Friday, December 15, 2017
Sports

Around the NFL

Power rankings

1. Falcons 2. Texans

3. Ravens 4. Giants

5. 49ers

Best bet

Packers (3-3) over Rams (3-3)

After last week's impressive win over previously unbeaten Houston, Green Bay will keep it rolling on the road.

Milestone watch

Any time you come close to a Jerry Rice record, it's special. Rice is a Hall of Fame receiver and, arguably, one of the best players of all time. But the Patriots' Wes Welker, left, has a chance to match Rice today. Welker has 16 games of 10 catches or more, one fewer than Rice.

Number of the week

24.7 Yards per kickoff return for the league; on pace to be the highest of any season, eclipsing the record of 23.8 yards set last season

Humble pie

Remember in 2009, when Jets coach Rex Ryan, upon his hiring, said he was "not here to kiss (Bill) Belichick's rings?" Well, it appears the never-shy Ryan has softened his stance, paying homage to the Patriots coach leading up to today's matchup between the teams.

"If it was just between Belichick and me, he's going to win that battle," Ryan, above, said. "I don't think I'm the best head coach in the league right now. I think he is.

"I'm confident in my abilities. But let's face it. He's got all the rings and everything else — the records. Obviously, I'm not there, and neither is anybody else in the league."

Information from Times wires was used in this report. Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]

Mistaken identity

Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden is not a household name, but he has racked up two 300-yard passing games this season. That, apparently, wasn't impressive enough for Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. The congressman from Wisconsin confused Weeden, left, with his backup, Colt McCoy, during a visit to Cleveland on Wednesday. Ryan spoke to some players and recalled watching Weeden's big games at Oklahoma State. One problem? Ryan was pointing at McCoy, the former Texas star. Ryan, like a true politician, backpedaled quickly. "You always had your helmet on," Ryan told Weeden, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Remember me?

Turns out, those who predicted the demise of Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning were greatly mistaken. Manning, 36, looks a lot more like the quarterback with four MVP awards than the one coming off four neck surgeries.

His 105.0 rating is second only to the Packers' Aaron Rodgers. And his latest masterpiece came Monday. Down 24-0 to the Chargers, he led the biggest comeback of his career for a 35-24 win.

Bucs tight end Dallas Clark, a longtime teammate of Manning with the Colts, is not the least bit surprised: "That's what he does."

The question Denver Post columnist Mark Kiszla ponders is what Manning will do next, adding, "Manning alone gives the Broncos a chance to win it all."

What they're saying

"The two most important tasks for a general manager are to find a coach and a quarterback that the franchise can be built around. (Falcons GM Tho­mas) Dimitroff has done that, and he and (coach Mike Smith) have transformed the Falcons into one of the more solid franchises in the NFL. Last week, they won ugly, but they won (23-20 at home over the Raiders). If they keep it up, the road to the Super Bowl will be going through Atlanta."

Ex-Ravens coach Brian Billick, at FoxSports.com on the Falcons' 6-0 start

Bucs linebacker Quincy Black remembers the first time he met Ray Lewis. The Super Bowl came to Tampa in January 2009. Black, then a second-year player, approached the Ravens star.

Lewis, 37, a ferocious and intimidating force for 17 seasons (seven of them All-Pro), has been one of the faces of the NFL and, arguably, one of the best linebackers of all time.

"I had to put that in his mind," Black said; "younger guys like myself do watch him and look up to him."

That's why Black believes Lewis' season-ending torn triceps not only is a big blow to the Ravens, but to the NFL. Whether Lewis has played the final down of his career remains to be seen. (He reportedly told Ravens defensive end Haloti Ngata, "I'll be back.") But count Black among those who aren't counting him out.

"He can play as long as he wants to," Black said. "I think he has that mind-set, that ability. His legacy isn't written yet.

"When he's done writing it, I'm sure everyone will know."

The absence of Lewis is, however, symbolic for what could be a changing of the guard in Baltimore. The Ravens have built their decade-long run of success, including a Super Bowl victory, on their defense.

But as Baltimore heads into today's showdown with Houston, its defense ranks 26th among 32 teams and is falling apart. Besides Lewis, top cornerback Lardarius Webb is out for the season with a torn ACL and star safety Ed Reed is playing through a torn labrum in his shoulder.

Baltimore's offense, led by quarterback Joe Flacco, has been — and could continue to be — its calling card.

"I'm happy as I can be to be 5-1, but I also feel fortunate to be 5-1 the way we are playing on defense," Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "Let's be honest. We aren't playing well enough, and to say it any other way would sound like a political debate."

     
 
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