will go for No. 14 when the Chiefs play in Denver on Sunday.

Kansas City (9-3) is coming off a loss in Cincinnati, which was a rematch of the AFC title game last year, but will find safe haven against the Broncos.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes is 14-0 in AFC West road games, and Mahomes has the advantage to win his 15th considering Denver’s offensive struggles.

“I mean, that’s the past. For us, it’s the now. It’s a West opponent. It’s a great rivalry that’s been going on for years,” Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett said. “I am very excited to be a part of it.”

Denver (3-9) is last in the NFL at 13.8 points per game while the Chiefs average 29.2 per game, which leads the league.

The Broncos’ defense has come up big this year but with little reward. The unit is second in the league in points allowed per game (17.0) and third in fewest yards allowed at 304.6 but the offense’s inability to score has led to eight losses by single digits.

To make things tougher Denver will likely be without leading receiver Courtland Sutton on Sunday due to a hamstring injury. Wide receiver Jerry Jeudy (ankle) and guard Dalton Risner (shoulder/back) are among those who did not practice on Wednesday.

Kansas City is relatively healthy in comparison. While wideout Mecole Hardman (abdominal injury) isn’t eligible to come off injured reserve for another week, receiver Kadarius Toney (hamstring) returned to practice on a limited basis Wednesday as did linebacker Nock Bolton (groin).

Toney, acquired from the New York Giants earlier this season, hasn’t played since Week 11 against the Los Angeles Chargers.

Mahomes has plenty of weapons to utilize without those two, especially tight end Travis Kelce, who leads the team in receiving yards (968) and is tied for the league lead in touchdown catches (12).

More concerning is the foot injury Mahomes suffered against the Bengals last week. He came up limping on the last play of the game and is listed on the injury report but he doesn’t seem concerned about it.

“It’s felt good,” said Mahomes of his foot. “You always deal with bruises and little things in the NFL season — and so, luckily for me, it’s just a bruise and something I can just kind of bounce back from. (I’ll) be out there at practice and keep getting better like we’re trying to do.”

If the foot is an issue against the Broncos it might be a factor against their stout defense. Mahomes called Denver’s defense “special” and knows what he has to do in order to neutralize the rush.

“I’ve got to do my best to get the ball out of my hand and let these guys make plays,” he said.

–Field Level Media

Dec 4, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Gallup (13) is tackled by Indianapolis Colts cornerback Isaiah Rodgers (34) during the second half at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Cowboys hope to maintain momentum against reeling Texans

While the discussion over whether to sign Odell Beckham Jr. continues to swirl around the Dallas Cowboys, they are about to get a critical offensive piece back as they look to catch the Philadelphia Eagles atop the NFC East.

Eight-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle Tyron Smith returned to practice Wednesday, opening his 21-day window to return after suffering a torn hamstring with an avulsion fracture before the start of the regular season.

“Anytime Tyron’s on the field, it’s a good day for the Dallas Cowboys,” Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said. “It’ll be great to have him back out there.”

Smith could make his season debut Sunday when the Cowboys take on the Houston Texans in Arlington, Texas.

“He’s out there striking guys,” Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott said Wednesday of Smith’s return. “Felt bad for those D-ends he was going against. … Definitely good to have Tyron back out there.”

When Smith returns, rookie Tyler Smith, who has been playing left tackle, will move to left guard, shoring up that spot in the Cowboys’ offensive line.

The Cowboys (9-3) are looking to continue the momentum they’ve built since the return of quarterback Dak Prescott from a fractured right thumb that kept him out for five games.

Since Prescott’s return, Dallas is 5-1 and averaging 37.2 points per game — best in the league during that span. The Cowboys have averaged 411 yards per game during that stretch, behind only the Chiefs.

With Dallas’ high-profile pursuit of Beckham dominating headlines recently, receiver James Washington’s return has been overshadowed.

Washington was signed in the offseason after spending four years with the Steelers but suffered a foot fracture in training camp.

“I think clearly he’s physically ready,” McCarthy said Wednesday.

While the Cowboys’ quarterback spot has been solidified with Prescott’s return, the Texans’ remains a bit in limbo.

Houston (1-10-1) is turning back to Davis Mills, after Kyle Allen replaced him for two starts without much success.

In losses to Miami and Cleveland, Allen completed 59 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and four interceptions and a lost fumble.

“We don’t give out lifetime jobs, we’ll start with that. It’s about performance each week,” Texans coach Lovie Smith said. “When Davis was the starter, sometimes you need a relief pitcher to come in, and that’s what it was.”

The Texans offense has been sluggish regardless of who the quarterback is, as Houston has scored more than 20 points in a game just once this season. Only Denver has scored fewer points.

Mills was 1-8-1 with a 78.1 passer rating in 10 starts before Allen replaced him.

“I think the second time around, you kind of appreciate the position you’re in a little bit better,” Smith said. “I know that’s the case.”

Mills could be without two of his top targets Sunday. Receivers Brandin Cooks (calf) and Nico Collins (foot) have both missed time in practice in the lead-up to the matchup with the Cowboys.

Cooks missed last week’s loss to Cleveland while Collins had three catches for 35 yards and a touchdown in the 27-14 loss.

–Field Level Media

Browns linebacker Deion Jones celebrates as he gets up after sacking Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow during the second half Monday, Oct. 31, 2022, in Cleveland.

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Bengals, Joe Burrow scheming for first win vs. rival Browns

Cincinnati Bengals star Joe Burrow has defeated the powerhouse Kansas City Chiefs three times over the past 11-plus months, but a different win-loss mark hangs over him this week.

Burrow is 0-4 against Cleveland and the quarterback who defeated Patrick Mahomes again last weekend will try to change that ugly factoid when the Bengals host the Browns on Sunday.

“We haven’t executed up to our ability, so we’re gonna have to execute the game plan to the best of our ability and move the ball, put points on the board and keep their offense off the field,” Burrow said during Wednesday’s press conference on how to end the skid against Cleveland.

Overall, the Bengals (8-4) have lost five straight and eight of the past nine to the Browns (5-7).

On Halloween, it was a one-sided win for host Cleveland. Jacoby Brissett was 17-of-22 passing for 278 yards and one touchdown and Nick Chubb rushed for 101 yards and two scores as the Browns rolled to a 32-13 victory and outgained Cincinnati 440-229.

Burrow completed 25 of 35 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns. But he was sacked five times and also threw an interception. He has been sacked just five times in Cincinnati’s four games since losing to the Browns.

The quarterback who guided the Bengals to last season’s Super Bowl before losing to the Los Angeles Rams will see a new face this Sunday. It marks the first time he has matched up against Deshaun Watson.

Watson will be making his second start for the Browns after serving an 11-game suspension from the NFL due to alleged sexual misconduct involving more than two dozen massage therapists.

He was just 12 of 22 for 131 yards with a career-low 53.4 passer rating in last Sunday’s 27-14 win over the Houston Texans. Cleveland didn’t score an offensive touchdown during an outing in which Watson was clearly rusty.

Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said there is no way of knowing how long it will take for Watson to find his form.

“I don’t know if I can put a timeframe on it,” Stefanski said Wednesday. “He’s working very hard. He’s locked in on the game plan, working hard out at practice. There were things that come up in your first game back that you just have to correct.”

Cleveland tight end David Njoku, who is hopeful of returning from a one-game absence due to knee injury, is eager to see Watson firsthand.

“He’s progressing every day,” said Njoku, who was limited in practice on Wednesday. “That’s all we really ask for him is to progress every day. We’re all excited for his progression.”

The game against the Texans — his former club — was the first in 700 days for Watson. The three-time Pro Bowler passed for an NFL-high 4,823 yards with 33 touchdowns and just seven interceptions in 2020, his final season with Houston.

Bengals defensive tackle D.J. Reader played three seasons (2017-19) with Watson and hopes there isn’t a quick turnaround.

“Hopefully a couple more weeks,” Reader said of Watson hitting his stride. “I’m always cheering for him. That’s my brother. I went through a lot of battles with that guy, I know where he comes from, I know the cloth he’s cut from, I just want to see him do well, but we are going to get after him on Sunday.”

The Bengals have won four straight games and eight of their past 10 games after an 0-2 start. The Browns have won their past two games and are trying to make a late push for a playoff spot.

Cleveland placed linebacker Sione Takitaki (ACL) and receiver Anthony Schwartz (concussion) on injured reserve on Wednesday.

Three active Browns missed Wednesday’s practice due to injuries — cornerbacks Denzel Ward (ankle, illness) and A.J. Green (knee) and offensive tackle James Hudson (illness).

Bengals tight end Hayden Hurst (calf) has been deemed doubtful to play by coach Zac Taylor. Hurst was injured during the 27-24 win over Kansas City. Running back Joe Mixon (concussion) was a full participant after missing the past two games.

–Field Level Media

Dec 4, 2022; Santa Clara, California, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) drops back to pass during the first quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Miami in LA eyeing early sunset for wobbled Chargers

While the Miami Dolphins are enjoying the week in Los Angeles, the Chargers are trying to avoid starting another year with plans that don’t include playoff football.

Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins (8-4) know how Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers (6-6) are feeling right about now heading into Sunday night’s game.

Miami was 6-7 entering Week 14 one year ago; Tagovailoa was being pounded by critics doubting his NFL readiness and durability and the Dolphins’ fanbase was eager for the arrival of his replacement.

That was one coaching change and a few landmark trades ago.

“He’s a baller. He’s a great player. He can do a lot of great things,” Tagovailoa said Wednesday of Herbert. “I feel very blessed, I’m just happy to be where I’m at. … For me, I’m just very fortunate and very blessed to be here.”

Herbert has been fighting to keep his nose above the waves as the Chargers bail water. Stringing together consecutive wins is the only way L.A. finds the postseason after missing out in heartbreaking fashion last season.

The fifth and sixth picks in the 2020 NFL Draft, Tagovailoa went one pick before Herbert and during their rookie season won the only pro matchup between the QBs.

Tagovailoa, the leader in Pro Bowl voting and passer rating (112.0) with a month left in the regular season, pilots Miami into Los Angeles just one game behind AFC East-leading Buffalo. The Dolphins have the fourth-ranked offense in the NFL (380.2 yards per game) and No. 2 passing offense (290.5 yards per game).

Tagovailoa is squarely on the MVP radar, overtaking Herbert, a player many thought could be in this position in 2022.

Big plays and dynamic playmakers are setting the Dolphins apart. Tagovailoa has six TD passes of 25-plus yards and averages 9.0 yards per attempt. In San Francisco last week, the Dolphins lost to snap a five-game winning streak. Tagovailoa suffered a minor ankle injury and threw his first interception (two, in fact) since Sept. 29. The ankle is fine, but the Dolphins are determined to prove the 49ers’ fortune won’t be a blueprint to slow head coach Mike McDaniel’s offense.

“Everything that went wrong wasn’t a direct result of the quarterback,” McDaniel said, noting the eight called running plays is Miami’s low-water mark for designed rush attempts.

There’s a great chance McDaniels’ call sheet will highlight the running game at Los Angeles, and not just because left tackle Terron Armstead (knee) has been out and worked out on the side in the team’s practice at UCLA on Wednesday.

The Chargers allowed 154 rushing yards last week, the sixth consecutive game opponents have topped 150.

Looking for his first home win since the 19-16 rock fight with the Denver Broncos on Oct. 17, Herbert might have a case if he points to the supporting cast as the differentiator between these teams.

What Herbert wouldn’t do for a player with Tyreek Hill’s production at that position right now. Hill has six games with 125-plus receiving yards in 12 games with the Dolphins, who landed the former Kansas City Chiefs All-Pro via trade. The Chargers know Hill well. He had 12 catches for 148 yards and a touchdown against the Chargers last December.

The Chargers don’t have a wide receiver ranked in the top 30 statistically through 13 weeks and running back Austin Ekeler leads L.A. in receptions (85) and TD catches (five). Wideouts Mike Williams and Keenan Allen have shared the field for less than 50 snaps and the IR cache for the Chargers is a veritable Pro Bowl stock, including top free agent cornerback J.C. Jackson, defensive end Joey Bosa and left tackle Rashawn Slater.

The Chargers could be without three offensive linemen on Sunday. Center Corey Linsley (concussion) and rookie guard Zion Johnson (shoulder) were listed as limited participants Wednesday. Right tackle Trey Pipkins (knee) did not practice and missed Week 13.

“The games do mean more as you go,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. “Every week they’re going to mean more and more because you’re getting closer to the end and there’s a lot at stake in terms of positioning, but you got to pour yourself into that week, and that’s where our focus is, on Miami.”

Allen has rounded into form of late. He caught six passes for 88 yards and has touchdown receptions in consecutive games. Williams, listed as limited Wednesday with an ankle injury, didn’t play last week and has one reception for 15 yards in the team’s past five games.

That has meant more — and more — Ekeler, who has 104 targets as a receiver, ranks fourth in the NFL in receptions and leads the team with 589 rushing yards.

Herbert has continued the fight. He posted his 19th career 300-yard passing game last week — matching Andrew Luck for the record in the first three years of a career — but the production was again delivered in a painful loss (27-20 to the Raiders). Herbert’s 23 losses since his rookie season in 2020 are the most for any quarterback other than Matt Ryan (28).

Another defeat Sunday night could stack the deck against the Chargers with the Titans (7-5) up next in Week 15. Tennessee is one of seven AFC teams to already record seven wins in 2022.

“We need to win the rest of these games,” Chargers wide receiver Josh Palmer said. “For us, the playoffs really started last week.”

Miami has another primetime road game looming with massive postseason implications next Saturday night against the Bills.

“The bottom line is we have two opportunities to play in front of a national audience,” McDaniel said. “It’s something we’ve been building towards for the whole season in terms of how we play, but only one of which we can really do anything about in the immediate future.”

–Field Level Media

Nov 20, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt (90) reacts to the crowd against the Cincinnati Bengals during the fourth quarter at Acrisure Stadium. The Bengals won 37-30. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Steelers stalking fifth straight win in Ravens rivalry

As the Baltimore Ravens continue to jockey for playoff position, a meeting with the Pittsburgh Steelers might not be a welcome sight.

Baltimore has dropped four straight games against the Steelers but will look to reverse its fortunes against its AFC North rival when the teams clash on Sunday in Pittsburgh.

The Ravens (8-4) are well on their way to clinching a playoff berth for the fourth time in the last five seasons, but they still have an opportunity to drastically improve their chances of making a deep run.

With five games left, Baltimore sits just one game behind both Buffalo and Kansas City in the AFC. If the playoffs started now, the Ravens would face Miami in the wild-card round, but they haven’t lost sight of potentially rising to the top of the conference to secure a first-round bye.

However, accomplishing that just got a whole lot harder.

Star quarterback Lamar Jackson exited last Sunday’s 10-9 victory over the Denver Broncos with a knee injury at the end of the first quarter, and chances are he won’t be suiting up against the Steelers (5-7).

Jackson did not practice on Wednesday.

“I would say it’s kind of week-to-week,” Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said of Jackson’s injury status. “As the week goes on, we’ll see for this week. Probably less likely for this week, but it’s not impossible. After that, it’ll become more and more likely.”

Tyler Huntley, who completed 27 of 32 passes for 187 yards and an interception against Denver, would draw the start under center if Jackson can’t go.

“Both quarterbacks play a similar game,” Harbaugh said. “(Huntley) can throw, he can run, he operates really well. … He’ll be excited to play and our guys will be fired up.”

Regardless of who will be directing the offense, Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin knows his team has to try and keep them in the pocket.

“Quarterback mobility is going to be an issue in this game, no matter who is playing. We had better be sharp in that area,” Tomlin said. “We had better minimize that component of play.”

Although the Steelers’ playoff hopes are dwindling, they are determined to finish the season on a high note.

Pittsburgh had a strong showing last Sunday, beating Atlanta 19-16 for its third win in four games.

Rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett continued to make strides in the right direction, playing turnover-free football for the fourth straight game while completing 16 of 28 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons.

“That’s what you have to do in December. That’s what you have to do as the road gets narrower,” Tomlin said. “Anybody that’s committed to winning here in December better develop an appetite for that.

“Hopefully we use those lessons learned as we move forward and continue to get better and grow, better define our division of labor, better understand our roles within this thing and more consistently engineer a formula that produces victory.”

Running back Najee Harris might not be able to help with that formula come Sunday after missing Wednesday’s practice with an oblique injury. Linebacker T.J. Watt (ribs) and receiver Diontae Johnson (hip) were limited.

In addition to Jackson, offensive lineman Patrick Mekari (toe) and cornerback Daryl Worley (hamstring) were held out of Baltimore’s practice. Linebackers Patrick Queen (thigh) and Kristian Welch (concussion) were limited.

–Field Level Media