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What's trending in the NFL: Peyton Manning returns; Browns, 49ers fire coaches

Here are the top stories from Sunday:

The Browns fired coach Mike Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer. From Pat McManamon's story on Cleveland's decision to clean house again: "Over and over again, the Browns change their coach and/or GM. Over and over again they expect it to change the end result and lead to success. Except the system is set up to have it not succeed. Because change leads to the inevitable. The new coach and GM want their assistant coaches, their systems, their players, which means restarting in almost every possible way. With the Browns change leads to struggles which lead to more change which leads to more struggles which lead to (surprise) more change. The newest hires will make six coaches and six general managers in eight years. Continuity, anyone?"

From Jeff Legwold's story on Peyton Manning returning and the Broncos clinching the top seed in the AFC: "Judging by the roar of the home crowd with just over eight minutes left in Sunday's game, as the sun was starting to slide behind the Rocky Mountains, it is quarterback Peyton Manning's return under center. Manning sparked a comeback against the Chargers, and while he isn't 100 percent with his left foot injury -- coach Gary Kubiak said this past week Manning wouldn't be 100 percent until into the offseason -- he looked as if the more than six weeks off did him some good."

49ers dismiss Jim Tomsulat after 5-11 season -- his first (by Paul Gutierrez)

The players who hit and missed performance bonuses based on Week 17 performances (by Scott T. Miller)

From Rich Cimini's story on the Jets' loss to the Bills which allowed the Steelers to snag the final AFC playoff spot: "With a chance to secure their first playoff berth in five years, which would have made for a wild celebration in Rex Ryan's new house, the New York Jets ruined a magical December run with a Week 17 meltdown that ranks among the worst season-ending losses in team history."

The offseason questions facing all 20 non-playoff teams (by NFL Nation reporters)

From Jeremy Fowler's story on why the Steelers are one of the AFC's most dangerous playoff teams: "The Steelers are still the team no one wants to face in a playoff setting. Even when the offense struggles, it can turn it on at any time -- deep balls, sideline work, over-the-middle catches. Antonio Brown has never been better. The defense has been uneven at times, but overall it has improved over last year. And it will be better equipped to handle playoff moments than it was a year ago, relying on its ability to stop the run and rush the passer."

Switching sides? Vikings mascot trades helmet for cheesehead (by Ben Goessling)

Coach Tom Coughlin mum on future with Giants after loss to Eagles (by ESPN news services)

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones "taken aback" by four-win season, backs coach Jason Garrett (by Todd Archer)


Best stat

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown is just the fourth player with 10 receptions, 150 receiving yards and a receiving touchdown in a half in the past 25 seasons, joining Andre Johnson (2009), Jimmy Smith (2000) and Marshall Faulk (1999).


Best tweet