NFL Week 15 preview: Live updates, schedule, news, playoff standings and highlights

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The Athletic's NFL experts and insiders run through all the latest news, storylines and more.

Jeff Howe, Dianna Russini, Mike Sando and The Athletic NFL Staff

December 13, 2023 at 11:30 AM EST

 Live updates, schedule, news, playoff standings and highlights

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NFL Week 15: Power rankings, schedule, odds and playoff standings

Lions’ path to NFL playoffs: Detroit may see familiar foe in wild-card round

We’re on to NFL Week 15, so it’s time for another peek at the Detroit Lions’ playoff outlook.

The Lions (9-4) didn’t help themselves with a 28-13 loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday, but their playoff/NFC North odds weren’t drastically altered, either. According to the New York Times’ playoff simulator, the Lions still have a 99 percent chance to make the playoffs and a 91 percent chance to win the NFC North, based on 206,000 simulations.

That said, the season is far from over, and the Lions have to hold up their end of the bargain and finish on a high note to ultimately accomplish their goals for this season. Let’s take a look at what they must do to win the NFC North, which seeds they’re in the mix for and who they might face come January.

 Detroit may see familiar foe in wild-card round

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Lions’ path to NFL playoffs: Detroit may see familiar foe in wild-card round

Jets 2024 roster projection: Who’ll be back, who won’t and who’s on the bubble

The New York Jets got an impressive win over the Houston Texans in Week 14, but that doesn’t erase what has otherwise felt like a lost season done in by poor quarterback play and an inept offense. Those 30 points (all in the second half) against Houston are nice, but where was that all season?

So now the Jets are 5-8, still with a less than 1 percent chance of making the postseason, according to New York Times’ playoff simulator. They are projected for the No. 8 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. So, more than likely, that’ll be 13 straight years without a playoff bid — but the Aaron Rodgers factor should allow most of the key figures (Robert Saleh, Joe Douglas, Nathaniel Hackett) to keep their jobs.

The wasted 2023 season is a shame: This is one of the more talented rosters the Jets have fielded in a long time, especially on defense. Few teams have as many young, or potential, stars as the Jets (even if most of them are on defense).

For a variety of reasons, the roster won’t look drastically different in 2024, outside of a few positions. That’s namely on offense, since the Jets have one of the worst in the league this season.

The Jets still have their pride to play for in 2023, and maybe they can carry some momentum into 2024 with a few wins. But considering where things stand, with playoff hopes practically nonexistent, this felt like the right time to take a look at the Jets’ roster and figure out who will be back in 2024, who won’t — and who will be playing for jobs next year over these last four games.

So we’ll start the conversation here: How many players on the active roster or injured reserve are in the Jets’ 2024 plans?

 Who’ll be back, who won’t and who’s on the bubble

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Jets 2024 roster projection: Who’ll be back, who won’t and who’s on the bubble

Bill Belichick dodges questions on his future: 'Getting ready for Kansas City'

 'Getting ready for Kansas City'

USA Today Sports

As speculation ramps up about Bill Belichick’s future with the Patriots, the head coach dodged three questions Wednesday morning about what could come with the same answer each time.

“Getting ready for Kansas City,” he said when asked about whether he’ll return to the Pats, whether he wants to keep coaching, and whether he has a plan made with Robert Kraft.

That’s not all that surprising. Belichick has dodged questions he didn’t want to answer similarly going back a decade. Remember “We’re on to Cincinnati?”

But there’s no escaping that these questions will persist. After Robert Kraft signaled before the season that he wants this season to end with a playoff win, the Patriots are 3-10 and were eliminated from playoff contention earlier than any season in the Belichick era. They’re headed now for a losing season for the third time in the four years since Tom Brady left.

After the season, a decision between Kraft and Belichick looms.

How Steelers WR Allen Robinson is hoping to guide teammates Diontae Johnson and George Pickens

Allen Robinson II looks at fellow Pittsburgh Steelers wide receivers Diontae Johnson and George Pickens and sees something quite familiar.

Robinson sees himself about six or eight years ago: an uber-talented, highly drafted wide receiver who was worried about one thing and one thing alone — statistics. After a second season in which Robinson put up 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns for the Jacksonville Jaguars, it didn’t matter that his team had gone 5-11.

A big contract and more productive seasons were followed by more losing, but Robinson didn’t care because he was regarded as one of the best receivers in the league.

Sound familiar? Sound like Johnson and Pickens?

In a few years, Robinson has gone from a top receiver to a role player. That’s how fast things can happen. Now with the Steelers after an April trade brought him over from the Los Angeles Rams, Robinson’s role as a slot receiver has transformed into more grunt work than anything else. And he couldn’t be happier.

Read more here.

Allen Robinson was once like Diontae Johnson and George Pickens. Then he grew up

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Allen Robinson was once like Diontae Johnson and George Pickens. Then he grew up

Sean Payton cited Lions’ ’22 turnaround as a reason for hope, then followed its script

The Denver Broncos were 1-5 when Sean Payton greeted reporters after a Wednesday practice in the middle of October. The fifth loss in six games to open the season had just come against the Kansas City Chiefs, and despite the odds suggesting their season was far more likely to earn a high draft selection than a playoff berth, Payton was encouraged.

He saw signs that Denver’s defense was healing after its embarrassing start. Though quarterback Russell Wilson was coming off his worst game of the season in the 19-8 defeat against the Chiefs, he was largely pleased with how the veteran quarterback was piloting the offense overall, and he saw a rushing attack that was beginning to find its stride. He also saw a path the Broncos could follow, one that had been trotted by a former assistant one year earlier.

“A year ago, I watched Detroit as a media member, covering a handful of tough losses,” Payton said, recalling his stint last season as an analyst with Fox. “They were 1-6. I know (Lions coach) Dan (Campbell) well, and you keep fighting. There’s a grit element involved. Some mental toughness that’s involved. Pretty soon, here they are at the end of the season. They were eliminated before (they played their final game), but they were in contention. Here they are now as one of those (contending) teams. We’re kind of in that position. We’re bowing up, and we have to.”

The comparison from Payton was met with skepticism that day, the memories of a 50-point loss by Denver less than a month earlier still fresh. The schedule was only getting tougher, and the Broncos still didn’t look like a team ready to peel off a long, winning run. Yet, here the Broncos are, winners of six of their past seven games and firmly in position to crash the playoff field as they head to Detroit on Saturday for a matchup with Campbell and his 9-4 Lions.

Read more here.

Sean Payton cited Lions’ ’22 turnaround as a reason for hope, then followed its script

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Sean Payton cited Lions’ ’22 turnaround as a reason for hope, then followed its script

Patrick Mahomes regretful for reaction toward Josh Allen, officials

Patrick Mahomes expressed regret Monday for his reaction Sunday to the offensive offside call on Kadarius Toney that negated a go-ahead touchdown in the Kansas City Chiefs’ Week 14 loss to the Buffalo Bills.

Specifically, the Chiefs quarterback said he regretted his anger when embracing Bills quarterback Josh Allen during a postgame handshake.

“Obviously you don’t want to react that way,” Mahomes said during a radio interview on 610 AM in Kansas City. “I mean I can, man. I love this game. I love my teammates. I want to go out there and put everything on line to win. But obviously you can’t do that, that way towards officials or anybody in life. I probably regret acting like that. But more than anything, I regret acting that way towards Josh (Allen) after the game because he had nothing to do with it.

“I was still hot and emotional, but you can’t do that, man. It’s not a great example for kids watching the game. I was more upset about that than I was about me on the sidelines.”

Read more here.

 ‘It’s not a great example for kids’

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Patrick Mahomes regretful for reaction toward Josh Allen, officials: ‘It’s not a great example for kids’

Joe Flacco has found comfort in leading a Browns team he’s learning on the fly

The Cleveland Browns have a starting quarterback for the rest of the season. He’s their fourth of the year, and he’s still on the practice squad — at least for now and possibly through Sunday’s home game against the Chicago Bears.

After years of topping and tormenting the Browns, Joe Flacco is now one of them. He’ll get his spot on the active roster soon, and this marks the start of Flacco’s third week leading the huddle and guiding a full-on playoff push. The Browns lost Deshaun Watson to a season-ending shoulder injury in the wake of their Nov. 12 win in Baltimore. Five days later they had Flacco in for a tryout.

The Browns have worked backward, sideways and on the fly with their ever-changing quarterback situation this season, but Flacco has solidified it. After he threw for 311 yards and three touchdowns in Sunday’s win over a Jacksonville Jaguars team Cleveland could see again in the playoffs, Browns coach Kevin Stefanski conceded that Flacco would be the starter.

Browns’ opponents see it. Browns’ fans see it. His new teammates see it, too. There’s gray in Flacco’s beard, but there’s enough strength in his right arm to give this offense a chance and keep this postseason push going. Who is this guy only a few folks inside the Browns’ facility knew? What’s he doing to energize the offense and give hope that this all-in Browns season won’t go for naught?

Read more here.

Joe Flacco has found comfort in leading a Browns team he’s learning on the fly

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Joe Flacco has found comfort in leading a Browns team he’s learning on the fly

Raiders should be looking to 2024 NFL Draft for their quarterback of the future

For the second straight year, the Las Vegas Raiders will go into the offseason in need of a starting quarterback. There are still four games left to play in the season, but that’s already clear.

Obviously, this wasn’t the plan. The Raiders signed Jimmy Garoppolo to a three-year contract in March because they wanted him to be their starter. Garoppolo lasted just six starts before being benched in favor of Aidan O’Connell, whom the Raiders drafted in April to be a developmental backup. And appropriately, in six starts this season, O’Connell has looked like a developmental backup.

The Raiders could pursue another expensive veteran, but that’ll be difficult given the cost that’ll come with moving on from Garoppolo. If they released him before June 1, 2024, they would take a $28.3 million dead-cap hit in 2024, according to Spotrac. The 2024 hit would be reduced to $15.5 million if they cut him with a post-June 1 designation, but then they’d also take a $12.8 million hit in 2025. Both of those figures would be far more favorable if the Raiders traded Garoppolo, but it’s highly unlikely another team would take him on at his salary.

It’s time for the Raiders to do what they should’ve done last offseason: draft their quarterback of the future.

Read more here.

Raiders should be looking to 2024 NFL Draft for their quarterback of the future

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Raiders should be looking to 2024 NFL Draft for their quarterback of the future

Brian Flores’ vastly improved Vikings defense continues to thrive on abnormality

Few people have described Brian Flores’ defense as accurately as Aidan O’Connell did Sunday evening.

“They made it difficult for us to do our normal stuff,” the Las Vegas Raiders quarterback said after his team’s 3-0 loss.

Plain but precise.

O’Connell’s head had been on a swivel for three hours. He had been scanning the Minnesota Vikings’ defensive front for tells. He had peeked out at the cornerbacks. He had tried to use pre-snap cadence, post-snap processing and limited play-extending ability to decipher any way to move the football.

The Raiders’ offensive staff tried to help. They motioned skill players from one side of the formation to the other. They implemented swing passes to keep the decisions simple. They attempted to establish a rushing attack to set up the play-action pass.

Their strategy failed profoundly. Only 22.2 percent of the Raiders’ snaps Sunday were classified as successful, according to TruMedia. Their success rate was the fourth worst for any NFL team in a game this season.

“They’re a really good defense,” O’Connell said afterward, “(with a) really good defensive coordinator.”

Everybody’s noticing. The viewers sitting on their couches, the analytically minded fans poring through the numbers and other coaches constructing game plans around the league.

The Vikings have a boa constrictor of a defense.

Read more here.

Brian Flores’ vastly improved Vikings defense continues to thrive on abnormality

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Brian Flores’ vastly improved Vikings defense continues to thrive on abnormality

Mike McCarthy deserves a lot of credit for where Cowboys are, and where they’re headed

Going into the Dallas Cowboys’ game Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, much of the conversation with players and coaches revolved around Mike McCarthy. The Dallas coach contributed to the mid-week preparation from afar as he recovered from surgery for appendicitis.

After the Cowboys beat the Eagles 33-13, there was a lot of recognition to go around. Dak Prescott soared to the top of the MVP conversation in many circles. Brandon Aubrey’s brilliance took to yet another level. Micah Parsons played through an illness and Stephon Gilmore showed out with a chip on his shoulder.

When Prescott was asked if the team recognized McCarthy after the game in the locker room, the quarterback had a look of a little regret for the team not doing so.

“I mean, he’s quick,” Prescott said. “Chop, chop, chop, pass it over to (Jourdan Lewis), we broke it down. We got time. We’ll get it in.”

Sunday was emblematic of McCarthy’s tenure in Dallas. The credit for one of the biggest regular-season wins in recent history for the Cowboys can be doled out to all of the aforementioned parties, and more, but McCarthy is the foundation. He is one of the main reasons the Cowboys handedly beat a division rival with the best record in the league with relative ease on the national stage.

Read more here.

Mike McCarthy deserves a lot of credit for where Cowboys are, and where they’re headed

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Mike McCarthy deserves a lot of credit for where Cowboys are, and where they’re headed

Derrick Brown has been a bright spot in Panthers’ dark season

Because he doesn’t have an eye-catching sacks total (but largely due to his team’s overall incompetence), Carolina Panthers defensive lineman Derrick Brown might have a hard time getting recognized as an All-Pro or Pro Bowl player at the end of the season.

But the 2020 first-round pick — coming off one of the best games of his career Sunday in New Orleans — can hang another label next to his name if he misses out on those other accolades.

“You can look at the sacks. You can look at the pressures. I don’t really care,” Brown said. “If you don’t see I’m a game-wrecker, then I don’t know what to tell you.”

Brown might have only one sack through 13 games, but the 25-year-old is playing the best football of his career. Watching Brown toss aside offensive linemen and throw down running backs like rag dolls is to be reminded of his havoc-wreaking career at Auburn, where he looked like a man among boys in the country’s top football conference.

Read more here.

 ‘I’m a game-wrecker’

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Derrick Brown has been a bright spot in Panthers’ dark season: ‘I’m a game-wrecker’

Which players can the Patriots build around in the coming years?

The New England Patriots have four more games. Four more games until the season ends and owner Robert Kraft has to make arguably the biggest decision of his Patriots tenure, when he’ll decide the fate of longtime coach Bill Belichick.

There will be a lot of football to discuss in the next month, but today we’re going to explore what the Patriots have for the long term. The goal of this exercise is to identify the players on the team the Patriots will be able to build around in 2024 and 2025, regardless of the coach. That’s why a player like Ezekiel Elliott, for as good as he’s been this season, isn’t on this list as he finishes his eighth year as a pro.

We also wanted to stick with players who have a clear role for the next two years, which is why a player like Marte Mapu doesn’t appear. He might have lots of promise as a big safety, but he’s only played 18 percent of the defensive snaps over 13 games, so it’s difficult to project a player like that. And we didn’t include aging veterans like 33-year-old Lawrence Guy, who have had great careers but probably aren’t going to play big roles on this team in 2025.

We’ve broken the players into four groups.

Which players can the Patriots build around in the coming years?

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Which players can the Patriots build around in the coming years?

Vikings to start Nick Mullens over Josh Dobbs at QB vs. Bengals

The Minnesota Vikings will make a quarterback switch as they’ll start Nick Mullens against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 15, the team announced Tuesday. This will send Josh Dobbs to the bench after Dobbs started four games in relief of the injured Kirk Cousins.

Minnesota turned to Mullens in the fourth quarter in the midst of a 0-0 game with the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 14. The Vikings ended up winning 3-0. Mullens went 9-of-13 passing with 83 yards to help Minnesota to the win.

Read more here.

Vikings to start Nick Mullens over Josh Dobbs at QB vs. Bengals

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Vikings to start Nick Mullens over Josh Dobbs at QB vs. Bengals

Ravens adding Malik Cunningham can help now, but real value is in 2024

Ravens adding Malik Cunningham can help now, but real value is in 2024

USA Today Sports

The Ravens' signing of quarterback Malik Cunningham off the New England Patriots practice squad Tuesday seemed odd on the surface. Baltimore already has three healthy quarterbacks in Lamar Jackson, Tyler Huntley and Josh Johnson. Roster space is at a premium for contending teams at this time of year and carrying four quarterbacks feels prohibitive.

However, the Ravens believe that signing Cunningham is a low-risk, high-upside move that could help them in the future. Both Huntley and Johnson are pending free agents and Huntley, at least, should garner some interest on the open market, especially with how many teams figure to be looking at upgrading their backup quarterback situation this offseason. The Ravens will have very limited cap space to work with this offseason, so paying good money for a backup to Jackson probably isn't in the cards. Adding Cunningham now gives the Ravens a 2024 backup quarterback candidate on a very cheap contract.

Cunningham was a teammate of Jackson's at Louisville for one season, so there's a familiarity and comfort level there. The Ravens also did some work on Cunningham ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft and tried to sign him as an undrafted free agent. Cunningham can return kicks and also play wide receiver, so Baltimore has the option of using him in an all-purpose role for the rest of this season. But the primary reason for signing him was to add a potential backup quarterback option for 2024.

To make room on the 53-man roster for Cunningham, the Ravens placed wide receiver/return specialist Devin Duvernay on injured reserve. Duvernay hurt his back in Sunday's victory over the Los Angeles Rams and has a chance to return for the playoffs. With Duvernay hurt, the Ravens used Tylan Wallace as the punt returner and he beat the Rams with a 76-yard touchdown in overtime.

The Ravens also activated second-year cornerback Damarion Williams to the 53-man roster. He takes the roster spot of tight end Mark Andrews who went on I.R. two weeks ago with an ankle injury.

What changed, what hasn’t, what’s next for the Bengals offense

Jake Browning sat at the news conference table on Sunday, coming off another surgical throwing session, and was asked if the Cincinnati Bengals looked like a playoff team.

“Damn right,” Browning said, specifically echoing a phrase used by Joe Mixon minutes earlier.

Indeed, in the bloated AFC middle, the Bengals look as much like a playoff team as anyone. They’ve scored 34 points in back-to-back games, Browning seemingly can’t throw incompletions and in Sunday’s victory against the Indianapolis Colts, the characteristics of coordinator Lou Anarumo’s defense over the past two seasons returned.

Undeniably, on offense, they don’t just look like a playoff team. They look different.

“I don’t know if it’s really been that different,” head coach Zac Taylor said.

OK, maybe not everyone agrees on the verbiage. Let’s go with a reallocation of resources.

Read more here.

 What changed, what hasn’t, what’s next

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Bengals offensive rebirth: What changed, what hasn’t, what’s next

The Athletic's Week 14 NFL power rankings

It’s Week 15 in the NFL, which means millions of Americans are sweating their fantasy football team’s playoff positioning because this is the week the playoffs begin in most leagues. Pride, cash and the dreaded last-place punishments all are on the line.

The Power Rankings is getting into the spirit with a fantasy focus for this week’s theme. We’re going to look at one notable fantasy football player (or unit) from each team and how he is helping — or hurting — the real-life team’s season.

Read the full rankings here.

 Chaos in the AFC, plus a fantasy spotlight for every team

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NFL Power Rankings Week 15: Chaos in the AFC, plus a fantasy spotlight for every team

Browns LT Jedrick Wills Jr. out for season following knee surgery

Brown RT Jedrick Wills Jr. out for season following knee surgery

USA Today Sports

The Browns announced Tuesday that starting left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. recently had arthroscopic knee surgery and will miss the remainder of the season.

Wills had been rehabbing an early November knee injury and was eligible to return. Now he won't, leaving the Browns down their top three offensive tackles for the rest of the season.

Browns rookie right tackle Dawand Jones will have season-ending knee surgery soon after Jones was injured in practice last week. Jones had been starting since Week 2 because veteran right tackle Jack Conklin suffered a torn ACL in the season opener. Geron Christian will remain as the starter at left tackle, and James Hudson will start on the right side for the rest of the Browns' playoff push.

Christian was initially signed to the practice squad in late October. Now, the third tackle is Leroy Watson IV, who was signed off the 49ers' practice squad in late October and has played as an extra tackle and tight end in the Browns' various heavy packages. Backup guard Michael Dunn would be an emergency tackle option, and the Browns have tackles Alex Leatherwood and Justin Murray on the practice squad. The Browns had also previously lost veteran tackle Ty Nsekhe, who was injured in a Week 8 loss in Seattle while playing on a practice squad elevation.

Last spring, the Browns picked up the fully-guaranteed fifth-year option on Wills for 2024 at nearly $15 million. The team's statement said Wills will make a full recovery in time to play next season.

Leatherwood, a former first-round pick, is the most likely call-up. The Browns believe they have the league's best offensive line coach in Bill Callahan, and Callahan's presence is why they moved to add Leatherwood to their practice squad in late August. Christian has been starting since Week 10, when he played left tackle with just a few days of preparation and almost no notice. Watson had never played a regular-season snap before the Browns used him in their heavy offensive packages last month.

Patriots lose QB Malik Cunningham to the Ravens

Patriots lose QB Malik Cunningham to the Ravens

USA Today Sports

The Patriots had so many chances to try Malik Cunningham at quarterback and declined nearly every time. Now, as a result, Cunningham is headed to the Baltimore Ravens to be a backup quarterback behind his longtime idol Lamar Jackson.

Cunningham, a former quarterback at Louisville, signed with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent with the understanding he’d be a wide receiver in New England. But out of necessity (and some curiosity), the Patriots used Cunningham in the preseason at quarterback and even with very few reps at the position in training camp, Cunningham led some of the Patriots’ best preseason drives. Despite that, they kept him as a wide receiver when he was added to the practice squad after the exhibition games.

Then amid Mac Jones’ struggles, the Patriots gave Cunningham more reps at quarterback with the idea that he could serve as a backup quarterback or change-of-pace player, potentially coming in with specific run-first formations in mind. But they continually bypassed using him. Belichick elevated Cunningham from the practice squad for the past two games – only to keep Cunningham from appearing in a single snap.

Now Cunningham gets to go to a team with a track record of working with mobile quarterbacks. The Ravens signed Cunningham off the Patriots’ practice squad and Cunningham and leaves a 3-10 team for a job on the active roster of a 10-3 team.

Mitch Trubisky remains Steelers QB with playoff road ‘getting narrow’

Mike Tomlin wasted little time making it known that Mitch Trubisky is still the Pittsburgh Steelers’ starting quarterback while Kenny Pickett recovers from an injury.

Within minutes of starting his monologue during his weekly news conference Monday, Tomlin slid in some praise for Trubisky, saying the quarterback “picked up his play” as Thursday’s game against the New England Patriots wore on. If you watched the game, you know it would have been hard for Trubisky to keep up the horrid pace he set.

“I thought that it is a reasonable expectation for him to be even better because of that experience, and because of the experience of having a full week’s prep this week,” Tomlin said.

Translation: Trubisky will start Saturday afternoon against the Indianapolis Colts in a game that the Steelers pretty much have to win to keep their realistic playoff hopes alive. Pickett was ruled out as he continues to recover from surgery to address a high-ankle sprain suffered nine days ago. Tomlin said previously he expects Pickett to return this season, but the team has not provided a timetable.

That puts the focus on the other two quarterbacks — Trubisky and Mason Rudolph.

Read more here.

With Steelers’ playoff road ‘getting narrow,’ Mitch Trubisky remains the QB for now

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With Steelers’ playoff road ‘getting narrow,’ Mitch Trubisky remains the QB for now

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