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NFL morning after: Yes, the Eagles are for real

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Vick celebrates the game tying touchdown against the Ravens with teammates Watkins and Bell in Philadelphia Reuters

The Eagles are a clutch team that plays its best football when the going gets toughest, shaking off adversity and coming back in the fourth quarter to win back-to-back games by just one point.

The Eagles are a sloppy team that makes far too many mistakes to be a legitimate contender, getting outplayed for most of the game twice in a row before barely winning back-to-back games by just one point.

Both are true. But which one better describes the 2012 Eagles? Are they the dynasty in the making that Michael Vick said they were before the season started? Or are they just a mediocre team that missed the playoffs last year and will miss the playoffs again this year?

If I could answer that question with any certainty I’d make my home in Las Vegas, not Chicago, but from where I sit, I believe that the Eagles are a better team than they were last year, and a better team than they’ve shown so far this year. And considering that they are, in fact, 2-0 after Sunday’s 24-23 win over the Ravens, if they’re better than they’ve shown they’re going to be pretty good.

On offense, I simply don’t believe the Eagles can play any worse than they have in the first two weeks of the season, when they’ve turned the ball over nine times — nine times — in just two games. The Eagles are the first NFL team since 1983 to start the season 2-0 despite having at least four turnovers in each of their first two games, and it’s unimaginable that they can keep turning the ball over at this level. Michael Vick, who has never had more than 14 interceptions in an entire season, just can’t keep throwing interceptions at the rate he has been so far this season, with six in two games. He’ll get better.

And on defense, I believe the Eagles are clearly better than they were a year ago, and that’s almost entirely because of linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who arrived from Houston in a trade this year. Ryans was outstanding on Sunday against the Ravens, recording an interception, a sack, two tackles for loss, a pass breakup and six solo tackles. He looks like one of the best defensive players in the league right now.

So with the Eagles now 2-0 and six days away with a surprisingly big game against another 2-0 team in Arizona, I believe they’re one of the league’s best teams. They’re going to win most of their games this season, and by a lot more than one point.

Here are my other thoughts on Week Two in the NFL:

The replacement officials took a step backward. After doing a more or less solid job in Week One, the NFL’s replacement officials did a mostly lousy job in Week Two. And the problem was less about any one particular blown call than it was a general sense that the officials weren’t in control of the game. The crucial personal foul penalty on Redskins receiver Josh Morgan for throwing the ball at Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan, for instance, was the correct call. But the officials had permitted so much post-play pushing, shoving and taunting in that game that it felt arbitrary when they finally decided to call the penalty on Morgan just before what could have been a game-tying field goal for the Redskins. And it was like that across the league on Sunday: Officials seeming unsure of themselves and unable to take control of games. Consistency is of paramount importance in officiating, and if the NFL can’t get consistency from the replacement officials, then the NFL needs to end the lockout of the regular officials.

Darrelle Revis proved in his absence how good he is. The Jets’ shutdown cornerback was out with a concussion, and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had an easy day picking apart a depleted Jets secondary. Roethlisberger found open receivers all day, completing 24 of 31 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns, and the Steelers cruised to a 27-10 win. Without Revis, the Jets’ defense is going to have a hard time stopping anybody. They need him back soon.

C.J. Spiller is an elite talent. The Bills used the ninth overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft on Spiller, a running back out of Clemson, and he disappointed as a rookie. But we’ve seen enough of Spiller to know now that he really is a Top 10 talent. Spiller had 15 carries for 123 yards in Sunday’s blowout of the Chiefs, a week after he had 14 carries for 169 yards in a loss to the Jets. And although a lot of people didn’t notice it, Spiller had a great end to the 2011 season as well, carrying 67 times for 391 yards (5.8 yards a carry) over the last five games of last year. Spiller is a stud.

Gregg Williams was a good coach. Just look at how the Saints’ defense has fallen apart without him. Williams, the former Saints defensive coordinator who has been banished by the NFL for running a bounty program in New Orleans, may have engaged in egregious misconduct, but no one has ever accused Williams of not knowing how to run a defense. The Saints’ defense allowed quarterbacks Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton to pick them apart, and the Saints, who have already given up 75 points this season, are 0-2.

Reggie Bush is finally the Reggie Bush he was supposed to be. Remember how incredible Bush was at USC, and how he was supposed to be a game-changing running back in the NFL? It never really worked out that way in New Orleans: Yes, Bush was a fine player, but he was more like an interchangeable cog in a well-oiled Saints offensive machine than a uniquely talented playmaker. But now that Bush is in Miami, things are different. He has 760 yards in his last six games, including 172 in Sunday’s win over the Raiders, and his two touchdown runs on Sunday were beautiful. Breaking four tackles on his way to the end zone on a 23-yard run. Racing 65 yards down the sideline. That’s the Reggie Bush we were supposed to see. That’s the Reggie Bush we’re finally seeing.

I have no idea what to make of any of the 1-1 teams. There are 19 1-1 teams in the NFL right now, and there will be 20 after the 1-0 Broncos play the 1-0 Falcons tonight. And I really don’t know which ones are good and which ones are bad. I think the Patriots and Giants are a couple of good 1-1 teams, and I think the Vikings and Dolphins are a couple of bad 1-1 teams, but I don’t know. That’s what’s so fun about the start of the NFL season. None of us knows.

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Falcons make a flurry of moves to refill their offensive line

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Well, at least Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has healthy receivers this year.

Offensive linemen, not so much.

The Falcons just announced a flurry of moves, which included putting two more starting offensive linemen on injured reserve.

They announced that center Joe Hawley (knee) and right tackle Lamar Holmes (foot) were going on IR, where they’ll join left tackle Sam Baker (knee).

They also placed safety William Moore (shoulder) on IR/designated for return, which will allow him to come back after eight weeks.

To fill the roster spots, the Falcons promoted guard Harland Gunn and safety Sean Baker from the practice squad, and signed former Jaguars tackle Cameron Bradfield.

That’s going to make a real hash of their offensive line, but no worse than it was Sunday, when they had to use tight end Levine Toilolo as their right tackle to finish the game when injuries collected at one spot.

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Mike Tomlin doesn’t mind label, he minds lazy sterotypes

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Two days after Mike Tomlin bristled at being termed a “player’s coach,” during a pregame interview, he said he mostly bristles at the broad characterization it creates.

Tomlin told reporters Tuesday that he doesn’t necessarily take it as an insult, but that he’s insulted by the undertones the phrase carries.

I refuse to be put in a box. It’s my job to be what my team needs me to be,” Tomlin said, via Scott Brown of ESPN.com. “Sometimes it’s close and cuddly and sometimes it’s not. I don’t have any problem being any of the above.

“Sometimes when they couple ‘player’s coach’ with questions about how I wear my hair or what I choose to wear on the sidelines or what type of music I listen to, then it gets kind of old and falls into that category for me. I’d like to think the manner in which I do my job, whether it’s positive or negative, has very little to do with my haircut or the clothes that I wear or the type of music I listen to, and that’s when I get annoyed with that line of questioning.”

Tomlin’s got a point, and it’s no different than the way players are characterized.

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton got compared to players such as Michael Vick or Donovan McNabb before being drafted, even though he played more like Ben Roethlisberger.

Certain players are tagged as “athletic” and “instinctive” and certain players are “lunch pail guys” or “coaches on the field.”

And too often in the lazy telling of stories, those phrases fall along strict lines that just happen to coincide with the color of the players’ skin.

To that end, we agree with Tomlin. He’s not necessarily a player’s coach, any more than Dick LeBeau is.

He’s just a good one.

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Raiders settle on Tony Sparano as interim head coach

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Tony Sparano is set to become the Raiders’ interim head coach after the firing of Dennis Allen.

After several conflicting reports emerged over the last 12 hours about who the Raiders would go with as Allen’s replacement, Jim Trotter of ESPN reported on Tuesday that it’s Sparano, who had the title of assistant head coach and offensive line coach on Allen’s staff.

Sparano previously served as the head coach of the Dolphins from 2008 to 2011.

If the reports are correct that Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie wanted Sparano but owner Mark Davis preferred Al Saunders, that would indicate that Davis still has confidence in McKenzie’s decision-making. Which is odd, considering that most of McKenzie’s decisions as Oakland’s G.M. haven’t panned out.

The 0-4 Raiders are on their bye week, which will give Sparano some extra time to make whatever changes he deems necessary. Although Sparano will presumably get the final 12 games of the season to prove himself capable of handling the job on a permanent basis, it seems more likely that the Raiders will hire a new coach after the season ends. That coach will be the Raiders’ 10th head coach in 15 years.

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Michael Crabtree says things are “good over here”

Crabtree Getty Images

When NFL Network’s Deion Sanders tried to bogart the Apple laptop with the logo blacked out by electrical tape due to the whole Microsoft thing from Ian Rapoport, some thought Sanders’ information regarding discord with the 49ers came directly from receiver Michael Crabtree.

Sanders has denied that Crabtree was the source.  Crabtree took to Twitter on Tuesday to say this, via Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News:  “I don’t know what people are talking about with Mr Deion… But we good over here!

Sanders insisted otherwise, citing anonymous sources to support his belief that the players want coach Jim Harbaugh to leave.  The claim has been attacked in part by questioning the overall validity of any reporting based on unnamed sources, a naive strategy that overlooks the reality that the decision of a source to not attach a name to a piece of information doesn’t automatically make that information suspect.  The challenge for the reporter, however, is to vet the source and the information for credibility and accuracy.

Deion doesn’t have the education (then again, neither do I), the skill (then again, neither do I), or the experience (one out of three ain’t bad) to properly evaluate information from anonymous sources.  That’s the issue here, and that’s why Deion should have simply shared what he was hearing with management, so that the people paid by the league-owned to find stuff out about the league that employs them can do their jobs.

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Teddy Bridgewater: Too soon to say if I’ll play Thursday

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Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater suffered a sprained ankle in Sunday’s win over the Falcons, and it left him unsure whether he’ll be ready to go on Thursday night against the Packers.

“Each day I’m making progress,” Bridgewater said today. “I’m just going to keep moving, move forward and try to get ready for Thursday.”

Asked if he could put a percentage on his chances of playing, Bridgewater answered, “I cannot. We still have a long time until Thursday, so right now I’m going to continue to just rehab, do a little exercise today and see where I am the next couple days.”

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer sounded optimistic about Bridgewater’s chances, but he emphasized that it’s ultimately a medical decision about whether Bridgewater is healthy enough to go.

“He’s out here today in a walk-through. He’s fine, really. He’s good,” Zimmer said. “Just depends on when we feel he’s ready. He won’t if we feel he’s not ready.”

If Bridgewater can’t go, the Vikings will turn to Christian Ponder. Which means Vikings fans are hoping beyond hope that Bridgewater can go.

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Choice for Raiders interim coach down to two

Oakland Raiders 2011 Headshots

For the moment, Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie’s job seems safe.

But he’s also about to make a decision which could make him less so.

According to Scott Bair and Fallon Smith of CSNBayArea.com, the Raiders’ choice for an interim coach is down to two: Tony Sparano or Al Saunders.

Owner Mark Davis prefers Saunders, according to the report, while McKenzie prefers Sparano. But Davis is going to allow McKenzie to make the final call.

Honestly, it might not matter.

Depending on who Davis sets his sights on when it comes to a permanent coach, that person might or might not want McKenzie around. But going against your boss’s wishes at a time when your own job is own the line is going to make it an interesting call for the G.M.

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After FCC vote, NFL reiterates its commitment to free TV

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The NFL opposed the effort to dump the blackout rule in part by suggesting that the removal of the ability to prevent games from being televised for free in markets where the home team had failed to sell out the stadium would lead to the NFL fleeing free TV generally.  Now that the FCC has overturned the blackout rule, the NFL has renewed its commitment to audience-maximizing, three-letter network broadcasts.

“NFL teams have made significant efforts in recent years to minimize blackouts,” the league said in a statement issued after the FCC’s unanimous vote to scrap the blackout rule.  “The NFL is the only sports league that televises every one of its games on free, over-the-air television.  The FCC’s decision will not change that commitment for the foreseeable future.”

The term “foreseeable future” implies that maybe, at some point down the road, the NFL’s attitude toward free TV will change.  For now, it won’t — in part because blackouts have become largely irrelevant.

Last year, only two of 256 regular-season games were blacked out in the home team’s market.  This year, none of the first 61 games of the season have been blacked out.

The push to dump the blackout rule has come in recent years, at a time when the number of televised games consistently met or exceeded 90 percent.  In prior decades, when the percentage of televised games fell as low as 41 in 1975 and hovered in the 50s and 60s in the ’80s and ’90s, there wasn’t a peep about the blackout rule.

Maybe the rise of the Internet has given fans a vehicle for pushing the issue.  Maybe the ongoing effort by billionaires to squeeze millions from the public coffers has generated a backlash.  Regardless, the blackout rule is dead — and its departure ultimately may not change anything.

Unless a large percentage of fans decides to quit buying tickets and to watch the games at home, knowing that the game will be on even if no one shows up.

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Browns get Ben Tate back on the practice field

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Apparently it was a perfect bye week for the Browns. Johnny Manziel didn’t end up on TMZ, and now Ben Tate is back in action.

According to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Tate was back on the practice field Tuesday after missing the previous two games with a knee injury.

Tate, who suffered a knee injury in the opener, wore a brace on his right knee but was reportedly moving well during the portion of practice open to the media.

The Browns brought him in during free agency to be their starter, but they’ve gotten good work out of rookies Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West in his absence.

“That’s what we brought Tate here for, to be the starter,” running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery said last week. “He’s the No. 1 running back in this offense. Right now, you can say we miss him. We miss his experience. We miss his leadership with the group. Speaking from that standpoint, we’ll be open arms and welcome to have Ben back into the fold, so he can come out and help us win more ballgames.”

Having too many backs is a problem they’d love to have in some places (like Carolina) right now, so working Tate back into the mix shouldn’t be much of a problem.

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Colts extend Robert Mathis through 2016

Mathis AP

Robert Mathis will not play at all this season after suffering a torn Achilles during a workout. But he’s still very much in the Colts’ plans.

The team announced today that it has extended Mathis’s contract for another season. He’s now under contract with the Colts through 2016.

Mathis was suspended for the first four games of this season for a violation of the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. He would have been eligible to re-join the team at practice and in this week’s game, but he tore his Achilles tendon while working out on his own during his suspension and has been placed on season-ending injured reserve.

Although he is out for the year, Mathis is expected to spend time at the facility in team meetings and doing rehab work, and Colts coach Chuck Pagano said this week that he thinks having Mathis around will be helpful for the team. Now Mathis will help the team for two more seasons.

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PFT Live: Jarius Wright

Jarius Wright, William Moore AP

The Teddy Bridgewater era got off to a smashing start on Sunday and we’ll talk to one of the biggest beneficiaries of the quarterback change in Minnesota on Tuesday’s edition of PFT Live.

Vikings wide receiver Jarius Wright will join Mike Florio to discuss the play of the team’s first-round pick in his first NFL start. Wright was responsible for 132 of Bridgewater’s 317 passing yards against the Falcons and we’d imagine that will lead to nothing but rave reviews for the new quarterback.

Wright had just 37 yards in the first three weeks of the season and the game was his best individual effort since joining the team as a fourth-round pick in the 2012 draft. We’ll hear what went right for Wright last Sunday and where he thinks his partnership with Bridgewater can go over the rest of the season when he visits the program.

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

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Bengals think Vontaze Burfict can return from concussion this week

Vontaze Burfict AP

The Bengals are back from their bye week and readying their preparations for Sunday’s attempt to extend their winning streak to four games against the Patriots on Sunday night.

Part of that process will involve doctors taking a look at linebacker Vontaze Burfict to see if he’s recovered enough from his most recent concussion to rejoin the team on the field. Burfict suffered concussions in each of the first two weeks of the season and missed Week Three, so he’s had some extra time to recover and coach Marvin Lewis believes the linebacker will be ready to go this week.

“I would imagine he will. Yes,” Lewis said, via FOX19 in Cincinnati.

The Bengals had no trouble polishing off the Titans without Burfict in the lineup, but the Bengals are obviously better off when he’s healthy and making plays on defense. If Burfict is cleared for practice on Wednesday, that outcome will be more likely.

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FCC unanimously dumps blackout rule

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The NFL wants to “Protect Football on Free TV.”  The FCC did just that on Tuesday, voting unanimously to abandon the blackout rule.

“This is a historic day for sports fans,” Sports Fans Coalition chairman David Goodriend said in a release.  “Since 1975, the federal government has propped up the NFL’s obnoxious practice of blacking out a game from local TV if the stadium did not sell out.  Today’s FCC action makes clear:  if leagues want to mistreat fans, they will have to do so without Uncle Sam’s help.”

It doesn’t mean the blackout rule has died; the NFL and broadcast networks can agree to abide by its terms.  Today’s decision means only that the NFL can’t insist on network blackouts via an FCC policy that previously gave the NFL the ability to pull the plug.

Since 1975, the NFL has blocked local broadcasts of games in which the home team failed to sell all non-premium tickets at least 72 hours before kickoff.

The next step could be to pursue federal legislation that would eliminate the broadcast antitrust exemption if the NFL doesn’t abandon the blackout practice altogether.  If the bill introduced last year becomes law, blackouts immediately will go the way of the dodo bird, the dropkick, and Tom Brady’s talent.

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Jared Allen resumes working out after bout with pneumonia

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Bears defensive end Jared Allen was knocked out of the Bears lineup last week with a case of pneumonia that reportedly left him 18 pounds lighter and unable to get on the field.

Allen’s outlook for Week Five after such a serious illness isn’t clear yet, but he has resumed working out at the team’s facility. Coach Marc Trestman said it was good to see him on Monday.

“We’ll see where he is on Wednesday,” Trestman said, via CSNChicago.com. “It was good to see him in the building, good to see him in all the meetings, he got some work in the weight room. That’s encouraging.”

Trestman wouldn’t confirm the magnitude of Allen’s weight loss, but getting enough strength back to play on Sunday is far from a sure thing. The chances that he’ll recover enough to play his usual workload probably aren’t great, either, so Willie Young should see plenty of time whether or not Allen winds up getting the green light against the Panthers.

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Bruce Carter will miss some time with quad strain

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After Dr. Jerry Jones misdiagnosed Morris Claiborne’s torn patellar tendon as an ACL, we’re probably going to want to get a second opinion.

But Jones said this morning on is weekly radio show on KRLD-FM that linebacker Bruce Carter would likely miss this week’s game.

This is one of those week-to-week [injuries],” Jones said, via Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “We couldn’t get a firm yes from our trainers. It is one of those the proverbial, ‘Let’s see how he’s doing.’ These injuries, quad strains, are not long-term injuries. But you say, ‘Well, missing a game is getting pretty long term when you don’t have but 16 of them,’ but still we’ll have to see with him. If he’s moving pretty good.

“I think Carter is a good healer, and some people heal faster than others. So we’ll want to keep a close eye on him.”

Defensive end DeMarcus Ware missed three games with a quad strain last year, though it’s not clear if the extent of Carter’s injury is similar.

Carter went down like a sniper got him while chasing a Khiry Robinson run in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win over the Saints.

The Cowboys had momentarily found some stability on defense with Carter, Justin Durant and Rolando McClain at linebacker, but they’re going to have to adjust now.

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Week Four power rankings

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1. Seattle Seahawks (No. 1 last week; 2-1):  Richard Sherman is even better than the bye.

2. Cincinnati Bengals (No. 2; 3-0):  Winning at Foxboro on Sunday night will no longer be viewed as an upset.

3. Denver Broncos (No. 3; 2-1):  The team they need to be most worried about in the AFC resides in the AFC West.

4. Arizona Cardinals (No. 6; 3-0):  Nothing wakes up a dead nerve faster than a couple of great performances from Drew Stanton.

5. Baltimore Ravens (No. 7; 3-1):  Steve Smith arrived as a luxury; he has become a necessity.

6. Philadelphia Eagles (No. 4; 3-1):  For a team with almost no offensive line, they’re not bad.

7. San Diego Chargers (No. 8; 3-1):  The Chargers are glad the Jets are sticking with Geno Smith for their visit to San Diego.

8. Detroit Lions (No. 12; 3-1):  Sunday’s visit from Kyle Orton and the Bills is precisely the kind of game the Lions of recent years would have found a way to lose under current Buffalo defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.

9. Green Bay Packers (No. 14; 2-2):  For this week’s spelling bee, Aaron Rodgers will try “euonym.”

10. Indianapolis Colts (No. 16; 2-2):  Thirty years after the Colts escaped in the night to Indy, Baltimore’s current team will announce its arrival by kicking down the door.

11. San Francisco 49ers (No. 17; 2-2):  “Who’s got it better than us?  According to unnamed sources, everybody!”

12. Atlanta Falcons (No. 9; 2-2):  At this rate, offensive line coach Mike Tice will be suiting up to play.

13. Dallas Cowboys (No. 19; 3-1):  Glitz, glamor, glory.

14. Houston Texans (No. 20; 3-1):  Maybe J.J. Watt should play quarterback, too.

15. Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 10; 2-2):  Mike Tomlin doesn’t like being known as a players’ coach.  If Sunday’s performance continues, he may not be known as any kind of coach.

16. Kansas City Chiefs (No. 24; 2-2):  The biggest question from last night’s romp is this — how in the hell did they lose to the Titans?

17. New Orleans Saints (No. 11; 1-3):  At least Rob Ryan won’t be able to blame the lack of head coaching opportunities on his hairdo.

18. Chicago Bears (No. 13; 2-2):  The Bears should petition the NFL to play all remaining games on the road.

19. New England Patriots (No. 5; 2-2):  Tom Brady said he’ll retire when he sucks; when is the press conference?

20. Carolina Panthers (No. 15; 2-2):  Giving up 75 points in two games isn’t quite the best way to win the division again.

21. Buffalo Bills (No. 18; 2-2):  Quarterback change now, coaching change later.

22. Cleveland Browns (No. 22; 1-2):  No Manziel news during the bye week was the best news the Browns could have gotten.

23. New York Jets (No. 21; 1-3):  With games coming up against the Chargers, Broncos, and Patriots, the clock is ticking on Geno.

24. Miami Dolphins (No. 25; 2-2):  Maybe Joe Philbin should refuse to commit to Ryan Tannehill every week.

25. New York Giants (No. 26; 2-2):  Yep, being on the hot seat is the best thing that could have happened to Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning.

26. Minnesota Vikings (No. 29; 2-2):  Sixteen years ago, a rookie receiver helped the Vikings pull off a win for the ages at Lambeau Field.  Now, Teddy Bridgewater gets his chance to do the same thing.  If he can play.

27. St. Louis Rams (No. 27; 1-2):  Take a look at the next eight games on the schedule.  The wheels are about to come off.

28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 32; 1-3):  The quarterback of the past and the quarterback of the future still isn’t the quarterback of the present?  Sure.

29. Washington (No. 23; 1-3):  Robert Griffin III or Kirk Cousins?  How about neither?

30. Tennessee Titans (No. 28; 1-3):  Ken Whisenhunt says he may have overestimated his team.  The rest of the world properly estimated them.

31. Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 31; 0-4):  Shad Khan is showing far more patience with his football team than his soccer club.

32. Oakland Raiders (No. 30; 0-4):  The bye week is favored by 9.5 points.

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