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Week Four Friday 10-pack

It’s Friday morning.  And since the news flow often slows down on Friday morning, we need to fill space.

So we fill space with 10 story lines emanating from the upcoming slate of games.

It’s harder with two or three storyline-worthy teams on a bye, but we eventually found a way to milk the cow this week.


1.  Jets could soon be soaring.

After a disappointing Monday night loss to break in their half of the
New Meadowlands Stadium (it’s sort of like Fred and Barney sharing a
swimming pool
), the Jets have won two in a row against their primary
division rivals.  And they’ve done it with cornerback Darrelle Revis and
linebacker Calvin Pace injured, and with receiver Santonio Holmes on
suspension.

So what happens when those guys come back?

The Vikings could find out on Monday, October 11, when Holmes definitely
be back — and when Revis and/or Pace could be dressed and playing, too.

Considering the level of play that the Jets have achieved without them,
the Jets could be poised to run away with the division.  Until then,
they won’t even have to switch to missiles to shoot down the Bills.

2.  Last chance for Mangini?

The Browns have been competitive in each of their first three games.  But they’ve lost each one.

After this weekend’s visit from the Bengals, the Browns play the Falcons, Steelers, and Saints.  Then comes the bye week.

As a result, a loss to Cincinnati on Sunday would make an 0-7 start
likely, and team president Mike Holmgren could decide to part ways with
coach Eric Mangini.  And so Sunday’s game could be Mangini’s last and
best chance to preserve his job beyond October 31.

If the Browns don’t win in Week Four, and in turn don’t pull off an
unlikely upset of the Falcons, Steelers, or Saints, there’s a chance
that, when the Jets come to Cleveland on November 14, coach Rex Ryan
could be looking across the sideline at his identical twin, Browns
defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.

3.  Running back injuries confirm 18-game season concerns.

With Colts president Bill Polian sparking a belated debate regarding the
wisdom of an 18-game season, one of the primary concerns is (or at
least should be) the impact of two additional games on the short-term
and long-term health of the players.

Indeed, with seven running backs (Steven Jackson of the Rams, Pierre
Thomas of the Saints, Jahvid Best of the Lions, Ray Rice of the Ravens,
Cedric Benson of the Bengals, Fred Taylor of the Patriots, and Knowshon
Moreno of the Broncos) already dinged up after only three games and
Reggie Bush of the Saints out with a broken leg, the league and
the union need to be very concerned about the potential consequences of
additional games on the players who take the brunt of the punishment in
the 16 games that already are played.

Though the move from 14 to 16 games in the ’70s occurred without much public discussion or debate, the three-channels television universe and the absence of talk radio and the Internet fueled that outcome.  Besides, players continue to get bigger, faster, and stronger.  When they hit each other, the bones and ligaments we all possess are at more risk than ever before.

4.  Team of destiny wanted.

Last year, it was obvious after three weeks that the Saints and Colts
were headed for big things.  New Orleans hung 45 on the Lions, winning
by 18, and 48 on the Eagles, winning by 26.  Held under 30 by the Bills,
the Saints still won by 20.

The Colts started more slowly, beating the Jags by two and the Dolphins
by four.  By Week Three, however, the Colts had taken down the defending
NFC champions (the Cardinals) by 21.

This year, none of the three remaining undefeated teams have rolled over
their opponents consistently.  The Steelers and the Chiefs won close
games in Week One and Week Two before notching 20-plus point victories in
Week Three.  The Bears have won by five points, seven points, and three
points.

The absence of a team that clearly and definitively is taking care of
its business has reinforced the sense of parity that could be laying the
foundation for a playoff run with plenty of teams still alive, and a
postseason in which anything can happen.

For now, the Steelers are the team most likely to emerge as the team to
beat, but first they have to beat the Ravens on Sunday.  If the Steelers
can’t — and if the Bears lose on the road against the Giants — the
off-this-Sunday Chiefs could be the only undefeated team left after four
weeks of action.

Somewhere, Pete Rozelle will be smiling broadly.

5.  Time for Texans to prove themselves.

When the Texans toppled the Colts to open the season, the team that has
played eight years without a playoff berth seemed to be destined to
finally bust through to the postseason.  But then the Texans struggled
to beat a Redskins team that suddenly has inherited the stink of the
Rams, and the Texans lost fairly convincingly to in-state rivals who
were on the ropes, in danger of being punched through.

So are the Texans a contender, or did they merely give the first game of the season the Daytona 500 treatment?

Beating the Raiders won’t mean conclusively that the Texans are legit,
but losing will mean that Houston isn’t ready to hang with the likes of
the Colts and the Titans in arguably the best division in the
conference, if not the league.

6.  Desperation shifts from Dallas to New York.

Last week, a strong sense of desperation emerged in Dallas, where the
Cowboys had lost their first two games — and faced falling to 0-3 at
the hands of an upstart team from Houston that had started the year 2-0.

The Cowboys found a way to push the dark cloud away last week, and it
now has settled in New York, over the Rubble half of the Fred-and-Barney
pool.  (That’s the third Flintstones reference of the day.  And it’s not even 1966.)

The Giants, after beating the Panthers (who have turned out to be
toothless, de-clawed, malnourished house cats), have been spanked by the Colts and
Titans in successive weeks.  Only 14 days after losing decisively in
Indy, the Giants cannot afford to be embarrassed again before a national
audience.  (On NBC.)

With their backs firmly pressed against the wall and the Bears
overachieving their way through two of their three wins, look for the
Giants to get their act together, if only for a night.

And who knows?  Three years ago, the Giants lost their first two games
and gave up 80 points in the process.  More than four months later, they
only won the Super Bowl.

7.  Fins, Pats face “must” wins.

Yeah, it’s only Week Four.  But with the Jets, Dolphins, and Patriots
getting an early start on their round-robin routine, neither the
Patriots nor the Dolphins can afford to drop to 0-2.

The Dolphins need it even more; they play the Jets in New York on
December 12 and the Pats in New England on January 2.  Already in danger
of being swept by the Jets, the Dolphins can’t afford to lose at home
to New England, if the Dolphins have genuine designs on winning the
division.

The Patriots need this one, too.  But they still get the Jets and the
Dolphins at home.  For the Dolphins, the season could potentially be over less than a
month after it began.

8.  Loss to Browns could help the Bengals in the long run.

The Bengals, despite their 2-1 record, don’t project the same vibe as
they did a year ago.  With a good defense (Week One at New England
notwithstanding) and a capable running back, the Bengals have relied too
heavily on the passing game.

Though T.O. has thrown the offensive line under the bus without overtly
throwing the offensive line under the bus, questions persist regarding
quarterback Carson Palmer.  Whether he has lingering elbow issues or he
simply has lost his zip on the ball, the Bengals seem to be in the same
style of denial that plagued the Panthers in 2009, when they refused to
face reality regarding quarterback Jake Delhomme.

And so a loss to the Browns could help jar the Bengals into facing
reality.   Eventually, they need to ask themselves whether Palmer
truly represents the future of the franchise at the quarterback
position.

With a base salary of $11.5 million due to Palmer in 2011, we’ve got a
feeling that, win or lose on Sunday, the notoriously frugal Bengals will
think long and hard about paying that much money to a guy who has no
career playoff wins, and whose best days may be fading far behind him.

9.  Snyder’s biggest test could be coming.

For more than 11 years, Daniel Snyder has owned the Redskins.  And for
most of that time, Snyder has been impatient when it comes to the men
who are coaching the team.

After two years, Norv Turner was dumped.  (A playoff appearance likely
saved him in 1999.)  Marty Schottenheimer lasted a season.  Steve
Spurrier made it for two.  But for his resume and Hall of Fame bust, Joe
Gibbs may not have made it four years.  Jim Zorn lasted only two.

And throughout most if not all of Zorn’s final year, Snyder was wooing
(or at least planning to woo) Mike Shanahan, the presumed savior of the
franchise.

In Week One, it appeared to be a brilliant move, thanks to an unexpected
win over the Cowboys.  But after blowing a 17-point lead against the
Texans and somehow losing by 14 against the Rams, the Redskins face what
could be a very long day at Lincoln Financial Field.

It gets no easier with the Packers and Colts coming to town, followed by trips to Chicago and Detroit.

Yes, Detroit, where the Lions managed to beat the Redskins in 2009, for
their first win in 22 games.  After a bye, the Redskins have the Eagles
again, the Titans, the Vikings, the Giants twice, and the Cowboys
again.

It all easily could add up to a losing season.  Though the outcome may
be better than 4-12, it easily could be yet another two-digit collection
of losses.  And then Snyder will have to find a way to resist the urge
to act, and to instead commit to staying the course.

Given the open and obvious salivating for Shanahan, there’s no way
Snyder can make a change after only one year.  Based on his history,
however, Snyder surely will approach 2011 with questions swirling in his
mind as to whether there might be another guy out there whose name
Snyder should pencil onto the top of the latest version of his wish
list.

10.  Rams have a chance to make some noise.

Based on their pattern of three wins in 2007, two in 2008, and one in 2009, the Rams were on track to go 0-16 in 2010.

Already, they’ve blown that trend out of the water by climbing to 1-2.

This weekend, the Rams have a chance to break a 10-game losing streak to
the Seahawks, a string that dates back to 2004, when St. Louis took
three games from their division rivals, include two in the usually
impenetrable Qwest Field.

If they can — and if the Cardinals lose in San Diego — the Rams will
find themselves in a  three-way tie atop the division after four weeks.

With three of the next four games against the Lions, Bucs, and Panthers,
the Rams could be on the right side of .500 at the bye.  And that could
give them the confidence they need to make a serious run at the
division crown and the postseason home game that goes along with it.

Sure, they likely won’t win the division.  But the fact that they won’t
be dead in the water with 25 percent of the season in the books is
nothing short of stunning.

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Favre frets over Hall of Fame speech

MADISON, WI - JUNE 25: Former Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre acknowledges the crowd during the celebrity golf scramble on the 18th hole during the second round of the Champions Tour American Family Insurance Championship at University Ridge Golf Course on June 25, 2016 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images) Getty Images

The annual Hall of Fame ceremony is coming soon, which means that the new class of inductees soon will be giving their speeches. One of those guys who will be speaking seems to be getting a little anxious about that.

“At some point, I have to start preparing a speech — which I am not good at doing,” Favre said at an appearance at a golf course in Wisconsin on Sunday, via Jason Wilde of ESPN.com. “It’s closing fast. As we get older, we find that time flies. That’s the case here. It seems like yesterday I was just preparing for [returning to] Green Bay this past summer. It’ll be here quick.”

Preparing the speech isn’t difficult, especially when a guy has the money and/or the connections to get help in putting thoughts together. The key will be to deliver the speech as written without riffing or improvising or filibustering. Keep it simple, keep it short, come up with a few good lines, wave, smile, and sit.

It’s been argued that new Hall of Famers are entitled to drone on and on if they choose to do so. To the extent, however, that the speeches are part of a live TV show and not recorded and edited to trim out much of the droning on and on, the goal should be not to talk and talk and talk in the hopes of eventually tripping over something memorable but to come up with something memorable ahead of time, practice the delivery, walk up to the podium in that new gold jacket, and nail it.

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Nate Robinson continues to pursue football career

GettyImages-453365989-478x630-3 Getty Images

The Seahawks gave former NBA player Nate Robinson a look-see not that long ago, and coach Pete Carroll made it clear that it won’t be easy for Robinson to make it in the NFL. To his credit, that hasn’t stopped him from trying.

Via Sheil Kapadia of ESPN.com, Robinson continues to work out in the hopes of making it to the NFL. He’s been training with former Arkansas State receiver Dwayne Frampton. (Chris Berman perhaps would say that Frampton is showing Robinson the way.)

Although Carroll said it will be “all but impossible” for Robinson to make it in the NFL, Carroll admitted that “if anyone could it might be Nate.”

Here’s hoping Nate keeps trying. Too many people like to talk about all the things they could do if they truly wanted to. It’s nice to see someone try, regardless of whether he ultimately succeeds.

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Fewer players are getting arrested in the offseason

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The NFL has taken a hard line over the last decade when it comes to players who get into trouble away from the field. Changes to the Personal Conduct Policy in 2007 had an impact, but even more changes (including the introduction of paid leave) sparked by 2014 incidents involving Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, and Adrian Peterson seemed to get the attention of most players.

Arrests are still happening, but not with the same frequency — as indicated by a “days without an arrest” meter that often gets well into the 20s, 30, and 40s between incidents. The fact that the number currently sits at 26 in the break between the end of offseason programs and the opening of training camps shows that players who are left to their own devices are avoiding trouble better than they once did.

There have been nine players arrests since January 1. Last year, there were 13 in the first half of the year. Two years ago, there were 21. In 2013, the number was 29.

It’s not just an offseason phenomenon. At one point last season, more than two months passed between arrests of any of the roughly 2,000 players on rosters or practice squads.

That’s real progress, a testament to the arguably heavy-handed (but apparently effective) efforts of the NFL to beef up the consequences for players accused of wrongdoing. So while viable arguments remain regarding the ability of the Commissioner to serve as a truly fair and impartial arbitrator of disciplinary decisions made by the league office, the current system seems to be working. Well.

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Falcons don’t rule out playing 2017 preseason home games not in their new home

88343831 AP

There’s been plenty of news lately about the eventually-to-be-opened-Falcons stadium, and not much of it good.

The whole cheap-beer-and-hot-dog news was good. The whole $200-million-more-in-change-orders wasn’t good. The $172-million-in-money-for-nothing news was good for the team but not for the folks who have to buy the right to actually sit in the seats that go with their tickets.

Here’s another nugget that wouldn’t be good news for anyone: The Falcons haven’t ruled out the possibility that the stadium won’t be ready for the team’s 2017 preseason games.

We would have options,” Falcons CEO Rich McKay said, via Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com. “You’ve obviously got the University of Georgia. You’ve got Georgia Tech. But I wouldn’t say that we view this as . . . it’s not even a consideration of something we’ve looked into. We’re very confident in June 1, so we don’t view it as a problem. But we have alternatives.”

One alternative won’t be the team’s current home, the Georgia Dome.

“It will not be an option,” McKay said. “It will be on its way down.”

McKay also pointed out that another possibility would be to play all of the preseason games on the road, something the Buccaneers did when their current stadium opened in 1997.

The team still fully expects that the stadium will be ready to go on June 1, the new date that replaced the prior date (in which they presumably had full confidence) of March 1. If it isn’t ready for the preseason, however, it apparently won’t be a problem.

If it isn’t ready for the regular season, that would probably be a problem.

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Roger Lewis tries to put rape accusations behind him

502373872 Getty Images

Giants rookie receiver Roger Lewis wasn’t drafted, quite possibly due not to talent but an off-field issue that nearly landed him in prison.

Charged as a high-school student with two counts of rape arising from incidents with the same alleged victim that occurred 36 days apart in December 2011 and January 2012, Lewis eventually landed at Bowling Green and did well enough to get a shot to make an NFL roster.

“Things had to make me stronger as a 18-year-old going through hard times,” Lewis told the New York Post. “I think I feel very prepared because, you know, situations make or break you.”

The situation nearly broke him. Acquitted by a jury on one rape charge, the jury couldn’t agree on a verdict as to the second charge. With a second trial on that charge approaching, Lewis pleaded guilty to providing false information to police.

“All this, everything that’s happening, is just God blessing me with just the little things,” Lewis said. “Just reminding myself that I’m an undrafted free agent. . . . I have to play with a chip on my shoulder every day.”

His new boss has noticed.

“He’s a guy that has a chip on his shoulder, doesn’t say much and goes about his business the right way,” coach Ben McAdoo told the Post. “He’s businesslike, and we like that about him.”

It still won’t be easy for Lewis to make the climb from 90 to 53.

“[It will be] a huge learning curve from the system he was in in college to what he’s asked to do here,” offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan told the Post. “We’ve seen some good things from Roger, and we’re excited to have him in the mix.”

Lewis has a long way to go to become the team’s next Victor Cruz. The more attention he receives, the more people will notice the fact that he was a hung jury away from going to prison for rape.

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For now, Eagles plan to make Carson Wentz inactive on Sundays

Quarterback Carson Wentz throws a pass during the Philadelphia Eagles' rookie minicamp at the team's NFL football training facility, Friday, May 13, 2016, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) AP

The Eagles have said they’re going to be patient with rookie quarterback Carson Wentz. They may be so patient that Wentz doesn’t even put on his uniform for a game this season.

With Sam Bradford slated to open the season as the starter and Chase Daniel penciled in at No. 2, Jimmy Kempski of PhillyVoice reports that there’s a very good chance Wentz won’t be active on game days.

Many teams only suit up two quarterbacks on game days now that the NFL has eliminated the “emergency quarterback” rule. So if Bradford and Daniel are both healthy, that could leave Wentz in street clothes.

Of course, that’s assuming things go according to plan and Bradford plays well and stays healthy. Given that Bradford has often not played well and not stayed healthy, there’s no guarantee things will go according to plan for the Eagles.

And teams have proclaimed in the past that they were going to give a rookie quarterback a “redshirt” year, only to change that plan. Two years ago, the Jaguars spent the entire offseason insisting that first-round rookie quarterback Blake Bortles would spend his rookie season on the bench. That grand plan lasted until Week Three.

If Bradford struggles or gets hurt, or if the Eagles are out of contention late in the season, it’s likely that Wentz would get some playing time. But as of now, the plan is to bury Wentz on the depth chart and let him learn from the bench.

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Jets are thrilled with Darron Lee’s attitude

ld1 AP

The Jets and linebacker Darron Lee have yet to agree to terms on a contract. The Jets don’t seem to be concerned about it, probably because they’re too busy being thrilled with how Lee conducted himself during the offseason program. (With the exception of that time he tackled a guy in non-contact practice.)

He’s been a pleasant surprise, Jets linebackers coach Mike Caldwell said, via Darryl Slater of NJ.com. “He’s been picking things up well. What we saw on film, what we saw in college, he’s been showing it.”

The “pleasant surprise” comes mainly from Lee’s professionalism.

“He comes into meetings and he’s hungry to learn,” Caldwell said. “Sometimes you see rookies that think they know it all. He’s eager to learn and he’s soaking it all up and the older guys are helping him. That’s a surprising part of it.”

He’s specifically listening to veterans David Harris and Erin Henderson.

“It’s a good situation for [Lee] because he has a personality that will accept other guys’ opinions and other guys’ knowledge,” Caldwell said. “David has a great deal of knowledge and so does Erin. He’s in a great situation because he can come in and learn behind those guys.”

It may not be long before he’s in front of one or both of those guys.

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Marvin Lewis advises Dirk Koetter to “throw deep”

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NFL coaches are competitors, but that doesn’t stop plenty of them from being friends. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis and Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter have been friends for years, dating back to their shared time at Idaho State, where they met as graduate students.

Now, they hold two of the most desirable jobs in all of sports, and Lewis, who has coached the Bengals since 2003, had some free advice for Koetter.

Throw deep,” Koetter told the Idaho State Journal, via JoeBucsFan.com.

“I’m serious,” Koetter added. “Marvin’s a defensive coach. I’m an offensive coach. He said offenses don’t throw deep enough.”

Marvin is right. A deep pass carries a potentially significant reward at relatively low risk. The receiver can (duh) catch the ball or draw a pass interference penalty, which continues to be a spot foul in the NFL. The downside is an incompletion or an interception so far down the field that it simulates a punt.

I’ve joked (only half-jokingly) since the Packers-Cardinals division-round epic that Green Bay should make the Hail Mary part of its base offense, given the team’s uncanny ability to convert when the defense knows it’s coming. Maybe it shouldn’t be a joke at all; maybe every team should periodically fake a handoff to freeze the safeties for a half-second and then fire the ball deep on a regular basis.

So go ahead, head coaches. Your quarterbacks all believe they can throw the football over them mountains. Let them do try, often.

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Sammy Watkins changes stance, says he could miss camp

Sammy Watkins AP

Not long after Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins said he expected to be on the field early in training camp, Watkins is apparently changing his prognosis.

Watkins told ESPN’s Vaughn McClure that though he “feels good,” he doesn’t know when he’ll be cleared and hopes to be able to participate in training camp.

If not, then cool,” Watkins said. “Get ready for the first game.”

That takes his timetable for a projected return from early August to any time from August to early September. Watkins last week told TSN.ca that he’d “definitely be available” and might only miss two or three days of camp, which begins in late July.

The Bills won’t rush Watkins back from surgery to repair a stress fracture in his foot, and Watkins sounded like he’s fine waiting if that’s what it takes, too. He said he hasn’t run in the last three or four weeks.

“Really, I just [have] to stay healthy,” he said. “It’s about taking good time. Listen to the medical staff and hopefully it works out.”

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Texans hope Jadeveon Clowney has already had as many injuries “as he needs to have”

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 13: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots is sacked by Jadeveon Clowney #90 of the Houston Texans in the third quarter on December 13, 2015 at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) Getty Images

When the Texans took linebacker Jadeveon Clowney with the first overall pick of the 2014 draft, their hope was that he’d team with defensive end J.J. Watt to lift the team’s defense to the top of the league.

Injuries have kept that from happening. Clowney has missed 15 regular season games and last year’s playoff loss to the Chiefs because of a variety of injuries, leaving his potential unfulfilled as he heads into his third season.

Linebackers coach Mike Vrabel said that he saw increased resolve from Clowney on the field and in the classroom during this year’s offseason program, something that he believes Clowney needs to make a bigger impact for the Texans in 2016. That can’t happen unless he’s healthy, of course, and there’s not much that General Manager Rick Smith and the rest of the team can do but hope that’s the case.

“When he’s been on the field, he’s been pretty disruptive, pretty impactful,” Smith said, via the Houston Chronicle. “It’s just that he has suffered some injuries, which you would hope is that he’s already had as many as he needs to have, right? Just from a standpoint of luck, hopefully the guy has had his share of injuries and he will have an opportunity to play for an extended amount of time because I think what you see, when you see him on the field, you see productive play. He’s going to work at that. Some of those injuries it’s not like he’s getting hurt because he’s not working. The nature of the injuries he’s had are not such that it’s an indicator of the guy’s not being conditioned or ready to play. It’s just the nature of the game. Hopefully, he’s had his share of them and he’ll be on the field consistently.”

There were flashes of good play for Clowney last season, but missing Week 17 and the playoff loss meant the year ended on another down note and the questions about his durability remain firmly in place. Should they still be in place after the 2016 season, the Texans’ hopefulness may give away to resignation that Clowney’s health won’t allow him to make good on their expectations.

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Luke Kuechly: Defense has plenty of “attitude, enthusiasm” without Josh Norman

SANTA CLARA, CA - FEBRUARY 07:   Luke Kuechly #59 of the Carolina Panthers reacts after a play against the Denver Broncos in the first quarter during Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly said last week that the Panthers need to bring the same mindset to the 2016 season that they had heading into last season, but they won’t be bringing back the same group of players.

The biggest departure is cornerback Josh Norman, who signed with the Redskins after the Panthers rescinded the franchise tag they used early in the offseason. Norman played a big role in Carolina’s success last season both with his play on the field and as an emotional leader off of it, but Kuechly thinks the team is well-stocked with players who can fill the latter void.

“When you lose a guy like Josh, obviously, he’s entertainment, energy, attitude, but that’s kind of been the attitude of our defense,” Kuechly said to Tiffany Blackmon of NFL Media. “You know, you still have Thomas [Davis] and Charles [Johnson] and Kurt Coleman bring an edge and we’ve got a bunch of guys that still bring that attitude, enthusiasm. We’ve got older guys that when the young guys come in and they can kind of teach them what the mentality’s like and get them on the same page.”

They drafted three cornerbacks in April to help fill out the corps in Norman’s absence and Kuechly said he thinks “they’ll be good for us” come the fall. With the likes of Kuechly, Davis, Johnson, Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei still on hand, the Panthers have plenty of talent left on defense to help ease their transition to the professional ranks and reason to expect more success after last year’s NFC title.

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Networks escape Sunday Ticket class action

sundayticket

The networks that broadcast NFL games will no longer be required to answer for the way those broadcasts are bundled and sold by the NFL and DirecTV.

Via the Hollywood Reporter, NBC, CBS, FOX, and ESPN no longer appear as defendants in a class action that challenges the manner in which the league and its satellite partner market the NFL Sunday Ticket product.

This doesn’t mean that the networks will be immune from involvement in the case. For now, though, none of them face potential financial liability.

The lawsuits began last June, not long after the settlement of a challenge regarding the NHL’s distribution of games via DirecTV. Within a month, at least three class actions were filed. Now, all pending lawsuits have been consolidated into one case.

Apparently, the networks were added as some point in order to prevent consolidation, since the lawyers who filed the individuals cases presumably didn’t want to give up control over their own litigation. Once those efforts failed, the networks became unnecessary to the broader attack on the league’s exclusive distribution of out-of-market games through the Sunday Ticket package.

A key threshold question once the case gets to the substance and not the procedure will be whether the federal broadcast antitrust exemption applies to the distribution of out-of-market games. If it doesn’t, the end result of the litigation could be a requirement that each team be permitted to cut its own deal regarding the availability of games beyond the traditional broadcast marketplace, requiring (allowing) teams like the Cowboys and Packers and Steelers to make a lot more by selling, for example, streaming rights to their games beyond the markets where they otherwise are available via over-the-air broadcasts. (The other side of the coin would be that nationally unpopular teams — and they know who they are without me listing them — would make a lot less.)

If that happens, there would be dramatic changes to the way that football fans consume games that aren’t televised over FCC-regulated network affiliates in their local areas. If, for example, a Saints fan only wanted to see Saints games, the Saints fan would be able to buy the ability to watch all Saints games not otherwise televised for free in that fan’s geographic region. The price should be a lot less than buying the entire Sunday Ticket package, which is currently the only way for fans of one team to see that team’s games only.

The end result for the league would be dramatic fluctuations in the money the various teams make from broadcasting games. Absent a commitment to share among all 32 teams whatever any of them earns by selling out-of-market satellite, cable, or streaming rights on their own, it could create a significant disparity in revenue between the most and least nationally popular clubs.

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Leonard Williams “more comfortable overall” in second year

Leonard Willimas AP

Among the reasons cited for the lack of a serious push from the Jets to sign defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson to a long-term contract this offseason is the presence of Sheldon Richardson and 2015 first-round pick Leonard Williams.

With Williams and Richardson filling out the defensive line, the argument is that the Jets don’t feel they need to commit to Wilkerson beyond the franchise tag they gave him for the coming season. Williams backed up that feeling as a rookie by leading the team in quarterback hits while recording 63 tackles and three sacks.

Williams says he’d like to do even more as a pass rusher this season and feels prepared to take a step up now that he’s had more time in the team’s defensive scheme.

“It is different because last year I just kept thinking, ‘rookie, rookie, rookie,’ but now … I know that I’m a pro now,” Williams said, via the New York Post. “I know the playbook now, so I don’t have to think as much when I’m out there, I can just play. It’s less pressure now that I’m not a rookie anymore, and I don’t have to have that tag or label on me. It’s just been more comfortable overall this year.”

Defensive line coach Pepper Johnson said Williams has taken his maturity “to another level” this offseason, which supports the notion that he’ll be doing more on the field for the Jets this season. If things play out that way, the Jets will likely feel comfortable about the future of their defensive line wherever Wilkerson winds up in 2017 and beyond.

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Julius Thomas could be poised to have a huge year

JACKSONVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 13:  Julius Thomas #80 of the Jacksonville Jaguars rushes against  Dwight Lowery #33 of the Indianapolis Colts during the game at EverBank Field on December 13, 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) Getty Images

Three years ago, former Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning provided during a preseason DirecTV-sponsored media tour a tip for anyone who was paying attention: Pay attention to tight end Julius Thomas.

As Thomas prepares for his second season with the Jaguars, here’s a tip for anyone who is paying attention: What Peyton said.

Via Hays Carlyon of the Florida Times-Union, Thomas and quarterback Blake Bortles looked “nearly unstoppable” during Organized Team Activities and minicamp. While shorts and T-shirts football remains a far cry from real football, it won’t be a surprise if Thomas and Bortles are indeed unstoppable this year.

Last season, Thomas broke his hand during the preseason. This season, assuming that he stays healthy, Thomas will have plenty of options in a passing game fueled by receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns.

Bortles finished second in the league last season with 35 touchdown passes. If he has a healthy Thomas for the full season, Bortles could throw even more touchdown passes — and Thomas could catch plenty of them.

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Greenbrier taking in flood victims

FALLING ROCK, WV - JUNE 25: People trudge through the mud left over from the flooding of the Elk River along State Route 119, on June 25, 2016 in Falling Rock, West Virginia. The flooding of the Elk River claimed the lives of at least 23 people in West Virginia. (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images) Getty Images

The resort where the Saints have held training camp the last few years has closed its doors indefinitely after record flooding devastated the region. Although it’s not open for business, the Greenbrier is making some of its rooms available to those who have lost their homes as a result of 8-10 inches of rain that fell in only 6-8 hours.

The result has been described as “complete chaos,” with at least 24 dead.

“Roads destroyed, bridges out, homes burned down, washed off foundations,” Greenbrier County Sheriff Jan Cahill said, via Weather.com. “Multiple sections of highway just missing. Pavement just peeled off like a banana. I’ve never seen anything like that.”

With so many hills and mountains in West Virginia, the combination of water and gravity floods the valleys with water and mud (a lot of mud), where the houses and the people are.

“We pretty much live in a bowl, and the bowl filled with water, certainly,” Richwood, West Virginia Mayor Robert Johnson told the Associated Press.

People throughout West Virginia need help right now. Donations can be made to the United Way of Greenbrier County, the Red Cross, where an immediate $10 donation came be made by texting REDCROSS to 90999, and through an initiative launched by the Greenbrier to assist flood victims.

PFT has a strong connection to West Virginia. If you enjoy (or enjoy not enjoying) what you see on these pages, make a small donation to the effort to help people turn their lives around after, in barely a third of a day, their lives were turned upside down.

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