<
>

Monday NFL preview: Playoff picture becoming clearer

NFL Nation reporters look ahead to what Monday has in store for each team.

AFC EAST

Buffalo Bills: The Bills' ship is sinking quickly. A team that looked to have promise to make the playoffs is now 6-8, and frustration began to bubble following Sunday's loss to the Redskins, which officially knocked Buffalo out of playoff contention. Specifically, defensive end Mario Williams questioned whether there were "insurgents" in the Bills' facility given an ESPN report that some did not believe Williams was actually sick when he missed a meeting last week. Rex Ryan also spoke about the possibility of "changes" around the team, which adds further instability to a faltering team. -- Mike Rodak

Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins (5-9) look like a team that has little or no fight left this season after a blowout loss to the struggling Chargers (4-10). Linebacker Kelvin Sheppard said the team must look in the mirror and stop making excuses for the losing. Miami has lost four of the past five games. -- James Walker

New England Patriots: After having wide receiver Danny Amendola (knee), linebacker Dont'a Hightower (knee) and safety Patrick Chung (hip) knocked out of Sunday's win over the Titans, the Patriots will take some inventory on the health front Monday to determine the severity of each situation. Hightower watched the remainder of the game from the sideline after leaving in the third quarter, which could be viewed as a positive sign. And Chung was spotted by reporters walking out of the stadium after the game, another positive sign. -- Mike Reiss

New York Jets: After playing Saturday night, the Jets will have an extra day to prepare for their showdown with the Patriots. The rest will help the injured players, especially middle linebacker David Harris, who was unable to finish the game due to a lower back contusion. He's one of the most durable players on the team, so you know the pain had to be considerable for him to stay out. Veteran Erin Henderson did a solid job in his place. -- Rich Cimini

AFC NORTH

Baltimore Ravens: Starting cornerback Jimmy Smith injured his thigh on the 10th play of the game and didn't return. Coach John Harbaugh didn't have any updates on Smith's injury, but it would be a signficant hit if Baltimore didn't have its top cornerback against Pittsburgh and the NFL's fifth-ranked passing attack. The Ravens' starting cornerbacks would be Shareece Wright and Jumal Rolle, both of whom weren't on the team's roster when the season began. -- Jamison Hensley

Cincinnati Bengals: Immediately after Sunday's playoff-clinching win over the 49ers, the Bengals had few injury concerns as they embarked on a five-hour flight back home. Wide receiver A.J. Green was the only player who left the game early. A lingering back issue forced coaches to sit him in the third quarter in hopes of not causing further damage in what had been a 24-0 blowout. Green should be fine next Monday when the Bengals travel to Denver for a shot at the AFC's No. 2 seed. -- Coley Harvey

Cleveland Browns: The Browns lost their 11th game of the season Sunday in Seattle. They will not be favored to win either of their final two games, against Kansas City and Pittsburgh. If they lose both, they'll have 13 losses for the first time since the 2000 season, the second year of the expansion era. -- Pat McManamon

Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers couldn't be in a better position. Their come-from-behind win over Denver showed toughness, they held firm in the AFC playoff picture and their receivers had a monster day against the league's best defense. The trio of Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton combined for 338 yards as Denver stopped the run and begged Pittsburgh to throw. "When you have the receivers we do, why not [throw]?" quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. The Steelers will be heavily favored in their final two games against the Ravens and Browns. -- Jeremy Fowler

AFC SOUTH

Houston Texans: An MRI on Monday is expected to confirm that quarterback T.J. Yates has a torn anterior cruciate ligament. The Texans are also hoping to have more information about the status of Brian Hoyer, their starting quarterback who was out for this game with a concussion. Since it was Hoyer's second concussion in the span of less than one month, it might be wise for him to sit out another week. -- Tania Ganguli

Indianapolis Colts: Colts quarterback Matt Hasselbeck couldn't say for sure if he'll play at Miami this week after leaving Sunday's game against Houston following a hard hit to his jaw in the fourth quarter. "We'll practice Tuesday, we'll see how I feel by then," Hasselbeck said. "I don't know." If Hasselbeck, who has been knocked out of three straight games, doesn't play, Charlie Whitehurst could end up starting for the struggling Colts against the Dolphins because there still hasn't seen a definite date set on when Andrew Luck (kidney/abdomen) will return. -- Mike Wells

Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jaguars missed running back T.J. Yeldon (knee) against the Falcons. He hasn't fumbled this season but his replacement on Sunday, Denard Robinson, fumbled twice. It's unclear if Yeldon will be able to play on Sunday at New Orleans. The Jaguars should update his status Monday. -- Mike DiRocco

Tennessee Titans: Quarterback Marcus Mariota will have tests on his injured right knee in Nashville on Monday. He twisted his knee underneath him on a second-quarter sack by New England's Jamie Collins, and while Mariota probably could have returned, the Titans chose to be cautious. He said he didn't expect to be done for the season, and interim coach Mike Mularkey said he doesn't think it's serious. -- Paul Kuharsky

AFC WEST

Denver Broncos: The Broncos have serious issues at safety as T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart were each gameday inactives Sunday in the loss to the Steelers. Plus, David Bruton Jr. had to be helped to the locker room following the game; linebacker Danny Trevathan and one of the team's trainers essentially carried Bruton down the tunnel after the game. Ward may start practicing this week, but it's uncertain if he will be ready for Monday night's game against Cincinnati, and Bruton looked as if he will miss some time. -- Jeff Legwold

Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs are the first NFL team to have an eight-game winning streak after losing five consecutive games. They are one win away from the longest win streak in team history. The Chiefs won nine straight games in 2003 and 2013. -- Adam Teicher

Oakland Raiders: Fourth-round pick Jon Feliciano made his first NFL start at right guard Sunday. J'Marcus Webb, who started all season at right guard, moved to right tackle. That will likely be the alignment for the rest of the season. Starting right tackle Austin Howard was put on the injured reserve Saturday with a knee injury. -- Bill Williamson

San Diego Chargers: Quarterback Philip Rivers doesn't know if Sunday was the Chargers' final game at Qualcomm Stadium. However, if the team does move to Los Angeles next year, Rivers wanted to make sure the team left San Diego on a positive note. And that included a win over the Dolphins. "There were people that were going to be at the game today that have been coming to games before we were born," a teary-eyed Rivers said. "But we get to close it out. And if this is the end, we get to finish it off. Hopefully, the fans that have seen it over the years and the players that have played in there can be proud today that we at least ended it the right way." -- Eric D. Williams

NFC EAST

Dallas Cowboys: While Jason Garrett was not ready to commit to Kellen Moore as the starting quarterback after Saturday's loss to the Jets, there would be no logical reason to go back to Matt Cassel. But what other younger players could get a look with the Cowboys out of the playoff chase? With Gavin Escobar tearing his Achilles, rookie tight end Geoff Swaim will get a chance. Rookie tackle Chaz Green could also see some playing time in the final two games. -- Todd Archer

New York Giants: With two games to go, the Giants' situation is dicey at best, and they need a ton of help in order to make the playoffs. Tom Coughlin has worked hard to keep the team's spirits up after every difficult, last-minute loss this season, but Sunday's loss to Carolina dropped the Giants to 6-8, and they could be eliminated from postseason contention next weekend. "We'll find a way to keep fighting," Coughlin said. "That's what we do." And he's right. These Giants have been in every game but one and are no easy out. But on Sunday evening, his words had a new kind of resignation to them, as if he's a guy who knows time may have run out on his team. -- Dan Graziano

Philadelphia Eagles: Saturday's NFC East showdown with Washington still has meaning. Despite losing to Arizona and falling to 6-8, the Eagles can still claim the division title if they win Saturday night. If they lose to the Redskins, they will be eliminated from the playoff race. The Eagles lost at Washington, 23-20, on Oct. 4. -- Phil Sheridan

Washington Redskins: Redskins linebacker Will Compton is expected to undergo an MRI on his left shoulder Monday after leaving Sunday's game in the fourth quarter with a stinger. He said he likely could have continued Sunday had the game not been out of reach. Right tackle Morgan Moses will be re-evaluated Monday after leaving the game with a foot injury. Coach Jay Gruden will update their statuses Monday afternoon, along with those of running back Matt Jones (hip contusion), center Josh LeRibeus (ankle sprain) and safety Dashon Goldson (rib contusion). -- John Keim

NFC NORTH

Chicago Bears: The Bears have to figure out a plan of action for Alshon Jeffery during the next two weeks. Jeffery briefly left Sunday's loss to Minnesota with a calf injury and finished the game with only one catch (10-yard touchdown). Jeffery has dealt with injuries the entire season, playing in just nine games. He said he was OK after the Vikings game, but Jeffery's hamstring clearly affected him. Officially eliminated from playoff contention, the Bears may have to proceed cautiously with Jeffery, who is scheduled to reach free agency in the spring. Players do not practice again until Wednesday, when the club begins to prepare for Week 16's road game in Tampa Bay. -- Jeff Dickerson

Detroit Lions: He hasn't been active for a while, but tight end Tim Wright could be a player to watch Monday night for the Lions, especially since Eric Ebron has missed practice time this week due to illness. Between Ebron's illness and Brandon Pettigrew being placed on injured reserve, Wright might be Detroit's most healthy and experienced option in the offense against the Saints. He hasn't been used much this season, but he has shown the capability of being productive in the past, catching 80 passes and 11 touchdowns in his first two seasons before coming to the Lions. -- Michael Rothstein

Green Bay Packers: As coach Mike McCarthy said after Sunday's win over the Raiders, "We're at 10 wins and now it's all about the Arizona Cardinals." The Packers could use a win over one of the NFC's top teams for playoff positioning, which would give them momentum going into the playoffs. -- Rob Demovsky

Minnesota Vikings: Running back Adrian Peterson didn't seem overly concerned with the ankle sprain he sustained in the second quarter of Sunday's win over the Bears; Peterson returned to the game in the third quarter and said he didn't need X-rays on his left ankle. The Vikings will likely monitor him through the week, but unless Peterson's ankle gets worse, he figures to be available for Sunday's game against the Giants. -- Ben Goessling

NFC SOUTH

Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons ended their six-game losing streak but now have 14-0 Carolina next on the schedule. That means another matchup between Falcons star receiver Julio Jones and Panthers top cornerback Josh Norman. "Everybody just keeps talking about Josh Norman, Josh Norman," Jones said. "He's a good football player. I don't think he's great yet, but he's a good football player." -- Vaughn McClure

Carolina Panthers: Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. returned after initially being ruled out for the remainder of the game in the second half due to a rib injury. Coach Ron Rivera didn't appear too concerned after the victory over the Giants, but Ginn will be checked on Monday to confirm his status. Ginn has become huge to this offense, catching two touchdowns in three consecutive games. The Panthers will need his speed to stretch the field once the playoffs begin. -- David Newton

New Orleans Saints: Monday's game will feature another one of those resistible force vs. movable object matchups. The Lions rank last in the NFL in rushing offense (79.3 yards per game) and the Saints rank last in the NFL in rushing defense (136.1 yards per game). Both figures are misleading, though. Detroit's offense has improved a bit under new offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, and the Lions have rushed for more than 100 yards in four straight games -- tied for the third-longest streak in the NFL heading into this week. And the Saints' defense has improved a bit under new defensive coordinator Dennis Allen. They allowed a season-low 291 yards and a season-low 17 points in a win last week at Tampa Bay, though they did still allow 6.1 yards per rush. -- Mike Triplett

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: With two games remaining, running back Doug Martin finds himself nine yards behind Adrian Peterson for the league lead in rushing. Martin has 1,305 yards, which is third on the Bucs' all-time single-season list. No Tampa Bay player has ever won the league rushing title. -- Rick Brown

NFC WEST

Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals clinched their first NFC West title since 2009 with a win over the Eagles on Sunday. The win also set a Cardinals record for 12 wins in a season. -- Josh Weinfuss

St. Louis Rams: The Rams have another day off Monday, but when they return to work Tuesday, they will do so knowing that their slim playoff hopes have vanished into nothing. St. Louis closes the season with road trips to Seattle and San Francisco. Those games won't be for anything but pride, though the Rams still have a chance to get to 8-8 for the first time since 2006 if they can win both. -- Nick Wagoner

San Francisco 49ers: The Niners' seven drops on Sunday were tied for the most drops in a game this season, per ESPN Stats & Info. Two of those drops, by tight end Vance McDonald, resulted in interceptions for quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Plus, the seven drops were the most by the 49ers in a game in 10 seasons. Maybe that's what coach Jim Tomsula was referring to when he said the Niners needed to work on their "fine focus." -- Paul Gutierrez

Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks have lost tight end Jimmy Graham, running back Marshawn Lynch and running back Thomas Rawls this season. But because of quarterback Russell Wilson and the passing game, they look like a contender. During the current five-game winning streak, Wilson has completed 74.3 percent of his passes, averaged 9.6 yards per attempt and thrown 19 touchdowns without an interception. -- Sheil Kapadia