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Lions are playoff bound, Chargers and Norv Turner are done

Eric Weddle, Dante Hughes, Nate Burleson AP

For the first time since 1999, the Detroit Lions are in the playoffs.

The Lions’ 38-10 victory over the Chargers at Ford Field gives them their 10th win of the season — most since 1995, way back when Barry Sanders was still wearing a Lions uniform — and clinches one of the two NFC wild card spots. For a Detroit franchise that has been through more than its fair share of terrible football, this was their most meaningful win since they last won a playoff game, in 1991.

The loss ends the Chargers’ playoff hopes and likely will cost head coach Norv Turner his job. Reports this week suggested that Chargers owner Dean Spanos was impressed with the way Turner had the team peaking late in the season, but Spanos couldn’t have been happy to see how flat the Chargers came out today.

Detroit’s passing game got out of the gate so fast that San Diego’s defense never caught up. The first play from scrimmage was a 46-yard pass from Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson, and after that the Chargers’ defense was so worried about Megatron beating them deep that they were leaving the middle of the field wide open all day. As a result, Lions tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler both had big games.

The Lions jumped out to a 24-0 halftime lead, but Philip Rivers shook off a slow start and brought the Chargers back to life, closing the gap to 24-10 in the third quarter. But Stafford, who had an outstanding game, responded by marching the Lions down the field on a nine-play, 80-yard drive that culminated in a Kevin Smith touchdown and essentially put the game away. A couple of late Rivers interceptions, including one that Cliff Avril returned for a touchdown, removed any doubt that the Lions were the better team today.

As a wild card, the Lions will be on the road in the playoffs, and their high-powered passing game may be particularly vulnerable if they’re playing a bad-weather game in January. But that concern is for another day. This Christmas, the Lions have given Detroit fans their best gift in a long, long time.

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Belichick, Brady haven’t been interviewed by NFL yet

Brady AP

Two weeks ago, the NFL began its investigation regarding whether the Patriots deliberately underinflated footballs prior to or during the AFC title game.  In the past 14 days, the NFL has not yet interviewed Patriots coach Bill Belichick or Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

Per a league source, neither man has yet to be questioned.  Presumably, both will be, eventually.

Ten days ago, Brady told reporters he had not yet spoken to the league about the situation.  Belichick has not yet been asked that question publicly.

On one hand, it’s a surprise that Belichick and Brady weren’t the immediate focus of the investigation.  On the other hand, investigations of this nature don’t start at the top and work their way down — they start at the bottom and work their way up.

Of course, it’s also possible to start at the top, lock in the stories of the key participants, and then continue from the bottom up.  Given that Belichick and Brady have both spoken publicly (Brady also was interviewed by NBC’s Bob Costas, in an item that will air during Sunday’s pregame show), their stories already are locked in, to a certain extent.

At some point after the Super Bowl, their stories will be locked in even more thoroughly by independent investigator Ted Wells.

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NFL has retained experts to conduct air pressure experiments


In the aftermath of last Saturday’s My Cousin Vinny press conference from Patriots coach Bill Belichick, scientists throughout America have chimed in on whether Belichick’s Mother Nature-based explanation of reduced football air pressure makes sense.

Ultimately, the NFL will decide whether the theory offered by Belichick holds water.

Per a league source, the NFL has retained multiple experts to conduct experiments regarding the effects of temperature and other atmospheric conditions on internal football air pressure.  The experts also will work directly with the Patriots to simulate all football preparation procedures, including the “rubbing” to which Belichick referred last Saturday, and on which he blamed a change in air pressure.

The involvement of outside experts partially contributes to the anticipated duration of the investigation, which Ted Wells has said will last several weeks.  And while some will claim that the NFL is merely looking for a way to exonerate the Patriots, the league has entered uncharted waters on this one, which makes it critical to fully rule out all possible explanations other than tampering before punishing the Patriots in any way.

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Consensus Super Bowl line moves to pick ‘em as Seattle money shows up

Super Bowl Betting AP

For most of the two weeks of Super Bowl XLIX betting, the Patriots were slight point spread favorites.

But that has changed.

Numerous Nevada sports books now make Sunday’s Super Bowl between New England and Seattle a pick ‘em, according to multiple websites monitoring line movement.

A pair of oddsmakers told PFT that weekend money on defending Super Bowl-champion Seattle has pushed them to move the point spread.

“We had a good amount of volume on the Seahawks last night,” said Jay Rood, the vice president of race and sports at MGM Resorts International, in an email message Sunday. MGM had listed New England as a one-point favorite for the previous 11 days before moving to pick ‘em Saturday night, per line movement charting.

Jay Kornegay, who oversees the lines at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, described the weekend betting on Seattle as “consistent.”

“It’s not an overflow of Seattle money but it certainly has balanced the game compared to last weekend,” Kornegay told PFT in an email Sunday. “Speaking with a few other [sports book] directors, it’s going to be a very balanced game.”

The SuperBook now lists Seattle as a one-point favorite, as do the CG Technology books in Nevada, per

However, not all sports books have gone to pick ‘em or Seattle -1. Wynn Las Vegas continues to deal New England -1.

No Super Bowl has ever closed as a consensus pick ‘em, per records.

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Bruce Arians: We’ll be dressing in 49ers locker room this time next year

Bruce Arians AP

The Cardinals lost to the Panthers in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, leaving them a couple of steps short of becoming the first team to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium.

Coach Bruce Arians has already set a new goal for next season and shared it after he was named the NFL’s top coach for the second time in the last three seasons. It involves playing in the home of another NFC team when the 49ers host the Super Bowl at Levi’s Stadium this time next year.

“We’re dressing in their locker room,” Arians said, via the team’s website. “We can write it down today.”

Confidence is nothing new from Arians, who never wavered in his belief that the Cardinals could win the Super Bowl this year even as they lost several key players to season-ending injuries. Predictions for next season are a fool’s errand at this point, but getting some of those players back and the continued presence of Arians on the sideline are good reasons to think the Cardinals can be a winning team again next year.

And if they do make good on Arians’ prediction, they may just permanently etch his name on that coaching trophy. To hear more about what Arians thinks needs to happen for the Cardinals to play in Santa Clara a year after the Seahawks dress in their lockers, check out his appearance on PFT Live from Arizona last week.

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Marvin Harrison happy Tim Brown made Hall, but T.O. up next

Jerome Bettis, Tim Brown AP

There’s a measure of disappointment for every Hall of Fame finalist who doesn’t make it to Canton.

But for former Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison, there was at least the relief that another prolific wideout made it.

Harrison told Mike Chappell of WRTV 6 in Indianapolis that he was happy for former Raiders receiver/return man Tim Brown finally making it.

I’m ecstatic that Tim Brown got in,” Harrison said. “I’m glad he doesn’t have to wait and go through this another year. Tim Brown is the man. Tim Brown, in my opinion, should have been in there five years ago. That’s just my opinion.

“Now my night is made. I’m cool. I’m a happy camper. Tim Brown is in the Hall of Fame. That’s more important than anything going on right now. I like Tim Brown as a person. I love Tim Brown as a player. At least he got in.”

The reality is, with 15 finalists and five spots each year, roughly 10 deserving guys get left out this year.

The next issue for Harrison is whether he gets leapfrogged by another modern wideout with eye-popping stats.

When wide receiver Terrell Owens joins the list of eligible receivers next year, Harrison may have a harder time getting in that he did this this.

Consider, Owens has 1,078 receptions (sixth all-time) for 15,934 yards (second) and 153 touchdowns (third).

Harrison has 1,102 receptions (third all-time) for 14,580 yards (seventh) and 128 touchdowns (fifth).

That could make next year’s meeting another long wait for Harrison, who survived the cut from 15 to 10 this year but failed to make the final five.

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Geno Smith ready for a “very, very vital offseason”

New York Jets v Miami Dolphins Getty Images

The new Jets coaching staff will start holding meetings to plan for the offseason next week and the quarterback position is sure to be a topic for discussion.

Geno Smith said Saturday that he’s expecting to have competition in the form of a high draft pick or other acquisition in what’s a “very, very vital offseason” in terms of establishing himself as an NFL starter. One edge that Smith has on that competition is that he knows he’s going to be on the Jets in 2015. Smith said he’s started watching tapes of offensive coordinator Chan Gailey’s past offenses, some of which have used spread looks familiar to Smith from his college days.

“The familiarity with it will help,” Smith said, via the New York Post. “I don’t know what the ins-and-outs of his offense is, but I can’t wait to get back into it and learn it and develop timing with the guys. I’ll try and learn as much as I can without actually having the playbook.”

Smith said he doesn’t think this is his “last chance,” but there’s a good chance that three strikes will mean the same for Smith in football as they would in baseball.

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Pete Carroll to Seahawks: Have fun with the opportunity

Pete Carroll AP

During a joint Friday press conference, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll differed from Patriots coach Bill Belichick when he said that the Super Bowl experiences over the last two years have “been nothing but fun.”

It’s the same message that Carroll sent to his team on Saturday night in Arizona.

A member of the Seahawks told Albert Breer of NFL Media that Carroll was the “same ole Pete” while addressing the team the night before their attempt to repeat as Super Bowl champions. The coach told his players that they should have fun with the opportunity that sits in front of them on Sunday and play loose in pursuit of a second straight title.

Those have been big parts of the consistent message Carroll’s sent since he returned to the NFL with the Seahawks and they’ve worked out awfully well for him thus far. If it works out again on Sunday night, there probably won’t be any reminders needed to have fun with the moment.

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Report: Falcons alleged to have piped in crowd noise, NFL discipline “expected”

Pittsburgh Steelers v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

Did the Falcons use canned crowd noise to make the Georgia Dome louder as opposing teams were on offense?

According to a broadcast report, the Falcons are alleged to have done so — and now could face NFL discipline.

On ESPN’s Postseason NFL Countdown, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the Falcons are alleged to have played “artificial” crowd noise as the opposition had the ball in 2013 and 2014. It’s unclear what specific games the allegations span.

According to Schefter, the Falcons’ alleged actions are “expected” to result in NFL discipline, including a fine and even the potential loss of a draft pick for the practice.

The Falcons have cooperated with the NFL’s investigation, the team told ESPN.

According to the report, the Falcons’ game operations department is alleged to have “originated” the noise plan.

The focus now turns to the league’s findings. If the crowd noise allegations are proven and considered a violation of game integrity by the NFL, the Falcons would not figure to get off easily or quietly, given the climate.

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Report: Seahawks offer Marshawn Lynch sizable extension

Marshawn Lynch AP

Seahawks General Manager John Schneider said this week that he “kind of” loves running back Marshawn Lynch’s act and the team is reportedly looking to make sure the act keeps running in Seattle.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that the Seahawks have offered Lynch a big contract extension that would keep him with the team for “years to come.” Lynch would reportedly stand to make more than $10 million in 2015 under the extension, a big raise from the current $5 million salary on the books in the final year of his four-year deal.

Lynch held himself out of team work briefly in the offseason and returned to work after getting a slight salary bump, which helped fuel speculation about 2014 being his final year with the team. Lynch had another huge season with 1,306 rushing yards and 17 total touchdowns, though, and added a great NFC Championship game performance that makes thoughts of parting ways with him anytime soon harder to fathom.

Talks have been going on for a few weeks according to Rapoport and the Seahawks are also expected to have talks about an extension for quarterback Russell Wilson as they work to keep a very successful band together.

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Calvin Johnson: I’ll do whatever I can to keep Suh in Detroit

Wild Card Playoffs - Detroit Lions v Dallas Cowboys Getty Images

Once the final seconds ticked off of their playoff loss to the Cowboys and kicked off their offseason, the Lions’ thoughts turned to defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

Suh is set to become a free agent next month if the Lions don’t sign him to a long-term contract or franchise tag him at a potential cost of $26.9 million. Wide receiver Calvin Johnson would like to avoid that possibility and pledged to help the team out in their attempt to hold onto one of the league’s best defensive players.

“I’ll do whatever I got to do,” Johnson said, via the Detroit Free Press.

That could take the form of direct appeals to Suh or a contract restructuring that frees up more money in the short term with Johnson set to account for a little more than $20 million of the team’s 2015 cap space. However things play out with Johnson, the Lions’ decisions with Suh will be a big part of setting the course for the offseason in Detroit and elsewhere since Suh’s address for 2015 is one of the biggest dominoes to fall on the way to next season.

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Sunday morning one-liners

Shad Khan AP

Running through the Bills’ connections to this year’s Super Bowl.

Dolphins General Manager Dennis Hickey won the executive award at the Steinberg DeNicola Humanitarian Awards.

DE Rob Ninkovich has done whatever’s necessary to carve out a productive career with the Patriots.

Jets head coach Todd Bowles was named the league’s top assistant for the 2014 season.

What is CB Lardarius Webb’s future with the Ravens?

Breaking down the Hall of Fame candidacy of former Bengals QB Ken Anderson.

Questions about WR Josh Gordon will be part of the Browns offseason.

The Steelers secondary should have a different look next season.

Texans DE J.J. Watt had the best showing by a defensive player in MVP voting since the voting pool expanded to 50 people.

The Colts are celebrating Bill Polian’s election to the Hall of Fame.

Count Jaguars owner Shad Khan among those in favor of a larger playoff field.

Titans CB Jason McCourty wants the Super Bowl experiences his brother has enjoyed with the Patriots.

Bum Phillips continues to be an influence on son Wade Phillips as he takes over the Broncos Defense.

Hall of Famer Will Shields’ impact on Kansas City went beyond his play for the Chiefs.

Late Raiders icon Al Davis was remembered by Ron Wolf after Wolf was elected to the Hall of Fame.

Kevin Acee of U-T San Diego was missing having former Chargers LB Junior Seau present when his election to the 2015 Hall of Fame class was announced.

Said Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray of being named the NFL Offensive Player of the Year, “It’s definitely an honor to receive that award. Obviously I got the award, but a lot of the success and everything has to go to the offensive line and coach [Scott] Linehan and coach [Gary] Brown and the entire team, and the work they put in alongside with me.”

Giants WR Victor Cruz continues to make progress in his rehab from a torn patellar tendon.

What can the Eagles take from the Patriots?

Timmy Smith and Doug Williams are among the biggest Super Bowl heroes in Redskins history.

WWE wrestlers think Bears QB Jay Cutler could have a future in their ring.

Lions QB Matthew Stafford will miss C Dominic Raiola.

LB Clay Matthews discussed the injuries that sidelined him for part of the Packers’ loss in the NFC title game.

The Vikings shouldn’t have a hard time seeing the benefits of a power running game.

Will the Falcons be looking for a running back in the draft?

Panthers LB Thomas Davis called the Walter Payton Man of the Year award the biggest honor in his career.

Former Saints K Morten Andersen fell short of the Hall of Fame again.

Candidates with ties to the Buccaneers failed to earn enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.

Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald has no idea what will happen in talks with the team about his status for 2015.

Breaking down NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s comments about the Rams and their future in St. Louis.

Ten things the 49ers can do to improve their chances of getting to the Super Bowl next year.

The Seahawks bring a simpler approach to their game than the Patriots.

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Field in great shape for Super Bowl XLIX

Field AP

There was concern among the teams who in fewer than 12 hours will be playing in Super Bowl XLIX that the grass field at University of Phoenix Stadium (home of the only undefeated college football team in American history) would be in rough shape after:  (1) the Pro Bowl last Sunday; and (2) rehearsals for tonight’s halftime show.

Per a high-ranking official with one of the teams that will square off there tonight, the field is considered to be in excellent condition, especially in light of the recent usages of it.

During Saturday rehearsals for the NBC pregame show, the perimeter of the playing surface seemed to be soft and fully covered with thick grass, unlike so many of the grass fields that develop conspicuous bare patches.  Some field, like University of Phoenix Stadium in 2013, have displayed bare patches even early in the season.

As a result, neither team will be able to claim that the balls weren’t fully inflated, and neither team will be able to blame any poor performances on the large sliding tray of earth under their feet.

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Giants matriarch Ann Mara dies at 85

annmara AP

Ann Mara, who spent six decades as an influential figure on the New York Giants, has died at the age of 85.

Mara, who married the late Giants owner Wellington Mara in 1954, passed away early this morning after spending the last two weeks in the hospital.

“I am sad to say that our mother has passed away,” Giants President and CEO John Mara said in a statement. “She has been the leader of our family in every way, and we will miss her dearly. She slipped in front of her home during the ice storm two weeks ago. She had been in the hospital since the following day, initially due to a head injury she suffered in her fall. After a few days, we were hopeful for her recovery, although we knew it would be a long road back. Unfortunately, there were complications. She loved her family, and all of us were able to spend time with her in these final days. All 11 of her children and our spouses and numerous grandchildren were with her when she passed away.”

Ann Mara used to talk about how she embraced the sports that her husband loved, although she was also a Giants fan before she met Wellington.

“Our dates were at Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden and the Fordham gymnasium. That was my courtship,” she said.

Although her husband and her son were more directly involved in the team’s football operations, Ann Mara took a strong interest in the welfare of the team. Just weeks ago, at the Giants’ end-of-year press conference, John Mara said his mom gets frustrated when the Giants miss the playoffs “probably even more so than I do.”

The Giants will miss that passion, and the NFL will miss one of its most influential women.

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49ers add three defensive coaches

Arizona Cardinals v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

The 49ers continue to add former defensive coordinators to their coaching staff.

Eric Mangini will run the defense with the help of three assistants who used to have the same responsibilities. Former Raiders coordinator Jason Tarver will be coaching the outside linebackers and Alex Marvez of FOX Sports reports that Clancy Pendergast and Tim Lewis will be joining him on the staff. Pendergast will be coaching the inside linebackers while Lewis works with the defensive backs.

Pendergast was the defensive coordinator for the Cardinals from 2004-2008 and then with the Chiefs in 2009 before dropping to the college ranks to run defenses at Cal and USC. Lewis was the defensive backs coach in Atlanta since 2010 and ran defenses for both the Steelers and Giants early in the 2000s before moving back to being a position coach.

Marvez also reports that the 49ers will make Scott Brown their defensive line coach. Brown was a college assistant coach before joining the 49ers as a midwest regional scout in 2012 so he’ll be transitioning back to an old role.

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Dan Rooney: Pittsburgh Super Bowl “should happen”

Indianapolis Colts v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

The NFL returned to Glendale for this year’s Super Bowl, but they’ll be taking the game to Santa Clara for the first time next year and Commissioner Roger Goodell has talked about his desire to get the game “to as many communities as possible” in the future.

Steelers president Art Rooney II said last year that he wanted Pittsburgh to be in the mix for the game in the future. Rooney’s father feels the same way. Team chairman Dan Rooney said he hasn’t spoken to Goodell directly, but that people from the team have spoken to the league to relay his message.

“Yeah, I think it should happen,” Rooney said, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “As of last year, the (New York) Giants have had one. There have been games in Minnesota and Detroit, places like that. So now you think about it. Of course, you’ll have a lot of teams in the Northeast that will want one, but I think Pittsburgh would be a good place for the next one in the North.”

The size of Heinz Field, which is being expanded to 67,440 seats, and number of hotel rooms in Pittsburgh are potential stumbling blocks, although the league picked Minneapolis for the 2018 game despite the city pledging less than the 30,000 hotel rooms the league has said they look for in a host city.

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