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Bengal Bytes (12/16): Playing Santa

Vontaze Burfict shows his charitable side amid all the "dirty player" talk. San Francisco's defense looks to get back to basics against the Bengals. The Broncos will start Brock Osweiler against the Steelers, but it is possible Peyton Manning will be ready for the Bengals.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Tez tackles X-Mas
It was after Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict told seven-year-old Braylen Snider to pick out anything he wanted and put it in the shopping cart and after they couldn’t find an iPad for six-year-old Brice at Toys-R-Us in Florence, Ky., when Bryan Snider realized just how special the night had been.

No, the Bengals can’t win the Super Bowl without Andy Dalton
In a cruel twist of fate, the worst throw of Andy Dalton’s season may very well go down as his last. After failing to recognize Stephon Tuitt sniffing out a screen, the Bengals quarterback flipped it right into the defensive lineman’s hands and in making the tackle Dalton’s right thumb was fractured. As he was hauled off to the locker room the Bengals’ Super Bowl aspirations followed closely behind.

The Cincinnati Bengals are built to be competitive even with a backup at QB
Don't assume the Bengals are toast without Andy Dalton in the short-term, or a diminished Dalton in the playoffs. This team is well-outfitted to allow a backup to succeed, writes Bill Barnwell.

Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger doesn't buy excuse from Cincinnati Bengals' Vontaze Burfict
Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict said he was pushed into Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, but Roethlisberger said he doesn't buy that excuse.

Offseason energizes McCarron
A.J. McCarron, energized by a Twitter-less offseason and a trip west, says he has transformed his throwing motion and arm strength into a better passer than the one that threw 77 touchdown passes with just 15 interceptions for the Crimson Tide.

Bengals Walkthru: Diagnosis adds importance to bye
In case earning a first-round bye didn't already seem like a better idea than repeating the routine of playing in the first weekend the past four seasons, Monday happens to add even more incentive.

Behind Enemy lines

San Francisco 49ers' defense must go back to basics after meltdown
The San Francisco 49ers' defense seemingly had been taking positive steps in recent weeks, giving the Niners a shot at pulling off an upset against the Arizona Cardinals at home before keeping the team in the game long enough for the offense to steal one in overtime at the Chicago Bears. Sunday's game against Cleveland, though, was the epitome of regression.

Are the 49ers heading for the auction block?
Especially with Jed York, who has run your favorite toy into the ground and seems to have it headed straight to China. The family righted the 49ers’ ship after an awkward ownership turnover caused by former owner Eddie DeBartolo’s clumsy mistake. An NFL team is a money tree on steroids, and this one provides Denise’s oldest child a great opportunity and challenge.

Once-Hot Cincinnati Bengals Limp To Levi’s Stadium On Sunday
Back in the 1980s, the San Francisco 49ers beat the Cincinnati Bengals twice in the Super Bowl by a combined nine points. While the 49ers went on to NFL glory against other teams, the Bengals have never been back to the big game. In fact, Cincinnati hasn’t even won a playoff game since the 1990 postseason, while San Francisco has been in the playoffs a dozen times since then.

Random Bytes

The best athlete on each NFL team
J.J. Watt? Odell Beckham Jr.? Yes, those choices are obvious. But who are the other players that stand out in each locker room because of their athleticism? NFL Nation takes a team-by-team look.

NFL Report Cards: Team-by-Team Grades for Week 14
The latest NFL news, rumors, scores, schedules, predictions, picks against the spread, free agent updates, power rankings, mock drafts and more

Marcell Dareus: Bills 'jumped the gun' on preseason hype
Enhancing the bitter disappointment of a 16th consecutive Buffalo Bills season about to end without a playoff appearance is the fact that what was supposed to have been the team's greatest strength has been its greatest shortcoming: defense. But tackle Marcell Dareus, whose performance has been among the most disappointing aspects of the Bills' 6-7 record (especially after he received a $100-million-plus contract), said Tuesday the letdown had as much to do with unrealistic expectations as anything else.

Brock Osweiler to start Sunday for Broncos vs. Steelers
Brock Osweiler will be running the Denver Broncos' offense for at least one more week. The Broncos announced Tuesday that Osweiler will start Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. In addition, the team said Peyton Manning is expected to practice Wednesday for the first time since he was benched against the Chiefs last month after suffering a torn plantar fascia in his left foot.