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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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Julio Jones, Steven Jackson questionable for Sunday

Bradley McDougald, Steven Jackson AP

Two of the Falcons’ key skill-position players will be officially listed as questionable for Sunday’s NFC South title game at Carolina.

Wide receiver Julio Jones (hip) and tailback Steven Jackson (quadriceps) are both technically 50-50 shots to play against the Panthers, per the club’s official Twitter feed.

Jones was practicing on Friday, per Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com. However, Jackson was not working out for a third straight day. Still, Jackson has yet to be ruled out despite not practicing all week.

The Falcons (6-9) will capture the NFC South for the first time since 2012 with a victory against the Panthers (6-8-1).

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Brian Hoyer not practicing, looks unlikely to go Sunday

Hoyer AP

It looks like the cavalcade of backup quarterbacks starting in Week 17 is going to include Connor Shaw.

According to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer still isn’t practicing because of shoulder and biceps injuries.

That makes it appear extremely unlikely that he’d be able to go in Sunday’s finale.

That would leave Shaw backed up by Tyler Thigpen, who was signed this week when Rex Grossman said no thanks.

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It’s too late for a Kurt Warner comeback

Warner Getty Images

With the Super Bowl Hosting Curse finally destroying the Cardinals’ chance of becoming the first team to play in a Roman-numeralized (probably not a word) football game in their own stadium, there’s even more bad news for a team that apparently will have to enter the postseason with Ryan Lindley and Logan Thomas at quarterback:  Kurt Warner is not an option.

Warner isn’t an option, even if he wants to be.  By league rule, the deadline for reinstatement of players on the reserve/retired list came expired on November 28.

Darren Urban of the Cardinals’ official website recently reported that Warner remains on Arizona’s reserve/retired list.  Which means that he can’t in 2015.

Warner admitted that he considered unretiring to join the Cardinals after Drew Stanton suffered a knee injury during a December 11 win over the Rams.

“It amazed me I thought about it as much as I actually thought about it,” Warner said on December 14.

There’s a possible path through the maze, if Warner would decide to try to put a cherry atop one of the most memorable stories in NFL history by riding back in from the sunset to save the season.  The theory has been posed to the league office; for now, it can’t happen, even if Warner would want it to.

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Alex Smith out Sunday due to lacerated spleen

Alex Smith AP

The Chargers need a win at Arrowhead Stadium in order to return to the playoffs for the second straight season and they learned Friday that they won’t have to beat a Chiefs team quarterbacked by Alex Smith.

Chiefs trainer Rick Burkholder announced that Smith has a lacerated spleen and will not play in Week 17, leaving the Chiefs with Chase Daniel as their starting quarterback. Burkholder said that Smith, who was able to practice earlier this week, doesn’t need surgery to repair the injury, which occurred in last weekend’s loss to the Steelers, but that the injury could get worse if he were to take a shot in the wrong place against San Diego this weekend.

“It wasn’t until after I dressed and adrenaline wore off that I noticed anything. I didn’t relate it to a hit,” Smith said.

It’s the second straight year that Daniel will start against the Chargers in Week 17, although last year’s start came with Smith resting in advance of the playoff opener. Daniel was 21-of-30 for 200 yards and a touchdown in that game, but the Chiefs lost 27-24 in overtime and the Chargers moved on to the postseason.

San Diego would certainly like the same outcome this time, while the Chiefs need a win to keep their faint playoff hopes alive. If they were to win and get the help they need elsewhere, Daniel would likely be the playoff starter as Burkholder said Smith’s injury typically takes six weeks to heal.

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Calvin Johnson, Joique Bell present at practice

Detroit Lions v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

The Lions had nearly perfect on-field attendance for their third major practice in preparation for Sunday’s NFC North title game at Green Bay.

According to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, defensive tackle Nick Fairley (knee) was the only Lions player not present at Friday’s workout. Fairley has missed the last seven games with his injury and seems all but certain to miss the season finale as well.

However, while Fairley is likely out, taiback Joique Bell (Achilles) and wide receiver Calvin Johnson (ankle) look set to play Sunday with their ailments. Bell went through a full practice Thursday, while Johnson was limited.

The Lions’ final injury report will be released later Friday.

The Lions will win the NFC North with a victory or a tie vs. the Packers. Both clubs have 11-4 records. For the moment, Detroit holds the head-to-head tiebreaker on account of its Week Three win vs. Green Bay.

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Julio Jones practices on Friday

Atlanta Falcons v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

The Falcons have been without wide receiver Julio Jones at practice since he strained an oblique muscle during the team’s December 8 loss to the Packers, but Jones was able to play last Sunday and he’s continued to progress this week.

Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com reports that Jones took part in Friday’s final practice of the regular season, leaving him on track to play against the Panthers this Sunday. If the Falcons lose that game, it will be the last time that Jones or anyone else on the Falcons practices for a long time but a win would put them in the playoffs and give Jones a chances to practice more next week.

Returning to practice could be a sign that he’s healthier than he was for the game against the Saints, but Jones still probably won’t be 100 percent come Sunday. Jones had seven catches for 107 yards, though, and his presence alone is enough to occupy the attention of the Carolina defense.

Running back Steven Jackson remained a non-participant in practice Friday and isn’t expected to play as the Falcons and Panthers square off for the NFC South title.

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Drew Stanton’s infection believed to be from outside treatment

Drew Stanton AP

The infection that could derail Drew Stanton’s potential return for the playoffs may have created a problem beyond the immediate.

A league source explained to PFT that the infection he was treated for this week is believed to be the result of treatment he was getting for his knee injury outside the team facility.

When Stanton suffered a grade two MCL sprain on Dec. 11, he didn’t need surgery, and was recovering with treatment and rest. The hope was that he’d be able to return for the postseason.

But this week, his knee began to swell, and team doctors diagnosed him with an infection. However, the fact he didn’t have surgery or any treatment from the team that would lead to such an infection has them believing it stemmed from a treatment they didn’t perform.

He underwent an arthroscopic procedure Wednesday, and is being treated with antibiotics now.

What isn’t known is the nature of the outside treatment, or whether he’ll be able to make it back for the playoffs.

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A.J. Green present at Cincinnati’s Friday practice

Cincinnati Bengals v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

As the Bengals embarked on their final on-field work of the week, their go-to receiver was among those dressed to work out.

Wide receiver A.J. Green (biceps) was seen at the club’s Friday practice in uniform, Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com reported.

Green suffered the arm injury in the Bengals’ Monday night win vs. Denver. He did not practice on Wednesday, but he was able to go through a limited workout on Thursday.

The Bengals (10-4-1) will capture the AFC North with a win or tie at Pittsburgh on Sunday night (8:30 p.m. ET, NBC).

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Report: Drew Stanton being treated for infection

Arizona Cardinals v St Louis Rams Getty Images

The Arizona Cardinals, who seemed to have perfected the art of “next man up,” suddenly can’t catch a break.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, quarterback Drew Stanton had to have an arthroscopic procedure to fight an infection, and may be done for the year.

That’s bad news for the Cardinals hopes for anything beyond simply making the postseason, such that Stanton himself was the answer.

They were planning to bench Ryan Lindley in favor of rookie Logan Thomas, but Thomas got the quick hook this week in practice.

Of course, it’s worse news for Stanton, who suffered a knee injury and then an infection.

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Antrel Rolle knows finishing well no guarantee 2015 will be any better for Giants

Odell Beckham AP

The Giants have found a winning formula over the last three weeks, bumping their record to 6-9 and raising hopes that they can ride a strong finish into a better 2015 season.

With rookies and young players like Odell Beckham, Jonathan Hankins and Devon Kennard stepping up in the second half of the year, it’s easy to understand why the Giants would feel like better things await in the new year. As Paul Schwartz of the New York Post points out, however, the Giants have now played four straight games in which neither team had any hope of making the playoffs and will close out the year with another one against the Eagles.

Winning those games is certainly better than losing them, but they aren’t any more predictive of future success than closing out last season 7-3 turned out to be. Safety Antrel Rolle has been around for a long time and knows that each season tends to be independent of the one that came before.

“Each and every year presents its own different year and own different set of challenges,” Rolle said, via the New York Post. “I would love to say yes, but knowing how this game is and knowing how things shake out, that’s not a guarantee. I think the future for this team is very promising. I think all the injuries and allowing all the younger guys to step in and play and to get their feet wet and understand what it takes to actually produce in this league, I think it’s definitely helped them out a lot, helped our team out a lot.”

Rolle’s view on the promise of the future is on target, but history is littered with teams that showed promise in December before failing to make good on it the next time around. It is a long time between games and the Giants need to spend a good portion of it improving on the areas that led them to start the year with nine losses in their first 12 games.

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Torrey Smith: “Horrible feeling” that this could be last game with Ravens

Kareem Jackson, Torrey Smith, Whitney Mercilus AP

The Ravens need a win and some help to make the playoffs, which means that Sunday’s game against the Browns could wind up being their final game of the 2014 season.

If that’s the case, it will be time to start making plans for the offseason. One of the decisions that the team will have to make concerns wide receiver Torrey Smith, whose contract expires after the end of the season. Smith said this week that he would like to remain with the Ravens.

“As bad as it is not going to the playoffs, that’s a horrible feeling knowing that it’s a possibility that I might not be here next year,” Smith said, via ESPN.com. “But I’m not really worried about that. I’m trying to win this game and see what happens.”

Smith lamented how inconsistent he’s been this season on the way to 45 catches, 684 yards and 10 touchdowns and vowed that next year will be different whether he’s in Baltimore or on another team. That inconsistency won’t help him a top-tier contract, but it might wind up helping his chances of staying with the Ravens if the team also wants to continue the relationship.

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Louis Murphy gets three-year extension from Bucs

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

There’s not much to look back fondly on for the Buccaneers this year. But they found another part they want to keep around.

The Buccaneers announced they signed wide receiver Louis Murphy to a three-year contract extension.

The journeyman wideout caught 31 passes for 380 yards and two touchdowns in 11 games, before they put him injured reserve with an ankle injury.

He’s always teased teams with his deep speed, and this was his most productive season since 2010, when he caught 41 balls for the Raiders.

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Mark Ingram pleased he showed he can handle big workload this season

Mark Ingram AP

Drew Brees remains confident in the direction that the Saints are taking as a franchise despite a disappointing 2014 season and he’s not the only member of the team looking ahead to better days.

Running back Mark Ingram is wrapping up the final year of his contract with the team and preparing to head into free agency after his best NFL season. Ingram missed three games early in the season, but has since held up well under a heavy workload caused by injuries other backs. Ingram has set career highs in attempts, yards, receptions and touchdowns and thinks he’s sold himself well in the process.

“Yeah, I think that’s a good thing, seeing that I could carry the ball and be out there doing whatever they ask me to do for a stretch of time and be healthy,” Ingram said, via the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Running backs have not found a friendly market in free agency in recent years, so Ingram will have to buck that trend to land a big contract. That will be tough in a year when DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews, C.J. Spiller and Frank Gore are also set to make up a crowded free agent market at the position, but coming off his best pro season shouldn’t hurt when it comes time for Ingram to talk contract.

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40 days and no NFL arrests

Elf

In early 2007, at a time when more and more players seemed to be getting arrested more and more frequently (which would result in the April 2007 unveiling of a new personal conduct policy), PFT decided to start keeping track of the arrests — and to adopt a twist on a device commonly used in workplaces to track the numbers of days without an injury.

At first, I was concerned that the “days without an arrest” tracker didn’t allow for three digits.  For a while, however, it rarely needed a second digit.

Today, for the first time since its debut, the tracker has hit 40.  (Former 49ers defensive lineman Ray McDonald, cut last week after his home was searched reportedly in connection with a rape accusation, has not yet been arrested, and currently is not in the NFL.)  Whether that’s cause for celebration (you did it!) or a golf clap is a matter of debate.  As a matter of fact, the tracker is now less than two months away from finally needing that previously unneeded triple digit.

Maybe it’s a fluke.  Maybe I just jinxed it by pointing it out.  Or maybe players have realized through the experiences of Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy and others that real consequences arise when misbehavior happens.

The chances of misbehavior increase as of Monday, when the offseason begins for 20 teams — and when all players are left to their own devices into April.  Here’s hoping that the few who make the many look bad will take advantage of the various resources available to NFL players in order to avoid trouble for as long as possible into 2015.

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Jim Caldwell: No concerns about starting a rookie center

Detroit Lions Rookie Minicamp Getty Images

The Lions will take another shot at ending their long Lambeau Field losing streak on Sunday afternoon without starting center Dominic Raiola.

Raiola has been suspended one game after stepping on Bears defensive lineman Ego Ferguson in last weekend’s game, leaving the Lions to start Travis Swanson at center for the first time in his NFL career. Swanson said that he’s been getting help from Raiola and other veterans on the offensive line as he prepares to face the Packers and coach Jim Caldwell said Thursday that he has no concerns about how Swanson will handle his responsibilities.

“I have none,” Caldwell said, via the Detroit Free Press. “I have none at all. I’ve been different places where, you know, I’m always drawing up on old experiences, where we’ve had guys in the first part of the season that were young players, rookies that stepped in and played for us on some very good teams. I think for the most part, we expect him to be good, we expect him to get his job done just like we did when [rookie tackle Cornelius] Lucas stepped in there very early. … We’re expecting the same thing from Swanny. He’s got a great work habit. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be perfect by any stretch of the imagination. You can’t be perfect in this league.”

Swanson isn’t totally without experience after making three starts at guard earlier this year, but there are still adjustments that will have to be made as he moves into the lineup at center. Making them as painless as possible will be important to the Lions’ chances of becoming the first team this year and the first Lions team in decades to earn a win in Green Bay.

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