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Goodell on Saints’ bounties: Evidence is clear, players embraced it

Minnesota Vikings v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

In a hint that the punishment for players involved in the Saints’ bounty scandal will be severe, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said that the program was not simply ordered by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, but celebrated by the players who participated in it.

Goodell told NFL Network’s Rich Eisen in an interview for an upcoming edition of the Rich Eisen Podcast that bounty discipline is coming “soon,” and he dismisses the notion floated by some that the players shouldn’t be punished because they were merely doing what their coach told them to do.

“[The] evidence was clear that the players embraced it,” Goodell said. “I don’t think they are absolved from responsibility.”

More than a month after Goodell announced that he had suspended Williams indefinitely, Saints coach Sean Payton for a year, Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis for eight games and Saints assistant Joe Vitt for six games, Goodell has still not announced the suspensions for the Saints’ players who were involved in the team’s program of bounties over the last three seasons. But the indications are that the announcement could come as soon as today, and that the news won’t be good for the Saints.

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LeGarrette Blount: I think Jeff Fisher knows our names now

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 04:  LeGarrette Blount #29 of the New England Patriots rushes for a 43-yard touchdown during the first quarter against the Los Angeles Rams at Gillette Stadium on December 4, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images) Getty Images

Plenty of people were amused last week when Rams coach Jeff Fisher made references to “Brandon” and “Danny” while discussing the Patriots’ running backs because Brandon Bolden usually only plays special teams and there hasn’t been a Danny at running back in New England since Danny Woodhead left town.

The Rams said Fisher was referring to wide receiver Danny Amendola, but he already knew LeGarrette Blount from a brief time when Blount played for Fisher with the Titans. Blount was joined in the backfield by Dion Lewis and James White in a 26-10 Patriots victory on Sunday and he referenced Fisher’s comments by mentioning them after the game.

“He already knew my name,” Blount said, via the Boston Herald. “I think he knows James and Dion now for sure, though.”

Blount ran 18 times for 88 yards and a touchdown on Sunday, leaving him with 230 carries for 957 yards and 13 touchdowns. The attempts and touchdowns are already career highs and he’s 51 yards away from another one during a year that’s left Blount well known around the league.

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Aaron Rodgers: Got through game without a “major setback” to hamstring

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers reacts after throwing a touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson during the second half of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke) AP

Aaron Rodgers was still limited in his mobility after last week’s hamstring injury, so he couldn’t play in the snow the way he wanted.

He was still able to do enough, but is still far from 100 percent. But the Packers quarterback didn’t have to go into the mystery tent, and he said he didn’t make his left hamstring worse by playing.

Not better than I did coming in, but I feel good about where I’m at,” Rodgers said, via Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com. “Had decent movement and didn’t do anything to create a major setback.”

Of course, the Packers didn’t call the same kinds of plays they might have ordinarily, as he was clearly not able to move the way he or they were accustomed to. The fact it was snowing and the field was slick was also a factor, as they kept him in the shotgun or pistol formation most of the game (his only fumble came from under center). He completed 20-of-30 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns, which was just enough to beat the Texans.

“He’s playing great football,” McCarthy said. “So he deserves a lot of credit. The guy’s an outstanding leader. He does a lot of things that you don’t read about because people don’t hear about it. He’s an exceptional leader, and he’s a great football player. So you do what you want with that. Those are the facts.”

The fact is, he has a week to get ready for Seattle and then three division games to close the season, with his team 6-6 and fighting for a Wild Card berth.

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Raiders will earn home field over Patriots if both finish 14-2

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 27:  Khalil Mack #52 of the Oakland Raiders celebrates in the stands after scoring on an interception of Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers in the second quarter of their NFL game on November 27, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) Getty Images

We’ve reached the point in the season when fans are starting to look at playoff tiebreakers, and the tiebreaker scenarios feature some good news for Raiders fans.

If the Raiders and Patriots both win out to finish the season 14-2, the Raiders will be the No. 1 seed in the AFC and have home-field advantage in the playoffs, thanks to a better record against common opponents.

Under that scenario, the first tiebreaker would be head-to-head, but that wouldn’t apply because the Raiders and Patriots don’t play each other this season. The second tiebreaker would be conference record, where both teams would be 11-1. The third tiebreaker would be record in common games, and that’s where the Raiders have the advantage.

The Raiders and Patriots have a total of five games against four common opponents on their schedule: They each play the Texans, Ravens, Bills and Broncos, with the Patriots playing the Bills twice and the Raiders playing the Broncos twice. If both teams win out, the Raiders will be 5-0 in those five games against common opponents, while the Patriots will be 4-1.

The Patriots’ loss came against the Bills when Tom Brady was suspended, Jimmy Garoppolo was injured and rookie Jacoby Brissett was the starting quarterback. That game could turn out to be the reason the Patriots are leaving New England and going to the Black Hole for the AFC Championship Game.

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Danny Amendola has high-ankle sprain, hoping to return for postseason

New England Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola, center, speaks with reporters in the team's locker room before an NFL football team practice, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne) AP

The Patriots were able to survive the loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski, at least in the short term.

Now, they’re faced with further dwindling of resources on offense.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola suffered a high-ankle sprain in yesterday’s win over the Rams. The hope is that he’ll be able to return for the playoffs.

He was hurt while returning a punt yesterday, and was on crutches and in a boot after the game.

At 10-2 the Patriots have all but wrapped up the AFC East, but they’re locked in a battle with the Raiders for the top seed and home-field advantage. They play the Ravens at home next Monday, before finishing the season at the Broncos, at home against the Jets and at the Dolphins.

And being without Amendola isn’t the biggest blow to their offense, but the steady chipping away of parts is going to complicate things for Tom Brady.

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Odell Beckham on officiating: It’s us against the world

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 04:  Odell Beckham #13 of the New York Giants looks on from the sidelines in the second half during the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on December 4, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) Getty Images

Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham avoided any major sideline blowups during Sunday’s loss to the Steelers, but there were plenty of moments when Beckham could be seen gesturing toward officials in hopes of getting a call in his direction.

Beckham didn’t get the flags he was looking for from referee Terry McAulay’s crew, leading him to say after the game that the group shouldn’t work any more games involving the Giants. McAulay was the ref for Beckham’s battle with Josh Norman last year and other members of the crew worked the game against the Redskins earlier this season that started with a warning for both players.

“It’s us against the world, in a sense,” Beckham said, via ESPN.com. “You can’t sit there and rely on refs, obviously. Obviously, that is not the case; you can’t sit there and rely on them, if anybody watched the game [on Sunday]. It’s not that I’m sitting here saying the refs are the reason we lost the game, but there is plenty of calls in the game and anybody can go watch the film. Anybody. Anybody can see exactly what is going on.”

Beckham took particular issue with an offensive pass interference call in the first quarter that backed the Giants up against their end zone. Beckham said it was a “horrible call” and that the official who threw the flag told Beckham to get out of his face when Beckham went for an explanation.

Left tackle Ereck Flowers was called for holding in the end zone a couple of plays later to give Pittsburgh their first points of the night and things wouldn’t get much better for the Giants in a 24-14 loss. One of the few places where they did fare better than Pittsburgh was on penalties. The Giants were penalized just four times overall while the Steelers were flagged 12 times for 115 yards before the day was through.

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Seahawks know replacing Earl Thomas is going to be hard

Seattle Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas (29) is examined by team physician Dr. Ed Khalfayan, left, after going down with an injury in the first half of an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren) AP

The Seahawks aren’t used to being without safety Earl Thomas, so they’re trying to wrap their mind around it.

But they know for sure last night’s broken leg from a collision with teammate Kam Chancellor is going to hurt, them and him.

Thomas was tweeting out a contemplation of retirement before the game was even over, so traumatized was he by the friendly fire injury, and his teammates and coaches understand why.

“Kam’s made of steel,’’ Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said, via Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times. “So it’s going to hurt, and it sure did.”

The pain is only beginning for them and that’s no offense to replacement Steven Terrell, who just isn’t Thomas (such that many are).

After the game, Carroll would say only that Thomas had a broken leg, and that his timetable was for such an injury was “always six weeks anyway.”

Chancellor said he thought his teammates’ string of tweets were also born out of uncertainty rather than an actual fear his career might be over.

“When you get injured, it becomes very emotional,” Chancellor said. “Sometimes you say things you might not mean; sometimes you say things you might mean. It’s one of those things you just have to let him sit back and breathe, let him sit back and go through his process. People are going to take it how they’re going to take it. At the end of the day he’s going to make the decision he wants to make, but right now it’s an emotional battle at this moment.”

Thomas had only missed one game previously, last week’s with a hamstring injury. He didn’t know what to do with himself, so he took his family to Portland to watch NBA games and watch the Seahawks game in a bar. So now, he’s faced with a much longer absence.

And the Seahawks have to figure out how to replace one of their best players. The Panthers attacked Terrell immediately, throwing a 55-yard touchdown to Ted Ginn Jr. over the top of him. More teams are going to try to do the same, now that a weakness has been exposed.

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Cam Newton: Rivera benched me because I didn’t have a tie

SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 04:  Quarterback Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers on the sidelines against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on December 4, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images) Getty Images

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said after Sunday night’s loss in Seattle that he was benched for the first series because he didn’t wear a tie while traveling, which coach Ron Rivera requires of every player.

“It came down to a dress code matter,” Newton said. “I didn’t follow dress code and coach told me I wasn’t going to start. I stand by his decision. His position he’s in, I follow it.”

The Panthers played at Oakland last week and did not travel home, choosing instead to practice on the West Coast for the week before the game at Seattle. Newton said he ordinarily has proper attire for traveling, but he sent his traveling clothes off when the team shipped its gear from Oakland to Seattle and found himself without anything to wear that would conform to Rivera’s dress code.

“We’ve been in California for a week and we shipped our clothes off, so that was the big no-no. But we didn’t lose this game because I didn’t have a tie,” Newton said.

Does it make sense to bench the starting quarterback because he didn’t have his clothes due to a travel mishap? Newton said he understood Rivera’s position, although his explanation of it was hard to follow.

“If coach didn’t feel like I was dressed appropriately then I wasn’t,” Newton said. “When you’re 6-foot-5, trying to get a shirt, I was away from home for a week, I didn’t pack a shirt. There were a lot of ties I was given but I can’t wear a tie with this. Meaning, I have a tank top on – we discussed it internally, me and coach, we got on the same page. I felt as if I wore a similar outfit like this before and nothing was done but he said he has rules in place and we have to abide by them. No person is better than the next person and it is what it is.”

What it is, is one of the most bizarre coaching decisions in the history of the NFL. The league’s reigning Most Valuable Player was benched over his clothing.

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Who’s the best quarterback right now in the NFC South?

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 04:   Jameis Winston #3 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheers on teammates prior to a game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on December 4, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) Getty Images

The NFC South arguably, if not actually, has the best quartet of starting quarterbacks of any division in the NFL. So, as of right now, which one is the best?

That’s Monday’s PFT Live question of the day.

Vote, comment, vote again, comment again, and then tune in (just once, but stick around) to PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio at 6:00 a.m. ET. We then slide over to NBCSN at 7:00 a.m.

Guests include Darin Gantt of PFT (who may or may not be wearing a tie) and Scott Zolak of the Patriots Radio Network.

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NFL morning after: Two-point play could change two seasons

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 4: Eric Berry #29 of the Kansas City Chiefs celebrates after the game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on December 4, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images) Getty Images

One of the most fun things that can happen on an NFL Sunday is seeing something you’ve never seen before. And did we ever see that yesterday in Atlanta.

For the first time in NFL history, a defensive two-point conversion proved to be the game-winning score in a one-point game. I love the new two-point conversion rule, which allows the defense to score two points by running back a blocked extra point or offensive turnover, but when it passed last season, I figured it was something we might wait a decade to see decide a game.

Instead, yesterday in Atlanta it did decide the game. And it may have changed the course of both teams’ seasons.

When the Falcons scored a touchdown to take a 28-27 lead over the Chiefs with less than five minutes remaining, it appeared that they had taken control. They then lined up to go for two, and that was the right decision, as it gave them a chance to take a lead big enough that a field goal wouldn’t beat them. But Chiefs safety Eric Berry stepped in front of Matt Ryan’s pass, intercepted it and raced all the way to the end zone, giving the Chiefs the 29-28 margin they would win by.

That was the first time a team has ever won by a point on a defensive two-point conversion. Add in the blocked extra point return that gave the Broncos a 25-23 win over the Saints earlier this season, and we’ve now had two games changed by that seemingly relatively minor rules change.

In the case of Chiefs-Falcons, it could easily change both teams’ seasons as well. Both teams are locked in close, competitive playoff races, and it’s entirely possible that we’ll look back at the end of the season and say that one two-point play was the reason the Falcons missed the playoffs, or the reason the Chiefs won the AFC West and earned a bye week rather than just getting into the playoffs as a wild card.

The whole point of the new extra point rule was to make extra points competitive football plays again, and part of a competitive football play is that the defense has an opportunity to score. Adopting that rule was a great move by the NFL, and it made for a great ending in Atlanta on Sunday.

Here are my other thoughts from yesterday’s action in the NFL:

Jeff Fisher gets a new contract? Really? The news that broke Sunday morning that Rams coach Jeff Fisher has signed a contract extension is baffling to me. Shouldn’t a coach have to win to get a new contract? Yesterday’s 26-10 loss to the Patriots clinched Fisher his seventh consecutive non-winning season. His last winning season was with the 2008 Titans. And shouldn’t a coach have to show progress to get a new contract? Fisher’s record in his first season as the Rams’ coach was 7-8-1, and he still hasn’t improved upon that in five years on the job. It’s shocking that Rams owner Stan Kroenke is OK with this.

‘Member the Wentz Wagon? Early in the season, Eagles rookie quarterback Carson Wentz was the toast of the NFL, with even President Obama and Vice President Biden singing his praises. Lately he’s been a mess: Yesterday he had about the least-impressive 308-yard game you could imagine, needing 60 passes to get there and throwing three interceptions, with more potential interceptions dropped. Don’t get me wrong, it’s way too early to say Wentz won’t be a good NFL quarterback. But it was also way too early to proclaim him a future star when he was being showered with praise a couple months ago.

There’s a major downside to NFL Sunday Ticket. I’ve had DirecTV for 13 years, and as long as DirecTV has a monopoly on the NFL Sunday Ticket package, I’ll keep it. Having Sunday Ticket revolutionizes your experience as an NFL fan. But there is a major down side to the service: DirecTV’s signal is dependent on good weather. Yesterday in Chicago, where I live, my signal was out for most of the day because of some light snow. I was far from the only one; many fans posted on social media that their DirecTV went out because of snow in their area. Sports fans are so accustomed to technology improving our fan experience in ways we never could have imagined a few decades ago that it sometimes feels like a rude awakening to realize that there are, in fact, limitations to this technology.

Colin Kaepernick had one of the worst games in NFL history. In a loss to the Bears yesterday, Kaepernick was benched in the fourth quarter for Blaine Gabbert — but not before he got sacked five times, while managing just four passing yards. With that stat line, Kaepernick became the first quarterback in NFL history to get sacked five times while gaining fewer than five passing yards. It was a horrendous performance, and for those trying to excuse Kaepernick by blaming the snow, I’ll point out that Bears quarterback Matt Barkley turned in a good game in the same weather. Kaepernick was very, very bad, on a day that started with reports that he was looking to strike it rich in free agency after the season.

The Jaguars remain a mess. I feel like I’m flogging a dead horse when I write about the Jaguars, but every week they find a new way to lose and lose ugly. Yesterday they lost to the Broncos even though the Broncos punted a whopping 11 times. Jacksonville’s offense is so incompetent that you can beat them even if you keep giving them the ball because you know it’s just a matter of time before Blake Bortles throws another pick-six. This team is downright awful.

The Lions won comfortably, for once. After trailing in the fourth quarter of their first 11 games, the Lions maintained a lead throughout the fourth quarter in New Orleans yesterday, improving to 8-4 in the process and firmly establishing themselves as the favorites in the NFC North. If the Lions beat the Bears at home next week and the Packers at home in Week 17, they’d clinch the division regardless of any other results the rest of the season.

I liked the individuality on players’ shoes. Most of the time, the league strictly limits personal messages from players. But yesterday, the league let players put individual messages on their shoes. I thought it was great, especially how many players chose to promote charities they’ve worked with and donated money to. I don’t know what horrible thing Roger Goodell imagines will happen if he allows players to do that every week, but I’d like to see the league relax its uniform rules. The league was wise to make extra points and two-point conversions more interesting, and now it would be wise to make the players’ uniforms more interesting.

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Rivera: Newton was benched for one series for dress code violation

CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 03:  Head coach Ron Rivera of the Carolina Panthers watches on as Cam Newton #1 walks over to talk during their game against the Atlanta Falcons at Bank of America Stadium on November 3, 2013 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) Getty Images

After Sunday night’s 40-7 loss to the Seahawks, Panthers coach Ron Rivera told reporters that quarterback Cam Newton had been benched for one series for a dress code violation as the team traveled to Seattle.

That one series became one play, and that one play went like a lot of the others did for the Panthers on a disastrous Sunday night. Derek Anderson’s pass on the first play of the game went off the hands of Mike Tolbert and it was intercepted by Seahawks linebacker Mike Morgan, leading to a quick field goal for the Seahawks.

Newton replaced Anderson the next time the Panthers had the ball and played the rest of the game, but that didn’t stop the Panthers from getting run out of the stadium.

Word of Newton’s dress-code violation was reported on the NBC broadcast of the game, then confirmed by Rivera after the game. Rivera said the decision to not start Newton was solely his own, and that he wanted to treat Newton like he would treat every other player on the team.

In his postgame press conference, Newton told reporters he was benched for not wearing a tie to the stadium and said he didn’t have a proper/shirt tie combo to wear as the team traveled to Seattle. The Panthers spent the week in Northern California after playing the Raiders last week.

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Sunday Night wrap-up: Seahawks undress Panthers, no tie this week

Seattle Seahawks' Thomas Rawls (34) leaps over Carolina Panthers' Daryl Worley to score a touchdown in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren) AP

The Seahawks survived this year while their quarterback was ailing.

Now we’ll see if they can survive the loss of the quarterback of their secondary.

By pounding the Panthers 40-7 Sunday (and it wasn’t really that close), the Seahawks staked their claim to the second spot on the NFC playoff ladder, which would mean a bye and a home game in the divisional round.

But with safety Earl Thomas leaving the game with a broken bone in his leg, the Seahawks are going to have to change yet another tire on a moving car. His playmaking in the middle of the field is something that’s going to be hard to replace, for a team that has replaced so many parts this year.

With Russell Wilson playing through a number of injuries early, they were able to stay somewhat afloat. And while their defense isn’t going to be bad all of a sudden, Thomas is the kind of player you can’t just replace easily, if at all.

It wasn’t a deciding factor against the Panthers, who have gone from 15-1 to 4-8. And Seattle’s schedule over the next month (at the Packers and then a lap through the NFC West) gives them a chance to adjust. But the Seahawks are going to miss Thomas in a major way.

Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:

1. For all the weird stuff Cam Newton has worn, his one-play (or one series) suspension was apparently for a dress code violation.

It’s the latest strange turn in a strange year for the reigning MVP, who hasn’t had much of a chance to succeed this season with all the injuries in front of him.

But his wardrobe is ostensibly something he can control, and he apparently didn’t. Stay tuned, in a season gone wrong, this could become messy.

You don’t just bench a starting quarterback without creating ripples, and how Newton handles the post-game (which hasn’t always been a strength) is going to be as important or more than the result of any one game in a lost season.

2. The Seahawks have plenty of issues of their own, and even the temporary loss of running back Thomas Rawls to be checked for a concussion underscored one of their biggest.

After Marshawn Lynch retired, they have struggled to run consistently.

Granted, their own problems on the offensive line contribute to that, but they haven’t been able to keep a healthy back on the field. And with quarterback Wilson’s injury issues keeping him from contributing to the run game early this year, the Seahawks are constantly adjusting on offense.

If Rawls can stay on the field they ought to be OK. His 106 yards and two touchdowns against the Panthers were a reflection of the opponent as well as his own game (the Panthers rolled over shortly after the half). But if Rawls misses time for any reason down the stretch, it’s going to be hard for the Seahawks offense, which depends on somebody being able to move the ball on the ground.

3. The Panthers are clearly broken at the moment, but assuming theirs is an untalented roster would be a mistake also.

There’s still plenty of young talent there, beginning with Newton and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, which is a pretty good place for any team to start.

But the Panthers are going to have to do business a little differently this offseason. They never spent the money they saved when they pulled the franchise tag from cornerback Josh Norman. It was earmarked for defensive tackle Kawann Short’s new deal, but that never got done, leading to perhaps their next tag battle.

There’s cap room to spend, but General Manager Dave Gettleman’s going to need to spend it to justify a decision that clearly backfired in the short term. To not backfill with some solid starters would be to waste a group of veteran players (Thomas Davis, Ryan Kalil, Greg Olsen) who are closer to the ends of their careers than the beginnings.

4. It’s hard to read too much into a blowout, but it does feel like the Seahawks are starting to figure out what to do with tight end Jimmy Graham.

Because of injuries and the transition coming from New Orleans, it’s taken some time for both sides to adjust, but he’s beginning to become a more consistent factor.

5. The Panthers need offensive line help in the worst way, and could justify addressing it with their looming Top 10 draft pick.

But they also need to restock their defensive end position the way Gettleman loaded up on defensive tackles in 2013, when he doubled up on Star Lotuleleli and Short with his first- and second-rounders.

Honestly, the Panthers haven’t reloaded or rebounded from Greg Hardy’s departure in 2014. Charles Johnson has been a very good player for a very long time, but he’s declining and couldn’t run because of a hamstring injury. Their leading sacker was inactive (Mario Addison) and they’re filling in with a bunch of guys.

They need impact rushers, and they need them in bulk if they want to get back to the level of the Seahawks defense, or their own standard.

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Tampa-Dallas moves to prime time in Week 15

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 1:  Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys hands the ball off to Ezekiel Elliott #21in the first half of the game agains the Minnesota Vikings on December 1, 2016 at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) Getty Images

The NFL needs more Cowboy. And it’s getting it.

The league has flexed the Week 15 game between Tampa Bay and Dallas to Sunday Night Football, pitting the 7-5 Buccaneers against the 11-1 Cowboys.

The Cowboys could have the NFC East wrapped up by then, but the No. 1 seed in the conference likely will still be in doubt. Even if the Cowboys aren’t playing for anything by then, they’re still the Cowboys. And they draw in stand-alone games like no other team in sports.

The Buccaneers are tied with the Falcons at the top of the NFC South, and Tampa has now won four games in a row, including victories over the Chiefs, Seahawks, and Chargers.

The decision relegates Steelers-Bengals out of prime time and all the way back to 1:00 p.m. ET.

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Unusual Earl Thomas tweet violates league policy, but he apparently has bigger concerns

SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 04:  Free safety Earl Thomas #29 of the Seattle Seahawks leaves the field after getting injured against the Carolina Panthers at CenturyLink Field on December 4, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) Getty Images

Players aren’t permitted to use social media during games. But when a guy is creating the impression that he may never play another game, compliance with league policy likely isn’t a major concern.

A lot is running through my mind including retirement,” Thomas said on Twitter during Sunday night’s game against the Panthers.

While Thomas may simply be tweeting out of the sense of gloom that comes from a negative diagnosis and prognosis, it’s an eye opener. And it suggests that Thomas won’t be back for a while, at a minimum.

The 2010 first-round pick hadn’t missed a single game at the NFL level until last weekend at Tampa. He was carted off on Sunday night with a leg injury, and he was on crutches after leaving the X-ray room.

According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Media, Thomas has a broken leg.

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Julius Peppers moves into Top 5 on NFL career sack list

Houston Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler is sacked by Green Bay Packers' Julius Peppers during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer) AP

Packers linebacker Julius Peppers will turn 37 next month, but he’s still adding to his Hall of Fame résumé.

Peppers sacked Brock Osweiler in today’s win over the Texans, giving him 142.5 sacks in his career. That moves him ahead of Michael Strahan and gives Peppers sole possession of the fifth-most sacks in the NFL since the league began keeping sacks as an official statistic in 1982.

Everyone ahead of Peppers on the all-time list is in the Hall of Fame: Bruce Smith is first with 200 sacks, Reggie White is second with 198, Kevin Greene is third with 160 and Chris Doleman is fourth with 150.5.

Peppers isn’t getting quite as much playing time this year as he did last year: In 2015 he was in on about two-thirds of the Packers’ defensive snaps, while in 2016 he’s playing about half of the Packers’ defensive snaps. But despite the reduction in playing time, Peppers has 6.5 sacks this season. He’s still a big part of the Green Bay defense, and he isn’t giving any indication that he’ll have to retire any time soon.

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Thomas Rawls checked for a concussion, Earl Thomas seems worried

Seattle Seahawks' Thomas Rawls breaks free on a touchdown run against the Carolina Panthers in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear) AP

The Seahawks and Panthers have played plenty of hard-hitting games over the years.

This one is going to leave a mark on both teams.

Seahawks running back Thomas Rawls is being evaluated for a concussion, the latest in a string of high-profile players who aren’t leaving this game intact.

His absence leaves an already thin backfield in tatters, though the Seahawks are out to a 20-7 lead just before halftime.

NBC’s Michele Tafoya just reported that Seahawks safety Earl Thomas left the X-ray room on crutches, though his status for a return to the game has remained questionable with a left lower leg injury.

But Thomas just sent a tweet that certainly makes it seem like he’s not coming back tonight.

The Panthers are without veteran defensive end Charles Johnson, who left with a hamstring injury.

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