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Week Eight picks

The inability of referee Scott Green to properly apply the supposedly clear rule regarding going to the ground when making a catch not only cost the Vikings a win.  It also prevented me from extending to two my streak of victories over Rosenthal.

Yes, he beat me by one game in Week Seven, and the difference was the outcome of the Vikings-Packers game.

For the week, Rosenthal got 10 right and four wrong.  I was 9-5.

For the year, Rosenthal is 69-35.  I’m 65-39.

And though it pains me to type this (in part because I’ll never hear the end of it from him), Rosenthal currently has a better showing than all of the ESPN “experts,” including the Accuscore projections and the fan-based picks. 

Maybe he should apply for a job there.  They probably need someone with a sturdy shine box.


Broncos vs. 49ers in London

Florio’s take:  When the league picked this game to be the 2010 English export, it didn’t look like a bad choice.  The 49ers were viewed as the favorite to win the NFC West, and the Broncos were regarded as a middle-of-the-road team with the potential to improve.  Seven weeks into the season, the 49ers have only one win and the Broncos have two.  The decision to thrust quarterback Troy Smith into the starting lineup smacks of the desperation coach Mike Singletary surely is feeling, and even though Denver lost to one Bay Area team by 45 in Week Seven, Week Eight likely will bring a seventh loss for the Niners.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 30, 49ers 21.

Rosenthal’s take: The NFL should send teams to London earlier in the season, before they show how bad they really are.  The depleted Broncos defense gets worse every week, and the 49ers defense just made Matt Moore look like, well, Matt Moore from 2009.  This is a crossroads/gut check/insert cliché game for both coaches.  I trust Josh McDaniels and Kyle Orton far more than Mike Singletary and Troy Smith.

Rosenthal’s pick: Broncos 31, 49ers 21.

Jaguars at Cowboys

Florio’s take:  Four prior games between these two teams have been decided by seven points or less.  Continuation of that trend would help Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio, even if the Jags lose.  One more 20-plus-point blowout (the Jaguars already have suffered four) could get Del Rio fired.  The return of David Garrard and the departure of Tony Romo could help, but probably not enough.  But at least the Jags will possibly lose by less than 20.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 27, Jaguars 17.

Rosenthal’s take:  Jon Kitna versus the Jaguars secondary.  The immobile quarterback versus the force that provides no resistance.  If I was a betting man, I’d stay far away from this one because both teams are about as trustworthy as Florio’s hairpiece.  At least the Jaguars seem like they care. 

Rosenthal’s pick: Jaguars 20, Cowboys 16.

Dolphins at Bengals

Florio’s take:  From 1978 through 2000, the Dolphins won nine straight games over the Bengals.  Cincinnati has won the last two, but they haven’t played since Bill Parcells put his thumbprint on the Dolphins.  More importantly, the game won’t be played in Miami, where the Fins are 0-3.  Though the Bengals found some punch on offense against the Falcons, the Dolphins are more talented, more desperate, and (after believing they got screwed against the Steelers) more feisty.

Florio’s pick:  Dolphins 24, Bengals 16.

Rosenthal’s take: Chad Henne has quietly improved all season, and he should do well against a Bengals secondary without Adam Jones and possibly Johnathan Joseph.  Carson Palmer is also playing better, but it seems to take a 21-point deficit to warm him up.  The Bengals defense is providing too many chances for failed comeback attempts.

Rosenthal’s pick: Dolphins 24, Bengals 21.

Bills at Chiefs

Florio’s take:  Some (I’m looking at you, Rosenthal) think that Bills coach Chan Gailey has something up his sleeve for his most recent former team.  Pointing to an unlikely strong showing by Buffalo’s offense against a complacent Ravens defense, Rosey thinks the Bills can give the Chiefs a run for their money.  Let’s see if Rosey puts his money where his mouth is.  Arrowhead Stadium has been a-rockin’; Gailey and his team would be wise to not go a-knockin’.

Florio’s pick:  Chiefs 31, Bills 14.

Rosenthal’s take:  I’m not sure people have really wrapped their mind around the fact that Ryan Fitzpatrick’s Bills racked up 514 yards on the Ravens.  514! The Harvard product is a joy to watch, with decisive, difficult throws often into tight windows.  He’s a great runner and seems to like contact.  And he has a red beard.  The Bills will keep losing most weeks because their defense is an embarrassment, but at least they’ll be fun to watch.

Rosenthal’s pick: Chiefs 34, Bills 31.

Redskins at Lions

Florio’s take:  For the third straight year, these two franchises meet in Detroit.  In 2008, the Redskins kept the Lions winless by only eight points.  In 2009, the Lions ended a 19-game losing streak with a win over the ‘Skins.  Assuming Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford, back after suffering a shoulder injury in Week One, won’t throw four passes to DeAngelo Hall, the rested, ready, and confident (perhaps delusional) Lions should be able to get it done.  Last week’s meltdown by the Chicago offense concealed the fact that the Washington offense isn’t dramatically better, and the Lions look to be in line for their second win of the year.

Florio’s pick:  Lions 20, Redskins 13.

Rosenthal’s take: Signs the Lions have come a long way:  (1) they are still talking playoffs after a 1-5 start and it doesn’t seem completely insane; (2) they’ve outscored their opponents this year (thanks Rams!); (3) they are favored against a 4-3 Redskins team and I’d still give the points.

Rosenthal’s pick: Lions 24, Redskins 17.

Panthers at Rams

Florio’s take:  Like the other team that will contend for the NFC West crown, the Rams are tough at home and soft on the road.  This week, a win at home would pull the Rams to 4-4, and it would end a four-game losing streak against Carolina, a slide that began in St. Louis nearly seven years ago with a double-overtime loss to the eventual NFC Super Bowl representatives.  This time around, the Rams simply have the better team — which given the state of the Panthers isn’t really saying much.

Florio’s pick:  Rams 24, Panthers 13.

Rosenthal’s take: The Rams are winless on the road, so it’s good the league loaded them up with home games before a three-game road trip after Thanksgiving.  The Panthers finally found a passing game, which could make them a dangerous spoiler the rest of the way.  Every game for the Rams is dangerous because they aren’t that talented, but they’ve responded very well to losses this year.

Rosenthal’s pick: Rams 22, Panthers 20.

Packers at Jets

Florio’s take:  The Jets remain the hottest team in the NFL, with a swarming defense and a sufficiently competent offense.  Receiver Santonio Holmes had two extra weeks to hone his timing with quarterback Mark Sanchez, which should result in an even more souped-up passing attack.  The Packers aren’t remotely close to being Super Bowl ready, and without again getting a couple of gift calls on touchdown plays they can’t expect to win this one.

Florio’s pick:  Jets 27, Packers 20.

Rosenthal’s take: The Packers lost another linebacker for the season, while the Jets are fully healthy after their bye.  Revis Island is ready to re-open with tougher immigration laws and there’s a sense New York hasn’t played their best despite being 5-1.  All logic points to the Jets. (I’m sure Florio is taking his beloved Jets.)  All the more reason to take the Packers, who are ready to go on a run.

Rosenthal’s pick: Packers 26, Jets 21.

Titans at Chargers

Florio’s take:  Vince Young likely will return for a Tennessee offense that did fairly well without him.  But the two Tennessee losses have come against teams that run a 3-4 defense, the preferred attack of the Chargers.  And the Charger

s have much more talent than their 2-5 record suggests.  Assuming that the late surge in Week Seven against the Patriots woke up the four-time defending AFC West champions, the Chargers will stay alive for at least another week.

Florio’s pick:  Chargers 23, Titans 20.

Rosenthal’s take: The Titans have a knack for frustrating opponents and forcing them into mistakes.  The Chargers have a knack for frustrating their fans and making unforced errors.  The Titans lead the league in takeaways and have scored the most points off turnovers.  The Chargers have the most giveaways in the AFC.  Add it up, and Norv Turner’s head should explode sometime in the third quarter.

Rosenthal’s pick: Titans 26, Chargers 21.

Vikings at Patriots

Florio’s take:  Vikings coach Brad Childress has been talking lately.  A lot.  His words regarding the officiating in Sunday night’s loss to the Packers got him a $35,000 fine.  His barbs directed at the Patriots and Bill Belichick could get Chilly a butt-whipping on par with the 31-7 defeat his team absorbed from Belichick and company four years ago.  Brett Favre, who won’t play only if he can’t move, will be jumping on his “broke foot” when things go well, and he’ll be walking like John Wayne with hemorrhoids when things go poorly.  Count on plenty of Rooster Cogburn on Preparation H sightings.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 35, Vikings 13. 

Rosenthal’s take:  After the Patriots released Lawyer Milloy then lost to the Bills 31-0 to open the 2003 season, ESPN’s Tom Jackson said the “Patriots hate their coach.”   Three weeks after New England traded Randy Moss to Minnesota, it’s the Vikings that seem to hate their coach.  The rest of the country hates Brett Favre, who seems to know it and wear it on his face during every depressing press conference.  This is the week Moss begins to realize how good he had it in Foxborough.  

Rosenthal’s pick: Patriots 24, Vikings 14.

Buccaneers at Cardinals

Florio’s take:  Bucs coach Raheem Morris thinks he has is the best team in the NFC.  Less than two years ago, the Cardinals actually were the best team in the NFC.  Though the Cardinals have looked horrible at times, the managed to take down at home a Saints team that thumped the Bucs in their own stadium.  And that’s good enough for me.

Florio’s pick:  Cardinals 24, Buccaneers 20.

Rosenthal’s take: The “best team in the NFC” isn’t favored in Arizona, where the Cardinals are 2-0 this season.  If the Bucs are to live up to Raheem Morris’ hype, this is a game they win going away.  Arizona’s passing game is a mess, while the running game isn’t much better.  It’s a miracle they are 3-3. Still, these teams are more similar than different.  And they’ll have the same record after this one.

Rosenthal’s pick: Cardinals 19, Bucs 14.

Seahawks at Raiders

Florio’s take:  Here’s the toughest call of the week.  Tony Dungy thinks the Seahawks are the best team in the NFC.  Raiders cornerback Chris Johnson thinks his team is the most talented in the entire NFL.  The Seahawks had been unable to win on the road before taking down the Bears two weeks ago.  Before a far=less-than-full stadium against a Raiders team buoyed by a 59-point uprising against the Broncos on Sunday, the Raiders likely will finish an unlikely ascension to .500 at the halfway point of the season.

Florio’s pick:  Raiders 27, Seahawks 17.

Rosenthal’s take: Every time the Raiders win a game, they say they turned the corner.  Even though they haven’t won back-to-back games since 2008, I’m just crazy enough to believe them this time.  The Seahawks whole offensive gameplan seems to be “don’t throw interceptions” but they need a little more than that on the road.

Rosenthal’s pick: Raiders 23, Seahawks 16.

Steelers at Saints

Florio’s take:  At one point in September, it looked like this game would feature a clash of the best two teams in the league.  It remains half right, with the Steelers among the best of the bunch and the Saints sliding toward irrelevance.  Though the defending champs’ backs are being pushed against the wall, that 13-point loss to the Browns means the days of dominance have ended, at least for now.  A one-dimensional offense is no match for a multi-faceted Steelers defense, and this one could turn into a rout, which would mean the ratings will only double those from Game Four of the World Series.

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 34, Saints 21.

Rosenthal’s take:  A lot of tough games to pick this week. I’ve debated this one for days, but the tiebreaker goes to the Steelers.  Even though Pittsburgh’s pass defense has looked shakier the last two weeks, New Orleans has struggled against far worse groups.  At some point, it’s worth recognizing the 2009 Saints passing attack just may not come back.

Rosenthal’s pick: Steelers 27, Saints 24.

Texans at Colts

Florio’s take:  The Texans obsessed over their Week One visit from the Colts, and it paid off.  Since then, the Texans have been roughly average.  They get another crack at the Colts on Monday night, at a time when plenty of Indy players are missing.  But as long as Peyton Manning remains healthy, the Colts will be tough to beat, especially at home.  Manning realizes the importance of not being swept by the Texans — and not falling to 0-3 in the division.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 33, Texans 27. 

Rosenthal’s take: Dallas Clark and Austin Collie will be missed, but I’m not really that worried about the Colts offense in this game. They have great depth and the Jeff George Colts could score 30 points on this awful Texans defense.  The bigger question is whether the Colts defense can snap out of their funk.  At home, in a huge division game, I’ll take my chances they make enough plays.

Rosenthal’s pick: Colts 38, Texans 31.

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Doug Baldwin hasn’t signed RFA tender, but still working out with Seahawks

Doug Baldwin AP

Wide receiver Doug Baldwin was tendered at the second round level by the Seahawks this offseason, giving him the right to negotiate and sign an offer sheet with any other team in the league as long as he doesn’t sign the tender.

Baldwin hasn’t signed it, but there doesn’t seem to be much interest in leaving Seattle. Baldwin has signed a waiver allowing him to participate in voluntary offseason workouts with the team even though he isn’t yet under contract for the 2014 season. During an appearance on 710 ESPN in Seattle, Baldwin confirmed that staying in Seattle was the end result he wanted.

“I want to be a Seattle Seahawk and I want to be a Seattle Seahawk for a long time,” Baldwin said. “I love it here, I love the organization and I’m focused on doing what I can to improve and get ready for this upcoming season, whether that’s with a tender or whether that’s with something else that we work out. Hopefully is with a long-term deal, that’s what I’m hoping for, whether that’s this year or next year.”

Baldwin indicated that there haven’t been talks about a long-term deal and the possibility of signing with another team disappears on May 2, so playing out the year on the $2.187 million tender seems like a likely option.

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Wednesday morning one-liners

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning leaves the field after being defeated by the Seattle Seahawks in the NFL Super Bowl XLVIII football game in East Rutherford Reuters

The Bills have settled a class-action lawsuit brought by fans who said the team inundated them with text messages; the team will give the fans vouchers to buy items at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Said Dolphins coach Joe Philbin of starting offseason work, “It’s kind of like the first day of school. Everybody loves seeing their old buddies and getting re-acclimated to football.”

Said Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater, “There’s a lot to be excited about. There’s some extremely talented players that we’ve added to the roster along with some extremely talented players that we’ve had here for a while. All that is on paper. It really doesn’t mean anything right now. We haven’t even had one practice together. We have a long ways to go.”

Will the Jets consider a tight end in the first two rounds of the draft?

It might make sense for the Ravens to trade down.

Will Cleveland have to choose between street repairs and refurbishing the Browns’ stadium?

Says Cincinnati’s Wallace Gilberry of former teammate Michael Johnson signing with the Bucs, “He’s still our guy, he’s just wearing different colors. When we play Tampa, he’s not our guy. He knows that. That’s no secret. But he’s our guy.”

Expect the Steelers to draft a linebacker or two no matter regardless of whether Jason Worilds gets a contract extension.

Another mock draft says the Texans will take Jadeveon Clowney.

Will the Colts bolster the secondary in the draft?

Should the Jaguars pass on a quarterback this year and look to the 2015 draft?

Don’t expect the Titans to find a replacement for RB Chris Johnson in this year’s draft.

Said new Colts DE DeMarcus Ware of Peyton Manning, “Peyton’s one of those guys who puts in the effort, not just on the field, but off the field, trying to figure it out. He has a bad taste in his mouth from last season and doesn’t want it to happen again.”

Chiefs DE Mike DeVito is still not over the playoff loss to the Colts.

The Raiders have begun their offseason work.

Chargers LB Donald Butler calls it “a huge disappointment” that he has only played 12 games a year the past couple seasons.

Cowboys RB Lance Dunbar says he’s good to go.

Giants QB Eli Manning says his ankle injury was not basketball-related.

Former Eagles LB Garry Cobb, who now works as a radio analyst and is running for Congress, has made contradictory comments about whether he suffers from memory loss stemming from his football career.

Golfer Notah Begay says Dan Snyder’s support for Native American causes is nothing more than “a gimmick.”

Bears DE Shea McClellin is “a different man” after tough offseason workouts.

One local columnist says the Lions are “scared” to tell Ndamukong Suh he needs to show up to voluntary offseason workouts.

The Packers would like to get more offseason work done, but the NFL limits what they can do.

Will the Vikings pick up Christian Ponder’s fifth-year option?

Here are some pictures of the Falcons’ workouts.

Panthers QB Cam Newton views fellow Auburn Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson like a big brother.

Shayne Graham is ready to compete to be the Saints’ kicker.

Bucs CB Johnthan Banks is adjusting to the changes with new coach Lovie Smith’s defense.

The Cardinals may use a high pick on a quarterback.

Will Richard Sherman get more than $12 million a year, which the Patriots and Darrelle Revis have established as the going rate for a top cornerback?

Rams WR Chris Givens says he was cocky as a rookie but is now humbled.

Everyone will watch the schedule announcement to find out when the 49ers’ two games with the Seahawks will take place.

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Phil Costa: I retired at 26 because football took a toll on my body

Phil Costa AP

Phil Costa, the 26-year-old center who abruptly announced his retirement just weeks after signing as a free agent with the Colts, says he did it because football wore him down.

“Unfortunately, the day-to-day physical rigor of the NFL season has taken a toll on my body and has been a driving force behind my decision,” Costa said in a statement, via the Dallas Morning News.

Costa missed most of the 2012 season with the Cowboys because of back and ankle injuries, and he struggled to return to form in 2013. But Costa doesn’t sound like he has hard feelings toward the NFL.

“As I look forward to the next chapter of my life, I will always be grateful for the opportunity to have played in the league,” Costa said.

It wouldn’t be surprising if, after some time, Costa decides that he wants to give football another shot. If he really is finished playing, however, we wish him well in whatever he does in the next phase of his life.

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Terrelle Pryor to play a different position? Not so fast says John Schneider

Oakland Raiders v New York Jets Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks made a somewhat curious decision to trade for Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor on Monday.

Seattle sent their seventh-round draft pick, No. 247 overall, to the Raiders in exchange for Pryor. It’s the last tradable pick of the entire draft and the remaining selections are compensatory picks that cannot be dealt. It was a minimal investment for a player the Raiders intended to release before the start of their offseason workout program.

Seahawks general manger John Schneider joined Bruce Murray and Rich Gannon on Sirius XM NFL Radio to discuss why the team elected to bring Pryor to Seattle.

We’re always trying to improve competition at every position and we saw this as an opportunity to do that,” Schneider said. “Rare athlete, size and speed. …We’re just excited about his upside and the type of athlete that he is. We knew that if he was released (by Oakland) there was no way we were going to have an opportunity to claim him.”

Basically, Seattle’s thought process was that they couldn’t get an athlete of Pryor’s caliber with the 247th pick anyway, so why not take a shot?

Seattle appeared to be mostly set at quarterback. Russell Wilson is entering the third year of his four-year rookie contract and the team re-signed backup Tarvaris Jackson to a fully guaranteed one-year deal that will pay more than both Wilson and Pryor are set to make next season. It led to a thought that Pryor may be earmarked as a player that may be asked to play a position other than quarterback.

Schneider said that speculation may be a little premature.

“We haven’t had those conversations,” Schneider said. “But if there was ever an athlete that would be able to play a slash role, if you will, it would be this kind of player. That may a little bit fantasy football at this time of the year. He’s a quarterback. He’s been a quarterback, but no we haven’t gotten into that. This guy is a very talented athlete and we can’t wait to put our hands on him and have our staff spend some time with him.”

For now, Pryor will be of an experiment with Seattle. He’ll join B.J. Daniels as the quarterbacks behind Wilson and Jackson’s on Seattle’s roster.

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Doug Marrone recently had cancerous mole removed

Bills Patriots Football AP

Bills coach Doug Marrone has disclosed that he recently had a cancerous mole removed from his skin.

“During a recent doctor’s visit, it was discovered that I had a cancerous mole on my skin, which has since been removed,” Marrone said in a statement posted on the team’s website. “The only follow up required is to have my moles checked every three months and that basically is the end of the story. The recent extraction procedure will have no effect on my ability to coach the team moving forward.”

Marrone, 49, did not specify the location of the mole or the type of cancer, which was discovered during a recent doctor’s visit.  Some forms of skin cancer, like basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, are very treatable, if caught early.  Even the most serious form of skin cancer, melanoma, can be cured if detected and treated before it spreads.

Jim Johnson, former Eagles defensive coordinator, died due to melanoma in 2009 at the age of 68.

Marrone’s situation serves as an important reminder to examine all skin at least once per month for any abnormal moles or growths.  Ask your doctor to do a skin examination during check-ups and physicals.  And be sure to get any suspicious areas checked as soon as possible by a dermatologist.

As my dermatologist said in January after slicing from my leg a small growth that turned out to be benign, “A little paranoia can save your patients’ lives.”

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Kony Ealy says he is the best defensive end in the draft

Kony Ealy AP

South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is widely considered the top defensive line prospect in the NFL Draft. Clowney could even be selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.

However, another pass rusher from the SEC believes he is the best defensive end in this year’s draft class.

According to Tom Pelissero of the USA Today, Missouri defensive end Kony Early says that he believes he is the best at the position in this year’s draft class.

“I feel like I’m the best guy in this draft, period,” Ealy said. “And that’s not a cocky thing — that’s just a confidence thing. It’s not just talk. It’s been proven. My numbers show for it. My size and speed and agility show for it. What else can you want?”

Ealy is also considered to be a first round selection and did produce more statistically than Clowney did last season. Ealy had 9.5 sacks for the Tigers while Clowney posted just three sacks for South Carolina. However, college production doesn’t necessarily equate to the highest projection when it comes to the NFL.

Nevertheless, Ealy is still extremely confident in his own abilities.

“There’s no knocking [Clowney],” Ealy said. “But I’m the best defensive end in this draft. I may not have a whole lot of hype, but I don’t [need] anybody to acknowledge me.”

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Gil Brandt suggests draft-and-trade scenario for Texans at No. 1

Manziel Getty Images

Ten years after the Chargers made Eli Manning the first pick in the draft and then shipped him to the Giants for Philip Rivers plus more, a similar strategy could be unfolding in 16 nights at Radio City Music Hall.

Gil Brandt of NFL.com suggests that the Texans could take defensive end Jadeveon Clowney with the first overall selection, and then trade him to a team that takes a predetermined player with its own first-round pick.

The approach makes much more sense than the Texans trading down to a specific spot before the draft, since that would invite speculation from other teams regarding the player the Texans would target, along with a possible leapfrogging of the Texans.  By taking then trading Clowney, the Texans would more likely to get the guy they want later, since the team that takes the player the Texans would pick may not be expected to pick that player.

Appearing on Tuesday’s PFT Live, John McClain of the Houston Chronicle explained that, in his view, the Texans will take Clowney or quarterback Johnny Manziel with the first overall pick.  If they decide on Manziel and if Manziel remains in play until the team to which Clowney would be traded can get him, the Texans would emerge with Manziel plus more.

And if the team that would trade for Clowney can’t get the other player the Texans want, the Texans presumably would keep Clowney — or possibly trade him to someone else for a different package.

For the full appearance and insight from McClain, click the box below.

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Bills website posts, then deletes, article announcing that coach Doug Marrone has cancer

Marrone Getty Images

In an unusual development that the team has not yet explained, the Bills website posted on Tuesday an article with the following headline:  “Coach Marrone announces he has cancer.”

The article, which consisted of two sentences and then a spot for a quote from Marrone, said that the unspecific cancer is “not aggrive [sic]” and “highly treatable.”

Attributed to Anna Stolzenburg in a screen shot posted by Deadspin, the link that previously contained the article currently is blank.

Media publications routinely prepare content in advance of an event that is expected or likely.  While it’s possible someone was simply playing an extremely unfunny prank, it’s also possible that the team was preparing to disclose that Marrone is fighting a highly treatable form of cancer.

One way or the other, the Bills need to address the situation, sooner than later.

UPDATE 11:13 p.m. ET:  Marrone has disclosed that he recently had a cancerous mole removed.

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Woodley declares Raiders to be a playoff team

Woodley Getty Images

It’s still 0-0 time in the NFL, with every fan of every team able to conjure hope for the coming season, plausible or otherwise.  Raiders fans, already buoyed by an aggressive pursuit of veteran free agents, got more reason for hope on Tuesday from one of the new arrivals.

“I can definitely see [us] as a playoff team,” linebacker LaMarr Woodley told 95.7 The Game on Tuesday.  “Last year going back and watching some film on the Raiders, there were a lot of opportunities here where they just didn’t close it out.  Some games good in the first half; they just didn’t close it out at the end of the game.  So now we just have to learn how to close out games and it’ll be more wins than losses.”

The Raiders closed it out against Woodley’s old team, the Steelers.  Otherwise, the Raiders had plenty of struggles.

This year’s potential struggles become a lot more tangible on Wednesday at 8:00 p.m. ET.  Though the Raiders’ opponents for 2014 have been known since the moment the 2013 regular season ended, the specific list of weeks and dates and times comes soon.

Perhaps that’s when Raiders players and fans will realize that, in 2014, the Raiders play three games against last year’s Super Bowl teams.  Five games against the four conference finalists.  Nine games against teams that made the playoffs in 2013.

And 12 games against teams with non-losing records a season ago.

That’s the end result of facing the Broncos twice, the Chiefs twice, the Chargers twice, the Seahawks, the 49ers, the Patriots, the Cardinals, the Rams, the Jets, the Bills, the Rams, the Dolphins, and the Browns.

Yes, every year is different.  For the Raiders, every year since 2003 has been the same.  This year’s schedule suggests it won’t be easy to break the cycle.

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Snyder says team name isn’t an issue, Halbritter disagrees

Snyder AP

When it comes to the Redskins name, the two sides have become as entrenched as they can be.  The question becomes whether enough folks who don’t have an opinion — and enough of those who have an opinion but not a strong one — will ever swing one way or the other.

Until then, the team will continue to defend the name, and the opponents of the name will continue to challenge it.

On Tuesday, owner Daniel Snyder revisited the topic, from the perspective of the foundation that recently was created to assist Native American tribes.

“We understand the issues out there, and we’re not an issue,” Snyder said in rare public remarks, via the Associated Press.  “The real issues are real-life issues, real-life needs, and I think it’s time that people focus on reality.”

Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter has responded to the remarks.

“If Dan Snyder thinks it is acceptable for a billionaire to market, promote, and profit off of a dictionary defined racial slur, then he’s living in an alternate universe,” Halbritter said in a press release.  “If he wants to focus on reality, here’s a reality check:  The longer he insists on slurring Native Americans, the more damage he will keep doing to Native American communities, and the more he will become synonymous with infamous segregationist George Preston Marshall, who originally gave the team this offensive name.”

The opposition to the team’s name, which has lingered for more than 20 years, gained momentum in 2013, fueled in part by Snyder’s aggressive “all caps NEVER” position on when the name will change.  A high-stakes P.R. game has followed, with the Redskins spending plenty of money and effort to shape their message, and the opponents of the name spending plenty of money and effort to fight the name.

The issue will continue to percolate until the name changes, or until the opponents grow weary of the effort.  It doesn’t appear that either will happen any time soon.

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NFL announces 30 players will attend the draft

NFL logo and set are seen at New York's Radio City Music Hall before the start of the 2013 NFL Draft Reuters

More players than ever before will attend this year’s NFL draft.

The league announced today that 30 prospects have confirmed they will attend, the most ever. That includes four quarterbacks — Blake Bortles (Central Florida), Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville), Jimmy Garoppolo (Eastern Illinois) and Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M) — as well as top prospects like South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack, Auburn tackle Greg Robinson and Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins. (It’s a sign of the times that no running backs were among the 30 players invited.)

The other players confirmed to attend this year’s NFL Draft: LSU receiver Odell Beckham, Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks, Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy, North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron, Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans, Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert, Minnesota defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, Florida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, Alabama tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, Indiana receiver Cody Latimer, USC receiver Marqise Lee, Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan, Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews, Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews, Virginia tackle Morgan Moses, Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley, Louisville safety Calvin Pryor, Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby, Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier and Texas Christian cornerback Jason Verrett.

Bringing more players to the draft gives the NFL more opportunities to promote its stars of the future, but it also makes it more likely that several players will go through the awkward experience of remaining in the “green room” throughout the first round and into the second or third round. It’s even possible that a player among the 30 invited could drop all the way to Day Three of the draft.

But most of the players invited will hear Roger Goodell call their names during the first round. And as the NFL continues to grow the draft into not just the league’s biggest offseason event but one of the major parts of the sports year, more players than ever before will be there.

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Kurt Coleman says he turned down better deals to sign with Vikings

Kurt Coleman

Kurt Coleman thought Minnesota was the best place for him, even if the Vikings’ offer wasn’t the best one he received in free agency.

Coleman, a safety who signed with the Vikings last week, accepted a deal in Minnesota that pays a salary this year of $900,000, with nothing guaranteed. Coleman said both the Colts and the Jets offered him some guaranteed money, and that he got one offer with a higher base salary as well.

“But for me it was more important about finding the right opportunity and the right staff and an organization that believes in you,” Coleman told the Pioneer Press. “And I think in the long term I’m betting on myself to succeed, and I think I will. The money wasn’t there that I wanted, but that’s OK because I know that it will come around. . . . It’s about reasserting myself as a starter in this league and being a top performer as a safety.”

Even though the Vikings’ starting safeties from last season, Harrison Smith and Jamarca Sanford, are still in Minnesota this year, Coleman believes there’s a better opportunity for him to have an impact in the Vikings’ defense than there would have been anywhere else.

“Of course, I want to start,” Coleman said. “I’m a competitor. I want to get out there and I want to start and I want to be the best player that I can be, and I think I have plenty more room to grow.”

If Coleman grows into a player who can contribute to the Vikings’ defense, then Minnesota got a great deal.

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Lovie Smith praises his players for choosing to show up for voluntary work

Smith AP

NFL rules prohibit coaches from chastising players who choose not to show up for voluntary work.  But the rules say nothing about praising those who do.

On the first day of a voluntary minicamp, two weeks after the offseason program launched, new Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith said that his new team has had perfect attendance in the offseason program, so far.

“Yes, everyone is here,” Smith said.  “Everyone has been here all offseason really and that’s what you expect.  It’s voluntary work, but if you want to get better, why would you pass up an opportunity?  I appreciate that from the team — again they want to do something.  All you can do at this time in April is just show up each day and get better and they’ve done that.”

The Bucs have a minicamp now because teams with new coaches are permitted to have an extra voluntary camp.  Smith recognizes the value of that.

“I think it’s a must,” Smith said. “That’s the good part about being a new staff, when you get this extra minicamp in.  It’s one thing to watch guys on video, but you want to see them on the football field to know in a lot of ways.  Of course, we want to see our roster but, too, with the draft coming up, to see exactly what we need.  Maybe we’re not as strong or maybe we’re a little scrawny at some of the positions.  And that’s what they’ll tell us during these next two days.

“So I can’t tell you how much it helps.  And, for the team, they’re wondering, ‘What is it like?  What’s the practice routine?  How are these guys going to coach?’  And they know that now.  So we’ve gotten a lot of those questions answered quickly.”

We won’t get answers about whether the Buccaneers are any better until September, when the real games start.

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Rolando McClain added to reserve/retired list

Rolando McClain AP

Ravens linebacker Rolando McClain has been placed on the reserve/retired list, according to the NFL’s Tuesday transaction log.

McClain told ESPN on Monday that he was ending his comeback attempt after a season away from football.

The Ravens signed the 24-year-old McClain last April, but the former Alabama star retired a little more than a month later. The Raiders’ first-round pick in 2010, McClain started 38 games in three seasons with Oakland, but off-field issues and a dispute with coach Dennis Allen marred his tenure.

For the time being, the Ravens retain McClain’s rights should he decide to return again to football.

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Alex Smith talks going slowly, could pick up after the draft

Alex Smith, Cortez Allen AP

Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith acknowledged on Tuesday that talks aimed at extending a contract that expires after the coming season are underway.  And indeed they are.

But a source with knowledge of the situation tells PFT that the discussions are moving very, very slowly.

The discussions could, and likely will, pick up after the draft.  If/when an agreement is reached, look for the deal to have a value in the neighborhood of $14 million to $17 million per year.  Which would be a very good contract for a guy who was the first pick in the 2005 draft and who was at times regarded as being a borderline bust.

Smith has busted out in a big way the last few years.  While it feels like he’s been around forever, Smith still isn’t 30 years old.

That’s true.  I checked.  Twice.  He turns 30 on May 7.

And he’s made plenty of money in the NFL over the last nine years.  He could be making a lot more, soon.

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