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PFT’s Week Seven picks

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Last week was one of those crazy Costanza weeks, when in hindsight it made sense to make our picks and then do the opposite.  Both MDS and yours truly were 6-8 for the week.  Six up, eight down.  Denver’s stunning comeback knocked me under .500 and allowed MDS to salvage a tie for the Week Six contest, since we disagreed on two games.  (The Redskins came through for me . . . finally.)

This week, there won’t be a tie unless there’s a tie in one of the three games on which we disagree.  Scroll down to see where we stand on the various comments.

And as to whether this week we made our picks and then did the opposite, our official comment is, “No comment.”

For the year, I’m at 55-36, and MDS is 53-38.

Seahawks at 49ers

MDS’s take: The NFC West is far more competitive than anyone expected, and the winner of this game has to be viewed as the favorite to win the division. I like the 49ers to come in focused after Sunday’s dismal loss to the Giants and easily handle the Seahawks.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 23, Seahawks 6.

Florio’s take:  The Niners got a rude awakening from the Giants.  And so the Niners will be wide awake when the Seahawks blow in to town for a better-than-expected primetime showdown.  Home team gets the edge, especially since the home team was embarrassed on Sunday.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 20, Seahawks 10.

Titans at Bills

MDS’s take: Both of these teams are coming off their best wins of the season, but the Bills were the team whose win looked like something they can build on, because their defense finally stopped somebody. They’ll stop Matt Hasselbeck and Chris Johnson on Sunday, too.

MDS’s pick: Bills 20, Titans 13.

Florio’s take:  The rematch of the Music City Miracle game won’t be played in the Music City, and a miracle likely won’t be happening.  Last week, the Titans stole one from a diminished Steelers team, and the Bills showed resilience.  Playing at home with a share of first (and fourth) place in the division, Buffalo should be able to stay on the right track.  At least for now.

Florio’s pick:  Bills 27, Titans 17.

Cowboys at Panthers

MDS’s take: I’ve been on the Panthers’ bandwagon all year, and although I should probably know better by now, I still believe Carolina is better than its record suggests.

MDS’s pick: Panthers 21, Cowboys 20.

Florio’s take:  The consistently inconsistent Cowboys played well and lost on Sunday in Baltimore.  They’re due to play poorly and win in Carolina against a Panthers team that has figured out how to consistently play poorly and lose.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 24, Panthers 20.

Ravens at Texans

MDS’s take: The only two teams with winning records in the AFC face off in a game that we might look back on in January as the game that decided home-field advantage in the playoffs. I think the team with home-field advantage takes this one, bouncing back from last week’s ugly loss to the Packers.

MDS’s pick: Texans 24, Ravens 14.

Florio’s take:  The Texans’ pride is wounded.  The Ravens are simply wounded.  If Houston doesn’t get things back on track quickly, a tailspin could be coming.  They’ve got the rushing attack to get there — and the Ravens don’t have the defense to stop them.

Florio’s pick:  Texans 27, Ravens 20.

Browns at Colts

MDS’s take: Andrew Luck has the brighter future, but right now I’m not sure he’s a better quarterback than Brandon Weeden, who’s playing better as a rookie than he gets credit for. As inspiring as their win over the Packers two weeks ago was, the Colts’ loss to the Jets exposed a lot of holes, and I like the Browns to make it two wins in a row.

MDS’s pick: Browns 21, Colts 20.

Florio’s take:  Potent at home and sluggish on the road, Indy matches its win total from Peyton Manning’s rookie season against a Brown team that is still basking in the afterglow of that elusive first win of the season.  And Jimmy could be getting upset.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 30, Browns 24.

Cardinals at Vikings

MDS’s take: The Cardinals’ defense and special teams are good enough to keep them in any game, but the Cardinals’ offense is bad enough to lose any game. Jared Allen will make life miserable for John Skelton and the Vikings will win.

MDS’s pick: Vikings 17, Cardinals 7.

Florio’s take:  Former Vikings ballboy Larry Fitzgerald has never won in Minnesota.  That’s not likely to change on Sunday as he makes what likely will be his final trip to the soon-to-be-imploded Metrodome.

Florio’s pick:  Vikings 23, Cardinals 14.

Redskins at Giants

MDS’s take: The Redskins beat the Giants twice last year, and they have an enormous opportunity on Sunday to show they can really hang with the big boys.  But while Robert Griffin III has been a sensational rookie quarterback, the Redskins are still a ways off from being a complete and elite team.

MDS’s pick: Giants 31, Redskins 14.

Florio’s take:  If the Redskins hadn’t swept the Giants last year, this is precisely the kind of game that the Giants would have lost.  Instead, one of the best teams in the NFC will continue its climb back toward the postseason.

Florio’s pick:  Giants 31, Redskins 20.

Packers at Rams

MDS’s take: How many people predicted before the season that both of these teams would be 3-3 when they met in Week Seven? Certainly not me. The Rams could make a huge statement that they’re real contenders by winning this one, but the Packers already made their statement last week in Houston, and now it’s time for Green Bay to start separating itself from the NFC pack.

MDS’s pick: Packers 24, Rams 10.

Florio’s take:  It was only a matter of time before the Packers found the gas pedal.  If they can dismantle the Texans in their own building, the Packers can outscore the Rams in theirs.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 31, Rams 17.

Saints at Buccaneers

MDS’s take: There may still be time for the Saints to turn their season around, but I just don’t see it happening. The bottom line for the Saints is that their defense is a mess, and Drew Brees can’t win a game all by himself. The Bucs will win and get to .500.

MDS’s pick: Buccaneers 24, Saints 20.

Florio’s take:  Last year, when the Saints were great and the Bucs were anything but, New Orleans couldn’t win in Tampa.  And so it makes sense for the Saints, who genuinely believe they can turn this thing around, to roll into Raymond James Stadium and rack up plenty of points.

Florio’s pick:  Saints 31, Buccaneers 25.

Jets at Patriots

MDS’s take: Rex Ryan wants the Patriots to know that he thinks the Jets will win, but I don’t think too many people agree with Rex. The AFC East standings say the division is wide open, but the reality is that the Patriots are heavy favorites, and they’ll take a big step toward proving that on Sunday.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 34, Jets 10.

Florio’s take:  The Jets have their swagger back.  But it’s a week-to-week thing.  And this week the swagger takes a break as the Pats once again work to put a game they should have won behind them.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 30, Jets 23.

Jaguars at Raiders

MDS’s take: This looks to me like Sunday’s worst game, a matchup of two teams going nowhere. But the Raiders are closer to getting somewhere than the Jaguars.

MDS’s pick: Raiders 23, Jaguars 13.

Florio’s take:  If no one watches this game, will it actually be played?  Unfortunately, yes.

Florio’s pick:  Raiders 17, Jaguars 9.

Steelers at Bengals

MDS’s take: A.J. Green can make a lot of big plays against that old and slow Steelers defense, but the Steelers will put a lot of points up on the weak Bengals defense, too. There’s a part of me that feels like this is the game when the Bengals establish themselves as up-and-comers in the AFC North, but a bigger part of me thinks the Steelers find a way to hold the Bengals off.

MDS’s pick: Steelers 35, Bengals 34.

Florio’s take:  The Bengals couldn’t beat the Steelers or Ravens last year when the Bengals were good.  This year, the Bengals aren’t as good.  But neither are the Steelers.  Where’s my Magic 8-Ball when I need it?

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 24, Bengals 21.

Lions at Bears

MDS’s take: The Lions saved their season with a come-from-behind overtime win over the Eagles, but back-to-back road wins will be too much for Detroit fans to ask for. The Bears will remain in the NFC North lead and the Lions will remain in the basement.

MDS’s pick: Bears 20, Lions 17.

Florio’s take:  The Lions think they have their edge back.  The reality is the Eagles gave them a gift.  The Bears won’t be quite so charitable.

Florio’s pick:  Bears 30, Lions 17.

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Seahawks sign kicker John Lunsford

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The Seahawks had expressed their intentions to add a kicker to their roster to compete with Blair Walsh.

The team announced Wednesday evening that they signed John Lunsford to do just that.

Lunsford was released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers earlier this week after signing a futures contract with the team in January. Lunsford spent time with the San Francisco 49ers in the preseason last year, appearing in three games. He converted both extra point attempts tried and had five kickoffs with two going for touchbacks.

Lunsford will provide offseason competition with Walsh. Steven Hauschka – Seattle’s kicker for the last six seasons – signed with Buffalo and was not expected to return following the Seahawks’ signing of Walsh last month.

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Clay Helton has no concerns about sharing a stadium or a market

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USC coach Clay Helton joined Wednesday’s PFT Live, primarily to talk a bit about some of his prospects entering the draft. In addition to addressing the NFL future of defensive back Adoree’ Jackson and receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and the challenges associated with keeping quarterback Sam Darnold focused on the present, Helton addressed the reality of sharing his stadium with one NFL team — and his market with two of them.

Helton has no complaints about having an NFL tenant in the Coliseum. It definitely didn’t hurt the product; the Trojans were undefeated last year at home. They’ll have the Rams in the same building for two more seasons.

After that, the Rams and Chargers will share space in Inglewood. But that’s not giving Helton any concern about the ability of the Trojans to continue to draw plenty of interest in a market that is crowded with options — but also with people.

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Dolphins add tackle Avery Young

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The Miami Dolphins signed tackle Avery Young and waived cornerback Daniel Davie on Thursday with a non-football injury designation.

Young himself spent all of the 2016 season on the non-football injury list with the New Orleans Saints with an undisclosed issue after signing with the team as an undrafted free agent from Auburn.

He returned to practice with the Saints at midseason but was never activated from the NFI list.

Young played both guard positions and right tackle at Auburn.

Davie was signed by the Dolphins in January to a futures contract. Davie spent brief periods with the Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season after going undrafted from Nebraska.

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Vikings running back Latavius Murray has ankle surgery

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The Minnesota Vikings announced Wednesday that newly signed running back Latavius Murray had ankle surgery in North Carolina.

The surgery, performed by Dr. Bob Anderson in Charlotte, was said to be successful in a team statement.

“We were aware of the required surgery prior to signing Latavius on March 16,” the team said in a statement. “Latavius is expected to fully recover and be available for training camp.”

Murray has over four months to recover before training camp opens for the Vikings in late July.

The need for ankle surgery was likely apparent to each of the teams Murray met with in free agency. He had visited the Seattle Seahawks and Jacksonville Jaguars as well before reaching a deal with the Vikings. Ultimately, the issue didn’t concern the Vikings enough to dissuade them from signing him last week.

Murray scored a career-high 12 touchdowns last year with the Oakland Raiders and rushed for 788 yards in 14 games.

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Goodell suggests enhanced use of play clocks

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The NFL often routinely uses a play clock throughout each game. However, it’s not as universal as it soon could be.

In a Wednesday letter to fans, Commissioner Roger Goodell suggested expanded use of a play clock in order to keep games moving along.

“Regarding game timing, we’re going to institute a play clock following the extra point when television does not take a break, and we’re considering instituting a play clock after a touchdown,” Goodell wrote. “We’re also going to standardize the starting of the clock after a runner goes out-of-bounds, and standardize halftime lengths in all games, so we return to the action as quickly as possible. Those are just a few of the elements we are working on to improve the pace of our game.”

Goodell also emphasized a point that is coming up too often to not happen — an effort to eliminate the kind of lulls that can get folks in this short-attention span society to change the channel or to otherwise find some other shiny object on their phones, tablets, or wherver else distractions currently come from.

“Together with our broadcast partners, we will be working to meaningfully reduce down time and the frequency of commercial breaks in our game,” Goodell wrote. “We will also be giving our broadcast partners increased flexibility to avoid untimely breaks in the action. For example, we know how annoying it is when we come back from a commercial break, kick off, and then cut to a commercial again. I hate that too. Our goal is to eliminate it.”

It’s smart, and to the extent that it came from last year’s ratings panic (which seemed to have subsided by the end of the year), the short-term dip in viewership could help make the game much more watchable in the future.

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Packers re-sign Christine Michael

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After arriving in Green Bay midway through the 2016 season, running back Christine Michael will stick around for 2017.

Michael has re-signed with the Packers, Field Yates of ESPN reports.

The Packers, who said goodbye to Eddie Lacy this offseason, expect to start Ty Montgomery at running back, and Michael can back him up.

Last season Michael played six games for the Packers, carrying 31 times for 114 yards and a touchdown. He had previously played for the Seahawks, who cut him in November even though he was their leading rusher. Michael originally entered the NFL as a second-round pick of the Seahawks in 2013 and has had two stints in Seattle as well as time in Dallas and Washington.

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Goodell hints at substantive changes to game broadcasts

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Apart from an effort to speed up the pace of the game, the NFL apparently plans to explore strategies for altering the manner in which the game is presented to its fans.

“We . . . know that you feel there are too many elements in the broadcast that aren’t relevant to the play on the field,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said in his Wednesday letter to fans. “With our partners, we will be looking to instead focus on content that is most complementary and compelling to you — whether that is analysis, highlights or stories about our players. All of these changes are meant to give you more of what you want: a competitive game with fewer interruptions and distractions from the action.”

That’s a broad statement, and it suggests that the league will be mandating changes to the manner in which games are televised. It’s unclear where or how an enhanced focus on “analysis, highlights or stories about our players” will fit into the presentation of a football game, since there currently aren’t many spots for doing anything other than reacting one play at a time to the things happening on the field.

It’s also unclear what Goodell means when he says there are “too many elements in the broadcast that aren’t relevant to the play on the field.”

A cynic could view that statement as part of a broader effort to ensure that the broadcasts will focus only on positive storylines, with negative aspects that may nevertheless be newsworthy or compelling receiving less emphasis in the name of taking even greater advantage of the three-hour infomercial for which the league gets paid billions every year. This particular cynic will withhold judgment on that point until more details emerge regarding the changes that will be made.

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Former Patriots center Bryan Stork calls it a career

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Once a very promising young offensive lineman, former Patriots center Bryan Stork has decided to call it a career.

“I can’t say I’m retiring because I’m only 26 but I have decided to officially step away from playing the game of football which I will always love dearly,” Stork wrote on Twitter. “While chasing a childhood dream I was very blessed I had family, friends, and coaches on my side to help me get to where I wanted to go.”

Last year Stork became the subject of an odd story in training camp, as the Patriots were reportedly poised to cut him, then traded him to Washington, before reports surfaced that he was contemplating retirement. Stork decided not to retire at that time, but he then failed his physical in Washington, nullifying the trade, and he was released. Stork tried to sign on with a couple of other teams but that never materialized, and he didn’t play last season.

Stork has had several injuries, including concussions and a neck injury. He will be remembered for starting for Florida State’s 2013 national championship team, then starting for the Patriots when they won Super Bowl XLIX a year later. He is one of only a handful of players in the history of football to start for the college national champions and the NFL champions in back-to-back seasons.

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Jaguars sign former Raiders tight end Mychal Rivera

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The Jacksonville Jaguars announced on Wednesday they have signed former Oakland Raiders tight end Mychal Rivera.

It’s a one-year deal with a team option for a second year according to Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network.

Rivera has played in 61 games for the Raiders over the past four seasons with 15 starts. Last year was his least productive year in Oakland, recording just 18 catches for 192 yards and one touchdown as Clive Walford assumed the primary pass receiving role from the position. Rivera’s career-highs came in 2014 with 58 catches for 534 yards and four touchdowns.

Rivera had visited the New York Jets earlier this week before agreeing to a deal with Jacksonville.

Rivera gives the Jaguars another veteran option at tight end to pair with Marcedes Lewis following the trade of Julius Thomas to Miami this offseason.

Rivera was high school (Birmingham High School in Van Nuys, Calif.) and college teammates (Tennessee) with Jaguars defensive tackle Malik Jackson.

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Jim Mora misses the relationships with other his fellow coaches

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In an extended interview with PFT Live, former Falcons and Seahawks coach (and current UCLA coach) Jim Mora addressed a wide variety of interesting topics. At one point, I asked him what he misses about coaching in the NFL.

He said he misses the relationships with his peers. While NFL coaches fiercely compete, the competition ends, for the most part, on the field. Sure, there’s often some competition when it comes to free agents. But not nearly the kind of neverending fight for talent that happens among college coaches.

Constantly, they’re trying to get players to choose their school over another one. Constantly, they’re relying upon their ability to essentially swipe a talented player from another coach. As a result, Mora said he doesn’t have the kind of relationship with his fellow coaches that he had when he coached in the NFL.

That’s just one example of the things Mora discussed. The full video is worth a listen.

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Roger Goodell explains to fans how new replay system will work

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In a move that feels a lot like a President making his case for legistlative change to the people before the House or the Senate cast a vote, Commissioner Roger Goodell has sent a letter to fans outlining various changes that will be considered by the owners next week in Arizona.

The letter from Goodell with the salutation “Dear Fans” presents the proposals in a way that suggests the changes are a done deal, even though the changes won’t be finalized until at least 24 owners vote in favor of them. This means either that Goodell has polled enough owners to conclude that at least 24 votes are coming — or that he has concluded that enough owners are on the fence to justify an effort to work the public in advance of the vote. Why else, frankly, would he feel compelled to tell the fans about the changes only one week before the changes become actual changes?

As it relates to the centralization of replay review, a topic that has been a sore point for multiple coaches and team executives who worry that this will allow the league office to make decisions aimed at reaching outcomes desired by 345 Park Avenue, Goodell outlined the new procedure that would be adopted: “Instead of a fixed sideline monitor, we will bring a tablet to the Referee who can review the play in consultation with our officiating headquarters in New York, which has the final decision. This should improve consistency and accuracy of decisions and help speed up the process.”

It also should allow Microsoft to get even more bang for its product-placement buck, with the peep-show approach replaced by an official using the official tablet of the National Football League, complete with that distinctive electric blue case.

Apart from the obvious change to the appearance of the replay review process, the new approach would result in the referee losing final say over the outcome, with the league office having the power to overrule the ruling on the field.

So why involve the referee at all? Doing so eliminates the sense that the decision is being made remotely (and possibly arbitrarily). In fairness to the league, it also allows for an extra set of eyes, which is never a bad thing. And, as mentioned above, it provides for greater integration of the Microsoft tablet into the presentation of the game. Which makes that partnership even more valuable to the league.

Especially when the time comes to put the official tablet sponsorship out for bidding.

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Titans sign offensive lineman Tim Lelito

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The Titans have made it a point to strengthen both lines, and added some depth on offense Wednesday.

According to a tweet from his agents, Saints free agent blocker Tim Lelito has signed with the Titans.

Lelito also visited with his hometown Lions, but apparently found a better deal in Nashville.

Lelito has started 24 games the last four years with the Saints, and gives them some experience in the middle after losing Brian Schwenke to the Colts.

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Bart Hubbuch withdraws lawsuit against New York Post

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In roughly 99.999999999 percent of all civil lawsuits, an effort to dismiss the case is met with a vigorous effort by the plaintiff to keep the case alive. In the wrongful discharge lawsuit filed by Bart Hubbuch against the New York Post, a motion to dismiss filed by Hubbuch’s former employer apparently has prompted Hubbuch to walk away.

The official paperwork reflects a stipulated dismissal of the case with prejudice, which means that the case can’t be re-filed at some later date. While the paperwork contains no mention of the reason for the ending of the lawsuit, a spokesperson for the Post left no doubt, via statement sent by email to PFT: “In response to the . . . motion to dismiss, Mr. Hubbuch has voluntarily withdrawn his lawsuit, acknowledging his claims were frivolous.”

Dismissal notwithstanding, Hubbuch’s attorney, Scott Lucas, disputes a key portion of the statement from the Post.

“The claim was voluntarily withdrawn,” Lucas told PFT by phone on Wednesday afternoon. “There has been no acknowledgement that it was frivolous.”

The Post recently filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing among other things the falsity of Hubbuch’s contention that he wasn’t working when he posted a controversial tweet regarding the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Hubbuch’s lawsuit relied in large part on the contention that he was using Twitter “on his own time, from his own computer, and from his own home.”

The motion to dismiss sough sanctions against Hubbuch and Lucas, based on the contention that Hubbuch “has asserted that (1) his January 20th Tweet was sent on a day that was his ‘day off’ and (2) he was told that the Post had no written social media policy,” and that “[t]he documentary evidence submitted on this motion squarely proves those sworn assertions to be fabrications.” The stipulation dismissal of the case states that each party will be responsible for its own litigation costs; it’s possible that the Post offered to abandon any claim for sanctions in return for an agreement to end the case.

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Chiefs bring back defensive lineman Jarvis Jenkins

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The Chiefs made one big change on their defensive line, but they’ve brought another key part back.

According to a tweet from his agent, Chiefs defensive end Jarvis Jenkins has re-signed for another year.

The Chiefs brought Jenkins in after he was cut by the Jets in November, and he provides a solid rotational option for them. They let nose tackle Dontari Poe walk out the door in free agency, and replaced him with former Eagles lineman Bennie Logan.

Jenkins was originally a second-round pick by Washington, and has also spent a year with the Bears.

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Is a looser bright-line rule coming for celebration penalties?

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Reports of a plan by the NFL to give officials discretion to determine whether the penalize teams for excessive celebrations suggests that the currently strict bright line (no going to the ground, no use of the ball as a prop) could be replaced with something much fuzzier and subjective. The end result still could be a looser standard that nevertheless carries with it a bright line.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the league may actually be getting closer to a bright-line rule that allows for consistency in the determination as to whether a foul occurred but that is less rigid than the current standard. The specifics of any such possible rule currently aren’t known.

That’s good news, if it occurs. Based on current reporting, the rule would be looser but it also would be flexible, allowing for too much interpretation — and for too many different potential rulings based on the perceptions and attitudes of 17 different officiating crews.

The source also didn’t rule out immediately the possibility of using replay review in some form to allow for oversight of decisions made regarding conduct that doesn’t happen during a play. The challenge would be coming up with the right standard, and obviously ensuring that the process would occur expediently and reliably.

The NFL has absorbed extensive criticism for stripping individuality out of the sport by prohibiting some spontaneous displays of enthusiasm following touchdowns and other significant plays. Last year, the league began the process of giving teams a wider berth, for example by not automatically flagging players making snow angels, even though that necessarily results in players going to the ground.

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