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PFT’s Week Eight picks

Washington Redskins v New York Giants Getty Images

Week Seven was a very lucky week for yours truly.  With an unlucky 13 games on the schedule, I got 12 of them correct, with only a late comeback from the Titans blocking an unprecedented piece of perfection.

More importantly, MDS and I disagreed on three games.  Thanks to the Cowboys, Saints, and Colts, my two-game season-to-date lead has been extended to five games.

For the year, I’m now 67-37, and MDS is 62-42.

MDS will join Thursday’s PFT Live to discuss this week’s picks.  There will be no gloating.

At least not by him.

Buccaneers at Vikings

MDS’s take: After I was burned by picking the Bucs last week on the way to going 0-for-3 on games where I disagreed with Florio, I’m playing it safe this week. Tampa Bay still looks to me like a team that’s headed in the right direction, but right now the Vikings have too much for the Bucs on both sides of the ball and should win this one comfortably.

MDS’s pick: Vikings 27, Buccaneers 13.

Florio’s take:  The Vikings get a chance to show how different they are this year against one of the teams to whom the Vikings blew a big halftime lead last year.  This time, if the Vikings are up by 10 or more at the break, look for them to close it out with a defense that finally is good enough to hold leads.

Florio’s pick:  Vikings 21, Buccaneers 19.

Panthers at Bears

MDS’s take: Cam Newton is going to bounce back from this slump he’s in eventually. He’s too talented not to. But the Bears are the wrong team for a young quarterback to bounce back against. Chicago’s relentless pressure will force a few turnovers and lead to another loss for the Panthers.

MDS’s pick: Bears 20, Panthers 10.

Florio’s take:  Rattled by the ouster of G.M. Marty Hurney, racked by injuries, and reeling from the sad-sack demeanor of Cam Newton, the Panthers are poised to get plastered.

Florio’s pick:  Bears 31, Panthers 10.

Chargers at Browns

MDS’s take: The Chargers have had two weeks to lick their wounds after that disastrous Monday night meltdown against the Broncos. They’ll come in to Cleveland focused and motivated and win this one comfortably.

MDS’s pick: Chargers 31, Browns 17.

Florio’s take:  If Mike Holmgren’s current team can knock off the Chargers, the Chargers could be Mike Holmgren’s next team.  Though a house-cleaning could still be coming, the Chargers will likely do enough to reverse a bad two weeks of blown leads and stickum, allegedly.

Florio’s pick:  Chargers 24, Browns 17.

Seahawks at Lions

MDS’s take: Mistakes keep killing the Lions, whether it’s penalties, turnovers or special teams coverage breakdowns. If the Lions could get out of their own way they could go on a run down the stretch and still contend for a wild card berth, but that doesn’t look likely at this point. Seattle is the team that looks like a playoff contender, and the Seahawks will take another step in that direction with a win on the road.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 17, Lions 14.

Florio’s take:  If this one were set for Seattle, it would be a no brainer.  In Detroit, the Seahawks have an opportunity to prove that they’re capable of beating better-than-bad teams in a place other than CenturyLink Field.

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 17, Lions 16.

Jaguars at Packers

MDS’s take: In the biggest mismatch of the week, the Jaguars’ offense will look even worse than usual without Maurice Jones-Drew, and Aaron Rodgers will have his third consecutive huge game.

MDS’s pick: Packers 34, Jaguars 3.

Florio’s take:  The Packers have never beaten the Jaguars at Lambeau Field.  Then again, these teams have played there only once.  The Jags will want to forget their second trip to town.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 45, Jaguars 21.

Dolphins at Jets

MDS’s take: I’m impressed that the Jets aren’t going down without a fight. When they lost Darrelle Revis and got blown out by the 49ers, I figured the Jets were finished, but they’ve played good football for the last three weeks, even if they have only one win to show for it in those three games. The Jets will beat the Dolphins in a low-scoring game and get back to .500.

MDS’s pick: Jets 13, Dolphins 10.

Florio’s take:  Despite the injuries and the ineffectiveness and the uncertainty, the Jets have improved over the past few weeks.  They’re good enough to complete the sweep of a Dolphins team that has improved even more discreetly.

Florio’s pick:  Jets 30, Dolphins 20.

Falcons at Eagles

MDS’s take: The Eagles know their backs are against the wall, and the Falcons have been scraping by with three straight close wins. This looks to me like the day when the Falcons’ luck runs out, and the last unbeaten team in the league gets beaten.

MDS’s pick: Eagles 24, Falcons 21.

Florio’s take:  Andy Reid is 13-0 after the bye week.  Sometimes, there’s no need for elaboration.

Florio’s pick:  Eagles 24, Falcons 23.

Redskins at Steelers

MDS’s take: The Steelers took a big step toward the playoffs with last week’s win in Cincinnati, and I like them to keep it going against the Redskins. Look for Steelers tight end Heath Miller to have a big game against the Redskins’ defense, just as Giants tight end Martellus Bennett, Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph and Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez have in the Redskins’ last three games.

MDS’s pick: Steelers 28, Redskins 27.

Florio’s take:  The Steelers are 20-2-1 at Heinz Field against NFC teams.  But Heinz Field has never seen anything like RG3, who’ll run circles around a Polamalu-free Pittsburgh defense.

Florio’s pick:  Redskins 23, Steelers 20.

Patriots at Rams

MDS’s take: The Rams’ secondary has been playing well and the Patriots’ secondary has been leaving receivers wide open, and I’m tempted to pick the upset for that reason. But with Danny Amendola hurt I don’t think the Rams have the ammunition to take advantage of the Patriots’ problems on defense, and I think New England’s running game can churn up yardage at Wembley Stadium and lead the Patriots to a low-scoring win.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 16, Rams 10.

Florio’s take:  The team whose name pays homage to the men who kicked the butts of the Brits like to kick butt in Britain.  Though it won’t be a blowout like it was three years ago against the Bucs, the Pats should be able to build a fourth-quarter lead.  And hold it.  For a change.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 27, Rams 21.

Colts at Titans

MDS’s take: Titans running back Chris Johnson took advantage of a bad Bills defense last week, and he should be able to take advantage of a bad Colts defense this week. Johnson will go for about 150 yards and the Colts’ offense won’t be able to keep up.

MDS’s pick: Titans 28, Colts 21.

Florio’s take:  The winner of this one won’t likely challenge the Texans for the division crown but would be very much alive for a wild-card berth.  The Titans continue their knack for playing in — and winning — exciting games.

Florio’s pick:  Titans 27, Colts 24.

Raiders at Chiefs

MDS’s take: I’m not a believer in Brady Quinn as the Chiefs’ long-term answer at quarterback, but as a short-term fix who won’t turn the ball over as often as Matt Cassel, Quinn should be able to lead Kansas City to a home win over a bad team.

MDS’s pick: Chiefs 20, Raiders 16.

Florio’s take:  Oakland has won five straight times at Arrowhead Stadium.  With an extra week to prepare and everyone on the hot seat, if the Chiefs don’t beat the Raiders at home now, they possibly never will.

Florio’s pick:  Chiefs 24, Raiders 10.

Giants at Cowboys

MDS’s take: Completing a season sweep of the Giants would go a long way toward getting the Cowboys into playoff contention, but I don’t see it happening. The Cowboys’ defense will miss linebacker Sean Lee, Giants quarterback Eli Manning will have a big day, and the Giants will improve to 4-0 all time at Cowboys Stadium.

MDS’s pick: Giants 31, Cowboys 20.

Florio’s take:  The Cowboys aren’t nearly as good as they were in Week One, when they beat the Giants in New Jersey.  The Giants are the same, but this time they won’t get complacent.

Florio’s pick:  Giants 35, Cowboys 27.

Saints at Broncos

MDS’s take: Two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks will be on the field in Denver, but Drew Brees has to play against a good Broncos secondary, while Peyton Manning gets to play against a terrible Saints secondary. Advantage Peyton.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 42, Saints 21.

Florio’s take:  When he was the head coach of the Panthers, John Fox held his own against Sean Payton’s Saints.  This time, Fox has a great quarterback — and the Saints don’t have Payton.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 38, Saints 28.

49ers at Cardinals

MDS’s take: The Cardinals’ great start to the season may come to a screeching halt on Monday night.  A home loss to a division rival would be tough for Arizona to overcome, and a win at Arizona will be another step for the 49ers toward establishing themselves as the clear favorites to win the NFC West.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 20, Cardinals 13.

Florio’s take:  Once atop the NFC West, the Cardinals are close to completing their slide to the basement.  Blame it on the lack of a high-end quarterback and an offensive line to protect him.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 24, Cardinals 13.

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Report: Kyle Rudolph needs sports hernia surgery

Kyle Rudolph, Jerraud Powers AP

It doesn’t look like Teddy Bridgewater will have tight end Kyle Rudolph to lean on when he makes his first start at quarterback for the Vikings.

Rudolph left Sunday’s loss to the Saints with a groin injury and was expected to have an MRI on Monday to determine the extent of the damage. Albert Breer of NFL Media reports that Rudolph will need to have sports hernia surgery and is expected to miss about six weeks while he recovers.

If that’s the case and the timeline is in the neighborhood that Breer reported, he could be a candidate for injured reserve with the designation to return as the Vikings haven’t used it yet this season.

The Vikings have targeted Rudolph 17 times this season, just behind Greg Jennings for the most of anyone on the team. That would make for a significant absence that the Vikings will try to fill with Rhett Ellison and MarQueis Gray.

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Arian Foster says he’s day-to-day with hamstring injury

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The Texans played without running back Arian Foster on Sunday because they didn’t feel Foster’s hamstring was up to facing the Giants.

Foster was missed. Alfred Blue broke a 46-yard run, but had 32 yards on his other 12 carries and the team was forced to lean too heavily on quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to get their offense moving in a 30-17 loss that wasn’t as close as the final score might lead you to believe.

On Monday, Foster said that his hamstring felt “good” while working out on Sunday although it obviously wasn’t good enough to allay any fears that the team might have had about his condition. While he felt good on Sunday, he wasn’t making any overly optimistic predictions for this week’s game.

Foster, who looked good in running for 241 yards in the two Texans wins that opened the season, described himself as “day-to-day,” which will make his practice status on Wednesday closely watched in both Houston and Buffalo.

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Dolphins won’t commit to Ryan Tannehill as starter

Kansas City Chiefs v Miami Dolphins Getty Images

Well, this should be a fun trip to London for the Dolphins this week.

During his press conference today, Dolphins coach Joe Philbin refused to commit to former first-rounder Ryan Tannehill for their game against the Raiders at Wembley Stadium.

After some early hedging, Philbin was asked specifically if Tannehill would start against the Raiders.

We’ll decide our game plan before we leave to play Oakland,” Philbin replied, via Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post.

The No. 8 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft — selected by a guy who no longer works there — Tannehill has slumped this season.

Tannehill helped them to a win over the Patriots in the opener, but his numbers this season are well off his previous pace. He’s only completing 56.5 percent of his passes, and his passer rating his declined each week to get him to 74.1 for the year.

The option is Matt Moore, and Philbin did everything he could to provide no clarity. Asked if the two were competing this week for the job, Philbin replied: “we’ll utilize the players the best way we see fit.”

Tannehill has shown flashes of competence, but nothing about him suggests that he’s going to be anything more than an average NFL quarterback, at best. Moore has shown similar flashes, and lighting a fire under the starter can’t hurt at this stage.

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Pettine blames himself for Browns’ loss

pettine AP

After the Browns surrendered a fourth-quarter lead and lost to the Ravens on Sunday, Mike Pettine put the blame on himself.

“I thought for the bulk of it the players played well enough to have a victory. I put this one on me. We didn’t coach well enough to win today. I’m not going to get into too much of the specifics until I get a chance to go through it. The list is long,” Pettine said, via the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Pettine didn’t say exactly what he feels he should have done differently. But the Browns had a sloppy fourth quarter in which they picked up four penalties, had a field goal blocked and twice allowed the Ravens to drive into field goal range, resulting in a 21-17 lead heading into the fourth quarter turning into a 23-21 loss. Pettine also acknowledged that the Browns had to burn timeouts because the coaching staff didn’t do a good enough job of communicating to the players what personnel package they were supposed to be in.

That was a tough loss for the Browns to take. Pettine is taking it hard.

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Technically, league is running out of time on Rice appeal

Ray Rice AP

Ten days ago, the NFL indefinitely suspended running back Ray Rice.  Last Tuesday, Rice appealed the suspension.

Six days later, Commissioner Roger Goodell still hasn’t appointed a hearing officer, and no progress has been made toward establishing a date for the appeal.

That could soon become a problem for the league.  Per multiple sources, the following language from the labor deal applies to the resolution of Rice’s appeal: “Appeal hearings under Section 1(a) will be scheduled to commence within ten (10) days following receipt of the notice of appeal, except that hearings on suspensions issued during the playing season (defined for this Section as the first preseason game through the Super Bowl) will be scheduled for the second Tuesday following the receipt of the notice of appeal, with the intent that the appeal shall be heard no fewer than eight (8) days and no more than thirteen (13) days following the suspension, absent mutual agreement of the parties or a finding by the hearing officer of extenuating circumstances. If unavailability of counsel is the basis for a continuance, a new hearing shall be scheduled on or before the Tuesday following the original hearing date, without exception.”

In English, this means that the hearing ideally will be held between Tuesday and Thursday of this week, with the hearing held no later than next Tuesday, September 30 — unless the hearing officer decides that the circumstances prevent it, or the NFL and NFLPA agree to delay it.

The NFLPA accidentally cited the offseason rule in the announcement of the Rice appeal, and it’s possible the NFL will claim that this operated as a waiver of the stricter in-season timetable. That would be a flimsy argument, however; the rules are plainly set forth in the labor deal, and the first order of business in any situation where a party must take action by a certain time should be to figure out the last day on which the action can be taken.

The NFL may argue that Goodell’s decision to hand the baton to someone else creates “extenuating circusmtances” that justify a delay, but the league office told PFT last Wednesday that Goodell “never intended” to handle the appeal. So why has he waited 10 days and counting since suspension was imposed to appoint someone to handle it?

There’s a chance the NFLPA won’t make an issue of this. Rice literally (not actually literally, unless there’s a glow we don’t know about) has become radioactive to potential suitors. Whether the hearing happens this week or next week or next month or next year, it won’t change the fact that no one will be rolling out the red carpet for him any time soon.

Still, at a time when the league and the various teams embroiled in controversy have talked openly and repeatedly about “getting it right” despite so many things having gone badly wrong, it would be nice to see that something can be gotten right, especially when that something entails the fairly simple application of a clearly-worded scheduling rule that the NFL has used many times in the past.

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Two more Panthers backs headed to MRI tubes

Jonathan Stewart, Mike Mitchell AP

This is some kind of sick joke.

The Panthers — after years of buying all the running backs — are suddenly out of running backs.

Coach Ron Rivera just told reporters that Jonathan Stewart (knee) and Mike Tolbert (leg) were getting MRIs today on injuries suffered in last night’s loss to the Steelers.

The Panthers were already playing without starter DeAngelo Williams, who has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury and reserve/special teamer Fozzy Whittaker.

That forced them to call undrafted rookie Darrin Reaves up from the practice squad over the weekend, and he is currently atop the depth chart.

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Lions confirm: Stephen Tulloch tore ACL celebrating

Stephen Tulloch AP

It’s bad enough he was compared to a Gramatica.

Now Stephen Tulloch has the entire season to plan his next celebration.

The Lions confirmed that Tulloch tore his ACL yesterday while celebrating a sack, and would be placed on injured reserve.

As difficult a break as it was, Lions coach Jim Caldwell knows it’s hard to curb such celebrations.

“It’s not going to happen,” Caldwell said. “This is an emotional game. We want enthusiasm.”

The Lions thought they ended their bizarre injury luck when they let veteran receiver/pizza delivery guy Nate Burleson go this offseason, but this may be even worse.

In a related development, high fives have been prohibited, and Ndamukong Suh has been given a big, soft, fuzzy boot to wear when he feels like stomping someone.

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Another OL hit: Jason Kelce needs sports hernia surgery

Jason Kelce

The hits keep coming for the Eagles offensive line, which was supposed to be their foundation.

According to Jeff McLaneof the Philadelphia Inquirer, center Jason Kelce has a sports hernia and will likely need surgery to repair it.

Kelce left yesterday’s game just after halftime and didn’t return.

They’re still another week away from the return of right tackle Lane Johnson from suspension, and left guard Evan Mathis is already using the IR/designated for return spot. Sixth-man/spot-starter Allen Barbre was lost for the season to an ankle injury in the opener.

Kelce could miss two months or more, though they’re waiting for additional tests to determine the time frame.

Backup David Molk replaced him yesterday, but they’d need to make some degree of roster move as their numbers dwindle. Veteran Wade Smith was dragged in off the street to start at guard, and he can play center as well.

The Eagles were scrambling yesterday, as veteran Todd Herremans was their only regular left after left tackle Jason Peters was ejected for fighting, leaving people called Andrew Gardner, Dennis Kelly, Smith and Molk to finish the game.

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Lions change kickers, replace Nate Freese with Alex Henery

Alex Henery AP

After three games with their rookie kicker, the Lions have seen enough.

Nate Freese, the seventh-round pick who has already missed four field goals this season and ranks dead last in the NFL in field goal accuracy, is on the way out. The Lions will sign Alex Henery to replace him, according to the Detroit Free Press.

The move comes as no surprise: Freese was already on very thin ice even before missing a 41-yard attempt at Ford Field on Sunday. Freese has been shockingly bad this year, going 3-for-7 with a long field goal of just 30 yards. The Lions use punter Sam Martin on kickoffs, so Freese wasn’t giving them anything there, either.

Henery has played three NFL seasons, all with the Eagles. He’s made 86 percent of his field goals, with a long of 51 yards.

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PFT Live: Eagles talk with Geoff Mosher, Jaguars talk with Mike Dempsey

Washington Redskins v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

The Eagles moved to 3-0 with a 37-34 win over the Redskins during a wild day in Philadelphia that saw DeSean Jackson return to town and a brawl that wound up with two players ejected.

Geoff Mosher of CSN Philly will join Mike Florio on Monday’s edition of PFT Live to discuss the biggest takeaways from the game for the Eagles. One area of concern might be LeSean McCoy, who left the game briefly to be evaluated for a concussion but returned to run 19 times for just 22 yards. Another would be the injury to center Jason Kelce, which put the Eagles down three starting offensive linemen (Jason Peters made it four when he was ejected) and opened to door for a lot of big hits on Nick Foles over the course of the contest.

The Jaguars are the exact opposite of the Eagles after dropping their third straight game on Sunday. The game saw Blake Bortles make his first appearance and he’ll start next week for Jacksonville, so we’ll have Mike Dempsey of 1010XL in Jacksonville on the show to break down the start of the Bortles era in Jacksonville.

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

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Eli Manning: This is how offense is supposed to work

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Before the season, the Giants talked about Eli Manning completing 70 percent of his passes during the 2014 season.

The claim was met by plenty of scoffing and the laughing didn’t die down in the first week of the season, but it seems less outlandish after Week Three. Manning hit on 75 percent of his throws against the Texans, up from connecting on 67 percent in Week Two despite several drops by his receivers and a sign that the Giants are starting to get the hang of things on offense.

Sunday saw them run the ball very well in support of the efficient Manning, whose biggest plays came on short completions that left his receivers a chance to make plays with the ball in their hands. The offensive line was strong in both phases, the tempo was where it needed to be and Manning was on the same page with his targets all day. If not for a fumble inside the 10 and an abysmal snap on a field goal, the 30-17 win would have been an even bigger rout.

“That is the way it’s supposed to work,” Manning said, via the New York Post.

The Giants offense found its footing at a good time. Three of their next four games are road dates against NFC East foes, including a trip to Washington on Thursday. Winning all of them will be tough, but taking two of three would set them up very well for the back end of the season and a run at a playoff spot.

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DeMarco Murray disappointed in himself for fumbling

demarcomurray Getty Images

Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray has rushed for at least 100 yards and a touchdown in all three games this season. He has also lost a fumble in all three games this season.

Some running backs get benched when they keep fumbling, but Murray is at no risk of losing playing time. Murray is leading the league in carries (75) and rushing yards (385) and is tied for the league lead in rushing touchdowns (three), rushing first downs (22) and runs of 20-plus yards (three). Cowboys coach Jason Garrett says he’ll keep feeding the rock to his workhorse, and trust Murray to stop fumbling..

“We’re going to continue to give him the ball and he’s got to get it right,” Garrett said. “He’s going to get it right.”

Murray acknowledged that he needs to do a better job of holding onto the ball.

It’s very disappointing,” Murray said. “I’m very disappointed in letting that one go. I’ve got to get it fixed and I will get it fixed.”

Murray needs to get the fumbling problem fixed, but Garrett may need to limit Murray’s carries less because of fumbling concerns than because of concerns that Murray won’t stay healthy for 16 games if he keeps taking this many hits. Murray has 22, 29 and 24 carries in his three games so far this season, which puts him on pace for 400 carries for the season — a total that only five running backs in NFL history have reached. A 400-carry season is an all but impossible workload, especially for a running back like Murray, how has had problems with durability in the past.

Murray is disappointed in himself for fumbling. Garrett will be more disappointed in himself if he runs Murray into the ground.

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Tom Brady only sees one guy playing well on offense

Tom Brady AP

Tom Brady wants to make it clear — his offense needs to get better, and soon.

After beating the Raiders 16-9 yesterday, the Patriots’ offense has 22 points in the last six quarters.

“I don’t think anybody has really found their stride this year,” Brady told WEEI, via the Boston Herald. “I don’t know who you can point to on offense and say, ‘Wow, they’re really clicking.’”

When it was suggested that wide receiver Julian Edelman (10 passes for 84 yards yesterday, top 10 in the league in both receptions and yards) might qualify, Brady reluctantly let him in the club.

Yeah, he’s done a good job, so that’s one,” Brady said. “We’ve got a lot of other guys on offense. There’s 22 other guys on offense, so I’m not going to sit here and say every single guy is clicking. We’ve had one individual player that’s caught some passes. Great. Does that make a good offense? I don’t think so. . . .

“We’ve all got to figure out how to do a better job of that. It’s not one person. It’s not not singling any person out to say, ‘Wow, if this person were out, or if this person were in.’ I mean, if we had 11 people on the field that were producing like Julian Edelman, we’d have a pretty good offense. We’ve got one guy.”

While it’s easy to zoom in on skill position players thanks to fantasy football, the Patriots’ problems being up front.

From veteran line coach Dante Scarnecchia’s retirement to the surprising trade of Logan Mankins, the Patriots have looked disorganized in their blocking.

And that’s left only one guy able to hold his head high.

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Report: Jarvis Jones likely needs wrist surgery

Jarvis Jones AP

Injuries to three defensive starters took some of the fun out of the Steelers victory on Sunday night and it looks like the Steelers will be feeling those absences as they try to build on the win over the Panthers.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that linebacker Jarvis Jones likely needs wrist surgery to repair his injury and that he’ll be out indefinitely as the team sorts out exactly what’s wrong. Jones has two sacks in three starts this season, which is already double what he managed as a rookie, and he’s forced one of the two fumbles the Steelers have caused this season, so his absence will be a significant one.

Arthur Moats is the next man up at outside linebacker, although the Steelers may need to look for other help for what’s suddenly a thin linebacker group. Schefter reports that Ryan Shazier has been diagnosed with a sprained MCL. He’ll have an MRI on Monday to sort out the extent of the damage and the length of his absence from the lineup.

With cornerback Ike Taylor also down with a broken forearm, the Steelers are going to have their hands full finding a defensive lineup that works in the coming weeks.

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Bucs think they’ll be healthier for the Steelers game

St Louis Rams v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

The Steelers are coming off a huge win, and the Buccaneers a terrible loss.

But when they meet next weekend, the advantage may go to the one with the most available bodies.

The Steelers suffered three key defensive injuries last night, but the Bucs are hoping they get some players back.

According to Roy Cummings of the Tampa Tribune, the Bucs are optimistic they’ll get defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (broken hand), running back Doug Martin (knee) and right defensive end Michael Johnson (ankle) back in time for the Steelers game.

Less likely is that quarterback Josh McCown will be back from his sprained thumb, but having their best two defensive linemen back should help.

“Gerald, [tight end] Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Michael Johnson — all those guys will eventually help us,’’ Smith said. “That’s why we’re optimistic things are going to change, because we don’t have those players out for the season. They’ll all be coming back, so reinforcements are on the way.”

Considering the Bucs lost an embarrassing 56-14 decision to the Falcons Thursday night, the cavalry better hurry.

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