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Everything you need to know about the Alliance of American Football
Who’s in this new league? Where can I watch? What are the major rules differences? We’re answering every question.

Steve Spurrier ready to bring the fun to Alliance of American Football
The Head Ball Coach is back, this time as the star attraction for the Orlando Apollos. And while it may be a new league, it’s going to be the same high-flying offense he’s known for.

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Players aren’t getting rich — not on their three-year, non-guaranteed contracts worth $250,000. But it is a potential path back to a more lucrative payday. For the majority of the 416 players on the eight AAF rosters, they hold out hope of one day reaching the NFL again or getting there for the first time.

Almost everyone here — coaches, players, general managers and even co-founder Bill Polian — has been waived, fired or gone unsigned during their football careers. At some point, the NFL told them they were not good enough.

And yet, they still want to play.

“That’s why I call this league ‘football in its purest form,’ because money hasn’t affected this the way it does in professional football or other sports,” said San Diego coach Mike Martz, one of the few with little desire to return to the NFL. “It’s just enough. You’re playing this game because you love this game, and you like to keep playing it.

“That’s why I think it’s the purest. There’s no other influences other than the pure love for this game.”

Denard Robinson was home in Jacksonville, Florida. NFL teams stopped calling a long time ago. Once a star quarterback at Michigan, Robinson converted to running back because he wasn’t an accurate enough passer and the league had yet to embrace the type of offense in which he thrived with the Wolverines.

Robinson lasted four NFL seasons, but he hadn’t played since his rookie contract with Jacksonville ended in 2016. He had workouts — notably with Chicago and the Jets in 2017, where he said New York tried converting him to cornerback — but no one signed him. He appeared retired even if he wasn’t.

Denard Robinson rushed for 1,058 yards and five touchdowns over four seasons with the Jaguars. Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports
Then his agent called and told him about an upstart league. He was unsure. The CFL had called, but he had turned them down. The combination of pay, tax rates and being in Canada, far from his young son, was not palatable. This new opportunity was closer. The money was decent. But he knew nothing about the AAF.

The 28-year-old was sick of sitting on his couch in Florida and flying to Michigan to do the occasional appearance. Yet Robinson wasn’t fully ready to pursue post-playing plans. He had sketched out potential playbooks to use if he pursued coaching and had written his thoughts and memories down for a potential book about his life and his time at Michigan, where he’s still revered.

He was still uneasy about it.

“Started writing down a lot of stuff and, look, you have a chance to play football again and get paid for it, something you always dreamed about,” Robinson said. “Even though it’s not the NFL, it’s something. Something you could do for four months, and if it’s not what you want to do for the next two, three years, then get into your life.”

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Reason to be excited: Sean McVay. The second-year coach never has coached on a stage of this magnitude, but over two seasons, the offensive wunderkind has proved his innate leadership ability and willingness to evolve as a playcaller. McVay’s offense is full of weapons, including a much-improved quarterback in Goff, a dynamic duo in Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson, and two 1,000-plus-yard receivers in Cooks and Woods. And recently, he has found a way to keep defenses on edge in utilizing every single one of them. Goff was 7-of-7 for 107 yards when targeting Cooks in the NFC Championship Game. — Lindsey Thiry

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Reason to be concerned: Experience. There’s no telling how a team of young playmakers will react when they take the field for the biggest game of their careers. They showed their poise in a divisional-round win and in the NFC Championship Game, but Cooks and cornerback Aqib Talib are the only offensive and defensive starters with Super Bowl experience. — Thiry

Rams will win if …: they avoid turnovers. A common denominator in all three of the Rams’ regular-season losses were turnovers by Goff; he threw an interception against the Saints, threw four against the Bears and was responsible for two turnovers in a loss to the Eagles. If Goff can take care of the football, the Rams can win the Super Bowl. — Thiry

X factor: Woods caught 86 passes for 1,219 yards during the regular season. He also added six scores in a system that fits his skill set. Look for Woods to show up running intermediate cuts off the Rams’ early-down play-action concepts, while also creating separation on deep crossing routes. And when Goff can throw in rhythm, Woods will find the open voids in the coverage to move the sticks. He’s a slick route runner with the toughness to make plays inside the numbers versus both zone and man coverage. — Bowen

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Patriots’ best chance to win: Run the ball and keep Patrick Mahomes off the field. As easy a time as Tom Brady had Sunday, a big reason the Patriots were so dominant was their Sony Michel-led run game, which helped bleed off the first quarter before Philip Rivers even took the field. New England had the fifth-most rushing yards and the fourth-most rushing touchdowns in the league this season. The Patriots averaged a time of possession of 32 minutes, 21 seconds in their wins and 28:17 in their losses. Against Mahomes, who had 50 touchdown passes this season, and a Chiefs run game that rolled up 180 yards in Saturday’s home playoff victory over the Colts, it’s vital the Patriots control the ball, the clock and the game with their offense.

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Chiefs’ best chance to win: Well, based on Sunday, it’s obviously not “load up on defensive backs, sit back in an insanely soft zone and let Brady pick you apart as if he’s playing on a football-toss machine at Dave & Buster’s.” That didn’t work too well for the Chargers. No, the Chiefs’ best chance to win is to do what they did Saturday and play out of their minds on defense. Kansas City was able to pressure Andrew Luck just enough (especially considering how hard that was to do in 2018) while their corners covered as well as they have all season. If Kansas City’s defense can crank it up at home again the way it did in the divisional round, the Chiefs will make it a lot tougher on the Patriots than the Chargers did. But that isn’t saying much.

Stat to know: Chiefs coach Andy Reid is 1-4 all-time in conference championship games — all in the NFC while he was coaching the Eagles, and none since 2008. Patriots coach Bill Belichick, meanwhile, is 8-4 all-time in conference championship games (all with the Patriots). Belichick will be coaching in his eighth consecutive AFC Championship Game and has won the past two.

Bottom line: The game is at Kansas City, not Foxborough, Massachusetts, and that could make the difference. During the Brady/Belichick era, the Patriots are 20-3 in postseason home games, but just 3-4 in playoff games as the visiting team. They haven’t won a road playoff game and the Super Bowl in the same season since 2004. The past two times they played an AFC Championship Game on the road, they lost — in Denver three and five years ago. This season, the Patriots are 9-0 at home and 3-5 on the road, including double-digit losses at Jacksonville, Detroit and Tennessee. The Chiefs are 8-1 at home. When they faced the Patriots in Week 6, it was in Foxborough, and New England beat them 43-40 on a last-second field goal in a game that featured 30 combined fourth-quarter points. This should be a classic rematch, and the fact that it’s in the Chiefs’ building would seem to give them a chance to slay the league’s most fearsome January dragon.

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Mack finished the Eagles game with two quarterback hits, and the Eagles did little running the football, but the Bears’ pass-rushers were anonymous by their usual lofty standards. Mack spent most of the game matched up against Jason Peters on the left side — by my count, 25 of Mack’s 40 snaps against Eagles pass attempts came with him on the edge against Peters — but the legendary Eagles left tackle held his own. Perhaps curiously, the Bears chose to line up Mack on the interior only twice, with zero snaps pitting Mack directly against Eagles left guard Isaac Seumalo, the weakest point of the Philadelphia offensive line. Both snaps with Mack inside Floyd produced Foles incompletions.
Nick Foles completed 25 of 40 passes for 266 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions against the Bears. Photo by Tannen Maury, EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock
Pressure did produce a truly awful interception from a scrambling Foles, one of two picks from the 29-year-old on the day. The other throw was perhaps more frustrating, with a Foles checkdown placed on the wrong side of Wendell Smallwood’s body. Smallwood should have been able to shield the ball from Roquan Smith, who ripped it away for the interception, but if Foles places the ball on the opposite hip, Smallwood either catches it or the pass falls incomplete.

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Otherwise, Foles was very good given the circumstances. He picked on All-Pro corner Kyle Fuller early with throws to Zach Ertz and Alshon Jeffery, who finished his revenge game with six catches for 82 yards. Forgotten trade acquisition Golden Tate finished with five catches for 46 yards, including a deep post where Foles managed to thread a throw between triple coverage and the game-winning fourth-down pass on a quick out.

Both plays capitalized on missing Bears starters. Chicago finished the season as one of the healthiest defenses in football, but its two missing regulars in the secondary would have made a difference. While star safety Eddie Jackson was active after missing the final two weeks of the regular season with an ankle injury, the Alabama product never saw the field. Cornerback Sherrick McManis, who took over in the slot after Bryce Callahan hit injured reserve in December, was the player Tate beat for the game-winning touchdown.

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New Year’s resolution: Surround Tom Brady with more explosive playmakers. The Patriots made 26 transactions at wide receiver since 2017 training camp began, which reflected their struggles to decisively address the position. That put more of the burden on the 41-year-old Brady, who invested heavily in bringing along Josh Gordon before the receiver was lost to an indefinite NFL suspension in mid-December. — Mike Reiss
7. Houston Texans (11-5)
Week 17 ranking: 7

New Year’s resolution: Make the offensive line the priority in free agency and the NFL draft so you can ensure Deshaun Watson is able to remain on the field. The Texans gave up an NFL-high 62 sacks in the regular season. Watson has been sacked 81 times in 23 career games; he can’t continue to take that kind of beating. The Texans need to bring in an offensive lineman in free agency and target one of the top offensive tackles in the draft. — Turron Davenport
8. Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
Week 17 ranking: 8

New Year’s resolution: Develop Lamar Jackson as a passer. There’s no question Jackson is an electric runner and a poised leader. The next step in Jackson’s evolution is in the passing game. In seven starts, Jackson completed 58.2 percent of this passes, throwing five touchdowns and three interceptions (82.6 passer rating). With a full offseason, teams are going to pick apart Baltimore’s dominant rushing attack. To counter that, Jackson has to become more consistent with his throws. — Jamison Hensley

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9. Seattle Seahawks (10-6)
Week 17 ranking: 9

New Year’s resolution: Tighten things up on defense. One of the hallmarks of Pete Carroll’s Seahawks teams has been that they rarely give up big gains, but that hasn’t been the case this season. The Seahawks have allowed 5.92 yards per play, easily the most in any of Carroll’s nine seasons in Seattle and almost a full yard more than they allowed in 2017. Adding a playmaker at safety or linebacker this offseason would help, but the Seahawks will need the improvement to come from within during the playoffs, especially if they run into a big-play offense such as that of the Rams or Saints. — Brady Henderson
10. Indianapolis Colts (10-6)
Week 17 ranking: 10

New Year’s resolution: Acquire a complementary receiver to go with T.Y. Hilton. The Colts’ second-best receiver has been tight end Eric Ebron, who had a team-high 13 touchdown catches during the regular season. Dontrelle Inman, who was signed after Week 6 because of injuries at the position, moved all the way up to the No. 2 receiver by late in the season. But he turns 30 at the end of January. Getting a young No. 2 receiver — or one just as good as Hilton — will make an already impressive offense that finished sixth overall even better. — Mike Wells
11. Dallas Cowboys (10-6)
Week 17 ranking: 12

New Year’s resolution: Reach a long-term deal with DeMarcus Lawrence. The Cowboys wanted Lawrence to prove he was not a one-hit wonder after he recorded 14.5 sacks in 2017, so they placed the franchise tag on him. He answered in 2018 with another Pro Bowl season and 10.5 more sacks. The Cowboys have a history of keeping their own players off the market, and Jerry Jones has sought a “war daddy” pass-rusher since DeMarcus Ware’s departure. Lawrence has shown he is one of the best pass-rushers in the league, and the Cowboys will have the cap room necessary to keep him. — Todd Archer

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SEATTLE — The Seattle Seahawks are headed back to the playoffs.

An outcome that few predicted after a massive reshuffling of the roster this offseason became a certainty Sunday with the Seahawks’ 38-31 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs at CenturyLink Field. That clinched a wild-card berth for Seattle, which is sitting in the NFC’s fifth spot and can lock that up with a win over the Arizona Cardinals in next Sunday’s regular-season finale.

The Chiefs (11-4) would have clinched the AFC West and the conference’s No. 1 seed by beating Seattle. But the Seahawks (9-6) pulled off an upset behind three touchdowns from Russell Wilson, two on the ground from Chris Carson and a strong first half from the rebuilt defense.

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It will be the Seahawks’ seventh playoff appearance in Pete Carroll’s nine seasons in Seattle. According to ESPN Stats & Information, only the New England Patriots have more in that span, with nine. The Seahawks made the playoffs only 10 times in the 34 seasons before Carroll and general manager John Schneider arrived in 2010.

The victory Sunday capped another comeback from an 0-2 start. Since the NFL expanded its playoff format to 12 participants in 1990, only 28 teams through 2017 had reached the postseason after starting 0-2. One of those teams was the 2015 Seahawks.

“There’s an emotion to it that’s deep, and it’s because there wasn’t very many people that thought we could do this,” Carroll said, sharing a sentiment that was repeated in some form by several players in the locker room. “Most everybody thought we didn’t have a chance.”

The win that put the 2018 Seahawks in the playoffs was arguably their most impressive of the season. The Chiefs, who still own the AFC’s best record, opened as 2.5-point road favorites and came to Seattle averaging a league-best 35.6 points per game.

Seattle’s defense, with one starter in free safety Tedric Thompson missing and several more banged up, held MVP front-runner Patrick Mahomes & Co. in check through two quarters. The Seahawks took a 14-10 halftime lead with the help of two takeaways, both via forced fumbles that Seattle recovered. The first set up Wilson’s go-ahead touchdown throw to tight end Nick Vannett, and the second thwarted a Chiefs scoring opportunity at the end of the second quarter.

Carson gave the Seahawks a 7-0 lead on their first possession with a 4-yard touchdown run. He finished with 116 yards on 27 carries to become Seattle’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Marshawn Lynch in 2014. That capped his comeback from the leg injury that ended his promising rookie season after four games last year.

“If you remember, I told you guys he was the most well-conditioned guy that showed up when we returned in April,” Carroll said of Carson. “There was nobody that was more fit, nobody was more ready for the work. I don’t know how he did it, but he’s just unbelievable, and that commitment that he has, it carried through the whole season.”

The deterioration of the Seahawks’ post-Lynch running game was among the leading reasons they finished 9-7 last season and missed out on the playoffs for the first time since 2011. They had finished between first and fourth in rushing from 2012 through 2015 before they dropped to 25th and 23rd the past two seasons.

The Seahawks, back atop the league in the category this season, produced 210 yards on the ground (including two kneel-downs for minus-2 yards) and an average of 4.9 yards Sunday night. They were without right tackle Germain Ifedi because of a groin injury and lost left guard J.R. Sweezy to what Carroll called a sprained ankle in the first half. That forced D.J. Fluker and his not completely healed hamstring into the game, which moved Ethan Pocic from right guard to left guard.

“It’s a lot going on,” left tackle Duane Brown said. “We still managed to get 212 yards rushing against a pretty good defense. That just says a lot about us, man. It says a lot about our backs.”

The Chiefs tied the game at 17 in the third quarter when Mahomes delivered a sidearm throw while running to his right for a 25-yard touchdown to Charcandrick West. The Chiefs cut Seattle’s lead to 31-28 late in the fourth quarter, when Mahomes hit Demarcus Robinson for his third TD, then ran in a two-point try.

That’s when the Seahawks answered with a playoff-worthy drive. Tyler Lockett hauled in an over-the-shoulder catch on a floating pass from Wilson for 45 yards. After taking a sack for a 9-yard loss, Wilson lofted a deep ball that Doug Baldwin hauled in with one hand for 29 yards. Carson punched it in from a yard out to make it 38-28 Seahawks.

Kansas City drove for a field goal, then tried an unsuccessful onside kick that went out of bounds.

Wilson finished 18-of-29 passing for 271 yards and a 127.2 rating. His other touchdowns were to Baldwin and tight end Ed Dickson. Baldwin finished with seven catches for 126 yards on 12 targets, all season highs. He said again that this season has been “hell” for him because of all the injuries he has dealt with, but it has been trending in the right direction, with all five of his touchdowns coming in his past five games.

“I’ve never seen Doug play better than that,” Carroll said. “I just thought he was magnificent.”

Wilson’s three touchdowns gave him 34 on the season, tying the career high he set in 2015 and matched in 2017. He now has 195 for his career, tied with Dave Krieg for the most in franchise history.

Seattle’s first takeaway came on a fumble that defensive end Dion Jordan forced and defensive tackle Jarran Reed recovered. Cornerback Justin Coleman and strong safety Delano Hill teamed up for the second forced fumble and recovery. The Seahawks now have the NFL’s best turnover differential at plus-14.

“We have all the tools, man,” said linebacker K.J. Wright, who played for the first time since Week 10 because of a knee injury that also kept him out of the first six games. “We have all the tools. Great running game, Russell’s still leading the way, Doug is shining, and this defense is outstanding, creating turnovers. That’s what it takes. That’s the winning formula. Run the ball and play good defense.”

Wright called it “a smack in the face” to see preseason projections that had the Seahawks winning only four or five games. Some were that pessimistic about Seattle’s chances because of the absences or departures of a handful of the greatest players in franchise history.

Seattle lost Kam Chancellor to a career-ending neck injury in November 2017, released Richard Sherman in the offseason and lost Earl Thomas to a broken leg in September. Those three plus Michael Bennett (released), Cliff Avril (injured) and Sheldon Richardson (free agency) added up to six Pro Bowlers gone from Seattle’s defense.

The Seahawks also let offensive starters Jimmy Graham and Paul Richardson, among others, sign elsewhere without making any splash additions in free agency.

Yet here they are, back in the playoffs.

“Not too many people saw us coming to this, being in the playoffs, but the guys in this group believed we could make it, the leaders led the way, and the young guys followed,” Wright said. “So I’m really proud of this team. This feels really good to make it to the playoffs.

“And we’re just getting started. We’ve got a lot to do. It’s just the beginning.”

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Leonard Williams knows exactly what the stat sheet shows from the New York Jets’ last game, and he realizes how it looks to some fans and media.

The big defensive end played 65 of 77 snaps in the 21-17 loss at Cleveland — and didn’t register a single statistic.

No tackles, no sacks, no quarterback hits. Not even a pass defenced. But there was plenty of criticism of arguably the Jets’ best all-around defensive player.

“I just simply didn’t get much action,” Williams said Friday. “That’s pretty much it. In the run game, I was in my gap. It wasn’t like I was getting blown off the ball and was just playing bad. I’m setting the gap and I’m in my B-gap, and the ball goes the opposite way. In pass-rushing situations, I’m getting double-teamed or the ball comes out quick. It just happens like that sometimes. You’re not always going to get all the action in every game.

“I definitely wasn’t worried about the stat sheet.”

That said, he understands why some are.

Williams is in his fourth NFL season after being the Jets’ first-round pick — No. 6 overall — in 2015. He has 12 career sacks, but only two in his last 22 games and none in his last seven. That has raised eyebrows, with some wondering when — or, if — Williams will have the big-time breakout so many anticipated by now.

“That’s the reason why fans go to games, they want to see the big plays, they want to see the sacks, the touchdowns, the hoorah moments,” Williams said. “If you’re looking at a guy you’re expecting to make those type of moments, and it’s not happening, it’s natural for a fan feel that way.”

New York has eight sacks this season, tying for 10th in the NFL, but Williams doesn’t have any. Well, he actually did have a half-sack when he and Avery Williamson took down Miami’s Ryan Tannehill in Week 3, but it was nullified by a penalty.

“That’s kind of disappointing, but at the same time, it’s driving me to get that first one even more,” Williams said. “I know they come in bunches, so once I start getting them, they’re going to keep coming, so I’m definitely hungry to get after it.”

Opposing offences have clearly singled him out in their game plans, intent on not letting him be the guy to punish their quarterbacks.

“Yeah, it started last year, too, so I try to work on beating double-teams,” Williams said. “I’m not making an excuse about it and I try not to say, ‘Oh, because I’m getting double-teamed, that’s why I’m not this and this and this.’ Instead, I’m trying to figure out how to beat a double-team.”

That’s a work in progress, and he’s certainly getting plenty of practice in games.

Also, the statistics might not show the entire story.

In the Jets’ defensive line room, the players have a fines system in which they get dinged for what Williams calls “stupid, silly stuff.” They can have the amount they owe knocked down a bit for examples of what they classify as “hidden production.”

“If I’m running with the outside backer and I pick the guy really good for him and he comes free and makes the sack,” Williams explained, “that’s a ‘hidden-production’ type of thing.”

While the Jets don’t keep actual stats on “hidden production,” it helps explain why coach Todd Bowles gave Williams a positive grade for his game against Cleveland.

“I thought they tried to double him a lot and he got to the quarterback when the ball was out,” the coach said. “He took the pressure off the other guys. They sent two or three guys at him almost every other play, but Leonard caused a lot of other people to make plays and that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. I’m happy with what he did.”

Make no mistake: Williams would like to have some tackles and sacks next to his name. For now, Williams isn’t putting extra pressure on himself or getting frustrated. He’s focused on making sure he’s doing his job at all times so that the film proves it when the team gathers.

“I’m not going to say that stats don’t matter completely,” he said. “I’m just saying that if there’s a game where I didn’t get as much stats as I wanted to, it depends on how I looked on film. If I didn’t get stats, but I looked good on film — I was in my right spot, I was doing what I was supposed to do, I didn’t have any mental errors and I’m helping the other guys get freed up — then that’s a good game to me.

“But, if I didn’t have any stats and I’m playing bad, then that’s a different story, and I’m going to be really hard on myself. At the same time, we’re all players and production matters in any type of job. I clearly want the stats, but if I’m watching film and it just didn’t work out that way, I’m not going to beat myself up about it if I did I was supposed to do.”

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — The Green Bay Packers might get injured inside linebacker Oren Burks back for their game Sunday against the Washington Redskins.

The rookie appeared to be in line to open the season as the starter inside alongside Blake Martinez when he hurt his shoulder during warmups before a preseason game last month in Oakland.

He was cleared on Wednesday to return to practice as a full participant.

Depth has also been replenished at running back, where Aaron Jones figures to return on Sunday after missing the season’s first two games after being suspended by the NFL for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

At the least, the returns of Burks and Jones will help the Packers on special teams. They have each shown the talent to contribute in other ways too.

Jones, who was also bothered by a hamstring injury in the preseason, ran for 448 yards and four touchdowns on 81 carries last year. He had two 100-yard games, including 125 and a score on 19 carries in a win at Dallas on Oct. 8.

Coach Mike McCarthy has said that Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery will remain atop the depth chart. Jones gives the Packers another option in the backfield with his slashing ability.

“Give the defence a little bit more to worry about,” Williams said Thursday. “Aaron’s just a sparkplug, really. He’s always trying to open holes, especially if one’s closed, he’ll find another one really and bounce it outside.”

A third-round pick out of Vanderbilt, Burks moved up the depth chart after Jake Ryan was lost for the year in training camp with a torn ACL. The Packers traded for Antonio Morrison from the Colts to help with depth at inside linebacker after Burks went down. They also picked up Korey Toomer and James Crawford before the season started.

Burks remains atop the depth chart inside next to Martinez, having raised his profile during the preseason.

“We’ll see what the week brings us, McCarthy said before practice on Thursday. “You could see him progressing through training camp, so it will be great to get him back out there.”

Burks played inside linebacker and safety in college. His experience in coverage could help against the Redskins and running back Chris Thompson, who leads Washington with 19 receptions.

RODGERS UPDATE

McCarthy expected quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who is playing with a left knee injury, to follow a practice plan similar to last week before the Vikings game. Saturday was the only day that Rodgers practiced last week. He played well, especially considering the injury, completing 30 of 42 passes for 281 yards and a touchdown in the 29-29 tie with Minnesota.

This week, McCarthy gave the whole team off from practice on Wednesday and elected to do a walkthrough instead, feeling that his players could use a break after a season-opening night game followed by the overtime game against Minnesota. Rodgers was due to focus on rehab on Thursday.

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ALLEN PARK, Mich. — The Detroit Lions waived running back Zach Zenner from the reserve-injured list.

Detroit made the move Wednesday as it prepared to play at San Francisco.

Zenner hurt his back against Cleveland in the preseason finale.

He earned a spot on the Lions’ roster as an undrafted rookie in 2015. He emerged as Detroit’s No. 1 running back in 2016 when he closed the regular season with more than 200 yards of offence over the last two games.

Zenner had 420 yards rushing and five touchdowns along with 20 receptions for 207 yards in 28 games over three seasons with the Lions.

At South Dakota State, he became the first Division I running back to have for 2,000 yards rushing in three straight seasons.

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CINCINNATI — The Bengals put quarterback Matt Barkley on injured reserve, leaving Jeff Driskel as the backup to Andy Dalton heading into the season.

Barkley hurt his left knee during the Bengals’ preseason finale Thursday night against Indianapolis. Kemoko Turay hit Barkley in the legs after he threw a pass, drawing a roughing-the-passer penalty. Barkley left to get the knee examined and didn’t return.

Driskel is a third-year player who broke the thumb on his passing had in the final preseason game last year and sat out the season. He has never appeared in an NFL game. The Bengals also waived seventh-round pick Logan Woodside, who is eligible to be signed to the practice squad if he clears waivers on Sunday.

The backup quarterback spot opened when AJ McCarron won his grievance and became a free agent after last season.

The Bengals also released 10th-year defensive end Michael Johnson as part of their moves to get down to the 53-man limit, although it could be a temporary separation. Johnson becomes a free agent and could re-sign with Cincinnati for lesser money.

Johnson has played all but one of his nine seasons with Cincinnati. He led the defensive line with 49 tackles and five sacks last season. The Bengals have infused young pass rushers into their rotation, including Carl Lawson and Jordan Willis.

Coach Marvin Lewis described Johnson as “one of those pillars who has been here and given everything he can.” Lewis indicated the Bengals are open to his return as they shape the roster over the next few days.

The move with Johnson came four days after the Bengals gave multiyear extensions to defensive end Carlos Dunlap and tackle Geno Atkins. The deals would pay more than $100 million combined if all terms are met.

The Bengals allowed cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones to leave as a free agent in the off-season and released safety George Iloka, making the defence younger while saving money. Jones signed with Denver, and Iloka signed with Minnesota.

H-back Ryan Hewitt and centre T.J. Johnson also were released on Saturday. Hewitt was primarily a blocker — no carries and two catches last season — while Johnson became expendable when the Bengals drafted centre Billy Price in the first round.

Linebacker Vontaze Burfict went on the suspended list. He’ll miss the first four games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances, the third year in a row that he’s suspended for the start of a season.

Cincinnati opens the season on Sunday, Sept. 9 at Indianapolis, which expects to have Andrew Luck back at quarterback for the first time in more than 20 months. Luck has recovered from a shoulder injury that required surgery.

The teams played in the regular season last year as well, with the Bengals winning 24-23 at Paul Brown Stadium on Dunlap’s interception return for a touchdown.