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Special Monday 10-pack: Winners and losers in free agency

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Only six days ago, the free-agent market opened.  One of the biggest classes of veteran players, with some of the biggest names, landed on the market.

Apart from the Peyton chase, much of the dust has settled.

And so now we’re required by the laws of football analysis to tell you who won and who lost, even though we won’t really know the answer until they start playing games.

Which, you know, will feature winners and losers.

1. Winner:  Eagles.

Last year, with a compressed offseason and a new defensive coordinator who had been an offensive line coach for 14 prior seasons, the Eagles foolishly embarked on a spending spree, bringing in a bunch of big-name players and setting the stage for a Wonderlic pick-sixer blurting out the dreaded “Dream Team” label.

Apart from the challenge of getting a bunch of new employees on the same page quickly, the move surely caused some of the men already under contract to wonder why they weren’t getting a share of the free-agency windfall.

This year, the Eagles have focused on taking care of their own, which is a much better way to ensure that a true spirit of team will take over the locker room.

Perhaps most importantly, the Eagles have set the stage for receiver DeSean Jackson to turn back the clock to 2009, when he wasn’t concerned about staying healthy and/or getting paid.  The Eagles have addressed those concerns via a long-term deal that, in comparison to some of the too-heavy contracts given to lesser receivers and in light of Jackson’s rocky recent history, looks like a win-win.

Maybe that means “win” will be a more common term in the term’s vocabulary this season.

2.  Winner:  Packers.

G.M. Ted Thompson rarely makes a big splash in free agency.  The biggest exception came in 2006, when at the very public urging of quarterback Brett Favre the team signed cornerback Charles Woodson.

Other than that, the Packers under Thompson take a very conservative approach, building through the draft and using free agency on a limited basis, with low-cost talent addressing specific needs.

It’s not sexy this time of year.  But this isn’t the time of year when championships are won.  Unlike downtrodden organizations (such as the Packers themselves in 1993, when Reggie White chose Green Bay from a long list of suitors), the Packers don’t need to do anything to fire up the fan base or breathe life into the franchise.

It’s the right approach for this specific team.  The Packers have won, once again, by doing nothing.

3.  Winner:  Bills.

Speaking of downtrodden organizations, no team needed a big-ticket free agent like Mario Williams more than the Bills.  And they went all in, pulling out all the stops and persuading Williams to spend two nights in town and eventually getting the job done.

It gives Buffalo and the Bills a major boost, igniting intense local interest and legitimate national attention.  It also makes good football sense; defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt now has a player around whom the team’s new 4-3 defense can be built.

It wasn’t cheap, and it may prove to be a mistake.  But it was a risk the Bills needed to make if they ever hope to become relevant again.

4.  Winner:  Patriots.

At first, it looked like the Pats would follow the Pack’s “closed for business” approach to the early days of free agency.  But with needs at receiver, they’ve added a player in Brandon Lloyd who’ll have a far bigger impact than Chad Ochocinco (then again, the bar is low), and they’ve given Wes Welker a little cause for concern by landing a candidate to play slot receiver in Anthony Gonzalez.

They’ve also addressed an area of need on defense, adding the once-promising Trevor Scott to the rotation of recently underachieving pass rushers.

The Pats could still use a true deep threat to clear out all the underneath traffic.  But even if Lloyd is the biggest addition, the team that nearly won the Super Bowl in 2011 will be contending again in 2012.

5.  Winner:  Chiefs.

Yes, they were denied admission to the Peyton chase.  But let’s not forget that, despite all the dysfunction and key injuries of 2011, the Chiefs weren’t far away from winning the weakest division in the NFL.

Unlike most teams, the Chiefs found bargains even before the market softened, adding running back Peyton Hillis to a one-year, fire-under-butt-lighting $2.6 million contract, tight end Kevin Boss for three years and $9 million, right tackle Eric Winston, and backup quarterback Brady Quinn.

Hillis and Quinn played for offensive coordinator Brian Daboll in Cleveland, adding some familiarity to the new Romeo Crennel regime.  Winston addresses a key area of need, and Boss gives the Chiefs a second pass-catching tight end, which apparently is now a mandatory requirement for any team that hopes to be highly successful in the passing game.

Next up, don’t be surprised if Crennel lures another former Brown to Kansas City, with linebacker Kamerion Wimbley on the market.

6.  Loser:  Dolphins.

Peter King of SI.com chronicles a decade of bizarre personnel moves by the Dolphins, but the organization is now developing another troubling reputation:  anyone with options won’t opt for Miami.

It began last year with owner Stephen Ross clumsily pursuing coach Jim Harbaugh, which painted a vivid picture of disloyalty to coach Tony Sparano.  It continued in 2012 when Ross tried, and failed, to lure coach Jeff Fisher to town.  And it spread to the ranks of players in 2012, with Peyton Manning showing tepid interest at best in joining the team (even though some believed it was a done deal that he’d be a Dolphin).  Then, Matt Flynn’s decision to play for the Seahawks instead of former Packers coordinator/Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin did more than raise eyebrows — especially when followed by Steelers safety Ryan Clark proclaiming that “no one” wants to play for the Dolphins.

It’s possible that Philbin simply wasn’t all that interested in Flynn, and that Philbin knows  Flynn’s pair of high-end performances (one in 2010 and one in 2011) won’t translate to being an effective week-in, week-out starter, once opposing defenses have a chance to study enough of his film and figure him out.  If that’s the case, the Dolphins shouldn’t have even brought him to town for a visit.  By doing so, it creates the impression that they wanted him — and that yet again they failed to get their man.

Correct or not, there’s now a perception that no one of significant consequence wants to work for the Dolphins.  And the harder Ross tries to turn the page by making a “big splash,” the more likely it is that he’ll continue to swing the bat and hit himself in the face with it.

7.  Loser:  Saints.

With Bountygate lingering, the Saints had even more reason to work out a new, long-term deal with Drew Brees.  And yet the Saints continue to fail to find a middle ground with their franchise quarterback.

There’s a chance Brees simply wants too much.  But here’s the problem:  He deserves it.  The best NFL quarterback of the last six years, if he wants to max out his contract, then he should.

And as to the idea that he needs to leave some money behind so that the Saints can field a competitive team given the salary cap, here’s one important point:  It never stopped the Colts from being competitive when Peyton got every last dollar he could.

And while it’s good that the Saints kept receiver Marques Colston, they lost Robert Meachem.  And while it’s good that they lured Ben Grubbs away from Baltimore, the lost Carl Nicks.

More importantly, they’ve yet to do anything to address needs on defense, which could become even more significant once the suspensions come down.

8.  Loser:  Vikings.

Good teams can afford to sit on the sidelines in the early days of free agency.  The Vikings are not a good team.

With plenty of cap room and a tenuous stadium situation and a fan base that may choose to do things other than attend or watch Vikings games this season, the franchise needed to make a splash.  Not a Mario Williams cannonball; but something more significant than a John Carlson dog paddle.

It’s doesn’t mean the Vikings should go hog wild.  But they should have made it a priority to land one big-name player, even if it meant overpaying a little.

The offseason is about selling hope.  Teams like the Packers, Patriots, Giants, and Steelers can afford to do nothing in March; the hope is implied.  For teams that have fallen, March is an opportunity to prove that they’re at least trying to get up.

9.  Loser:  Ravens.

The Ravens had four players in the PFT Hot 100 free-agency list.  Three already have bolted for greener pastures:  defensive end Cory Redding, linebacker Jarret Johnson, and guard Ben Grubbs.

To make matters worse, guard Evan Mathis opted to stay with the Dream Team in lieu of joining a team that, on paper, seems to have a better chance of making its dreams come true.

Then there’s the lingering possibility that someone will make restricted free agent cornerback Lardarius Webb an offer the Ravens can’t afford to match.

Though there’s a long way to go before September, it’s hard not to think that, at least for now, the Ravens have faded a bit closer to the pack in the AFC.

10.  Loser:  Bengals.

By capping 2011 with an unlikely playoff berth, it can’t be said that Paul Brown Stadium routinely was less than full due to the fact that the team was bad.  Instead, the fan base is fed up with owner Mike Brown.

Even though the team is laying a solid foundation of youthful players, Bengals fans think it’s not because of Brown but in spite of him.  And with a huge cap surplus for 2012, the Bengals haven’t done much to persuade anyone that they’re willing to spend.

The good news is that, after several days of inaction, the Bengals have gone bargain shopping, adding offensive lineman Travelle Wharton and defensive back Jason Allen.  They also managed to keep free-agent safety Reggie Nelson, who had attracted an offer from the Jets.

But this is the one playoff team that needed to at least chase a marquee free agent.  They didn’t have to land the guy.  Mike Brown simply needed to show that he’s willing to move from the nickel slot machines over to the no-limit poker table.

The Bengals may once again be competitive in 2012.  The fans won’t embrace the franchise they way they should, however, until they see large chunks of their money being reinvested in players who can help the team compete for a championship.

11.  Loser/Winner:  Redskins.

I know.  I said there would be only 10 winners and losers.  But I didn’t say anything about the team that lands in both categories.

The $36 million in unexpected cap charges for treated the uncapped year too literally makes the Redskins losers.  Their refusal to shrug their shoulders when they did nothing wrong makes them winners.

Their ability to still find a way to spend money makes them winners.  Their decision to give so much money to the likes of Pierre Garçon and Josh Morgan makes them losers.

Their willingness to move up to No. 2 and get the franchise’s first true franchise quarterback since Sammy Baugh possibly will make them winners.  Mortgaging the future by giving up three first-round draft picks and a second-round pick possibly will make them losers.

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Griffin addresses media, says he’s here to help the team win

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Last week, Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III was focused on San Francisco.  Now, he’s focused on something other than playing.

On Thursday, Griffin met with reporters for the first time since he was supplanted by Colt McCoy.

It was Coach’s decision,” Griffin said, via Tarik El-Bashir of CSNWashington.com.  “I’m here to help this team win.”

Asked to explain his level of disappointment over the decision, Griffin repeated himself.  The same way he did last week.

“Like I said, it was Coach’s decision,” Griffin said.  “I’m here to help this team win.”

Will he use the situation as motivation?

“Be ready to play,” Griffin said.  “I’m here to help the team win anyway I can.”

He won’t be helping the team by playing, at least not for now.  We’ll have more on what the events of the past few days actually mean for Griffin later tonight.  Unless the Tryptophan wins.

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Julius Thomas practices, Fox dubs tight end “day to day”

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Broncos tight end Julius Thomas, who hasn’t done much since injuring an ankle 11 days ago, participated in Thursday’s practice on a limited basis.

Via Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com, it’s the most Thomas has done in the aftermath of the injury.

Coach John Fox declined to say much about whether Thomas will face the Chiefs on Sunday night.

“We’re just day to day,” Fox said, via quotes distributed by the team.  “I don’t like trying to predict the future.”

A label will be applied to the expected availability of Thomas on Friday.

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Lions snap two-game skid, beat Bears to improve to 8-4

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After back-to-back losses raised questions about the Lions’ ability to contend for a playoff berth, Detroit got the win it needed today.

The Lions started slowly and fell behind 14-3, but a three-touchdown second quarter turned things around in a hurry, and the Lions controlled the second half as well to win 34-17.

Lions receiver Calvin Johnson had a big day, catching 11 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Now that Johnson is finally back to 100 percent healthy, the Lions’ offense may finally be back on track. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, who had been struggling for much of the season, had an excellent game. Stafford completed 34 of 45 passes for 390 yards, with those two touchdowns to Johnson and no interceptions.

The Lions’ defense shook off its slow start, in which Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery scored two first-quarter touchdowns, and mostly shut down the Bears the rest of the way. Detroit’s run defense was particularly impressive, and safety Glover Quinn made a great diving interception after Darius Slay tipped a Jay Cutler pass that ended the Bears’ last chance to make a game of it.

For the Bears, the loss drops their record to 5-7 and makes clear that they’re not going anywhere. After showing some promise in Marc Trestman’s first season last year, the Bears have taken a step backward. Now about all the Bears can do is hope to play spoiler over the next three weeks, when they have games against playoff contenders Dallas, New Orleans and Detroit again.

The 8-4 Lions, however, are very much alive in the playoff race. If the Packers lose to the Patriots on Sunday, the Lions would become the leaders in the NFC North. And even if the Packers win, the Lions are in good position for a wild-card run. This was a game the Lions needed to win, and they delivered with one of their best performances of the season.

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Acho active for Eagles

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As the Eagles prefer to face a pick-your-poison offense, they’ll have a defensive player who was injured on Sunday in uniform.

Linebacker Emmanuel Acho is active and will play after injuring a groin against the Titans.  He has been splitting time with Casey Matthews at inside linebacker in place of DeMeco Ryans, who tore an Achilles tendon several weeks ago.

Inactive for the Eagles are quarterback Nick Foles, cornerback Roc Carmichael, safety Jaylen Watkins, offensive lineman Julian Vandervelde, offensive lineman Dennis Kelly, receiver Jeff Maehl, and Taylor Hart.

The Cowboys’ inactives include quarterback Dustin Vaughan, cornerback Tyler Patmon, safety Jeff Heath, linebacker Dekoda Watson, offensive tackle Tony Hills, offensive tackle Donald Hawkins, and defensive tackle Josh Brent.

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Megatron scores twice, tops 10,000 career receiving yards

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Calvin Johnson has topped 100 yards in the first half today, and 10,000 yards in his NFL career.

Johnson scored two touchdown in the second quarter against the Bears to help give the Lions a 24-14 lead, and he caught nine passes for 109 receiving yards in the first half, making him the fastest player in NFL history to reach the 10,000-yard mark.

The NFL has changed enormously in the last couple of decades, and so it’s no surprise that 27 of the 43 players with 10,000 yards started their careers in 1990 or later. A 10,000-yard career is not what it used to be, but Johnson still has many more good seasons left in him. Jerry Rice’s record of 22,895 receiving yards may be beyond reach for anyone, but Megatron may move into second place before he’s all done. The No. 2 spot on the all-time receiving yards list is currently occupied by Terrell Owens, with 15,934 receiving yards.

Now we’ll see if the Lions can keep it going in the second half, and re-establish themselves as contenders in the NFC playoff race.

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Bears banged up on defense, Detroit takes advantage

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The Bears’ defense has suffered a couple of first-half injuries today at Detroit, and the Lions are taking advantage.

Bears defensive end Cornelius Washington has been ruled out for the rest of the game with a chest injury, and safety Chris Conte left for what was first termed a concussion evaluation but later termed an eye injury. The Bears were already without linebacker Lance Briggs and defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff, so they’re really hurting.

And the Lions are really taking advantage: After going 25 drives over three games without a single touchdown, Detroit scored on back-to-back drives. The first was a nine-play, 78-yard drive that ended with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson. The second was a 10-play, 86-yard drive that ended with a one-yard touchdown run from Joique Bell.

That gave the Lions a 17-14 lead. The Bears started fast, with two Alshon Jeffery touchdown passes, but the Lions have turned this game around in a hurry.

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New stadium isn’t giving the 49ers a true home-field advantage

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The 49ers christened a new home stadium this year, but they’re still waiting for a new home-field advantage.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News takes a look at the relatively tranquil” atmosphere at Levi’s Stadium.  And Kawakami makes a great point — if a home-field advantage doesn’t emerge tonight against the Seahawks, it never will.

The 49ers are 3-2 at home this season, with no convincing victories.  Most recently, San Francisco barely beat Washington.

The toughest test comes against the Seahawks.  As Kawakami said, if it’s not loud and raucous in Santa Clara tonight, perhaps it never will be.

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More than half of the 2012 top 10 may not have options exercised

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Once the 2014 regular season ends, players drafted in 2012 will become eligible for new contracts.  By May 3, teams holding the rights of first-round picks must decide whether to extend their rookie deals for a fifth year.

Based on the performance of the first 10 players taken in 2012, there’s a good chance more than half of them won’t have their contracts extended.  Here’s a look at each of them.

1.  Andrew Luck, Colts:  The option definitely will be exercised.  Based on how the Colts dealt with Peyton Manning, Luck presumably won’t get a long-term deal until he completes his rookie contract and has the franchise tag applied.

2.  Robert Griffin III, Washington:  As of right now, it’s not looking good.  To say the least.

3.  Trent Richardson, Colts:  Traded from the Browns after one season and still disappointing in his second year in Indy, the Colts most likely won’t extend Richardon’s deal.

4.  Matt Kalil, Vikings:  Solid at times and spectacularly bad in big moments, there’s a strong belief that the Vikings won’t extend Kalil’s contract.  Just like they didn’t extend Christian Ponder’s.

5.  Justin Blackmon, Jaguars:  His option won’t come due in May because his rookie deal has been tolled by a suspension that has lasted more than a calendar year.

6.  Morris Claiborne, Cowboys:  He had fallen out of favor — and out of the starting lineup — before suffering a season-ending injury.  Dallas undoubtedly will pass.

7.  Mark Barron, Rams:  Traded from Tampa at the October deadline, the Rams most likely won’t be inclined to make the investment necessary to keep him from the open market after four seasons.

8.  Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins:  This could be the toughest decision for any team in the top 10.  Tannehill has been good but not great.  Productive but erratic.  Still, if they let him go after four seasons, who will the quarterback be?  That’s probably enough to swing the pendulum to yes.

9.  Luke Kuechly, Panthers:  Yes, without question.

10.  Stephon Gilmore, Bills:  A solid contributor but not yet a star player, it could be more of an investment than the team wants to make.  Especially if there’s a new coach or G.M. after the season.

To summarize, Luck and Kuechly are locks.  Tannehill is likely to get the option.  Beyond that, who knows?

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Bears strike first in Detroit

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In the early moments in Detroit, the Bears have done everything right and the Lions have done everything wrong.

Detroit received the opening kickoff and Jeremy Ross took it out of the end zone, only to get tackled at the 14-yard line. The Lions’ offense then took the field and went three-and-out, with two Joique Bell runs for minus-1 yard, followed by Matthew Stafford badly missing a wide-open Calvin Johnson on third down.

After the Lions’ punt, the Bears methodically marched the ball down the field on a six-play, 55-yard drive that ended with Alshon Jeffery catching a short pass from Jay Cutler and running in for a 10-yard touchdown.

This is a must-win game for the Lions, who are on a two-game losing streak. If they keep playing like this, we’ll be able to cross them off the list of playoff contenders in the NFC.

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NFL: Rams-Raiders will remain in St. Louis

Shaun Hill AP

On Wednesday, there was a report in the Indianapolis Star about the “remote possibility” that Sunday’s game between the Raiders and Rams would be moved from St. Louis to a Monday start in Indianapolis because of the ongoing tension in Ferguson, Missouri.

The report said that Lucas Oil Stadium was ready to serve as a site for the game in the event that a decision was made that it wasn’t safe enough to play as scheduled, but that won’t be necessary. While we don’t know when that tension in Ferguson will ease, we do know that the remote possibility is no longer a possibility at all.

Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com passes along word from a league spokesman that the game will be played as scheduled at the Edward Jones Dome with a 1 p.m. ET kickoff on Sunday. That avoids a second straight week with two Monday night games after the Jets and Bills were shifted to Detroit in Week 12 after the mammoth blizzard that buried Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo.

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Will any Thanksgiving records fall today?

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As the first of three Thanksgiving games approaches, let’s take a quick look at the history of the best of the best performances on the fourth Thursday in November.

Courtesy of the 2014 Official NFL Record & Fact Book, here are the single-game records from the league’s annual Thanksgiving game.

On Thanksgiving Day in 1929, Ernie Nevers scored six touchdowns for the Cardinals in a game against the Bears.  On three other Thanksgiving occasions, players have scored four times.  Most recently, NBCSN’s Brian Westbrook racked up a quartet of touchdowns for the Eagles against the Cardinals in 2008.

Another record could be a little easier to beat today, but not much.  On Thanksgiving in 1976, Bills running back O.J. Simpson (pictured) gained 273 yards on the ground against the Lions.  There hasn’t even been another 200-yard Thanksgiving rushing performance, with Bob Hoernschemeyer gaining 198 for the Lions in 1950 against the New York Yankees, and Earl Campbell grinding out 195 for the Oilers against the Cowboys in 1979.

Through the air, Troy Aikman passed for 455 yards against the Vikings on the day then-rookie Randy Moss exploded for three touchdowns on three catches.  Matthew Stafford nearly matched that total for the Lions in 2012, with 441 yards passing.  And long before Scott Mitchell went for nearly four spins on the scale, he threw for 410 yards for the Lions in a 1995 Thanksgiving Day win over the Vikings.

When it comes to receiving yardage, Jim Benton of the Browns racked up 303 yards against the Lions 69 years ago on Thanksgiving.  The next highest total came in 2012, with Andre Johnson generating 188 yards for the Texans against the Lions.

Will any of those records fall today?  It’s one of the wrinkles that will fascinate fans and fantasy owners as kickoff approaches.

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Reggie Bush, Riley Reiff out for Lions against Bears

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The Lions hoped to have running back Reggie Bush back this week, but his ankle didn’t cooperate.

Bush is inactive for Detroit’s Thanksgiving game against the Bears, making it three straight games that Bush has missed as a result of the injury. He also missed two other games earlier in the year, which may be a contributing factor to the Lions ranking 28th in points scored this season.

Compounding the issues for the Lions Offense on Thursday will be the absence of left tackle Riley Reiff. Like Bush, Reiff was listed as questionable for the game but left off the 46-man roster. Reiff is dealing with a knee injury that knocked him out of last weekend’s lopsided loss to the Patriots. Cornelius Lucas is expected to play in his place.

The Bears had one questionable player on Wednesday, but cornerback Kyle Fuller got the nod in spite of a knee injury. That keeps alive the possibility that he’ll face off with his brother, Lions wideout Corey Fuller, at some point on a day usually spent with family. Linebacker Lance Briggs, wide receiver Chris Williams, linebacker Darryl Sharpton, defensive end Trevor Scott, offensive lineman Eben Britton, defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff and cornerback Terrance Mitchell are inactive for Chicago.

Defensive tackle Nick Fairley, guard Larry Warford, quarterback Kellen Moore, receiver Ryan Broyles and defensive end Larry Webster round out Detroit’s list of inactives.

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Colts make a change at cornerback

Cassius Vaughn, Jalil Brown, Randy Bullock AP

The arrival of Shaun Phillips isn’t the only change for the Indianapolis defense this week.

The team announced that they have signed cornerback Jalil Brown and waived cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy.

Brown was released by the Dolphins earlier in the week and will be making his third tour of duty with the Colts. Brown spent time with them late last season and played two games with them earlier this year. Brown also has another spell with the Dolphins and began his career with the Chiefs after they took him in the fourth round of the 2011 draft.

He’ll likely fill the same special teams-centric role that Purifoy played for the team, although there’s a chance he could see time on defense with Vontae Davis, Josh Gordy and Greg Toler all appearing on this week’s injury report.

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Peterson materials due to be filed by Friday

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Next Tuesday, the appeal hearing in Adrian Peterson’s case will commence at 10:00 a.m. ET.  Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Peterson has until Friday, November 28 to submit any materials that he intends to introduce at the hearing.

It’s unknown what, if anything, Peterson will introduce.  Peterson submitted nothing to the NFL before the decision was made to suspend him for the rest of the 2014 season.

What Peterson submits potentially could have a huge impact on the outcome of the appeal.  If, of course, hearing officer Harold Henderson is willing to break from his track record of siding with the NFL in these appeals.

It’s unclear how quickly a ruling will be issued.  In theory, Peterson could be back as soon as December 7, for a visit from the Jets.

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Odell Beckham gives all the love to the glove

Odell Beckham Jr. AP

Making the catch of the year was mostly Odell Beckham.

But the Giants wide receiver admitted he’s not sure if he could have made his now-famous, falling-backward, three-fingered catch without his gloves.

I have no idea,” Beckham said, via Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News.

Beckham’s gloves are Nike Vapor Jets, size XXXL (which may also explain how he catches flying things with one hand), which he’s been wearing since his college days at LSU.

“I definitely told them they were some of my favorites that they made,” Beckham said. “It’s just the way that they fit. They’re a tight fit, they’re very light, and they feel like they’re a part of your hand.”

If the gloves were the secret, everyone would be wearing them, but we suspect Beckham’s hands deserve a little more of the credit.

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