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Week 13 Friday 10-pack

Ben Roethlisberger, Willie Colon

Developers of buildings with more than 13 floors develop triskaidekaphobia when it’s time to apply numbers.  The NFL has no such qualms when it comes to the football season.

So welcome, Week 13.  Unleash your bad-luck powers on as many teams as possible.

I’ll be back in a bit.  I’m trying to fit an open umbrella under the stepladder in my office.

1.  Is Big Ben the drama queen back?

Something strange happened on Thursday.  Not long after a report emerged that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has a broken bone in his foot, the Steelers issued a statement explaining that he doesn’t.

The disclosure from the team made no sense, especially since it wasn’t required by league rules.  The Steelers must say only whether Roethlisberger practiced on Thursday, and if so whether he fully participated or participated on a limited basis in the session.

So why would the Steelers feel compelled to contradict the published report?

Rewind to January 2005.  After an AFC title-game loss to the Patriots, Roethlisberger claimed that he played with broken toes.  Coach Bill Cowher contradicted him publicly.

And thus was born the legend of Big Ben, drama queen.

Roethlisberger has at times since then embellished an injury or two, and regardless of whether Roethlisberger was the source of the report, the Steelers felt compelled to contradict it.

Of course, there’s also a chance that the Steelers are simply trying to reduce the size of the bull’s-eye on Ben’s foot — regardless of whether he’s exaggerating his condition or not.

2.  It’s finger-pointin’ time again.

When the Chiefs host the Broncos on Sunday, all eyes will be focused on the two head coaches, who punctuated their Week 10 meeting with Kansas City coach Todd Haley sticking a finger in the face of Denver coach Josh McDaniels after a 20-point win by the Broncos.

Haley has tried to downplay the matter, but it’s obvious that he’s not a big McDaniels fan.  (Then again, who is?)  Though some have speculated in the wake of Spygate II that Haley was miffed with conduct that possibly falls within the realm of cheating, it’s generally accepted in league circles that Haley didn’t appreciate the perception that the Broncos were running up the score.

With Denver reeling and the Chiefs peaking, it’ll be interesting to see whether Haley calls off the dogs — and if not whether McDaniels will show an index finger, or possibly a different finger altogether, to Haley.

3.  Beware the Bills.

Vikings fans likely are thinking that their underachieving team will win their second straight game for the first time since November 2009.  Given that the Bills bring a 2-9 record to town makes it tempting to come to that conclusion.

But let’s look at this more closely.  The Bills have pushed three likely playoff teams (the Ravens, Chiefs, and Steelers) to overtime, and Buffalo lost to the Bears by only three points.  The Vikings, after back-to-back bombs against two NFC North rivals, barely beat the Redskins.

With running back Adrian Peterson hobbled and the Minnesota defense not quite as potent as it has been in past seasons, the Bills could give the Vikings fits, just like Buffalo did the last time they came to the Metrodome in 2002, winning 45-39 in overtime.

4.  Could Packers pull off the Trifecta?

After the Packers beat the Cowboys by 38, Dallas fired coach Wade Phillips.  Seven days later, the Packers beat the Vikings by 28, and Minnesota fired coach Brad Childress.

This week, the Packers host the 49ers.  With Green Bay coming off a disappointing loss to the Falcons, the Pack could be ready to smack around the 4-7 49ers.

If the Packers pummel San Fran, could Niners coach Mike Singletary be the next one to go?  It’s unlikely that it’ll happen on Monday, but Singletary likely won’t sleep very well if he’s on the wrong end of a blowout at Lambeau.

5.  Pats have perfect offense for the Jets.

When the Patriots sent Randy Moss packing in October, plenty of people wondered whether coach Bill Belichick had lost his mind.

Six wins in seven games later, we should all be so crazy.

And so instead of seeing Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis match up with and thus shut down singlehandedly the most potent threat in the Pats’ passing game, New England has diluted its receiving corps, scattering a smattering of players on any given snap who are capable of getting open and catching the ball.

What better way to neutralize a defender who is capable of handling on his own a wideout who commands double coverage than to have him cover a guy who doesn’t?

So with the Jets capable of sending pressure from anywhere and everywhere, while Revis shuts down the No. 1 wideout, the Pats have crafted a system that distributes the ball anywhere and everywhere while happily marooning one guy on each play on Revis Island.

6.  What a difference a year makes.

Last year, when the Cardinals hosted the Rams in December, Kurt Warner’s then-current team had nine wins — and his first-former team had one.

This year, the Rams have five and the Cards have three.  More importantly, the Rams finally have found the long-term heir to Warner, while the Cardinals bumble from first-round bust to unwanted veteran to undrafted rookie who has a long way to go to become worthy of washing Warner’s dancing shoes.

And it’s all happened in only one year.

On one hand, it shows that, no matter how dark things get in a given year for a given team, fortunes quickly can change.  On the other hand, it demonstrates how quickly a “good” team can disintegrate.

7.  Prime-time games have big-time implications.

On the surface, the Monday night game between the Jets and the Patriots looks to be the biggest game of the year.  But the Sunday night contest between the Steelers and Ravens has identical implications.

The winner of each game will be on track to earn a bye.  The losers will slide into the wild-card mix, potentially forcing them to go on the road in order to work their way to the Super Bowl.

The gap will be greater if the Jets and Ravens win, since the one-game leads over the Pats and Steelers, respectively, would essentially be two games, due to the head-to-head tiebreaker.  But even if the Patriots and Steelers win, they’ll each hold a one-game lead with four to play.

Though these playoff-atmosphere games won’t have the same win-or-else stakes, the outcomes will have a lot to do with the degree of difficulty that the teams will experience come January.

8.  Bucs can bunch up the NFC field.

Bucs apologists argue that Tampa’s football franchise hasn’t beaten a playoff-caliber team because they’ll played only four of them.  They get another chance this week, when the 9-2 Falcons come to town.

And the Bucs need to win the game not just to show that they can beat a playoff team.  With four losses and five games to play, the Bucs may not get to the playoffs without beating the Falcons now or the Saints in Week 17.

In past years, 9-7 often would be enough enough to earn a wild-card berth in the NFC.  This year, with a glut of good teams at the top of the conferences, six losses could be one too many.

And if the Buccaneers can deliver to the Falcons their first 2010 loss outside the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the door would swing open for the Saints to pull even with Atlanta at the top of the NFC South, setting the stage for a high-stakes chase in the final four weeks.

9.  Still time for losers?

Since 1990, 14 teams with a losing record after 11 games have made it to the playoffs.  Most recently, the 2009 Jets started 5-6, finished 9-7, and made it to the AFC title game.

Of the teams that pulled it off, all but two were 5-6; the others were 4-7.  This year, nine teams entered Week 13 at 5-6 or 4-7.  (The Texans already have fallen to 5-7.)  At least one of the nine definitely will make the playoffs, because 5-6 currently represents the best record in the NFC West.

But here’s the thing.  The top-heavy nature of each conference, with wild-card spots currently held by teams in the AFC with records of 9-2 and 8-3 and in the NFC with records of 8-3 and 7-4, will make it even harder for the 5-6 and 4-7 teams to climb out of their current holes.  They’ll need someone like the 8-3 Steelers or 7-4 Giants to collapse down the stretch to have a shot.  (Actually, in the NFC, the losing teams need two of the three 7-4 teams to fall apart in order to open up the No. 6 seed.)

Bottom line?  Though the NFL has mastered the art of manufacturing hope from January through December, there currently may not be much hope to go around for teams that have been unable to win at least six of their first 11 games.

10.  AFC West could send a pair to the postseason.

For most of the season, most have assumed that the AFC West will send only one team to the playoffs.

And while it’s still likely that only the champion of the division will get a seat at the playoff table, there’s a growing chance that both the Chiefs and the Chargers will qualify.

The 6-5 Chargers have three straight games at home, including a Week 14 showdown against the Chiefs.  They next hit the road for Cincinnati and Denver.

The 7-4 Chiefs host the Broncos, Titans, and Raiders, wrapped around trips to San Diego and St. Louis.  Though K.C.’s path isn’t as easy as it once appeared, both could end up 10-6 or 11-5.  And if the losers of this weekend’s prime-time games commence a free-fall (like the Jets did two years ago when 8-3 became 9-7), both of the top two teams in the West could win berths in the playoffs.

We recommend wagering nothing of value on the proposition, unless you are getting really, really good odds.

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Browns signing Vinston Painter off Broncos practice squad

Kenneth Boatright, Brock Osweiler, Will Montgomery, Vinston Painter AP

The Browns are continuing to shuffle their roster ahead of the start of the regular season.

Mike Klis of the Denver Post reports that Cleveland is signing offensive lineman Vinston Painter off of Denver’s practice squad and adding him to their 53-man roster. The move will be guaranteed three weeks of pay at the active roster level even if the team should decide to move in a different direction.

Painter has not played in a regular season game since the Broncos made him the 173rd pick in last year’s draft, but has seen time at tackle and guard in practices and the preseason. He’s the third offensive lineman added to the roster since the team set their initial 53-man roster, joining waiver acquisitions Ryan Seymour and Caylin Hauptmann as new members of the Browns.

The Broncos have signed long snapper Kevin McDermott to the practice squad to take Painter’s place.

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Jackson Jeffcoat lands on Redskins practice squad

Jackson Jeffcoat, Andrew McDonald, Germi Morris AP

Jim Jeffcoat played in a lot of Cowboys-Redskins games during his career in Dallas, but his son might find himself on the opposite side of those games in the future.

The Redskins announced that they have added linebacker Jackson Jeffcoat to their practice squad. The younger Jeffcoat spent training camp with the Seahawks after signing with Seattle as one of the highest profile undrafted free agents in May.

Jeffcoat wasn’t able to make Seattle’s 53-man roster, but he did win the Big 12 defensive player of the year and Ted Hendricks Award for the top collegiate defensive end during his final year at Texas. Brian Orakpo won the same award in 2008 and he’s set to be a free agent after the season, so Jeffcoat could work his way into Washington’s future plans if he does well in practice this season.

The Redskins also signed offensive lineman Braxton Cave to the practice squad and dropped linebacker Chaz Sutton and offensive lineman Tevita Stevens.

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No word yet on Josh Brent

Josh Brent AP

With Josh Gordon, Aldon Smith, and Jim Irsay now suspended, there’s only one name left on the league’s suspension docket.

But it’s not really a suspension; for unretired Cowboys defensive lineman Josh Brent, the Commissioner has not yet ruled on his request for reinstatement.

So what is he waiting for?  Practice begins in earnest (and in Valley Ranch) on Wednesday for Week One.  Not reinstating Brent before then operates as a de facto suspension of at least one week.

Unlike a suspension, for which Brent would have appeal rights, there’s nothing Brent can do about it, other than wait for the Commissioner to decide that Brent should return.

Regardless of whether Brent deserves to be kept away from making a living in the NFL for longer than the 20 games he has missed since causing the death of teammate and close friend Jerry Brown while driving drunk, the failure to render a decision removes a portion of the incentive for future players to choose to retire in the face of a potentially awkward showdown for the NFL.  Brent could have insisted on coming to work in 2013 while awaiting trial, citing the presumption of innocence and the absence of CBA language that would have allowed the NFL to ensure that his appeal would be resolved before the start of the regular season.  If his appeal had moved like Josh Gordon’s, Brent could have played most if not all of the season, especially since his trial didn’t start until January.

He could have played all of 2013 under the cloud of a suspension, absorbed a one-year suspension after his conviction, and returned to football in 2015.  As it now stands, he’ll miss more games than if he’d held firm and played in 2013.

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Irsay is “firmly committed” to staying healthy

Irsay Getty Images

In response to his six-game suspension and $500,000 fine, Colts owner Jim Irsay has issued a statement in which he admits his error and reiterates his hope that the disease of addiction will be taken more seriously moving forward.

“I acknowledge the mistake I made last March and stand responsible for the consequences of that mistake, for which I sincerely apologize to our community and to Colts fans everywhere,” Irsay said regarding his guilty plea to DUI on Tuesday.  “Even more importantly, though, I am committed to do everything in my power to turn this whole experience into a positive event for myself, my family, and the community.

“In retrospect, I now know that the incident opened my eyes to issues in my life that needed addressing and helped put me on the path to regain my health.  I truly hope and pray that my episode will help in some small measure to diminish the stigma surrounding our country’s terrible and deadly problem of addiction.  It is a disease like other progressive, terminal diseases — one that can only be successfully treated by understanding, committed hard work, and spiritual growth.  I am deeply grateful for the tremendous outpouring of love and support during these past few months from my family, friends, care-givers, and our great community.  Please know I am firmly committed to staying on my path to good health and I look forward to a great season.”

We wish Irsay the best as he continues to attempt to regain his health.  And we hope the NFL takes Irsay’s words to heart as it relates not only to persons with addictions who create public-safety hazards, but also to persons with addictions who don’t.

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Five questions: Seattle Seahawks

San Diego Chargers v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

The defending Super Bowl champions are quickly closing in on the start of their 2014 season Thursday night against the Green Bay Packers.

The Seahawks were able to keep most of their young core in place this offseason and were able to sign Michael Bennett, Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and Doug Baldwin to contract extensions as well. While they did lose some key contributors off their championship team, an inevitability for any team in the salary cap age, Seattle has kept a roster together every bit as a talented as the one the won the title last year.

There aren’t many areas that remain in doubt for the Seahawks as the season gets set to begin. However, we take a look at five questions that could determine if Seattle is able to repeat as champion this season.

1. Could the Seahawks be even better than last season?

If the offense can translate its production from this preseason over to the regular season, they almost certainly will be better.

In 13 offensive drives led by Russell Wilson this preseason, Seattle scored on 11 of them with nine touchdowns, two field goals, a missed field goal and just a single punt. Richard Sherman said Monday that Wilson is being more decisive this season. Head coach Pete Carroll said Wilson has had a near-perfect offseason. With Percy Harvin fully healthy, the Seahawks offense looks much more explosive.

With a defense that looks to still be a force and a special teams unit that is strong as well, if Seattle’s offense can take several steps forward they could be tremendously difficult to beat this year.

2. Will Seattle’s offensive line hold them back?

The Seahawks offensive line was the one area of the team that underperformed consistently last season. Tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini missed a combined 15 games. Center Max Unger missed three more and the depleted unit struggled mightily in their absence.

This year, Seattle is going to start a rookie at right tackle in second-round pick Justin Britt and Okung is still working into game shape after missing most of the offseason following foot surgery.

On the positive side, left guard James Carpenter has lost a considerable amount of weight and looks more capable of moving adequately this year. Right guard J.R. Sweezy has appeared to take his game up another level as well.

The unit is much more adept at run blocking, which is still going to be the main focus of the team with Marshawn Lynch in the backfield and Percy Harvin potentially being used as a rusher at times as well. If they can adequately provide protection for Russell Wilson in the passing game, the offense should be able to accomplish much more this season.

3. Can the Seahawks get 16 games out of Percy Harvin?

Percy Harvin is noticeably exhausted about answering questions about his health. However, when you miss most of the last two seasons due to injury, it’s one of the only things to ask about.

Harvin has missed 22 regular season games over the last two years due to ankle and hip injuries. He’s only played all 16 games of an NFL season once in his career in 2011 with the Minnesota Vikings. But it’s already evident this preseason that the dynamic athlete that was firmly in the MVP conversation in 2012 is back.

Harvin says he’s as healthy now as he’s been since even before he got to college at the University of Florida. His presence on the field expands the field both horizontally and vertically for Seattle’s offense. The Seahawks are counting on Harvin being a big part of their offense. It’s now on Harvin to see if he can put all those questions about his health in the past.

4. Will the Seahawks run defense take a step back?

The Seahawks cut defensive ends Red Bryant and Chris Clemons this offseason for salary cap reasons. However, both players had been important pieces of Seattle’s run defense the last few seasons.

In their absence, Seattle has toyed with moving tackle Tony McDaniel to end in rushing situations with Kevin Williams replacing McDaniel along the line. There are also some new young cogs in their defensive line rotation as well that will be called upon for increased roles.

The Seahawks allowed Tampa Bay and St. Louis to rush for 200 yards against them in consecutive weeks last season before making an adjustment and getting the run defense righted. With key pieces such as Bryant and Clemons gone, it remains to be seen if they can find similar performance up front against opposing rushing games.

5. How does Seattle handle being the team on top?

It’s a position the franchise has never been in before. Several key players got big paydays this offseason as well.

But Russell Wilson and Earl Thomas swear they will be able to keep the focus in the right direction this season. The two talk about how they are competing on a daily basis to see which one of them is the last player to leave the team’s facility each day. Both players obsess over every minute detail they can find on tape in hopes of being completely prepared for games.

That focus trickles down to the rest of the team and the players and coaches are convinced they have turned the page on last season. The only way to truly know now is to play the games.

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Steven Jackson “extremely excited” to face Saints

Steven Jackson AP

Running back Steven Jackson was a spectator for most of Falcons training camp and all of their preseason games as a result of a hamstring injury, but he was able to get on the practice field as things drew to a close in August.

That put Jackson on track to play against the Saints in the regular season opener and nothing has knocked him off of it in the interim. Jackson said Tuesday that he’s ready for his first game action of the year.

“I’m extremely excited for Week 1,” Jackson said, via the team’s website. “It’s been a training camp that I missed the majority of the time, but I’ve been working hard physically and mentally to prepare for this coming Sunday; I feel good about it.”

Jackson missed four games last season and posted a career-low average per carry, something that was at least partially caused by the team’s poor offensive line play. The Falcons have worked to upgrade that area over the offseason and they’ll get their first chance to show they’ve turned the page against the New Orleans front seven on Sunday.

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Jim Irsay suspended six games, fined $500,000

Jim-Irsay-Getty Getty Images

It’s not Friday, and it’s not 5 p.m., but the NFL has tied up the one messy piece of business it had to do before games start this week.

The league announced that Colts owner Jim Irsay had been suspended for the team’s first six games and fined $500,000 after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor account of driving while impaired.

The suspension begins tomorrow at 5 p.m., and Irsay “may not be present at the club’s facility, may not attend any practices or games, may not represent the club at league or league committee meetings or at any other team or league event, and may not conduct media interviews or engage in social media regarding any team or league matters.”

The Twitter ban is going to sting, more than the half-million fine, which is the most allowed under the league’s constitution and by-laws.

The league also noted that “Mr. Irsay will be subject to ongoing treatment, counseling, and testing as determined by medical professionals and the Indiana court.”

Drug testing is a condition of his probation, which he was sentenced to as part of the deal.

“I have stated on numerous occasions that owners, management personnel and coaches must be held to a higher standard than players,” Goodell said in his letter to Irsay. “We discussed this during our meeting and you expressed your support for that view, volunteering that owners should be held to the highest standard.”

There will be no draft choice forfeiture for the Colts, since his conduct had nothing to do with the competitive balance of the league.

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Brian Waters announces his retirement

Waters Getty Images

Brian Waters had a lengthy and impressive career in the NFL.  That career is now officially over.

“After a long and wonderful career I have decided to retire,” Waters said in a statement.  “I want to thank the coaches, players and fans of the three great organizations that I had the pleasure of working for.  First the Dallas Cowboys for giving me my first and last chance of working in the NFL.  I will always be grateful.  Also the New England Patriots for the most successful season in my career.  It was a great ride.  Lastly the Kansas City Chiefs where I had pleasure of enjoying eleven wonderful seasons, which I will never forget.

“I want to thank the many family, friends and my hometown of Waxahachie, Texas for being great supporters. Finally I want to thank my kids for being my greatest motivations. I fought hard daily to make you proud me. If the rest of my life can be half as good as the last 15 years, I will be one of the luckiest people on earth.”

Waters spent 11 seasons with the Chiefs, one with the Patriots, and a final year with the Cowboys.  In 2012, Waters didn’t play.

A six-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro, Waters was the 2009 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year.  In time, he could gather momentum as a potential candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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Arian Foster feeling “wonderful” heading into Week One

Arian Foster AP

Texans running back Arian Foster must not have gotten too many “mundane questions” during his session with the Houston media on Tuesday because he was more expansive than he was during preseason press availabilities.

Foster said he was happy to see defensive end J.J. Watt get rewarded for being a “hard-working cat” and said that he has something to prove to himself after last season’s back surgery. Foster, who didn’t play in preseason games after injuring his hamstring early in camp, says he feels “wonderful” physically even though he acknowledges that it’s unclear how the missed time this summer will affect him in the regular season.

“I feel like it could go both ways. If you’re a veteran player who understands how the game is played, it can work to your advantage. It can work to your advantage taking hits off in the preseason,” Foster said, via the Houston Chronicle. “On the flip side, it gets you used to the load you’re going to carry in the season. You just have to play the cards you’re dealt.”

Foster was averaging 4.5 yards a pop before he got hurt last season, right in line with his career average and should still be productive as long as he’s healthy enough to be in the lineup. That’s hardly a sure thing, but the Texans offense is counting on it all the same.

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Kevin Vickerson finds a home in Cincinnati

Kevin Vickerson AP

Kevin Vickerson appears to have found a home.

The veteran defensive tackle, who was cut by the Broncos Saturday, has apparently joined the Bengals, per a message he posted to his Instagram account.

The 31-year-old Vickerson lost his job with the Broncos to Marvin Austin, but he started 11 games for them last year.

Frankly, he was one of the most accomplished players released this weekend, which says as much about the waiver wire as it does Vickerson.

In Cincinnati, he’ll back up Geno Atkins and Domata Peko, adding depth to an already good defensive line.

UPDATE: 3:25 p.m. ET: You’ll notice that link doesn’t work anymore, which could mean Vickerson has deleted the photo of a big Bengals shirt with his thankful mention to a higher power. The Bengals haven’t announced anything, so maybe they won’t. Stay tuned.

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Charlie Powell, NFL player and heavyweight contender, dies at 82

charliepowell

Charlie Powell, who signed with the 49ers when he was 19 and played seven seasons in the NFL between stints as a pro baseball player and a heavyweight prizefighter, has died at the age of 82.

U-T San Diego reports that Powell died on Monday and had been suffering from dementia for years.

Powell’s list of athletic accomplishments reads like it must be fiction: He was such a good multi-sport athlete in high school that he had contract offers to play baseball with the St. Louis Browns and basketball with the Harlem Globetrotters, he had football scholarship offers from Notre Dame and UCLA, and he was a champion in both the 100-yard dash and the shot put. At first he went the baseball route, but after becoming bored in the minors, he decided to become the NFL’s youngest player.

“I didn’t like baseball as much as I thought I would,” said Powell. “But because I was already a professional, I could sign with an NFL team without going to college.”

That turned out to be a wise move. Powell was so ferocious a pass rusher for the 49ers that he was once, before sacks were officially counted in the NFL, credited with sacking Hall of Fame Lions quarterback Bobby Layne so many times in one game that Powell alone backed the Lions up a total of 67 yards. Powell would play five seasons for the 49ers and two more for the Raiders.

But football wasn’t even Powell’s best sport. That would be boxing. Early in his NFL career Powell boxed in the offseason, and after he retired from football he focused on fighting exclusively, rising to the point where he was once ranked as the No. 4 heavyweight in the world. His notable opponents included the unbeaten Cassius Clay in 1963 and the former champion Floyd Patterson in 1964.

In a 1998 column, Jim Murray wrote that Powell compared favorably to the greatest all-around athletes in American history, noting that “Jim Thorpe and Jackie Robinson never had to tee it up with heavyweight champions of the world. And Michael Jordan couldn’t hit the curveball, either.” There was nothing in sports that Charlie Powell couldn’t do.

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Tom Brady: “When I suck, I’ll retire”

Brady Getty Images

Last week’s abrupt trade of Patriots guard Logan Mankins served as a reminder that there are few, if any, sacred cows in New England.

When it comes to quarterback Tom Brady, there’s a chance the team will want to move on from Brady before Brady wants to move on from the team.  Brady made that crystal clear during his weekly appearance on WEEI in Boston.

“There’s nowhere I’d rather play, I know that,” Brady said, via CSNNE.com.  “I love playing for this team and I love representing this team.  Hopefully I can do that for as long as I can.  When I suck, I’ll retire.  I don’t plan on sucking for a long time.  Hopefully that leads me to be in here, and there’s no place I’d rather be. I love this game and I love working hard at it.

“I’ve had a lot of people over the years tell me the things I couldn’t do, and I think that’s always been great motivation for me to go out there and accomplish things that I think I can do. Hopefully it’s to continue to play at a high level for a really long period of time.”

If/when the people who think he can’t play at a high level are named “Belichick” or “Kraft,” then Brady will have to prove those people wrong by playing for another team.  To do that, Brady would have to be willing to embrace, or at least to tolerate, the media crush that will happen if/when Brady were to sign with another team.

Some who know Brady think he’d be tempted to retire in lieu of playing for another team.  His comments from Tuesday suggest otherwise.

“I like working hard at it,” Brady said.  “I’m going to try to be the best I can be for as long as I can do that.  Hopefully the team values that.  If they don’t, then I’ll probably have a tough day at some point.  That’s what football’s all about.”

Which means that, if/when the Patriots decide to move on from Brady, Brady will be inclined to move on to another team.  The destination will depend on who needs a quarterback at the time — up to and including the 49ers, the team Brady cheered for as a boy and the team that “evaluated” Peyton Manning despite having Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick under contract.

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Bill Belichick: No decision on Rob Gronkowski playing this week

Rob Gronkowski AP

It’s safe to say that Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski’s announcement that he’s playing against the Dolphins this week didn’t come with the approval of coach Bill Belichick.

For one thing, Belichick feels the same way about sharing information about his football team as certain celebrities feel about having their intimate photos pulled out of the cloud and shared across the globe. For another, Belichick says that no decision has been made about whether or not Gronkowski will be on the field.

“I’m glad that Rob’s optimistic about this situation,” Belichick said, via CSNNE.com. “We’ll go through the week of practice and take a look at everything, everybody, and see where everybody’s at and try to do what we feel like is best for the team. With all due respect to Rob — I’m glad he feels the way he does — but, in the end, we’ll have to make the decision we feel like is best for the team and we’ll do that as we go through the week.”

Belichick may be telling the truth or, given the previously mentioned distaste for sharing information, he may know exactly what the Patriots plan to do this Sunday. Either way, the Dolphins aren’t likely to get a clear idea of the team’s plans until much closer to kickoff so they’ll have to be prepared for all eventualities.

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More ESPN fantasy owners have Tim Tebow than Chad Henne

Tim Tebow AP

Poor Chad Henne gets no respect.

Not only does everyone want to give his job away to rookie Blake Bortles, but fantasy owners prefer a guy who just lives in Jacksonville to the Jaguars starting quarterback.

ESPN just tweeted out word that more people in their fantasy leagues own Tim Tebow (1.3 percent of teams) than Henne (0.8).

Now granted, people do silly things with fantasy teams all the time, for the sake of being able to play the “he was ahead of his time” card with their buddies.

(Full disclosure, in 2002, Steve Spurrier’s first year with the Redskins, I drafted Danny Wuerffel, Shane Matthews and Patrick Ramsey to cash in on all those points when Spurrier inevitably shuffled quarterbacks like he did at Florida. Yeah, that was stupid.)

Maybe all those people will look like geniuses when Tebow leaps out of his chair on the broadcast set and leads some team to record rushing numbers.

Or maybe, somebody should have kept their buddies from turning too much water into too much wine during the draft.

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Antonio Brown will return punts again this year

Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

Antonio Brown plays a big role in the Steelers offense, but that won’t be his only role in the coming season.

Coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that the team will use Brown as a punt returner this season as well. There was some thought that the addition of the speedy Dri Archer in the draft would lead to a change in roles for Brown, but Tomlin said that Archer will only be an option for the team alongside Brown.

That announcement naturally leads to thoughts about the injury risk that Brown will take on by expanding his portfolio, but Tomlin said that the team won’t live in fear of injury when it comes to deploying a player they believe can help them.

“He is a Pro Bowl caliber return man, so that’s how you play him,” Tomlin said of Brown, via the team.

There’s no question that Brown has skills with two career punt return touchdowns and a 12.8-yard average on returns last season. He’s also a Pro Bowl caliber receiver, though, and losing that would likely hurt the Steelers much more than going with Archer or others as the full-time punt return options.

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