Atlanta Falcons will NOT suffer Super Bowl hangover in 2017

The Super Bowl hangover isn’t a myth. It’s real. History and the eyeball test in the salary cap era tell you it is the truth: Losing on the game’s biggest stage can have repercussions that last long after Super Sunday.

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Since 2000, half of the Super Bowl losers failed to even make the postseason in the following campaign. Just two got back to the conference title game — none returned to the Super Bowl.

The most recent hangover victim? Carolina. The Panthers went from an NFL-best 15-1 in 2015 to 6-10 and dead last in the NFC South last fall. Cam Newton followed up his league MVP campaign with the worst statistical season of his professional life.

So, given this preamble, it’s easy to foresee Atlanta suffering a Super Bowl hangover of epic proportions, right? After all, this team blew a 25-point, second-half lead in Super Bowl LI, handing the Patriots their fifth Lombardi Trophy. Can you imagine the figurative pounding headache that comes from that kind of choke job?

But here’s the thing: I believe in the 2017 Falcons. I think Atlanta’s only gotten better this offseason. I think February’s unthinkable heartbreak is going to fuel this prideful bunch. I think the experience has only made these Falcons stronger.

I can easily see Atlanta getting right back to the Super Bowl in Minneapolis next February.

These Falcons, under general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Dan Quinn, are spectacularly built. The roster oozes talent, starting on the offensive side of the ball.

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Matt Ryan is a star and now has an MVP trophy to prove it. Having just turned 32, Ryan’s squarely in his prime, fresh off a season where he put up some crazy numbers, including a 69.9 percent completion rate, a 9.3 yards-per-attempt figure and a 117.1 quarterback rating. Now, Ryan did lose his offensive coordinator when Kyle Shanahan took the head-coaching gig in San Francisco. That’s a blow, no doubt. But I loved the Steve Sarkisian hiring. And Ryan still has quite a set of toys at his disposal.

Julio Jones might be the best receiver in the game today. The guy’s an absolute beast who can single-handedly take over a game. (Just ask the Packers.) And Atlanta boasts strong pass-catching depth beyond Jones. Mohamed Sanu’s a quintessential professional, while Taylor Gabriel’s a speed merchant last seen embarrassing Pats stud Malcolm Butler. Tight end Austin Hooper showed plenty of promise in his rookie season, bringing some more speed up the seam.

The Falcons’ $1.4 billion new home, which is set to open August 26, will rise to 30 stories high, feature a retractable roof that can open and close in seven minutes and many amazing views of Atlanta’s skyline.

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However, all of that will be overshadowed — figuratively and possibly literally — by this gigantic stainless steel bird. The statue is 41.5 feet tall and weighs 73,000 pounds. It was created by Gabor Miklos Szoke, who has a thing for nightmarish birds, having constructed the largest bird monument in Europe for the Hungarian football club FTC.

One Twitter user noticed its resemblance to another intimidating bird figure here in the U.S.

The man with the self-proclaimed “best motor” in the 2017 NFL Draft class now has a contract.

The Atlanta Falcons announced Thursday they have agreed to terms with first-round pick Takkarist McKinley, who was selected No. 26 overall last month.

A two-year starter at UCLA, McKinley logged 99 total tackles, 28 tackles for loss, 16 sacks, six forced fumbles and 10 passes defensed in his three years in Westwood. Atlanta traded up five spots to select him last month.

The Falcons also announced Thursday they have agreed to terms with three other draft picks: linebacker Duke Riley, running back Brian Hill and tight end Eric Saubert.

Broncos HC Vance Joseph welcomes RB competition

New Denver Broncos head coach Vance Joseph will let summer competition determine the team’s pecking order at running back.

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“Absolutely. I mean, every position on our football team is going to be competitive and that’s the way you want it every year,” Joseph told Troy Renck of KMGH-TV in Denver. “You want guys to come in and compete for jobs every year. Obviously the guys who win the jobs win but the guys who don’t can be capable backups. Every spot on the football team is going to be up for competition.

“The running back position — you need two or three guys who are going to carry the load. There’s no longer a one-guy position. So I’m excited to have Jamaal, Book, C.J. and even DeAngelo in the mix there. It’s a good group, it’s going to be competitive and that’s the way it should be.”

Joseph was referring to former Chiefs star Jamaal Charles, C.J. Anderson, Devontae Booker and 2017 sixth-round pick De’Angelo Henderson. Booker led the team last year with 612 yards — less than 200 yards more than Anderson, who played in just seven games (knee).

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And in each instance, they have placed more faith and trust in Derek Wolfe, a player wonderfully described by Broncos longtime beat man Mike Klis as both “brutish” and “unvarnished.”

That is not to say Wolfe, now 27 and in the middle of a four-year, $36.7 million deal, hasn’t learned a thing or two about himself over the years. Maybe leadership suits him better now than ever.

“When I see guys not doing the right thing, I’m going to tell them,” Wolfe told 9News in Denver. “I’m not going to sit back and let that (stuff) slide. Me, it’s either confrontation fist-fight or say nothing. I’m learning how to not fight people if that makes sense.”

While the Broncos can expect a yearly, out-of-this-world performance from Von Miller, Wolfe is in the mix to ensure they get the same from Shane Ray, 2017 second-round pick DeMarcus Walker and 2016 second-round pick Adam Gotsis. General manager John Elway is toeing the line between rebuilding project and last-chance playoff contender, with a roster that could easily slide in either direction this year. The continued success of their defensive line under imaginative head coach Vance Joseph could tip the team in either direction.

Where does that leave the Broncos, less than 16 months removed from their Super Bowl title, but without a known franchise quarterback or consistent offensive line play? Could Denver, by virtue of elimination, be locked into fourth place in the AFC West? (The Around the NFL podcast crew sure thinks so.)

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New coach Vance Joseph has a more optimistic outlook.

“I’ve said, coming in, really looking at this team, looking at every game — which I did several times — it isn’t broken,” Joseph told reporters Friday. “Yes, there are things we could, and must, do better, places where we need to improve. But this team won nine games last season. But I also understand the expectations here. It’s why it’s a great job; it’s why I can’t wait.”

Let’s take a look through Joseph’s rose-colored visor. Though it struggled in the ground game down the stretch, Denver’s defense remains a top-five unit in the league, thanks to a lock-down secondary and an improving defensive line that boasts Derek Wolfe and Adam Gotsis. The Broncos’ linebacking corps, led by Von Miller and Shane Ray on the outside, is a game-changing force. The addition of a healthy Jamaal Charles to the running back room is a potentially disruptive complement to C.J. Anderson.

There’s plenty to like about the Broncos’ roster in a vacuum. It’s only when you compare them to their improving division rivals that it’s fair to wonder whether Denver is destined for the cellar.

The team may not be broken, as Joseph insists, but it won’t be able to dominate the division the same way it did two or three seasons prior.

Aaron Rodgers: I’m starting back nine of my career

It’s hard to believe that Aaron Rodgers is entering his 13th NFL season. After a mesmerizing 2016 campaign in which he threw 40 touchdowns versus only seven interceptions, the Green Bay Packers quarterback is still at the top of his game.

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Rodgers, who turns 34 in December, knows he’s far removed from being a spring chicken in the league. Yet, despite his possible advancement to a new stage in his career, Rodgers holds one clear advantage over several other quarterbacks creeping up in age.

“I think I’m on the back nine of my career,” Rodgers said Tuesday in an interview with NFL Network’s Alex Flanagan at the Gatorade Player of the Year awards. “But I think I’m just kind of starting the back nine. This will be my 10th year starting, I got to sit for three years. So I’m not the typical 13-year pro, having the opportunity to sit for three years and not take the wear and tear to learn the discount jerseys game.”

Once a quarterback hits his mid-30s, it’s hard not to think about looming retirement and contingency plans at the position. Rodgers was squarely in the middle of such a situation early in his career, which involved his predecessor Brett Favre. The Packers’ current gunslinger believes his ability to play at a high level for a decade has been a product of one key factor: Remaining in Green Bay.

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Nike Vikings #22 Harrison Smith White Men's Stitched NFL Vapor Untouchable Limited Jersey“I think we all have numbers,” Rodgers said. “When I was a young player, I remember thinking as I looked at some of the older guys, if I got to five that’d be cool, or eight, or anything after 10 would be amazing. For me, I think the cheap soccer jerseys online longevity is tied to being a Green Bay Packer. I’d like to finish my career in Green Bay.”

As long as Rodgers is at his peak behind center, the Packers should always be considered contenders for the Lombardi Trophy. After holding off the Steelers to win the 2011 Super Bowl, however, it’s been a disappointing stretch filled with jerseys cheap crushing playoff losses.

Despite entering last postseason with “hottest team in the league” status in the wake of ripping off six straight wins to end the season, Rodgers and co. failed to reach the Super Bowl for the sixth straight year. Over that span, the Packers have only had a first-round bye twice and home-field advantage throughout once.

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The Packers have cost themselves better playoff seeding with stagnant stretches in the middle of each of the past two seasons. Rodgers hopes the team doesn’t fall into the same trap again.

“Well, we got to start faster,” Rodgers said. “We didn’t start fast last year, we lost four in a row in the middle there. We’re a tough team to beat late in the season, as we’ve shown the last couple years. But we’re really tough to beat at home, especially the last three, four, five years.

“We got to get those home playoff games again. We all feel like if we get that No. 1, No. 2 seed and it’s coming through Green Bay in the playoffs, it makes it really tough on other teams.”

Terrelle Pryor’s fantasy stock rises by joining Redskins

Terrelle Pryor was a big question mark in this free agency pool, as we wondered if teams would be willing to sign the converted quarterback to a longterm deal after a single (albeit breakout) season as a wide receiver. Instead, it appears Pryro is betting on himself by signing a one-year deal with the Washington Redskins, reportedly turning down a longer-term contract with the Browns. With DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon already out of the picture in Washington, Pryor will have big shoes to fill as one of the top pass-catchers in a pass-happy offense.

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Walking out the doors of FedExField with Jackson and Garcon are also 214 targets, roughly 35 percent of Kirk Cousins’ attempted passes in 2016. Pryor saw 140 looks last season, bringing in 77 for 1,007 yards and four scores, so volume shouldn’t be an issue in his new home. As a size-speed freak, Pryor should help replace the downfield element lost with Jackson, while simultaneously improving the team’s struggles in the red zone. With Jamison Crowder primarily playing in the slot and last year’s first-round pick Josh Doctson still a health question mark, Pryor should start Week 1 as the No. 1 option for a passing attack that put up 9,189 yards and 55 touchdowns over the last two years.

Now, there are some concerns we should address with Pryor that could trickle into the fantasy realm. First, Pryor has only done it for one year. Now, I’m usually not one to fall down this skeptic line of thinking, but Pryor’s situation as a converted quarterback is unique. We should be sure to study his cheap jerseys and tape in the preseason to make sure teams haven’t figured him out, though that could be moot given Pryor’s immense athletic gifts.

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This is not to say I personally support the ostentatiously designed duds. After all, they are the first uniforms in NFL history to wipe out an entire segment of their viewing audience simply by existing. That is an unquestionable design flaw.

That said, they do get people talking, and I suppose the shadowy league figures on Park Avenue take solace in that, even if many of the jerseys for sale and reviews have been less than flattering.

The Washington Redskins — no stranger to uniform controversy — don’t care. Tucked into a large group of potential rule change proposals released by the league on Thursday is a proposal by wholesale jerseys the ‘Skins to opt out of Color Rush forever. Forget that the team has never had to actually play in a game wearing Color Rush threads (at least not yet). Their one-word explanation for the rule change is a perfect example how sometimes one thousands words are unnecessary when one can just as effectively drop the hammer.

While Cousins’ explanation leaves room for semantical gymnastics, Mike Jones of the Washington Post wrote Tuesday that he has been unable to find a single source to confirm a trade demand by the quarterback.

If that’s the case, it’s natural to wonder if the ostensibly strained relationship might be repairable after all.

After speaking with Snyder and Redskins president Bruce Allen, Cousins was reassured of his standing with the organization’s braintrust.

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“I felt very much supported,” Cousins continued, “and felt the owner and president of the team want me to be the quarterback there and to be the quarterback there for a long time.”

Nike Redskins #21 Sean Taylor Burgundy Red Team Color Men's Stitched NFL Vapor Untouchable Limited JerseyThe 2016 Pro Bowler’s rare leverage via the mechanism of back-to-back franchise tags leaves his long-term future up in the air. It would cost the Redskins a seemingly prohibitive $34.5 million to apply the franchise tag a third time, leaving the riskier $28 million transition tag in play next offseason.

Cousins’ camp understandably insists on negotiating from the starting point of his $23.94 million salary for 2017. To this point, though, the team’s best offer was $20 million annually with “low guarantees,” ESPN.com’s John Keim reported.

If the sides can’t find common ground in the next month, would the Redskins simply draft his replacement and allow him to walk as an unrestricted free agent in 2018? Cousins isn’t banking on gaining his chinese jerseys freedom next offseason.

“If a team has franchise tagged me two years in a row, it’s because they expect me to play at a high level,” Cousins said. “If we play at a very high level and if we win a Super Bowl next year, I’m pretty confident they’ll tag me and bring me back. If the season goes the way everyone wants it to and hopes it will, then let’s hope I’m getting tagged again. There’s still more of this story to write.”

Barring a new contract to beat the July 15 deadline for players assigned the franchise designation, it’s a story we’ll continue to write throughout the the 2017 season.

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Steve Smith: Brandon Marshall a ‘good fit’ for Ravens

The Baltimore Ravens are short a veteran presence outside the numbers, but their second-leading receiver from 2016 knows who can fill his shoes.

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Retired receiver Steve Smith, now spending his days dropping glorious one-liners during NFL Network’s combine coverage, mused Friday on Baltimore’s shoddy receiver depth, suggesting that impending free agent Brandon Marshall jersey should be a target for the team.

“I think (Marshall) would be a good fit,” Smith told the Ravens’ website. “Actually, me and B. Marshall talked last week and he kind of gave me a heads up on some things.

“I think he would be a great fit because he’s a playmaker. At the end of the day, you need playmakers. You need a lot of horses in the stable and you can never have too many playmakers on cheap nfl jerseys one team or one side of the ball.”

Set to be released by Jets this week, Marshall has made it clear that his next destination will have to be in contention for a Super Bowl. Baltimore was one Antonio Brown touchdown away from winning the AFC North last season and should be more than competitive in the division again.

Marshall might also be intrigued by the leadership of John Harbaugh jersey and the veteran presence of Joe Flacco, a consistent, if not elite quarterback.

Baltimore made a splash by luring former Cardinals safety Tony Jefferson away from two suitors — the Jets and Browns — who offered significantly more cash.

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The Ravens then added versatile running back Danny Woodhead before re-signing their own big piece of the puzzle, mammoth nose tackle Brandon Williams, to a five-year, $54 million contract. When that deal went down, the defensive lineman loomed as the top free-agent prize remaining on the open market.

Jefferson’s story says plenty about the Ravens. Instead of cashing in with a rebuilding club, he took less coin to play for an ultra-consistent organization run by Newsome and coach John Harbaugh and stocked with accomplished veterans like fellow safety Eric Weddle jersey, who called up Jefferson and lobbied him to sign with the Ravens jersey.

Baltimore could use more help at cornerback and linebacker and Newsome noted the front office is “still looking to do some other things at receiver and maybe offensive line.”

Amid whispers the team is eyeing former Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne, Newsome said: “We still have the opportunity in free agency to address (the secondary), and then we’ll be looking forward to the draft.”

NFL Network’s Steve Smith first reported the development.

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Battling a foot injury for the first two months of the season, Dumervil recorded just three sacks in eight games last year. After racking up an impressive 26.5 QB takedowns in his first two years with the Ravens, he managed just nine in 24 games over the past two.

A five-time Pro Bowler averaging nearly 12 sacks per year from 2007 through 2014, Dumervil’s days as a starter are likely over at age 33. If he stays healthy, though, perhaps he can carve out a valuable role as a situational pass rusher along the lines of DeMarcus Ware or Dwight Freeney.

With bookend outside linebacker Terrell Suggs entering his age-35 season, the Ravens will have to address the position in free agency or early in the draft.

Joe Namath wants to see Christian Hackenberg start

Everyone has an opinion on who should start as the New York Jets’ quarterback.

Few of those opinions matter.

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While Joe Namath might not have the ear of the coaches, the Jets legend offered his view on the road Gang Green should take in 2017.

Nike Jets #33 Jamal Adams White Men's Stitched NFL Elite Jersey“I would like to see [Christian] Hackenberg,” Namath said, via NJ.com. “I think we need someone for the future.”

Josh McCown was signed as the bridge quarterback and appears set to earn the opening day gig. Given the 37-year-old veteran’s injury history, even if coach Todd Bowles goes with the “safe” option out of the gate, it’s likely we’ll see Hackenberg and/or Bryce Petty at some point in 2017.

Namath is among Jets fans who think the team should just roll with Hackenberg and give the second-year pro a chance to sink or swim. McCown has a clear ceiling. Hackenberg is a complete unknown.

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“This is no reflection on Josh,” Namath said. “He’s a proven veteran and brings a lot to the team. But realistically, you want to make the playoffs, win a Super Bowl. We have to get the guy who can do that.”

If Hackenberg is that guy, the Jets finally solved the problem. If it’s not, #ScamForSam — an attempt to position itself to draft USC quarterback Sam Darnold — is in full effect. Before the Jets can finally find the franchise QB to lift them past the Patriots, first they need to determine whether second-round pick Hackenberg can be that answer.

Rams QB coach: Jared Goff has ‘really high’ ceiling

Jared Goff’s puzzling rookie season doesn’t concern his new quarterback coach.

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Greg Olson spent plenty of time watching Goff play at Cal and still sees a “really high” ceiling for the second-year pro.

“Nothing that I’ve watched so far has deterred me from that same evaluation,” Olson said, per ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez. “I’m just real excited to get a chance to get with him and have a chance to work with him.”

Olson cited Goff’s “tremendous arm talent” as a departure point for guiding last year’s first-overall pick back into the light after a troubling rookie campaign that saw Goff compile an 0-7 record while completing just 54.6 percent of his jerseys cheap and throws.

“That’s the start, in my opinion,” Olson said Friday. “When you look at evaluating the position, it’s, ‘What kind of arm talent does that player have?’ Certainly a very intelligent player when you look at his test scores and what he was able to do as a student. I just think there’s a lot of intangibles that we’ve all heard about him growing up, from high school through college and the NFL. Tremendous work ethic. So, there’s a lot of things there.”

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The hope is that this new Rams coaching staff can do what Jeff Fisher’s underwhelming crew could not: develop talent on offense. Coordinator Matt LaFleur and 31-year-old head coach Sean McVay certainly accomplished that last season with Matt Ryan and Kirk Cousins, respectively.

The first order of business is finding a collection of weapons for Goff’s NFL jerseys to grow with. The Rams — for years — have done very little in terms of finding wholesale jerseys and game-changing pass-catchers, something that better change in a hurry.

While the change may seem daunting, the 69-year-old defensive mastermind added that four of the last six defenses he coached were 4-3 before he changed it to a 3-4. That includes his previous stop with the Broncos, a team that switched base formations when Phillips came over in 2015, and ended with staggeringly positive results.

Phillips was the architect of the defense that led Denver to a Super Bowl 50 championship. Despite earning the first ring in his 47-year coaching career with the Broncos in 2016, he’s ready for his next project.

“I’ve left several [teams],” Phillips said Friday regarding whether it was tough to leave Denver. “Sometimes I didn’t want to leave, sometimes it’s your choice, sometimes it’s somebody else’s choice. It’s a new challenge certainly, keeps me going. I love those guys there, but I’m gonna love these guys here too.”

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They didn’t get many last season, when Gurley was held to 3.2 (!) yards per carry while trapped on the worst offense in the NFL. We’ll have to wait until September to see if Gurley can recapture the spark from his fine rookie campaign, but for now let’s watch Gurley end some poor dude at a 24-Hour Fitness center with a devastating crossover.

I particularly enjoy the aggrieved defender’s bewildered glance at the floor moments after his fall. No sir, that is no wet spot on the court — those are tiny bone fragments from both of your China jerseys and ankles.

And shoutout to Gurley for ending the play with the deuce. As anyone who’s played in competitive gym hoops can attest, the majority of amateur slasher types have no ability to finish. Your crossover don’t mean jack unless you put the rock in the hole.

Derek Carr’s MVP buzz growing as Raiders continue to impress

Michael Crabtree stood on the sideline, looked up at the scoreboard above the north end zone and took a deep breath. The eighth-year receiver crunched the numbers: His Raiders trailed the Buffalo Bills, 24-9, with 9:01 left in the third quarter, having been manhandled by the visitors on both sides of the ball. While 54,759 fans at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum fretted over the prospect of an unexpected stumble to a fired-up underdog, Crabtree smiled and thought to himself, We’ve only just begun to fight.

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Crabtree wasn’t lying. And as the rest of the football world is starting to figure out, when you’ve got the hottest right hand in the land at your disposal, you’ve always got a puncher’s chance.

After a 15-minute, 27-second flurry in which Raiders quarterback Derek Carr buoyed his burgeoning MVP candidacy — and, more important, fueled a jaw-dropping 29-0 run that propelled Oakland to a 38-24 victory — Crabtree stood at his locker and explained the mindset of a 10-2 team that currently leads in the race for homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

“Bruh, you’ve been seeing this the whole season — we’ve been doing the same thing as we did today,” Crabtree told me, punching the air for emphasis. “When we hit a rough patch, we respond, plain and simple. When you’ve got a team like this, bruh, when you’ve got this many weapons, the sky’s the limit.”

Then Crabtree made reference to another high-profile Oakland athlete: Boxer Andre Ward, who two weeks ago fought back from a hellacious second-round knockdown to dethrone light-heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev.

“I was watching the Andre Ward fight (recently) — he was here today, too,” Crabtree said. “He got knocked down in the first part of the fight, but he just kept standing in there and came back and won. That inspired me. We’ve got the same type of drive on this team. That’s what I was thinking about when we got down today. And trust me, bruh, we didn’t flinch one time.”

At this point, the Raiders’ resilience shouldn’t be overly surprising to anyone. This was Oakland’s sixth fourth-quarter comeback of the 2016 season, a campaign which began with a dramatic road victory over the New Orleans Saints, capped by coach Jack Del Rio (aka Jack Del Huevos) making a tone-setting decision to win the game on a two-point conversion attempt.

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Now the AFC West-leading Raiders remain a game ahead of the Kansas City Chiefs — a team that handed them one of their two defeats — in advance of Thursday night’s rematch at Arrowhead Stadium. And though the 10-2 New England Patriots and defending champion Denver Broncos (8-4) will likely have plenty of influence on the race for the conference title, there are currently 53 dudes in silver and black who feel pretty good about their prospects.

After all, these aren’t your big brother’s Raiders. Last Sunday, after Carr dramatically returned from a pinkie dislocation on his throwing hand to lead Oakland to a victory over the Carolina Panthers, they clinched their first winning season since 2002, which ended with a jarring Super Bowl XXXVII defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Before the Raiders roared to life, Rex Ryan spent much of Sunday flipping the bird to his fleet of doubters. Laughed about in September as a candidate to lose his job, the Bills coach unleashed his top-ranked ground game against a Raiders defense allowing an NFL-worst 6.2 yards per play. Buffalo peaked just after the break when LeSean McCoy ripped off a 54-yard burst to set up a Tyrod Taylor scoring scramble that put Buffalo up 17-9. With 212 yards on the day at a strong 7.1 yards per pop, Buffalo used the combination of McCoy (17/130) and Mike Gillislee (8/49/2) to initially confound the Raiders, who couldn’t counter Shady’s patience and zigzagging magic or Gillislee’s straight-ahead hammer drops. Oakland tightened up down the stretch, though, to force three straight punts before Defensive Player of the Year candidate Khalil Mack nipped Taylor’s arm on a fourth-quarter lob that landed in the arms of safety Nate Allen. The Raiders scored four plays later to put this tilt on ice.

Michael Crabtree has been a revelation for the Raiders, but the wideout hurt the team in the second quarter by dropping a would-be touchdown pass two plays before he was flagged for taunting, a gaffe that forced Oakland to settle for a field goal. Still, Crabtree (7/74/1) made up for it with a pretty third-quarter grab in the back of the end zone to galvanize Buffalo’s demise.

Oakland’s ground game is led by Latavius Murray (20/82/2), but sign us up for more action from Jalen Richard, the undrafted rookie who gave the Raiders life with a handful of key bursts down the stretch. Murray spun his own gold, scoring twice to become the first Raiders back with 10-plus rushing touchdowns in a season since Marcus Allen in 1990.

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Nike Raiders #81 Tim Brown Black Men's Stitched NFL Elite Pro Line Gold Collection JerseyIt’s tough to call Carr the league MVP when Alex Smith has outplayed him in two head-to-head meetings. While Smith turned the ball over after halftime, it was his big plays early that put the Chiefs in front. Kansas City won for the first time in 44 years with a negative-three turnover differential because their playmakers — from Tyreek Hill to Travis Kelce to cornerback Marcus Peters and pass rusher Justin Houston — all came up big. Unheralded cornerbacks like Terrance Mitchell and Steven Nelson played huge roles.

Oakland’s young leaders, on the other hand, came up short. Amari Cooper failed to track a long pass from Carr that could have resulted in a touchdown. Cooper told reporters that the ball moved on him at the last second. That wasn’t the only odd look from Cooper on a night when he was targeted 10 times and only wound up with five catches for 29 yards. In a season that has included so much good fortune, it felt like everything that could go wrong did go wrong for the Raiders.

“Everything about tonight was unusual, to be honest,” Carr said. “To have our defense step up for us and make plays like that and for us to go out and not execute. You know, do things that we don’t do.”

This result is hardly a death sentence for Oakland’s Super Bowl chances, but the 10-3 team relinquished control of the AFC West to the Chiefs, who hold the tiebreaker over Oakland after the season sweep. The Raiders and Chiefs both have three tricky games left, so this race has a long way to go. The defending Super Bowl champion Broncos are only one loss back and they face both teams in the coming weeks.

While the Broncos and Chiefs have plenty of playoff race experience, these are entirely new circumstances for this young Raiders squad. Carr admitted that the Raiders were “punched in the mouth” Thursday and now they have to respond.

For an organization that hasn’t sniffed the playoffs since 2002, no one said that just winning, baby was going to be easy.

John Harbaugh: Steve Smith welcome back for 2017

Watching Steve Smith haul in his 1,000th career catch on Sunday, it’s natural to wonder if the ageless wide receiver might consider delaying retirement for a second straight year.

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Still playing at a high level at age 37, Smith filled a highlight reel with a beautiful, toe-dragging sideline grab, several mad dashes after the catch and a tight-window touchdown reception versus the Dallas Cowboys in Week 11.

Along with perennial Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda, Smith has been Baltimore’s most valuable offensive player this year. The Ravens are 5-2 in seven games he has started and finished — and winless in the two games he missed with an ankle injury and cheap jerseys.

Coach John Harbaugh conceded Monday that the thought of luring Smith back to Baltimore for a 17th NFL season has “crossed my mind, of course.”

“If he wants to come back, he’s welcome. Absolutely,” Harbaugh continued. “You like every good football player you can get. But I don’t want to speak for Steve. He’s had an unbelievably awesome career.”

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Harbaugh isn’t alone in delivering that message. Fellow wideout Mike Wallace revealed that he pitched the idea of another season or two after Smith celebrated his career milestone on Sunday.

Although Wallace noted that Smith is a “special player and a special person with wholesale jerseys,” he acknowledged that the former Carolina Panthers star will “probably” retire.

“But if anybody can keep playing, it’s him,” Wallace added.

Smith is now eighth all-time in receiving yards (14,448) and 13th in receptions (1,005). Anyone who has witnessed his game-wrecking ability year-in and year-out for the past two decades understands his ticket is already punched for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Ravens quarterback returned to practice on Friday after sitting out sessions all week and was listed as questionable on the team’s injury report. Flacco has been dealing with a right shoulder injury he sustained in Sunday’s loss to the Giants.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh told reporters it was “encouraging” to see Flacco at practice, but wouldn’t speculate if the quarterback would be a game-time decision for Sunday.

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Flacco’s presence at Friday’s practice reinforces his claim earlier in the week that the shoulder ailment was “nothing to worry about”.

Nike Ravens #5 Joe Flacco Purple Player Pullover NFL HoodieWith the Jets on Baltimore’s docket this week, Flacco would rue missing the opportunity to slice and dice a New York secondary prone to the deep ball. Minor shoulder soreness shouldn’t hold the Ravens quarterback out of this one.

Let’s be fair: If J.J. Watt released a statement like this, he’d get destroyed by every sports blog in existence. Suggs deserves similar ribbing for this strange bravado, as do the Ravens for calling attention to it like it was Al Pacino speech in Any Given Sunday or something. “This may be a season-ending injury for someone else, but it’s not season-ending for a Raven jersey”? Wha?

This might be a call-back to Ravens great Ray Lewis playing through his final season — one that ended with a Super Bowl win over the 49ers — with torn triceps, which, I guess, is in the biceps territory of the upper arm. That said, you can safely assume multiple guys play through similar injuries every season. I’m pretty sure the Ravens haven’t cornered the market on grit.

And what’s this “I come from an era” stuff? Suggs was born in 1982. He began his career in 2003. When we think of the “When Men Were Men” bromide, do we really conjure up memories about the mid-aughts of the NFL?

“It’s most definitely a pain tolerance thing,” Suggs told reporters on Tuesday. “But it’s also a win tolerance thing. How much do you want to win with NFL jerseys?”

Shouldn’t it be lose tolerance? Oh forget it.