The NFL has started an investigation on Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The future Hall of Famer, who tested positive for COVID, might not have followed the league's protocols for preventing the spread of the disease.

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Reports: NFL drops daily COVID testing of unvaccinated players

The National Football League will halt daily COVID testing of unvaccinated players for the remainder of this season, according to multiple reports.

The change in testing policy affects roughly a dozen players, the NFL Network reported. That’s the number of unvaccinated players on playoff teams who have not been diagnosed with COVID.

The eight teams remaining in the playoffs were informed of the new policy via memo, the reports said. The league and NFLPA, the players’ union, agreed on the move to stop daily testing.

In the last several days, both the NBA and NHL have announced daily testing of asymptomatic players for COVID will stop. The NBA halted daily testing Jan. 15. The NHL said daily testing will cease after its All-Star game in early February.

The NFL cited fewer recent cases of the Omicron variant as one reason for the policy change, as well as the fact the five-day return rule for players who tested positive has worked well.

Players who show symptoms of being sick will still be tested for COVID, the reports said. This includes players who are on a 90-day “holiday” from testing after having gotten COVID but have symptoms.

But players showing no signs of COVID, even though unvaccinated, will no longer be tested.

–Field Level Media

Oct 30, 2021; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA;  North Carolina State Wolfpack tackle Ikem Ekwonu (79) warms up prior to a game against the Louisville Cardinals at Carter-Finley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Evan Neal, Ikem Ekwonu lead class of 73 early entrants for 2022 NFL Draft

The NFL granted 73 collegiate underclassmen special eligibility for the 2022 NFL Draft, the league said Friday.

To receive the special eligibility, a player must meet the league’s rule that requires a player be three years removed from high school, and he also must renounce his college football eligibility.

Players on the list include several who were prominent in college football in 2021: Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral; running backs Tyler Allgeier (BYU), Breece Hall (Iowa State) and Isaiah Spiller (Texas A&M); Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean; Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton; LSU defensive back Derek Stingley Jr.; offensive tackles Evan Neal (Alabama) and Ikem Ekwonu (N.C. State); and wide receivers Garrett Wilson (Ohio State), Drake London (USC), Wan’Dale Robinson (Kentucky), Skyy Moore (Western Michigan), David Bell (Purdue) and John Metchie (Alabama).

The deadline for receiving applications for special eligibility was Monday.

In addition, 27 underclassmen notified the NFL that they have fulfilled their degree requirements and will enter the draft, including North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell, Nevada quarterback Carson Strong, Purdue defensive end George Karlaftis, Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum, Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux and Georgia running back Zamir White.

Neal, Ekwonu, Hamilton and Thibodeaux were projected as Top 5 draft picks in NFL.com’s mock draft, released Friday.

The draft is scheduled to be held April 28-30 at Allegiant Stadium in Paradise, Nevada, home of the Las Vegas Raiders, who have the No. 22 overall pick.

–Field Level Media

Jan 17, 2022; Inglewood, California, USA; A detailed view of a NFL shield logo in the end zone at a NFC Wild Card playoff football game at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

NFL finalizes 2022 opponents for every team

The NFL on Thursday confirmed the home and away matchups for the 2022 regular season for all 32 teams.

For the second season, teams will play a 17th game — an interconference matchup based on the final 2021 standings. Notable matchups created from this rule include the Tennessee Titans vs. the Green Bay Packers (the two No. 1 seeds in this year’s postseason) and the Kansas City Chiefs vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a rematch of Super Bowl LV.

The NFC teams will host the 17th game in 2022 after the AFC hosted in 2021, the first year the extra game was in play. This means that all NFC teams will have nine home games next season.

Specific game dates for the 2022 regular-season schedule will be revealed at a later time.

AFC East

Buffalo Bills
Home: Dolphins, Patriots, Jets, Browns, Packers, Vikings, Steelers, Titans
Away: Dolphins, Patriots, Jets, Ravens, Bears, Bengals, Lions, Chiefs, Rams

Miami Dolphins
Home: Bills, Patriots, Jets, Browns, Packers, Texans, Vikings, Steelers
Away: Bills, Patriots, Jets, Ravens, Bears, Bengals, Lions, Chargers, 49ers

New England Patriots
Home: Bills, Dolphins, Jets, Ravens, Bears, Bengals, Lions, Colts
Away: Bills, Dolphins, Jets, Browns, Packers, Vikings, Raiders, Steelers, Cardinals

New York Jets
Home: Bills, Dolphins, Patriots, Ravens, Bears, Bengals, Lions, Jaguars
Away: Bills, Dolphins, Patriots, Browns, Broncos, Packers, Vikings, Steelers, Seahawks

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens
Home: Bengals, Browns, Steelers, Falcons, Bills, Panthers, Broncos, Dolphins
Away: Bengals, Browns, Steelers, Jaguars, Patriots, Saints, Jets, Buccaneers, Giants

Cincinnati Bengals
Home: Ravens, Browns, Steelers, Falcons, Bills, Panthers, Chiefs, Dolphins
Away: Ravens, Browns, Steelers, Titans, Patriots, Saints, Jets, Buccaneers, Cowboys

Cleveland Browns
Home: Ravens, Bengals, Steelers, Chargers, Patriots, Saints, Jets, Buccaneers
Away: Ravens, Bengals, Steelers, Falcons, Bills, Panthers, Texans, Dolphins, WFT

Pittsburgh Steelers
Home: Ravens, Bengals, Browns, Raiders, Patriots, Saints, Jets, Buccaneers
Away: Ravens, Bengals, Browns, Falcons, Bills, Panthers, Colts, Dolphins, Eagles

AFC South

Houston Texans
Home: Colts, Jaguars, Titans, Browns, Chiefs, Chargers, Eagles, WFT
Away: Colts, Jaguars, Titans, Cowboys, Broncos, Raiders, Dolphins, Giants, Bears

Indianapolis Colts

Home: Texans, Jaguars, Titans, Chiefs, Chargers, Eagles, Steelers, WFT
Away: Texans, Jaguars, Titans, Cowboys, Broncos, Raiders, Giants, Patriots, Vikings

Jacksonville Jaguars
Home: Texans, Colts, Titans, Ravens, Cowboys, Broncos, Raiders, Giants
Away: Texans, Colts, Titans, Chiefs, Chargers, Jets, Eagles, WFT, Lions

Tennessee Titans
Home: Texans, Colts, Jaguars, Bengals, Cowboys, Broncos, Raiders, Giants
Away: Texans, Colts, Jaguars, Bills, Chiefs, Chargers, Eagles, WFT, Packers

AFC West

Denver Broncos
Home: Chiefs, Raiders, Chargers, Cardinals, Texans, Colts, Jets, 49ers
Away: Chiefs, Raiders, Chargers, Ravens, Jaguars, Rams, Seahawks, Titans, Panthers

Kansas City Chiefs
Home: Broncos, Raiders, Chargers, Bills, Jaguars, Rams, Seahawks, Titans
Away: Broncos, Raiders, Chargers, Cardinals, Bengals, Texans, Colts, 49ers, Buccaneers

Las Vegas Raiders
Home: Broncos, Chiefs, Chargers, Cardinals, Texans, Colts, Patriots, 49ers
Away: Broncos, Chiefs, Chargers, Jaguars, Rams, Steelers, Seahawks, Titans, Saints

Los Angeles Chargers
Home: Broncos, Chiefs, Raiders, Jaguars, Titans, Rams, Seahawks, Dolphins
Away: Broncos, Chiefs, Raiders, Cardinals, Browns, Texans, Colts, 49ers, Falcons

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys
Home: Giants, Eagles, WFT, Bears, Lions, Texans, Colts, Buccaneers, Bengals
Away: Giants, Eagles, WFT, Packers, Jaguars, Rams, Vikings, Titans

New York Giants
Home: Cowboys, Eagles, WFT, Panthers, Bears, Lions, Texans, Colts, Ravens
Away: Cowboys, Eagles, WFT, Packers, Jaguars, Vikings, Seahawks, Titans

Philadelphia Eagles
Home: Cowboys, Giants, WFT, Packers, Jaguars, Vikings, Saints, Titans, Steelers
Away: Cowboys, Giants, WFT, Cardinals, Bears, Lions, Texans, Colts

Washington Football Team
Home: Cowboys, Giants, Eagles, Falcons, Packers, Jaguars, Vikings, Titans, Browns
Away: Cowboys, Giants, Eagles, Bears, Lions, Texans, Colts, 49ers

NFC North

Chicago Bears
Home: Lions, Packers, Vikings, Bills, Dolphins, Eagles, WFT, 49ers, Texans
Away: Lions, Packers, Vikings, Falcons, Cowboys, Patriots, Giants, Jets

Detroit Lions
Home: Bears, Packers, Vikings, Bills, Dolphins, Eagles, Seahawks, WFT, Jaguars
Away: Bears, Packers, Vikings, Panthers, Cowboys, Patriots, Giants, Jets

Green Bay Packers
Home: Bears, Lions, Vikings, Cowboys, Patriots, Giants, Jets, Rams, Titans
Away: Bears, Lions, Vikings, Bills, Dolphins, Eagles, Buccaneers, WFT

Minnesota Vikings
Home: Bears, Lions, Packers, Cardinals, Cowboys, Patriots, Giants, Jets, Colts
Away: Bears, Lions, Packers, Bills, Dolphins, Saints, Eagles, WFT

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons
Home: Panthers, Saints, Buccaneers, Cardinals, Bears, Browns, Steelers, 49ers, Chargers
Away: Panthers, Saints, Buccaneers, Ravens, Bengals, Rams, Seahawks, WFT

Carolina Panthers
Home: Falcons, Saints, Buccaneers, Cardinals, Browns, Lions, Steelers, 49ers, Broncos
Away: Falcons, Saints, Buccaneers, Ravens, Bengals, Rams, Giants, Seahawks

New Orleans Saints
Home: Falcons, Panthers, Buccaneers, Ravens, Bengals, Rams, Vikings, Seahawks, Raiders
Away: Falcons, Panthers, Buccaneers, Cardinals, Browns, Eagles, Steelers, 49ers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Home: Falcons, Panthers, Saints, Ravens, Bengals, Packers, Rams, Seahawks, Chiefs
Away: Falcons, Panthers, Saints, Cardinals, Browns, Cowboys, Steelers, 49ers

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals
Home: Rams, 49ers, Seahawks, Chiefs, Chargers, Saints, Eagles, Buccaneers, Patriots
Away: Rams, 49ers, Seahawks, Falcons, Panthers, Broncos, Raiders, Vikings

Los Angeles Rams
Home: Cardinals, 49ers, Seahawks, Falcons, Panthers, Cowboys, Broncos, Raiders, Bills
Away: Cardinals, 49ers, Seahawks, Packers, Chiefs, Chargers, Saints, Buccaneers

San Francisco 49ers
Home: Cardinals, Rams, Seahawks, Chiefs, Chargers, Saints, Buccaneers, WFT, Dolphins
Away: Cardinals, Rams, Seahawks, Falcons, Panthers, Bears, Broncos, Raiders

Seattle Seahawks
Home: Cardinals, Rams, 49ers, Falcons, Panthers, Broncos, Raiders, Giants, Jets
Away: Cardinals, Rams, 49ers, Lions, Chiefs, Chargers, Saints, Buccaneers

–Field Level Media

Oct 14, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) and center Ryan Jensen (66) in a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

NFL announces six-game wild-card schedule

The NFL announced the wild-card playoff schedule on Sunday night, providing an early look at the six-game slate that will take place next Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

Saturday’s postseason action kicks off at 4:30 p.m. ET., when the Cincinnati Bengals will host the Las Vegas Raiders on NBC.

Fourth-seeded Cincinnati (10-7) captured the AFC North title, while fifth-seeded Las Vegas (10-7) completed a roller-coaster regular season Sunday night by sneaking into the playoffs with a last-second 35-32 overtime victory over the Los Angeles Chargers.

The Bengals and Raiders met Nov. 21 in Las Vegas with the Bengals prevailing 32-13.

In Saturday’s nightcap, the Buffalo Bills will host their AFC East rivals, the New England Patriots, in an 8:15 p.m. ET kickoff on CBS.

The third-seeded Bills (11-6) won the division for the second straight year, while the sixth-seeded Patriots (10-7) are back in the postseason following a one-year absence. This will be the third meeting between the teams in just over a month, with each team previously winning on the opponent’s home field in December.

The defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers will open their title defense Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on FOX against the visiting Philadelphia Eagles.

The Buccaneers (13-4) earned the NFC’s No. 2 seed after winning the NFC South, while the Eagles (9-8) slipped into the playoffs with a late-season, four-game winning streak. Tampa Bay won 28-22 in Philadelphia on Oct. 14.

Sunday’s second contest (4:30 p.m. ET, CBS) pits the third-seeded Dallas Cowboys against the sixth-seeded San Francisco 49ers, two proud franchises seeking their first Super Bowl titles since the 1990s.

The NFC East champion Cowboys (12-5) won five of their final six games and will look to continue that momentum against the visiting Niners (10-7). San Francisco got into the postseason Sunday by rallying from a 17-0 deficit to stun the Los Angeles Rams 27-24 in overtime.

Another overtime winner on Sunday was the Pittsburgh Steelers, who slipped past the Baltimore Ravens to secure the final playoff spot in the AFC. Their prize is a wild-card matchup with the two-time defending AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs.

Second-seeded Kansas City (12-5) will host seventh-seeded Pittsburgh (9-7-1) at 8:15 p.m. ET on Sunday on NBC. The AFC West champion Chiefs have won nine of their last 10 games, including a 36-10 victory over the Steelers on Dec. 26.

The final game of wild-card weekend, which will take place Monday at 8:15 p.m. ET. on ABC/ESPN, features the fourth-seeded Los Angeles Rams and the fifth-seeded Arizona Cardinals. The host Rams (12-5) captured the NFC West title by finishing a game ahead of the Cardinals (11-6). Each team won on the other’s home field earlier this season.

The No. 1 seeds are the Green Bay Packers in the NFC and the Tennessee Titans in the AFC. Each team will face the lowest remaining seed in their conference in the divisional playoff round Jan. 22 and 23.

–Field Level Media

Dec 26, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud (14) catches a pass against the Kansas City Chiefs during the second half at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Week 18 TD Props: Something to parlay for

The final full NFL Sunday of the year is here.

We pegged down a handful of winners last week, so let’s finish the regular season strong with touchdown scorer props in Week 18.

Here are five of my favorite touchdown bets this weekend in the NFL.

Steelers WR Ray-Ray McCloud: +450 on BetMGM
McCloud of the Pittsburgh Steelers has not yet scored this season, but the receiver is seeing consistent volume near the goal line. McCloud had five red zone targets last week and has seen at least one target in the red zone in four straight weeks.

You’ll see as a likely constant throughout this piece is a preference for games that matter. The last week of the NFL season sometimes gets funky, with young players seeing more snaps and starters getting pulled.

Luckily, this game is not one of those cases, with both the Steelers and Ravens still alive in the postseason race.

Speaking of the Ravens, few defenses have struggled slowing down receivers quite like Baltimore this year. Only four teams have allowed more touchdowns to WRs than the Ravens, so there’s going to be opportunities for a Pittsburgh pass-catcher in this one.

I’ll take a chance on McLoud to finally score at +450.

Ravens WR Marquise Brown: +190 on BetMGM
Let’s stick with this game for a moment and load up Marquise Brown. The best odds are once again at BetMGM, with DraftKings/FanDuel closer to +150.

Tyler Huntley will be starting for the third time in four weeks to wrap the season for the Ravens, who as mentioned are still alive and will be fighting to win.

In Huntley’s two most recent starts, Brown has seen 14 and 8 targets, and should once again be heavily involved in the passing game.

Pittsburgh let up the eighth-most touchdowns per game to WRs.

49ers RB Elijah Mitchell: +140 on FanDuel
The 49ers are in an important game against the Rams, with their wildcard hopes on the line. We turn to Mitchell, as LA has been more generous to rushing scores, ranking second-best in the NFL in passing touchdowns allowed.

Mitchell returned in Week 17 and commanded the work out of this backfield, taking 21 carries for 119 yards. While he didn’t score, Mitchell did find the end zone in his two previous starts. I like the +140 odds here.

Two-Leg Parlay: Devin Singletary and D’Onta Foreman TDs (+203 on FanDuel)
I’m combining these two picks to give us favorable odds, since both come in closer to -140 on their own.

Let’s start with Singletary of the Bills, who will play the Jets.

I’ve been betting running backs to score against New York on a weekly basis, as no team allows more touchdowns to the position than the Jets (1.63 per game).

Singletary has taken hold of the top running back position in Buffalo and has a whopping 20 red zone looks in the past three weeks.

He’s also scored four touchdowns in the past three weeks, momentum I like seeing in a parlay.

Now for Foreman. He too gets himself a soft opponent in Houston, who allow the second-most rushing touchdowns per game.

Foreman is averaging 3.4 red zone looks per game in his last five, scoring in three of four.

Both running backs have established roles near the end zone, soft opponents, and perhaps most importantly, something to play for.

Buffalo clinches the AFC East with a win and Tennessee secures the coveted first round bye with a win. Love this play.

Chargers TE Jared Cook: +240 on FanDuel
Speaking of games that matter, there isn’t a more cut-and-dry example than the Chargers-Raiders on Sunday Night Football. It’s win and you’re in for these two teams.

It’s always good to get a touchdown scorer prop in for SNF to have a rooting interest for the final game of the day, and Cook has us covered.

The Raiders allow the third-most touchdowns to tight ends, and Cook is back after spending a week on the COVID list.

Cook sees a steady stream of targets from Justin Herbert, with 5+ in three straight games. He’ll get his chances on Sunday against this Raiders defense, and with their defensive attention likely diverted to Austin Ekeler, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, I like Cook to slip through the cracks and score.

–By Griffin Carroll, Field Level Media

Dec 26, 2021; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Micah Parsons (11) rushes against Washington Football Team offensive tackle Sam Cosmi (76) in the third quarter at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Dr. Allen Sills: NFL bracing for COVID surge as playoffs begin

There’s one wildcard the NFL expects to crash the playoffs: COVID-19.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills said on Thursday that overseas patters of the Omicron strain of the coronavirus indicate the NFL should brace for high numbers the next “2-3 weeks.”

“When we start talking about projecting where we’re going to be, I like to quote that great medical scientist Yogi Berra, who says it’s really difficult to make projections, especially about the future,” Sills said in an NFL Network interview. “If we’ve learned anything, it’s that COVID can take us a lot of different directions. If this follows the trend we’ve seen in other countries, we do expect there will be a rapid decline with Omicron.

“I would see us being in the thick of this the next 2-3 weeks. Then hopefully seeing declining cases as we get later in our playoffs. We’ve been wrong about where this thing goes before.”

Several prominent players were among the lot added to the COVID/reserve list this week, including front-and-center starters for playoff teams such as Bengals running back Joe Mixon, Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith and Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons.

Parsons is officially out for Sunday’s game and won’t travel to Philadelphia with the team.

Protocol for COVID-19 testing and return to play shifted along with CDC guidelines shortening quarantine periods from 10 days to five days.

For playoff teams, that makes next Tuesday and Wednesday critical for testing, although asymptomatic, vaccinated players can be cleared before the five-day quarantine window.

An unvaccinated player testing positive next Tuesday would not be cleared to return for a Saturday wild-card game. The same is true of Wednesday testing for players scheduled to play wildcard Sunday.

Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said Thursday the team is opening hotel rooms at the team headquarters, The Star, for players planning to create a “bubble” environment for the playoffs.

–Field Level Media

Jan 2, 2022; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) throws a pass against the Cincinnati Bengals in the second half at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Chiefs to play it straight, not safe, at Denver

Kansas City will cruise into Denver on Saturday with a chance to finish with the top seed in the AFC while knowing a loss to the Broncos could slide the Chiefs down to the fourth spot.

While potential No. 1 seed Cincinnati — Tennessee and New England also could climb into the home-field and first-round bye scenario — declared a week of rest for several starters, Kansas City heads into its final game of the regular season planning to keep its foot on the gas.

The Titans have the inside track for the No. 1 seed in the AFC, needing just to beat Houston on Sunday to clinch it. The Chiefs, who currently are No. 2, can put pressure on the Titans with a win Saturday afternoon.

If both Kansas City and Tennessee win in Week 18, the Chiefs will still secure the No. 2 seed, and while it won’t mean a first-round bye, it does ensure at least two home games should the Chiefs get past the wildcard round.

Kansas City (11-5) controlled its fate until a 34-31 loss at Cincinnati in Week 17. That clinched the AFC North for the Bengals kept them alive for the top seed, should the Chiefs and Titans both lose.

The loss to the Bengals – after Kansas City led 28-14 – stung and will be a motivation going into the game against the Broncos (7-9).

“After you lose a game like you lost [Sunday], it shouldn’t be difficult to get ready to go again the next week,” Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes said. “I think guys will be ready to go. We’re playing Denver, and they’re a good football team. They gave us a challenge this last time we played them, like they always do, and we’re playing in Denver, which is a tough place to play. We’ll try to fix some things and play better football this week.”

The Chiefs have won 12 straight against the Broncos, a reversal of fortunes from Peyton Manning’s days as quarterback in Denver from 2012-15.

A 13th straight win looks likely with the Broncos limping toward the finish line. Denver has lost at least three straight for the second time this season and was eliminated from the postseason with a loss at the Los Angeles Chargers last week.

This week has been less about preparing for Kansas City and more about the future of the franchise. The Broncos’ ownership situation is still in limbo, and the fate of head coach Vic Fangio is a big topic. Fangio is 19-29 in his three seasons as the head coach.

Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur also could be on the hot seat with the offense struggling.

“I don’t think about it, I really don’t worry about it,” Shurmur said. “We as coaches, we are where our feet are, and we’re getting ready to play this game and do everything in our power to put a winning performance on the field.”

Denver’s defense has been the stronger of the two units, and the revolving door of quarterbacks hasn’t helped the offense. Drew Lock, last year’s starter, lost the job to Teddy Bridgewater but hasn’t been able to produce enough points. With Bridgewater going on injured reserve with a concussion, Lock will start his third straight game.

Safety Kareem Jackson and guard Dalton Risner also were placed on injured reserve.

The Broncos activated 12 players from the COVID-19 list, most notably receivers Jerry Jeudy and Tim Patrick, and Bradley Chubb, Baron Browning, Bryce Callahan and Mike Purcell on the defense.

Kansas City’s most notable absence from Wednesday’s practice was running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (shoulder injury), but coach Andy Reid won’t rule him out for Saturday’s game.

–Field Level Media

Jan 2, 2022; Landover, Maryland, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) gestures to fans in the stands prior to the game against the Washington Football Team at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Eagles, Cowboys get Saturday date as playoffs await

The Dallas Cowboys have a chance to finish unbeaten against the NFC East for the first time since 1998 when they visit a Philadelphia Eagles team hoping to improve its own playoff positioning Saturday night.

While owner and general manager Jerry Jones said the Cowboys (11-5) don’t plan to rest their starters, the Eagles (9-7) are dealing with their biggest COVID-19 outbreak of the season.

“We plan to play. We plan to play to win,” Jones said on his radio show this week, even though a victory isn’t likely to alter the team’s NFC playoff seeding.

The NFC East champion Cowboys currently are the No. 4 seed in the conference. According to NFL Research, there are 32 possible Week 18 scenarios that don’t involve ties, and Dallas would retain the No. 4 seed in 28 of them. The Cowboys would need to win in Philadelphia and get lots of help to move up to the No. 2 or No. 3 seed.

Either way, thanks in part to its 5-0 record against the division, Dallas is guaranteed to host a wild-card game.

Jones noted that having the regular-season finale moved to Saturday night adds another rest day to the calendar.

“Obviously, the debate over the two ways to go is pretty obvious, but I like to play. In this particular case, we’re going to have an extra day’s rest between our last game and the first playoff game,” he said. “I think we’re better served by going out there and executing and having our team out there really playing like it’s the playoff game we’ll be playing the next week.”

One Cowboys starter who could miss the game against the Eagles is standout rookie linebacker Micah Parsons. He was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Wednesday, jeopardizing his shot at an NFL record. His 13 sacks are 1 1/2 shy of the rookie mark set by the Tennessee Titans’ Jevon Kearse in 1999.

Fellow linebackers Keanu Neal and Francis Bernard also were on the COVID list for Dallas as of Wednesday, along with defensive tackle Trysten Hill, safety Malik Hooker and cornerback Jourdan Lewis. Wide receiver Michael Gallup is out for the season after tearing his left ACL in last Sunday’s 25-22 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

As of midweek, Eagles coach Nick Sirianni was still mulling whether to play his starters. The argument in favor of using them — at least for part of the game — is to keep the momentum rolling for a team that has won six of its past seven games.

Philadelphia holds the No. 7 seed but could move up one spot.

“We’ll keep everything on the table,” Sirianni said. “Not quite sure what we’re going to do yet.”

Complicating matters is the fact that 12 Eagles landed on the COVID list Monday, including such starters as defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, safety Rodney McLeod, center Jason Kelce and tight end Dallas Goedert. Three players missed practice Wednesday due to injuries: tackle Lane Johnson (rest, knee), running back Miles Sanders (hand) and guard Landon Dickerson (thumb).

Dallas won the first meeting in Week 3. Dak Prescott passed for 238 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-21 win on “Monday Night Football” in Arlington, Texas.

–Field Level Media

Jan 2, 2022; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley celebrates with Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) after a touchdown in the second half the game against the Denver Broncos at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Final three NFL playoff spots still up for grabs in Week 18

Five of the seven AFC playoff spots are secured, with five teams fighting for the final two conference tickets to the postseason in Week 18.

The Baltimore Ravens, Los Angeles Chargers, Las Vegas Raiders, Indianapolis Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers enter the final weekend of the debut 17-game regular season with a shot at the expanded playoffs. Seven teams in each conference will make this month’s postseason field in an NFL first.

Only one spot is open in the NFC with the Green Bay Packers locked into the No. 1 seed and lone first-round bye with a dominant victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday night.

Home-field advantage remains uncertain in the AFC, but the Tennessee Titans (11-5) clinch the AFC’s No. 1 seed with a win at Houston (4-12), among other possibilities involving ties and losses by the Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals.

Three teams — the Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Rams and Arizona Cardinals — are in the NFC field with three certain division champs: the Packers, Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Still alive for the seventh spot are the San Francisco 49ers (9-7, at Rams) and New Orleans Saints (8-8, at Atlanta).

The 49ers are in with a win, tie or Saints loss. New Orleans must win and pull for the Rams to beat the 49ers to sneak into the postseason.

If the Titans lose, the Bengals or Chiefs could steal the top seed in the AFC.

The Chiefs are the No. 1 in the conference with a win and Titans loss or tie. If the Chiefs tie, they’d still have a shot at the No. 1 seed if the Titans lose to the Texans.

Cincinnati (10-6) has a more complicated route to the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage, but the Bengals do have a chance. It would require losses by the Chiefs and Titans and a loss or tie by the New England Patriots in addition to a Bengals’ win.

New England (10-6) winning could throw the playoff picture for a loop. The Patriots would claim the No. 1 seed with a win, combined with losses from the Bills, Chiefs and Titans.

Sunday night in Las Vegas will determine the outlook of wild-card weekend. The Chargers (9-7) visit the Raiders (9-7) with the winner getting a playoff ticket.

The Colts (9-7) need to win or tie at the Jacksonville Jaguars to get in the easy way after losing to the Raiders last week. Because of tiered tiebreakers, the Colts could sneak in with a Chargers’ loss plus a tie in the Baltimore Ravens-Steelers game, or a Miami Dolphins win combined by losses by the Chargers and Steelers.

The Steelers (8-7-1) could earn a playoff spot if they win, the Colts lose, and the game between the Raiders and Chargers doesn’t end in a tie.

–Field Level Media

Nov 25, 2021; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Trevor Siemian (15) hands off to New Orleans Saints running back Tony Jones Jr. (34) in the first quarter against the Buffalo Bills at the Caesars Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Saints count on getting healthy ahead of Carolina’s visit

The New Orleans Saints are expecting to get healthier by the time they face the Carolina Panthers on Sunday in New Orleans.

If not, it could spell serious trouble for the Saints (7-8).

Already out of reach is a repeat as NFC South champions. But their bid to reach the playoffs is ongoing. They’ll need to take care of business against the Panthers in order to have a chance to land in the postseason.

“We got to control what we can control, and our mindset going through this next week is we got to get a win,” Saints linebacker Pete Werner said. “Winning is on our mind, and we got to go out and execute.”

New Orleans played Monday night with 22 players on the COVID/reserve list. Two of those players were quarterbacks Taysom Hill and Trevor Siemian, meaning rookie Ian Book was summoned for his first NFL start.

The Saints insist that there’s still something to build on there and are not dwelling on the idea that one or both quarterbacks might’ve been able to play under the latest update to the NFL COVID protocol.

“Every week is different,” receiver Marquez Callaway said. “Different scheme. Different itinerary we go through. But throughout the weeks, you learn from your past week, the week before that.”

The Panthers (5-10) are on a five-game losing streak and have been eliminated from playoff contention.

“We want the wins,” Panthers receiver Robby Anderson said. “If you learn from a loss, you grow from it. We’re going through growing pains.”

Carolina’s offense has been in shambles, with Cam Newton unable to orchestrate a victory in five games as a starter this season. Sam Darnold will return to the starting role this week, coach Matt Rhule said Wednesday, in his second game back following an absence with a shoulder injury.

Fans booed the Panthers at times last week, so playing their last two games on the road might turn out to be a good situation.

“We don’t want (any) fake fans,” Anderson said. “We want diehard, loyal fans.”

New Orleans still presents a tough defense, doing its part of much of the 20-3 loss to Miami on Monday night. The Saints shut out the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the game before that.

Adding to the Panthers’ problems has been attention on Rhule’s status. With Rhule only in his second season, there’s plenty of grumbling coming from the fan base for a team that has wrapped up its home schedule.

“I’m going to … try to put together the best plan for our guys this week,” Rhule said. “I hope that our players respect that and appreciate that.”

Carolina isn’t free from COVID issues, with six players placed on the protocol list Monday to push the total number to 12 by midweek. Plus, cornerback Stephon Gilmore is likely out with a groin injury.

The Saints still have a chance to recover from their evolving roster dilemmas.

“I’ve quickly learned in the NFL, it’s about depth,” Werner said. “It’s about taking these opportunities, learning from them and going out and executing because, then again, it’s the NFL. You’re here for a reason.”

The Panthers beat the Saints 26-7 in the second week of the season.

The Saints are Carolina’s most-frequent opponent. New Orleans leads the series 27-26.

–Field Level Media