Saturday, July 21, 2018
Sports

Who isn't playing the biggest story of AFC matchup

HOUSTON — Two weeks ago, the Raiders were heading for the playoffs with MVP candidate Derek Carr at quarterback.

Now they're down to rookie third-string quarterback Connor Cook as they prepare for their first postseason game since the 2002 season with today's wild-card matchup with the Texans.

Cook was named the starter after Carr broke his leg Dec. 24 and backup Matt McGloin injured his shoulder Sunday. Cook, who made his NFL debut last week, will be the first quarterback ever to make his first start in a playoff game.

But the Raiders aren't feeling sorry for themselves.

"You do the best you can regardless of the circumstances," coach Jack Del Rio said. "To me it's a great opportunity. You have these great opportunities in life to be at your best, and you get these great challenges.

"So, how do you respond? What we want to do is respond like men and go in there full of energy and belief and fight our (tails) off."

Cook was a fourth-round pick after a four-year career at Michigan State where he threw for 9,194 yards with 71 touchdowns and 22 interceptions.

He expects to be a bit nervous early today but believes his big-game experience with the Spartans will help him calm quickly.

"You always have the nerves leading up to the game and once you get out there you have a couple snaps and you get hit, get knocked down then all of that stuff kind of goes away and you start to play ball," he said.

The Raiders also will be without former Bucs left tackle Donald Penn, who injured his left knee Sunday.

The Texans also had a quarterback shakeup, and Brock Osweiler returns to the starting lineup after being benched two weeks ago. Tom Savage started Houston's last two regular-season games but is out after suffering a concussion Sunday.

Osweiler is looking to redeem himself and help Houston to its first playoff win since the 2012 season after failing to live up to expectations after signing a $72 million contract.

Under his guidance Houston's passing game has been one of the worst in the league, and he has thrown more interceptions (16) than touchdowns (15).

The Texans liked the way he performed after taking over when Savage went down Sunday and expect him to build off that against the Raiders.

"There's nothing different from a regular-season game to a playoff game," Osweiler said.

"The stakes are higher, obviously … but it's just a normal football game. I've had great success in this league playing football, so I'm very confident."

NFC foes stumbling

SEATTLE — Only a few weeks ago, the Seahawks and Lions were fighting for the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs and a coveted bye that makes getting to the Super Bowl so much easier.

Stumbles by both teams over the final few weeks have led to the Seahawks hosting the Lions in tonight's wild-card game and a test of whether momentum matters going into the playoffs.

"There's obviously been a bunch of different teams that have done different stuff going in and then turn on a real good show and get going in the playoffs," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "We'll see what happens."

Both teams will look back on the final few weeks with a certain level of regret.

Detroit closed with three playoff teams — Giants, Cowboys, Packers — and lost all three to give away the NFC North title.

Seattle may view its stumble as more costly. The Seahawks lost control of the No. 2 seed when they lost at home to Arizona in Week 16.

"History kind of shows you that it's a true restart," Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "We're looking at data and who's won it and how, and all that kind of stuff. I'm sure there's been teams that have gotten hot and gone and won it, but there are teams that have not had the finish that they wanted and still gone on to be really successful."

Also, the Lions ruled out center Travis Swanson because of a concussion.

TANNEHILL PRACTICES: Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill practiced on a limited basis and might be available next week if his team advances. Tannehill worked with the scout team in his first practice since being sidelined in Week 14 because of a sprained left knee.

PACKERS: Cornerback Quinten Rollins will not play in Sunday's NFC wild-card game against the Giants after he was evaluated for a concussion. However, cornerback Damarious Randall might return from a knee injury.

STEELERS: Tight end Ladarius Green (concussion) sat out practice, putting his availability for Sunday's game against the Dolphins in doubt.

ALL-PROS: No Bucs were chosen to this year's All-Pro team, which was headlined by three rookies: Titans right tackle Jack Conklin, Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott and Chiefs punt returner Tyreek Hill. Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown and Atlanta's Julio Jones were chosen at receiver ahead of Tampa Bay's Mike Evans.

AROUND THE LEAGUE: Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry was fined $48,618 for his post-touchdown celebration last weekend against the Patriots, when he grabbed his crotch then spiked his helmet. … The 49ers interviewed Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan for their head coach opening and Vikings assistant general manager George Paton for their GM vacancy. … The Browns have discussed firing defensive coordinator Ray Horton.

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