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PFT's Week Five picks

For the second straight week, I held a one-game lead over Rosenthal entering the Monday night game.

And, for the second straight week, Rosenthal got the Monday night game right and I got it wrong, forcing a tie.

We both finished 9-5 in the first 14-game weekend.  Rosenthal won Week One and Week Two; in Week Three and Week Four, we tied.

Overall, Rosenthal is 43-19.  I’m two games back, at 41-21.

For this week’s picks and explanations, read on.


Jaguars at Bills

Florio’s take:  The Bills are bad, but in this season of parity they’re not bad enough to lose all 16.  Even with former Bills quarterback Trent Edwards feeding the Jags with the Buffalo state secrets, Jacksonville is prime for a letdown after unexpectedly toppling the Colts.  

Florio’s pick:  Bills 20, Jags 19.

Rosenthal’s take: The Bills have no chance to move the ball against superior defenses.  The Jaguars do not have a superior defense.  In fact, the Jaguars’ secondary is one of the few groups in the league struggling as much as Buffalo during their transition to the 3-4 defense.  The Bills aren’t going 0-16, and this looks like one of their most winnable games of the year.  Bad David Garrard shows up this week.

Rosenthal’s pick:  Bills 23, Jaguars 21.

Broncos at Ravens

Florio’s take:  The Broncos pulled off an unlikely road win against a one-loss team on Sunday, but the Ravens has a few more horses than the Titans.  Despite Baltimore’s so-so secondary, Denver quarterback Kyle Orton won’t have time to find an open receiver if he’s being chased and/or pummeled by the Ravens’ front seven.  Meanwhile, the Baltimore offense finally is emerging from its vegetative state, with Joe Flacco looking more like Joe Flacco and less like Stoney Case.

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 24, Broncos 10.

Rosenthal’s take: The Ravens and Broncos both have the records you’d expect, but they’ve arrived there in surprising ways.  Kyle Orton and his band of hodgepodge receivers are racking up passing yards like the ’99 Rams.  Baltimore’s secondary has played great, but their run defense has been soft.  Luckily, the Broncos don’t try to run.  When they do, it doesn’t work.  Denver is a tough out, but asking for back-to-back wins in Tennessee and Baltimore is asking too much.  

Rosenthal’s pick: Ravens 28, Broncos 24.

Chiefs at Colts

Florio’s take:  Scratch a little at the word “Chiefs” and a faint “Patriots” emerges, with the presence of Scott Pioli, Romeo Crennel, Charlie Weis, Mike Vrabel, and Matt Cassel making this one a kinda-sorta renewal of one of the most compelling inter-division rivalries of the past decade.  The Chiefs have nothing to lose, and the Colts have no easy answers for their lackluster start.  It adds up to an upset.  In a PFTV video previewing what we regard to be the game of the week, I picked the Colts, but I left a little wiggle room.  I’m tempted to pick the Chiefs here, primarily because a win over the defending AFC champs would make this Chiefs team even more compelling.  (Besides, what’s the point of having wiggle room if you don’t, you know, wiggle?)  I’ll stick the home team, but I’ll gladly accept the “L” if I’m wrong.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 24, Chiefs 20.

Rosenthal’s take:  Chiefs fans are making too much out of this game.  It’s not a litmus test for the rest of the season.  It’s Week Five. There aren’t many teams that could go into Lucas Oil Stadium and win against an angry Peyton Manning.  I’m most interested to see how Kansas City’s young secondary holds up.  They have potential to carry this team, because Matt Cassel isn’t going to.  A mismatch in special teams should keep the Chiefs close, but they will only get a moral victory here.

Rosenthal’s pick:  Colts 27, Chiefs 21.

Packers at Redskins

Florio’s take:  But for a fast start against the Eagles from quarterback Donovan McNabb, in no doubt fueled by the enthusiastic response that Philly fans gave to a guy about whom they had been ambivalent at best, the Redskins would be 1-3.  Though the Packers have yet to develop a killer instinct, they suddenly feel the hot, stinky breath of the Vikings on their necks — and so the Packers can’t afford to lose games that they easily should win.  

Florio’s pick:  Packers 31, Redskins 21.

Rosenthal’s take: No one knows how good the Packers are because they’ve faced one of the easiest schedules in the league.  No one knows how good the Redskins are because a wildly different team shows up every week.  I know this much:  The Redskins aren’t worse off with Ryan Torain starting at running back, but the Packers are much worse off without Nick Barnett at linebacker.  Washington doesn’t have the passing attack to take advantage, though.

Rosenthal’s pick: Packers 27, Redskins 20.

Rams at Lions

Florio’s take:  Last year, the Rams’ only win of the season came against the Lions, who eventually won only two.  This year, both teams are better, even though the Lions are 0-4.  In fact, the Lions are good enough to win, even though the Rams are good enough to win the NFC West.

Florio’s prediction:  Lions 20, Rams 16.

Rosenthal’s take:  Due to a forgiving schedule and a surprising pass rush from James Hall and Chris Long, the Rams defense has been impressive this year.  They haven’t allowed more than 17 points yet.  The Lions offense has played well with Shaun Hill, which makes you wonder what they’ll do with Matthew Stafford.  Detroit has lost three games by one score and played three games on the road. Like Cleveland last week, they are overdue for a victory.

Rosenthal’s pick:  Lions 21, Rams 14.

Bears at Panthers

Florio’s take:  A loss would send the Panthers to 0-5 at their bye, putting coach John Fox at risk of possible termination.  Last week, Carolina showed progress against the Saints, and the Panthers have a blueprint for turning the Jay Cutler (or, as it turns out, Todd Collins) black and blue, courtesy of Big Blue.  The correction for Chicago continues, and Carolina gets in the win column by sticking it former Panther and Tar Heel Julius Peppers.

Florio’s pick:  Panthers 14, Bears 12.

Rosenthal’s take:  A lot of fun questions can be answered here.  What does the worst passing attack in football look like after Carolina loses Steve Smith?  How many forward passes will John Fox call with a rookie quarterback and three rookie wide receivers?   Would you rather have a wobbly Jay Cutler (or, as it turns out, Todd Collins) or a healthy Jimmy Clausen?  I’ll take Cutler (or, as it turns out, Todd Collins), especially since the Bears rush defense can stop Carolina’s one strength.

Rosenthal’s pick:  Bears 17, Panthers 10.

Buccaneers at Bengals

Florio’s take:  The Bucs beat the Browns and the Browns beat the Bengals so the Bucs should beat the Bengals, right?  Even though Tampa has had the benefit of the bye week, the Bengals are a better team at home than on the road and the Bucs are still learning how to become a good team anywhere.

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 21, Buccaneers 13.

Rosenthal’s take:  When the Bengals win, they don’t seem happy.  When they lose, Carson Palmer keeps his fantasy owners happy.  It’s a wobbly team [editor’s note:  Rosenthal uses “wobbly” almost as much as Steve Young uses “leaking oil”], which makes this a huge game for Cincinnati.  Despite all the offensive concerns, they can enter their bye week at 3-2, and then re-group.  In the end, the veteran Bengals defense should be the best unit in this game.

Rosenthal’s pick: Bengals 17, Bucs 14.

Falcons at Browns

Florio’s take:  The Browns have been competitive in every game, and they’re riding the momentum of a big win over the Bengals.  The Falcons struggle

d with the 49ers last week, one game after stealing a win from the Saints.  These two teams are more evenly matched than their records suggest; as a result, I’m giving the edge to the home team.

Florio’s pick:  Browns 17, Falcons 16.

Rosenthal’s take:  Falcons coach Mike Smith raised a good point this week.  His team could be 1-3 just as easily as 3-1 after Garrett Hartley’s gaffe and Nate Clements’ fumble.  The Browns are similarly incapable of playing in a blowout.  These two teams have played eight games this year, with seven decided by an average of three points.  Jake Delhomme’s likely return breaks the tie.

Rosenthal’s pick: Falcons 23, Browns 21.

Giants at Texans

Florio’s take:  The Giants played well with their backs against the wall, and now that their backs are a little bit off the wall, the Giants can dial up another lackluster effort.  The Texans, though not dominant, have been solid, and they can sense that a playoff appearance could be coming.

Florio’s pick:  Texans 24, Giants 20.

Rosenthal’s take:  Outside of the embarrassment in Indianapolis, the Giants defense has shown steady improvement this year.  Of course, that game against the Colts was their only road test yet.  Houston’s wideouts are banged-up, but the offensive line is coming off its best performance of the year.  They won’t let Matt Schaub get assaulted like Jay Cutler was last week.

Rosenthal’s pick:  Texans 28, Giants 17.

Saints at Cardinals

Florio’s take:  The current Drew Brees meets up with the guy who eventually could be the next Drew Brees, Cardinals rookie Max Hall.  But Hall gets a tough draw in his first start, and it will likely be a long day for the 2008 NFC champs when the 2009 NFC champs come to town.  The only question is whether the Saints can display some of the same dominance from 2009, or whether they’ll continue to eke out narrow wins.  For one week at least, I envision dominance.

Florio’s pick:  Saints 34, Cardinals 13.

Rosenthal’s take: The Cardinals are the most depressed 2-2 team in the land because they’ve played worse than some 0-4 squads.  Derek Anderson has taken all the heat, but the offensive line is in shambles, there’s no running game, Larry Fitzgerald is hurt, Joey Porter looks his age, Darnell Dockett has been inconsistent, and they don’t have a second cornerback.  Other than that, they look great.

Rosenthal’s pick: Saints 28, Cardinals 14.

Titans at Cowboys

Florio’s take:  Two weeks after beating the team that currently plays in Houston, the Cowboys host the team that used to play in Houston.  With a bye week to prepare and the Titans simply not as good as initially believed, the Cowboys will welcome the Titans back to the Lone Star State with a Texas-sized butt whipping.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 35, Titans 17.

Rosenthal’s take:  I picked both these teams to win their division in the PFT Season Preview.  One of them will fall into a major hole after this game.  Tennessee may be getting called dirty, but where’s the toughness on offense?  Their run-blocking has been abysmal.  Chris Johnson is often breaking two tackles to get back to the line of scrimmage.  The Titans need to air it out more, especially to Kenny Britt.  The Cowboys are a tough defense to play when you are searching for answers.

Rosenthal’s pick: Cowboys 23, Titans 17. 

Chargers at Raiders

Florio’s take:  The Chargers are continuing to dig out of their funk, just as the Raiders are settling in to theirs.  The only question about this one is whether it will be the last one of Tom Cable’s career.  

Florio’s pick:  Chargers 35, Raiders 19.

Rosenthal’s take: Where did all that offseason optimism about the Raiders go?  This looks like the same old team.  The defense was supposed to carry the day, but they’ve been among the league’s worst.  Bruce Gradkowski has improved the passing attack, but the offensive line still struggles.  This is a game Oakland desperately needs to stay relevant, and they usually play the Chargers tough at home.  They also usually find a way to lose.  Mike Tolbert Fever: Catch it!

Rosenthal’s pick:  Chargers 24, Raiders 20.

Eagles at 49ers

Florio’s take:  Though 0-4, the 49ers remain in contention to win the NFC West, especially since the three teams in front of them are 2-2 each.  The 2-2 Eagles enter the game without the NFC’s offensive player of the month for September, and there are real concerns that quarterback Kevin Kolb won’t be able to perform as well as he can, given the problems with the team’s offensive line.  With a national audience, an increasingly restless home crowd, and the ability to put together a string of four wins before their bye (the next opponents are the Raiders, Panthers, and Broncos), the 49ers have every incentive to put together a powerful performance.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 28, Eagles 22.

Rosenthal’s take: How little respect is there for Kevin Kolb nationwide?  The winless 49ers are favored in this game by 3.5.  With Oakland and Carolina on the schedule next, San Francisco has a real opportunity to turn their season around. There’s just very little reason to believe they’ll do so.  I’m taking the Eagles, if only for organizational superiority.  They are a team that finds ways to win over the years, while Mike Singletary’s squad searches for new and painful ways to lose each week.

Rosenthal’s pick: Eagles 24, 49ers 21.

Vikings at Jets

Florio’s take:  Suddenly, the Monday night game at the New Meadowlands Stadium becomes as compelling as the Thursday night season opener.  The Jets have won three in a row since losing on their home field to open the season, and the Vikings are desperately trying to keep pace with the Packers and the Bears.  The Jets are 7-1 against the Vikings; even with Randy Moss, win No. 2 isn’t likely to come on Monday night.

Florio’s pick:  Jets 23, Vikings 21.

Rosenthal’s take:  Randy Moss can’t pass protect.  He can’t make Brett Favre turn back the clock a year, and Moss definitely can’t re-arrange a challenging schedule that even the ’09 Vikings would struggle to win 11 games against.  The Jets have lived up to the hype so far. The offense is playing better than the defense.  Don’t expect that to continue with Calvin Pace and Darrelle Revis likely returning Monday night.

Rosenthal’s pick: Jets 20, Vikings 13.

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Rashean Mathis thinks Lions’ defense can be better this year

Detroit Lions v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

Can the Lions’ defense get better despite the loss of its best player, Ndamukong Suh? Cornerback Rashean Mathis thinks so.

“That’s definitely the plan,” Mathis told the Detroit Free Press. “Anything other than that wouldn’t be us. It wouldn’t be what we’re building for. Like I said, we started something but we know that consistency has to carry on. That’s what the off-season is for: trying to fill in those gaps or even places that we were good at, getting better and those things as well. That’s what our scouts are for, that’s what the coaches coach for and that’s what we train for, to be better than we were last year.”

It’s easy to see why that’s the approach the Lions are taking, but it’s hard to believe they can actually do it. In addition to losing Suh, the Lions have lost their second- and third-best defensive tackles, Nick Fairley and C.J. Mosley. Even with the arrivals of Haloti Ngata and Tyrunn Walker, they’ve taken a step backward at that position. Detroit also lost defensive end George Johnson, who was third on the team in sacks last season. And none of the Lions’ draft picks are expected to start as rookies.

So despite Mathis’s high hopes, the Lions’ defense is likely to take a step backward this season. Last year it was the defense that carried Detroit to the playoffs, but if the Lions are going to remain a playoff team, they need the offense and special teams to pick up some of the slack.

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Dee Milliner competing for roster spot “like everyone else”

New York Jets v San Diego Chargers Getty Images

If you want a primer on how quickly things can change in the NFL, the career arc of Jets cornerback Dee Milliner isn’t a bad place to start.

When the Jets took Milliner with the ninth overall pick of the 2013 draft, he was seen as a replacement for the newly departed Darrelle Revis in the starting lineup and the foundation of new General Manager John Idzik’s first draft in charge of the team’s personnel. Fast forward two years and Revis is back with the Jets while Idzik has been ousted from his job in favor of Mike Maccagnan.

As for Milliner? He’s not a starter after two years plagued by injuries, including a torn Achilles last year, and ineffectiveness. If those trends don’t come to an end, defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers suggests a roster spot might be hard to come by in 2015.

“When you look at Dee coming in, you see a guy still kind of working off of an injury, trying to get himself to 100 percent,” Rodgers said, via Rich Cimini of ESPN.com. “But as we looked at him, we expect Dee to compete for a position on the roster like everyone else. This was a top-10 pick, and we think he has a lot of ability and we expect him to compete.”

Antonio Cromartie and Buster Skrine joined Revis as free agent acquisitions with the Jets and none of them will be fighting for roster spots. The Jets also have 2014 third-rounder Dexter McDougle returning from a torn ACL to go with Darrin Walls, Marcus Williams and Milliner at corner.

Cimini suggests Milliner could start the year on the PUP list as he continues to return from the Achilles injury and that his $3.7 million in guaranteed money will help him hold onto a roster spot one way or another, but it’s clear that the paths of both Milliner and the Jets have veered significantly from where they were pointed in the first round of the 2013 draft.

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Blake Bortles worked to remake himself this offseason

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 28: Blake Bortles #5 of the Jacksonville Jaguars looks to pass in the pocket against the Houston Texans in the first quarter in a NFL game on December 28, 2014 at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) Getty Images

The reward for going 3-13 was the third pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, but the Jaguars can’t even enjoy that after losing Dante Fowler to a torn ACL in his first minicamp practice.

So if they’re going to improve, they’re going to need more from last year’s third pick, quarterback Blake Bortles.

While it’s hard to tell if the cast around him has improved enough to make them better, Bortles himself is putting in the time to help himself.

Via Gene Frenette of the Florida Times-Union, Bortles is like many quarterbacks honing his craft with an off-site quarterback tutor. He’s working with a group in California including former Major League pitcher Tom House, who has worked with everybody from Tom Brady to Tim Tebow, to many in between.

This offseason, Blake did everything he could to improve his craft,” said Adam Dedeaux of 3DQB. “It’s not just about working hard, but smart, making sure everything you do has a purpose.

“Blake really worked smart this offseason. He now has a process that’s going to work for him to be successful, which is the main goal. His attention to detail, wanting to get better, his expectations of himself, are right there with the best. I know he’s taking that into training camp. The dude got after it.”

The group, which includes House, Dedeaux and former NFL quarterback John Beck spent two months working with Bortles on bio-mechanics, conditioning, nutrition and the mental game.

But Bortles is also physically different now, down from 250 pounds to 238, hopefully in better shape for his second season.

And while his offseason focus is no guarantee of success, for Jaguars fans, it’s what they have to cling onto at this point.

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Cam Heyward: We’ll find out how high Stephon Tuitt’s ceiling is this year

Keith Butler AP

The Steelers kick off organized team activities this week and they’ll be getting to work without Dick LeBeau for the first time since 2003.

The longtime defensive coordinator is in Tennessee now, leaving longtime Steelers assistant Keith Butler in charge of the defense. This week’s work will be the first chance the Steelers have had to run team drills under Butler, but defensive end Cam Heyward said that no one should expect any radical differences from what the team ran with LeBeau calling the shots.

“I don’t think there are going to be too many changes,” Heyward said, via the team’s website. “It’s going to be the same details. We will have a couple of new wrinkles, but we won’t share them now.”

Without any major schematic shifts to figure out, the Steelers should have plenty of time to focus on integrating young players into key roles on a defense that’s changed a lot of personnel of late. The team has drafted 10 defensive players over the last two years to replace departing veterans and they’ll need several of them to step up this year. Heyward thinks fellow defensive end Stephon Tuitt is ready.

“He has been in certain situations most rookies don’t get to be in. He has been in dog fights,” Heyward said. “For me, I was behind Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel and they were going through the dog fights. If they weren’t playing I would get my opportunity. We expect Tuitt to be ready to go game one. Tuitt has a high ceiling and we are going to see how high it is.”

If the likes of Tuitt, Ryan Shazier, Senquez Golson and Bud Dupree can make strides in 2015, the Steelers should be on better footing defensively. If they don’t, expect more shootouts in Pittsburgh again this season.

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Report: Adrian Peterson still wants out of Minnesota

Peterson Getty Images

The agitation through his agent ended when the draft came and went without the Vikings trading running back Adrian Peterson. The motivation to no longer play for the team reportedly lingers.

According to Charles Robinson of Yahoo! Sports, Peterson still wants out of Minnesota.

Per Robinson, Peterson will skip the entire offseason program, not just the first week of Organized Team Activities. Which means that Peterson will forfeit a $250,000 workout bonus.

The next question becomes whether he’ll skip a mandatory minicamp, which runs from June 16-18. If he doesn’t show, Peterson can be fined $12,155 for missing the first day, $24,300 for missing the second day, and $36,465 for missing the third day — a total of $72,920.

Given that he’ll already lose $250,000 by skipping voluntary workouts, what’s another $72,920? However, Peterson has been careful not to say or do anything that would directly indicate to the public that there’s a real problem, relying instead on the words of his agent and/or Peterson’s father, along with a stream of leaks to the media, with the latest coming from a “longtime Peterson confidant.” Failing to show up for mandatory minicamp would become the first tangible action from Peterson himself that a significant problem exists.

The news that Peterson still wants out is a bit of a surprise. The leaks regarding his desire to leave had ended with the draft. And agent Ben Dogra had openly accepted that the Vikings want to keep Peterson.

But Dogra also said he wants a “commitment to make him retire as a Viking.” Appearing earlier this month on PFT Live, Vikings G.M. Rick Spielman declined to comment on any talks or efforts to upgrade Peterson’s contract, which currently carries no guaranteed money over the final three years. (As a practical matter, though, he’ll get his full salary of $12.75 million for 2015 if he’s on the roster as of Week One.)

It’s hard to reconcile Peterson’s desire to leave Minnesota with his desire to get more guaranteed money to stay. If he truly wants out, more guaranteed money shouldn’t matter. Robinson reports that it is a “far more personal issue” between player and team, and that it “has never been about the money.”

Which likely means it’s always been about the money.

Whether it’s about the money or not (it is), the Vikings aren’t about to trade him — absent an offer that would give them no choice but to do it. With the 2015 draft over, it will be harder for an interested team to pull it off.

Recently, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones mused that his desire to win now could induce him to give up a 2016 first-round pick to get the right player. While Jones wisely didn’t mention Peterson, who else would they need at this point? Still, it’s unlikely the Vikings would take only a 2016 first-round pick at this point.

And so the impasse about money or something other than money (money) will continue, until mandatory minicamp arrives and either Peterson accepts that the Vikings won’t be trading him or he calls the Vikings on their not-so-subtle “play for us or play for no one” stance and fails to show up.

The stakes are fairly high. With $12.75 million in base salary due for 2015 and $2.4 million in unearned signing bonus payable back to the Vikings, the $322,920 he’ll lose by not showing up for the offseason program or minicamp is the tip of a $15,472,920 iceberg.

So look for Peterson to eventually show up. At some point, he’ll work through the anger-denial-bargaining-depression and accept that he has no leverage here. The harder his agent, family, and/or unnamed confidants try to paint Peterson as a victim, the worse he’ll look.

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Monday morning one-liners

Emmanuel Sanders, Jason Verrett AP

A look at the Bills safeties heading into OTAs.

Said Dolphins coach Joe Philbin of the team’s new wide receivers, “So the biggest thing from a coach’s seat is let’s get these guys out on the field, let’s get them as many reps as we possibly can, as many looks and as many different coverages as we can so we can prepare them to play fast and decisive.”

Patriots QB Tom Brady has a new dog.

Where does LB Lorenzo Mauldin fit on the Jets Defense?

Some questions for the Ravens to answer as OTAs get underway.

The Bengals have gone for two after touchdowns three times in the last four years.

Breaking down some storylines for the next phase of the Browns offseason.

C Maurkice Pouncey is becoming more of a leader for the younger Steelers.

Texans DE J.J. Watt took in what much of the world calls football during a visit to London.

Colts QB Andrew Luck was in attendance for the Indy 500.

Will RB Toby Gerhart make the Jaguars this season?

Titans CB Tre McBride comes from a military family.

Vance Walker brings versatility to the Broncos defensive line.

95-year-old Edward Burnham took part in a 5K run sponsored by the Chiefs.

DE Justin Tuck likes what he’s seen from Raiders rookie Mario Edwards Jr. thus far.

A closer look at Chargers CB Jason Verrett.

A scouting report on the Cowboys Offense.

Measuring the offseason improvement of the Giants.

WR Nelson Agholor says he feels comfortable doing anything the Eagles ask of him on offense.

What work do the Redskins need to do at cornerback?

The Bears need production from Jared Allen and Shea McClellin at linebacker.

Grading the Lions’ offseason moves.

Vonnie Holliday reminisces about playing next to Reggie White on the Packers defensive line.

Previewing the start of Vikings organized team activities.

The Falcons’ running back competition should be heating up.

Do the new PAT rules give the Panthers an edge?

A look at the Saints’ kicking competition.

The Buccaneers defensive coaches are more comfortable in their second season with Lovie Smith.

Cardinals CB Jerraud Powers thinks Justin Bethel will step into a bigger defensive role this season.

The Rams website takes a look at QB Sean Mannion.

Is LB Lance Briggs still a possibility for the 49ers?

The Seahawks expect more from CB Tharold Simon in 2015.

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Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl hopes could hinge on renovation deal

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 29:  Tampa Bay Buccaneers Co-Chairman Bryan Glazer talks with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell before Goodell announces a $1 million donation to the Tampa Bay YET Centers during a presss conference at Mort Park on January 29, 2009 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images) Getty Images

Technically speaking, Tampa is in the running for Super Bowls in 2019 and 2020.

But unless the Glazer family comes up with a plan (i.e. money) to upgrade Raymond James Stadium, those bids might not go anywhere in the face of new and renovated buildings elsewhere.

Via Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune,  the Buccaneers are “currently negotiating” with the Tampa Sports Authority and Hillsborough County officials on plans to refurbish the 17-year-old stadium. Team COO Brian Ford is described as “confident” those plans will materialize soon.

Without them, the Bucs may have a hard time landing the big game.

The NFL has long used Super Bowls as both carrot and stick to leverage new stadiums and upgrades to existing ones.

Atlanta figures to be a shoe-in for building a brand new retractable roof facility next to the Georgia Dome, and with Los Angeles entering the mix for a title game soon, competition is going to be tough. That’s why Dolphins owner Stephen Ross just poured in $400 million to improve Sun Life Stadium.

“We got invited this time because basically Mr. Ross committed to make all the renovations,’’ Rodney Barreto, the chairman of the South Florida Super Bowl Committee said.

So unless the Glazers are willing to make (or find someone to make) a similar investment, it might be some time before the Super Bowl returns to Central Florida.

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Gary Kubiak sees NFL teams signing two-point specialists

Denver Broncos Introduce Gary Kubiak Getty Images

Does the NFL’s new rule moving extra point kicks back 13 yards make much of a difference to how teams assemble their rosters?

It does according to Broncos coach Gary Kubiak, who sees NFL teams signing players specifically for their ability to score on two-point conversions.

“I think there [are] going to be two-point specialists from the standpoint of how you go about doing it. Coaching, those are things that you work on,” Kubiak said, via Lindsay Jones of USA Today. “You probably practice those things during camp. It’s not very much and, all of a sudden, it becomes part of the game. That’s a big part of practice. It’s going to change the way you go about doing things. I know that.”

The player most often named as a potential two-point specialist is Tim Tebow, whose presence on the Eagles’ roster has some thinking that Chip Kelly must have some two-point conversion tricks up his sleeve. But if Tebow had some great ability to score consistently from the 2-yard line, why was he out of the NFL for the last two years? The ability to score on two-point conversions and goal line plays has always been valuable in football. Moving the extra point back doesn’t make it much more valuable than it already was.

If the Eagles’ proposal to move two-point conversions up to the 1-yard line had passed, that would have caused a significant change: Some teams would have started to go for two as the “default” position, and those teams would have assembled their rosters with that plan in mind. But the reality is, a 33-yard extra point kick isn’t much harder for an NFL kicker than a 20-yard kick, and so teams aren’t going to go for two much more this year than they did last year. Those two-point conversion specialists may be coming to the NFL eventually, but only if the extra point rules change more in the future.

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Report: Adrian Peterson skipping start of Vikings OTAs

Peterson Getty Images

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said he had an idea when running back Adrian Peterson was going to show up for work.

At some point this week, someone can ask him if he knew it wasn’t going to be soon.

According to Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the less-than-gruntled running back won’t be on hand when the Vikings begin OTAs Tuesday.

The Vikings have said they weren’t interested in dealing Peterson, and with the draft come and gone, any realistic window for moving him is closed.

But now, the absences become costly for Peterson, who has a $250,000 workout bonus that hinges on his appearance at 90 percent of the team’s OTAs and minicamps.

Whether he shows up this week and in time to collect remains to be seen, but the current plan is for him to not be there Tuesday.

Of course, losing a quarter of a million is one thing for most of us, but Peterson’s set to make $13 million this year. So whether this is just posturing, it’s at least the latest sign he’s not happy in Minnesota.

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Rally to support Tom Brady draws about 150 people outside Gillette Stadium

Fans Attend "Free Tom Brady" Rally Getty Images

On Sunday, we learned something: if you hold a rally supporting a star quarterback suspended due to allegations of deflated footballs, they will come.

Approximately 150 people attended Sunday’s “Free Tom Brady” rally outside of Gillette Stadium, the Boston Globe reported, citing Foxborough, Mass. police for the crowd estimate.

Brady, the Patriots’ four-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback, has been banned for the first four regular season games of 2015 by the NFL. He is appealing.

The demonstration, per a Facebook page advertising the event, was intended to “protest the unjust football arrest of half God half man Tom Brady.”

According to media reports, the demonstration included a recently married couple that is not honeymooning in Bermuda in solidarity with with the Patriots after Brady’s four-game suspension.

“We want to be here to support our Patriots, and until that ban is lifted we’re not going on our honeymoon,” said Paul Goodrow of Watertown, Mass., according to the Boston Herald. “Our whole house is like a man cave.

“The NFL debacled this so-called Deflategate. It’s just ridiculous. It’s all because of fans from other states who hate us because they ain’t us. I believe that he is innocent. This is just a smear campaign against the Patriots.”

There was no indication any Patriots staff were present for the rally.

New England begins its organized team practice activities on Tuesday.

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All but one team will hold OTAs this week

The New England Patriots Workout In Foxborough, Mass. Getty Images

In less than four weeks, all NFL clubs will have wrapped up their organized offseason workouts.

Not surprisingly, then, the upcoming week will be a working one around the league.

Thirty-one of 32 NFL clubs will hold organized team practice activities (OTAs) between Tuesday, May 26 and Friday, May 29. Only the Rams will not be holding any club-overseen workouts this week.

OTAs are non-padded, non-hitting practices in which coaches can instruct players. Players can wear helmets, and full team drills are allowed, per the CBA between NFL teams and players.

The majority of clubs will have OTAs on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday before calling it a week. However, others will mix in a day off. The Patriots, for instance, are set to work on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

Here are the days in which teams will hold OTAs this week:

Arizona: Tuesday-Thursday.

Atlanta: Tuesday-Friday.

Baltimore: Tuesday-Thursday.

Buffalo: Tuesday-Wednesday; Friday.

Carolina: Tuesday-Thursday.

Chicago: Wednesday-Friday.

Cincinnati: Tuesday-Thursday.

Cleveland: Tuesday-Wednesday; Friday.

Dallas: Tuesday-Thursday.

Denver: Wednesday-Friday.

Detroit: Tuesday-Thursday.

Green Bay: Wednesday-Friday.

Houston: Tuesday-Thursday.

Indianapolis: Tuesday-Thursday.

Jacksonville: Tuesday-Thursday.

Kansas City: Tuesday-Thursday.

Miami: Tuesday-Wednesday; Friday.

Minnesota: Tuesday-Thursday.

New England: Tuesday; Thursday-Friday.

New Orleans: Tuesday-Thursday.

N.Y. Giants: Wednesday-Friday.

N.Y. Jets: Tuesday-Thursday.

Oakland: Tuesday-Thursday.

Philadelphia: Tuesday-Thursday.

Pittsburgh: Tuesday-Thursday.

St. Louis: None.

San Diego: Tuesday-Thursday.

San Francisco: Wednesday-Friday.

Seattle: Tuesday-Wednesday; Friday.

Tampa Bay: Tuesday-Thursday.

Tennessee: Tuesday-Thursday.

Washington: Tuesday-Thursday.

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Kris Durham worked out for Saints and Cowboys

Kris Durham, Dwayne Gratz AP

Veteran free agents trying to catch on with a team before the end of offseason work are running short on time, but they can be heartened by the fact that teams are still taking a look at who’s available on the open market.

Wide receiver Kris Durham was a guest on Sirius XM NFL Radio with Alex Marvez and Zig Fracassi and said that he’s had workouts with both the Saints and Cowboys recently. Durham played for the Titans last season.

The Saints recently added Josh Morgan to their receiving corps and Drew Brees has talked up the chance to see Nick Toon and Seantavius Jones get more looks behind Marques Colston and Brandin Cooks during the 2015 season. Throw in Joe Morgan and Durham would likely have a tough route to playing time in New Orleans.

Dallas has a bit less depth with Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley backed up by a group of players short on experience and Durham played for offensive coordinator Scott Linehan in Detroit. Mickey Spagnola of the Cowboys website adds that the team also worked out former 49ers first-round pick A.J. Jenkins and reports there’s a good chance the team adds a “somewhat veteran” wideout in the coming weeks.

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Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman likely to split reps in Atlanta

devontafreeman AP

Steven Jackson is out after two years as the Falcons’ top running back. At the moment, the plan is for last year’s fourth-round pick and this year’s third-round pick to split the job of taking Jackson’s place.

Devonta Freeman, who had 65 carries for 248 yards as a rookie last year, and Tevin Coleman, a rookie from Indiana, will be in a two-back system with equal reps, according to Vaughn McClure of ESPN.

Whether Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan sticks with a two-back system throughout the season remains to be seen. Both Freeman and Coleman will get the opportunity to separate himself during training camp. But it will be an equal opportunity for both players.

It also remains to be seen what the Falcons will get out of Antone Smith, who played very well in limited action last season before breaking his leg. Smith has played very sparingly so far in his career, but when he has had the ball in his hands, he’s been fantastic: He has averaged 9.9 yards on 29 carries and 15.5 yards on 15 catches. A trio of Freeman, Coleman and Smith may make the Falcons better at running back without Jackson than they were with him.

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ESPN says NFL lawyers “recommend” Goodell handle Brady appeal

Lawyers

There’s apparently a little-known principle of journalism that goes like this: Fool me once, shame on me. Now fool me again!

Four months after allowing itself to provide the primary catalyst for #DeflateGate via a false report that sparked a frenzy, ESPN is currently helping to boost artificially the perception that there are no problems at all with the decision of Commissioner Roger Goodell to personally handle the appeal of the four-game suspension imposed on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

Appearing as of this posting on the front page of ESPN’s NFL page is this headline: “Lawyers endorse Goodell hearing Brady appeal.” With no explanation of which lawyers to which the headline refers, it isn’t clear who exactly is endorsing the decision. Which prompted me to click on the story. Which made the link pretty good click bait.

So I clicked. And I was greeted with this headline: “Lawyers recommend Roger Goodell hear Tom Brady appeal.” Which is actually a little stronger than “endorse.” Which prompted me to read more than the headline, in order to find out who was doing the recommending.

Here are the first two sentences of the article: “Attorneys for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell have recommended that Goodell reject the NFLPA’s request that he recuse himself from hearing Tom Brady’s appeal of his four-game suspension. While Goodell still could step aside as arbitrator, he would be doing so against the advice of his lawyers.”

Which apparently makes it all OK.

The article then says nothing more about who made the recommendation or why the recommendation was made or whether Goodell relied on the recommendation in making the decision to handle the appeal. It cites no sources, named or unnamed, for the report that Goodell’s lawyers made the recommendation, and it credits no reporter until the very end of the story, where it adds in italics, “ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

In all, it looks and feels like an effort to artificially legitimize Goodell’s decision to handle the appeal to a potentially skeptical public. The clear takeaway isn’t that Goodell is intent on handling the appeal personally; it’s that the lawyers advised him to do it. So he’s not doing what he wants to do in order to ensure that he decides the matter in light of the broader business interests of the league or because he simply wants to control everything, he’s simply doing what the lawyers have told him to do.

Which apparently makes it all OK.

It’s a distinction without a difference, since: (1) the lawyers work for him and will be inclined to tell him what he wants to hear; and (2) the lawyers presumably are moving in lock step with Goodell on his intent to make the decision without deferring to anyone truly neutral and independent, who would then have the power to scuttle the findings and conclusions that Ted Wells charged the league millions of dollars to reach, possibly at the direct or indirect behest of the league.

As NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said Friday on ESPN’s Outside the Lines, “The Wells report delivered exactly what the client wanted.” And that’s a common dynamic in American business. Lawyers routinely provide an “independent analysis” that gives credence and credibility to the thing the client wants to have credence and credibility when judged by someone else.

It’s still unclear whether that’s exactly what happened as to the findings of the Wells report. It’s very clear that’s what happened as to the “recommendation” that Goodell personally handle the Wells report. And it’s abundantly clear that ESPN has gone out of its way to help sell to the public the notion that the decision has a degree of credence and credibility that ultimately is meaningless — even though it was ESPN that undermined its own brand by passing along blatantly false information in the early days of #DeflateGate that 11 of 12 Patriots footballs measured at two full pounds under the 12.5 PSI minimum.

ESPN’s ongoing willingness to carry water for the league on this topic is surprising in light of the lie it was told. Then again, with hardly anyone wagging a finger at ESPN for allowing itself to be so grossly manipulated, it’s easy for ESPN to react to the situation like Kevin Bacon taking a paddle to the ass in Animal House.

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Lane Johnson puked his way through brutal offseason workouts

Wild Card Playoffs - New Orleans Saints v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson wasn’t interested in rest and relaxation this offseason.

Johnson spent five weeks early in the offseason doing a workout routine based around mixed martial arts principles and devised by Jay Glazer and former UFC champion Randy Couture. Johnson said it was the most brutal thing he has ever been through, but when it was time for Organized Team Activities to start, he surprised himself with how much he had improved.

“The first couple days, I was puking non-stop,” Johnson said. “It was terrible. Going into OTAs now, I’m in the best shape of my life. I notice now I’m a lot quicker with my hands and a lot stronger with my hands. I don’t have to really think about it. It comes naturally.”

Johnson thinks these workouts are going to take him to the next step in his career.

“I want to be elite at my position in the NFL, and I felt that this would help me get there,” Johnson said. “I have a lot of confidence about what’s ahead of me. I think I’m getting close to being elite. Last year was a big stepping stone from my rookie year and I just have to be more aggressive and more violent going into Year 3.”

If Johnson can develop into an elite offensive tackle, all that puke will be worth it.

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