NFL Sunday gameday guide: Lamar Jackson’s path to MVP, Russell Wilson benched in Denver, Ja’Marr Chase trash-talk and CJ Stroud’s return | NFL News

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson has emerged as favourite to win league MVP

Just two weeks remain of the 2023 NFL regular season. Playoff berths are still up for grabs, division titles are still to be clinched and more drama awaits as the league edges towards the playoffs. We look ahead to Sunday in Week 17…

Editor’s note…

It feels fitting that the NFL will see out 2023 with two of the year’s most gifted and universally-admired figureheads going toe-to-toe as beacons of the best the league has to offer.

Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel, the quirky genius imposing his schematic mastery as one of the most enamouring branches to the Shanahan tree; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, the defensive migraine seemingly on the path to two-time MVP status as one of the generation-defining-and-inspiring faces of the most important and complex position in sport.

On Sunday Jackson’s No 1-seeded Ravens meet McDaniel’s No 2-seeded Dolphins, two very different stories sharing their own unique grounds for understanding. McDaniel admitted this summer that he always knew he shirked the stereotypical/traditional appearance and personality of an NFL head coach, and yet found a way to make himself both heard and trusted.

A look at Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson’s top plays from the 2023 season so far

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A look at Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson’s top plays from the 2023 season so far

A look at Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson’s top plays from the 2023 season so far

Jackson’s rise meanwhile saw him encounter question marks over his credentials as a quarterback as well as receiving requests that he trial in other positions such had remained the ancient attitudes towards a Black play-caller, only for him to shatter long-exhausted misconceptions and join the elite as perhaps the most difficult quarterback against whom to game-plan in the entire league.

McDaniel joked this week that he had offered his services as a scout team quarterback to “try and replicate” Jackson during Miami’s preparations for Sunday’s matchup. He followed up with typically-perfect McDaniel sentiment while describing his counterpart.

“Outside of this game, I’m just happy for the player,” he said. “Because what I recognise is talk about an unbelievable talent. But even him, he’s had to define himself. He’s had people tell him what he is, and he disagrees. How can I tell? It’s not because I’ve had a conversation with him. I see better than I hear.”

Highlights of the Baltimore Ravens against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 16 of the NFL season.

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Highlights of the Baltimore Ravens against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 16 of the NFL season.

Highlights of the Baltimore Ravens against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 16 of the NFL season.

There was an uncomfortable, uneasy silence among quarterback-needy teams earlier this year when it appeared Jackson’s future in Baltimore might have been uncertain amid stalling negotiations over a new long-term deal. How silly he would make them look, and how glad the Ravens would be upon finally handing him a $260m extension.

He enters Week 17 the MVP frontrunner having just toppled the Super Bowl favourite San Francisco 49ers and thrown for 3,357 yards, 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions alongside 786 rushing yards and five scores this season, all during his first year alongside offensive coordinator Todd Monken and while missing favourite target Mark Andrews for a large part of the campaign.

“He’s unlike anybody else,” said Dolphins defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. “The only other player that’s been like him in the last 50 years is Michael Vick. He’s a tremendous player. Kudos to Ozzie [Newsome] and Eric [DeCosta] for picking him. Thirty-one other teams that passed him by are kicking themselves. He’s really improved over the years. Dynamic with the ball. Good passer. He makes their offense go.”

Full flow Lamar is as spectacular as any sight the NFL has to offer, his magic piloting Baltimore to legitimate contention – the calibre of which faces one of its biggest tests yet against Miami this weekend.

He's the coach that everyone's talking about! Here's a look at some of Miami Dolphins' head coach Mike McDaniel's funniest moments ever.

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He’s the coach that everyone’s talking about! Here’s a look at some of Miami Dolphins’ head coach Mike McDaniel’s funniest moments ever.

He’s the coach that everyone’s talking about! Here’s a look at some of Miami Dolphins’ head coach Mike McDaniel’s funniest moments ever.

Around the league…

  • The Broncos benched Russell Wilson for the remainder of the 2023 regular season, pointing towards plans for Sean Payton to address the quarterback position and potentially spelling the end of Wilson’s time in Denver. Jarrett Stidham will now start the final two games.
  • Wilson later told reporters the Broncos approached him ahead of Week Nine suggesting they would bench him for the rest of the year if he did not change the injury guarantee in his contract, something he declined to do.
  • In one of the more bizarre incidents of the season, the Packers suspended cornerback Jaire Alexander for one game after he took it upon himself to go out for Sunday’s pre-game coin toss despite not being a game captain. Alexander almost cost Green Bay a possession in the process after winning the toss and asking for his team to be on defense instead of ‘deferring’, at which point referee Alex Kemp asked for clarity and saved the Packers from allowing the Panthers to receive the ball at the start of both halves.
  • Houston Texans quarterback CJ Stroud cleared concussion protocol as he prepares to start against the Tennessee Titans after missing the last two games.
Check out the best-of-the-best NFL catches of 2023.

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Check out the best-of-the-best NFL catches of 2023.

Check out the best-of-the-best NFL catches of 2023.

  • Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence has been ruled out of Sunday’s clash with the Tennessee Titans due to a shoulder injury, with CJ Beathard primed to start.
  • The Washington Commanders announced they have benched quarterback Sam Howell, with veteran Jacoby Brissett to step in under center for Ron Rivera’s side; Brissett, though, has since been ruled questionable as an apparent game-time decision due to hamstring tightness.
  • Tommy DeVito is also heading to the bench for the New York Giants amid his emergence as one of the NFL’s most fascinating stories, with Tyrod Taylor taking over starting duties for Brian Daboll.
  • The Minnesota Vikings confirmed that star tight end TJ Hockenson will miss the rest of the season due to a torn ACL and MCL.

What to watch…

Sunday, 6pm – Miami Dolphins (11-4) @ Baltimore Ravens (12-3): For much of the season the focus, quite rightly, has been on Miami’s high-powered No 1-ranked offense, fuelled by the production of Tua Tagovailoa, Tyreek Hill and Raheem Mostert. Across from them, linebacker David Long Jr has become one of Vic Fangio’s unsung contributors and one of the league’s offseason steals as the second-level missile tracking deep routes, swarming tight ends and flying to the line of scrimmage. Come Sunday, his job is likely to be that of stalking Lamar Jackson’s every move as Miami contend with both the league’s greatest scrambling threat along with his off-platform proficiency and pocket command.

Highlights of the Dallas Cowboys against the  Miami Dolphins in Week 16 of the NFL season.

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Highlights of the Dallas Cowboys against the Miami Dolphins in Week 16 of the NFL season.

Highlights of the Dallas Cowboys against the Miami Dolphins in Week 16 of the NFL season.

Sunday, 9.25pm – Cincinnati Bengals (8-7) @ Kansas City Chiefs (9-6): Asked what stands out about the Kansas City Chiefs secondary, Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase insisted “nothing”, before suggesting he had no idea as to who safety Bryan Cook was. Chase would later note he was “adding fuel to the fire”; job done. Whether or not it is the right time to take shots at a wobbling Chiefs team remains to be seen. Andy Reid’s offense is in disarray with the playoffs on the horizon and Steve Spagnuolo’s defense unable to compensate to the same extent it had earlier in the campaign. Sunday is the latest insight into signs of life for Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and their stumbling attack.

SNF – Green Bay Packers (7-8) @ Minnesota Vikings (7-8): The seat is getting hot for Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry, whose unit just shipped 30 points to the two-win Carolina Panthers while almost relinquishing a double-digit advantage. The Packers are ranked 23rd in yards allowed, 17th in points allowed, 25th in EPA/play and 28th in success rate through 16 weeks, Barry’s defense threatening to derail the still-real playoff hopes of a young and exciting Jordan Love-led offense. More questions await on Sunday should the Packers struggle against the Minnesota Vikings, who will be led by fifth-round rookie Jaren Hall after making another change at quarterback.

Highlights of the Las Vegas Raiders against the Kansas City Chiefs from Week 16 of the NFL season.

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Highlights of the Las Vegas Raiders against the Kansas City Chiefs from Week 16 of the NFL season.

Highlights of the Las Vegas Raiders against the Kansas City Chiefs from Week 16 of the NFL season.

Playoff implications

Current playoff standings

AFC NFC
1) Baltimore Ravens (12-3) (X) 1) San Francisco 49ers (11-4) (Y)
2) Miami Dolphins (11-4) (X) 2) Philadelphia Eagles (11-4) (X)
3) Kansas City Chiefs (9-6) 3) Detroit Lions (11-4) (Y)
4) Jacksonville Jaguars (8-7) 4) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-7)
5) Cleveland Browns (11-5) (X) 5) Dallas Cowboys (10-5) (X)
6) Buffalo Bills (9-6) 6) Los Angeles Rams (8-7)
7) Indianapolis Colts (8-7) 7) Seattle Seahawks (8-7)
(X) = already clinched playoff berth
(Y) = clinched division

  • The Ravens will win the AFC North title with a win/tie and clinch the AFC’s No 1 seed, first-round bye and homefield advantage with a win
  • The Bills will secure a playoff berth with a win plus a Steelers loss/tie and a Bengals loss/tie (among 14 different scenarios)
  • The Browns will secure a playoff berth with a win/tie (among five different scenarios)
  • The Jaguars will secure a playoff berth and the AFC South title with a win plus Colts and Texans defeats
  • The Chiefs will secure a playoff berth and the AFC West title with a win/tie
  • The Dolphins will clinch the AFC East title with a win/tie
  • The Rams will secure a playoff berth with a win plus a Seahawks loss
  • The Eagles will clinch the NFC East title with a win plus a Cowboys loss/tie
  • The 49ers will clinch the NFC’s No 1 seed, first-round bye and homefield advantage with a win plus a Lions loss and Eagles loss
  • The Seahawks will secure a playoff berth with a win plus a Packers-Vikings tie
  • The Buccaneers will secure a playoff berth and the NFC South title with a win

Best quotes

Sean Payton when asked if Russell Wilson is a scapegoat for Denver’s issues on offense: “I get that. And yet, I can’t replace the entire offensive line. I can’t bring in five new receivers, and if it continues for over period of time, then there’ll be another guy talking to you as well. This is something that – these are difficult decisions, and obviously, there’s more attention when it’s the quarterback who’s under contract, but different than maybe earlier decisions we’ve made with maybe last year’s prior starters.”

Russell Wilson’s reaction to being benched: “God’s got me. Looking forward to what’s next.”

Justin Jefferson produced an outstanding catch in Minnesota's NFL game against Detroit.

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Justin Jefferson produced an outstanding catch in Minnesota’s NFL game against Detroit.

Justin Jefferson produced an outstanding catch in Minnesota’s NFL game against Detroit.

Chiefs legend Dante Hall discusses the body language of Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce on the sidelines: “It’s like my little kids running around here on Christmas Day. We got you a Christmas tree filled with presents and you’re acting like spoiled little brats. These guys know I love them. So, as a friend, as a brother, I had to call ya out. This is not a good look.”

Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase: “At the end of the day, there’s only so much that I can do myself. It’s not like I’m Ironman. I can’t throw the football to myself. It’s a team sport at the end of the day.”

Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen: “We play a brand of football that people don’t want to play. Everybody wants to be out here [being] cute, playing basketball on grass and stuff, and we are not with all that. You can do all that stuff, we’re just going to hit you in the mouth every play, honestly. We couldn’t care less about all the pretty stuff you do, gimmick stuff.”

West Virginia coach Neal Brown continued one of college football's wackiest traditions by being covered in mayonnaise after winning the 2023 Duke's Mayo Bowl.

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West Virginia coach Neal Brown continued one of college football’s wackiest traditions by being covered in mayonnaise after winning the 2023 Duke’s Mayo Bowl.

West Virginia coach Neal Brown continued one of college football’s wackiest traditions by being covered in mayonnaise after winning the 2023 Duke’s Mayo Bowl.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield on being in consideration for Comeback Player of the Year: “It’s humbling. It’s an honour. It’s kind of a big-picture mindset, if I take a step back and really look at it, of all the things that I’ve had to weather in the last year. It really speaks volumes to this place right here.”

Las Vegas Raiders interim head coach Antonio Pierce on the possibility of earning the job on a full-time basis: “My resume is on the grass. What do you want? I can put up a fancy presentation, I’ve seen that before. I can put up stats, I can put up my resume, but the best thing that happened for me was an opportunity.”

The stats

  • Benched Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson is guaranteed $39m in 2024 whether he remains in Denver or not, with a further $37m guaranteed if he cannot pass a physical before March. The team’s decision to bench him would allow them to part with him before that money vests ​
  • Chicago Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson leads all corners in coverage grade (91.1) and passer rating allowed (31.6) this season, according to Pro Football Focus
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers third-round linebacker Yaya Diaby leads all rookies with 6.5 sacks while also being tied-second among rookies with nine tackles for loss despite starting just five games this season
  • The battle to become the NFL’s tackle champion sees Foye Oluokun of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Zaire Franklin of the Indianapolis Colts tied on 160 apiece; Oluokun led the league in tackles for two years straight heading into 2023
  • Cowboys rookie Brandon Aubrey has converted a perfect 33 of 33 field goal attempts this season, leading all players in scoring with 141 points
  • A win over the Seattle Seahawks would see the Pittsburgh Steelers secure a 20th straight season with a .500-or-better record, which would mark the second-longest streak in NFL history

Essential reading:

From Mahomes to Rodgers: Reynolds’ biggest NFL stories in 2023

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes

“2023 has been filled with memorable and significant moments in the world of American football. So much so that Tom Brady’s second retirement – which came on a grey Florida beach day exactly one year after his first – doesn’t even make this list.”

Sky Sports’ Neil Reynolds has the final word on 2023 as he picks out some of his biggest NFL storylines from over the past year…

From Brazil to the NFL… and back? Santos dreaming of homecoming

 Cairo Santos is dreaming of an NFL homecoming

Cairo Santos is dreaming of an NFL homecoming

“They have been begging for this experience, and now the NFL gets to experience Brazil. It’s the dream of so many millions of Brazilians.”

Cairo Santos was born in Sao Paulo, and grew up using Coca-Cola cans as goal posts in the street while lining up chairs as a make-shift wall in his garden as he tried to imitate Roberto Carlos’ famous free-kick. He would watch Ronaldo and Kaka, or Adriano, while developing a love for Frank Lampard and Chelsea.

The Chicago Bears kicker is now dreaming of a homecoming as the first ever Brazilian to play in the NFL.

Santos speaks to Sky Sports NFL editor Cam Hogwood following the league’s announcement that it will play a game in Brazil in 2024 as the latest addition to its international calendar…

Her Huddle: Meet Germany QB Mona Stevens

Hannah Wilkes and Phoebe Schecter are joined by Team Germany quarterback and global flag football ambassador Mona Stevens, who discusses her journey into football and mission to introduce more women to the sport.

Inside the Huddle: Christmas special!

Neil Reynolds and Jeff Reinebold are here for a special Christmas edition of Inside The Huddle, discussing their best NFL-themed presents, their dream Christmas dinner party guests and the league’s iconic moments from 2023…

Thursday night rewind…

Highlights of the New York Jets against the Cleveland Browns from Week 16 of the NFL season.

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Highlights of the New York Jets against the Cleveland Browns from Week 16 of the NFL season.

Highlights of the New York Jets against the Cleveland Browns from Week 16 of the NFL season.

The Cleveland Browns clinched an unlikely playoff berth – just their second since 2002 – despite numerous injuries this season, with a 37-20 win over the New York Jets on Thursday night.

Watch the Miami Dolphins at the Baltimore Ravens live on Sky Sports NFL on New Year’s Eve, with coverage under way at 5pm ahead of kickoff at 6pm; watch the Green Bay Packers against the Minnesota Vikings in Sunday Night Football.



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