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PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Eagles are the first top seed in NFL history to enter its opening playoff game as an underdog.

According to standout defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, it’s just another example of this Eagles team not getting its proper respect.

“We’ve been disrespected all year,” he said. “Our record can speak for itself. We’re a team that’s been disrespected week in and week out, and we just come out and ring the bell every week.”

The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook set the opening line at minus-2.5 in favor of the sixth-seeded Falcons, who upset the Los Angeles Rams in the wild-card round to advance.

Since 1975, when the NFL began basing home-field advantage on teams’ regular-season winning percentage, no No. 1 seed has ever been an underdog in its first playoff game, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Until now.

“It just puts a bigger chip on our shoulder and just adds fuel to the fire, and that’s what this team, obviously, has been going off of all year,” Cox said, “people doubting us every week. So we just want to go out and shut those doubters up.”

Westgate Superbook oddsmaker Ed Salmons estimates the Eagles could have been as much as a 6.5-point favorite over the Falcons with a healthy Carson Wentz. The fact that Wentz is out with a torn ACL is clearly having a major impact on public perception. So, too, has the recent play of backup Nick Foles. He’s 23-of-49 (47 percent) for 202 yards with a TD over his past five quarters of work.

Following a Christmas night win over the Oakland Raiders, in which Foles and the offense struggled, right tackle Lane Johnson faced a string of questions about his unit’s down play despite the fact that the Eagles had just improved to 13-2. He later told reporters that he was done talking for the year, but he rescinded that a week later after he’d cooled off.

“Obviously I wasn’t happy with the way we performed, but then again, we are where we are and it’s kind of, nothing is ever good enough,” he said last week. “There’s kind of pros and cons to it. I think it’s a good motivator. It’ll piss you off and get a lot of guys fired up, and that’s what it did for me.”

Not everyone is using external forces as motivation. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz insists he has no idea in a given week whether his team is a favorite or underdog, and he’s not going to start paying attention to that now.

“The game’s going to be about preparing well, the game’s going to be about executing on Saturday,” he said, “and the teams that do that the best are going to win, not the team that got picked by the most number of analysts or experts or what the simulation games say or any of that stuff. That has zero bearing on the game for us.”

But it is serving as good bulletin-board material for some.

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Arizona Cardinals

Arizona Cardinals

If Bruce Arians really had it in the back of his mind that this will be his last season coaching the Cardinals, it’s doubtful he would have gotten so excitable when he was asked the followed question:

Are you intrigued with the prospect of finding and developing the team’s next quarterback of the future?

“Oh gosh, yeah. That’s always been the most exciting thing in coaching for me,” Arians said Tuesday after shooting down false reports stating he has decided to mutually part ways with the franchise next week.

“I go back to that year (in 2012) with Andrew Luck and it was one of the most fun years ever, other than Chuck’s illness,” Arians continued, referring to when he became interim head coach of the Indianapolis Colts following Chuck Pagano’s battle with leukemia. “Just fun coaching every day and watching him grow. Same thing with Peyton (Manning). It was just fun watching those guys grow.”

Arians only spent one season working with Luck, but it was enough to get the rookie quarterback on his way and Arians think he can do it again next year once the Cardinals isolate and determine their own young, new quarterback.

“I would think so,” he said. “It’s just a matter of if the excitement is there. You just continue doing it, you know.”

So far, the excitement is still there, the coach confirmed.

“I got up at 5 this morning and I was excited to get here, so that hasn’t changed,” Arians said, adding his improved health has also been influential and could impact his coaching future. “Yeah, that’s made a big difference. No major things happened this year, so that’s been huge.”

On Tuesday morning, however, Pro Football Weekly reported that the 65-year-old Arians was prepared to walk away from coaching. Among other things, Hub Arkush wrote, “Arians is a prostate cancer survivor who has battled other health issues in recent seasons and the prospect of a possible rebuild for the Cardinals with no apparent answers at quarterback on the horizon is apparently enough for Arians to decide to call it quits or at least take a hiatus from coaching.”

After opening his weekly news conference with the usual review regarding injuries and some brief thoughts from Sunday’s 23-0 shutout of the Giants, Arians brought up the report himself.

“If you want to ask me about this fake news story that has come up – I’m quoting the President now – nothing has changed. I don’t know where all that s–t came from,” Arians said, laughing. “Nothing has changed for the last month and a half and everybody keeps asking the same question.”

Arians was asked about that report specifically and why others have speculated as well that this will be his final season as coach of the Cardinals.

“I have no idea. I don’t even know who in the heck this guy is,” Arians said. “I don’t know where these supposed meetings took place. That’s fun. It was good reading.”

Asked if he’s getting a little sore about all the false reports, Arians nodded his head.

“I’m getting a little tired of it, yeah,” he said. “There will come a time and a place when we decide what we’re going to do. I guess Larry (Fitzgerald) has put up with this for like eight years. I guess I can put up with it for one.”

Arians, who is under contract for next season and has a team option for 2019, was asked how often he thinks about his coaching future in Arizona.

“I never think about it,” he said. “That’s why I get tired of them asking the question. I never think about it. I only think about Seattle. Last week, I only thought about New York, trying to figure out a way with this offensive line we’re playing with to block those guys.”

At 7-8, the Cardinals can finish the season .500 with a victory this Sunday at Seattle, where they have beaten the Seahawks three times under Arians. A win would also give Arians his 50th with the Cardinals, eclipsing the tie he shares with Ken Whisenhunt for the most victories ever by a Cardinals head coach.

“This is fun,” Arians said. “Get to 8-8 and play Seattle? It seems like we play them in the last game every year. This is our playoff game. Our guys will be motivated just like theirs. They’re going to be super motivated because they have to win (to have any chance at making the playoffs). It should be a great game.

“If you’re going to be a spoiler, that’s the one you want to do it against.”

Once that game is over, Arians will huddle with his staff, General Manager Steve Keim and the players, turn in all their reports, hold some final team meetings, and then take some time to contemplate what’s next.

“I’ll sit down with my wife and son and daughter and we’ll talk about it and see if we can make a decision sometime between Monday and February,” he said.

Arians said the futures of Fitzgerald and veteran quarterback Carson Palmer will not be tied to his decision at all. “They’re all separate,” he said. He did mention all the injuries the Cardinals suffered this season and how nice it will be to have a full arsenal of players to work with again, naming off several names such as David Johnson, Markus Golden and others.

That’s why Bruce Arians loves coaching. It’s the players, he said.

“It’s the relationships,” he said. “The relationships with the players. Building the roster. There really isn’t anything I don’t like about it.”

Then why leave?

“Who says I am?” Arians asked, laughing.

Everybody, apparently.

“Everybody out of town,” Arians said. “Everybody out of town.”
Cardinals injury news

Safety Antoine Bethea, who made two interceptions in the win over the Giants, suffered a torn pectoral muscle in the game and has been placed on injured reserve. Linebacker Edmond Robinson was elevated to the active roster from the practice squad. He played in 21 games for the Vikings the past two seasons.
Bruce Arians’ record with the Cardinals

2013: 10-6

2014: 11-5

2015: 13-3

2016: 7-8-1

2017: 7-8

RELATED: Cards on playing spoiler in Seattle next week: ‘There’s our playoff game’

MORE: Bruce Arians tied for most wins by a coach in Arizona Cardinals history

RELATED: Cards defense comes through with a Christmas Eve shutout

Reach McManaman at bob.mcmanaman@arizonarepublic.com. Follow him on Twitter @azbobbymac and listen to him live every Wednesday night between 7-9 on Fox Sports 910-AM on The Freaks with Kenny and Crash.

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Vance Joseph

Vance Joseph

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — After sifting through the wreckage of Sunday’s 28-point loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Denver Broncos coach Vance Joseph has decided to give Brock Osweiler another start at quarterback.

Osweiler will be behind center when the 3-5 Broncos face the New England Patriots this Sunday. And while Joseph didn’t like much of what he saw in Denver’s 51-23 loss to the Eagles, he said Osweiler’s work in the days leading up to the game earned the sixth-year quarterback another start.

“I thought Brock had an excellent week of preparation,” Joseph said Monday. “It felt good to our team, it was a confident week, the energy was there, it was detailed. … Brock’s experience Brock’s personality really helped our team bounce back and gave us confidence going into this week. I think Brock’s earned it from that standpoint.”

The Broncos benched Trevor Siemian after seven games and put Osweiler in the lineup against the Eagles. Last week, Joseph said he would look at how things went in Philadelphia and then decide who the quarterback would be against the Patriots this Sunday night.

And once again Joseph would only commit to Osweiler starting against the Patriots and said that he would re-evaluate things a week from now. Osweiler finished 19-of-38 passing for 208 yards to go with a touchdown and two interceptions in the loss to the Eagles.

“In the football game … he had two interceptions, which he can’t have, he understands that,” Joseph said. “He had a couple ill-advised throws. Brock had some good things, the red-zone audible for the (Demaryius Thomas) touchdown, that was one of Brock’s audibles. I think Brock deserves one more week to prove he’s the guy for us.”

For his part, Osweiler expressed his hope, following the loss, that he would get another chance.

“Absolutely, I think every player in the National Football League plays this game to be the starter, to contribute to his team, to help their football team win games,” Osweiler said. “So, I would love to be the starter of this football team. I can promise you that this game is not going to discourage me. I’m going to work harder than ever to clean up these problems and get us back in the win column.”

The Broncos have scored 14 touchdowns on offense in eight games and are 22nd in the league in scoring (18.8 points per game), 17th in total offense (327.3 yards per game), 21st in yards per play (4.9) to go with 18th in third down conversions.

The biggest issue, however, and the one that was likely the biggest factor in Siemian’s benching, has been turnovers. The Broncos are 31st in the league in turnovers, with 19 — only the winless Cleveland Browns have more.

That total includes 12 interceptions, second-highest total in the league behind the Browns’ 17. At the moment the Patriots are last in the league in total defense (417 yards allowed per game), last in the league in pass defense (295.5 yards allowed per game) and 24th in the run defense (121.5 yards allowed per game).

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Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys

Sherrington: Why is it they’re struggling so much against the run?

Machota: Sean Lee would be where I start. I think you’re a different defense with Sean Lee out there. With that being said, I really didn’t feel this defense was going to be any better than it was the last couple years – it’s still going to be a team that has to win with its offense. Really in the NFL nowadays there really isn’t a dominant team. You don’t have to be this complete team on both sides of the ball. But these last two games are games they won last year. When the offense played the way they did against the Rams and against the Packers, those had games they’d closed out but couldn’t get the stop late. Yeah Sean Lee being out is a big part of it but you have guys in there that you think can get the job done but that just isn’t the strong part of their team. Fans get annoyed because they can’t make these key stops but we haven’t seen them make these key stops over the last three or four years. I don’t see that changing any time soon. They’ve invested in the defense early in the draft but they have to do that multiple drafts to get to where the defense is the strength of the team and I don’t see that happening in the next year or two.

Sherrington: So Sean Lee will get back and of course two weeks ago Anthony Hitchens was back against the Packers and he had one really good moment… Is any (linebacker) help going to have to come from within?

Machota: The best thing that could happen is they get Sean Lee back and for Sean Lee to be healthy. If he’s out there and healthy … this isn’t really your traditional defense where you have three linebackers on the field at all times. You’re basically playing two. If Lee’s out there all the time, then really you have to worry about one other spot, that being the middle spot with Anthony Hitchens and Jaylon Smith. I think if you have all three of those guys playing, I think they’re going to be pretty strong at linebacker because Jaylon Smith playing 60 plays, that’s just not the right thing to do right now. They had to do it because they were thin at the position, with Sean Lee being out. Your best bet with Jaylon Smith right now is playing 25-30 plays and that’s what it looks like it’ll be with Anthony Hitchens back. That being said, Anthony Hitchens was dealing with an injury to start the season.

The hamstring injuries, as we all know from following the Cowboys, how common those things are and how they can flare up and get work. So there’s no guarantee that those guys are going to all be out there, but you’re greatest hope at linebacker would be that all three of them can stay healthy enough to stay on the field and if they do I think they’ll be fine there. That’s asking a lot because of the injuries in the past, and that’s why I think you would kick the tires on a Navarro Bowman if they were given the opportunity. Obviously he stayed in the Bay Area by signing the one year deal with Oakland, but that’s why you kick the tires on that if given the opportunity. You really do need another linebacker in there that you can count on. Now the next guy up would be Damien Wilson, but I don’t think Damien Wilson right now is at the same level as Navarro Bowman, so if you can upgrade it you try, but really they need those three guys to stay healthy.

Sherrington: The problem for Jaylon Smith is even if you cut his snaps down, and you’re right 60 was ridiculous, to get it down to 25 or 30, the point is it’s not so much that he’s being exposed because he’s worn out. He just doesn’t have the speed at this point to cover running backs coming out of the backfield. You watch his straight ahead stuff he’s pretty good, but when he has to go side-to-side, that’s where he really struggles. To me if he’s playing 25 plays or if he’s playing 10 plays or 15 plays, he’s still going to get in trouble in those kinds of situations. An opponent is going to look at that and they’re going to see him out there and they’re going to make him the focal point, I think, of what they use to try and beat the Cowboys.

I think that’s the big problem here, is that Jaylon Smith got rushed back, and by the Cowboys who were trying to trumpet this as oh my gosh, he’s just going to be an unbelievable player and we said all along that was unfair to him to say that and have those expectations. And now we’re seeing it’s not just about it being bad public relations, it’s just a bad job of planning. If you didn’t have the faith in Damien Wilson to come in and be the guy who’d fill in if Jaylon couldn’t make it, if you really believed all that and you didn’t think Damien Wilson was good enough, well then shame on you.

Machota: I think they also did it to build some confidence in Jaylon Smith. To get him out there and maybe the more he played, the more comfortable he’d get …

With that said, I think you can do that at 30 snaps. I don’t think you need to be giving him 60. I think that was too much, it put him in a bad spot, but I think it’s interesting also with what happened to Aaron Rodgers recently and the way the Packers have handled compared to the way the Cowboys handled it. It’s interesting, you mention Jaylon Smith and how it’s a disservice to him that they wanted to bring him back and they talked up of what kind of player he’s going to be when he comes back, and just the way the Packers have handled everything with Aaron Rodgers makes me think about that a lot. Because he has this collarbone injury, he’s going to have surgery on it. The same thing as Tony Romo.

Well when that happened to Tony Romo, what was Jerry Jones doing? He was going on the radio talking about we could have Tony back in six to eight weeks. Look at the way the Packers handled it. They’re already saying that yeah he’s probably done for the season. If Jerry Jones was the owner of the Packers right now, do you believe that he would be sitting there and saying yeah we’re without Rodgers for the rest of the season, so we’ve got this Hundley kid and this is our guy. No, Jerry Jones would be doing his radio show up in Green Bay about Rodgers isn’t done, the bone heals in six weeks and he could be back in eight and that’s just the difference between the Cowboys and other teams. Now I do believe you should get Jaylon Smith out there because I do think getting on the field builds confidence, especially being away from the game for a year with that injury. I just don’t think he ever should have been on the field for 60 plus plays.