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PFT’s Week Two picks

Buffalo Bills v New York Jets Getty Images

Last week, MDS and yours truly disagreed on only one pick.  I trusted the J-E-T-S, and he didn’t.

So I finished 11-5, and he’s already in second place with a 10-6 mark.

This week, we’ve doubled our disagreements.  Which means that there’s a good chance I’ll be in second place by next week at this time.

Tune in to PFT Live this Thursday and every Thursday for MDS and yours truly talking about three or four of Sunday’s games.  And, yes, there may be gloating.

Bears at Packers

MDS’s take: This is about as close as a Week Two game can get to being a must-win for the Packers. Lose here and they’re two games behind the Bears, plus the Bears have the tiebreaker edge, plus they’re 0-2 at Lambeau Field, plus they’re behind the Lions and Vikings in the NFC North as well. Jay Cutler will have a good game against the Packers’ suspect pass defense, but Aaron Rodgers will have an even better game, and the Packers will win with their backs to the wall.

MDS’s pick: Packers 34, Bears 31.

Florio’s take:  The Packers have beaten the Bears in five of their last six games.  And other than the 2010 NFC title game, none has been bigger than Thursday night’s contest at Lambeau Field.  If the Packers lose, the team that was 15-1 in 2011 will fall to 0-2 in 2012, with 25 percent of the home schedule completed.  Look for the Packers’ defense to find something close to their groove — finally — and for Green Bay to get things moving in the right direction with a strong offensive output.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 28, Bears 24.

Chiefs at Bills

MDS’s take: Picking the Bills burned me in Week One, costing me the head-to-head battle with Florio in last week’s picks. Will I learn from that mistake and avoid the Bills this time? Nope. I think the Bills are a better team than they showed against the Jets and should win a close one at home.

MDS’s pick: Bills 14, Chiefs 10.

Florio’s take:  Last year, the Bills went to Arrowhead in Week One and spanked the Chiefs.  This year, the Chiefs return the favor in Week Two.  (And as long as MDS keeps picking the Bills, I’ll keep building an edge in the season-long contest.)

Florio’s pick:  Chiefs 34, Bills 21.

Saints at Panthers

MDS’s take: Can Cam Newton do to the Saints’ defense what Robert Griffin III did? Or is the Panthers’ offense going to lay an egg for the second week in a row? In a game that will leave the loser in a big hole in the NFC South, I’m picking the Panthers in a home upset.

MDS’s pick: Panthers 27, Saints 24.

Florio’s take:  The loser of this game will fall to 0-2.  For the Panthers, that would be a problem.  For the Saints, it would be grounds for panic.  Caught napping last Sunday against the Redskins, the Saints wake up in a big way.

Florio’s pick:  Saints 42, Panthers 24.

Browns at Bengals

MDS’s take: Both of these teams looked bad in Week One, but the Browns seem to be on a different level of bad, because Brandon Weeden just doesn’t look like he’s ready to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. Joe Flacco showed on Monday night that a good quarterback can beat the Bengals deep, but Weeden is not a good quarterback.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 24, Browns 10.

Florio’s take:  The Bengals lose the games they’re supposed to lose, and they win the games they’re supposed to win.  That trend held on Monday night, and it’ll hold on Sunday.

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 28, Browns 16.

Vikings at Colts

MDS’s take: Andrew Luck had four turnovers in his debut against the Bears, but what would really concern me about that game if I were a Colts fan is that the Colts’ defense didn’t look any better than it did last year. Christian Ponder will have his second consecutive big game and the Vikings will start a surprising 2-0.

MDS’s pick: Vikings 27, Colts 20.

Florio’s take:  Andrew Luck will always be compared to Peyton Manning.  And Peyton Manning lost the first home game of his career.  So if Luck can pull this one off, he’ll already be ahead of the curve.  Though the Vikings aren’t nearly as good as they were the year that Peyton Manning entered the league, they’re good enough to spoil Luck’s debut at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Florio’s pick:  Vikings 24, Colts 20.

Texans at Jaguars

MDS’s take: Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert looks like he’s taken a big step forward since last season, and Jacksonville should put some points on the board. But the Jaguars won’t be able to keep pace with the loaded Texans offense, and this game could get ugly.

MDS’s pick: Texans 35, Jaguars 14.

Florio’s take:  Jaguars owner Shahid Khan wants to remove the tarps at EverBank Field.  His players may want to hide under them when the Texans come to town.

Florio’s pick:  Texans 35, Jaguars 17.

Raiders at Dolphins

MDS’s take: Both of these offenses looked like they leave a lot to be desired in their Week One losses, but I have a lot more faith in Carson Palmer turning things around than I have in Ryan Tannehill turning things around. The Dolphins, who started last season 0-7, will take another step toward another dismal start.

MDS’s pick: Raiders 24, Dolphins 6.

Florio’s take:  The Raiders may need sunglasses to dull the glare of all those empty orange seats.  And it will only get more empty in the second half.

Florio’s pick:  Raiders 24, Dolphins 17.

Cardinals at Patriots

MDS’s take: The Cardinals somehow seem to keep playing in close, competitive, exciting games: Last year 13 of their 16 games were decided by a touchdown or less, and they went down to the wire against the Seahawks in Week One as well. So will they be in a close game again? No. The Patriots win this one easily.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 34, Cardinals 14.

Florio’s take:  The two hottest teams over the last 10 regular-season games get together in Foxboro, but there’s still a huge gap between the 9-1 Patriots and 8-2 Cardinals.  Actually, there’s a pretty big gap right now between the 9-1 Patriots and 31 other teams.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 31, Cardinals 13.

Buccaneers at Giants

MDS’s take: Greg Schiano had his team playing exactly the kind of tough, physical football he promised they would play in Week One against the Panthers, while the defending champion Giants looked surprisingly out of sorts in their Week One loss to the Cowboys. But the Giants are still the Giants and the Buccaneers are still the Buccaneers, and Week One will look like an anomaly when this game is over.

MDS’s pick: Giants 27, Buccaneers 10.

Florio’s take:  This is the kind of game that Giants could have lost, if they’d beaten the Cowboys in Week One.  But since the Giants lost to the Cowboys in Week One, they’ll be guarding against another letdown — and quarterback Eli Manning will do what he has to do to propel the team in an early must-win situation.

Florio’s pick:  Giants 27, Buccaneers 17.

Ravens at Eagles

MDS’s take: The Eagles won ugly in Week One, while the Ravens won big. Much like they did last year, the Eagles look like a team that’s less than the sum of its parts, and I like the Ravens to go to Philadelphia and win.

MDS’s pick: Ravens 24, Eagles 17.

Florio’s take:  A week after barely beating the toothless new Browns, the Eagles get a taste of the old Browns.  By the time it’s over, Mike Vick may need Jeffrey Lurie to push the wheelchair.

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 30, Eagles 21.

Redskins at Rams

MDS’s take: I liked the way the Rams’ defense looked in the first game of the Jeff Fisher era: Yes, they gave up 355 passing yards to Matthew Stafford in a loss to the Lions, but they also mixed up their coverages and picked Stafford off three times. The Rams will do a better job of containing Robert Griffin III than the Saints did, but the problem for St. Louis is that the offensive line is a mess, and they’re not going to be able to put many points on the board.

MDS’s pick: Redskins 20, Rams 13.

Florio’s take:  If the Rams had known how RG3 would make his NFL debut, the price for the pick that was sent to the Redskins would have been a lot higher than three ones and a two.  And the Rams may regret sooner rather than later the decision to not simply pick Griffin themselves.

Florio’s pick:  Redskins 28, Rams 20.

Cowboys at Seahawks

MDS’s take: Russell Wilson struggled against the Cardinals’ defense, and he’s going to struggle again against an athletic Cowboys defense that can limit Wilson’s mobility. The fans in Seattle may be calling for Matt Flynn soon.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 21, Seahawks 6.

Florio’s takeTony Romo returns to Seattle for the first time since he fumbled the snap on a field goal that would have secured a win in his first career playoff game.  This time around, the defense will be the difference, especially since the Seahawks’ receivers are banged up.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 24, Seahawks 13.

Jets at Steelers

MDS’s take: No one saw the Jets’ offensive explosion coming last week, so maybe I’m underestimating them here, but I just don’t like Mark Sanchez’s chances of moving the ball effectively against the Steelers’ defense.

MDS’s pick: Steelers 17, Jets 10.

Florio’s take:  The Steelers saw some Tebowing late in Sunday’s loss to the Broncos.  The Steelers will be hoping to see none of it on Sunday.

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 20, Jets 10.

Titans at Chargers

MDS’s take: Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips had an excellent game against the Raiders, and he’s going to make Titans quarterback Jake Locker’s life very difficult on Sunday. The Chargers will be off to their first 2-0 start since 2006.

MDS’s pick: Chargers 24, Titans 17.

Florio’s take:  The Chargers begin what could be one of their final seasons in San Diego  in style.  Except for all the empty seats at the stadium.

Florio’s pick:  Chargers 21, Titans 17.

Lions at 49ers

MDS’s take: The Lions survived with an unimpressive win over the Rams at home, while the 49ers had an extremely impressive win over the Packers on the road. San Francisco may just have the best team in the NFL.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 27, Lions 17.

Florio’s take:  The 49ers have gotten better since the last time these two teams met in Detroit.  The Lions haven’t.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 31, Lions 17.

Broncos at Falcons

MDS’s take: The loss of starting cornerback Brent Grimes is a huge blow to the Falcons, and Peyton Manning is the worst quarterback to face for a team trying to adjust to an injury in the secondary: Manning will find places to pick apart the Falcons’ secondary and get a big road win against a good team.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 31, Falcons 28.

Florio’s take:  Last year, Denver’s defense kept games close long enough for the quarterback to do something heroic.  This week, they’ll do the same thing — without having to give up so few points.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 38, Falcons 35.

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Mike Tomlin: We didn’t adapt to changed circumstances

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 22:  Head coach Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks on against the New England Patriots during the second quarter in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 22, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

Many believed that the Patriots would design a game plan aimed at taking away Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell. The Patriots didn’t have to.

A groin injury limited Bell to 11 snaps on Sunday night, carrying the ball six times for 20 yards.

After the game, coach Mike Tomlin was asked whether the injury changed the offensive strategy.

“No question,” Tomlin said, “but like I said, injuries are part of the game. We didn’t do a good enough job or a quick enough job adapting to the circumstance.”

The Steelers got away from running the ball, in part because they fell behind. DeAngelo Williams carried 14 times for 34 yards with a long of 15. Which means that his 13 other carries generated 19 yards.

Of course, a defense that performed like it usually does against Tom Brady didn’t help, forcing the Steelers to throw in order to close a gap that kept getting bigger and bigger.

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Who wins Super Bowl LI?

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 22:  (EDITORS NOTE: Retransmission with alternate crop.) Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots reacts during the third quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 22, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Super Bowl participants have been locked and loaded. In 14 days, the Patriots and Falcons will square off.

So let’s start the prognostication process now: Who wins the game?

Answer below, battle it out in the comments, and then tune in for Monday’s PFT Live, which will feature visits from Hall of Fame head coach Tony Dungy and Patriots fanboy (not really, but I like to accuse him of it) Tom Curran of CSN New England.

PFT Live begins at 6:00 a.m. on NBC Sports Radio, and the simulcast starts at 7:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN.

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Patriots advance to Super Bowl LI to face Falcons

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 22:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots reacts during the second half against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 22, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images) Getty Images

Roger Goodell kept Tom Brady off the field for the first four games of the season.

Nothing was keeping Brady from finishing it, and giving himself a chance to accept another trophy from the NFL commissioner in two weeks.

The Patriots quarterback was clinical as his team crushed the Steelers 36-17, setting up a Super Bowl LI showdown with the Falcons in Houston two weeks from today.

Brady was 34-of-42 passing for 384 yards and three scores. It was his ninth career three-touchdown performance in the postseason, tying Joe Montana for the most in that category. And that underscores the kind of historic company he’s keeping, as he leads the Patriots to their ninth Super Bowl appearance.

It also sets the stage for plenty of talk about the four-game Deflategate suspension that delayed the start of his season, but the Patriots went 3-1 during that stretch with the kind of all-hands effort as they displayed Sunday night.

Offensively, wide receiver Chris Hogan was brilliant, with nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns.

But the league’s best scoring defense also kept the Steelers from doing much of anything, making plays at critical junctures and forcing a pair of turnovers.

The Steelers were fairly helpless once running back Le’Veon Bell left with a groin injury early. He tried coming back for a play, but it wasn’t working, and without him, neither did their offense. With Bell offering just 20 yards on six carries, the rest of the Patriots’ attention went to slowing Antonio Brown, who will not be live-streaming any celebrations in the locker room tonight.

Brown finished with seven catches for 77 yards (cosmetic yards late padded that number), and the rest of the Steelers couldn’t overcome the attention.

Which means Brady and the Patriots will get plenty for the next two weeks, as they chase a fifth title.

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Source: Saints never spoke to Colts about Sean Payton

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 24:  Head coach Sean Payton is seen prior to playing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers  at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 24, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Colts have denied it on the record, and the Saints eventually may do the same.

For now, a source with knowledge of the situation tells PFT that no one from the Saints at any time has ever spoken to the Colts, directly or indirectly, about a deal for coach Sean Payton.

Colts COO Pete Ward has denied talking to the Saints, but Ward has said that a “Payton associate” called the Colts to gauge interest in the possibility of obtaining Payton by compensating the Saints.

Payton remains under contract with the Saints and there’s no indication that either side plans to change that reality, or that any team plans to try to secure the rights to Payton.

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Aaron Rodgers: We need to reload, can take “big step” this offseason

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 22:  Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers walks off the field after being defeated by the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome on January 22, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. The Falcons defeated the Packers 44-21.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Packers’ hot streak came to an end in Atlanta on Sunday afternoon and that means quarterback Aaron Rodgers is already thinking about the future.

Rodgers was asked if he felt like he was running short on chances to win another Super Bowl, which the quarterback said wasn’t the case while adding that they have to “make sure we’re going all-in every year to win” a title. Rodgers said he thinks the team “can take a big step this offseason,” but that the changes didn’t need to be major ones in order for that to happen.

“We need to reload,” Rodgers said. “I don’t think we need to rebuild. We need to reload. We’ve got a lot of players who are young who are big contributors for us. We just need to reload a little bit this offseason. I think we had a lot of great contributions this season from guys we didn’t really expect. Geronimo Allison had a very big year for us. Aaron Ripkowski was fantastic. Jared Cook, I think, needs to be near the top of the priority list, the way he played this year. And the offensive line, keeping those guys together was a big part of our success.”

Cook was signed last offseason and provided a good target for Rodgers when healthy. The quarterback’s plug probably won’t hurt the tight end’s chances of sticking around for a second year in Green Bay.

Guard T.J. Lang and center J.C. Tretter are also free agents, which may account for Rodgers’ interest in keeping the offensive line together. There might be more desire for new faces at running back and in the secondary, although Cook represented the rare foray into veteran free agency for General Manager Ted Thompson so we’ll have to see if they’ll go that route as part of the reloading plan.

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Patriots pulling away from Steelers in third quarter

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 22:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates after a 1-yard rushing touchdown by LeGarrette Blount #29 (not pictured) during the third quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 22, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Steelers may not have had much margin for error anyway.

But when they made mistakes, the Patriots quickly made them pay.

New England sandwiched touchdowns around a Steelers fumble, and have a 33-9 lead over the Steelers in the third quarter of the AFC Championship Game.

The Steelers were already in trouble following LeGarrette Blount’s touchdown run, but when linebacker Rob Ninkovich collected Steelers wideout Eli Rogers‘ fumble, it didn’t take long to cost them.

Four plays later, Tom Brady found Julian Edelman for a touchdown, and only a missed extra point has marred this one.

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Julio Jones wasn’t slowed by toe injury on Sunday

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 22:  Julio Jones #11 of the Atlanta Falcons celebrates after defeating the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome on January 22, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. The Falcons defeated the Packers 44-21.  (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images) Getty Images

Before Sunday’s NFC Championship Game, Jay Glazer of FOX Sports reported that Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones has been dealing with three injuries to his foot — two to a toe and one in the middle of the foot — in recent weeks.

Those injuries kept Jones from practicing twice in the week leading up to the matchup with the Packers, but they weren’t any trouble at all during the game. Jones caught nine passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns in the win, including a 73-yarder that pretty much ended any remaining suspense a minute into the second half. The big day moved him into some rarified postseason air.

Jones joined Jerry Rice and Fred Biletnikoff as one of only three players in history to reach at least 180 receiving yards in more than one playoff game. Jones had 11 catches for 182 yards and two touchdowns in a loss to the 49ers in the NFC title game four years ago.

“He never ceases to surprise us because he makes the extraordinary plays seem ordinary,” coach Dan Quinn said after the game. “That’s not a very typical thing to do. He’s a heckuva competitor.”

Jones said his foot felt OK after the game. He’ll get two weeks to keep it rested in hopes of adding to the rich playoff history he’s already assembled.

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Colts deny Sean Payton report

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 24:  Head coach Sean Payton is seen prior to playing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers  at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 24, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Colts have moved quickly to throw water on the report that they had back-channel talks with the Saints about a possible deal for coach Sean Payton.

Colts COO Pete Ward has gone on the record with multiple outlets to dispute the report. Via Mike Chappell of FOX 59/CBS 4 in Indianapolis, Ward called the report from Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports “totally fictitious.”

Ward added that he received a call from a Payton associate a couple of weeks ago inquiring as to whether the team had interest in a deal. Ward said, “No.” And that was that.

Ward, who was identified La Canfora as the person who spoke to the Saints on behalf of the Colts, called La Canfora after the report was published. It’s unclear whether La Canfora called Ward before publishing the report; nevertheless, La Canfora has revised his report to include Ward’s position. However, the report has not been revised to remove the claim that Ward actually negotiated with the Saints.

The end result is that the report (and La Canfora’s Twitter feed) characterizes the call from Ward as confirmation that something happened regarding the Colts and the Saints while glossing over the fact that Ward, who presumably called La Canfora because Ward was upset with the report, disputed that the Colts ever spoke to the Saints. (Indeed, the headline still declares that the two teams talked, even though Ward has denied it.)

Lost in the sauce (trademarked) is the perception/reality that a “Payton associate” called the Colts to gauge interest in doing a deal with the Saints. That would have been a pretty compelling “Sunday splash” item from La Canfora, if he hadn’t already locked in to the report that the Colts have gone on the record to debunk.

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Patriots catch a break on review, extend lead

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin watches from the sideline during the first half of the AFC championship NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne) AP

The Patriots have extended their lead over the Steelers, and they appear to have been fortunate to be able to kick a field goal.

A Tom Brady sneak attempt for a first down appeared to include him losing the ball, and Steelers nose tackle Javon Hargrave came out of the pile with the ball.

But the officials on the field ruled Brady down by contact, and the league backed them, or at least said there wasn’t enough evidence to overturn the call. NFL vice president of officiating was quick to tweet out support for his guys.

As a result, the Patriots were able to extend the drive and get a 47-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski, giving them a 20-9 lead in the third quarter. And the Steelers lost a timeout they might need later by losing the challenge.

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Jonathan Kraft: AFC title game loss might have been Ryan Grigson’s pinnacle

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 16: General manager Ryan Grigson of the Indianapolis Colts looks on during a rookie minicamp at the team complex on May 16, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

Colts General Manager Ryan Grigson was fired on Saturday and he was on the receiving end of a shot from Patriots president Jonathan Kraft on Sunday.

During a pregame appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub, Kraft was asked about Grigson’s dismissal and he mentioned the AFC title game two years ago as being the moment when everything started going downhill for the former G.M. in Indianapolis.

“I don’t, you’d have to ask Jim Irsay about it,” Kraft said, via the Boston Herald. “He’d be the one to ask. That game might have been Ryan’s pinnacle, I don’t know. Jimmy can talk about what’s going on with the Colts. We’re fortunately playing football today.”

In addition to being the last time the Colts played a postseason game, that 45-7 Patriots win was also the game that introduced Deflategate to the national lexicon. Grigson sent an email to the league about suspicions regarding the intentional deflation of balls before the game and complained to league officials during the game as well.

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Patriots up 17-9 at halftime, thanks to Chris Hogan

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) celebrates with wide receiver Chris Hogan (15) after a touchdown pass during the first half of the AFC championship NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) AP

The Steelers have the name-brand talent on offense, but the star of the AFC Championship Game so far is a guy the Bills didn’t want to keep this offseason.

Patriots wide receiver Chris Hogan has two touchdowns so far, and the Patriots have a 17-9 halftime lead.

It seems like a good time to point out that the Bills could have kept Hogan this offseason, but didn’t want to match the three-year, $12 million deal the Patriots offered the restricted free agent.

All he’s done so far is catch seven passes for 117 yards and two scores, the second on a wide-open flea flicker in the second quarter.

Meanwhile, the Steelers appear to be without Le’Veon Bell, after he was declared questionable with a left groin injury. He came back in for one play, but immediately limped back to the sideline. He has 20 yards on six carries so far, as the Patriots have kept the Steelers’ big-play threats from hurting them.

Antonio Brown has just three catches for 26 yards so far, as the Patriots have forced Ben Roethlisberger to spread the ball around.

They also closed with a disappointing stretch to end the half, with an apparent touchdown overturned on review, followed by a pair of negative-yardage runs by DeAngelo Williams and an incomplete pass, forcing them to settle for a field goal.

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Dan Quinn: Shift took place after loss to Kansas City

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 22:  Head coach Dan Quinn of the Atlanta Falcons has gatorade dumped on him by his team late in the game against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome on January 22, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Falcons played a wild game against the Chiefs in Week 13 of the regular season that saw them score 12 straight points in the fourth quarter to grab a one-point lead with over four minutes to play.

They would wind up losing by one after Chiefs safety Eric Berry intercepted Matt Ryan on the two-point try and returned it for two Kansas City points. It was a painful loss at the time, but coach Dan Quinn credited it with kicking his team to a higher level of play that helped catapult them into Super Bowl LI. They would win 42-14 in Los Angeles the next week and they have scored at least 33 points every week while winning their last six games by an average of over 19 points.

“We had a difficult loss against Kansas City and that was probably the first shift for us before we went out to L.A. as a team. We knew we could play better,” Quinn said during his postgame press conference. “The unconditional support for one another, our intent took it up a notch. I thought another shift took place our first playoff bye week. We didn’t just kinda hang around. We had real intent on getting better and finding an edge. I thought that carried over into this week.”

Quinn said his experience as a defensive coordinator hasn’t given him any empathy for coaches who have to try to slow down the Falcons offense and the defense has proven increasingly adept at making sure the Falcons stay up once they get up each week. If they kick things up another level before kickoff on February 5, it’s going to be tough on both sides of the ball for the Patriots or Steelers.

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Report: Saints, Colts talked Sean Payton deal

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 01: Head coach Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints looks on during the second half against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on January 1, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) Getty Images

Manning isn’t the only Peyton the Colts wanted to hire, apparently.

The Colts also explored via back channels the possibility of obtaining the services of coach Sean Payton from the Saints, according to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports. The two teams were unable to strike a deal regarding the compensation the Saints would receive for Payton’s services.

Payton also would have been a factor in the discussions, since the procedure would have initially required the Colts and Saints to have a tentative deal in place regarding compensation before the Colts would have had direct talks with Payton as to: (1) whether he wants to coach the Colts; and (2) what it would take to get a deal done with Indianapolis.

Many in the media erroneously describe the situation as a “trade.” The transaction can’t occur without the consent of the coach, and the coach’s current contract is torn up as part of the process and replaced with a brand new deal.

If the Colts and Saints had struck a tentative arrangement, it would have been imperative for both sides to keep things quiet until the Colts fired G.M. Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano and complied with the Rooney Rule as to both positions. Per the report, Payton would have brought Jeff Ireland with him from New Orleans to serve as G.M.

The fact that the Saints were willing to consider parting ways with Payton and that, apparently, Payton was willing to go will do nothing to end the annual “Sean Payton Could Be Leaving The Saints” reports. With Saints quarterback Drew Brees under contract for only one more year and taking the position that there won’t be an extension, maybe this will raw the year when the reports are finally right.

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Steelers close the gap, without Le’Veon Bell

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 22:  Le'Veon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers reacts prior to the AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on January 22, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Steelers are making a bit of a run, and they’re doing it without their best runner.

Le’Veon Bell left the game early in the second quarter and hasn’t returned, and the Steelers have announced he’s questionable to return with a left groin injury.

They’re fortunate they have a talented backup in DeAngelo Williams, and the veteran just ran for a touchdown which cut the gap to 10-6. Kicker Chris Boswell missed the extra point, which could cause the Steelers to be more aggressive going for two later in the game.

Williams has four carries for 25 yards, after Bell gained 18 on his first five tries. While they’d obviously rather have their regular in there, Williams is keeping them close, and his decisive style might be a better fit than Bell’s stop-and-go patience.

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Chris Hogan puts the Patriots up 10-0

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 24: Chris Hogan #15 of the New England Patriots reacts during the first half against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on December 24, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) Getty Images

He’s not Rob Gronkowski, but Chris Hogan has created quite a niche for himself in New England.

He just scored to put the Patriots up 10-0 on the Steelers late in the first, dominating a drive.

Hogan caught four passes for 57 yards, including the 16-yard touchdown which capped a quick, effective drive.

He doesn’t fall into the diminutive Julian Edelman/Wes Welker profile the Patriots have had such success with over the years, and they’re using him on some of the same seam routes that have been so productive when their All-Pro tight end was healthy.

Tom Brady’s already 10-of-12 for 128 yards so far, an efficient start as he’s been willing to go no-huddle to keep the Steelers off balance.

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