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Ndamukong Suh loses his appeal

Green Bay Packers v Detroit Lions Getty Images

Ndamukong Suh will be suspended for the Lions’ next two games after losing his appeal.

The NFL announced today that Suh’s suspension was upheld, following an appeal hearing with Pro Football Hall of Famer Art Shell, who now serves as an NFL-NFLPA on-field affairs officer, on Thursday.

Former NFL cornerback Merton Hanks, who is now a vice president inside the league office, originally handed down the two-game suspension, and under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, all appeals of such suspensions are handled by Shell or the other NFL-NFLPA on-field affairs officer, Ted Cottrell.

So Suh, who bolstered his reputation as a dirty player by stomping on Evan Dietrich-Smith on Thanksgiving, will be suspended for the Lions’ game Sunday against the Saints and next week against the Vikings. He will be reinstated to the Lions’ active roster on December 12.

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Gary Kubiak expects emotional return to Houston

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The Ravens will be in Houston Sunday, which means offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak will be back in town for a game for the first time since being relieved of his duties as Texans head coach last season.

Kubiak said Thursday that he has nothing but “great feelings” for the team and owner Bob McNair after spending eight years as the team’s coach. Things got ugly at the end, but Kubiak took the Texans to their first playoff appearance and victory during a run that left Kubiak “very proud” of the work that was done. As a result of those feelings, Kubiak thinks there will be some emotion come Sunday even though he’s spending the week focused on other matters.

“It’s a big game for our team and it is the next game,” Kubiak said, via the Baltimore Sun. “I’m sure it will be somewhat emotional for me. Come Sunday, it will be a little bit different, but right now, I’ve got my hands full trying to figure out how to block [J.J. Watt] and for us to move the ball.”

If the Ravens score 24 points on Sunday, they’ll set a new franchise record for points in a season. That speaks well of the job that Kubiak has done this season and could help him make his way into consideration for head coaching openings again in the future. Any thoughts of that will also have to wait until after he faces Watt, but there’s little doubt that landing on his feet makes it easier for Kubiak to return to Houston without much bitterness for the way things ended.

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Jimmy Clausen as surprised as anyone he’s starting

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Some Bears players were miffed at learning of Jay Cutler’s benching via social media.

But no one could have been more surprised than the guy who’s starting in his spot.

Former backup Jimmy Clausen said he was stunned at being named starter in this week’s bombshell move by coach Marc Trestman.

I didn’t see it coming at all,” Clausen said, via John Mullin of CSNChicago.com. “It was quite a surprise to me that they wanted to go with me this week. But it’s a great opportunity for me and the team to go out there on Sunday and put our best effort out there and hopefully get a ‘W.’”

Of course, why would Clausen see it coming. He’s the owner of one NFL win, and hasn’t started a game since 2010.

That might be why guard Kyle Long said he was stunned to read about the decision on Twitter.

“I was surprised,” Long said. “But it’s the NFL.”

Almost, anyway.

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Philip Rivers ready to go after “outstanding” day in practice

Philip Rivers AP

Quarterback Philip Rivers doesn’t miss practices often, so his absence from the field earlier this week and reports of a severe back injury led some to wonder if he might actually miss Saturday night’s game against the 49ers.

Rivers’s return to practice on Thursday quieted much of that concern. Coach Mike McCoy’s assessment of Rivers’s work in practice likely put any lingering worry to bed.

“Philip had an outstanding day,” McCoy said, via the team’s website. “A ball did not hit the ground in all of the throws he made today, so Philip was Philip.  He’ll be ready to roll.”

Neither McCoy nor Rivers provided a lot of insight into the nature of Rivers’s injury, although Rivers said that sitting out practice was “the only choice to make” to get him ready to play in a game the Chargers have to win if they’re going to continue pushing for the playoffs through the final week of the regular season. It won’t be easy without wide receiver Keenan Allen while facing a strong defense after two down weeks on offense, but  it’s a better prospect than playing with Kellen Clemens by a pretty wide margin.

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Titans coach complains about calls against Jaguars

New York Jets v Tennessee Titans Getty Images

When you’re one of the worst teams in the league, and you lose to one of the teams you were tied with for that honor, there has to be a reason.

Naturally, it was the officials who doomed the Titans last night, as they lost to the mighty Jaguars.

Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said it was no coincidence that Jags quarterback Blake Bortles was able to scramble and continue drives, finishing the night with 50 rushing yards.

They were holding the crap out of us on our defensive lineman when the quarterback got out of the pocket and we didn’t get a call,” Whisenhunt said, via Jim Wyatt of the Tennesseean. “That was very frustrating.”

Defensive lineman Jurrell Casey took a more responsible approach.

“There were a couple of times I got held,” Casey said, “but at the end of the day you have to get off the blocks and keep him contained. You have to collapse the pocket and not let him escape.”

When you’re 2-13 and playing out the string with Clipboard Jesus, I suppose it’s the kind of thing you latch onto.

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Sheldon Richardson: I’m on same level as top defensive linemen

New York Jets v Minnesota Vikings Getty Images

Positives for the Jets have been few and far between this season, but defensive end Sheldon Richardson is at the top of that very short list.

Richardson won the defensive rookie of the year award last season and has continued to be a force up front for the Jets this season with 6.5 sacks and stout play against the run. That’s left him feeling like he deserves Pro Bowl consideration and a place alongside the best defensive linemen in the league, including the only defensive lineman in years to get his name mentioned in MVP talk.

J.J. Watt, he’s got a few more sacks than me, but it’s the same type of disruption,” Richardson said, via ESPN.com. “He’s a little more active, I’ll give you that, but we have the same type of determination, same heart, same skills. He scores touchdowns, I score touchdowns.”

Richardson scored two touchdowns as a goal-line back last season, but hasn’t had any this season. That’s not the only place a comparison to Watt goes awry this season as he’s pretty far beyond comparison this season. Once you get past him, though, Richardson’s belief that he’s on the same level with the best linemen in the game gets a little bit easier to swallow.

Some of those linemen have earned big contracts, but Richardson is going to wait a while for that payday. The 2013 first-round pick will be heading into his third season, which means that the Jets have at least three more years with Richardson under their control. That gives them time before they’ll have to pony up with a big extension and it gives Richardson time to make comparisons with the likes of Watt a little less of stretch.

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Stop the presses: Rob Gronkowski is growing up

New England Patriots Practice Getty Images

For a guy who was on a television cooking show making sausage jokes this week, it’s odd to hear people talk about the “mature” Rob Gronkowski.

But teammates and coaches say the fun-loving Gronk might actually be turning into an adult.

He’s grown up a lot over the last five years,” Brady said, via Tom Curran of CSNNE.com. “It’s been a lot of fun to see it. His football IQ and understanding of what it takes to be a professional and consistently and dependably be that type of player for our offense that he’s become, has been fun to see.”

Fun Gronk we get. Mature Gronk is going to take some getting used to, but Patriots coach Bill Belichick said it takes time to realize.

“If you meet Rob for 10 or 15 minutes, you might get an impression that may or may not be what it’s like to have him in your office, in a classroom and on the field for six, seven hours a day,” Belichick said. “It might be a little bit different potentially.”

Gronkowski said back issues that plagued him in college and injuries at the pro level have taught him perspective.

“Without a doubt,” he said. “It could be taken away anytime. I’ve seen players come in at a young age and leave at a young age. You just gotta be prepared and perform to your best and be ready every day and don’t take anything for granted.”

Yeah, this is going to take some getting used to.

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Frank Gore puts in limited practice Thursday

San Francisco 49ers v Oakland Raiders Getty Images

The 49ers appear set to have at least one of their top two tailbacks in the lineup Saturday night against San Diego.

Veteran Frank Gore (concussion) went through a limited practice on Thursday, according to the injury report. Furthermore, head coach Jim Harbaugh indicated Gore was on schedule to play against the Chargers.

The 49ers’ all-time leading rusher, the 31-year-old Gore needs 229 yards to reach 11,000 for his career. He is an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. Gore paces the Niners (7-7) with 804 rushing yards on 204 carries.

While Gore appears to be progressing, rookie tailback Carlos Hyde (ankle) sat out a second straight practice Thursday. If Hyde were out, Alfonso Smith would be in line to back up Gore, with Phillip Tanner also in reserve.

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With win, Jaguars currently fourth in draft order

Kris Durham, Dwayne Gratz AP

The Titans’ 21-13 loss at Jacksonville puts Tennessee in the lead for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. The outcome also moves the Jaguars down the board to No. 4 overall. Both Jacksonville and Tennessee are guaranteed no worse than a top-six pick in Round One, which will be held April 30 in Chicago.

Here’s how the top 10 picks would look if the season ended today. All non-playoff teams are ordered by record, with each club’s strength of schedule (in parentheses) the first tiebreaker. The 12 playoff teams are seeded based on postseason results and their records.

1. Tennessee (2-13, .483).

2. Tampa Bay (2-12, .467).

3. Oakland (2-12, .571).

4. Jacksonville (3-12, .507).

5. Washington (3-11, .470).

6. N.Y. Jets (3-11, .533).

7. Atlanta (5-9, .495). ***

8. N.Y. Giants (5-9, .505).

9. Chicago (5-9, .513).

10. Carolina (5-8-1, .503). ***

*** — Atlanta and Carolina are still alive in the NFC South race. Neither would pick higher than 21st if the division winner.

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Jaguars players wear “I can’t breathe” shirts in pregame warm ups

Tennessee Titans v Jacksonville Jaguars Getty Images

Several members of the Jacksonville Jaguars joined the growing numbers of athletes making statements with their attire in pregame warm ups prior to Thursday night’s game against the Tennessee Titans.

According to Mike DiRocco of ESPN.com, defensive end Ryan Davis and receivers Cecil Shorts III, Marqise Lee, Ace Sanders and Allen Hurns all donned T-shirts with “I can’t breathe” written on them.

The message was in support of Eric Garner, a New Yorker who died after being put in a chokehold by police officers than attempted to subdue him in July.

Similar gestures have been made by Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers and others in recent weeks.

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Underclassmen requests for evaluation down 42 percent

Graduation Getty Images

There could be fewer underclassmen entering the 2015 draft than last year’s record throng of 102 who exited college football early.

A sharp drop in players seeking evaluations for early entry hints at an eventual drop in players choosing to enter early.  NFL executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent points out on Twitter that requests for early evaluation have dropped from 214 last year to 147 this year, a reduction of 42 percent.

If the eventual class of early entries drops by 42 percent, 59 players will choose to enter the draft with eligibility remaining.

Generally speaking, the NFL wants players to remain in college as long as possible, since that ensures a high degree of cooperation from college coaches who prefer to maximize the largely free services they receive.  For players who know with a high degree of confidence that they are ready for the NFL, it’s in the players’ best interests to leave.  An education can be obtained later; cartilage and tendons and other connective tissue, muscles, and bones have a finite shelf life.  Playing for the wholesale cost of an education (plus snacks!) risks the ability of the player to eventually play for as much money as he can earn.

And so the reduction in players seeking evaluations is bad news for those players who ultimately would be deemed to be definitely ready to enter the NFL.  Then again, the early evaluation process is inexact.  A far better system would allow players to make themselves eligible for the draft and then return to school, if they choose to try to enhance their draft stock via more play-for-no-pay.

It wouldn’t be a perfect system, but it would be far more fair than the crapshoot system currently in place, giving players the best possible information before deciding whether to convert their skills into cash.  After all, isn’t that why anyone goes to college in the first place?

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Jaguars earn 21-13 victory over Titans

Jacksonville Jaguars v Dallas Cowboys Getty Images

Jacksonville defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks sacked Tennessee quarterback Charlie Whitehurst to prevent a game-tying Hail Mary attempt as the Jaguars held on for a 21-13 victory over the Titans on Thursday night.

The sack by Marks also triggered a $600,000 contract bonus for having eight sacks in a season.

Jacksonville rushed for 177 yards against the Titans porous rush defense on the night with Toby Gerhart and Jordan Todman each finding the end zone for the Jaguars.

Whitehurst connected with Leon Washington for an 8-yard touchdown to cap a 12-play, 89-yard scoring drive on the opening possession of the game. Tennessee extended the lead to 10-0 in the second quarter with a 50-yard field goal by Ryan Succop.

Blake Bortles connected with Marcedes Lewis on a 4-yard touchdown just before halftime to get the Jaguars on the board. Jacksonville then scored on their first possession of the second half with Gerhart finding the end zone on a 1-yard run to give the Jaguars a 14-10 lead.

Gerhart left the game in the fourth quarter with a rib injury.

Todman then broke free and scampered for a 62-yard touchdown run with just over nine minutes to play as the Jaguars took a 21-10 lead over the Tennessee Titans in the fourth quarter. Todman’s lengthy touchdown run was the longest run in four years by a Jaguars player.

Tennessee managed to respond on their ensuing possession as a 39-yard pass from Charlie Whitehurst to Kendall Wright moved the Titans into Jacksonville territory. However, the drive stalled at the 5-yard line with Tennessee forced to settle for a 23-yard Ryan Succop field goal to pull within 21-13.

However, one final chance to tie the game came up short as Chris Clemons beat Titans left tackle Jamon Meredith around the edge, forcing Whitehurst into Marks before he could send a Hail Mary try toward the end zone.

Whitehurst finished 24 of 35 for 287 yards and a touchdown for the Titans.

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Raiders now have NFL’s longest underdog streak

Oakland Raiders at St. Louis Rams Getty Images

With the Jaguars closing as favorites vs. the Titans on Thursday night, 31-of-32 teams have been favored by oddsmakers this season.

The lone exception is the Raiders, who have been underdogs in 22 consecutive regular-season games. They were one-point favorites vs. Philadelphia on November 3, 2013, a game they lost 49-20. The Raiders’ underdog streak is poised to extend to 23 games; the Bills are 6.5-point favorites at Oakland on Sunday.

Moreover, it’s likely the Raiders will go the entire 2014 season without being favored. They finish out the campaign at Denver (11-3) on December 28.

While the Raiders have been consistent underdogs, they haven’t been pushovers against the point spread. They are 7-7 against the number, per “The Linemakers” of Sporting News. That’s the same point spread record as Denver, which has been favored in 12-of-14 games entering Week 16.

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Jaguars holding onto lead after 62-yard Jordan Todman touchdown run

Tennessee Titans v Jacksonville Jaguars Getty Images

Jacksonville running back Jordan Todman broke free and scampered for a 62-yard touchdown run as the Jaguars took a 21-10 lead over the Tennessee Titans in the fourth quarter.

The Jaguars took the lead on their first possession of the second half. Jacksonville marched 72 yards on 11 plays with Toby Gerhart scoring on a 1-yard touchdown run to take a 14-10 lead.

Todman’s lengthy touchdown run with nine minutes left to play gave the Jaguars a two-score lead. It was the longest run in four years by a Jaguars player.

Tennessee managed to respond on their ensuing possession as a 39-yard pass from Charlie Whitehurst to Kendall Wright moved the Titans into Jacksonville territory. However, the drive stalled at the 5-yard line with Tennessee forced to settle for a 23-yard Ryan Succop field goal to pull within 21-13.

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Golden Tate excited for Jimmy Clausen to get another starting opportunity

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Detroit Lions receiver Golden Tate is happy his former college quarterback, Jimmy Clausen, is getting another opportunity to start in the NFL for the Chicago Bears

It just so happens that start will come as Clausen’s Bears will take on Tate’s Lions this week.

According to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Tate feels Clausen didn’t get a fair chance to prove what he can do as a starting quarterback in the NFL after being selected in the second round out of the University of Notre Dame by the Carolina Panthers in 2010.

“I think it was unfair when he was in Carolina,” Tate said. “He wasn’t on a great team and being a rookie, the next year, they draft Cam Newton, so he sits as a No. 3 because Derek Anderson was the No. 2. They wouldn’t let him go, so he couldn’t even get an opportunity to prove himself.”

Tate said he sent Clausen texts congratulating him for getting a chance and said he hopes Clausen plays well, to a certain extent.

“I believe in him and I’m hoping that he makes the best of his opportunity for his last two games,” Tate said. “In a perfect world he would play well and throw no touchdowns and we will win.”

Clausen stated 10 games for the Panthers in 2010 for a team that finished 2-14 on the year. He completed just 52.5 percent of his passes for 1,558 yards with three touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also fumbled nine times, losing two. The Panthers went 1-9 with Clausen as their starting quarterback.

Clausen had not played in the previous three seasons before getting signed by the Bears this offseason. He’s appeared in three games in limited duty this season for Chicago, completing 3 of 9 passes for 42 yards.

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Week 16 skill-position injury report — Thursday

A.J. Green, Ike Taylor AP

The following skill-position players were on Thursday’s injury report. Key fantasy starters are bolded. All information was furnished by the NFL:

DID NOT PARTICIPATE

49ers RB Carlos Hyde (ankle).

49ers WR Stevie Johnson (ankle).

Bears PK Robbie Gould (right quadricep).

Bears WR Alshon Jeffery (not injury related).

Bengals WR A.J. Green (toe).

Bengals WR James Wright (knee).

Broncos RB Juwan Thompson (hip, knee).

Browns WR Andrew Hawkins (illness).

Chargers RB Ryan Mathews (ankle).

Chargers WR Keenan Allen (ankle/shoulder).

Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe (illness).

Colts WR T.Y. Hilton (hamstring).

Dolphins RB Daniel Thomas (knee).

Eagles QB Nick Foles (collarbone).

Falcons WR Julio Jones (hip).

Giants RB Rashad Jennings (ankle).

Raiders TE Brian Leonhardt (concussion).

Raiders WR Denarius Moore (knee, ankle).

Raiders WR Vincent Brown (groin).

Ravens TE Owen Daniels (not injury related),.

Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch (back).

Seahawks TE Tony Moeaki (shoulder).

Seahawks WR Paul Richardson (hamstring).

Steelers TE Matt Spaeth (elbow).

Steelers WR Markus Wheaton (illness).

Texans QB Tom Savage (knee).

Texans TE Garrett Graham (ankle).

Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins (ankle).

LIMITED

49ers RB Frank Gore (concussion).

49ers WR Michael Crabtree (knee).

Bills K Dan Carpenter (right groin).

Bills TE Chris Gragg (knee).

Bills WR Marcus Thigpen (foot).

Broncos QB Peyton Manning (thigh).

Broncos RB Ronnie Hillman (foot).

Broncos TE Jacob Tamme (ribs).

Browns TE Gary Barnidge (rib).

Browns WR Marlon Moore (knee).

Buccaneers WR Solomon Patton (foot).

Cardinals QB Drew Stanton (knee).

Cardinals RB Kerwynn Williams (knee).

Cardinals WR Jaron Brown (toe).

Chargers TE Ladarius Green (concussion/ankle).

Chiefs TE Anthony Fasano (knee).

Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray (hand).

Dolphins TE Charles Clay (hamstring).

Falcons WR Harry Douglas (foot).

Falcons WR Roddy White (knee)

Jets WR Percy Harvin (ankle).

Jets WR Saalim Hakim (quadricep).

Packers RB Eddie Lacy (eye).

Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams (hand).

Patriots RB LeGarrette Blount (shoulder).

Patriots RB Shane Vereen (ankle).

Patriots WR Brandon LaFell (shoulder).

Patriots WR Julian Edelman (thigh, concussion).

Texans RB Arian Foster (hip).

Vikings RB Matt Asiata (foot).

Vikings WR Greg Jennings (hamstring).

FULL

Bengals TE Jermaine Gresham (toe).

Bills RB Anthony Dixon (chest).

Broncos RB C.J. Anderson (ankle).

Broncos TE Julius Thomas (ankle).

Broncos WR Cody Latimer (concussion).

Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas (ankle).

Buccaneers RB Bobby Rainey (wrist).

Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald (knee).

Chargers QB Philip Rivers (chest/back).

Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles (knee, ankle).

Colts WR Joshua Cribbs (not injury related).

Cowboys QB Tony Romo (back).

Eagles K Cody Parkey (right groin).

Eagles RB Chris Polk (ankle).

Eagles TE Brent Celek (neck).

Eagles WR Jordan Matthews (knee).

Jaguars QB Cam Newton (back).

Jets K Nick Folk (right hip).

Jets RB Chris Johnson (knee).

Lions WR Calvin Johnson (ankle).

Patriots QB Tom Brady (ankle)

Raiders QB Derek Carr (right thumb).

Ravens RB Bernard Pierce (back).

Ravens WR Jacoby Jones (illness).

Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger (not injury related).

Steelers TE Heath Miller (not injury related).

Texans WR Andre Johnson (concussion).

Washington TE Jordan Reed (not injury related).

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