Nov 26, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA;  Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) calls an audible against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Surging Jaguars, skidding Bengals take stage on Monday night

It’ll be a battle of coaching brothers when the Jacksonville Jaguars host a rare Monday night game against the slumping Cincinnati Bengals.

Cincinnati head coach Zac Taylor brings his Bengals (5-6) into Jacksonville having lost three straight and falling into the cellar of the AFC North after winning the division the last two seasons.

Jacksonville (8-3) is coached by Doug Pederson, and Taylor’s younger brother Press serves as the Jaguars’ offensive coordinator of unit that has star quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

“He’s somebody I’m very proud of,” Zac Taylor said of Press. “I’ve watched his journey. He’s earned everything he’s ever gotten. He’s worked really hard for it. He’s really smart and takes care of people.”

The Jaguars are playing their first Monday night game since Dec. 5, 2011, a 38-14 home loss to the San Diego Chargers. The Jaguars played two Monday night games that season, beating the visiting Baltimore Ravens 12-7 for a split.

The Jaguars are 8-7 all-time on Monday night.

Jacksonville has won seven of its last eight games and sits atop the AFC South. The Jags have the NFL’s fourth-ranked run defense (87.4 yards allowed per game), while Lawrence leads the offense and is coming off a 364-yard passing performance in their 24-21 win at Houston.

“What I’ve been most impressed with was how he’s just leading the football team,” Pederson said of Lawrence. “He has been taking care of the football the last couple of weeks.

“Honestly, there’s still some room if you watch the film to grow and improve and really anticipate certain things,” Pederson added. “He’s just continuing to make impressive throws and he continues to grow.”

The Bengals are trying to snap a long dubious streak of their own. With their loss in Baltimore on Nov. 16, they have dropped 15 straight prime-time games on the road and have lost 26 of 27 night road games.

The Bengals have dropped nine straight Monday night road games, including last season’s 32-13 decision in Cleveland on Oct. 31, 2022. Their last win in this category was on Oct. 22, 1990, in Cleveland. The Bengals are 13-26 all-time on Monday night, with a 19-16 home victory against the LA Rams in Week 3.

The Bengals turn to Jake Browning, who is making his second career NFL start after replacing Joe Burrow in Cincinnati’s 34-20 loss at Baltimore on Nov. 16.

In his first career start last Sunday against the Steelers in Cincinnati, Browning completed 19 of 26 passes for 227 yards and one touchdown and a costly third-quarter interception. The Bengals held a 7-3 lead at the half and were driving for another score to open the third quarter when his pass for Ja’Marr Chase was intercepted.

“I thought he handled some things really well for us,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “It’s a tough task to play a divisional game versus a good defense in your first game. There’s going to be plenty of things he can learn from.”

Browning had to make his first start last week without Tee Higgins, who missed his third straight game with a hamstring injury. Higgins returned to practice in a limited capacity on Thursday and is hopeful to start alongside fellow star receiver Chase on Monday night.

“Tee’s one of the top receivers in the NFL,” said Browning, who was a full participant Thursday despite being listed for a right wrist issue. “I don’t think can really put into words how important he is to this offense.

“I think Andrei (Iosivas) has continued to play really well. Trenton Irwin has proven he can do it, but there’s just something that Tee brings the table being as big, as fast and having the experience he does, where it’s always nice to have him and Ja’Marr on the outside.”

–Field Level Media

Is heavily favored Liberty about to get planted by a double-digit underdog in the CUSA title game? Mandatory Credit: Brian Bishop-USA TODAY Sports

Conference championship weekend Preview, Prop and Picks

The buffet of betting options overflows with main courses with only conference championship games on the menu this weekend.

With Oregon-Washington, Alabama-Georgia and Michigan-Iowa coming up, it’s easy to be distracted by the shiny draw of big names in big games.

But a matchup not many circled could prove a massive stage for one underdog ready to flex.

It’s the Conference USA championship game – No. 24 Liberty vs. New Mexico State – and you know you’ll look to have something to follow when the TV clicks on.

We have stats, news, quotes and betting predictions for our college football (betting) game of the week.

–Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET, Friday
–Television: CBS Sports Network
–Location: Williams Stadium, Lynchburg, Va.
–Point Spread, Total: Liberty -10.5; 55.5 (DraftKings)


It’s a home game for Liberty, with 25,000-plus fans aiming to help the unbeaten Flames (12-0) roll past New Mexico State in Lynchburg, Va., Friday.

The Aggies (10-3) are not intimidated, however, and the venue won’t be a surprise. Liberty stopped New Mexico State 33-17 earlier this season at home.

Bettors who witnessed New Mexico State’s upset at Auburn two weeks ago know about the Aggies’ size and speed. This improving team could be eye-opening for Liberty, a double-digit favorite given the spotlight thanks to a place in the College Football Playoff rankings.

The trends are smiling on Aggies backers. New Mexico State has an 11-2 mark against the spread – 6-1 as the underdog – and following that loss to Liberty has covered 10 consecutive games.

Coming off a 20-17 win over Jacksonville State, in which New Mexico State put two early touchdowns on the board and then became somewhat disinterested, the Aggies have all the inspiration they need in an “us against the world” matchup.

Liberty could be conservative early, and New Mexico State would welcome a slower pace. The Aggies are 9-4 to the “under” this season.

The bet, a plus-money New Mexico State teaser parlay: Aggies +14.5 with the under 60.5 points (+124 at DraftKings).


The Flames are trying to stay in play for the Group of 5 spot in the upper tier of bowls when the College Football Playoff committee reveals its final rankings Sunday.

“To say we’re 12-0, I would’ve said you’re crazy,” Liberty’s first-year coach Jamey Chadwell said. “But this team bought in to each other, and just what a tremendous season.”

The Aggies will arrive with an eight-game winning streak that includes a 31-10 handling of host Auburn on Nov. 18 and Saturday’s 20-17 home escape versus Jacksonville State. Ethan Albertson’s 52-yard field goal as time expired won it for New Mexico State.

Liberty trails only No. 22 Tulane among Group of 5 teams.

“I told them before the season started, you have an opportunity to make history (in the) FBS,” Chadwell said.

“Certain things haven’t happened here. For us to be 12-0, there’s not an FBS program that has ever won 12 games in a season in the state of Virginia.”


It’s almost impossible to quantify the number of what-if scenarios that could be hatched if Alabama beats Georgia in the SEC title game.

That’s been a common discussion point among college football fans and media. No. 1 Georgia wants nothing to do with it.

Would the Bulldogs remain among the College Football Playoff top four when the committee reveals its rankings Sunday at noon ET? That would depend on several other outcomes.

The Bulldogs, unbeaten and improving, know their roles and have taken the elite coaching from Kirby Smart and his staff to heart.

Quarterback Carson Beck is on a nice upward trend in performance. He’s completing 72.4 percent of his attempts – which would easily break the school mark – for 3,495 yards, 22 touchdowns and six interceptions. His yardage total is fourth most in Bulldogs’ history.

No doubt, Tide QB Jalen Milroe has been exceptional, capping his run of success with a dart of a touchdown throw on fourth-and-goal from the Auburn 31-yard line to Isaiah Bond to win last Saturday’s Iron Bowl.

Our take? It was an incredibly lucky throw to beat a clearly inferior opponent.

The bet: Georgia -5.5.


“Definitely, we have to embrace the challenge that’s ahead of us. They’re coming off of a (29)-game winning streak, so it’s definitely a challenge for the guys in the locker room.” — Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe.

–Field Level Media

New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) gets ready to pass the ball at MetLife Stadium, Sunday, November 26, 2023.

Crumbling Patriots, slumping Chargers set for battle

Things have gone from bad to worse for the New England Patriots.

New England has lost seven of its past eight games and, after struggling to officially name a starting quarterback last week, could be set to deal with more turmoil when it faces the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday afternoon in Foxborough, Mass.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick waited until game day to reveal who would be his signal-caller for last Sunday’s game against the New York Giants. He opted to stick with QB1 Mac Jones, but the move backfired.

Jones completed 12 of 21 passes for just 89 yards with two interceptions before being benched in the second half. Bailey Zappe took over, but he failed to generate a spark with 54 yards and an interception as New England (2-9) fell 10-7.

It marked the fourth time this season that Jones has ended up being benched in favor of Zappe.

If the revolving door under center wasn’t a big enough concern, Belichick made it clear on Wednesday that no one’s job is safe with Los Angeles (4-7) coming to town.

“I’m not going to make any announcements on our lineup at any position,” Belichick said. “So, it doesn’t matter what the position is. We’ll see how practice goes, see if everybody is ready to go.

“Hopefully everybody is ready to go, see what the injury situation is, and we’ll go with who we think is best on Sunday.”

The Chargers’ situation isn’t nearly as dire, but Los Angeles is starting to see its playoff hopes fade.

Since back-to-back convincing wins over the Chicago Bears (30-13 on Oct. 29) and New York Jets (27-6 on Nov. 6), the Chargers have dropped three straight games, including last Sunday’s 20-10 setback against the Baltimore Ravens.

Los Angeles coach Brandon Staley isn’t giving up, though, and he believes his team can make a push to secure a second consecutive playoff berth.

“Our focus is on beating New England. That’s what our focus needs to be,” Staley said. “The AFC is wide open. It will be to the end, like it has been.

“The only way that we’re going to have a shot is if we beat New England, and that’s where our focus needs to go right now.”

However, the Patriots have often proved to be a challenge for the Chargers, who are 1-10 in their past 11 games vs. New England. That rut includes three playoff losses.

Making things even tougher for Los Angeles is the fact that it could potentially be without star wide receiver Keenan Allen. Allen leads the NFL in receptions (97) and ranks second in receiving yards (1,117) this season, but he missed Wednesday’s practice due to a quadriceps injury.

Tight end Nick Vannett (concussion) was also held out, while tackles Trey Pipkins III (wrist), Rashawn Slater (back) and Zack Bailey (back) were among those limited.

Receiver Demario Douglas was a non-participant during the Patriots’ practice on Wednesday, as was running back Ty Montgomery. Douglas is dealing with a concussion; Montgomery is battling an illness.

Center David Andrews (foot), linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley (hamstring), running back Ezekiel Elliott (thigh) and defensive lineman Deatrich Wise Jr. (shoulder) were among the 10 Patriots who were limited.

–Field Level Media

Arizona Cardinals running back James Conner returns to Pittsburgh, where he played college football and was a starter for the Steelers.

Steelers prepare for Cardinals, reunion with RB James Conner

Homecoming arrives a bit late this season when former University of Pittsburgh running back James Conner takes on his original NFL team on the field he called home for the Panthers and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Conner plays in the stadium for the first time since becoming a member of the Arizona Cardinals in 2021, and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin knows all too well what to expect.

“We can’t allow James Conner to do what James does,” Tomlin said. “Know, love and got a lot of respect for James. He’s a legitimate tough guy and a big-time competitor. Expecting nothing but his absolute best coming back into Pittsburgh.”

Arizona (2-10) arrives in rebuilding mode, armed with the second-worst record in the NFL, and Conner missed more than a month with injuries. He has rushed for 526 yards on 104 attempts in eight games for the Cardinals, who are coming off of a 37-14 home loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon is building his game plan around trying to contain Steelers pass rusher T.J. Watt, who is tied for the league lead in sacks with 13.5.

“He better not get his, because he’ll train-wreck the game,” Gannon said. “You have to be very aware. There are going to be things that we don’t want to do, or we want to do that we can’t, because we have to limit his impact in the game.”

The Steelers (7-4) are leaning heavily on Watt and their defense to contend for a wild-card spot in the AFC and are currently second in the North division, 1 1/2 games behind the Baltimore Ravens.

“His team always plays with a level of physicality, and a belief that they’re going to win every game they play,” Gannon said of the Steelers under Tomlin.

Pittsburgh made a change at offensive coordinator prior to last week’s victory and has won three out of its past four. Tomlin said he came away optimistic after the 16-10 win at Cincinnati last week, when the Steelers amassed a season-high 421 yards.

And there could be more where that came from, including an opportunity to get quarterback Kenny Pickett his first touchdown pass in four weeks. His last TD pass was Nov. 2 against the Titans.

Pickett is fighting an ankle injury, Tomlin said, but was able to participate in practice on Wednesday.

Arizona’s defense has been scorched in the first half each of the past two games and the Cardinals have allowed the second-most points in the league this year behind only the Washington Commanders.

“They are utilizing a five-man front to balance some of that out, which is smart ball,” Tomlin said. “The five-man front is challenging. They do a plethora of things out of it.

“They do it in base, they do it in sub. We’ve got to do a really good job of dealing with the number of people they play along the line of scrimmage. It really minimizes your ability to double-team and get movement.”

Pittsburgh has won its past four meetings against Arizona, including the 27-23 win in Super Bowl XLIII.

Arizona’s last win over Pittsburgh was in 2007.

Steelers defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick returned to practice on Wednesday after missing more than a month with a hamstring injury. He is on track to play on Sunday, Tomlin said.

–Field Level Media

Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff (16) and head coach Dan Campbell talk on the sidelines during first half action against the Philadelphia Eagles at Ford Field on Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021.

Detroit Lions

Saints target takeaways, welcome Detroit, Dan Campbell ‘home’

Pride runs deep with Dan Campbell, who has the Detroit Lions in first place in the NFC North.

He’ll head “home” to square off with Dennis Allen, who has the New Orleans Saints tied for first place in the NFC South and has been connected to Campbell since serving as a graduate assistant at Texas A&M in the late 1990s.

“It’s special,” Campbell said of returning to the Caesars Superdome. “It’s a little like going home. That’s why I’m fired up to go back there because I know winning in that building.”

The Lions (8-3) are three games ahead of Minnesota and Green Bay in the loss column as Detroit tries to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2016. The Saints (5-6) lost their last two games but remain in the thick of the all-sub-.500 South division.

Campbell and Allen were assistants on Sean Payton’s staff for five seasons before the Lions hired Campbell in 2021. When Payton resigned after the 2021 season, a year before returning as head coach in Denver, Allen succeeded him.

“I know what they’re made of,” Campbell said of the Saints. “I know they’re prideful guys. It was a winning organization and still is. They have an opportunistic defense and they’re going to try and make you mess it up.”

Detroit has messed up a little more than usual the past two games. Quarterback Jared Goff spent part of Wednesday running through ball security drills, and he wasn’t alone.

The Lions lost three fumbles with one takeaway in a 29-22 home loss to the Packers on Thanksgiving Day, four days after struggling to a 31-26 victory over Chicago, when Goff was picked off three times.

“We’re turning the ball over too much offensively and we had one on special teams,” Campbell said. “That’s the major issue right now. It’s doom and gloom outside our building.”

The Saints are tied for fourth in the NFL with 20 takeaways. But New Orleans doesn’t always know what to do with them, and is trying to move past a 24-15 loss at Atlanta last week.

New Orleans was stifled by the Falcons, reaching the red zone five times without scoring a touchdown. While the Saints netted five field goals, two of the possessions inside the 20 ended in turnovers, including a game-changing pick-6 thrown by Derek Carr.

“That’s been an issue for us,” Allen said. “We haven’t been able to get that corrected.”

The Saints rank 29th in the NFL in percentage of trips into the red zone producing touchdowns (42.5). Allen said the team is spending extra time on red-zone offense.

“There are a lot of factors involved in it,” Allen said. “It’s protection, routes, concepts, execution. It’s certainly an area where we’re not as good as we need to be.”

For New Orleans, which finished 7-10 in Allen’s first season as head coach last year, it could be worse. The Saints play in the only division in which every team has a losing record.

Though tied for first, New Orleans currently loses tiebreakers to Atlanta and Tampa Bay with five weeks to go in the regular season.

“We understand the sense of urgency,” Allen said.

Four Saints starters missed practice Wednesday: defensive end Cameron Jordan (ankle), linebacker Pete Werner (shoulder/oblique), safety Marcus Maye (shoulder) and wide receiver Rashid Shaheed (thigh). Wide receiver Chris Olave (concussion protocol), center Erik McCoy (shoulder) and kicker Blake Grupe (groin) were limited.

Former Saints linebacker Alex Anzalone, Detroit’s leading tackler, missed practice because of a hand injury.

–Field Level Media

Nov 26, 2023; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Bryce Young (9) attempts a pass during the second half against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Panthers pack bags to visit Baker Mayfield, Bucs

Not often does the team with the NFL’s worst record grab headlines entering the final month of the season, but here the Carolina Panthers stand as their 12th game of the season approaches.

Head coach Frank Reich was fired as coach Monday and the Panthers (1-10) scurried to prepare behind interim head coach Chris Tabor before Carolina visits the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7) on Sunday in a Week 13 NFC South matchup.

“Feels like Week 72,” Tabor joked on Wednesday.

The Panthers made significant changes behind Reich, who recently reclaimed play-calling duties from offensive coordinator Thomas Brown. Brown kept his job, but Tabor said he made the decision to fire quarterbacks coach Josh McCown and running backs coach Duce Staley.

“You can’t overhaul everything, but I think you can do some things and we’ll work on that,” said Tabor, who is keeping his duties as special teams coach.

Turmoil tiptoed through the Panthers organization long before owner David Tepper made a change following Carolina’s 10th loss of the season last week at Tennessee.

The future of general manager Scott Fitterer wasn’t addressed by Tepper, who left his news conference Monday as that question was being asked, and any rebuild comes with complications.

The Panthers are in position to hold the No. 1 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft based on their league-worst record, but that pick belongs to the Chicago Bears.

Fitterer and Carolina spent that draft capital and more to select quarterback Bryce Young as the top pick in April. But he has been sacked 40 times and has 12 turnovers (four fumbles lost) in 10 starts.

NFL Network reported Wednesday that Panthers rookie offensive lineman Chandler Zavala (knee injury) is being placed on injured reserve and is out at least four games.

The Buccaneers (4-7) aren’t exactly in a groove. But they’re still squarely in the hunt for the division title behind a reclamation project well known to the Panthers, Baker Mayfield.

“We won’t turn this corner until they start being accountable for each other on the field,” said Buccaneers coach Todd Bowles, whose team has lost two in a row and six of its past seven games. “We’re desperate to win a ball game.”

The Buccaneers get two swings at the Panthers in the next five weeks, the second one being the Jan. 7 finale.

Mayfield began last season with Carolina and lasted seven games, with the team posting a 1-6 record, before he was released.

Mayfield is listed as questionable with an ankle injury. He has thrown 17 touchdown passes with seven interceptions this season. He said he would sit out if he thought it would be best for the team, but that he can play through pain.

“He has an old-school mentality,” Bowles said. “He loves to play the game and he does everything every week to be ready to play.”

Mayfield had thrown for more than 200 yards in seven consecutive games until last week’s 199-yard outing at Indianapolis.

Bowles said the Buccaneers aren’t overly concerned about seeing massive changes from the Panthers.

“You can’t revamp your team in a week,” Bowles said. “So you concentrate on the scheme. I’m sure they’ll tweak some things, but we have to worry about the things we can correct ourselves.”

A year ago, the Panthers went 6-6 with Steve Wilks as interim coach. Tabor was on the Carolina staff and was retained by Reich.

“The NFL train is always moving, and the NFL monster will eat you at any time,” Tabor said. “You need to be prepared and you need to take the proper steps to set yourself up for success. And that’s what we’re trying to work on right now.”

Tabor said he’s used to juggling responsibilities and personnel with special teams. Now, he has more to oversee.

Getting the offense going would be a plus. The Panthers are 30th out of 32 teams in the NFL in total offense and passing offense.

“We all take ownership,” Young said. “It’s all of us.”

–Field Level Media

Nov 19, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson (3) and wide receiver Courtland Sutton (14) before the game at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Broncos, Browns try to keep winning streaks going

The Denver Broncos and visiting Cleveland Browns will look to extend their respective season-high winning streaks at the other’s expense on Sunday.

The Broncos (5-5), in fact, are seeking their first five-game winning streak since the 2015 season. Denver boasts a plus-11 turnover margin during its current win streak to reside at plus-6 for the season, which ranks tied for sixth in the NFL.

The Browns (7-3) have overcome myriad injuries to win three in a row and five of six overall and move within a half-game of the Baltimore Ravens atop the AFC North.

Denver evened its record last Sunday after posting a 21-20 win over the Minnesota Vikings.

Courtland Sutton reeled in a touchdown reception from Russell Wilson in his fifth straight game to boost his season TD total to eight, which ranks second only to Miami Dolphins wideout Tyreek Hill (10) in the NFL.

“He’s a special player, he’s one of the best in the game,” Wilson said Wednesday. “Courtland’s been dedicated to the game, his craft, his practice every day — his leadership is unbelievable. He’s one of the best guys to be as a teammate.”

With a touchdown reception Sunday, Sutton will become the first Broncos wideout since Wes Welker (2013) to find the end zone in six straight games.

The Broncos’ 23rd-ranked offense has a tall order in store against the Browns, who boast the NFL’s top defense (243.3 yards allowed per game) and pass defense (143.7). There’s also the matter of containing Myles Garrett (league-leading 13 sacks), who is the fourth player since 1982 with at least 13 sacks in four of his first seven NFL seasons.

Making his second career start, rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson completed four straight passes to set up Dustin Hopkins’ 34-yard field goal with 2 seconds left in a 13-10 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday.

A far-from-perfect performance, Thompson-Robinson finished 24-for-43 for 165 yards and an interception after being ushered into the starting role following the season-ending shoulder injury to franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Super Bowl XLVII MVP Joe Flacco was signed by the Browns this week to provide veteran leadership for Thompson-Robinson, a fifth-round pick out of UCLA.

Thompson-Robinson, 24, admitted he’s not threatened by the arrival of Flacco. In fact, he labeled the addition of the 38-year-old as “more of a blessing than anything” for the Browns.

“Like I said, I’m asking him a bunch of questions,” Thompson-Robinson said. “We were chopping it up a stuff ton this morning. He’s in the early meetings with us and me and P.J. (Walker) now, so it’s great, man. He’s fit in so well, and, like I said, I’ve only known him for just about a day with him being here. So I love Joe. It’s been awesome.”

Cleveland’s passing attack will not have to deal with safety Kareem Jackson on Sunday. Jackson’s four-game suspension for his hit on Vikings quarterback Joshua Dobbs was upheld on Tuesday.

Denver safety P.J. Locke (ankle) was limited in Thursday’s practice and a full participant Friday but is listed as questionable. Running back Samaje Perine (back) and inside linebacker Josey Jewell (back) practiced Thursday and Friday and will play Sunday, as will defensive tackle D.J. Jones (knee).

For the Browns, wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (concussion) and cornerback Denzel Ward (shoulder) did not practice Friday and were ruled out. Free safety Juan Thornhill (calf) and middle linebacker Anthony Walker (hamstring) are listed as questionable. Inside linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk (knee) practiced Thursday and Friday but is listed as questionable.

–Field Level Media

Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) runs the ball before an NFL football matchup Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023 at EverBank Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla. [Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union]

Titans look to shake off issues in clash vs. lowly Panthers

The Tennessee Titans have a long list of problems, but that might not seem so extreme this week.

That’s because the opponent is the Carolina Panthers. The teams meet Sunday afternoon in Nashville, Tenn.

The Titans (3-7) have lost three games in a row (all on the road), winning only once since the first day of October.

“The attitude is that we all have to do a little bit more,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said.

The Panthers (1-9) aren’t set to make wholesale lineup changes despite possessing the worst record in the NFL, with coach Frank Reich attempting to exercise patience.

“Trust your guys, I think that’s the biggest thing,” Reich said. “Be patient and believe.”

Reich seems undeterred publicly about questions regarding his job security in his first season as Carolina’s head coach. The losing record is troublesome enough.

“Just keep working, put your head down and focus on your work,” he said. “So I don’t think that’s a distraction during the week.”

Both teams will start rookie quarterbacks in Bryce Young of the Panthers and Will Levis of the Titans. Young was taken No. 1 overall in last spring’s draft and Levis went in the second round (No. 33 overall).

“It was really fun watching him, comparing myself to the other quarterbacks in the draft class,” Levis said of Young. “He did some great things on Saturdays, and he has been doing some great things on Sundays.”

The goal for the Titans is to get more work for running back Derrick Henry, who is averaging less than 16 carries per game while rushing for 663 yards.

“There’s a process of being able to get him those carries,” Vrabel said. “We’ve got to help him out. There’s some room (to run) and sometimes there’s not. It’s about the volume of plays. The efficiency has to be there. The drives have to be there. If we’re able to do that, then Derrick can impact the game.”

Carolina’s offensive line took another hit with right guard Austin Corbett lost for the season with a knee injury stemming from last Sunday’s game against Dallas. He was placed on injured reserve on Wednesday.

Pass protection has been a concern for the Panthers. They might continue to move Young from taking snaps under center and into the shotgun formation.

Titans receiver Treylon Burks (concussion) could be out after missing practice earlier in the week.

Tennessee cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting is hoping to be back from a thumb injury. He practiced in full on Wednesday.

“I would love to be able to get back and help as much as I can,” he said.

Murphy-Bunting is aware that Young has developed some good vibes with receiver Adam Thielen, who rates fourth in the league with 76 catches and 15th with 726 receiving yards

“He trusts Thielen, a guy that he relies on a lot,” Murphy-Bunting said.

Titans guard Calvin Throckmorton was picked up off waivers from the Panthers on Nov. 15.

Carolina cornerback Dicaprio Bootle, who had been filling in as a starter, went on IR with a knee injury, Meanwhile, Panthers safety Jeremy Chinn (quadriceps) has been designated to return from injured reserve, meaning he could be available for this weekend’s game.

The Panthers and Titans have split six all-time meetings. Carolina won in one of two previous visits to Nashville.

–Field Level Media

Nov 16, 2023; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Jake Browning (6) hands off to running back Trayveon Williams (32) in the fourth quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sam Greene-USA TODAY Sports

Bengals, Steelers both transitioning heading into divison battle

Two teams undergoing significant midseason change and turmoil meet on Sunday afternoon when the Cincinnati Bengals host the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Bengals (5-5) have followed four straight wins with two losses, including a painful 34-20 setback in Baltimore on Nov. 16.

The loss to the AFC North rival Ravens was not only costly in the standings, but it was also devastating to Cincinnati’s playoff chances, as franchise quarterback Joe Burrow was lost for the season due to a right wrist injury.

Jake Browning stepped in following Burrow’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Joe Mixon in the second quarter and will be taking over starting quarterback responsibilities going forward. Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh will mark his first career NFL start.

“It’s unfortunate to see (this happen to) a guy who works as hard as he does,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said of Burrow’s injury. “The time and energy he puts into his body and making sure he’s at his best for this organization. It kills you to watch somebody have to go through this several times now.

“That’s football. You look around the league, and this is something that happens to quarterbacks. Now it’s on the rest of the team to rally around each other and find a way out of this.”

Cincinnati has faith in Browning, though.

“I don’t think you need to cut anything back,” Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said of the play calls. “He’s mentally capable of handling the system as it stands. … I think if you were to ask him, he’d probably get irritated if you felt like he had to cut back at all.”

While Browning also replaced Burrow in the season opener in Cleveland in the fourth quarter, he took his first meaningful NFL snaps in the Baltimore game.

Browning completed 8 of 14 passes for 68 yards with one touchdown against the Ravens. He led a 10-play field-goal drive to open the third quarter and a threw a 2-yard TD pass to Ja’Marr Chase to account for Cincinnati’s final 10 points on the night.

The Steelers aren’t changing their quarterback, but instead their offensive coordinator, as Matt Canada was fired on Tuesday and replaced with Eddie Faulkner, the team’s running backs coach.

Pittsburgh enters the game in playoff position despite an offense that is ranked 28th in both scoring (16.6 points per game) and yards per game (280.1).

After last week’s 13-10 loss at Cleveland, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin fired Canada and replaced him with Faulkner.

“We’ve got to score touchdowns in this business. You have got to win games in this business. And just the totality of it has us where we are today,” Tomlin said.

“I’m excited about Eddie Faulkner coordinating our efforts, organizing staff responsibility in meetings, organizing game planning, leading our unit as a collective in review of our tape in preparation for upcoming opponents and things of that nature, things that the coordinator does.”

While Faulkner will assume the coordinating duties, Tomlin indicated quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan will be the chief play-caller.

Defensive end Sam Hubbard missed Cincinnati’s last two games — both losses — with an ankle injury. But the team is hopeful to have him back this weekend after he returned to practice on Wednesday.

Receiver Tee Higgins (hamstring) and cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt (quad) did not practice for the Bengals.

Wide receiver George Pickens missed the Steelers’ practice on Wednesday due to a shin injury. Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (hamstring) was also out. Fitzpatrick, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, has missed the past three games.

–Field Level Media

Nov 19, 2023; Santa Clara, California, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) carries the ball against the San Francisco 49ers during the second quarter at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Buccaneers, Colts clash with both teams eyeing late run

When the calendar hits late November, it’s time for playoff-hopeful teams to start stacking wins.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts certainly fit that description as they play each other Sunday in Indianapolis.

Despite being 4-6 after a 27-14 loss last week in San Francisco, Tampa Bay may be in a better position to make the postseason. That’s because they’re in the NFC South, where New Orleans leads the pack at 5-5. Get hot for a few weeks, and that might be good enough to get a division title.

“It’s still in our hands,” said Buccaneers safety Antoine Winfield Jr. “We’ve got to go ahead and make sure we take care of our business. We’ve got to win our games that we’re supposed to win. It’s still there for us. We have hope in that aspect.

“It’s getting serious. It’s getting down to the wire. … Coming down to these final games, we’ve got to make sure that we get some wins under our belt so we can make this playoff push.”

To make the best push possible, the Buccaneers will need more production from an offense that’s been about as much miss as hit. After scoring 37 points two weeks ago in a bitter loss in Houston, they have managed only 34 the last two games.

Quarterback Baker Mayfield is enjoying a good season statistically, completing 64.6 percent of his passes for 2,389 yards with 15 touchdowns and six interceptions, but Tampa Bay is struggling to score touchdowns. Its touchdown percentage of 46.4 in the red zone is tied for 28th in the league.

“We have to find a way to punch it in the end zone and that’s holding us back,” said Buccaneers coach Todd Bowles. “The small things are holding us back from winning these ballgames.”

Meanwhile, Indianapolis (5-5) is back to work after enjoying a Week 11 bye. It’s coming off a 10-6 win over New England in Germany two weeks ago in which it gained just 264 total yards but was able to parlay Jonathan Taylor’s 1-yard touchdown run and a 51-yard field goal by Matt Gay into a positive result.

The Colts enter Week 12 one game behind Pittsburgh and Houston for the final AFC wild card spot. They appear to have a schedule conducive to making a run, as none of their final seven opponents have a record better than 6-4.

Wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie, a part of playoff teams the last four years in Buffalo, is trying to spread the message among his younger teammates that they have what it takes to do some postseason damage.

“I feel like everybody is on board and everybody has to always be on board because this is the NFL,” McKenzie said. “You never know what’s going to happen. I feel like everybody is in tune to what’s going on and ready to try and make a playoff run.”

Indianapolis owns an 8-7 lead in the teams’ all-time series, although Tom Brady and Tampa Bay pulled out a 38-31 win in their last meeting on Nov. 28, 2021.

–Field Level Media