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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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NFL Weather Watch — Week 12

Minnesota Vikings v Chicago Bears Getty Images

The weather forecasts suggest snow is unlikely to be seen in any of the outdoor NFL games on Sunday.

However, fans of a certain age might have occasion to hum a few bars of “November Rain.”

Precipitation is possible for Buccaneers-Bears in Chicago and Packers-Vikings in Minneapolis. Meanwhile, the strongest winds could be experienced in Denver for Dolphins-Broncos. And if you like sunshine beaming from the television, Rams-Chargers and Washington-49ers are your best bets.

Here’s a quick look at the game-time weather conditions expected for Sunday’s NFL outdoor games. Forecast data is cited from WeatherUnderground.com:

Titans and Eagles (1 p.m. ET)

Temperature: 51 degrees.

Wind: Six mph out of the south-southwest.

Precipitation chance at kickoff: None.

Lions at Patriots (1 p.m. ET)

Temperature: 52 degrees.

Wind: Eight mph out of the southwest.

Precipitation chance at kickoff: One percent.

Packers at Vikings (1 p.m. ET)

Temperature: 41 degrees.

Wind: Six mph out of the west-northwest.

Precipitation chance at kickoff: 24 percent (increasing as game goes on).

Buccaneers at Bears (1 p.m. ET)

Temperature: 52 degrees.

Wind: 13 mph out of the south.

Precipitation chance at kickoff: 24 percent (increasing as game goes on).

Cardinals at Seahawks (4:05 p.m. ET)

Temperature: 50 degrees.

Wind: 10 mph out of the south-southwest.

Precipitation chance at kickoff: 18 percent.

Rams at Chargers (4:05 p.m. ET)

Temperature: 73 degrees.

Wind: 14 mph out of the northwest.

Precipitation chance at kickoff: None.

Dolphins at Broncos (4:25 p.m. ET)

Temperature: 38 degrees.

Wind: 19 mph out of the northwest.

Precipitation chance at kickoff: 16 percent.

Washington at 49ers (4:25 p.m. ET)

Temperature: 64 degrees.

Wind: Eight mph out of the north-northwest.

Precipitation chance at kickoff: None.

Cowboys at Giants (8:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

Temperature: 46 degrees.

Wind: Five mph out of the south.

Precipitation chance at kickoff: Two percent.

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Cuban calls opposition to gambling “hypocritical”

Cuban AP

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver recently expressed public support for sports wagering.  Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has now echoed Silver’s view that the time has come for legalized gaming on America’s various athletic games.

I agree 100 percent,” Cuban said Saturday, via Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com.  “I think we’re the world’s biggest hypocrites when we say, ‘Oh, we don’t want you betting on our games,’ and then we get all excited about the sports betting line and people go to Vegas on trips won from the NBA or NFL.  I mean, it’s hugely hypocritical.”

Cuban, who made waves in the NFL earlier this year by suggesting that the league’s hoggish tendencies will eventually lead it to the slaughterhouse, predicted that widespread legalized gambling is coming.

“I think over the next three to five years, it will change,” Cuban said.  “And it’ll be interesting to see how the NFL reacts as well, because they’ve still so far said that they’re adamant against it because I guess they have data that says the NFL doesn’t benefit from gambling.”

Cuban pointed to a specific revenue stream that would come from legalized gambling.

“We’ll charge the casinos for information sources, video sources,” Cuban said.  “All you’ve got to do is look overseas.  You can go and legally bet on the NBA in the U.K. and a bunch of other countries, and they’re actually big customers of NBA video. . . .  So you’ve got a template already that’s legal in the rest of the world other than America.”

The NFL remains staunchly opposed to legalized gambling, possibly/probably because the NFL realizes that the pressure to improve officiating and to ensure full integrity of injury reporting would increase dramatically with the legalization of sports wagering.  Likewise, the federal authority charged with regulating gambling would be keenly interested in any irregularities, including a late call that doesn’t change the outcome of the game but that results in significant dollars changing hands by affecting the application of the point spread.

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Jameis Winston not ejected despite contact with official

jameis AP

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston remains the most talked-about college football player in America, for good and for ill, and today he’s added another item that will be recited on the “con” side of the ledger in the NFL draft.

During Florida State’s win over Boston College, Winston moved an official aside as Florida State was trying to get a play run while the official was allowing Boston College’s defense to substitute. It wasn’t a hard shove and Winston wasn’t penalized, but former NFL head of officiating Mike Pereira says that Winston should have been kicked out of the game.

“I’ve looked at this play several times, and in my opinion, Winston should have been penalized for shoving Webster not once, but twice. In fact, I feel he should have been ejected,” Pereira says.

Taken alone, this wouldn’t be a big deal as teams evaluate Winston for the draft. In fact, if a player with a clean image (like the other top quarterback prospect in next year’s draft, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota) did the same thing, people would probably say it just shows what a fiery competitor he is.

But when it’s Winston — who always seems to find a way for his behavior to overshadow his brilliant play — it raises questions once again about whether NFL teams will worry that the headaches he creates are too much to tolerate. Winston is a great college quarterback, but one whom a lot of NFL teams may view as the last person they want to be the face of their franchise.

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Doug Marrone: Fred Jackson likely to play vs. Jets

Fred Jackson AP

The Bills are planning on having their elder statesman in the lineup against the Jets.

Tailback Fred Jackson (groin) is expected to play in Monday night’s game in Detroit, Bills coach Doug Marrone said Saturday, according to Mike Rodak of ESPN.com. Jackson was listed as questionable on the club’s Friday injury report.

The 33-year-old Jackson has missed two out of the last three games because of the injury. He’s third on the team in rushing yards and carries, gaining 249 yards and a touchdown on 58 attempts. His 37 catches are second on the club, and he’s accumulated 300 receiving yards and a TD reception.

A major winter storm forced the Jets-Bills game to be moved from Orchard Park, New York on Sunday to Detroit on Monday night.

The Bills (5-5) are currently 1.5 games out in the AFC wild-card race.

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Week 12 skill-position injury report — final

Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman AP

For fantasy football participants, here are the skill-position players listed on the final Week 12 injury report, with both Monday-night games (Jets-Bills, Ravens-Saints) included. Key fantasy starters are bolded.

Inactives will be posted 90 minutes before game time.

Byes: Steelers, Panthers.

OUT

Bears WR Chris Williams (hamstring).

Broncos RB Montee Ball (foot).

Broncos RB Ronnie Hillman (foot).

Browns TE Jordan Cameron (concussion).

Browns WR Marlon Moore (hamstring).

Colts TE Dwayne Allen (ankle).

Eagles QB Nick Foles (collarbone).

Packers TE Brandon Bostick (hip).

Rams WR Damian Williams (hamstring).

Ravens WR Michael Campanaro (thigh).

Saints RB Khiry Robinson (forearm).

Vikings RB Matt Asiata (concussion).

Washington TE Jordan Reed (hamstring).

DOUBTFUL

Dolphins TE Charles Clay (knee).

QUESTIONABLE

Bills RB Fred Jackson (groin).

Broncos TE Julius Thomas (ankle).

Broncos TE Virgil Green (calf).

Buccaneers RB Charles Sims (ankle).

Buccaneers RB Doug Martin (ankle).

Cardinals RB Andre Ellington (hip, foot).

Dolphins RB Lamar Miller (shoulder).

49ers TE Vance McDonald (hip).

49ers WR Bruce Ellington (ankle).

Lions RB Reggie Bush (ankle).

Rams TE Cory Harkey (quadriceps).

Rams TE Jared Cook (back).

Saints WR Robert Meachem (ankle).

Texans RB Arian Foster (groin).

Titans WR Justin Hunter (knee).

Vikings WR Greg Jennings (rib).

Vikings WR Jarius Wright (hamstring).

PROBABLE

Bears WR Alshon Jeffery (hamstring).

Bears WR Brandon Marshall (ankle).

Bears WR Josh Morgan (shoulder).

Bengals RB Cedric Peerman (hip).

Bengals RB Giovani Bernard (hip).

Bills QB Kyle Orton (toe).

Bills RB Frank Summers (neck).

Bills WR Chris Hogan (hip).

Bills WR Marquise Goodwin (ankle).

Bills WR Sammy Watkins (groin).

Broncos RB Juwan Thompson (knee).

Broncos WR Emmanuel Sanders (concussion).

Cardinals RB Robert Hughes (hamstring).

Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald (knee).

Chargers QB Philip Rivers (chest).

Colts RB Trent Richardson (illness).

Colts WR Reggie Wayne (not injury related).

Cowboys QB Tony Romo (back).

Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill (left shoulder).

Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry (shoulder).

Dolphins WR Mike Wallace (calf).

Eagles WR Jeff Maehl (foot).

Eagles WR Jordan Matthews (knee).

49ers WR Brandon Lloyd (quadriceps).

Falcons RB Steven Jackson (illness).

Falcons WR Devin Hester (wrist).

Falcons WR Harry Douglas (foot).

Falcons WR Julio Jones (illness).

Jaguars QB Blake Bortles (left wrist).

Jets QB Geno Smith (right shoulder).

Jets RB Chris Ivory (shoulder).

Jets RB Chris Johnson (knee).

Jets WR Greg Salas (wrist).

Jets WR T.J. Graham (neck).

Lions RB Joique Bell (ankle).

Lions TE Brandon Pettigrew (foot).

Lions WR Calvin Johnson (ankle).

Lions WR Golden Tate (hip).

Patriots QB Tom Brady (ankle).

Patriots WR Julian Edelman (thigh).

Ravens FB RB Kyle Juszczyk (foot).

Ravens TE Owen Daniels (not injury related).

Saints RB Mark Ingram (shoulder).

Saints RB Pierre Thomas (rib, shoulder).

Saints RB Travaris Cadet (hamstring).

Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch (back).

Texans QB Ryan Mallett (chest).

Texans RB Jonathan Grimes (ankle).

Texans WR Andre Johnson (not injury related).

Titans TE Delanie Walker (concussion).

Vikings RB Jerick McKinnon (back).

Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph (abdomen, groin).

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Broncos sign RB Jeremy Stewart

Denver Broncos practice at Dove Valley Getty Images

The Broncos have swapped reserve running backs in advance of Sunday’s game vs. Miami, promoting veteran Jeremy Stewart from the practice squad and waiving rookie Kapri Bibbs.

The roster move was announced in the NFL’s Saturday transactions.

The 25-year-old Stewart has appeared in 17 regular season games, all with Oakland from 2012 through 2013. A Stanford product, Stewart (5-11, 215) has rushed 27 times for 103 yards and one TD and has caught 10 passes for 68 yards.

Stewart will back up C.J. Anderson and Juwan Thompson on Sunday. Stewart has regular season special teams experience, and he could be called upon to cover kicks, too.

The Broncos have ruled out tailbacks Ronnie Hillman (foot) and Montee Ball (groin) with injuries.

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Reggie Bush is targeting Thanksgiving for return

Bush Getty Images

A lingering ankle injury caused Lions running back Reggie Bush to miss last Sunday’s loss in Arizona.  He’s currently expected to miss Sunday’s game at New England.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Bush intends to return on Thanksgiving, when the Lions host the Bears.

Bush practiced all week on a limited basis, fueling optimism that he’ll help pump up an offense that mustered only six points against the Cardinals.  Officially questionable for Sunday, it’s looking like he won’t be ready to go until Thursday.

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Glenn Dorsey won’t be back for at least a few more weeks

Dorsey Getty Images

Five days ago, the 49ers activated defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey from injured reserve with designation to return.  Per a league source, Dorsey nevertheless remains a few weeks away from being ready to play.

Dorsey suffered a torn biceps in August; he’s listed as out for Sunday’s game with a forearm injury.  Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said recently that Dorsey’s recovery has plateaued.

The problem for the 49ers comes from the decision to activate Dorsey.  He would have remained on IR/DFR until ready to play.  By activating him, they had to make a move to permit Dorsey to count toward the 53-man roster.

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Is Henderson independent? As usual, NFL and NFLPA can’t agree

Peterson Getty Images

The NFLPA wanted Commissioner Roger Goodell to delegate the ability to resolve the appeal of Adrian Peterson’s suspension to a neutral, third-party arbitrator. Goodell instead delegated the case to former NFL executive Harold Henderson.

While not the kind of independence the NFLPA envisioned, Henderson isn’t currently a direct employee of the league office. Sure, he’s routinely appointed by the league to handle hearings involving player discipline, and he’d presumably like those assignments to continue. But a buffer definitely exists between Goodell and Henderson that wouldn’t apply if Goodell had appointed someone like general counsel Jeff Pash to decide the Peterson appeal.

Henderson has handled 87 player appeals since 2008, and he serves as president of the NFL Player Care Foundation, which is funded jointly by the NFL and the NFLPA. Still, the NFLPA wants the league to treat appeals under the personal conduct policy the same way most appeals are now treated under the substance-abuse and PED policies — with a truly neutral and disconnected entity handling the appeal. The fact that Goodell handed the baton to someone to whom he has handed the baton many times before shows that the Peterson case will be handled the same way most cases have been handled in past years. The union believes the issues raised in this case require independence of the kind that was obtained in the Ray Rice appeal.

To legitimize the disciplinary process, the NFLPA wants true independence in every case. The decision to give the Peterson appeal to someone who falls within the bubble of people to whom Goodell is comfortable delegating appeals shows that the league doesn’t want the same kind of independence.

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Pierre Thomas is poised to return, after more than a month

Thomas Getty Images

As the Saints try to avoid falling three games under .500 and in turn losing three straight games at the Superdome for the first time since 2001, they’ll have some extra help in the backfield.

Running back Pierre Thomas appears as probable on the injury report with a rib and shoulder injury.  Thomas last played on October 19 at Detroit.

For the season, he has 133 rushing yards and 204 receiving yards in six games.

Also probable are running back Mark Ingram (shoulder) and running back Tavaris Cadet (hamstring).  Running back Khiry Robinson (forearm) remains out.

The Saints host the Ravens on Monday night, in the normal Monday night slot of 8:30 p.m. ET.  The Jets and Bill play in Detroit, starting at 7:00 p.m. ET.

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Charles Woodson wasn’t pleased with Sio Moore’s celebration

Woodson AP

Raiders linebacker Sio Moore is lucky his excessive third-down celebration didn’t prevent Oakland from winning for the first time in 17 tries.  If that had happened, Moore would have had a problem beyond the Raiders falling to 0-11.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Woodson said, via Michael Wagaman of ESPN.com.  “That was the first time I had ever seen somebody celebrate for a whole 40-second clock. That was ridiculous, and they know it. I told Sio he’s lucky we got the win because we really probably would’ve had to fight, and I would’ve seen exactly what kind of fighter he is.”

Moore has apologized for lingering so long in celebration that a timeout had to be taken, because he and Khalil Mack were well behind the Kansas City backfield as the Chiefs prepared to snap the ball.

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Eric Decker admits it’s tough to see Emmanuel Sanders’s success

decker AP

This offseason saw receiver Eric Decker leave Denver for the Jets in free agency, and Emmanuel Sanders sign with the Broncos to take Decker’s place. Decker sometimes feels the way you’d expect a receiver to feel about leaving a first-place team quarterbacked by Peyton Manning and joining a last-place team quarterbacked by Geno Smith and Michael Vick.

“Honestly, sometimes it’s hard to watch them when they’re playing,” Decker told the New York Daily News. “When they’re clicking on all cylinders, they’re a tough football team. They got the right pieces.”

Sanders ranks fifth in the NFL with 954 receiving yards, while Decker ranks 62nd in the NFL with 450 receiving yards. Decker isn’t crazy about watching that.

“Emmanuel Sanders is playing well in my spot, so to speak,” Decker said. “Sometimes, you know, it’s tough to see all the success. But that’s football. It’s going to go in swings. Who says we can’t be a great football team? We got to obviously do some right things to get there, but I’m happy for Peyton and Demaryius [Thomas]. I respect them so much. They’re all good friends, so I like to see them do well, but sometimes it’s hard.”

Decker isn’t saying he regrets leaving Denver, and his contract with the Jets gives him 36 million reasons to be happy where he is. But Decker is being honest about his mixed emotions: It’s tough to leave a team like the Broncos to play like a team for the Jets.

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Jerry Hughes fined $22,050 for abusive language to an official

Buffalo Bills v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes said something naughty to an official on Thursday night, and he’ll pay for it.

The NFL has fined Hughes $22,050 for unsportsmanlike conduct. Specifically, according to the NFL, Hughes “directed abusive language towards an official.”

We don’t know exactly what Hughes said, but he insisted that it was nothing that warranted a penalty. Hughes said all he did was tell the officials that they had missed a holding penalty that should have been called on the Dolphins.

“There really wasn’t one,” Hughes said when asked what explanation he got from the officials. “I did yell because I did get held on that play. I made sure I yelled, ‘Holding.’ Whatever else came after that, I really don’t know. I don’t know. . . . I’ve never really seen a holding call missed at the point of attack like that. So I really don’t know. I’m at a loss for words right now.”

This was the second time referee Walt Coleman’s crew gave Hughes an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty this season. The last time was Week 6 against the Patriots, when Hughes appeared to do nothing warranting a penalty. Hughes says he doesn’t know what the deal is with this officiating crew.

“It’s the same crew from New England, from when we played New England, so it just doesn’t surprise me,” Hughes said.

But in this case, the NFL obviously agrees with the officials that Hughes said something wrong. Something that will cost him $22,050.

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DeMarcus Ware added to injury report, listed as probable

Denver Broncos vs New England Patriots, NFL Getty Images

One of the Broncos’ top pass rushers is a late addition to the injury report, but it does not appear to be a big deal.

Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware (illness) was placed on the report Saturday, the team said. However, he’s listed as probable for Sunday’s game vs. Miami.

According to Mike Klis of the Denver Post, Ware was sent home sick on Saturday.

The 32-yard-old Ware has started all 10 games for the Broncos this season, notching 28 tackles and nine sacks. He had played the previous eight seasons with the Cowboys, where he established himself as one of the top pass rushers of his generation.

The Broncos (7-3) are a half-game ahead of the Chiefs and one game in front of the Chargers in the AFC West.

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Week 12 “Three and Out”

Romo AP

With only six Sundays left in the season, things are getting more and more interesting for the teams in contention.  And, for some of the teams not in contention, more and more dysfunctional.

Speaking of dysfunctional, PFT continues to produce every Saturday a three-questions-per-game look at every contest to be played on every Sunday.  There’s one less Sunday game this week, with Jets-Bills moved to Monday.  But with only two teams on byes, there will be plenty of stuff going on in the twelfth Sunday of 2014.

To get up to speed on all of the action, perform the action that requires precious little effort — scroll down.

Browns at Falcons

1.  How much will Josh Gordon be used?

Plenty.  Heavily.  Extensively.

Officially, the Browns plan to ease Gordon, who missed 10 games under his latest drug suspension, back into the game plan.  The Falcons aren’t buying it.  Neither is anyone else.

Gordon remains one of the best receivers in the NFL.  He potentially opens up the rest of the offense.  He’ll be on the field, and he’ll be a key contributor.

2.  What kind of chemistry do Gordon and Brian Hoyer have?

Given that they have played in only three games together, this isn’t quite Montana and Rice.  But in their very first career game together last year, it was.

Hoyer and Gordon connected 10 times for 146 yards and a touchdown against the Vikings.  It was the last time the Browns played in a dome.

On Sunday, Gordon and Hoyer are together again.  In a dome again.  So, yeah, things could get interesting.

3.  Do the Falcons wash their hands enough?

Apparently not.  Three offensive starters have missed time this week with the flu.

Receiver Julio Jones, running back Steven Jackson, and fullback Patrick DiMarco headline the victims of the virus.  Coach Mike Smith has said Jones will play, and he’s listed a probable (as are Jackson and DiMarco).  But will Jones be ready?

It’s been kind of difficult,” Roddy White said this week regarding the absence of Julio Jones. “Going through plays and stuff, we’ve got people moving around.  He’s just got to get healthy.  He’s going through the flu bug so we’ve just got to get him right and get him ready on Sunday.”

Buccaneers at Bears

1.  What kind of reception will Lovie Smith get?

The over/under on signs that say “Lovie Come Home” or something similar at Soldier Field should be 52.5.  Smith, whom linebacker Lance Briggs has said should be regarded among the best coaches in franchise history with George Halas and Mike Dikta, remains beloved in Chicago.  Smith is likely even more beloved now that the team is struggling under Marc Trestman.

Those cheers could quickly subside if/when Smith and his 2-8 Bucs upend the Bears, who continue to struggle even though they managed to outscore the Vikings a week ago.  Or maybe Bears fans will convert to Tampa fans.  After all, the Buccaneers are a lot closer to playoff contention in the NFC South than the Bears are in the NFC North.

2.  Can Mike Evans keep it going?

There’s no reason to think he can’t.  The rookie told PFT Live earlier this week that the pro game already has slowed down for him.  His performances the past three weeks underscore that reality.

In each of the last three games, Smith has seven catches.  In each of the last three games, he generated at least 124 passing yards.  In each of the last three games, he scored at least one touchdown.

Last Sunday, Evans became the youngest player in league history to surpass 200 receiving yards in one game, securing the NFC offensive player of the week award with seven catches for 209 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

With size, speed, and uncanny ball skills, Evans quickly is becoming one of the best receivers in the NFL.  Soon, he could simply be one of the best receivers in the NFL, regardless of age.

3.  Will the clocks at Soldier Field work any better this week?

They can’t work much worse.  Last week, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer wasn’t happy with a malfunction that forced quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to play a soccer-style guessing game regarding the amount of time remaining.  This week, the situation apparently has been remedied.

“That was a first, and we’d like to say a last,” a Soldier Field spokesman said this week.  “But the [clocks] are ready for Sunday.”

The one thing we know for sure is that, given Lovie Smith’s more laid-back style, it’s unlikely he’ll describe the clocks the same way Zimmer did.

Bengals at Texans

1.  Which Andy Dalton will show up?

Good question.  Two weeks ago, it was Andy Dalton 2.0.  Last Sunday, it was Andy Dalton 2.0.

Having a healthy and productive receiver A.J. Green helped; Green generated 127 receiving yards against the Saints.  Rookie running back Jeremy Hill added 152 on the ground.  Now, running back Gio Bernard has recovered from a hip injury.  So Dalton has weapons.

Of course, the Texans have a fairly potent weapon in defensive end J.J. Watt.  If he can make Dalton uncomfortable, we may see more of the guy who failed in Cleveland two weeks ago — and less of the guy who beat the Saints in their own building.

2.  Are the Texans a legitimate contender?

Only one game behind the Colts, Houston has a pair of encounters remaining against Jacksonville and a visit from the Titans.  That should get Houston to eight wins.  Standing between eight and 11 are the Bengals, Colts, and Ravens.

The test starts Sunday.  Beat the Bengals, and nine games should be a sure thing — 10 games will be a strong possibility.

3.  With Gio Bernard healthy, how much will we see Jeremy Hill?

With Bernard injured, Hill gained more than 360 yards in three games.  Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson says that has resulted in Hill earning more time once Bernard returns on Sunday.

While the Hill-Bernard rotation could drive fantasy owners crazy down the stretch, it could help the Bengals hold off the other three teams in the AFC North.

Jaguars at Colts

1.  What will the Colts do without Ahmad Bradshaw?

Trent Richardson gets yet another chance to justify Indy’s decision to send a first-round pick for the guy on whom the Browns burned the No. 3 overall selection.  Richardson currently has an average of 3.4 yards per carry; Bradshaw, who is out for the year with a broken bone in his leg, was gaining 4.7 yards per attempt.

If Richardson can’t get it done, look for Boom Herron to get more chances.

One guy who won’t be helping the cause is Ben Tate.  While the Colts made a waivers claim on the former Browns tailback, the Vikings had priority.  Surprisingly, the Colts showed no interest in LeGarrette Blount, who gained 166 yards and scored four touchdowns against Indy in the 2013 playoffs.

2.  Could Coby Fleener have a big game?

With tight end Dwayne Allen ruled out due to an ankle injury, Fleener will get a chance to build on his Week 11 performance, which resulted in 144 receiving yards.

I think he’s playing better than I’ve ever seen him,” receiver (former, as of Saturday afternoon) Griff Whalen said this week of his Stanford and Colts teammate. “His demeanor on the field is more physical and more aggressive. After the catch, he’s not shying away from contact. He’s embracing it.”

It’s not bad for a guy who nearly quit football in high school, but who stuck with it because a scholarship was the only path to college.

3.  Does Jags coach Gus Bradley like a little scuffling in practice?

Absolutely.  It happened on Thursday, and Bradley approved.

“We had some guys getting together and had to break them up a little bit but through competition going on,” Bradley said.  “It was a very spirited practice. . . .  It wasn’t like a like a big fight. It was just a scuffle.”

But it shows that the Jaguars still have a little fight in them, despite having only one win on the year.

Packers at Vikings

1.  Will Teddy Bridgewater’s presence make a difference?

Probably not.  While the rookie definitely represents a step up over Christian Ponder, who played poorly when Bridgewater was injured in Week Five, Bridgewater has yet to play like he did in his debut as a starter against the Falcons.

And the Falcons are a far cry from the Packers, who have been rolling over every team in their path.  To outscore Green Bay, Bridgewater must be able to go toe-to-toe with Aaron Rodgers.  Few quarterbacks in the NFL currently can pull that off.

2.  How much will Ben Tate play?

Tate was cut by the Browns in part because he didn’t like his role.  In Minnesota, he doesn’t care what his role will be.

He could have a fairly significant one, given that Matt Asiata won’t play this week with a concussion.

Of course, none of the team’s running backs will have much of a role if the Packers run away with the game the way they ran away with the first round last month in Green Bay.

3.  Will Clay Matthews be used outside or inside?

For now, it looks like he’ll primarily stay inside.  Even with outside linebacker Nick Perry questionable due to a shoulder injury, the Packers may opt not to slide Matthews, who is probable with a groin injury, from the inside.

“I think it’s more of a next man up type of mentality around here,” Matthews said this week. “I’m sure [Jayrone] Eliott will have more opportunities as well as Mike [Neal] and [Julius Peppers]. As we have seen in weeks prior, I rush off the edge and play in the middle, so wherever they need me, I will be there.”​

Lions at Patriots

1.  Will the Patriots double-team Ndamukong Suh?

Not constantly.  Coach Bill Belichick is leery about devoting too many resources to stifling Suh.

“As much as you try to double anybody, say Suh, sometimes you can’t because the guy you would have doubling him has to block a blitzer in pass protection,” Belichick said this week. “They create some single matchups like that.”

Still, Belichick knows he needs to find a way to stop Suh.

He changes everything,” Belichick said later in the week.

2.  How much of LeGarrette Blount will we see?

We could see plenty.  Coach Bill Belichick says Blount’s role will be up to him.  It also may be up to Jonas Gray’s ability to show up on time.

With Gray being sent home after being late on Friday due a cell-phone battery snafu, Blount already has a leg up.

Blount used his legs in January, gaining 166 yards and scoring four touchdowns against the Colts.  Gray duplicated the four touchdowns and added 35 yards last Sunday against Indy.  Either guy could give the running game a boost as the weather turns and the wind starts to whip.

3.  How will the Lions deal with tight end Rob Gronkowski?

It sure sounds like they’d like to knock Gronk out of the game.

“Obviously, when we get him in situations where he’s having to block, our defensive ends, we’ve got to rough him up,” Lions safety Glover Quin said this week.  “When we get him in situations where he catches the ball, we’ve got to make sure we’re hitting him.”

Gronk has a history of getting injured, and he plays with reckless abandon. If you hit him hard and hit him often, there’s a chance he gets injured and exits the game.

Before 2012, it was a given that teams should aspire to put the opponent’s best players on the sidelines.  The bounty scandal forced that talk to become muted.  But the incentive remains.  For the Lions, rendering Gronkowski unable to play could be the difference between winning and losing.

Titans at Eagles

1.  How is Mark Sanchez doing?

It depends on who you ask.  Sanchez thinks he’s not doing well enough.  Coach Chip Kelly seems to think he’s doing OK.

The numbers suggest Sanchez is struggling.  But the Eagles currently have no viable alternative to Sanchez.  They need to simply hold it together while Nick Foles‘ collarbone heals.

With seven good teams jockeying for five playoff berths in the NFC, it may not heal in time to salvage Philly’s seat at the postseason table.

2.  How is Zach Mettenberger doing?

He had a solid showing on Monday night, averaging 11 yards per throw and racking up a passer rating of 110.2.  But the rookie has yet to earn a victory for the Titans, who have lost four in a row.

Still, his teammates believe in him.

I think Zach has been doing outstanding,” veteran receiver Nate Washington said this week.  “He brings a lot to the table, a big strong arm. He’s smart behind the center, knows what is going.  We were playing the Pittsburgh Steelers, and as a rookie he gave his all.  He is progressing every week, and I think Zach has a huge, bright future in this league and I am excited to watch him grow.”

“He throws a pick-six on the first play of the game and it takes a lot of maturity and a lot of consistency and love for the game to not just throw it in from there,” tackle Taylor Lewan said. “That kind of stuff will get you, and he just bounced right back and started slinging the ball.  That’s the kind of guy he is.  I think he somewhat made a name for himself.”

He would have made more of a name for himself if the Titans had beaten the Steelers.  He has another chance to do it against the other team from Pennsylvania.

3.  Is LeSean McCoy the same player he was in 2013?

He says he is.

“Man, listen: I don’t care what’s out there,” McCoy said this week.  “I’m not going to address, ‘Am I the same player?’  For what?  What are we talking about, am I the same player?  That’s for you all to figure out.  Are you crazy?  Am I the same player?  I am the same player.”
The evidence suggests otherwise.

72.9 yards per game on average.  3.7 yards per carry on average.

He has only one 100-yard game, and three with fewer than 25.  Injuries along the offensive line surely are a factor.  But it’s possible McCoy has indeed slipped, which could make it harder for coach Chip Kelly, who is willing to assess every player relative to skills, salary, and cap number, to justify bringing him back in 2015.

Rams at Chargers

1.  Is Philip Rivers injured?

Yes, but that isn’t slowing him down.

“I can honestly say that there’s nothing going on that’s hindering me in any way,” Rivers said this week. “Shoot, there’s a lot of guys in that locker room that are playing that are a lot sorer than I am.”

It’s not in Rivers’ DNA to cry uncle when it comes to injuries.

“Growing up around it, my dad always said, ‘Shoot, unless you can’t walk, you find a way to play, or find a way to get off the field,’” Rivers said.  “That was the main thing.  Don’t lay out there on the field.  I found my way off a few times last Sunday.”

The Chargers finally put Rivers on the injury report, three days after tight end Antonio Gates said the quarterback has a “very severe rib injury.”  But Rivers says he’ll play on Sunday, and that he’ll be “fresh.”

2.  Is Rivers’ center injured, again?

Yes.  And it could mean that the team’s fourth different starting center will play on Sunday.

Rich Ohrnberger is questionable; if he can’t play, rookie Chris Watt gets the nod.

Watt has 64 snaps at center so far, and he has been playing some guard.

“The old adage is, he’s no longer a rookie,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said this week. “He’s proven himself.”

3.  When will Chris Long be back?

Possibly soon.  He suffered an ankle injury in Week One, and he remains on injured reserve with designation for return, even though he could have returned to the active roster three weeks ago.

“He’s getting better each day,” coach Jeff Fisher said this week. “We’ll just wait and see how he is [Friday].  If that’s the case [and Long is ready], then obviously we have to make a roster move, so we’ll see how he is.”

Whether or not the roster move is made late Saturday, the roster move could be coming sooner.

Cardinals at Seahawks

1.  What’s wrong with Seattle’s passing game?

The easy answer is that receiver Golden Tate left for free agency, that receiver Percy Harvin was traded, and that tight end Zach Miller has landed on IR.  And that the offensive line has been banged up all year.

The tougher answer is the question of whether quarterback Russell Wilson has plateaued as a passer.  Heading into the season, it appeared he had found the proverbial next level.  Now, not.

Since a Monday night performance at Washington that launched an MVP campaign for the third-year quarterback, Wilson has lost a lot of his touch.

In the four games including the win at Washington, Wilson threw eight touchdown passes and one interception.  In the six games since then, five touchdown passes and four picks.  He also is missing open receivers and relying much more on his legs.

Whether it’s by the air or by the ground, the Seahawks need Wilson to come through on Sunday against Arizona, or the chances of repeating as NFC West champions will be slim and none even before a Thanksgiving night showdown against the 49ers.

2.  How much should be expected from Larry Fitzgerald?

It’s hard to say.  He has a Grade 2 MCL sprain, and as former NFL athletic trainer Mike Ryan explained earlier this week on PFT on NBCSN, that usually means the player will miss at least a week.

But Fitzgerald played a full half with the knee injury, and he remains optimistic that he’ll be able to go on Sunday.

Officially a game-time decision, Fitz has had a big game in every other game since the bye week.  This week, he’s due for another big game.  With the Cardinals unexpectedly soaring and one win away from delivering a regular-season knockout punch to the Seahawks, don’t count him out.

3.  How has Drew Stanton discovered his current level of performance?

In part, by revising his diet.  An offseason consultation with an allergist resulted in a determination that Stanton is allergic to milk.  In addition to dairy products, he also was advised to ditch pork, turkey, bananas, and cucumbers.

(Cucumbers?  If I couldn’t eat cucumbers I would no longer want to live.)

Stanton dropped 15 pounds, and he feels better than ever.

“I recover faster, feel light and still have my strength,” Stanton said this week. “I just feel a lot better at this weight.”

The way he’s playing, he’d feel good at any weight.

Dolphins at Broncos

1.  Why is Peyton Manning getting impatient?

Because he knows the window is closing on his team’s ability to force the road to Arizona through Denver.  And if the Broncos eventually have to return to Foxboro in January, it’s probably not going to end any better than it did three weeks ago.

Your sense of urgency has to increase,” Manning said this week.  “Realizing there aren’t many games left and we better get on it, better get going.  Need to play better, I need to play better, . . . You can say all you want, you can talk about doing it, but you’ve got to go and do it.”

It starts, in many respects, with the offensive line.  The Dolphins have the horses to swarm Manning like the Rams did last week, and like the Seahawks did in the Super Bowl.  That’s a lingering problem that needs to be fixed or the Broncos won’t be able to get back to the NFL championship game.  And if they do, they may get roughed up yet again.

2.  Is Bill Lazor worried about reports of griping from players?

Nope.

He says that any actual or perceived friction with players reflects that which is normal for NFL teams.

“You’ve been at practice, nothing is different,” Lazor said this week. “You’ve been at training camp where you could be at the whole practices.  I would like to think that, if the players were asked, that they would say I’ve been professional.

“I’d say there would probably be very, very few times that a curse word has come out of my mouth, but that I’m demanding from them.  The greatest feedback I’ve gotten from our players in one-on-one settings is when they’ve told me how much they appreciate the expectations I have for the offense.”

Those expectations, for the most part, haven’t been met.  So the truth is that the players, not the coaches, are the more likely source of any friction.

3.  Will the Broncos sign Richie Incognito?

Denver hasn’t given him a job yet; if he’d been on the team for Sunday’s visit from Miami, the story lines (and punchlines) would have written themselves.  It remains unclear whether Denver will give him a shot.

No real updates,” coach John Fox said this week. “It’s kind of a personnel matter and we did have him in for a workout. I think that was well-documented. . . .  We work out a lot of people throughout the season. We’re always looking to improve our football team any way possible and I’ll leave it at that.”

So what does Incognito’s former head coach think of the possibility of Incognito getting a job with the Broncos?

“I think Denver has a great front office and a great personnel staff, and they have to certainly make decisions that are best for their football team,” coach Joe Philbin said.  “I’ll leave it at that.”

So they’ll both leave it at that.  For now, the NFL has continued to leave Incognito on his couch.

Washington at 49ers

1.  What should be expected from Aldon Smith in his second game of the year?

Plenty.  In his first game after a nine-game suspension, Smith participated in 54 of 68 defensive snaps.  His mere presence helped make it easier for his teammates to create pressure on Eli Manning, by diluting the available protection.

This week, the protection for Washington could be diluted from the get-go, if left tackle Trent Williams (knee, ankle) can’t play.  Williams’ absence would thrust rookie Morgan Moses into the fray, and he’d be facing Smith.

In other words, quarterback Robert Griffin III had better be ready to run.

2.  Is Robert Griffin III in trouble?

Yes, if the head coach has any say in Griffin’s future.  On Monday, Jay Gruden called out the quarterback both for calling out teammates and for not playing very well.  Gruden later said he went too far — and then he went even farther, calling Griffin “coddled” and making it clear that the “clock’s ticking” on the second overall pick in the 2012 draft.

Gruden specifically mentioned that Colt McCoy has generated a 2-0 record during games played while Griffin was injured.  McCoy could end up playing while Griffin is not injured.

After the year, Washington could be moving on from Griffin — if Gruden gets to make the call on the future of the quarterback position.

3.  Is Jay Gruden in trouble?

Yes, if the owner still remains fully committed to the guy for whom the team gave up three first-round picks and a second-round pick less than three years ago.

While Daniel Snyder and president/G.M. Bruce Allen have remained silent about this week’s string of regrettable remarks from quarterback and coach, they surely have an opinion.  If the opinion is that the first-year head coach has unfairly undermined the franchise quarterback, the franchise may not give the coach a second year.

Cowboys at Giants

1.  Will Cowboys limit DeMarco Murray’s touches?

They claim they won’t, but they should.  The Giants have the worst run defense in the entire league, and the Cowboys have to play again on Thursday, against the Eagles.

This would be a great opportunity to get Murray a little rest, give Joseph Randle some reps, and have Murray ready to roll on a short week made even shorter by playing on Sunday night and again on Thursday afternoon.

2.  How healthy is Tony Romo?

He apparently has recovered from the fractured transverse processes in his back, but he still doesn’t practice on Wednesdays due to the broader concerns about the condition of his spine.  With a game on Thursday, that’s more than a little concerning.

The best move for the Cowboys would be to build a big lead on Sunday night and then get Romo out of the game, so that he’ll have maximum time to rest before facing Philly with the division lead on the line.

3.  Is Eli Manning on the hot seat?

We’d have a more clear picture if his coach were Jay Gruden.  And while no one with the Giants is saying anything bad about Eli (indeed, co-owner John Mara has praised him), the seat has heat as it relates to a contract that expires after the 2015 season.

With a salary of $17 million and a cap number of $19.5 million next year, it could become very difficult to apply the right value to Eli for 2016 and beyond.  Impasse on that point could be the thing that ultimately forces the Giants to move on, because they surely won’t be inclined to apply the franchise tag to Manning in 2016, when based on his 2015 cap number he’d be owed a guaranteed salary of $23.4 million.

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