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PFT’s Week One picks

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With the start of the NFL regular season comes the start of a new picks competition.  This year, MDS will pit his prognostication skills against the proprietor of this portal.  At least I can proudly say I’m currently tied for the lead at 0-0.

And given that we disagree on only one game, I’m guaranteed to be no more than one game back after one week.

Cowboys at Giants

Florio’s take:  That Dallas playoff win by the Giants in 2007 not only fueled a Super Bowl run but also sparked the first of seven wins by New York in nine games against their NFC East rivals.  Underestimated by many (not me) as they try to become the first team to repeat in nearly a decade, the Giants should be able to continue the string of eight straight defending champs who launch the ensuing season with a win.

Florio’s pick:  Giants 30, Cowboys 24.

MDS’s take: I’m tempted to pick the upset in an attempt to put some distance between myself and Florio right off the bat, but this looks like a tough game for the Cowboys to win. The Giants’ pass rush is going to give Tony Romo fits, and Romo likely won’t have his favorite target, tight end Jason Witten. The Super Bowl champions will begin the 2012 regular season the way they ended the 2011 regular season, by beating the Cowboys.

MDS’s pick: Giants 24, Cowboys 14.

Colts at Bears

Florio’s take:  In 1961, a far less heralded rookie quarterback who would become a Hall of Famer launched his career with the Vikings (and the life of an expansion team) with a win over the Bears.  Though the Colts in many ways feel like a first-year franchise, lightning likely won’t be striking again, 51 years later.  Andrew Luck looks to be the real thing, but he’ll have to wait for a Week Two visit from the Vikings to get his first NFL win.

Florio’s pick:  Bears 27, Colts 13.

MDS’s take: Andrew Luck has looked outstanding in the preseason, but I’m not falling into the trap of thinking a new franchise quarterback means the Colts are going to pick up right where they left off when Peyton Manning was healthy. Even if Luck is outstanding when the games count for real, the Colts have all kinds of problems on defense, and I like Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, and Matt Forte to have big games on Sunday.

MDS’s pick: Bears 31, Colts 17.

Eagles at Browns

Florio’s take:  A reunion of the Green Bay mafia will be conducted on Sunday, with various branches of the Mike Holmgren tree coming together in Cleveland.  But the Factory of Sadness will likely continue to churn out chagrin for the denizens of the Dawg Pound.  Though Mike Vick may not be able to stay healthy all season, he’ll be ready go to in Week One.  And so will the rest of his teammates.

Florio’s pick:  Eagles 35, Browns 20.

MDS’s take: I’m not sold on the Eagles, but I am sold on the Browns — sold on the idea that they’re the worst team in the league this year. It’s going to be a rough season in Cleveland.

MDS’s pick: Eagles 17, Browns 7.

Rams at Lions

Florio’s take:  Even when the Rams won the Super Bowl, they couldn’t win in Detroit.  Now that the Lions are moving closer to a Super Bowl berth of their own, this one could get ugly.  Quickly.

Florio’s pick:  Lions 27, Rams 10.

MDS’s take: Jeff Fisher is going to turn the Rams around, and they’re going to be a much better team this season than they were last season. An upset over the team coached by Fisher’s old protege Jim Schwartz wouldn’t surprise me, but I’ll pick Detroit in a nail-biter.

MDS’s pick: Lions 21, Rams 20.

Dolphins at Texans

Florio’s take:  The Dolphins won’t truly experience Hard Knocks until they get a look at the Texans’ defense.  I rarely predict a shutout.  It’s not really all that much of a stretch on this one.

Florio’s pick:  Texans 20, Dolphins 0.

MDS’s take: This looks like Week One’s biggest mismatch. Ryan Tannehill will have a steep learning curve adjusting to the NFL, while Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, Arian Foster and the Texans’ offense will be in midseason form. This is a beatdown.

MDS’s pick: Texans 34, Dolphins 7.

Falcons at Chiefs

Florio’s take:  Last year, I had a feeling that the much-hyped Falcons wouldn’t fare well on a Week One trip to the Midwest, against the Bears.  This year, the Falcons are on the road to the Heartland again, against the Chiefs.  But they’ve got too much firepower, notwithstanding the firewater-influenced fanatics at Arrowhead.

Florio’s pick:  Falcons 28, Chiefs 24.

MDS’s take: Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel has expressed disappointment with his team’s performance in the preseason, and with good reason.  The Chiefs have looked shaky on both sides of the ball. Kansas City
got off to a very rough start last season and never recovered, and the start of this season could be rough as well.

MDS’s pick: Falcons 28, Chiefs 10.

Jaguars at Vikings

Florio’s take:  The battle for Matt Barkley would have been a hell of a lot more compelling in Week 17.  When the talent level is equally suspect, the home team gets the edge.

Florio’s pick:  Vikings 20, Jaguars 17.

MDS’s take: Who’s more likely to play and play well in this one, Maurice Jones-Drew or Adrian Peterson? Jones-Drew is healthy and says he’s been staying in shape, but one week isn’t enough to completely learn an offense after a lengthy holdout, and I see Jones-Drew struggling early this season in much the same way Chris Johnson did last season. Peterson didn’t play at all in the preseason, but from all accounts he has recovered from last year’s season-ending torn ACL, and I like him to have a big game in Week One.

MDS’s pick: Vikings 23, Jaguars 16.

Redskins at Saints

Florio’s take:  In a May appearance on PFT Live, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan joked that he hoped Saints quarterback Drew Brees would be suspended for Week One.  That would have been Washington’s only chance to steal a win in a Superdome that will be rocking almost as loud as it was the night they reopened the place in 2006.

Florio’s pick:  Saints 38, Redskins 22.

MDS’s take: The Saints feel like they have a point to prove, and they’ll be motivated, and the Superdome will be a hostile environment for Robert Griffin III. I think the Redskins’ offense is going to be better than most people expect, and they’ll put some points on the board against the Saints, but Drew Brees and the New Orleans offense will score more.

MDS’s pick: Saints 27, Redskins 24.

Bills at Jets

Florio’s take:  Lost in the hand-wringing regarding the Jets’ offense is the fact that the defense is still pretty good.  Good enough to outscore a Bills team that, while improving, isn’t ready to steal one on the road to start the season.

Florio’s pick:  Jets 15, Bills 10.

MDS’s take: This looks to me like one of the most interesting matchups of Week One, because the Jets are desperate to show that their terrible offensive showing in the preseason didn’t mean anything. Unfortunately for the Jets, I think the Bills, bolstered by the addition of Mario Williams, have exactly the kind of defense that can pressure Mark Sanchez and force him into a multiple-turnover game. The
chants for Tim Tebow be deafening by the end of this game.

MDS’s pick: Bills 10, Jets 3.

Patriots at Titans

Florio’s take:  The last time these two teams got together, the Patriots scored 59, and the Titans scored nothing.  While much has changed in Tennessee since 2009, enough players are still there to remind the teammates and the coaches of that day.  And it would matter if the Titans had the horses of defense to keep up with New England’s offense.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 35, Titans 26.

MDS’s take: The consistency of the Patriots in the salary-cap era in the NFL is nothing short of remarkable. The Patriots look, once again, like one of the best teams in the NFL, and Bill Belichick’s defense will give fits to Titans quarterback Jake Locker, making his first NFL start.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 31, Titans 17.

Seahawks at Cardinals

Florio’s take:  The Cardinals didn’t have a shot at quarterback Russell Wilson, given that they sent their second-round pick to Philadelphia for a quarterback who is now second string.  But coach Ken Whisenhunt may be wishing that the team had traded up six spots to get the Seahawks’ new starter; Wilson looks to be better than anything the Cardinals have at the position, which may be enough to pull off a Week One division road win.

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 24, Cardinals 21.

MDS’s take: Russell Wilson emerged as the starter in Seattle after one of the most impressive performances in the NFL preseason, while John Skelton became the starter by default in Arizona because Kevin Kolb was one of the least impressive players in the NFL preseason. Advantage: Seattle.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 28, Cardinals 20.

49ers at Packers

Florio’s take:  When one of the best offenses meets one of the best defenses, the game will turn on how the other offense fares against the other defense.  The Packers defense has improved just enough to hold serve at Lambeau Field in the season opener.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 30, 49ers 27.

MDS’s take: The NFL schedule makers gave us a potential NFC Championship Game preview in Week One, and I see the Packers’ offense picking right up where they left off last year — and the Packers’ defense looking better.

MDS’s pick: Packers 27, 49ers 14.

Panthers at Buccaneers

Florio’s take:  The Bucs are laying the foundation for a very good team.  The Panthers are on the brink of being a very good team.  Cam Newton will be out to prove last year was no fluke, and an improved defense will keep it from turning into a shootout.

Florio’s pick:  Panthers 31, Buccaneers 21.

MDS’s take: Cam Newton won’t have a sophomore slump — he’ll be every bit the player this year that he as a rookie, and the Panthers will have a better team around him. Greg Schiano will turn the Bucs around, but there are going to be growing pains along the way, and they’ll struggle against the Panthers’ offense. This will be the Panthers’ first statement that they’re a team to be reckoned with in the NFC.

MDS’s pick: Panthers 30, Buccaneers 14.

Steelers at Broncos

Florio’s take:  Some say this could be the highest-rated regular-season game in NFL history.  Though the 1985 Bears-Dolphins game ultimately may keep the crown, the return of Peyton Manning could set the high-water mark for the entire 2012 season.  He wouldn’t have come back if he couldn’t get it done, and the Steelers have too many issues to come out of the gates with a road win.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 24, Steelers 17.

MDS’s take: This is a rematch of last year’s playoff meeting, but it’s a very different game with Peyton Manning at the helm in Denver and Tim Tebow off running the wildcat with the Jets. The result, however, will be similar: In a close, competitive game, the Broncos’ offense will get a late score to win it.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 24, Steelers 17.

Bengals at Ravens

Florio’s take:  Cincinnati gets its first chance in 2012 to win a game that it shouldn’t.  Though in time those wins will come, the Ravens have too much talent on both sides of the ball.

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 31, Bengals 24.

MDS’s take: The Bengals took a big step forward last year with the emergence of a young offense led by Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. This is an opportunity for them to make a very big statement about re-ordering the AFC North, but I see the Ravens’ defense making a big statement that they’re not going to let their young rivals get the best of them just yet.

MDS’s pick: Ravens 16, Bengals 13.

Chargers at Raiders

Florio’s take:  Oakland is taking a step back in the hopes of eventually taking a giant leap forward.  The Chargers are trying to finally put the pieces together.  For now, advantage Chargers.

Florio’s pick:  Chargers 27, Raiders 21.

MDS’s take: In the game that will have those in the Eastern time zone drinking coffee late into Monday night and showing up to work bleary-eyed on Tuesday morning, the Chargers will get a big game from Philip Rivers and get a leg up on the Raiders in the AFC West.

MDS’s pick: Chargers 27, Raiders 21.

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Shane Vereen not present at Friday practice

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The Patriots’ top tailback looks to be a late-week addition to the club’s injury report.

Shane Vereen was not on the practice field for New England on Friday, multiple club beat writers reported, included Doug Kyed of NESN.com.

It’s unclear whether Vereen’s absence was because of injury or for another reason. All players who miss part or all of practice have to be declared on the injury report, per NFL rules.

Brandon Bolden, Jonas Gray and James White are the Patriots’ other backs on the roster. The club lost Stevan Ridley to season-ending ACL and MCL tears in Week Six.

The Patriots’ final injury report will be released later Friday, with players to be classified as “out,” “doubtful,” “questionable” or “probable.”

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Chargers cornerback Jason Verrett could miss extended time

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Chargers cornerback Jason Verrett came back sooner than some expected from his shoulder injury.

And it may have been too soon.

According to Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports, there’s a fear that Verrett may have aggravated the initial injury, and there’s a fear he “could miss significant time.”

That would be terrible news for a Chargers team that has lost two in a row after a solid start to the season.

The first-round pick was a surprise activation last night, but may have played in part because of fellow starter Brandon Flowers being out with a concussion.

But if he rushed back and made a short-term injury a long one just for the sake of suiting up against Peyton manning and the Broncos, then the Chargers may have lost both the battle and the war.

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A.J. Green sitting out practice Friday

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Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green’s status for Sunday’s game vs. Baltimore appears in serious doubt.

According to Paul Dehner Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer, Green (toe) wasn’t practicing on Friday. If Green doesn’t participate in Friday’s workout, it will mark the third consecutive practice he’s missed, and a week of no on-field work usually equates to a player being inactive on gameday.

Green has missed eight straight practices and two games in a row for Cincinnati, for whom he’s starred since entering the NFL in 2011. One of the game’s top receivers, Green is a premier vertical threat, as he showed in the season-opening win at Baltimore when he broke free for the game-winning 77-yard fourth-quarter TD.

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Larry Fitzgerald: Lack of touches is a “champagne problem”

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Larry Fitzgerald has piled up a lot of stats for a lot of mediocre teams.

So now that he’s not getting as many stats for a good one, he’s not going to complain, at least out loud.

While it’s clear that the Cardinals wide receiver isn’t getting the ball as much as he might prefer, it’s also clear he’s not going to rock the boat for the 5-1 Cardinals.

“I always keep it in perspective how fortunate and blessed not only me but everyone in this locker room is,” Fitzgerald said, via Darren Urban of the team’s official website. “Not getting enough targets? Where I grew up we called those ‘champagne problems.’
“This is my job and I love it, but I also put it in its proper place.”

Fitzgerald has just 23 catches for 283 yards this season, a fairly pedestrian pace for someone who has topped 90 catches five times and 1,400 yards four times in his career.

But the Cardinals are playing to minimize mistakes more than pad your fantasy stats, and it’s not as if he’s ignored. Only running back Andre Ellington has more receptions, with 25.

“We all care about our touches and looks, don’t get me wrong,” Fitzgerald said. “We just don’t put our touches and looks in front of what we are trying to accomplish as a team. There is a distinct difference. You are playing ball your whole life, you are in the NFL, you’ve been ‘The Man’ your whole life, so you have to put that aside and focus on what is best for your team. I think everyone has a good grasp of that.”

The fact that he’s playing nice about it certainly won’t hurt when it’s time to address his contract this offseason, either.

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PFT Live: Saints talk with Jeff Duncan, PFT Planet calls and tweets

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The Saints will host the Packers on Sunday Night Football in a game that the 2-4 Saints could really use if they are going to return to the playoffs this season.

Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Times-Picayune will join Mike Florio on Friday’s edition of PFT Live to preview the contest. They’ll discuss what the Saints defense needs to do to have a chance at knocking quarterback Aaron Rodgers out of the relaxed groove he’s been in this month and whether the team’s offense remains potent enough to overcome a shaky defense if they can’t get it together on that side of the ball.

There are plenty of other games to talk about and we’re curious to hear what’s on the minds of PFT Planet heading into the weekend. You can send in questions for Florio on Twitter — @ProFootballTalk — or give a call to 888-237-5269 during the show to share what you’re thinking about this Friday.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can watch it all live by clicking right here.

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Ryan Mallett: I’ll be ready to start if I’m called on

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Texans backup quarterback Ryan Mallett isn’t exactly campaigning to unseat starter Ryan Fitzpatrick. But he says he’ll be ready if that’s what happens.

After coach Bill O’Brien said this week that Mallett is putting in work in practice and getting better, Mallett said he’ll be ready to go if O’Brien hands him the ball.

“If it happens, it happens,” Mallett said, via the Houston Chronicle. “I’ll be ready. I’ll be prepared. I prepare like I’m the starter. I have since I’ve been in the NFL. I’ve just got to continue to do that and be ready when my number’s called.”

Mallett has never started an NFL game and has barely played, getting just a bit of mop-up duty during his three seasons as Tom Brady’s backup in New England. But O’Brien, who coached in New England during Mallett’s rookie year, has praised his work in the film room, and seems to agree with Mallett’s self-assessment that he’ll be ready. There’s a very good chance that at some point soon, O’Brien will call on Mallett and we’ll all see just how ready he is.

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Reggie Bush doubtful, Calvin Johnson questionable

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Running back Reggie Bush missed practice for the second straight day on Friday, but said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, that he will play against the Falcons at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

The team isn’t quite as confident. Bush has been listed as doubtful on the team’s final injury report of the week because of his ankle injury, leaving him unlikely to play when the two teams kick off Sunday’s action with a game for the American audience to watch while they eat their breakfast.

There’s more hope for wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who has missed the last two games with a high ankle sprain. He was a limited participant in practice all week and his ability to go each day is a good sign for how the ankle might hold up in a return to action this weekend. Right tackle LaAdrian Waddle is also questionable after suffering a concussion last week, but his chances of playing look better after he got in a full practice on Friday.

Tight ends Joseph Fauria and Eric Ebron were both ruled out and Brandon Pettigrew is doubtful, which should mean a lot of work for Kellen Davis and Jordan Thompson when the team needs a tight end this weekend.

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Free tickets to 49ers games create problems for San Jose police

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A troubling picture has been painted in recent weeks regarding the relationship between the 49ers and San Jose police.  In addition to the team routinely hiring San Jose police officers to provide security services (a practice that has been suspended due to the handling of the Ray McDonald case), the 49ers also have given free tickets to multiple San Jose police officers, in violation of the applicable rules.

According to ABC7, the team gave free tickets to two members of the department for at least two 49ers games.  The San Jose gift ordinance prohibits police officers from receiving items worth more than $50.

“Tickets to an athletic event like a Sharks game, an A’s game, a Giants game, a 49ers game,” San Jose City Attorney Rick Doyle told ABC7, “if the face value of those tickets are more than $50 dollars, which is probably the case most of the time.”

In this case, the team told ABC7 that the tickets had a face value of $187.

Accepting the tickets also violates the police department’s internal guidelines, according to Judge Ladoris Cordell, who serves as San Jose’s independent police auditor.

“Things like that, those are deemed to be gifts,” Judge Cordell told ABC7.  “So a discount, a gratuity, a favor, if they’re not offered to everybody, you can’t take them.  We don’t want officers, our police officers in San Jose, to be getting special favors from certain people because it might compromise them at some point.  And it doesn’t look good.”

The two officers in question — Assistant Chief Eddie Garcia and Deputy Chief Jeff Marozick — have since reimbursed the 49ers for the tickets.  But that doesn’t satisfy Judge Cordell’s concerns.

“The fact is the duty manual, the rule itself says you may not accept these,” Judge Cordell told ABC7. “It doesn’t say, you get around it by accepting it, and later paying money back.”

She’s right; the money was reimbursed only because the issue was discovered.  If no one ever raised a question or a concern about it, nothing would have happened.

Moving forward, the question is whether San Jose and other Bay Area municipalities will establish the kind of arm’s-length relationship with the 49ers that will insulate any investigations of players or team employees from scrutiny or suspicion.  The bigger question for the NFL is whether steps will be taken to ensure that neither the 49ers nor any other teams are attempting to short-circuit the personal conduct policy by maintaining relationships that can undermine the willingness of police officers to aggressively pursue potential violations of the law.

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Harry Douglas a game-time decision for Sunday

Harry Douglas AP

The Falcons had wide receiver Harry Douglas at practice for the second straight day on Friday, leading to more hope that the team will get him back in the lineup after four games on the sideline because of a foot injury.

While it’s a good sign that Douglas’s return to practice on Thursday didn’t result in any adverse reaction in his foot, coach Mike Smith said that there won’t be any final determination made about his playing status until Sunday.

“Harry’s done very well,” Smith said, via the team’s website. “He will be a decision that we make as we get closer to the game, but he’s been able to come out and participate in practice the past two days, so he was a limited participant again today, but I like the progress he’s made through the week.”

Getting Douglas, who has 12 catches for 121 yards and a touchdown, back would expand Atlanta’s options against a good Lions defense, although they’ll need a reverse in course from the offensive line to take full advantage of them.

Smith said defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux is also headed for a game-time decision after missing practice all this week.

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Paul Allen gives $100 million to fight Ebola

Allen AP

With Ebola finally arriving in New York City and a lingering sense of uncertainty as to whether Americans should not worry about the disease at all or retreat to an underground bunker for the next five years, Seahawks owner Paul Allen has decided to try to stem the tide of a disease that, while still very new to our country, continues to ravage West Africa.

Via the New York Times, Allen has donated $100 million to the fight against Ebola.

“Everybody feels called sometimes to really pursue a certain thing that resonates with them, and this has resonated with me,” Allen said.  “The exponential nature of the growth of this disease is really a challenge — we’ve already seen in the U.S. where one case quickly became two.”

Allen also has created the TackleEbola.com website, where donations much smaller than $100 million can be made for small, specific projects.

Regardless of whether Ebola ever becomes a serious public health situation in America (and as best I can tell while monitoring the Internet from my underground bunker is that it won’t), it is a serious public health situation in various other countries that lack sophisticated medical facilities and/or a basic public understanding of what the disease is and how it spreads.  So we applaud Allen for his generosity (after all, $100 million is still $100 million, no matter how much money a guy has), and we encourage everyone to make a donation to one of the various projects being funded by TackleEbola.com.

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Getting through first practice brings “mixed emotions” to Amobi Okoye

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It was one practice.

But for a guy who spent three months in a coma, it was a pretty big deal.

Cowboys defensive tackle Amobi Okoye went through yesterday’s practice, signaling the start of a three-week window to work before the Cowboys have to decide to activate him or leave him on the reserve/non-football injury list.

It was good, it was worth it,” Okoye said, via Calvin Watkins of ESPNDallas.com. “It was mixed emotions. It felt like it naturally was coming back. I’ve played six years in the league [and], it doesn’t take too long for stuff to come back to you.”

Okoye is recovering from anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, a brain condition which causes memory loss and seizures. He last played in a game in 2012, and lost 78 pounds during his battle.

He said he’d talk more about his condition during the bye week in November, but he’s impressed his teammates with the work he’s already put in.

“He’s been through a lot,” linebacker Bruce Carter said. “His story is amazing. A guy like that who works real hard, I see him all the time working [with strength and conditioning coordinator Mike Woicik] one-on-one. Just to see him actually working with [us] and see it pay off is a great thing. I think he’s going to do great things for us.”

There’s still no guarantee Okoye will play this year. But after what he’s been through, simply getting through a practice is a big first step.

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Eddie Royal says loss to Broncos is motivating, not discouraging

Denver Broncos vs. San Diego Chargers Getty Images

The Chargers opened the season 5-1, but even as they were piling up wins they knew that they had a big obstacle standing in the way of their hopes for the season.

Two meetings with the Broncos loomed and there’s not much chance of winning the AFC West title without handling Denver at least once. The Chargers couldn’t get the job done on Thursday night, losing 35-21, but wide receiver Eddie Royal says the loss won’t leave the team licking their wounds for too long.

“It’s not discouraging,” Royal said, via ESPN.com. “It’s motivating. We just know what we need to work on. We know how good of a team they are, and we know we can play with these guys. It just motivates us to go back and put in some work. I think we’ve got the right guys in this locker room to get ready to go and get a win.”

The schedule should be a help to the Chargers in the next few weeks. They play the Dolphins in Week Nine and then head on their bye, which means they’ll have a big window to get some players healthy ahead of the stretch run. They then have home games against the Raiders and Rams once they’re back in action, giving them a chance to get back on the winning track before they face the Ravens, Patriots and Broncos in a three-week stretch that should go a long way toward determining their playoff fate.

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Kickalicious visits the Lions in London

Havard Rugland AP

Kickalicious is back with the Lions. But only for a visit, to the chagrin of some Lions fans.

Havard Rugland, the Norwegian kicker whose trick kick video made him an Internet celebrity and got him a spot on Detroit’s preseason roster last year, stopped by the team’s practice today in London, according to Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News.

The Lions have shown no interest in signing Rugland, even though their kicking situation has been appalling this year. Detroit is already on its third kicker of the season, and although the current kicker, Matt Prater, is the best of the three, that’s not saying much: Prater is 2-for-4 this season, and one of the two he made was a 21-yarder that came courtesy of a fortunate bounce off the upright. Rugland went 3-for-3 in the preseason last year, with a long of 50 yards.

Rugland visited with Prater, punter Sam Martin and special teams coach John Bonamego. It appears that it was just a visit, and there’s no chance of Rugland taking Prater’s job. Although perhaps if Prater misses a couple of kicks on Sunday against the Falcons, Bonamego will consider bringing Rugland back to Detroit with him.

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Akeem Ayers happy to be somewhere he has a chance to play

Rob Ninkovich, Akeem Ayers AP

Linebacker Akeem Ayers had fallen out of favor in Tennessee this season, leaving him as a healthy scratch for five of the team’s seven games and, unbeknownst to him, on the trading block.

The Titans pulled the trigger on a deal this week, sending Ayers to the Patriots along with a 2015 seventh-round pick in exchange for a sixth-round selection. Ayers has only been a member of the Patriots for a few days, so he’s still learning the team’s schemes and figuring out how he’ll fit into the mix for a team that lost Jerod Mayo for the season. However those things resolve themselves, Ayers says he’s pleased to be somewhere that offers him a chance of getting back on the field.

“I’m pretty much just happy to be here. Obviously, I wasn’t playing there, and I just happened to get in a good situation here,” Ayers said, via the Boston Herald. “As I’m learning the playbook, I’m trying to simplify things as much as I can and the coaches are helping me out with that. We’re trying to keep things simple and try to learn to the best I can to play as fast as I can when I’m on the field.”

This Sunday will bring the first look at how quickly Ayers is picking things up in New England with the team surely hoping that the process moves fast enough for him to help the defense when the Broncos roll into town in Week Nine.

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O’Brien disputes report that Cushing will miss time with knee injury

Cushing AP

On Wednesday night, PFT reported that Texans linebacker Brian Cushing will miss at least one game due to lingering issues with his surgically-reconstructed knee.  On Thursday, coach Bill O’Brien disputed the report.

“First of all, no, I wasn’t aware of that report,” O’Brien told reporters on Thursday.  “I was trying to figure out how to try to get a first down against the Tennessee Titans because it was third-down night.  And secondly, there is no accuracy to that report.”

O’Brien’s reaction is predictable.  Schooled in the art of injury misdirection from his time with Patriots coach Bill Belichick, O’Brien knows he’s required to disclose only whether and to what extent a guy has practiced in the week preceding a game, and then eventually to apply a label to an injured player — out, doubtful, questionable, or probable.

Even if O’Brien knows Cushing won’t play on Sunday (and Cushing won’t play), O’Brien gains nothing from admitting it on Thursday.  Admitting it on Thursday eliminates the possibility of listing Cushing as questionable, extending until Sunday morning the uncertainty for the Titans as to whether Cushing will play.

Indeed, the signs already are pointing toward the 50-50 “questionable” label for Cushing, who did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday.

“I think he feels he’s getting better every day,” O’Brien said.  “I think coming off that [ACL] injury, you know, postgame is always, there is a lot of soreness.  We have to ease him back into the week.  Like how we say, he’s day-to-day.  We’ll see how he is tomorrow. We’ll bring him to Tennessee and we’ll see how he is before the game.”

Yep, Cushing will be questionable on Friday.  And then on Sunday, the pregame shows that no one will be watching because of the Lions-Falcons game that starts at 9:30 a.m. ET will have a stream of reports that Cushing, while listed as questionable, won’t play.

And probably that linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, while listed as questionable, will.

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