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Defending champ Birmingham Stallions start at top, Philadelphia Stars No. 2

Fresh off of last year’s successful campaign, the USFL is gearing up for what could be an even better 2023 season — but which team will capture the title?

Led by quarterback J’Mar Smith, the Birmingham Stallions begin their defense of last year’s championship when the league kicks off this Saturday, April 15. The Philadelphia Stars, who came up just short against Birmingham in last year’s USFL Championship Game, are expected to once again be in the mix with the return of their quarterback, Case Cookus. The league’s two other playoff teams last year, the New Jersey Generals and New Orleans Breakers, are also expected to make a run at the crown.

Joining the fray of USFL teams for the 2023 season are the Memphis Showboats, who will be one of three teams that will get to play in front of their home fans this season (check out everything to know in our 2023 season primer, the complete season schedule and much more). After all the league’s regular-season games were held in Birmingham last year, three new venues have been added to the mix for 2023: Memphis, Canton and Detroit. The Showboats are in essence the Tampa Bay Bandits, who are on a hiatus in 2023 after going 4-6 in 2022.

With Week 1 on the horizon, who are the top teams? Here’s how we rank them in our Week 1 Power Rankings:

  1. Birmingham Stallions
    Last season: 9-1, defending champs, defeated New Orleans and Philadelphia in playoffs
    Skip Holtz’s team returns the majority of last year’s championship roster. That includes Smith, who said he is roughly 10-15 pounds lighter than he was last year. Running backs Bo Scarbrough, C.J. Marable and linebacker Scooby Wright are three other key members of Birmingham’s championship team that are back for the 2023 season.

Smith is expecting more of a contribution this season from receiver Marlon Williams, who last season finished second in the USFL in touchdown catches and third in receiving yards. The two connected on a deep touchdown pass in last year’s championship game win over Philadelphia.

In 2023, Birmingham will try to do something that no NFL team has done in nearly 20 years: repeat as champion.

“I love having a target on my back,” Smith recently told CBS Sports. “It makes me play harder. I know that everyone is going to give us their best shot. I’m not going run away from their shot. I love to step up to the challenge.”

  1. Philadelphia Stars
    Last season: 6-4, defeated New Jersey in playoffs, lost to Birmingham in championship game
    The Stars have their sights set on a championship after coming up just short in last year’s championship game. A big reason for Philadelphia’s optimism is the return of Cookus, who went 6-3 as the team’s starting quarterback last season. Cookus led a Stars offense that averaged a league-high 26.2 points per game.

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Cookus will again be aided on offense by running back Matt Coburn II (who scored nine total touchdowns) and Jordan Suell, who caught a touchdown in the USFL Championship Game. Cookus will have a new target this season in former Browns first-round pick Corey Coleman, who caught 20 touchdowns during his final season at Baylor back in 2015.

  1. New Jersey Generals
    Last season: 9-1, lost to Philadelphia in the playoffs
    New Jersey, which tied Birmingham with the league’s best record during the 2022 regular season, is motivated this season after last year’s playoff upset at the hands of the Stars.

“The guys come in with a chip on their shoulder, kind of like unfinished business a little bit,” said offensive coordinator Steven Smith, via the league’s website. “The guys came in ready to go and focused on getting it done and making things happen that we didn’t finish last year.”

The Generals lost one of their key players from last year’s team to the NFL in Cowboys All-Pro return specialist KaVontae Turpin. Reigning Offensive Player of the Year Darius Victor is back, however, along with fellow running back Trey Williams. Last season, the duo helped the Generals average a league-high 161 yards on the ground per game.

Quarterback is the big question mark. De’Andre Johnson, the team’s backup last season, is looking to win the job over Kyle Lauletta, a former Giants draft pick who made two starts for the Maulers last season.

  1. New Orleans Breakers
    Last season: 6-4, lost to Birmingham in the playoffs
    One of the league’s four playoff teams in 2022, New Orleans will usher in a new era in 2023. The team has a new coach in John DeFilippo, who won a Super Bowl in 2017 as the Eagles quarterbacks coach.

New Orleans’ top-ranked defense is expected to again be among the league’s best. The big question is at quarterback, as the Breakers have a three-man competition between McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Davis Cheek and Aqeel Glass. The front-runner to win the job is the 34-year-old Bethel-Thompson, a two-time Canadian Football League champion who decided to move to the USFL instead of spending another season in Winnipeg.

“It’s all betting on one year, which is tenuous but also challenging,” he recently told the Toronto Sun. “Every game matters. Every practice matters. Every throw matters. If I don’t perform physically or mentally, or maybe play half the year and then get benched, I could very well have ended my career as opposed to having four more years in the CFL. It’s moving all your chips in on a pretty bizarre hand.”

  1. Memphis Showboats
    Memphis’ possible advantage at quarterback moved them up several spots on this list. Showboats coach Todd Haley recently announced that his starting quarterback will be Brady White, who enjoyed a prolific college career at Memphis that included throwing for a school-record 10,690 yards and 90 touchdowns.

“Brady has kind of cemented himself as the starter here as we get the season going,” Haley recently told Fox Sports. “But Ryan (Willis) and Cole (Kelley) are talented guys that have impressed us throughout this process. I don’t think it’s beyond thinking that you’ll see all these guys play at some point.

“The name of the game is winning. So, whoever gives us the best chance to win will be the guy handling the football most of the time. But Brady, having been with us most of the time last year, definitely had a head start. I know he’s excited about being in Memphis, where he played his college football. He’s like a superstar walking around town down here. I know he’s enjoying and embracing that, and we’ll just have to see how it plays out.”

Memphis’ offense also includes Alex Collins, a veteran NFL running back who nearly ran for 1,000 yards in 2017 with the Seahawks.

  1. Houston Gamblers
    Last season: 3-7
    Houston was much better than its 2022 record indicated. You could say the Gamblers were snake-bitten after losing five straight games where they led in the fourth quarter. The defense was Houston’s strength, but the unit underwent a total transformation this offseason. The defense will include 14 new players, including expected standouts in defensive end Eli Howard and linebacker Isaiah Pryor.

The Gamblers’ offense is expected to be significantly better, largely because of the expected uptick in play from quarterback Kenji Bahar. If Bahar is able to complement Houston’s talented running game (led by Mark Thompson), this could be the surprise team for 2023.

  1. Pittsburgh Maulers
    Last season: 1-9
    On and off the field, the Maulers underwent massive changes this offseason. They changed their color scheme to mimic the black and gold flavor of the city they represent. Speaking of Pittsburgh’s fabled football history, the team hired a former Steelers Super Bowl-winning assistant coach, Ray Horton, as their new head coach.

One of the things that is expected to stay the same in Pittsburgh is a Maulers defense that was one of the USFL’s better units last season, led by former NFL first-round pick Reuben Foster. Pittsburgh’s offense has the weapons to be a solid unit, but its success will likely come down to whether James Morgan or Troy Williams can provide steady play at quarterback.

  1. Michigan Panthers
    Last season: 2-8
    Michigan might be the USFL’s biggest enigma. Led by first-year head coach Mike Nolan, the Panthers could make a surprise playoff push while turning Ford Field into a massive home-field advantage. Michigan has a formidable rushing attack and is expected to field a good defense.

As with several other teams, quarterback is the big question in Michigan. The Panthers’ offense will be led by either Josh Love (who spent time with the NFL’s Rams and Panthers) or Carson Strong, an undrafted rookie last season who spent time with the Eagles and Cardinals.


Kickoff starts at 20-yard line, emergency third QB highlight changes

The USFL will kick off its second season Saturday, and there will be new rules for Year 2. The first spring league to play a second season since the original USFL in the 1980s, the USFL has updated playing rules to make the game more exciting than its first season.

Here are some highlights of the new rules (and what the NFL does in comparison):

Kickoffs will start from the 20-yard line. Kicking team members must line up within one yard behind the 20 and must be stationary when the ball is kicked. Receiving teams must have a minimum of eight — and up to a maximum of nine — players lined up in the set-up zone (between their 30- and 40-yard lines).
Kickoffs out of bounds will be placed 30 yards from the spot of the kick — normally, the receiving team takes possession at the 50-yard line.
NFL: Kickoffs start from the 35-yard line with a running kickoff. Kicks out of bounds result in the receiving team getting the ball at their own 40-yard line (25 yards from the kickoff line if penalty is accepted).

Option to retain ball after scoring
Teams will have two options to retain possession of the ball after scoring. The first option will be a traditional onside kick attempt from the 20-yard line. The second will be running a “4th-and-12” play from their own 33-yard line. If the team makes a first down, it retains possession. If it fails to make a first down, then the opposing team takes over at the dead ball spot.
NFL: Onside kick attempt. No fourth-down conversion to retain possession.

Overtime shootout
Overtime remains a best of three-play shootout. The winner of a coin toss may choose to go on offense or defense first and the USFL Command Center will determine which side of the field will be used.
Each team’s offense will alternate possessions against the opposing defense from the 2-yard line. Each successful scoring attempt will receive two points. The team with the most points after three possessions wins. If the score is tied at the end of three possessions for each team, overtime advances to sudden death. Each team will get one possession and will continue until there is a winner.
NFL: Team that has possession and scores touchdown on initial possession wins (regular season). A field goal or punt results in other team getting possession with opportunity to win. In postseason, both teams get possession of ball.

Extra points
Scoring teams will have three options to attempt extra points. Teams will receive one point for a successful kick between the uprights snapped from the 15-yard line, two points for a successful scrimmage play from the 2-yard line, three points for a successful scrimmage play from the 10-yard line.
If the defense scores on an attempted try, it will be a 2-point score regardless of the try attempt.
Prior to the extra point, the scoring team cannot change its original option unless a timeout is used or the defense commits a foul prior to the snap.
NFL: Teams have option to kick extra point from 15-yard line or go for two-point conversion from 2-yard line.

Emergency third quarterback
Each team will carry an inactive emergency third quarterback. To ensure fairness, if he is activated and enters the game anytime in the first three quarters, the first two quarterbacks cannot reenter the game. If he enters in the 4th quarter, the original two quarterbacks may reenter.
NFL: Teams can not dress a third quarterback.

A ball fumbled forward from the field of play into the end zone and out of bounds will be returned to the spot of the fumble and the fumbling team retains possession.
NFL: A fumble out of the back of the end zone or out of bounds results in a turnover and change of possession.

Defensive pass interference
The penalty for defensive pass interference will mirror the NCAA rule with exceptions. First, a defender intentionally tackling a receiver beyond 15 yards would become a spot foul (determined by USFL Command Center).
The penalty will be a spot foul if it occurs 15 yards or less from the line of scrimmage or a 15-yard penalty from the line of scrimmage if the spot of the foul is beyond 15 yards.
NFL: All defensive pass interference penalties are spot fouls.


2024 NFL divisional round picks, predictions by model on 183-129 roll

After enjoying a bye week, the San Francisco 49ers will host the Green Bay Packers in the Divisional Round of the 2024 NFL playoffs on Saturday. San Francisco won the NFC West and earned the No. 1 seed in the NFL playoff bracket, while Green Bay earned a wild card and began the 2024 NFL Playoffs with a 48-32 upset of the Cowboys last week. However, the Packers have been knocked out of the NFL postseason by the 49ers in two of the last four seasons and the 49ers are the current odds-on favorites to win the 2024 Super Bowl (+176).

Kickoff from Levi’s Stadium is set for 8:15 p.m. ET. San Francisco is a 9.5-point favorite in the latest 49ers vs. Packers odds via SportsLine consensus, while the over/under for total points scored is 50.5. Before locking in any Packers vs. 49ers picks, you need to see the latest NFL predictions from SportsLine’s proven projection model.

The model, which simulates every NFL game 10,000 times, is up well over $7,000 for $100 players on top-rated NFL picks since its inception. The model enters the divisional round of the 2024 NFL playoffs on an incredible 183-129 run on top-rated NFL picks that dates back to the 2017 season. It is also on a 37-21 roll on top-rated picks since Week 7 of last season and nailed seven straight top-rated picks entering the 2024 NFL playoffs.

The model also ranked in the top 10 on NFLPickWatch four of the past six years on straight-up NFL picks and beat more than 94% of CBS Sports Football Pick’em players four times during that span. Anyone who has followed it is way up.

Now, the model has zeroed in on 49ers vs. Packers and just revealed its picks and predictions. You can see the model’s picks only at SportsLine. Here are several NFL odds and betting lines for Packers vs. 49ers:

49ers vs. Packers spread: San Francisco -9.5
49ers vs. Packers over/under: 50.5 points
49ers vs. Packers money line: San Francisco -454, Green Bay +349
SF: 49ers were 3-5 against the spread as home favorites in the regular season
GB: Packers are 5-3 ATS as road underdogs this campaign
49ers vs. Packers picks: See picks here
49ers vs. Packers live stream: fubo (try for free)
Why the 49ers can cover
San Francisco should be well-rested coming into Saturday’s matchup, having rested key starters in a Week 17 loss to the Rams and also coming off a bye week during NFL Super Wild Card Weekend. Now the 49ers will look to unleash the full potential of one of the most versatile offenses in the NFL against a Packers defense that ranked bottom half of the NFL in yards allowed and that just gave up 510 yards of offense to Dallas.

The 49ers were top five in the NFL in passing yards and rushing yards, with Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle giving Brock Purdy a quartet of extremely talented playmakers to work with. They combined to produce over 5,500 yards from scrimmage and score 46 touchdowns and figure to give the Green Bay defense all sorts of problems on Saturday. See which team to pick here.

Why the Packers can cover
Green Bay played a near-perfect game against Dallas on Sunday en route to its seventh victory in its last nine contests and becoming the first No. 7 seed to record a win since the playoffs expanded in 2020. Quarterback Jordan Love completed 16-of-21 pass attempts for 272 yards and three touchdowns in his first career postseason game after finishing second in the NFL with 32 during the regular season. The 25-year-old has thrown 21 TD passes and just one interception over his last nine contests.

After rushing for just two touchdowns in each of the last two regular seasons, Aaron Jones had three scoring runs against the Cowboys on Sunday. The 29-year-old tied the franchise record for most rushing scores in a playoff game and the NFL marks for most in a road playoff game and a wild-card contest. The Packers were 31st in the league with seven interceptions in the regular season but had two in Dallas, including one that safety Darnell Savage returned 64 yards for a touchdown. See which team to pick here.

How to make 49ers vs. Packers picks
SportsLine’s model is leaning Under the point total, predicting 45 total points. The model also says one side of the spread has all the value. You can see the model’s NFL picks and analysis only at SportsLine.


Aaron Jones helping power NFL’s youngest team to postseason run as 49ers await

ARLINGTON, Texas — The seventh-seeded Green Bay Packers entered this postseason as the NFL’s youngest playoff team since the 1974 Buffalo Bills, and on Sunday on the road against the second-seeded Dallas Cowboys, they pummeled the home team 48-32. Green Bay led by as many as 32 in the fourth quarter before head coach Matt LaFleur took his foot off the gas.

The victory made the Packers the youngest team (average age: 25 years, 214 days) to win a playoff game since the 1970 NFL/AFL merger. First-time starting quarterback Jordan Love’s “wow” performance — throwing for 272 passing yards and three touchdowns on 16 for 21 passing, with a 157.2 passer rating, 1.1 points short of a perfect rating — was obviously a crucial component to the Packers’ victory. His 157.2 passer rating is the new single-game Packers postseason record, as are his 13 yards per pass attempt.

However, in a time in which the NFL sentiment is that one running back isn’t more valuable than another, Aaron Jones, one of the offense’s elder statesmen at age 29, served as the Packers’ tone-setter. Green Bay’s RB ran for playoff career-highs of 118 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries, an incredibly efficient 5.6 yards per carry. That output tied the NFL all-time record for rushing touchdowns in a road playoff game, rushing touchdowns in a wild-card round game and rushing touchdowns in a Packers postseason game. Jones’ seven career playoff rushing touchdowns are the most in Green Bay history.

“You guys see it, right? Just his ability to put his foot in the ground and just be explosive, make people miss,” Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said of Jones postgame. “I can’t say enough great things about the guy, the football player. What he means to our team. The leadership he brings. He’s a rare guy. There’s not many like him. Just how he encourages his teammates, how he uplifts his teammates. But I think you’ve got to give it up for the offense line, too. It’s not just those guys, it’s really the other 10 men on the field. But it starts up front. I thought our tight ends really did a great job. I know on the one touchdown, (tight end) Josiah (Deguara) had a great cut block on the backside. I think he got the Parsons down. And the receivers, their willingness to go in and dig out safeties, and block at the second level. They’re usually the difference, in my opinion, of springing an explosive gain into a touchdown. Those guys bring it. They battle and they fight for one another.”

Jones dominating the Dallas Cowboys isn’t anything new. The El Paso, Texas native now has over 100 rushing yards and at least one touchdown in all four of his career games against his home team, joining Pro Football Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson as the only other player in NFL history to begin his career with four such games in a row against a single opponent, including the postseason, per OptaStats. Tomlinson’s victim was the Cleveland Browns.

“You know, it was a full circle moment,” Jones said of his historic domination of the Cowboys. “I feel like this is kind of how we got into football. This was my dad’s team. This was my team growing up. You always want to be like your father, so that’s how it became my team. Emmitt Smith was my running back. My first jersey was a No. 22. I got the chance to speak to him before the game, so that was special to me as well. My dad did get to see me play here my rookie year and I know he was in here tonight. Dallas is a special place to me. It was a first circle moment. It feels like home.”

What’s different for Jones now following this Packers victory over the Cowboys (Green Bay has won 10 of the last 11 games against Dallas) is that, at 29 years old, he’s positioned as the offensive leader to help cultivate the growth of his offensive skill position teammates, just about all of whom are younger than him:

2023 fifth-round pick wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks (22 years old)
2023 second-round pick tight end Luke Musgrave (23 years old)
2023 third-round pick tight end Tucker Kraft (23 years old)
2023 second-round pick wide receiver Jayden Reed (23 years old)
2022 fourth-round pick wide receiver Romeo Doubs (23 years old)
Undrafted wide receiver Malik Heath (23 years old)
2022 second-round pick wide receiver Christian Watson (24 years old)
2022 seventh-round pick (by Seattle Seahawks) wide receiver Bo Melton (24 years old)
2020 first-round pick quarterback Jordan Love (25 years old)
2020 second-round pick running back AJ Dillon (25 years old)
2022 seventh-round pick wide receiver Samori Toure (25 years old)
“I’ve had to become a little bit more vocal,” Jones told CBS Sports back in July when talking about his role in Green Bay’s youth movement. “We have a very, very young team. I was more of a lead-by-example guy, but now I’ve had to become more vocal because we don’t have those vets that we have had like the Randall Cobbs, the Aaron Rodgers’ and the Marcedes Lewis’ on the offensive side of the ball. I have to [become more vocal]. It’s only right. Those guys did it for me, instilled the confidence and so many other things in me, so it’s only right that I give it back to these young guys.”

He is living up to his preseason promise to lead his younger teammates with words and actions. In years prior, future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers likely would have led the offensive pregame huddle with a speech. On Sunday, it was a different Aaron but the same result against the Cowboys.

“This our shit. We are going to take it over,” Jones said in a pregame huddle to the Packers offense prior to their win at the Cowboys on Sunday, via “Inside The NFL.” “We already set our standard. We are going to punch the frontrunners in the mouth. We are going to set our tone. It’s going to be four quarters of locking them in a cage and giving them that G Way ball.”

Quarterbacks are typically positioned as a football’s team primary leader, but Love fully embraces Jones as the offense’s vocal and on-field center for a unit whose plays revolve around their success in their under-center, zone-blocking ground game.

“You get so much. Obviously, just the leader he is on the team and then you add his playmaking ability when he gets the ball,” Love said on Sunday. “He’s the total package right there. I love Aaron Jones. He brings a huge spark to the team just the way he carries himself, the way he handles his business and shows up ready to work every day. I can’t enough about him.”

Love may not be able to say enough about him, but the records can. Jones has run over 100 yards in four consecutive games, tied with Ahman Green in 2003 for the such longest streak in Packers history

“We’re playing all together as one,” Jones said when asked about his success. “The blocking unit is doing their thing up front. They make it easy for me to pick and chose which hole I want to run through…I think it’s a credit to them and the play calling as well.”

Playing together for Jones means also uplifting his young teammates. Rookie fifth-round pick Dontayvion Wicks struggled to find a role in the Packers’ crowded, young attack early in the season. After a drop against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 9, Wicks’ head drooped as he trudged back toward the Green Bay sideline. Jones stopped Wicks in his tracks and physically lifted his head up.

Wicks has basically been en fuego since this moment

— Shanahannigans™ (@Ferd_Turgeson) January 16, 2024
That type of encouragement eventually paid dividends for Wicks and the Packers. The rookie caught three touchdowns in his last two games played in the regular season, Week 16 at the Carolina Panthers and Week 18 against the Chicago Bears. He also hauled in a 20-yard receiving touchdown on Sunday against the Cowboys in an incredibly pivotal moment. Green Bay faced 3rd-and-7 from the Dallas 20. The Cowboys showed they were going to blitz as the play clock dropped under 10 seconds.

Love quickly made an audible before snapping the football with a second remaining on the play cock. Wicks cooked 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore off the line of scrimmage and corralled Love’s scoring strike that essentially functioned as a Cowboys kill shot with the Packers going up 20-0.


📺: #GBvsDAL on FOX
📱: Stream on #NFLPlus

— NFL (@NFL) January 14, 2024
“Yeah, yeah. I’m happy for him (Jones),” Wicks said Sunday when asked about Jones’ performance. “One-hundred-yard games back to back, that’s hard. He’s just our fire starter, and we keep the flame going.”

Fellow rookie wide receiver Jayden Reed, a second-round pick who led the Packers in catches (64), receiving yards (793) and receiving touchdowns (8, tied with Romeo Doubs for the team lead), didn’t register a single catch on three targets in the Packers victory on Sunday. However, he didn’t pout. Instead, he put everything he had into blocking for Jones because of the way he has poured into the Green Bay youngsters this season.

“You’re the reason I go hard bro,” Reed said to Jones during the team’s win on Sunday, per Inside The NFL. “You somebody to look up to bro. You somebody to play for. I want to go out there and block for you. I feel fu–ed up when I don’t make the block.”

Jones has a similar effect on his young offensive linemen.

“It motivates us for sure,” Packers offensive lineman Zach Tom, a 2022 fourth-round pick, said Sunday when asked about how hard Jones runs. “We know all you have to do is give him a tiny little crease and he’ll make something happen. It motivates us.”

Now, the Packers degree of difficulty ratchets up considerably as they head west to take on the NFC’s top seed, the San Francisco 49ers, on Saturday night. The 49ers are the first team since the 2004 Indianapolis Colts — who an offense compromised of three Hall of Famers (QB Peyton Manning, RB Edgerrin James and WR Marvin Harrison) and a 2024 Hall of Fame finalist (WR Reggie Wayne) — to have a 4,000 yard passer (Brock Purdy) and four players with at least 1,000 scrimmage yards (RB Christian McCaffrey, WR Brandon Aiyuk, WR Deebo Samuel and TE George Kittle).

“Because we believe in each other,” Jones said when asked why the Packers can to continue having success this postseason. “We have faith in each other…we have all the weapons we need on this team. People can continue to doubt us. That’s fine. We love the underdog mentality. We love the underdog approach.”

LaFleur clearly believes in Jones, giving him 19 more carries after his first two went for negative-3 yards against Dallas on Sunday.

“I think that was huge even though the first two run plays they stopped,” Jones said. “I’m glad we stuck with it. Like I said, when you’re able to run the ball, it opens everything else up. We were able to set them up pretty nice on Luke’s touchdown. We had
seen a lot of outside zone all game and we hit them with that.”

As for those who still don’t believe in the Packers after their demolition of the Cowboys, all Green Bay does is smile, laugh and let their play on the field do the talking.

“Just a little chuckle,” Jones said when asked about his reaction to those still doubting his Packers. “You know it’s in your memory bank and you go tell your teammates…We talk about how we feel and if you feel disrespected, you go do something about it.”


Colts owner Jim Irsay being treated for severe respiratory illness after police suspected overdose in home

Colts owner Jim Irsay, 64, is receiving treatment for a severe respiratory illness, the team said Wednesday in a statement to the Indianapolis Star. This comes more than a month after Irsay was found “unresponsive” in what police believe may have been a suspected overdose of medication.

Emergency responders found Irsay unresponsive in his Indiana home around 4:30 a.m. on Dec. 8, documenting that he was unconscious and “cold to the touch” and that his skin had a “bluish tint,” according to Carmel Police records obtained by CBS Sports Lead NFL Insider Jonathan Jones. An officer administered Narcan (specifically naloxone), which is commonly used to reverse opioid overdoses, to which Irsay “responded slightly to.” Paramedics later transported him to a hospital.

According to police that night, “it is unknown what Mr. Irsay had ingested prior to our arrival.” Under injury information, police listed Irsay’s condition as “Impaired/Drugs.”

The Colts released the following statement Wednesday morning (via The Indianapolis Star): “Mr. Irsay continues to recover from his respiratory illness. We will have no further comment on his personal health, and we continue to ask that Jim and his family’s privacy be respected.”

Irsay had been active on social media in early January, but he hasn’t spoken publicly in weeks. That lack of availability led media to wonder about his absence given Irsay is traditionally quick to speak at the conclusion of NFL seasons, often providing extensive comments on his team, which ended the 2023 campaign with a Week 18 loss to the Texans. If Indianapolis had won that game, it would have clinched a playoff berth.

Irsay’s illness prevented him from playing in his band, which was scheduled for a Los Angeles show in mid-January, but he is undergoing “excellent care and looks forward to returning to the stage as soon as possible,” according to the Colts, which asked that fans and media “respect the privacy of Jim and his family as he recovers.”


Ravens’ Mark Andrews eyes return; Bucs skill players banged-up

Only eight teams are left in the 2024 NFL playoffs with just over three weeks remaining until Super Bowl LVIII. Like every week in the NFL, we’ve got a bevy of injury updates to address with conference championship appearances at stake.

While each remaining team is dealing with injuries, no one has been hit harder than the Buffalo Bills. Head coach Sean McDermott started the week by classifying nine of his players as day to day as Buffalo prepares to take on the Kansas City Chiefs. Buffalo managed to get past the Pittsburgh Steelers on Super Wild Card Weekend despite not having safety Taylor Rapp, wideout Gabe Davis, cornerback Rasul Douglas and linebacker Tyrel Dodson at their disposal. The Bills suffered more injuries during their 31-17 win over Pittsburgh.

We’ve also got an interesting update on Mark Andrews, the Baltimore Ravens’ talented tight end who is not ruling out playing in Saturday’s game against the Houston Texans. Andrews hasn’t played since he suffered an ankle injury against the Cincinnati Bengals back on Nov. 16.

Below is an update on the Bills as well as the NFL’s other seven teams who are still in contention.

Odds courtesy of SportsLine consensus.

No. 4 Houston Texans at No. 1 Baltimore Ravens (-9.5)
Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET (ABC/ESPN, fubo)
As noted above, Andrews said Wednesday that he will play Saturday if he fees like he can help the Ravens’ offense. He won’t play, however, if he feels that he won’t be able to play at a level that will help Baltimore win its first playoff game since 2000. Andrews gave the Ravens more hope that he could play on Saturday after making a leaping grab during Tuesday’s practice, via ESPN.

Andrews said how his body feels Saturday will ultimately determine whether or not he will play. He referenced Terrell Owens, who famously played in Super Bowl XXXIX several weeks after suffering a serious ankle injury.

In other Ravens injury news, cornerback Marlon Humphrey (calf), wideout Tylan Wallace (knee) and inside linebacker Del’Shawn Phillips (knee) remained sidelined during Wednesday’s practice. Pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney, who was not on Tuesday’s injury report, also didn’t practice.

For the Texans, star defensive end Jonathan Greenard (ankle) did not practice on Wednesday after being limited on Tuesday. Fellow defensive end Will Anderson Jr. (ankle) also did not practice after being limited on Tuesday. Fullback Andrew Beck (back), defensive end Jerry Hughes (ankle) and defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins (ribs/shoulder) also did not practice.

Wideouts Robert Woods (hip) and John Metchie III (foot), linebackers Blake Cashman (knee) and Denzel Perryman (ribs) and defensive tackle Maliek Collins (hip) were limited for the second straight day.

Linebacker Christian Harris (calf) and cornerback Kris Boyd (hamstring) were limited on Wednesday after not appearing on Tuesday’s injury report. One positive for Houston was guard Dieter Eiselen being a full participant after not practicing Tuesday due to an illness.

No. 7 Green Bay Packers at No. 1 San Francisco 49ers (-9.5)
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET (Fox, fubo)
The Packers have cornerback Jaire Alexander (shoulder/ankle) as a nonparticipant, same with running back AJ Dillon (thumb/neck). Guard Elgton Jenkins (knee/ankle) and safety Darnell Savage (shoulder/calf) were limited. Wide receiver Christian Watson (hamstring) was limited.

For the 49ers, linebacker Dre Greenlaw (Achilles) was limited. Running back Christian McCaffrey (calf) and tight end George Kittle (back) were full participants.

No. 4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers at No. 3 Detroit Lions (-6.5)
Sunday, 3 p.m. ET (NBC, fubo)
Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield (ankle/ribs) was a full participant during Wednesday’s practice. Wideout Chris Godwin (knee), running back Chase Edmonds (toe) and linebackers Shaquil Barrett (ankle) and Yaya Diaby (shoulder) did not practice.

In Detroit, tight end Sam LaPorta (knee) was a full practice participant, along with defensive back Brian Branch (knee), linebacker James Houston (ankle), safety Kerby Joseph (knee) and tight end Brock Wright (hip). Wideout Kalif Raymond (knee) did not practice Wednesday.

No. 3 Kanas City Chiefs at No. 2 Buffalo Bills (-2.5)
Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET (CBS, Paramount+)
The Chiefs have opened up the practice window for wideout Skyy Moore (knee), who remains on the injury report. Moore was limited during Wednesday’s practice.

Defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi (tricep) was the only Kansas City player who did not practice on Wednesday. Along with Moore, wideouts Kadarius Toney (hip/ankle) and Justyn Ross (hamstring) and cornerback L’Jarius Sneed (calf) were limited.

Buffalo is dealing with significantly more injuries. Safety Taylor Rapp (calf) and wide receiver Gabe Davis (knee) did not practice Wednesday, along with cornerback Christian Benford (knee), linebacker Terrel Bernard (ankle), defensive end Leonard Floyd (rest), punter Sam Martin (left hamstring), linebacker Von Miller (rest) and linebacker Baylon Spector (back).

Linebacker Tyrel Dodson (shoulder) and cornerback Taron Johnson (concussion) were limited practice participants. Josh Allen (neck) was a full practice participant.


2 underdogs win outright while a third nearly shocks top seed

Playoff Pete is back.

Yep, I had a nice start to the postseason. I went 5-1 against the spread, but 3-3 straight up. I’ll take it.

The only ATS loss I had wasn’t close. I had the Cleveland Browns beating the Houston Texans, which never had a chance.

The ATS week brings my season record to 139-128-11. My straight-up record is now 171-107-0.

This week, I am going with the dogs. I like three underdogs and two to win their games outright. Let’s keep it going. Playoff Pete is looking for a sweep.

Houston Texans (+9) at Baltimore Ravens
Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET (ABC/ESPN, fubo)

The Texans are coming off an impressive home victory over the Browns, while the Ravens are coming off a bye. The rest could be good for the Ravens, but the starters haven’t played in three weeks. That might matter. This will be the first road playoff game for Texans rookie passer C.J. Stroud, which can be a challenge. It can be even tougher against the Ravens stout defense. They will throw a bunch of different looks at Stroud. How he handles those will be key. Lamar Jackson will be the league MVP, but he has to go out and show he can do it in a playoff game. The pressure is on. But I think in this offense he will respond. Look for a lot of points as both quarterbacks play well, but the Ravens will win a close one behind Jackson.

Pick: Ravens 30, Texans 29

Green Bay Packers (+9.5) at San Francisco 49ers
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET (Fox, fubo)

The Packers really looked good in beating up the Cowboys last week on the road. Winning a second straight road game against the NFC’s best team won’t be easy. The 49ers will be rested coming off the bye. Will there be rust? Jordan Love has been special the last eight weeks and showed up in a big way last week against the Cowboys. I think that carries over. The 49ers defensive front is tough, but the Packers offensive line is playing well. If you block them, you beat them. The Packers will have a big day throwing it. The 49ers will score as well, as Brock Purdy also has a big day. This will be a shootout. In the end, I am calling for the upset. The Packers pull off a stunner.

Pick: Packers 33, 49ers 31

If you want a more analytical approach to your NFL picks, then I highly suggest that you check out the SportsLine Projection Model, which has been on fire this year. Check it out if you want to know which side to bet for every game in the divisional round.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+6.5) at Detroit Lions
Sunday, 3 p.m. ET (NBC, fubo)

Both these teams are coming off big home victories, with the Lions earning another home game. The Bucs blew out the Eagles as Baker Mayfield came up big. The Lions had to hold on against the Rams. Detroit played well on offense, but the defense showed some flaws. That could lead to another good day by Mayfield and his receivers. I think Jared Goff will also play well, especially if he can handle the Bucs blitz. Ben Johnson will have a plan for that. The Lions beat the Bucs earlier this season in Tampa, but it was close. This will also be close, but I think this time Tampa Bay gets payback and advances to the title game. Mayfield will keep it rolling. Upset.

Pick: Bucs 30, Lions 28

Kansas City Chiefs at Buffalo Bills (-2.5)
Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET (CBS, Paramount+)

This is the game of the week between two teams that have met in recent years, but this game is a Bills home game. That means Patrick Mahomes will be playing the first road playoff game in his career. It sure doesn’t come in an easy place to play. The Bills have rolled into the playoffs, needing to win every game down the stretch, but they have some major defensive injuries. The Chiefs offense showed well last week against Miami, so that could be a problem. Josh Allen has to limit his mistakes, which he did in the victory over the Steelers. I think he does here as the Bills beat the Chiefs to advance to the AFC championship game.

Pick: Bills 28, Chiefs 23


Can 49ers, Ravens live up to hype?

Super Wild Card Weekend is in the books, and we’re already onto the next round of action in the 2024 NFL playoffs. Six teams have moved on. Another six have been left behind. While the latter clubs will no doubt hurry to begin planning for the offseason, those who remain in the mix for this year’s Lombardi Trophy have plenty of their own hurdles to clear in the coming weeks.

On that note, here are the biggest questions facing each of the teams remaining in the playoffs:

Baltimore Ravens: Can Lamar get over the hump?
Past playoff games may not directly affect Lamar Jackson going into their Divisional Round matchup with Houston, but just like Dak Prescott in Dallas, he’s still got big-stage boxes to check, entering with a 1-3 record as a playoff starter. He’s been more efficient as a passer and decision-maker in Todd Monken’s system, but now it’s time to deliver in a must-win scenario.

Buffalo Bills: Can they survive more injuries on ‘D’?
We all know Josh Allen, James Cook, Stefon Diggs and Dalton Kincaid are capable of getting this team on the scoreboard. But after missing key starters in Rasul Douglas and Tyrel Dodson, Buffalo’s defense took more hits against Pittsburgh, losing Taron Johnson and Terrel Bernard, among others. They’ll need as many reinforcements as they can get versus Kansas City.

Detroit Lions: How long will the clean pockets last?
They deserve all the credit in the world for bringing playoff hopes to fruition, and Jared Goff was particularly sharp in their back-and-forth with the Rams. But almost all his work came from a pristine pocket. We know Goff is a different quarterback when pressured — more affected than most — and the Buccaneers are coming into town after a blitz-crazy domination of the Eagles.

Green Bay Packers: How far can the youth movement go?
Jordan Love looked unstoppable slinging it against the so-called “elite” Cowboys defense in Green Bay’s blowout wild-card win. The speed at his disposal was also apparent. But facing the 49ers is a different task, with even more experience and physicality on the other side. Is it possible the Packers are a year ahead of schedule? Or are they so electric to play spoiler again?

Houston Texans: Can the defense hold up?
There are precious few questions about C.J. Stroud right now, especially after the remarkable rookie QB shredded the Browns’ vaunted defense in the wild-card round. But Joe Flacco’s reckless passing may have aided their own “D,” whereas Lamar Jackson and Co. should pose a greater threat this weekend. They’ve been a bit more vulnerable through the air.

Kansas City Chiefs: Will they stay committed to the run?
Let’s be real: When push comes to shove, it’s Patrick Mahomes who’s built to propel this team, as well as the Chris Jones-led defense, whose physicality completely befuddled the Dolphins. But Isiah Pacheco has been an underrated key for their success; the Chiefs are 8-2 this year when he gets at least 15 carries, helping balance an attack also featuring an emergent Rashee Rice.

San Francisco 49ers: Can they live up to the hype?
No one really denies the all-star talent they’ve got on both sides of the ball, not to mention the sidelines. Now it comes down to meeting expectations. Brock Purdy’s last playoff start ended early due to injury, and Christian McCaffrey is coming off a calf issue. If they’re both healthy along with the other pillars of Kyle Shanahan’s attack, they’re well positioned to advance.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Can they tighten up in opposing territory?
Baker Mayfield was on fire dicing up the porous Eagles defense on Monday, as was Todd Bowles’ pass rush, but the crazy thing is Tampa Bay probably could’ve — or should’ve — beaten Philly by even more. Mayfield took a couple sacks that pushed them out of field-goal range, and drops also hurt potential scoring series. They’ll need to be sharper to beat Detroit.


Heavy snow to hit Buffalo prior to NFL divisional round playoff game

The Buffalo Bills overcame both extreme winter weather and the seventh-seeded Pittsburgh Steelers to earn the opportunity to play host to the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes in the AFC divisional round on Sunday.

Mahomes will be experiencing his first true road playoff game in his career after playing his first 15 either at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City or in neutral site locations for the Super Bowl. He and the Bills will also be playing in frigid conditions once again this week.

A lake-effect snow warning is in place in Western New York, which includes Orchard Park where the Bills’ Highmark Stadium is located. That means Buffalo could receive one to three feet of snow while additional storming could run the total to over four feet. This warning is in place until Thursday at 7 p.m. ET, per Accuweather, Buffalo could receive snow fall through Saturday.

That means the game between the Chiefs and Bills, which kicks off at 6:30 p.m. ET Sunday, likely won’t be affected by falling snow, but the home team may struggle getting its players and coaches into the team facility for practices and meetings during the week. A week ago, New York governor Kathy Hocul issued a travel ban during the storms a week ago, but there isn’t one in place currently.

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“We’ve got a plan in place to make sure we’re getting the players in at the right time, as well as the staff, and trying to be on top of that from a scheduling standpoint,” McDermott said on Tuesday, per The Associated Press. “So we’ll handle it. Confident in that. And the best thing we can do right now is just have great communication around it for right now.”


49ers edge Ravens for No. 1, plus surprise to round out top five

There are only eight remaining teams in the NFL playoffs with Super Bowl LVIII just 25 days away. Of the eight remaining teams, it’s hard to argue that any of them aren’t among the league’s upper echelon.

Five of the six remaining teams who played last weekend defeated a lower-ranked team at home. The lone exception was the Packers, who shocked the No. 2-seeded Cowboys after putting 48 points on the board. By virtue of their performance in that game, the Packers should be considered as one of the league’s top teams and a legitimate threat moving forward.

The Packers have a daunting test in front of them, though. Up next for Green Bay is a 49ers team that is oozing with talent and coming off a bye week. It was a similar scene in 1995, when a young quarterback named Brett Favre dethroned Steve Young and the rest of the defending champion 49ers in San Francisco in the divisional round.

Both the 49ers and Packers are included in our rankings of the eight remaining playoff teams. We’ll see how accurate our list is when the divisional round wraps up next Sunday night in Buffalo.

  1. Houston Texans
    I’m not taking anything away from Houston and the awesome season they’ve had. But someone has to be last on this list, and that distinction unfortunately goes to a Texans team that has the most question marks of any of the remaining teams.

The Texans have a rookie phenom in C.J. Stroud, but they don’t have a proven running game that can back him up. Houston has a young and talented defense that has been stellar against the run. But its pass defense (much like Detroit) can be a liability.

No one should be surprised, however, if Demeco Ryans’ team manages to surprise anyone this weekend by pulling off a major upset. The Texans are a confident team that doesn’t look at themselves as underdogs. That mindset alone gives Houston a puncher’s chance against Lamar Jackson and the top-seeded Ravens.

If they do pull off the unthinkable, it’ll likely be because of Stroud and a defense that had two pick-sixes during last weekend’s blowout win over Cleveland.

  1. Detroit Lions
    I can hear the boos from Detroit, but before Lions fans bury me, let me just say that it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Detroit wound up in the Super Bowl. The Lions are that good and have been that good all year, starting with their season-opening win over the Chiefs.

Detroit’s pass defense, however, is a red flag, and a big one. The unit, despite the inspired play of rookie safety Brian Branch, has struggled all year, especially against elite receivers. That’s bad news this weekend considering the wideouts the Buccaneers have.

The Lions have the offense, though, to go all the way. More specifically, they have the quarterback to get them to the place they’ve never been. Jared Goff’s resurgence in Detroit is something we really haven’t seen in the NFL since 1980, when fellow former No. 1 overall pick Jim Plunkett overcame a disappointing start to his career to lead the Raiders to a Super Bowl win.

Could Goff do something similar over the next month? He could, but he’ll have to beat the Buccaneers first.

  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
    It was a hard call between Tampa and Detroit, but the Buccaneers’ defense ultimately gave them the nod over the team they’ll face this weekend. Defense usually wins games in the playoffs, and Tampa has a decided edge here. Todd Bowels’ unit was seventh in the NFL in points allowed during the regular season and allowed just nine points during Monday night’s win over the Eagles. The unit is led by All-Pro safety Antoine Winfield Jr., who had three interceptions, six sacks, four forced fumbles and 122 tackles during the regular season.

Tampa’s offense is more talented that the stats would suggest, especially when you consider what it has at receiver. The Buccaneers still have one of the league’s top WR duos in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, who are both still playing at a high level. The quarterback throwing to them, Baker Mayfield, is playing the best ball of his career.

  1. Green Bay Packers
    You could argue the Packers deserve an ever higher spot after being the only road team to win a playoff game during Super Wild Card Weekend. But given where they were at the start of the playoffs (a 9-8 team that made the postseason as a No. 7 seed), I think No. 5 is a fair spot.

Green Bay’s shocking upset win over the Cowboys was anything but a fluke. The Packers manhandled Dallas on both sides of the ball, especially on offense. Jordan Love throughly outplayed Dak Prescott and was extremely close to becoming only the third quarterback to post a perfect passer rating in a playoff game.

Love had success by spreading the ball around and finding the soft spots in the Cowboys’ defense. He was complemented by Aaron Jones, who submitted his third straight 100-yard rushing performance.

Green Bay’s defense was just as good, with four sacks and two picks of Prescott. It also shut down the Cowboys’ running game, which will have to happen again in San Francisco if the Packers are going to keep their season going.

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  1. Kansas City Chiefs
    The Chiefs remind me a lot of the 2018 Patriots team that “sucked” (in Tom Brady’s words) before winning the franchise’s sixth Lombardi. That New England team underwhelmed for most of the year before turning it on in the playoffs.

The Patriots received a big postseason that year from then-rookie first-round running back Sony Michel. This past Saturday night, the Chiefs’ offense got a big performance from rookie first-round wide receiver Rashee Rice, who recorded a career-high 130 yards that included the game’s first touchdown.

If you recall, the Patriots held the Rams to just three points in that year’s Super Bowl. The Chiefs’ defense could pull off a similar feat this postseason. Led by Chris Jones, the unit finished second in the league in points allowed during the regular season.

New England’s defining moment that year came in Kansas City in the AFC title game. If the Chiefs are able to repeat as champions this season, it’s safe to say their defining moment will come Sunday in Buffalo in what will be Patrick Mahomes’ first road playoff game.

  1. Buffalo Bills
    If Buffalo doesn’t go all the way, injuries will be a big reason why. Sean McDermott classified nine players as day-to-day one day after his team’s Super Wild Card Weekend win over Pittsburgh.

Injuries aside, the Bills are still a dangerous squad. Buffalo jumped out to a 21-0 lead over the Steelers en route to a 31-17 win. Josh Allen played like the star that he is with three touchdowns passing and a 52-yard scoring jaunt. The defense forced two critical Steelers turnovers that the offense turned into 14 points.

Along with Buffalo’s stingy defense, a reason why this could be Buffalo’s year is its resurgent running game, led by James Cook. Cook’s running has further opened things up for Allen while giving Buffalo’s offense the balance it had been lacking in previous years.

  1. Baltimore Ravens
    Baltimore enters the playoffs with a healthy Jackson and the regular season’s top-ranked scoring defense. Jackson will probably win his second league MVP of his career after throwing more than three times as many touchdown passes as interceptions and also leading the Ravens in rushing. It’s safe to say Jackson enjoys playing in first year OC Todd Monken’s offense.

As great as Jackson is, he won’t get his just due until he wins a Super Bowl. That may happen this season as long as Jackson stays healthy. If Baltimore is able to win it all, it’ll likely be because of Jackson and a defense that tallied 60 sacks and 18 interceptions during the regular season.

  1. San Francisco 49ers
    It’s hard to argue against the 49ers, whose roster boasts a league-best nine Pro Bowlers. San Francisco finished third in the NFL in both points scored and points allowed during the regular season.

Kyle Shanahan’s offense has been extremely balanced this season, which is one of the things that makes playing them so difficult. The offense is centered around the talents of MVP candidate Christian McCaffrey, who makes plays in both the running and passing games. If there is a question here, it is whether or not Brock Purdy can lead the 49ers to victory in the playoffs if McCaffrey and the running game are held in check.

Defensively, the 49ers are as good as it gets. They have a ferocious pass rush that only got stronger with the arrival of Chase Young at the trade deadline. The unit is anchored by Fred Warner, who filled the stat sheet this season with 132 tackles, four interceptions, four forced fumbles and 2.5 sacks.