Sep 12, 2021; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) celebrates with Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10) after a touchdown during the first half against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Cardinals hoping to get top playmakers back at Chicago

Fresh off their bye week and anticipating the return of quarterback Kyler Murray and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, the NFC-leading Arizona Cardinals enter Sunday’s visit to the Chicago Bears with plenty of optimism.

“I know over the bye week they did what they needed to do, and I know what they’ll do this week to prepare and be ready,” Cardinals running back James Conner said. “I’m not worried about Hop and K1 at all.”

While Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury expressed caution early in the week, the team is hopeful that Murray (ankle) and Hopkins (hamstring) each will end their three-game absences as the Cardinals aim to stay atop the conference.

Since opening the season 7-0, Arizona (9-2) has alternated between losing and winning over the past four games. The Cardinals are coming off a 23-13 road victory against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 11 that saw backup quarterback Colt McCoy throw for 328 yards and two touchdowns, by far his best effort as Murray mends.

Arizona went 2-1 with McCoy under center, topping NFC West rival San Francisco on the road before a lopsided home loss to the Carolina Panthers.

Keeping the passing game clicking behind Murray and Hopkins sounds good on paper but count Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson among those who’d welcome the return of Hopkins as a measuring stick.

“It’s easy to say what somebody can do on film or somebody is this or somebody is not that,” Johnson said. “At the end of the day, you gotta go out there and you gotta line up. I’m looking forward to it.”

The Cardinals have won each of their six road games this season by at least 10 points. According to the team, that makes them the third club in NFL history to prevail in their first six road games by double figures, following the 1968 Dallas Cowboys and 1936 Bears.

The current Chicago outfit snapped a five-game losing streak by edging the host Detroit Lions 16-14 on Thanksgiving Day. Cairo Santos kicked a 28-yard field goal as time expired as the Bears improved to 4-7 while quelling — at least briefly — questions regarding the job status of coach Matt Nagy.

The Bears benefited from the solid play of backup quarterback Andy Dalton, who was 24-of-39 passing for 317 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Rookie Justin Fields missed the game after injuring his ribs during a Week 11 home loss to Baltimore.

Fields practiced Wednesday, but Nagy offered no further update while adding that Dalton would take the starter’s reps to begin the practice week.

“With Andy being able to come out here and get these reps … it’ll allow us to really continue each day to see, ‘Justin, where you at? What’s your pain today? How is it when you’re throwing?’” Nagy said. “We’ve got to be able to say, ‘Is this something that we feel that he’s going to be the best he can be for us to help win us that game?’ Or is it going to hurt him more or hurt us? As the week goes on, we’re working through all that.”

Chicago is hoping to reclaim its late-season resolve from 2020. Rallying from a six-game skid earlier in the season, the Bears rallied to win four of their last six to claim the seventh and final spot in the expanded NFC playoff field.

Entering Week 13, the Bears sat a game back of Washington for the final NFC playoff spot while contending with six other teams with four or five wins.

–Field Level Media

Oct 10, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings kicker Greg Joseph (1) after the win over the Detroit Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Vikings, Lions likely missing top RBs in rematch

A couple of NFC North clubs will likely lean on their backup running backs to shoulder the load this Sunday after their starters injured those particular joints.

Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook and Detroit’s D’Andre Swift are not expected to play after suffering shoulder injuries in their team’s most recent game. The Vikings and Lions will go to Plan B, C and maybe D on the depth chart in Detroit.

Cook was injured during the third quarter of Minnesota’s 34-26 loss to San Francisco on Sunday. Cook has rushed for 773 yards and four touchdowns, along with catching 39 passes this season,

“We’ll just see how Dalvin’s doing,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “It’ll be day-to-day and we’ll see where it goes.”

Cook didn’t practice on Wednesday, so it’s likely Alexander Mattison and Kene Nwangwu will be the ball carriers. Mattison has been the primary backup for three seasons.

“He does so many great things at running back, whether it’s running the football, protecting, catching the ball, running routes,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said of Mattison. “It’s a great comfort for me to have him back there.”

Cousins is also eager to see what Nwangwu can bring to the offense.

“He certainly has the athletic ability to be a great player,” Cousins said. “I’m looking forward to giving him more opportunities and letting him show the kind of player he is.”

If the run game falters, the Vikings (5-6) can always fall back on their aerial attack, featuring Cousins throwing the ball to Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. They have combined for 130 receptions, 1,713 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Minnesota has provided plenty of drama this season. All but one of its games was decided by eight points or less.

“As Coach Zimmer has said, the preference is to not even make it close,” Cousins said. “That’s certainly the first coaching point — let’s not leave it to the last play. But I know our opponent this week, the Lions, they’re saying the same thing.”

Minnesota defeated Detroit 19-17 on a last-second field goal in their first meeting on Oct. 10. The Lions (0-10-1) have lost three games in that fashion.

Over the past three weeks, they’ve tied Pittsburgh 16-16, lost to Cleveland 13-10 and fallen to Chicago 16-14. Cairo Santos kicked a 28-yard field goal on the last play during Detroit’s annual Thanksgiving Day game to break the Lions’ hearts once again.

Quarterback Jared Goff toughed it out through an oblique injury, but Swift didn’t play after spraining his shoulder late in the first half against the Bears. Jamaal Williams, Jermar Jefferson and Godwin Igwebuike are the Lions’ other running backs.

Swift has rushed for 555 yards, caught 56 passes and scored a combined six touchdowns this season. Williams is averaging 4.2 yards per carry on 93 attempts and has scored two touchdowns.

“(Swift) is one of the most dynamic guys in the league,” Goff said. “Having him on the ground and in the pass game is always helpful. I know he wants to be out there but Jamaal is ready to step up even more than he has. And so are J.J. and Godwin, so we’ll be ready to go on that front.”

After missing a game, Goff passed for 171 yards and two scores against the Bears. He feels healthier after getting extra time off before this Sunday’s contest.

“It was a good 5-6 days after the game to recover and get my body right,” he said. “I don’t want to make excuses but having that minor oblique deal, that was bothering me.”

Linebacker Anthony Barr (knee/hamstring) was among the other Vikings who missed Wednesday’s practice.

Linebacker Trey Flowers (knee) and offensive tackle Penei Sewell (illness) joined Swift on the sidelines in Detroit.

–Field Level Media

Oct 14, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown (81) against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Antonio Brown out at least 2 more weeks

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown is expected to miss at least two more weeks, ESPN reported Wednesday.

Officially, Bucs coach Bruce Arians said Wednesday that Brown is doubtful for Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons. It was originally thought that Brown was dealing with an ankle injury.

“It was more a different injury than originally thought,” Arians said. “A sprain. There’s some issues in the heel — that’s what he’s having problems with.”

Brown, 33, hasn’t played since Week 6 against the Philadelphia Eagles. In five games (two starts), Brown has 29 catches for 418 yards and four touchdowns.

Brown is a seven-time Pro Bowl selection and four-time All-Pro.

–Field Level Media

Nov 14, 2021; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Titans running back Adrian Peterson (8) leaves the field after a win against the New Orleans Saints at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Report: RB Adrian Peterson visiting Seahawks

Running back Adrian Peterson visited with the Seattle Seahawks on Wednesday, NFL Network reported.

The Tennessee Titans waived the 36-year-old veteran on Nov. 23 after three games with the team.

The Seahawks are short-handed in the backfield. Week 1 starter Chris Carson (neck) is out for the season, while Rashaad Penny (hamstring), Travis Homer (calf) and Alex Collins (abdomen) are banged up.

Peterson is the fifth-leading rusher in NFL history with 14,902 yards, including 82 yards on 27 carries for the Titans.

The seven-time Pro Bowl selection and 2012 league MVP is fourth all-time with 119 career rushing touchdowns.

The Seahawks (3-8) bring a three-game losing skid into Sunday’s game with the visiting San Francisco 49ers (6-5).

–Field Level Media

Nov 25, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Lions running back D'Andre Swift (32) stands on the sidelines during the third quarter against the Chicago Bears at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Lions RB D’Andre Swift (shoulder) could miss multiple weeks

Detroit Lions running back D’Andre Swift could miss multiple weeks with a sprained right shoulder, ESPN reported Wednesday.

Swift was injured on a hard tackle by Chicago Bears linebacker Roquan Smith in the second quarter of Detroit’s 16-14 loss on Thanksgiving Day.

The report said Swift wants to return “in short order” but the Lions are being cautious with his sprained AC joint.

Swift, 22, carried just three times for 0 yards and caught three passes for 9 yards against the Bears.

The second-year back leads the winless Lions (0-10-1) with 984 yards from scrimmage (555 rushing, 429 receiving) and has six touchdowns in 11 games this season.

Detroit hosts the Minnesota Vikings (5-6) on Sunday. Jamaal Williams would likely receive the bulk of the carries if Swift sits out.

Williams has rushed for 388 yards and two touchdowns.

–Field Level Media

Oct 31, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper (19) and Minnesota Vikings cornerback Cameron Dantzler (27) in action during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Cowboys WR Amari Cooper to return Thursday night

Dallas Cowboys wideout Amari Cooper will travel with the team to New Orleans on Wednesday and play against the Saints on Thursday night, ESPN reported.

Cooper, who is not vaccinated, missed the last two games — both losses — after testing positive for COVID-19 last month.

Earlier reports Tuesday suggested that Cooper was still experiencing symptoms and was in danger of missing a third game.

Cooper, 27, has 44 receptions for 583 yards and five touchdowns in nine games this season. In 50 games since joining Dallas in October 2018, he has 268 catches for 3,611 yards and 24 touchdowns.

The Cowboys (7-4) have been dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak that saw a 13th person enter protocols on Tuesday.

Head coach Mike McCarthy tested positive and will not make the trip to New Orleans, with defensive coordinator Dan Quinn serving as acting head coach against the Saints (5-6).

–Field Level Media

Dec 6, 2020; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Titans strong safety Kenny Vaccaro (24) takes the field before the game against the Cleveland Browns at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Kenny Vaccaro retires from NFL, launches esports brand

Former New Orleans Saints and Tennessee Titans safety Kenny Vaccaro has retired from the NFL and launched an esports organization called G1, or Gamers First.

A first-round pick (15th overall) by the Saints in 2013, Vaccaro registered 610 tackles, 11.5 sacks, 10 interceptions and four fumble recoveries in 110 games (109 starts) with New Orleans (2013-17) and Tennessee (2018-20).

Released by the Titans in March, the 30-year-old Vaccaro said he turned down numerous NFL offers to pursue his passion with gaming.

“This isn’t a reflex decision for me; it’s something I’ve thought about for a long time,” Vaccaro said Wednesday in a news release. “I’ve been a gamer for even longer than I’ve played football, and I’ve always thought of myself as a gamer first. So this is the realization of a long-term dream for me.

“And while football has been how many have defined me, G1 is evidence for other athletes as well that life doesn’t end just because you put down the helmet. You can reinvent yourself.”

Vaccaro co-founded G1 along with entrepreneurs and professional gamers Hunter Swensson and Cody Hendrix.

“Vaccaro will now forgo the chance at a Super Bowl victory to instead shoot for a Halo World Championship,” read the news release.

–Field Level Media

Nov 21, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) gestures on the line of scrimmage against the Kansas City Chiefs during the game at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Cowboys, Saints meet in matchup of short-handed teams

The Dallas Cowboys have seen their lead in the NFC East shrink and they’re battling COVID-19 issues.

The New Orleans Saints are sliding down the NFC wild-card standings and they’re battling a bunch of injuries.

The short-handed and struggling teams will meet Thursday night in New Orleans.

The Cowboys (7-4), whose 3 1/2-game lead in the division has shrunk to two games after a 1-3 stretch, won’t have head coach Mike McCarthy on the sideline after he tested positive for COVID.

Defensive coordinator and former Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn will be the interim head coach, although McCarthy is participating virtually in meetings and game preparations.

Right tackle Terence Steele, rookie cornerback Nahshon Wright and five assistant coaches, including offensive line coach Joe Philbin and assistant offensive line coach Jeff Blasko, will miss the game after testing positive for COVID.

The status of wide receiver Amari Cooper, who is unvaccinated and missed the last two games after testing positive, was undetermined, although receiver CeeDee Lamb is expected to return after a one-game absence caused by a concussion. Dallas also expects the return of defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, who has been sidelined since sustaining a fractured foot before the season’s second game.

“We know what we’re capable of,” Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott said. “We know the team we have. The most important thing is just our belief in each other. That’s not going anywhere. It’s not fading.”

Dallas has rushed for fewer than 100 yards in four of the last five games and it averaged just 3.2 yards per carry against the Raiders.

“We’ve obviously been very successful running the football in the first part of the season, so people are gearing up for it,” McCarthy said. “We need to stay on top of our self-scout because I think just like anything at this point in the year people are locked into your formations and your run tendencies and when we run and how we run.”

New Orleans (5-6) is considering starting Taysom Hill at quarterback in hopes of a spark that might end a four-game losing streak.

The last time the Saints won a game was Oct. 31, the day when Jameis Winston sustained a season-ending knee injury against Tampa Bay.

Trevor Siemian has started in Winston’s place while Hill was recovering from a concussion and a foot injury, the latter of which isn’t fully healed although Hill practiced fully on Tuesday.

“It’s no secret that we need to improve in a lot of different areas to put some points on the board,” New Orleans tackle Terron Armstead said. “It’s not just one position group, we have to collectively be better and put more points on the board.”

Armstead and fellow tackle Ryan Ramczyk missed practice Tuesday because of knee injuries. Running back Alvin Kamara practiced on a limited basis after missing the last three games because of a knee ailment.

The Saints have won four consecutive NFC South titles, but their chances of catching first-place Tampa Bay are fading.

“We all get into sudden death once you hit Jan. 5,” Armstead said. “It doesn’t really matter where you play or who you play.

“We’ve been a number one or two seed and exited in the first round, but we’ve also been to the NFC championship, Super Bowl, and all of those good things. We just have to make sure we’re ready for the tournament though, not just sneak in or have some teams lose to let us get in, none of that. We have to put ourselves where we belong.”

–Field Level Media

New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) looks to throw in the first half. The Giants defeat the Eagles, 13-7, at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in East Rutherford.

Nyg Vs Phi

Reports: Giants QB Daniel Jones (neck) likely out vs. Dolphins

Giants quarterback Daniel Jones sustained a neck strain during New York’s win over the Philadelphia Eagles last week and is likely to miss the Sunday game against the Miami Dolphins, NFL Network and The Athletic reported Tuesday.

Jones reportedly got hurt on the second play last Sunday, but he remained in the game and helped the Giants eke out a 13-7 victory.

Jones threw for 202 yards and a touchdown on 19-of-30 passing for the Giants (4-7). On the year, he has completed 64.3 percent of his passes for 2,428 yards, 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions over 11 games.

If Jones can’t go on Sunday, backup Mike Glennon is in line to start.

New York also signed quarterback Jake Fromm off the Buffalo Bills’ practice squad on Tuesday. Fromm was a fifth-round selection by the Bills in the 2020 NFL Draft and has yet to see NFL action.

–Field Level Media

20. Steelers (17): They've given up 41 points each of the past two weeks and just put OLB T.J. Watt into COVID-19 protocol. Mike Tomlin will have to pull out all the stops to avoid his first losing season.

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Sliding Steelers enter ‘put up and shut up’ December

Mike Tomlin plans changes as the Steelers enter Week 13 with consecutive losses that dropped Pittsburgh to 5-5-1 and tied for third place in the AFC North.

The Steelers were routed by the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday (41-10) and last won Nov. 8, fighting off the Chicago Bears in a game that could have gone the other direction.

Up next: the division-leading Baltimore Ravens (8-3).

“We’ll see on Sunday, won’t we?” Tomlin said. “Like I mentioned earlier it’s put up and shut up time. Talking doesn’t get it done. I can quell you in that question with an answer, but it’s not real. What we do in that stadium on Sunday is real. We’re not seeking comfort, we’re not trying to quell the masses. We stunk it up, so we’re going to wallow in our stench for a while and wait for our next opportunity to play football.”

The remaining schedule for the Steelers is a gaunlet with a short-week date at Minnesota in Week 14 after what is typically a physical slugfest with the Ravens. Pittsburgh’s final four games are against the Titans (8-4), Chiefs (7-4), a primetime showdown with the Browns (6-6) and the season finale against the Ravens.

Cleveland eliminated the Steelers from the playoffs last season.

Among non-division leaders, there are now seven teams ahead of the Steelers in the wild-card race. Any loss is a serious setback at this point with the Bills, Chargers, Raiders, Broncos, Bengals, Colts and Browns all ahead of Pittsburgh.

Tomlin said there will be “hopefully significant” changes made this week but they won’t be “drastic.” He did say personnel and scheme must change.

“What you can’t do is continue to do the things you’ve been doing and expect a different result,” Tomlin said.

–Field Level Media