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    Forget Carrie Underwood. Well http://www.thebengalslockerroom.com/authentic-jessie-bates-iii-jersey , don't forget her, she's terrific.But the NFL's theme song these days belongs to Maren Morris, Zedd and Grey. You know, "Meet Me In The Middle."That's where a bevy of NFL teams sat through Week 14 — all with shots, both reasonable and long, at making the playoffs. Take a deep breath and consider:—Seattle and Dallas at 8-5.—Pittsburgh at 7-5-1.—Indianapolis, Baltimore, Tennessee and Miami at 7-6.—Minnesota at 6-6-1.—Philadelphia, Carolina, Denver and Washington at 6-7.—Green Bay and Cleveland at 5-7-1.And, yes, Tampa Bay, Detroit, Cincinnati and the New York Giants at 5-8.All are alive for the postseason.Even Atlanta, at 4-9, if you can imagine Giovani Bernard Jersey White , isn't eliminated.Just what the league loves heading toward Christmas: charity for nearly all.So let first-year Titans coach Mike Vrabel play the Grinch, trying to ignore any playoff chatter as his team heads to the Meadowlands to face the Giants."We haven't talked much. We try to eliminate all the scenarios," he says. "The only scenario that we try to focus on is our preparation right now as we head into a road game against the Giants."You could talk about scenarios all day. There's scenarios where the Dolphins give up two punt blocks and score on a 70-yard hook-and-ladder; a scenario where a player jumps offside on a third-and-1 in a four-minute situation; a situation where a team executes a 50-yard hook-and-ladder and then the kicker slips. Those are all the scenarios that are crazy that happen in this league every week, so the one we're going to try to focus on is our preparation versus the Giants."Fair enough, because all of the playoff-qualifying scenarios for this week are enough to spark a migraine.The questions that should be raised are:—Is all of this competitive balance or simply mediocrity? Oasis or swamp?—Is it good for the NFL that such spiraling messes as the Falcons and Bengals remain in the running?—Do people really want to see a .500 (or worse) team playing in January, perhaps against a 14-2 opponent?LEVEL OF PERFORMANCENearly all the teams in the middle of the standings belong there. It's fair to point out that the Redskins, Bengals and Falcons have been severely damaged by injuries — hey, Cincinnati was once 4-1 and Washington held the top spot in the NFC East until its current four-game slide.Still, there's a flawed bunch of "contenders" for the playoffs. They are profiting because they are keeping company with equally blemished clubs.All of them have had impressive stretches and pretty much unwatchable ones, though Seattle and Dallas probably don't deserve to be lumped with the stragglers because they seem to be legitimate threats to do something in January.What's missing with the others is the consistency that the top teams possess. Look at the Colts, who went from 1-1 to 1-5, then won five in a row, only to get blanked at lowly Jacksonville before going to Houston, the league's hottest team, and winning.FORGET THEMDo fans in Atlanta and Cincinnati and Washington envision any sort of turnaround in the final three games that would lift those teams into the postseason? Do those clubs' front offices?They shouldn't, even as the NFL boasts that 26 teams still have a shot at the Super Bowl.One likely good thing about such deficient teams being in the running in mid-December is that it should cool talk of expanding the playoff field — something that virtually would guarantee impostors getting in.MISMATCHESOnce in a while Womens Mark Walton Jersey , a team scrapes into the postseason and catches fire. Wild-carders have won the Super Bowl often enough to keep that dream alive once you get in.But should, say, a 7-8-1 Packers or 8-8 Lions sneak in, does that make for must-watch TV in the playoffs? Is a game with 8-8 Miami at 12-4 Houston enticing?SEEDINGSWhat is nice about the chase in December is the intrigue of seedings. The general feeling in the AFC is that avoiding a trip to Foxborough in January is necessary. So, the other division winners not only want and likely need to win their games, they're hoping the Patriots, currently seeded second, don't win out. Kansas City tops the conference right now, but barely.The NFC is a two-team race for the top spot between the Saints and Rams, who met in a high-scoring affair won by host New Orleans in early November. Both are 11-2, making their final three weeks critical in that race.And then they have the prospect of sitting out wild-card weekend while a team or two emerging from the quagmire stokes up its fan base before probably getting routed. KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Marvin Lewis flipped on tape of the Kansas City Chiefs this week and saw Tyreek Hill moving all over the field, Kareem Hunt bulldozing for first downs, Travis Kelce making acrobatic catches, and Patrick Mahomes delivering the ball to all of them.Then he was asked what worries him most about facing the Chiefs on Sunday night."Everything," Lewis said Womens Alex Redmond Jersey , adding a halfhearted laugh. Yes, the banged-up Bengals (4-2) and their struggling defense are headed to Arrowhead Stadium for a high-profile showdown against quite possibly the most dynamic offense in the NFL.They are also doing it with a handful of guys ailing or injured, notably in a secondary that will have to find a way to slow Hill and Kelce. All those injuries nearly crippled the Bengals last week, when Pittsburgh drove the length of the field in the fourth quarter for the winning touchdown."It makes it harder, yeah," Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap said, "but we have 1A and 1B. Everybody is trained to get in the game because you're always one play away. You never know when it is."Injuries aren't an excuse, either.""We've got guys down. I believe in those (backup) guys," Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. "I feel we've got all the tools, even the backup guys, to beat this team."The Chiefs (5-1), who are coming off their first loss last Sunday night in New England, know all about being hurt. They remain without injured safeties Eric Berry, Daniel Sorensen and Armani Watts, top pass rusher Justin Houston and two starters on the offensive line.They still have Mahomes, though. Not to mention all his weapons.That group struggled in the first half against the Patriots http://www.thebengalslockerroom.com/authentic-andy-dalton-jersey , but adjustments at halftime opened up things. Mahomes wound up throwing four TD passes, three to Hill, and the Chiefs nearly outscored Tom Brady and Co. in what became an entertaining shootout."Everyone is still in great spirits," Mahomes said after his first loss as a starting quarterback, which came seven games into his NFL career. "We know there's a lot of season left. There's going to be ups and downs, but you have to know that's going to happen. It's how you respond that matters."Mahomes said the vibe all week has been positive, and that the loss to New England only served to embolden a team with Super Bowl aspirations. After all, the Chiefs trailed most of the way, on the road and in prime time, and nearly came back to steal a victory."We finished hard. We fought every play," Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins said. "You saw the grit on the sideline and we're here to build on that. You're not going to lead every game 28-0."As the Bengals try to slow down Kansas City, here are some things to know:BANGED-UP BENGALSThere were no fewer than 15 players listed on Cincinnati's initial injury report this week, and six of those didn't participate at all to start the week. That included three defensive players in cornerback Darqueze Dennard, linebacker Nick Vigil and safety Shawn Williams.FLEX AND POSEThe Chiefs' high-flying offense and the Bengals' strong start resulted in the game being flexed by NBC to Sunday night. It was originally supposed to be a noon CDT kickoff."Every game is a big stage. This is the NFL," Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones said, dismissing the fact they're in prime time for the second straight week. "You want to play every game like it's your last."ON THE HUNTThe Chiefs have leaned on Hunt late in games to protect leads http://www.thebengalslockerroom.com/authentic-tyler-kroft-jersey , but he was a big part of their comeback a week ago. Hunt ran for 80 yards on just 10 carries and caught five passes for 105 yards and a score. He also was overthrown down the middle of the field on what could have been another long TD reception."You can't miss those when you play really good teams," Mahomes said.BLITZBURGH HANGOVERThe Bengals' 28-21 loss to Pittsburgh wiped out much of their early momentum and evened things in the AFC North. It was another stunning loss against their biggest nemesis — the Steelers have won seven straight in the series, including a comeback win in the 2015 playoffs. They know they can't afford another bad showing in Kansas City as they approach the midway point of the season."I would say we do have a chip on our shoulders," defensive end Jordan Willis said.WHAT ABOUT BURFICTIn his second game back from his latest NFL suspension, Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict was on the field for 84 percent of the defense's plays against Pittsburgh and finished second with eight tackles and two passes deflected. He also was in the middle of several altercations, trading words with Ben Roethlisberger, stepping over James Conner in the end zone, and hitting Antonio Brown in the head with his forearm after a reception.Burfict has been suspended three times by the league and was ejected from a game last season. The Bengals need him to continue making an impact on games, without the drama."Vontaze can be as great as he wants to be," Dunlap said.
      July 19, 2019 3:54 AM CEST
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