The Oakland Raiders and their home crowd always have a special bond on game day. On Sunday, the feeling could be even more emotional because the team's future in Oakland is still up in the air. It is not out of the realm of possibility that Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills could be the team’s final game in Oakland.

Sparano
The Raiders do not have a lease to play in Oakland beyond this season, and the team has been connected to both Los Angeles and San Antonio. Raiders owner Mark Davis is on the record as saying he wants to stay in Oakland with a new stadium, but he is open to all possibilities.

Oakland interim coach Tony Sparano said he doesn’t know too much about the situation, but he said his players know it’s possible that this could be the last game in Oakland.

“I have given some thought to that. It’s not something I’ve really spent a lot of time talking to the team about, but I know the team knows and they’re aware of it; we’ve touched on it briefly,” Sparano said. “But at the end of the whole thing, we don’t know.”

The Raiders have won consecutive home games and Sparano said the primary focus is making it three in a row to close the season.
SAN JOSE, Calif. – San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews will miss a second straight game because of a severely sprained ankle.

Mathews was ruled out for Saturday's game against the San Francisco 49ers on Friday. Mathews did not practice for a second straight week and will miss his ninth game this season.

However, the Chargers will likely have the team’s franchise quarterback. Philip Rivers was a full participant in practice for a second straight day on Friday and is listed as probable on the team’s injury report.

Along with Mathews, receiver Keenan Allen (shoulder, ankle) and punter Mike Scifres (shoulder) also were ruled out.

Defensive tackle Corey Liuget (ankle) and tight end Ladarius Green (concussion, ankle) were full participants for a second straight day and are questionable. Defensive tackle Ryan Carrethers (elbow) also was a full participant and is probable.
The Oakland Raiders have taken a beating during this rough, 2-12 season. Oakland has 13 players on injured reserve and six additional players were ruled out for Sunday’s home finale against Buffalo.

The six players are defensive backs Tarell Brown and Chimdi Chekwa, tackle Menelik Watson, receivers Vincent Brown and Denarius Moore and tight end Brian Leonhardt. The Raiders need to add just one player to the inactive list Sunday.

Cornerback D.J. Hayden (back) and defensive tackle C.J. Wilson (knee) are both listed as questionable. Hayden was limited in practice Friday. With Brown and Chewka out, Hayden, who’d start for Brown, is needed.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning was officially listed as limited in Friday’s practice because of a right thigh injury, but Manning threw more than he did in Thursday’s practice as the Broncos close in on Monday night’s game in Cincinnati.

Manning participated in the walk-through and threw in individual drills Friday and is still on track to start against the Bengals in Paul Brown Stadium. Other than when he missed the 2011 season because of spinal-fusion surgery Manning has not missed a start in his 16 other NFL seasons.

Thursday Manning participated in the Broncos’ walk-through, went through the team stretch and then went back into the Broncos’ complex to get treatment on his leg. Friday he remained in the field for practice, throwing throughout the portion open for viewing.

“He’s improving, I thought he had good work out there [Friday],’’ said Broncos head coach John Fox, following Friday’s practice.

Manning, who played last Sunday’s game with flu-like symptoms after getting four IVs Saturday night and Sunday morning combined, injured his thigh on a rollout with 5 minutes, 39 seconds remaining in the first half.

He stayed in the game for the next eight plays, but gave way to Brock Osweiler, who finished out the first half. Manning went on to play the entire second half.

Also Thursday, linebacker Brandon Marshall (left foot) and tackle Paul Cornick (toe on right foot) did not practice.

Running back Juwan Thompson (hip, knee), who was held out of Thursday’s practice, took part in Friday’s on a limited basis. Also limited were running back Ronnie Hillman (left foot), left tackle Ryan Clady (right thigh), center Will Montgomery (knee) and cornerback Kayvon Webster.

Tight end Jacob Tamme (ribs), who had been limited in Thursday’s practice, was a full participant in Friday’s practice. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (right ankle), Anderson (left ankle) and tight end Julius Thomas (left ankle) all took part fully in Friday’s practice.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- I’ve heard the suggestions -- not from anyone inside Kansas City Chiefs headquarters, it should be noted -- that we are seeing the beginning of the career decline for running back Jamaal Charles.

Charles
The theory goes that the repeated injuries he’s fought through this season are an indication his body is breaking down after a few seasons with a heavy workload. A decline in skills is sure to follow.

Charles has gone through more than his share of injuries this season, enough to make you wonder whether we are seeing the beginning of the end. From foot problems in August and September, to current knee and ankle issues, to the strange situation in October when he described having several concussion symptoms without having a concussion, it’s been a weird season for him.

But Charles hasn’t reached the point where his skills are declining. You can’t possibly have watched Charles run in recent games and come to that conclusion.

By the numbers, Charles is more effective when he’s getting the ball this season than he was in a relatively healthy 2013 season. Charles averages 5.2 yards per carry, compared to 5.0 last season. He scores a rushing touchdown every 20.4 carries, as opposed to every 21.6 carries last season. He is nowhere near as dynamic a receiver as he was last season, but that speaks to larger problems with the passing game more than it does Charles’ shortcomings.

The situation bears watching. When a back loses his skills, it doesn’t happen over a period of years, but almost overnight.
Charles turns 28 next week. That is young by many standards, but not for a running back who has touched the ball more than 1,500 times during a seven-year NFL career.

So it’s going to happen and sneak up on us when it does. But it hasn’t happened yet.

Broncos vs. Bengals preview

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
8:00
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When: 8:30 p.m. ET Monday Where: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati TV: ESPN

Peyton Manning is good. Under the lights, the Cincinnati Bengals are not.

But if the Bengals have plans of joining the Denver Broncos as a playoff-bound team, they will have to overcome the future Hall of Fame quarterback and put to rest their atrocious recent prime-time showing.

Since 2011, the year Andy Dalton became its starting quarterback, Cincinnati is 2-9 in nationally televised playoff games and night games on Monday, Thursday and Sunday nights.

Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold and Bengals reporter Coley Harvey are here to preview this week's "Monday Night Football" game:

Harvey: Manning is 8-0 against the Bengals, including a 3-0 mark against them in December. He has thrown 10 touchdowns and no interceptions against them in December. For the Bengals to have any hope of stopping him, what are two things their defense must do?

Legwold: As an opposing defensive coach told me this season, "I don't know why anybody needs to list the stats for him; let's just assume they're good against everybody and go from there." Manning has won at least eight games against 10 different teams in his career. And defensively, the formula is not complicated, yet difficult to do. Defenses who succeed against him generally create some kind of consistent pressure in the middle of the field -- they win the A gaps -- keeping him from setting his feet, and they don't give him room to climb the pocket to step into his throws. Those defenses also limit the Broncos' ability to use their variety of crossing routes. They play physically against the Broncos' receivers and limit yards after the catch because they tackle well. Not rocket science, but difficult to do because the Broncos are creative in play design. Manning delivers the ball quickly and consistently makes defenses pay for sending extra rushers (game video shows Manning had five completions this past weekend against the Chargers' blitz for 111 yards and a touchdown). So, a defense has to get all of that done largely by rushing four players, and it can't miss assignments behind that rush.

Defending a rookie in his first NFL start is one thing, and the Bengals did well in a 30-0 win against the Cleveland Browns with Johnny Manziel behind center last week, but how do you expect them to defend Manning?

Harvey: You just summed it up perfectly, Leggy. I'll add this. A defense can best stop Manning by sending a standard four-man rush and hope and pray the coverage downfield holds up. Last week, in fact, this was exactly what allowed the Bengals to bully Manziel. Only twice did they send blitzes on the mobile young quarterback. The rest of the time, they did exactly what you prescribed: They attacked the A gaps with great interior pressure from the line and forced Manziel to roll to his right. Obviously, Manning isn't rolling anywhere, but the Bengals have to hope Geno Atkins is up to pushing back the line the way he has finally started doing in recent weeks. With the Bengals also expected to use a lot of nickel defense to counter the Broncos' multi-receiver and tight end looks, don't be surprised if defensive end Wallace Gilberry goes inside to give some extra athleticism to the interior rush.

Jeff, it seems like over the past seven weeks, running back C.J. Anderson has exploded onto the scene for Denver. First, why did it take so long to get him involved in the run game, and second, what did Buffalo do so well to hold him in check two weeks ago?

Legwold: During the Broncos' offseason work, especially in minicamp, there was some thought around the team that Anderson's spot was pretty tenuous and that he might not make the roster because he had tried to bulk up a bit and looked sluggish. Anderson showed up to training camp leaner and looked far better, but Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman had already pushed their way in front of him. Anderson had routinely flashed in practice and in his limited game work, at least enough to stay in the mix, and when injuries forced the Broncos to hand him the ball, he showed patience and vision as a runner -- perhaps more than they thought he had -- and he almost always made the first defender miss or powered through the attempted tackle. If you're looking for a play that got everybody's attention, it was his 51-yard catch-and-run touchdown in Oakland when he made a one-handed grab on a screen pass -- a play Manning said he thought was "going to be a 1- or 2-yard loss" -- and five different Raiders had a chance to bring Anderson down and did not. In terms of Buffalo's plan, it was a sound group that was assignment-disciplined and tackled well; defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has faced Manning plenty over the years because of Schwartz's time with the Titans. The Bills came into the game against the Broncos leading the league in sacks, and they didn't sack Manning in the game. Anderson did pound the ball into the end zone three times, but his 2.8 yards per carry were the lowest since he became starter.

The Bengals are one of six teams averaging more than 30 rushing attempts per game this season; the Broncos are No. 2 in run defense. Do you think the Bengals will still try to pound away some to limit the Broncos' possessions, or because they believe they will be able to make some running room?

Harvey: One of the Bengals' most recent additions is NFL Players Association president Eric Winston, an offensive tackle who, before coming to Cincinnati three weeks ago, spent six seasons with the Texans and one with the Chiefs. He had an up-close look at Manning twice a season during the Texans' AFC South games when the quarterback still played for the Colts, and saw him twice in Kansas City in 2012. This week, Winston said those teams' mindset against Manning always involved running. So yes, I believe the run should, and will, be the Bengals' approach. Besides, Jeremy Hill has been running well in the past six weeks, topping 140 yards three times in that span. His hard running and guard Kevin Zeitler's constant pulling made for a nightmare day for Cleveland's defense. Also, I noticed that of the four times this season when teams have run 25 or more times against Denver, they beat the Broncos three times. To me, Cincinnati's best hope of winning is to run well, run often, get a late lead, and play keep-away from Manning.

Jeff, I'm sure the Broncos' many pass-rushers will be hounding Dalton all night, but why has Denver's front seven been so good against the run?

Legwold: Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton is -- even nationally, perhaps -- an undervalued player when it comes to what he means to the Broncos' run defense. He's disruptive, ties up blockers and doesn't get turned in the hole. He stays square and takes away run lanes. The Broncos also have plenty of team speed across the front and pursue the ball well. Even their pass-rushers, like DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller, are disciplined in their run fits. Ware especially has shown himself to be reliable in how he sets the edge, and as a result, offenses haven't been able to run the ball to the inside shoulders of Ware and Miller because they play with some vision as they move up the field. That wasn't always the case earlier in Miller's career, when offenses would catch him at times being a little too aggressive as he tried to get upfield. The Broncos have tackled well for the most part, too. They have helped themselves with good work on first down, as well. Offenses are routinely facing second-and-8 or third-and-7, and that takes those offenses out of any rhythm to run. For example, the Chargers ran the ball 10 times on first down last Sunday. Only one of the runs went for more than five yards -- an 11-yard run by Branden Oliver early in the fourth quarter -- and six went for three or fewer yards.

Few players take as much heat for their prime-time and/or postseason performance as Dalton. Is there significantly more pressure on him in this one given it is the "Monday Night Football" regular-season finale and the Bengals need the win to keep the inside track for a shot at the division title?

Harvey: It's more of the latter, Jeff. The pressure will be raised on Dalton this week because the Bengals simply have to get it done. Though there is an outside shot they will sneak into the playoffs as an AFC wild card if they lose the next two games, they would do themselves so many favors if they won at least one. The finale at Pittsburgh next week won't be a cakewalk, either. The heat Dalton has taken is real and deserved. It seems like he's mostly great at 1 p.m. on Sunday afternoons. But turn on the lights and he's not. From a personal standpoint, Dalton wants to make up for his last nationally televised outing. The Bengals lost to Cleveland 24-3 in a Thursday night game last month in which Dalton registered a 2.0 passer rating.

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Bills vs. Raiders preview

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
8:00
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video When: 4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday Where: O.co Coliseum, Oakland TV: CBS

The Buffalo Bills have the longest playoff drought in the NFL. It’s been 15 years since this franchise has tasted the postseason.

The Oakland Raiders are right behind them in the playoff futility chase. Oakland is tied with Cleveland for the second-longest playoff drought. Oakland hasn’t been to the postseason since 2002.

The Raiders are going to try to keep from moving up on this dubious list by attempting to knock off the visiting Bills Sunday. The Bills are 8-6 and their playoff hopes are alive. Oakland is 2-12 and is in play for the No. 1 overall pick.

ESPN Bills reporter Mike Rodak and Raiders reporter Bill Williamson preview the game:

Rodak: Bill, what's your gut feeling on the Raiders' future in Oakland? Could this be the last game they play at O.co Coliseum?

Williamson: Yes, we could be on the cusp of the final game in Oakland. It is not out of the question that the Raiders move back to Los Angeles for the 2015 season. Oakland owner Mark Davis is on the record as saying he wants to stay in Oakland, but it has to be with a new stadium. The team does not have a lease to play in Oakland next season. Davis is also saying he’d be open to playing in L.A., or even San Antonio, if a new stadium deal in Oakland isn’t reached. The Raiders are not close to a new deal in Oakland. While L.A. is possible and we hear a lot about it, I think we have to actually see the Raiders move to Los Angeles before I'll believe it. Everything is in play.

Mike, the Bills, on the other hand, are set with their new leadership. Do you think the stability has changed the entire feeling around the franchise?

Rodak: Without a doubt. There were always fears about the team moving to Los Angeles, or more recently, Toronto. The team faced blackout issues for games in recent seasons, while funding for a new stadium was an issue in a small market. In truth, there would have been more outside suitors for the team had the Bills’ lease at Ralph Wilson Stadium not been so restrictive -- a victory for the county and state. In the end, the Bills found owners for the team in Terry and Kim Pegula who had both local ties and the capital necessary to win the bidding. While much remains to be decided about a new stadium, when it will be built and how it will be funded, any thoughts of the team relocating have passed.

Bill, if the Bills are going to draft a quarterback this spring, it will almost certainly have to be in the second round or later -- they don't have a first-round pick. The Raiders selected Derek Carr in the second round last May; has he shown signs he can be Oakland's franchise quarterback?

Williamson: The Raiders could trade their top pick to a team wanting to draft Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston for a gaggle of selections. The Raiders like Carr. Even if there is a brand-new regime in Oakland, which is very likely, I’d think Carr will be the guy. He has a great arm, he’s poised and he’s a leader. Give him more talent and he should be a quality player for the long haul.

Mike, the Bills made a big trade up in the draft this year to get Sammy Watkins. Could you see them perhaps being a trade partner with the Raiders in their search for a quarterback?

Rodak: I do think that the Bills must get creative at quarterback. Given what we saw out of EJ Manuel and Kyle Orton this season, it would be a tough sell to fans to turn back to either next season without a clear backup plan. I don’t see the Bills having interest in either of the Raiders’ backups, Matt Schaub or Matt McGloin. The names that have been the subject of media-based speculation include Jay Cutler and Robert Griffin III, although it’s unclear if either will become available or if the Bills would have interest. As far as the Bills and Raiders trading draft picks, I see that as unlikely. The Raiders could select as high as first overall, and having already sent their first-round pick to Cleveland in the Watkins trade, the Bills don’t have anywhere near the ammunition to move that high in the draft.

Bill, wins have been a rarity for the Raiders this year, but they were able to beat the Chiefs, a team that is fighting with the Bills for an AFC wild-card spot. What would be the formula for Oakland to repeat that sort of performance against Buffalo?

Williamson: Playing at home won’t hurt. Both of their wins came at home. The Raiders get a lot of energy from their fans. The Raiders won those two games with timely offense. They ran the ball and Carr was terrific when it counted in both games. The offense has not been good for most of the season. If this offense can play a clean, clutch game, Oakland can end the home slate on a good note.

Mike, could you see the Bills letting down against the Raiders after their big win over Green Bay?

Rodak: I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility. The Bills put a lot of energy into trying to topple Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers over the past two weeks, and now they’ll need to take a six-hour plane ride across the country Friday night. Road trips that long can be draining at this time of the season. If the Bills have a “letdown” game in Oakland, I think the formula would be what has plagued them in other losses this season: an inability to score on offense. The Bills have the NFL’s 31st-ranked red zone offense and might not have won against Green Bay had they not scored on defense and special teams. Unless the Raiders have a meltdown as the Jets did against the Bills twice this season, the Bills most likely will need to find a way to put the ball in the end zone.

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Kansas City Chiefs have rightly tried to do everything they possibly could this season to take the pressure off rookie kicker Cairo Santos. But they might have gone too far this week by blaming long snapper Thomas Gafford for two missed field goals in Sunday’s win over the Oakland Raiders.

The snaps on both kicks were off, but not by that much. In both cases, holder Dustin Colquitt did a nice job of getting the ball to the spot for Santos on time.

Santos
Santos
“It starts with the snap and the hold," special teams coordinator Dave Toub said. “The hold was good, and then that just throws it off a little bit.

“Sometimes when [Santos] feels like he needs to speed it up and he doesn’t see a perfect snap and it just throws the timing off a little bit and he hits the ball not like he wants to hit it. We have to make sure that everything is perfect. Especially with a rookie kicker, we have to be consistent. The snap and the hold have to be perfect.”

But as coach Andy Reid noted early in the week, it isn’t always going to be perfect for the kicker. To his credit, Toub didn’t let Santos escape without blame.

“We held him accountable, too," Toub said. “We didn’t make an excuse for him, that he missed it because of the snap. He was still able to see the ball. He has to get in there and make that kick.

“Being that it is his rookie year, we need to give him every opportunity to be successful. The veterans need to do that."

Toub said the Chiefs have no plans to promote long snapper Charley Hughlett, who was added to the practice squad this week, to replace Gafford.

“The timing of it seems like we’re trying to put the pressure on Gafford," Toub said. “We’re looking at a future guy, a possible guy that we’re going to have for training camp, in the offseason."

Despite success, rookie Khalil Mack still looking to improve

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
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ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Khalil Mack might be a strong candidate for defensive rookie of the year honors, but the Oakland Raiders' outside linebacker is far from a polished product.

The fifth overall pick in this year's NFL draft, Mack has been attracting attention and garnering praise from opposing players and coaches around the league from the moment he first stepped on the field in the preseason.

Mack
Despite frequently facing double-team blocking schemes, Mack is among the team leaders in tackles, is tied for the team-high in sacks and is second in the NFL behind Denver's Von Miller in quarterback hurries. According to ESPN Stats and Info, Mack also has 15 tackles for losses which is second among all rookies behind St. Louis Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

In Mack's eyes, however, there is plenty of room for improvement.

"There are a lot of things I need to work on," Mack said Thursday. "My vision looking in on plays, playing with my hands better, especially pass-rushing. A whole lot of things I want to work on. It's always something to get better at, whether I'm excelling at it or not."

Mack had a decorated career in college while attending the University at Buffalo but there was some apprehension and debate over whether he could make the transition to the NFL. That chatter died down and was quickly replaced by talk about how many postseason awards Mack might be in line for.

Through 14 games Mack has the highest grade among all linebackers, according to ProFootballFocus.com. It's worth noting that Mack has been so strong that until this week the website listed him as an outside 3-4 linebacker even though the Raiders play a base 4-3.

ESPN analyst and former NFL running back Merril Hoge was effusive in his praise of Mack when discussing the rookie linebacker recently.

"Every week, one of the teams I watch early on is the Raider defense," Hoge said. "And the reason I want to watch is Khalil Mack. He's not just one of the best rookies to come out, he's the best linebacker in the National Football League, and he is the best against the run."

Mack won't go that far.

He long ago shed the feelings of being a rookie and has steadily improved throughout the course of the season, one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal season for the 2-12 Raiders.

"I'm trying to go out and get better every week," Mack said. "I know I'm playing against the best in the world whenever I'm out there on the field so I want to play at my best. I can't really look at it as being a rookie."

Having a locker next to two-time Super Bowl champ Justin Tuck has kept the young linebacker humble and has helped keep Mack focused on the task at hand.

"You can see me out on the field, I'm always bugging him about something but he's always teaching me lessons," Mack said. "He's in my ear as well. It's great to have that type of guy in the locker room. He's a stand-up guy. He's like a big brother."
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When defensive tackle Terrance Knighton offered his quasi-promise -- his "we won't be satisfied" belief -- that the Denver Broncos would win the Super Bowl, it raised the expected hackles in the social media world.

It certainly got the expected venom from the New England Patriots' faithful, some of it directed toward Knighton himself, who saw their team defeat the Broncos 43-21, on Nov. 2 in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

It even drew the "we'll do our talking on the field" quote from Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. The one place it hasn't registered all that much on the football Richter scale is in the Broncos' locker room.

"[Knighton] is a grown man, [Coach John Fox] talked to him a little bit, I guess, talked to the team a little bit," said cornerback Aqib Talib, who played just under two seasons in New England before he signed with the Broncos this past March. " ... If that's how he was feeling when the question was asked, that's how he was feeling when the question was asked ... everybody in the league, it ain't no secret, he just said it, but everybody in the league is thinking it. He was just the one who said it. It ain't no big deal to us."

"I think Terrance has got a lot of confidence, I think that's a good quality about him," said quarterback Peyton Manning.

Following Sunday's win over the San Diego Chargers that clinched Denver's fourth consecutive AFC West title, Knighton was asked about the team's postseason potential. He then told Denver Post columnist Mark Kiszla:
It doesn't matter what happens. At the end of the year, we're hoisting that trophy. I don't care if New England doesn't lose again. I don't care where we have to play. I don't care who our opponent is. We're not going to be satisfied until we hoist that trophy. So if we've got to go to New England [in the playoffs] and win somewhere we're not used to winning, we're going to make it happen. Write that. And put a big period after that one.

Following Thursday's practice Fox, much like he did earlier in the week, chose to simply deflect Super Bowl talk. The Broncos, from John Elway on down, have said since the start of the offseason program they wanted another shot at the title game after the blowout loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII last February.

Many players have said anything less than a Super Bowl win this time around would be a major disappointment. A theme many Broncos players believe has been expressed in many other NFL outposts, so Knighton's teammates haven't seen what much of the fuss is about.

Fox simply deflected away from the topic following Thursday's practice with: "I think there is no doubt we've had a lot of goals this season and right now our goal is to focus on Cincinnati."

And Knighton? Well, he's treated this like he does run defense much of the time, as in he has dug in and is not being pushed off his spot. After practice Thursday, Knighton, a Connecticut native who has repeatedly said he was a Patriots fan growing up and that many of his family members are still Patriots' fans, was still feeling good about the Broncos' chances.

"I feel like our defense right now is playing the best of any defense right now in the NFL," Knighton said. "And we want to carry this team to a Super Bowl victory. I stand by what I said, I don't care who we play, where we play, put the ball down and we're going to come out with a victory."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning participated in Thursday's practice on a limited basis, then left the field for the bulk of the main practice in order to get some treatment on a right thigh injury he suffered late in the first half of Sunday’s victory over the San Diego Chargers.

Manning took part in the team’s walk-through and team stretch, then returned to the locker room once the main practice began. After taking most Wednesdays off in the second half of the 2013 season, this was the first time Manning had left the practice field this season.

Manning
The 38-year-old is expected to practice Friday and was walking without a limp when he left the field to go to the locker room as well as following practice. Because the Broncos play on Monday night in Cincinnati, the players did not practice on Tuesday or Wednesday, so Thursday’s practice mirrored what the team would have normally done on a Wednesday.

“He’s day-to-day," said Broncos head coach John Fox, who is routinely reticent on any injury. “Tomorrow’s a new day, we’ll keep you posted."

Manning, who played Sunday’s game with flu-like symptoms and received four IVs on Saturday night and Sunday morning, injured his thigh when he rolled out right to throw a 12-yard completion to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders with 5 minutes, 39 seconds remaining in the second quarter.

He stayed in the game for the next eight plays, but left the field following a C.J. Anderson run for no gain on a third-and-goal from the Chargers’ 1-yard line. Brock Osweiler finished out the first half; Manning played the entire second half.

“I feel OK," Manning said following practice. Asked if he would be ready to play Monday night, Manning said; “I certainly hope so."

Manning also said after practice that his illness was behind him and he was simply receiving treatment on his leg at the moment to go with his usual work with the strength and conditioning staff, which Manning does each week to prepare for games since he returned from spinal fusion surgery that kept him out the entire 2011 season. And because he's always ready with a quip, Manning gave a nod to New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick when Manning answered a smattering of questions with "we're on the Cincinnati."

Also Thursday, linebacker Brandon Marshall (left foot), tackle Paul Cornick (toe on right foot) and running back Juwan Thompson (hip, knee) were also held out of practice.

Running back Ronnie Hillman (left foot), who has missed the last five games, took part on a limited basis Thursday as the Broncos continue to hope he will soon be ready for some situational work in the offense.

Left tackle Ryan Clady (right thigh), center Will Montgomery (knee), tight end Jacob Tamme (ribs) and cornerback Kayvon Webster (right shoulder) all participated Thursday on a limited basis. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (right ankle) and tight end Julius Thomas (left ankle) took part fully in the practice.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs have forced just 11 turnovers this season, which is tied for last in the league with the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders.

The Jets are 3-11, the Raiders 2-12. Being at the bottom of the takeaway list is almost always a death sentence. Other teams near the bottom of the league include Tennessee (2-12) and Washington (3-11).

The Chiefs, meanwhile, are 8-6 and still alive in the race for one of the AFC’s two wild-card spots. They will make the playoffs, in fact, if they win their final two regular-season games.

They’ve been able to survive where other teams haven't for a couple of reasons. First, the offense has committed just 16 turnovers, one of the lowest totals in the league.

The Chiefs have also done a nice job on third downs. Opponents convert on just 36.9 percent of third-down plays, which is eighth in the league

“Anything you can do on defense to get the ball back is the most important thing that you’re doing, whether you take it away in the sense of a turnover or you take it back by downs,’’ defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “That’s really what our ultimate job is, allow as few points as possible and get the ball back to the offense as fast as we possibly can. That’s when I think you’re playing really good complimentary football.

“We’ve had games where our offense has kept the ball for a significant amount of time. Obviously, we play pretty good defense over on the bench. We’re pretty damn good. Anytime they can do that, it’s a positive for us.’’

Sutton still shakes his head over the Chiefs’ lack of turnovers. They were second in the league in that category last year with 36, but evidently forgot how to do it.

The Chiefs have gone seven games without an interception. But they have dropped several chances in recent weeks.

“You just keeping thinking they’re going to come to you, but for whatever reason, we haven’t finished some of those plays off,’’ Sutton said.
video When: 8:25 p.m. Saturday. Where: Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif. TV: CBS, NFL Network.

The San Francisco 49ers were eliminated from the playoffs last weekend. The San Diego Chargers are living on a prayer and have more than pride to play for when they face their Northern California neighbors on Saturday. NFL Nation reporters Paul Gutierrez, who covers the 49ers, and Eric Williams, who covers the Chargers, break down the matchup.

Gutierrez: The Chargers came out of nowhere last year to claim one of the AFC’s wild-card spots as a feel-good story. Now, the Bolts find themselves on the outside looking in with two games remaining. Was this year’s bar simply set too high by their playoff appearance last year or do they have the rest of the AFC right where they want them with two games to go?

Williams: It’s hard to argue that last year’s surprise playoff appearance was somewhat of a mirage. The Chargers still lack depth at cornerback, defensive line, interior offensive line and running back. And they’ve struggled to score points against the top two teams in the AFC in back-to-back games (the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos). That said, Philip Rivers still is one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL when protected and healthy. When Rivers is on, the Chargers can play with anyone in the NFL. And they need Mr. Bolo tie to get on a roll and have a chance to make the postseason for a second straight year.

With the 49ers sitting at 7-7, they will be on the outside looking in come the playoffs for the first time in four seasons. San Francisco has a lot of proud, veteran players such as Frank Gore, Justin Smith and Vernon Davis. How are they handling playing out the string? And do you believe they will show up motivated to play on a short week this Saturday?

Gutierrez: Yeah, that is the question du jour this week in Santa Clara, along with if the Niners should rest their veterans and let their younger guys get the lion’s share of the snaps against the Chargers. Injuries, though, might make it a moot point because said younger guys will be forced to play anyway. But you make a valid point, especially since merely playing out the string is a foreign concept for the Niners in the Jim Harbaugh Era. And the team, from general manager Trent Baalke to coach Harbaugh to the vets themselves, insists it will play hard and try to finish 9-7. Because while pride, as Marcellus Wallace said in “Pulp Fiction,” can be a dangerous thing, it is also a motivating factor. I expect the vets to show up and show out. Still not sure if it will be enough, though.

The Chargers’ fortunes have risen and fallen with the play of Rivers. Earlier this season, he was playing like a NFL MVP candidate. Lately? Not so much. What’s eating the league’s favorite bolo tie-wearing signal-caller, and why has San Diego’s steadiest competitor become so inconsistent of late?

Williams: Injuries have slowed him down a bit. He’s too much of a tough guy to acknowledge it, but chest and back injuries have limited Rivers’ mobility in the pocket and taken some velocity off his fastball. The Chargers have played four different guys at center. Rookie Chris Watt is learning on the run, which means Rivers has been hit more times than when veteran Nick Hardwick was making the line calls. And the Chargers have not run the football well, so they do not have balance on offense. San Diego averages just 3 yards a carry on first down, worst in the NFL.

There has been a lot of talk nationally about Colin Kaepernick’s struggles. You’ve watched him up close this season. Do you believe the 49ers are getting the most out of his unique skill set? And what could they do differently?

Gutierrez: It’s obvious the Niners changed the offense this season, and it’s apparent they tried to flip Kaepernick and turn him more into a pure pocket passer. Yet the closest anyone on the staff will admit to a change is when offensive coordinator Greg Roman acknowledged simplifying the offense, particularly the running game. Whatever the Niners did, they made Kaepernick uncomfortable under center, almost as if you can see him overthinking in the pocket. There’s a reason his numbers are so much better when teams blitz him. He doesn’t have time to think, so he just reacts and makes plays, rather than suffering from paralysis by analysis. So, to answer your question, no, I do not think the Niners are getting the most out of Kaepernick’s skill set. That’s not to completely absolve the QB of his regression. Or, to quote Cris Carter, who addressed the Kaepernick dilemma on ESPN’s "Sunday NFL Countdown:" “Ultimately, I think we are making too many excuses for him. I think the ceiling for Colin Kaepernick is not as high as you guys anticipate. I think you’re going to have to be real creative because he won’t be a conventional quarterback. I think you set yourself up to be let down because his inability to throw the ball at different speeds. ... He does have arm talent, but I’m wondering: Does his brain connect to his arm to make him more diversified as far as what he can do? So, for me, I don’t have as high of expectations for Colin Kaepernick.” Harsh? Perhaps, but this much is true: Whoever is coaching the Niners next year would be wise to adapt his offensive philosophy to Kaepernick’s skill set, rather than trying to make Kaepernick fit into his offense. Especially after CEO Jed York and GM Trent Baalke went all in with that contract extension for the QB, even if it is team friendly.

I asked this of our reporters who cover both the Raiders and the Rams, and I’m sure you know where this is going, Eric. But do the Chargers, who actually began their AFL existence in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 1960, truly expect to be in L.A. before either the Rams, who called SoCal home from 1946 through 1994, or the Raiders, who were in LaLa Land from 1982-94? Hey, if it’s the Rams and Chargers and they share a stadium, at least they could go all in with blue and gold paint, no?

Williams: Would they go with powder blue or royal blue? Joking aside, ideally the Chargers would like to remain in San Diego and get a new stadium built. However, team president Dean Spanos has to take a realistic approach to the stadium issue and financial possibilities that exist in a lucrative L.A. market. The Chargers are keeping a watchful eye on what happens in Los Angeles, with 30 percent of the team’s local revenue -- which includes advertising, sponsorships, club seats and suites -- originating in the Los Angeles market. All of the options have not been exhausted in the respective markets of the Rams, Chargers and Raiders, so I don’t see the NFL letting any of those franchises relocate in 2015. For now, the Chargers will continue to work with mayor Kevin Faulconer in an attempt to build consensus for a downtown football stadium that keep them here. The Chargers announced this week the team’s intentions to renew their lease at Qualcomm Stadium to play there for the 2015 season.

Rookie Chris Borland has benefited from the absence of injured inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. He currently leads San Francisco in tackles. What makes him so effective, and how will his role change when those two players return next season?

Gutierrez: Yeah, the relatively diminutive Borland, all 5-foot-11 of him in cleats, has become a folk for the faithful. His underdog swagger garnered attention but his nose for the ball and sideline-to-sideline speed and tackling acumen won him fans, especially among the coaching staff. But, and this was the big question, how would his small stature hold up in the NFL with his reckless abandon style of play? Well, he hurt his left ankle on Sunday in Seattle and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said this week it would be “a stretch” for Borland, who replaced Willis, to play again this season due to the injury. If Willis and Bowman are both back from their toe and knee injuries next season, Borland is the perfect high-energy backup in the middle of the 49ers’ 3-4 base defense, and he would not have to take as many snaps, keeping him relatively out of harm’s way. At least, that’s one way of looking at it, because Borland plays at only one speed.
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Chiefs vs. Steelers preview

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
8:00
AM ET
video When: 1 p.m. ET, Sunday Where: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh TV: CBS

The Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5) say they have been in playoff mode since the beginning of the month, but the Kansas City Chiefs (8-6) may be the more desperate team when the two meet for the third time since 2006 in Pittsburgh this weekend. If the Chiefs lose Sunday, they will need to beat the San Diego Chargers in the regular-season finale and get some help to make the playoffs as a wild card.

The Steelers, on the other hand, would guarantee themselves a spot in the playoffs if they beat the Chiefs for a fifth consecutive time in Pittsburgh. And the Steelers are aiming for more than just a spot in the postseason with the AFC North there for the taking.

ESPN NFL Nation Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Steelers reporter Scott Brown take a closer look at one of the Week 16 games that has significant playoff implications:

Brown: Adam, this looks like a favorable matchup for the Steelers given their struggles in the secondary and the Chiefs’ shortcomings at wide receiver. Kansas City still doesn’t have a touchdown catch by a wide receiver, yet it is 8-6 and in the thick of the AFC playoff chase. How have the Chiefs compensated for a lack of a downfield passing game, and how do you anticipate them attacking the Steelers?

Teicher: During their five-game winning streak earlier in the season, the Chiefs were excellent on third downs and at scoring touchdowns in the red zone. But things like that don’t generally last and, sure enough, although their red zone production has still been good, they fell off dramatically on third downs. It’s no coincidence the Chiefs broke their three-game losing streak last week against the Raiders by finally unveiling a downfield passing game. The Chiefs had their two longest pass plays of the season against Oakland. I would expect the Chiefs to look downfield against Pittsburgh if they can protect quarterback Alex Smith as well as they did last week. Pass protection had been a weakness for the Chiefs and a big reason they rarely took shots down the field.

Scott, the Steelers have had a season much like that of the Chiefs. They’ve had some big wins against other playoff contenders (Indianapolis, Baltimore, Cincinnati) but some discouraging losses to bottom-feeding teams (Tampa Bay, New York Jets). How do you explain the unpredictable nature of their season?

Brown: It’s been that way since 2012, when the Steelers developed, to the chagrin of their fans, a maddening habit of losing games they should win. Three of their five losses this season have come against losing teams, and the one against the Buccaneers was particularly bad because the Steelers could not protect a seven-point fourth-quarter lead at home against a team that is in line for the No. 1 overall pick of the 2015 NFL draft. The Steelers’ recent history is why I thought their 27-20 win in Atlanta this past week was huge. A 5-8 team playing without its top offensive player (star wide receiver Julio Jones) is the kind of opponent that has given Pittsburgh fits. But the Steelers did enough to beat the Falcons and remain on track to win the AFC North.

The Steelers have steadily improved in stopping the run, but they will be challenged in that phase of the game Sunday. Jamaal Charles is one of the best running backs in the NFL and has to be included in any discussion for the NFL’s best player at that position. He’s dealt with some nagging injuries this season. Is a heavy workload catching up with him, and will the Steelers see more of a one-two punch Sunday with Charles and Knile Davis?

Teicher: I don’t know that Charles has been right all season, and he’s frustrated about that. He hurt his foot moving himself out of the dorm at training camp, of all things, and it’s been one thing after another since then. He missed only one game early in the season but now is dealing with both soreness in his knee and a sprained ankle. The Chiefs would like to play Davis more, but they’re not as effective with him in their lineup. Charles is averaging 5.2 yards per carry, Davis 3.6. Charles is much better as a pass receiver and protector, so it’s difficult to see the Chiefs going away from a productive Charles in a game as important as this one.

The Steelers started the season relatively sluggish on offense but have scored at least 27 points in seven of their past eight games and are now one of the NFL’s highest-scoring teams. What changes did the Steelers make to energize their offense?

Brown: They largely just stayed the course. The Steelers were stopping themselves as much as opposing defenses were stopping them earlier in the season, particularly in the red zone. While some fans wanted to run offensive coordinator Todd Haley out of town, the Steelers insisted they were close to putting everything together. I think it’s safe to say they have done that, as the Steelers lead the NFL in a handful of categories, including total offense (424.9 yards per game) and yards per play (6.2). The emergence of rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant has added a deep threat to the offense, but the play of the big three (quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le'Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown) is the biggest reason the Steelers’ offense has ascended this season. The Steelers have achieved the kind of balance that has too often eluded them in past seasons, and don’t discount what has taken place on their offensive line. The unit has stayed remarkably healthy -- its five starters have missed a total of six games -- allowing it to develop the cohesion that has helped take the Steelers' offense to another level.

The line will be tested this week, as the Chiefs have a pair of tremendous pass-rushers in Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. Do those two allow Kansas City to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks without blitzing much, and how much better do they make the Chiefs’ defensive backs?

Teicher: The Chiefs had one of the best pass-rush games of the season last week, not just in terms of sacks (four) but also consistent pressure on the quarterback. They had Oakland’s Derek Carr off his game all day, and as a result, the coverage down the field was outstanding, maybe the best of the season. The Chiefs blitzed on more than half of Oakland’s pass attempts, which is a very high rate for them. They hadn’t blitzed as much this season and had mostly been content to let Houston, Hali and their other main rushers get the work done. I don’t know whether they will try the blitz as often this week on the road against a veteran quarterback like Roethlisberger. But I think if the Chiefs are going to carry with them this week just one thing from the Oakland game, it’s their ability to consistently get pressure. If they let Roethlisberger get comfortable and stay in his comfort zone all day, it’s difficult to see the Chiefs coming away with a victory.

When fans think of the Steelers, they think of defense, but that’s been a weakness for this season’s team. While the Chiefs certainly don’t have the league's most potent passing game, they made some plays down the field last week against Oakland. Are the Steelers versatile enough defensively to get pressure on Smith and slow down the Kansas City passing game while still limiting Charles and the Chiefs’ running game?

Brown: The Steelers have just 24 sacks this season, and they have been inconsistent as far as pressuring opposing quarterbacks. This past Sunday was a perfect example. The Steelers pressured Matt Ryan early and blitzed the Falcons' quarterback a lot. But once Ryan and Atlanta adjusted, the Steelers weren’t able to get enough pressure on Ryan to get him out of the rhythm he developed. And for how underwhelming the Chiefs appear to be at wide receiver, the Falcons played without star wideout Jones and still threw the ball all over the field against the Steelers. Is Smith as good as Ryan? No. But Kansas City’s running backs are superior to the ones Pittsburgh faced in Atlanta, and the Steelers could give up a lot of yards for the second consecutive week. But if the Steelers make timely stops and get a game-changing play on defense, as they did against the Falcons, that should be enough for Pittsburgh to win unless its offense goes into the tank.
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Is a reunion at the Big House going to get in the way of the Oakland Raiders' big plans?

ESPN's Adam Schefter is reporting that Michigan is making a push for San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, who played quarterback at the school. Harbaugh is not expected back with the 49ers and is expected to be the target of the Oakland Raiders after the season.

Schefter reported Harbaugh is “considering” the Michigan job. There are reports that the school is offering Harbaugh a six-year, $49 million deal.

Here are some thoughts on how it affects the Raiders:

It’s not over yet: This is high speculation season. Lots of rumors are floated. The key is leverage. Harbaugh has plenty of it and it's being played. Let’s see what happens.

Raiders can match that deal: If Mark Davis really wants Harbaugh, he knows he has to pay big. I believe he’s prepared. So, if Harbaugh is patient, more cash could be had in the Bay Area and in the NFL.

What if Harbaugh goes to Michigan? Well, the Raiders will be bummed. Gruden is staying at ESPN. Harbaugh was the big fish. If not, the Raiders will have to lower their expectations. There will still be plenty of good candidates. But no Harbaughs left.

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