With Wild Card Weekend upon us, NFL.com's network of reporters gets you up to speed with the hottest news and notes from across the league, including:
» The emergence of a new defensive star in Houston.
But first, an offensive dynamo hopes to make his first career playoff appearance count ...
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"You thrive on these special situations knowing that big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games," Beckham said, "and that's what we all need to do."
For Beckham, the stakes have never been higher, and he will stick with what he knows on game day, a pregame routine that attracts a lot of attention -- but is not for show.
About two hours before kickoff against the Packers, he and the Giants receivers will warm up with quarterback Eli Manning and backup Josh Johnson for about 20 minutes. After that, Beckham will go through his personal ritual, making one-handed catches in the end zone on passes from assistant equipment manager Ed Skiba. The windmill catches draw the most reactions from those standing on the sidelines. All of them, Beckham says, are valuable to his preparation.
"It's not for fun. It's not for kicks and giggles or to gain attention," Beckham told me. "If I could get into the stadium and nobody was in there, I'd still do it."
Especially when the Giants are home, the early-arriving fans react to every catch. Beckham, who wears headphones, says he hears only his music.
Rookie receiver Sterling Shepard: "It's Odell. He can do that." Shepard smiled. "He's working on one-handed catches; the rest of us are working on two."
"Just go get it," Beckham said of the play. "However you can, you have to go get it."
That play was no accident, either. Beckham's commitment to using and strengthening his left hand -- he is right-handed -- dates back to long before his arrival in the NFL. By about 16 years.
Beckham's stepfather, Derek Mills, is ambidextrous. When Beckham was about 5, he began asking Mills -- the former sprinter and Olympic gold medalist -- to teach him to use his left hand, whether it was to golf, to bowl, to throw a football, to shoot a basketball, to hit a baseball.
"I wanted to be left-handed, and I was let down," Beckham said. "I try to make myself left-handed."
These days, Beckham said he uses his left hand to text and to brush his teeth. ("Try it," he advises.) Always looking for any edge.
"I drive with my left hand," he said, pausing before a quick interjection: "Obviously, I drive [with my hands at] 10 and 2. But when I don't, I drive with my left hand."
Heather Van Norman, Beckham's mother, laughs as she tells the story of a 10-year-old Odell insisting that his sister, Jasmyne, use her left hand as a baby. Now 14, Jasmyne plays volleyball and can serve right- and left-handed.
"It's almost as if you force it," Odell said. "Force yourself to strengthen a weakness."
There are, of course, few weaknesses in Beckham's game. He is a three-time Pro Bowler, the third player in NFL history to begin his career with three straight seasons of at least 1,000 receiving yards and 10 receiving touchdowns (joining Randy Moss and John Jefferson). And he accounted for 33.9 percent of the Giants' receiving yards this season, a percentage that led the league.
In his three seasons, individual acclaim and achievement have come more easily to Beckham than team success. The Giants won six games in 2014 and again in 2015.
"I'd trade it all -- twice -- to be in the playoffs every year," Beckham said. "There's no point in playing to go 5-11, 6-10. You don't come here to lose."
"Our eyes are on the Super Bowl," he said. "I don't understand why it sounds ridiculous for somebody to say [that]. You put it into the atmosphere, you put it in the universe, you speak things into existence. And you never know what could happen. But you've got to take your shot. You know what I mean? If you don't shoot, you can't score."
We'll assume that's right- -- or left- -- handed.
And now, the rest of this week's notes from NFL.com's reporters:
HOUSTON TEXANS: Examining Bouye's big breakout. Before the start of the season, Denver Broncos CB Aqib Talib, who loves to study other cornerbacks around the league, told me Houston's A.J. Bouye was going to have a breakout season. The prediction was based off what Talib saw while the two worked out together this offseason -- an offseason during which Bouye claims he changed his mental approach to the game.
Well, the breakout came for Bouye, who was signed by the Texans as an undrafted free agent out of Central Florida in 2013. Yes, he only had one interception in the regular season, but he also had 16 pass breakups. It's rare you see him miss a tackle, and it's even more rare to see him give up a touchdown. And he grades out as one of the best cover corners in football. Players know other players, and Bouye hasn't only impressed his workout partner, who's one of the best cornerbacks in football.
"I'm glad he's gotten his opportunity," Murray told me. "He's been balling, man."
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OAKLAND RAIDERS: Murray ready to face old mentor's team. This season, Latavius Murray became the first Raiders player to record 10 or more rushing touchdowns since Marcus Allen in 1990. Murray finished the regular season with 12 scores. With MVP candidate Derek Carr out at quarterback, Murray believes the three-headed rushing attack comprised of himself, Jalen Richard (averaging 5.9 yards per rush this season) and DeAndre Washington (averaging 7.5 yards per rush in his last two games) must carry this team moving forward.
Oakland has what is believed to be the second-best offensive line in football, behind the Dallas Cowboys. The Raiders allowed the fewest sacks in the NFL this season (18), though with rookie quarterback Connor Cook making his first NFL start in a playoff game -- he'll be the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to make his first start in the playoffs -- the added protection from the running backs will be needed.
If Murray ends up having a monster game against the Texans, Houston coach Bill O'Brien could be glaring not at defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel but at offensive coordinator George Godsey. Why? Because at UCF, Godsey was Murray's running backs coach, and Murray credits Godsey for much of his success at the NFL level.
"He taught me a lot, man," Murray told me of Godsey. "Especially in the offense, as far as protections and being more than just being a running back and being a runner. Godsey was a smart guy, so obviously he wanted that to trickle down to the running backs, so he always made it a point of emphasis for us to get the protections down."
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Even so, Seattle isn't playing its best football. Defensively, things have not been the same since free safety Earl Thomasbroke his leg and was lost for the season at the beginning of December. Offensively, the ground game has been highly inconsistent because of injuries at running back and poor play along the offensive line.
"Of course, things aren't the same without Earl," strong safety Kam Chancellor said. "His mind is one of a kind. His speed is one of a kind. The way he plays is one of a kind. Still, we know how to win. Steven Terrell (Thomas' replacement) has speed and intelligence. He just doesn't have experience. He's rarely played. He doesn't recognize some things yet. The good thing is, he's not making mistakes he's already made, again."
Plenty of respect for Stafford. Defensive end Michael Bennett said Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has been so impressive on film that nobody has even talked about Stafford's hand injury, which has required him to wear a protective glove. Bennett said Stafford's mechanics and accuracy allow him to still be precise, so pressuring him and affecting the passing game is more important than focusing on the hand injury.
Bennett said the defense has to maintain its foundation against the Lions on Saturday and rush four defensive linemen while letting the linebackers cover the short and intermediate passing game. He also said guys can't come unglued when the Lions hit some big plays in the passing game. Those big plays are inevitable. The key, Bennett said, is limiting touchdowns.