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Peppers could be headed for left side in Chicago

Vikings left tackle Bryant McKinnie has had a bad few weeks.  Suddenly, however, the dark clouds are parting.

Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune reports that, while the Bears are likely to use defensive end Julius Peppers on both the left side and the right side, coach Lovie Smith could end up using him primarily on the left side.

If so, Peppers won’t be lining up against McKinnie when the Bears play the Vikings twice in 2010.

As Biggs explains it, Smith typically puts his better pass rusher on the left side, securing a better matchup against the tackle who is usually more slow-footed than the guy who is typically a superior pass blocker.

Peppers routinely beat McKinnie during a Sunday night game between his former team, the Panthers, and the Vikings in December.

So maybe Bryant McKinnie won’t face similar abuse in 2010.

Meanwhile, Phil Loadholt just peed a little.

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Texans take early lead vs. slow-starting Ravens

Case Keenum

Case Keenum’s return to Houston has gone well-enough thus far.

Keenum, whom the Texans re-signed just this week because of injuries at quarterback, has helped Houston take a 6-0 second-quarter lead over visiting Baltimore on Sunday.

Though Keenum has been picked once, he has generally done the job, completing 8-of-13 passes for 120 yards.

By contrast, the Ravens’ offense has sputtered, gaining just 22 yards on its first 11 plays.

The Ravens (9-5) currently hold one of the two wild-card spots in the AFC, while Houston (7-7) is on the fringes of playoff contention.

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Report: Browns to “explore all options” at quarterback

Manziel Getty Images

That homeless guy apparently has given Jimmy Haslam some new advice.

According to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Browns intend to “explore all options” at quarterback this season.

Those options include a possible trade up to get Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, a player with whom G.M. Ray Farmer reportedly is smitten.

The Browns will enter the draft with a pair of first-round picks that could be packaged in an effort to get Mariota, if the Browns decide to make a move up.  It would mean making a move out with current starter Johnny Manziel, whose wage-scaled contract would allow the Browns to keep both guys around, if they wanted to.

The willingness of the Browns to explore their options shows that they’re far from sold on Manziel, the 22nd overall pick in this year’s draft.  If they decide they were wrong about Manziel, it makes much more sense to admit the mistake and move on than to try to justify it by sticking with a guy who can’t get it done.

Besides, if Haslam won’t be firing his coach or G.M. after the season, he needs to fire someone, and the homeless guy who suggested that Manziel be drafted already is unemployed.

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Jets and Patriots defenses shine in first quarter

New England Patriots v New York Jets Getty Images

Jets coach Rex Ryan said this week that he’s not dead yet in reference to the presumed end of his tenure with the team and the same is true of his defense’s pass rush.

They sacked Tom Brady three times in the first half of Sunday’s home game against the Patriots, helping to force three Patriots punts on three possessions in the first quarter. The Patriots had just 20 total yards through the first 15 minutes as the Jets have done their best to spoil New England’s hopes of running out to a big lead on their way to potentially clinching home field through the AFC playoffs.

The Jets Offense hasn’t done any better however. Just as the pass rush has turned in a familiar performance, so has the offense. They’ve managed just 40 yards of their own and the game is scoreless with one quarter in the books.

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Jimmy Clausen unimpressive early in Chicago

clausencutler AP

Early on in Chicago, Bears quarterback Jimmy Clausen is looking about the way you’d expect a backup to look against a good defense like Detroit’s.

The Bears have gone three-and-out on each of their first two offensive drives. Coach Marc Trestman is playing it very safe on the play-calling, not asking Clausen to do anything fancy and not accomplishing much. The Bears even ran the ball on third-and-9 on their first possession, suggesting that they don’t have a lot of faith in Clausen’s ability to make plays.

The good news is that Clausen doesn’t have any turnovers, and the Bears’ defense forced the Lions to punt on their first drive. Perhaps the Bears can at least keep this close with Clausen at the helm.

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Saints grab quick lead on Falcons in NFC South slugfest

Carolina Panthers v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

The Saints didn’t need long to grab the lead.

Twenty seconds in, they’re already up 7-0 on the Falcons, in a game crucial to their playoff hopes.

A 99-yard kickoff return by Jalen Saunders set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Mark Ingram, putting them up in a hurry on Atlanta.

Saunders, replacing an injured Travaris Cadet, joined the Saints on waivers earlier this year after the Jets cut the fourth-round pick.

The Falcons answered with a field goal, though the way the NFC South has gone this year, you fully expect futility to the finish.

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Menelik Watson donates game check to four-year-old fan

Watson AP

From our buddy Jay Glazer of FOX Sports comes a great story for the holidays.

Glazer arranged through his Touchdown Dreams program for Ava Urrea, a four-year-old fan with hypoplastic left heart syndrome to visit the Raiders this week.  The team pulled out all the stops for Ava, who was born with half a heart and has had 14 surgeries.  (It’s the same condition that TJ Olsen, the son of Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, has been dealing with since birth.)

Ava received a signed helmet, signed footballs, and making her the captain for the day.  Then came the unexpected twist.  Raiders offensive lineman Menelik Watson donated his game check for the week to Ava’s family.

According to NFLPA records, Watson’s base salary for 2014 is $622,948.  That makes his weekly gross salary $36,944.

With federal and California taxes consuming roughly half of that amount, the net check would have been in the range of $18,000.

It’s a great gesture by Watson, coming at the end of a season that has been focused all too often on all the bad things a small handful of NFL players do.

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Oddsmakers set season’s lowest total on Seahawks-Cardinals

Arizona Cardinals v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

Expecting Sunday night’s Seahawks-Cardinals matchup to be a grinder?

You aren’t alone.

Oddsmakers have set the lowest Over-Under of the season on Seattle-Arizona (8:30 p.m Eastern, NBC), with some sports books setting the number as low as 35.5 points.

The Over-Under is a proposition setting a combined point total for both clubs in a given game. If bettors believe the game will exceed the total, they take the OVER. If they believe the game won’t reach the total, they bet UNDER.

If the consensus total for Seahawks-Cardinals closes at 37 or less, it will be the first time since 2012 the Over-Under has reached such depths. According to data from Spreadapedia.com, every regular-season or postseason game in 2013 and 2014 has had a total of at least 37.5 points.

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Will Revis have “something special” for the Jets this time around?

Revis Getty Images

Before the Patriots hosted the Jets back in October, former Jets and current Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis reportedly planned “something special” for his old team.

That “something special” ended up being “something nothing.”

Lost in the likely last game between the two franchises featuring Bill Belichick and Rex Ryan as the respective head coaches is the possibility that the “something special” will happen today.

Ryan could have something special for the Pats.  With nothing to lose and the ability to derail home-field advantage of the Patriots to gain, Rex could be doing all sorts of crazy things in the hopes of forcing the Pats to go on the road for the AFC title game.

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Jay Cutler active vs. Lions, will back up Jimmy Clausen

Jay Cutler AP

While Jay Cutler has lost his starting job for at least the time being, he hasn’t lost his spot on the Bears’ game day roster.

As expected, Cutler is active and will back up Jimmy Clausen on Sunday against Detroit.

The Bears’ other quarterback, David Fales, is among the club’s seven inactives, leaving Cutler as the only quarterback behind Clausen.

The 31-year-old Cutler was removed as the Bears’ starter on Wednesday. He has not been a clear-cut backup since serving as Jake Plummer’s understudy for the first 11 games of 2006.

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Kyle Long inactive for Sunday’s game vs. Detroit

Kyle Long AP

The Bears will be without one of their standout offensive linemen against Detroit’s stout defense on Sunday.

Right guard Kyle Long (hip) is among the inactives announced by the club this morning. Long was added to the injury report Friday and was questionable to face the Lions.

With Long out, backup Ryan Groy will get the start, according to Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com.

The Bears are already without starting left guard Matt Slauson, who suffered a season-ending pectoral injury in October. Michael Ola has filled in for Slauson.

The 26-year-old Long had played and started 30 straight games since joining Chicago. The Bears’ first-round pick in 2013, Long made the Pro Bowl as a rookie.

The Lions have one of the NFL’s top defenses, with defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh an elite disruptive threat along the interior.

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Joe Haden inactive for the Browns against Panthers

Indianapolis Colts v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

As expected, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is back today, a week and a half after breaking two bones in his back in a car wreck.

And his job will be made a bit easier by the fact the Browns Defense will be without a key part.

Cornerback Joe Haden (shoulder) is inactive for the Browns today, and will be replaced in the starting lineup by Jordan Poyer.

There were no real surprises among the Panthers inactives, though running back DeAngelo Williams remains out with his broken hand.

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Week 16 early inactives

New Orleans Saints v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

Every week we’ll bring you all the inactives from the early games in one post, constantly updated with the latest information. So check back often to see the full list as it becomes available.

Browns at Panthers

Browns: CB K’Waun Williams, WR Rodney Smith, CB Joe Haden, RB Glenn Winston, OL Vinston Painter, OL Andrew McDonald, TE Gary Barnidge

Panthers: RB DeAngelo Williams, CB Carrington Byndom, S Robert Lester, LB A.J. Klein, DT Kyle Love, OL David Foucault, G Amini Silatolu

Lions at Bears

Lions: DT Nick Fairley, QB Kellen Moore, DE Larry Webster, WR Ryan Broyles, CB Mohammed Seisay, DT Caraun Reid, OL Rodney Austin

Bears: S Chris Conte, K Robbie Gould, QB David Fales, CB Terrance Mitchell, G Kyle Long, DE Trevor Scott, DT Will Sutton

Ravens at Texans

Ravens: WR Michael Campanaro, CB Chris Greenwood, LB Arthur Brown, DT Terrence Cody, G/C Gino Gradkowski, OL Ryan Jensen, DT Casey Walker

Texans: TE Garrett Graham, QB Tom Savage, G Xavier Su’a-Filo, LB Mike Mohamed, WR DeVier Posey, S Josh Aubrey, LB Jason Ankrah

Vikings at Dolphins

Vikings: G Charlie Johnson, LB Anthony Barr, S Ahmad Dixon, CB Shaun Prater, RB Zach Line, TE Kyle Rudolph, T Carter Bykowski

Dolphins: T Nate Garner, WR Rishard Matthews, RB Daniel Thomas, S Don Jones, LB Chris McCain, OL Dallas Thomas, WR Matt Hazel

Falcons at Saints

Falcons: QB Sean Renfree, S Charles Godfrey, CB Ricardo Allen, LB Tyler Starr, G Jon Asamoah, DE Stansly Maponga, LB James Anderson

Saints: WR Seantavius Jones, CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste, S Jamarca Sanford, RB Travaris Cadet, LB Moises Fokou, DL Lawrence Virgil, T Terron Armstead

Patriots at Jets

Patriots: WR Julian Edelman, CB Kyle Arrington, RB LeGarrette Blount, G Dan Connolly, RB James White, OL Jordan Devey, CB Alfonzo Dennard

Jets: S Rontez Miles, QB Matt Simms, DL T.J. Barnes, G Dakota Dozier, OL Wesley Johnson, DB Jaiquawn Jarrett, WR Walter Powell

Chiefs at Steelers

Chiefs: C Eric Kush, QB Aaron Murray, WR Donnie Avery, CB Marcus Cooper, RB Charcandrick West, OL Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, DL Nick Williams

Steelers: S Troy Polamalu, CB Ike Taylor, TE Matt Spaeth, WR Justin Brown, DE Clifton Geathers, OL Chris Hubbard, QB Landry Jones

Packers at Buccaneers

Packers: CB Davon House, QB Scott Tolzien, LB Carl Bradford, C Garth Gerhart, TE Justin Perillo, WR Jeff Janis, DT Bruce Gaston

Buccaneers: WR Robert Herron, WR Solomon Patton, RB Mike James, CB Isaiah Frey, T Anthony Collins, DL Lawrence Sidbury, TE/FB Evan Rodriguez

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Julio Jones active for Falcons on Sunday

Julio Jones AP

The Falcons need a win on Sunday to keep their division title hopes alive and they’ll have wide receiver Julio Jones active to help them in that pursuit.

Jones missed last week’s game with what the Falcons have said is a hip injury and Chris Mortensen reports is a strained oblique, and was out of practice every day this week before participating in Saturday’s walkthrough. The Falcons never ruled him out, though, and planned to let a Sunday morning workout be their guide to Jones’s availability.

Those tests went well because Jones is active and will play against the Saints on Sunday afternoon.

With Roddy White and Harry Douglas also good to go, the Falcons will have their full receiving corps available as they head into the Superdome for a game that could disprove Mike Smith’s belief that he’s not coaching for a future with Atlanta.

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Mike Shanahan doesn’t rule out a return to coaching in 2015

Carolina Panthers v Washington Redskins Getty Images

A late-season leak to ESPN in 2013 made his plans clear for 2014.  A late-season appearance on ESPN in 2014 is showing Mike Shanahan’s hand for 2015.

In a sit-down with Sunday NFL Countdown host Chris Berman, the former Raiders, Broncos, and Washington coach didn’t rule out returning to the sidelines next season.  But Shanahan, 62, made it clear that he’s not interested in taking on a fixer-upper; he wants to coach a team that’s in position to win right away.

“Well, one thing that I want to do is win,” Shanahan said in response to the question of whether he wants to coach. “So it’s not just coaching but going to the right organization that will make a strong commitment. There’s only one team that’s happy at the end of the year and that’s the team that wins the Super Bowl.”

Earlier in the interview, Shanahan talked about Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, making it clear that the man who drafted Cutler nearly nine years ago still views Cutler as a franchise quarterback.  Which continues to make Shanahan the best choice to coach the franchise that currently employs Cutler.

Benching Cutler strongly suggests that the Bears would like to trade him.  If Shanahan is interested in the job, and if the job is interested in Shanahan, he’d be one of the few coaches who could be trusted completely when he says during the interview, “No, my first order of business wouldn’t be to run Jay Cutler out of town.”

Other jobs that possibly would interest Shanahan include the Falcons and 49ers.  Atlanta has a franchise quarterback still in his prime, and Shanahan previously worked as an offensive coordinator in San Francisco, helping the team to its fifth Super Bowl win, 20 years ago.

The question becomes whether any teams will be interested in Shanahan.  Sunday’s appearance on ESPN surely was aimed at getting his name in the mix as the coaching carousel starts to spin.

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Report: Philip Rivers has bulging disk in back, may need surgery

San Diego Chargers v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

Last week, the condition of Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers’s back was a cause for concern in San Diego after Rivers missed some practice time and a report from Adam Schefter of ESPN that Rivers had a more severe back injury than the team had let on.

For the first half of Saturday’s game, it looked like San Diego’s confidence that Rivers could play well despite the injury might have been wrong. Rivers threw two picks to continue a recent trend of spotty play and the 49ers led 28-7 at the break, but things looked different by the end of the game. Rivers led the Chargers back for a 38-35 overtime win that saw him throw for 356 yards and four touchdowns to keep the Chargers alive and kicking in the playoff race.

That won’t put his back issues to rest, however. Schefter’s colleague Chris Mortensen reports that Rivers’s injury is a bulging disk in his lower back and that the quarterback may need to have surgery to repair the condition.

Any surgery won’t come until after the season, though, and Rivers’s performance on Sunday is the latest sign that he isn’t likely to come out of the lineup before the Chargers run out of chances to play games.

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