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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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New Colt Andre Johnson not focused on facing the Texans

Houston Texans v Indianapolis Colts Getty Images

When the NFL schedule comes out next week, some fans will circle the dates of the Colts-Texans games, when Andre Johnson will face his old team. But Johnson isn’t thinking about that.

Johnson, who signed in Indianapolis last month after 12 seasons in Houston, says he’s not motivated by revenge, anger or any animosity toward the Texans.

“Everybody thinks I went to the Colts to try to get back at the Texans, and stuff like that,” Johnson told ESPN. “That had nothing to do with it. I just went to the best place where I felt that was the best fit for me where I can have the best chance to win a championship. It wasn’t about circling dates or nothing against the Texans. I had 12 great years.”

Johnson’s return to Houston in a Colts uniform may be emotional for him, for his teammates and for fans. But once the ball is kicked off, it’s just another game.

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Bucs not concerned about Winston giving up football for baseball

Winston AP

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have plenty of reasons to potentially be concerned about quarterback Jameis Winston.  But they continue not to be, in large part because they’ve done their homework on him.

One potential area of concern comes from the possibility that, if discouraged by the difficulty of adjusting to the next level of football, Winston will trade in the pigskin for the horsehide, leaving the NFL and embarking on a baseball career.  That’s a possibility the Buccaneers have considered, and they’re confident it won’t happen.

It always has been my dream, but I’m just playing football right now,” Winston said in February, leaving the door slightly ajar for the possibility of playing baseball and football professionally.

For the Buccaneers, who wasted the first overall pick 29 years ago on a running back who opted for baseball (Bo Jackson), the nightmare scenario would entail Winston deciding that football at the NFL level is much harder than he thought it would be, and opting instead to give baseball a try.  For that reason, Tampa Bay’s research on Winston has included getting a frank assessment of his baseball prospects.  While a role as a major-league relief pitcher wouldn’t be impossible for Winston, it wouldn’t be automatic, either.  In turn, it wouldn’t provide the kind of quick-fix that could tempt a guy to trade NFL football for Major League Baseball.

The Bucs realize that nothing can be completely ruled out, but as they stand poised to make him the first overall pick in the draft, they’re confident that this Bo will know to stick with football.

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Report: Nike reaches deals with Mariota, Winston, three other top prospects

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If it’s draft season, then it’s time for apparel companies to strike deals with some of the top incoming NFL prospects.

According to ESPN’s Darren Rovell, Nike has signed Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, Georgia running back Todd Gurley, Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper and Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon to endorsement contracts.

News of the Nike deal with Winston comes as he faces a civil lawsuit regarding a sexual assault allegation levied by a Florida State student in 2012. Winston was never charged criminally in connection with the allegation.

“Jameis has stated his innocence regarding serious charges made against him. We’ll continue to monitor the situation,” a Nike spokesperson told ESPN.com.

Winston, Mariota, Gurley and Cooper played for schools that sported Nike-branded uniforms. Gordon, meanwhile, wore an Adidas-branded uniform at Wisconsin.

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Raiders show interest in Adrian Peterson

Minnesota Vikings v Kansas City Chiefs Getty Images

If the Vikings are going to trade Adrian Peterson, the Cowboys won’t be the only team interested.

The Raiders have also shown interest in Peterson, NFL Network reports.

In one important respect, the Raiders actually make more sense than the Cowboys: The Raiders have about $12 million more in cap space available than the Cowboys do. Peterson’s enormous cap hit would be tough for the Cowboys to squeeze in, but it would be doable for the Raiders.

But the Raiders aren’t exactly a team that’s one star player away from a championship, and adding an expensive veteran wouldn’t necessarily make a lot of sense. This move feels like a long shot.

For their part, the Vikings say they expect Peterson to play for them this year. It remains to be seen whether Peterson will try to force his way out, and whether some other team will offer a lucrative deal that makes the Vikings willing to part with their biggest star.

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Packers re-sign S Chris Banjo

Green Bay Packers v Buffalo Bills Getty Images

Packers reserve safety Chris Banjo has signed his exclusive rights contract offer from the club, according to the NFL’s Friday transactions.

Banjo, 25, was active for Green Bay’s final three regular season games and both of its postseason games in 2014. He spent most of the season on the practice squad. The previous season, Banjo appeared in every game for the Packers, earning a role on special teams.

Banjo is likely to compete for one of the backup safety spots behind Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in 2015.

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Raiders work out Vic Beasley in South Carolina

Discover Orange Bowl - Clemson v Ohio State Getty Images

The Raiders took linebacker Khalil Mack with the fifth pick in last year’s draft and it looks like they got a cornerstone for their defense to build around in the coming years.

That wasn’t enough to lift them past the fourth pick in this year’s draft, which they may use on a player to help Mack on that side of the ball. Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. and other Raiders coaches travelled to South Carolina on Friday to work out Clemson’s all-time sack leader Vic Beasley.

The team sent linebackers coach Sal Sunseri and defensive line coach Jethro Franklin to the workout as they try to sort out how Beasley would best fit into their 4-3 scheme. Wherever they might line him up, Beasley has the kind of speed off the edge that the Raiders Defense could use as they try to drop to a lower draft position in 2016.

Rapoport adds that the Jaguars have also sent defensive line coach Todd Wash for another look at Beasley, which could leave the Raiders looking in another direction come the end of the month.

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49ers working on new deal for Michael Wilhoite

Aldon Smith AP

In early March, there were reports that the 49ers were shopping inside linebacker Michael Wilhoite to other teams.

Patrick Willis and Chris Borland announced their retirements a short time later, which bumped Wilhoite into a more prominent position with the team. It looks like he’s on track to get a contract to match that new status.

General Manager Trent Baalke said Friday that the team is working on a new deal for Wilhoite, who is an exclusive rights free agent. He hasn’t signed that tender, which would pay him $660,000 a year after he started all 16 games while Navorro Bowman and Willis missed time with injuries.

“We’re working on something with him as we speak … He’s kind of in a unique situation. He was kind of caught in a numbers deal,” Baalke said, via the San Francisco Chronicle.

If Wilhoite played out the year on his ERFA tender, he’d be in line to become a restricted free agent next year. With the change in circumstances for the 49ers, Wilhoite may not be going down that path.

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Tony Boselli’s son commits to Florida State

Boselli Getty Images

The son of Tony Boselli could be on his way to the NFL.

Via USA Today, Andrew Boselli has committed to Florida State.  A junior at Episcopal High School in Jacksonville, Boselli will be a member of the class of 2016.

“Coach [Rick] Trickett is just an offensive line coach — a technician — that knows how to teach,” Boselli said after visiting the school in February. “And they run a pro-style offense.  It’s a place that, if you want to go to the NFL, it a place you want to go.  They’ll teach you how to do it.”

Indeed they will.  With 18 players drafted in 2013 and 2014 combined, coach Jimbo Fisher’s Seminoles are 10 draft picks in 2015 away from tying the three-year record for any school.

Elite high school football players play in college not because they want to but because they have to.  League rules, as validated by the NFLPA, prevent players from entering the draft until three years after the graduation of their high school class.  So the only choice is to play in college, and at college the players necessarily are majoring in football.

Why not select a school that is more likely to get the football player ready to play in the NFL? When the only compensation is the wholesale cost of an education (and snacks!), the least a college football program can do is prepare the player for the next level.

Tony Boselli played at USC, and he was the second overall pick in the 1995 draft.  A five-time Pro Bowler and three-time All Pro, Boselli was elected to the NFL’s All-Decade team for the 1990s.

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Bruce Miller not attending 49ers offseason workouts

Bruce Miller AP

Last season, the 49ers drew criticism for their decision to allow defensive tackle Ray McDonald to keep playing after an August arrest on domestic violence charges.

Things are playing out a bit differently with fullback Bruce Miller following his March arrest on suspicion of spousal abuse. General Manager Trent Baalke said Friday that Miller isn’t taking part in the team’s offseason workouts and said the team will revisit his status as the case moves forward.

“Yeah, once again, they don’t have to be here at this stage in the season,” Baalke said, via CSNBayArea.com. “We sat down with Bruce and feel it’s very important for him to handle this situation and once it’s handled, we’ll move on from there.”

No charges have been filed in the Miller case at this time. The only mandatory practices before training camp come during the team’s June minicamp.

McDonald wasn’t charged in the domestic violence case, but wound up being released later in the season after being investigated for sexual assault.

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Tim Shaw: ALS weakens my body, not “my heart and mind”

Tim Shaw AP

Former NFL linebacker Tim Shaw, who announced in August he had been diagnosed with ALS, released a message Friday giving an update on how he was coping with the disease.

Shaw, who said he learned of his diagnosis one year ago Friday, signaled that while the disease had taken a toll on him, his resolve remained in tact.

“Today, tho my body struggles, my heart and mind grow stronger,” Shaw wrote on his Twitter account, posting a picture of him lifting a weight with his right arm.

The 32-year-old Shaw played seven NFL seasons, with his most extensive work with Tennessee from 2010 through 2012. Born in Exeter, England, Shaw played collegiately at Penn State.

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Dorial Green-Beckham visited Bengals, 49ers

2015 NFL Scouting Combine Getty Images

If draft prospects were judged on talent alone, wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham might be taken high in the first round.

The potential for off-field trouble is another factor, however, and Green-Beckham carries a lot of baggage. He was dismissed from the Missouri team after two drug arrests and a domestic violence allegation and then transferred to Oklahoma, but never played a game for the Sooners before declaring for the draft this year.

That makes it much harder to peg where Green-Beckham will land, but he’s drawing interest around the league. Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that Green-Beckham visited the Bengals on Thursday and also had a recent visit with the 49ers. They join the Vikings and Ravens as teams that have spent time with the wideout.

All of those teams could use a receiver of Green-Beckham’s ability, even if it might remain raw after two years of college experience. There are plenty of other teams in the same boat and one of them may make a bet that the ability outweighs the risk before the first night of the draft comes to an end.

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Ravens re-sign TE Phillip Supernaw

Baltimore Ravens v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

The Ravens have re-signed one of their reserve tight ends.

Phillip Supernaw, an exclusive-rights free agent, has signed his tender with the club, the team’s website said Friday.

The 25-year-old Supernaw appeared in six games for Baltimore in 2014, catching two passes for 27 yards. He previously had stints with Kansas City (2014) and Houston (2013).

Tight end could be a position the Ravens address in the draft after losing Owen Daniels to Denver and with Dennis Pitta coming off a second significant hip injury. If Pitta cannot recapture his best form, second-year pro Crockett Gillmore could be the top target at the position.

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NFL declines to clarify website article tampering exception

Adrian Getty Images

On Thursday, the Cowboys posted on their official website an article explaining why the team should be interested in Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.  Some wondered whether statements of interest in a player under contract with another team violates the tampering rules.

At first blush, it seemed clear that there was no violation, based on this language from the Anti-Tampering Policy:  “Articles that appear on the website of a club that identify prospective free agents that the team might be interested in, or that rate prospective free agents, shall not be considered violations of the Anti-Tampering Policy unless they include a direct quote or expression of interest by an employee of the club (other than the author of the article) about a specific player.”

But as multiple readers quickly pointed out, Peterson isn’t a “prospective free agent”; he’s under contract with the Vikings for three more years.  So PFT asked the NFL for clarification on the question of whether the website article exception to the tampering policy encompasses Peterson, who won’t be a free agent for three years.

“We do not have a comment,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told PFT via email.

Absent clarification from the league, it remains unclear whether a team-owned website may write articles expressing interest in players under contract with other teams who are not “prospective free agents,” and it remains unclear what constitutes a “prospective free agent.”

For those of you who think this is part of an anti-Cowboys vendetta (because some of the fans of any team we scrutinize in any way automatically assume we’re motivated solely by hatred of said team), the Cowboys aren’t alone in this boat.  Last month the Cardinals’ website had an article containing quotes from receiver Larry Fitzgerald regarding the potential addition of Peterson.

We can already hear the “why do you hate the Cardinals?” emails being typed.

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After losing Gore, 49ers talk up Hunter and Hyde

Kendall Hunter AP

Before the start of free agency, the 49ers thought they would keep running back Frank Gore. As it turned out, Gore left to sign with the Colts.

But the 49ers feel good about two running backs who have stayed in San Francisco.

San Francisco General Manager Trent Baalke has talked up running backs Kendall Hunter and Carlos Hyde as both looking ready to play a big part in the 49ers’ offense this season. Hunter missed all of last season after tearing his ACL in training camp, but Baalke said Hunter has worked hard to get ready to go for this year’s camp.

He has progressed very well,” Baalke said, via NBCBayArea.com. “Talk about a guy that works. . . . He’s a grinder.”

And Baalke told Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee that Hyde has slimmed down to his lowest weight since he was an underclassman at Ohio State. Baalke described Hyde as looking “extremely good.”

If Hyde and Hunter are as good as Baalke thinks, and if Reggie Bush has something left, the 49ers may be in good shape at running back. Even after losing one of the best they’ve ever had in Gore.

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Which quarterback will take the most snaps for the Browns this year?

Browns AP

The Browns will be wearing new uniforms this year, but it’s still unclear which quarterback will be taking the snaps when the real games start.

So which quarterback will take the most snaps this year?  That’s the subject for today’s Pro Football Talk on NBCSN poll question.

Answer the question and then dial us up at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, which will take a closer look at the news of the day and also ponder the draft plans of the Patriots and the Seahawks.

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