- Plus, the latest on T.Y. Hilton and Julio Jones, the Saints get some reinforcements, and the league discusses anti-Kaepernick Russian trolls flooding social media.
Your rundown of news and notes heading into Sunday of Week 16 …
1. The top injury to watch on Sunday, given the circumstances (real and fantasy), involves Rams RB Todd Gurley. He is listed as questionable with a knee injury and I’m told this is truly a game-time decision, which is to say it could be in question past the 1 p.m. kickoffs (which I’d imagine creates a tough spot for some of you). Sean McVay’s team is more prepared for it, with new addition C.J. Anderson ready to go if needed. One coach I talked to said Anderson showed himself to be a pro in how he worked and how quickly he picked up the Rams’ protections. He was at the facility very early all week.
2. There is far more certainty surrounding Colts WR T.Y. Hilton. Sources say he’s a go for his team’s big one against the Giants, and that’s not to say that his ankle is where it needs to be. He gutted it out last week on the bum wheel and, barring a setback, will do that again.
3. At the latest league meetings in Dallas, in an effort to show how Park Avenue is monitoring social media, the league discussed with assembled owners and team executives the presence of Russian accounts tweeting about the league’s anthem controversy and Colin Kaepernick during recent election seasons. The presentation cited a Wall Street Journal story from October on the subject. (According to multiple people in the room, the sentiment from the Russian accounts was, as you’d expect, uniformly anti-Kaepernick.)
4. The Saints will have Ted Ginn back in the lineup against the Steelers, and Ginn put together a really strong week of practice to show he’s ready after almost three months away. Coaches expect Ginn to bring an element of speed the offense has missed on the outside in his absence. Getting one of the NFL’s best left tackles, Terron Armstead, back in the lineup is a pretty big deal as well.
5. Latest word is that the Falcons are indeed taking the decision on whether to play Julio Jones (hip/ribs) into gameday, as coach Dan Quinn intimated on Friday. I’m sure if it were up to Jones, he’d play. I think the team is going to be careful with him.
6. Interesting nugget: I’m told Browns coaches didn’t address being eliminated from the playoff picture with their players last night, which is consistent with their message throughout all of this. That message has been not to let anything happening on the outside affect what’s happening inside the organization.
7. I’ll be interested to see the Vikings offense today against Detroit and, in particular, whether or not they can do close to what they did last week against Miami (220 rushing yards). A lot of fingers have been pointed at ex-coordinator John DeFilippo, but the loss of the late Tony Sparano, the O-line coach who was vital in putting together the run game, has most certainly been felt this year. If interim OC Kevin Stefanski, who I believe will get his interim tag removed at season’s end, has actually found the fix, that would really be something.
8. Both the Eagles’ and Texans’ secondaries are susceptible right now, but perhaps the real key to this afternoon’s big tilt at the Linc will be waged at the line of scrimmage, with Houston’s O-line trying to handle a Philly defensive front that took over against the Rams last week. To that end, Swiss Army knife Michael Bennett is important as a matchup guy for the Eagles, and I’m told the team is optimistic Bennett (foot) will be good to go.
9. Given the loss of Josh Gordon, a lot of eyes will be on Patriots veteran Chris Hogan. We’ve seen plenty of him (Belichick was asked about him on Friday and answered: “He’s been healthy all year, so that’s a good thing”), and have a pretty good idea that he’s not quite what he was in his first two years as a Patriot. That, to me, leaves two players to watch: One is Phillip Dorsett, who the team likes but who saw his playing time cut into big-time after Gordon settled in. The other is James White, who’s been a great security blanket for Tom Brady but has had his workload managed of late.
10. Let’s wrap with a look-ahead to Monday, which could be the Raiders’ final game in Oakland. As you probably know by now, the city is suing the team and the team has no lease for next year, with its stadium in Vegas set to open in 2020. Where do things stand? The Raiders are talking to the Niners about Levi’s Stadium, the San Francisco Giants about AT&T Park, and San Diego about playing in the Chargers’ old home. San Antonio was bandied about too, though Mark Davis poured water on the idea a couple weeks back. A couple people I spoke with mentioned Cal-Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium as a potential 2019 solution. One thing to keep in mind: The Niners hold some cards here, obviously controlling the situation at Levi’s and holding the ability to block a move to AT&T since they have territorial rights to San Francisco. This much I do know: All this uncertainty should make for a colorful scene on Christmas Eve.
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