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PFT’s Week Nine picks

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The good news last week?  MDS gained only one game on me.  The bad news?  MDS got only seven of the 14 games right.

Yep, that 12-1 performance from yours truly in Week Seven is now the chunk of filet between a moldy pair of 6-8 slices of counterfeit Wonder bread.

At one point, it was looking disastrous.  Thanks to the Giants, Broncos, and 49ers, a nauseating 3-8 start was salvaged.  Sort of.

This week, we again disagree on only one game.  And it all comes down to Monday night.

For the year, I’m now 73-45, and MDS is 69-49.

Chiefs at Chargers

MDS’s take: Matt Cassel is back as the Chiefs’ starting quarterback, and the result will be more or less the same as the first time Cassel started against the Chargers this year: He’ll throw multiple interceptions and the Chiefs will lose.

MDS’s pick: Chargers 27, Chiefs 13.

Florio’s take:  The Chargers already have beaten the Chiefs in Kansas City.  Then again, who hasn’t?  Norv Turner’s week-to-week employment lasts at least another week.

Florio’s pick:  Chargers 27, Chiefs 16.

Broncos at Bengals

MDS’s take: The Bengals’ defense has been a mess this season, and Peyton Manning is getting better every week. Manning will throw for 300 yards and four touchdowns and the Broncos will cruise.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 31, Bengals 17.

Florio’s take:  The schedule softens for a Denver team that looks to be much better than the one that made it to the final eight a year ago.  The Bengals, on the other hand, are starting a rough patch that will make a rough season even rougher.  Roughly speaking.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 31, Bengals 17.

Ravens at Browns

MDS’s take: I’m tempted to pick the upset here, as the Ravens have struggled to put teams away while the Browns have played competitive football even in defeat. But while the Browns will keep this one close, the Ravens will manage to hold them off.

MDS’s pick: Ravens 23, Browns 21.

Florio’s take:  Cleveland’s old team returns to town, nearly 17 years to the day after Cleveland’s old team declared its intention to leave.  The Browns will make it interesting, but the Ravens know they need to step it up now in order to hold off the Steelers, who are making their move and who face the Ravens twice in three weeks, starting later this month.

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 20, Browns 14.

Cardinals at Packers

MDS’s take: This looks to me like the easiest pick on the board. Aaron Rodgers will have another big game, Clay Matthews will have a couple sacks, and the reeling Cardinals will lose their fifth straight.

MDS’s pick: Packers 31, Cardinals 12.

Florio’s take:  After nearly losing to the Jags, the Packers will be on guard for a Cardinals team that hits the road on a short week after a Monday night mess.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 35, Cardinals 20.

Bills at Texans

MDS’s take: Speaking of easy games to pick, there’s no way the Bills’ defense slows down Matt Schaub, Arian Foster and Co. I do think C.J. Spiller could have a big game against the Texans’ run defense, but the Bills’ offense won’t be able to keep up the scoring pace.

MDS’s pick: Texans 35, Bills 21.

Florio’s take:  $100 million can buy a lot of Super Bowl rings.  That may be the only way Mario Williams ever gets one.

Florio’s pick:  Texans 30, Bills 17.

Dolphins at Colts

MDS’s take: If the playoffs started today, these two teams would earn the two AFC wild card berths. Who saw that coming before the season? I look for the Dolphins to take a big step toward the playoffs with a big win in Indianapolis, and I expect a lot of people to be talking about Joe Philbin as a coach of the year candidate after his team gets its biggest win of the season.

MDS’s pick: Dolphins 27, Colts 14.

Florio’s take:  A pair of top-ten quarterbacks have winning records through eight weeks, and neither has a III at the end of his name.  Despite III wins in a row, the Dolphins remain underrated.  Will they still be if they’re VIII-III when hosting the Pats?

Florio’s pick:  Dolphins 23, Colts 20.

Lions at Jaguars

MDS’s take: The Lions’ m.o. is the same every week: Start slowly and get better as the game goes on. Some games, like last week against the Seahawks, that results in a last-minute come-from-behind win. Other games, like two weeks ago against the Bears, that results in a last-minute touchdown followed by a failed onside kick and a loss. So which will it be this week? I’m betting neither. The Lions have finally found an opponent they can beat from pillar to post and will win easily in Jacksonville.

MDS’s pick: Lions 27, Jaguars 10.

Florio’s take:  With the Jaguars outscored 95-20 at home at home this season and the Lions beginning to show some signs of life, this is precisely the kind of game that Jacksonville should win.  I’ll take my chances.

Florio’s pick:  Lions 28, Jaguars 17.

Bears at Titans

MDS’s take: The Bears’ defense will make life miserable for Matt Hasselbeck and hold Chris Johnson to less than 20 yards. Chicago wins this big.

MDS’s pick: Bears 27, Titans 13.

Florio’s take:  It’s tempting to take the Titans, who have played well lately.  Especially since the Bears were sluggish at best against the Panthers.  But a good team finds a way to win games it seems to be trying to lose.  On Sunday, the Bears will be less complacent.

Florio’s pick:  Bears 27, Titans 17.

Panthers at Redskins

MDS’s take: In a game with all eyes on Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III, I like Redskins running back Alfred Morris to steal the show with a big game against a suspect Panthers run defense.

MDS’s pick: Redskins 24, Panthers 14.

Florio’s take:  The quarterbacks should put their respective Heisman Trophies on the line for this one.  If they do, Robert Griffin III will have bookends.

Florio’s pick:  Redskins 33, Panthers 23.

Buccaneers at Raiders

MDS’s take: The Raiders are actually playing some surprisingly good football lately, to the point where I wouldn’t rule out a run at an AFC playoff spot. Carson Palmer will put a lot of points on the board as the Raiders win their third straight game.

MDS’s pick: Raiders 34, Buccaneers 20.

Florio’s take:  This rematch of Super Bowl XXXVII will turn out a little bit better for the Silver and Black, which surprisingly remain in striking distance for a playoff berth.

Florio’s pick:  Raiders 27, Buccaneers 20.

Vikings at Seahawks

MDS’s take: Both the Vikings and the Seahawks are coming off disappointing Week Eight performances, but I have a lot more faith in Seattle’s ability to turn things around at home.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 23, Vikings 16.

Florio’s take:  The Vikings were exposed last week against the Bucs, and offensive coordinator Bill Mugrave could be exposed to unemployment if he doesn’t get the team back on track.  Good luck with that in Seattle, against that defense.

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 20, Vikings 9.

Steelers at Giants

MDS’s take: The Steelers have played well at home and badly on the road this season, and that will continue against the Giants, who will win their fifth in a row.

MDS’s pick: Giants 28, Steelers 17.

Florio’s take:  It’s a simple formula in New York.  Play great against great teams.  Play not-so-great against not-so-great teams.  The Steelers currently fall closer to the former category.

Florio’s pick:  Giants 35, Steelers 27.

Cowboys at Falcons

MDS’s take: Despite the Falcons’ 7-0 record and the Cowboys’ 3-4 record, I see this as a close game.  The Cowboys are playing competitive football and the Falcons have had a tendency to let weaker teams hang around. But the end result will be something we’ve already seen a couple times this season.  Dallas failing to pull it out in the end.

MDS’s pick: Falcons 24, Cowboys 21.

Florio’s take:  If the Cowboys spot the Falcons 23 points, the Falcons won’t let them back into it.  And with their only non-flex visit to Sunday Night Football, the Falcons aren’t about to stumble against an inferior team.

Florio’s pick:  Falcons 31, Cowboys 20.

Eagles at Saints

MDS’s take: The Saints have probably already run out of chances to turn their season around, and the Eagles are rapidly running out of chances, too. But the Saints’ defense is so weak that Michael Vick can’t help but have a better game on Monday night, and the Eagles will win in New Orleans.

MDS’s pick: Eagles 31, Saints 21.

Florio’s take:  For a team that may not be making it to the playoffs, delivering a knockout punch to the Eagles on national TV in the Superdome could be the next best thing.  Maybe a certain T-shirt will be making another appearance; at least ESPN isn’t regulated by the FCC.

Florio’s pick:  Saints 27, Eagles 24.

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Wes Welker’s Undrafted to run in $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint

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It has been a career-best year for Undrafted, the four-year-old gelding owned by Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker. And on Saturday afternoon, Undrafted goes for his biggest score yet.

Undrafted is one of 14 horses set to run in Saturday’s $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Santa Anita Park in California. Post time is 5:05 p.m. Eastern, and the race will air on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.

Undrafted is one of three horses at 8-1 on the morning line, with only No Nay Never (9-2) and Reneesgotzip (5-1) at shorter odds.

Undrafted, like No Nay Never, is trained by Wesley Ward. A brilliant three-year-old, No Nay Never figures to be on or near the lead throughout. Undrafted, meanwhile, figures to rallying from the back of the pack in the final stages.

With two prime contenders, Ward believes he has a strong hand in a race where the winner’s share is $550,000.

“If they do go too fast up front, I think the race will fall into Undrafted’s hands – so I feel good about my chances with both horses,” Ward said, according to the Breeders’ Cup press office.

Ward already has one win to his credit in this Breeders’ Cup, with Hootenanny capturing the $1 million Juvenile Turf on Friday. And another trainee, Sunset Glow, was second in the Juvenile Fillies Turf later in the card.

In his last race, Undrafted was third in the $200,000 Kentucky Downs Turf Dash Stakes, beaten a half-length. However, Undrafted hadn’t run in more than two months, and it’s possible he needed the race.

Undrafted has earned $274,046 in purse money in 2014, with one win, one second and two thirds in six starts, five of which were on turf. In his four turf defeats, he finished less than two lengths from the winner, including a fourth-place finish at the Group 1 July Cup at Newmarket Racecourse in England.

Undrafted will break from the No. 11 post on Saturday, with Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez to ride. He’s chestnut-colored horse donning a grey saddle towel with red numbering, and Velazquez will sport black silks with yellow piping. As a late-runner in a race with early pace, Undrafted should be able to catch your eye in the stretch.

Then, it comes down to whether he can catch them all.

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In a contract year, Justin Houston on pace to break NFL sack record

Justin Houston AP

Chiefs defensive end Justin Houston has always been a good pass rusher, but he’s picking a great time to have his best season.

Through seven games, Houston has 10.0 sacks this season. That puts him on pace for 23 this season, which would break Michael Strahan’s NFL record of 22.5. That’s particularly good news for Houston and his agent, given that he becomes a free agent after the season.

Houston, however, says he’s not thinking about that.

“I’ll worry about that at the end of the season,” Houston told the Kansas City Star. “I can’t let that get in my head at all. I don’t want it to slow me or affect what I’m doing on the field. I just want to continue play as I’m playing and continue to make plays.”

If Houston doesn’t reach a long-term deal with the Chiefs by March, he’ll surely be franchised. For this season the franchise salary for defensive ends was $13.1 million, which means Houston is surely going to be paid very well in 2015. He’s earning it.

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Ronnie Hillman good to go, Montee Ball at least a week away

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The Broncos’ top two running backs are both dealing with injuries, but one of them will be ready to play Sunday at New England.

Ronnie Hillman, who has been taking it easy in practice since suffering a shoulder injury on Wednesday, is listed as probable and will start against the Patriots. That’s good news for Denver, as Hillman has played very well and the Patriots’ run defense has struggled.

But Broncos starting running back Montee Ball is at least a week away. Hillman took over the starting job when Ball suffered a groin injury on October 5 against the Cardinals, and Ball told the Denver Post that he’ll try to practice next week but isn’t sure how much he can do.

We’ll see,” Ball said. “I listen to our trainers. I’ll be back soon, though. I’m feeling a lot better.”

The bad news for Ball is that Hillman has out-played him. Even if Ball is healthy in a week, Hillman may keep the starting job.

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Trestman is learning about the passion of Bears fans

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With the Bears having lost four of their last five games, coach Marc Trestman is feeling the heat from the fans.

Asked what he knows now that he didn’t know when he took the job, Trestman said it’s nothing about the Xs and Os of coaching. What Trestman has learned is that Bears fans aren’t going to settle for a mediocre football team, which is what it looks like they have right now.

“I think the day-to-day working part of it is pretty consistent to what I had been used to as a head coach,” Trestman told the team’s website. “I think the part that resonates most is how passionate and how much our fan base loves this team; that’s number one. And it comes at a really hard time, this conversation, because we are a 3-5 team and I know how disappointed our fan base is with our overall performance. They’ve seen signs of the team that we can be, but we haven’t done it on the consistent basis. So that’s the thing for me. Over the 20 months, it’s that we want to do things to please our fan base, because they love this team so much.”

Trestman’s offense appears to have taken a step backward since his debut last season, and Trestman acknowledged that he needs to get his team putting points on the board consistently.

“It just hasn’t happened that way and that’s what we are continually trying to improve and work on is to try and get that done,” he said.

Just as soon as Trestman gets it done, Bears fans will be on his side.

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Philbin absent from Dolphins for family matter

Philbin AP

As the Dolphins prepare to host the Chargers on Sunday, coach Joe Philbin has been absent from the team for the last two days.

According to the Associated Press, Philbin is dealing with a family matter.

Gone from practice on Thursday and Friday, Philbin is expected to rejoin the team before the game against San Diego.

Hired in 2012, Philbin has a record of 19-20 in two-plus seasons.

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The Eric Dickerson trade turns 27

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Friday is the 27th anniversary of the Los Angeles Rams trading Eric Dickerson to the Indianapolis Colts, something Dickerson himself pointed out this afternoon.

This was no small trade. According to NFL records, it involved the fourth-most players/picks in league history. The deal also looped in a third team, the Buffalo Bills.

All three clubs came away with their own presumed pot of gold.

The Colts got Dickerson, in his prime at age 27 and the league’s leading rusher the previous season.

The Bills received linebacker Cornelius Bennett, the second overall pick in the 1987 draft.

The Rams got a bushel of draft picks — three first-rounders and three second-rounders. They also received tailbacks Greg Bell and Owen Gill.

Dickerson, for his part, rushed for nearly 4,000 yards in his first three seasons in Indianapolis, including 1987, when the Colts made the postseason. In his lone playoff game with the franchise, Dickerson racked up 115 combined yards and a caught a TD pass, but Indianapolis fell 38-21 to Cleveland. In all, Dickerson would play 61 games for the Colts before being dealt to Oakland in 1992.

Bennett, meanwhile, was a five-time Pro Bowler for Buffalo, a key part of a club that made four straight Super Bowls.

So what about the Rams’ draft pick haul? As it turns out, they drafted just one Pro Bowler — tailback Gaston Green. And Green’s Pro Bowl season came with Denver, not Los Angeles. The veteran Bell, though, was a starter on the Rams’ 1988 and 1989 postseason entrants.

But the Herschel Walker trade it was not for the Los Angeles Rams, who would, in time, move to St. Louis. Dickerson, in time, would become a Hall of Famer. The Hoosier Dome, where Dickerson played his home games in Indianapolis, is gone, and no NFL team plays on Astroturf anymore.

Well, so not all change is bad, but the days of teams getting together to construct 10-player/pick deals are probably gone. And that’s no fun.

Well, at least we have Twitter.

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Week Nine skill-position injury report — final

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Here are the skill-position players in Sunday games who are listed on the Week Nine injury report. Key fantasy starters are bolded. All information was furnished by the NFL.

Inactives are announced 90 minutes before game time. A final injury report for Monday’s Colts-Giants game will be released Saturday.

Teams on bye in Week Nine: Falcons, Bills, Bears, Lions, Packers, Titans.

OUT

Bengals RB Giovani Bernard (hip).

Broncos RB Montee Ball (groin).

Browns TE Jordan Cameron (concussion).

Buccaneers WR Trindon Holliday (hamstring).

Cardinals RB Stepfan Taylor (calf).

Chargers RB Ryan Mathews (knee).

Chiefs WR Donnie Avery (groin).

Dolphins TE Dion Sims (toe).

Raiders TE David Ausberry (foot).

Raiders WR Vincent Brown (hamstring).

Ravens WR Michael Campanaro (thigh).

Seahawks TE Zach Miller (ankle).

Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph (abdomen, groin).

DOUBTFUL

Buccaneers RB Doug Martin (ankle).

QUESTIONABLE

Bengals WR A.J. Green (toe).

Broncos TE Virgil Green (calf).

Browns WR Rodney Smith (hamstring).

Cardinals TE Troy Niklas (ankle).

Cowboys QB Tony Romo (back).

Eagles WR Brad Smith (groin).

Jets QB Geno Smith (right shoulder).

Patriots WR Matt Slater (shoulder).

Ravens TE Owen Daniels (knee).

PROBABLE

Broncos K Brandon McManus (right groin).

Broncos RB Juwan Thompson (knee).

Broncos RB Ronnie Hillman (shoulder).

Buccaneers WR Vincent Jackson (rib).

Cardinals RB Andre Ellington (foot).

Cardinals WR Michael Floyd (knee).

Chargers RB Donald Brown (concussion).

Chiefs QB Alex Smith (right shoulder).

Chiefs RB Cyrus Gray (hand).

Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles (back).

Chiefs TE Anthony Fasano (shoulder).

Chiefs TE Travis Kelce (ribs).

Chiefs WR Junior Hemingway (hamstring).

Eagles RB Darren Sproles (knee).

Eagles TE Brent Celek (back).

Eagles TE Charles Clay (knee).

Eagles WR Jeff Maehl (foot).

Jaguars WR Allen Hurns (ankle).

Jaguars WR Cecil Shorts (groin).

Jets RB Chris Johnson (ankle).

Jets TE Jeff Cumberland (finger, shoulder).

Jets WR Eric Decker (hamstring).

Jets WR Greg Salas (ankle, wrist)

Jets WR Jeremy Kerley (illness).

Patriots QB Tom Brady (ankle).

Raiders RB Jamize Olawale (shoulder).

Raiders RB Marcel Reece (quadricep).

Raiders WR Kenbrell Thompkins (not injury related).

Rams WR Kenny Britt (hip).

Ravens RB Justin Forsett (ankle).

Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch (not injury related).

Seahawks WR Bryan Walters (concussion).

Steelers TE Heath Miller (not injury related).

Steelers TE Matt Spaeth (hamstring).

Texans RB Alfred Blue (ankle).

Texans RB Arian Foster (knee).

Texans WR Andre Johnson (ankle).

Vikings TE Chase Ford (foot).

Washington QB Robert Griffin (ankle).

Monday night

Colts at Giants

DID NOT PRACTICE

Giants RB Rashad Jennings (knee).

FULL PARTICIPATION

Colts RB Ahmad Bradshaw (not injury related).

Colts WR Reggie Wayne (elbow, not injury related).

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Week Nine injury report roundup

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Over the course of the week, there are a lot of posts about the most prominent injured players but we know that you might not see all of them and that some others may fall through the cracks. As a result, we’ll comb through all the injury reports every Friday afternoon so that there’s one stop for all the news from every team playing on Sunday. So, without further delay, the injury report roundup for Week Nine of the 2014 season.

Jaguars at Bengals

The Jaguars ruled out cornerback Will Blackmon (finger) and defensive end Andre Branch (groin) and linebacker Dekoda Watson (hamstring) is questionable. Cincinnati expects to have wide receiver A.J. Green (toe, questionable) back in the lineup, but they won’t have running back Giovani Bernard (hip) or linebacker Vontaze Burfict (knee). Cornerback Darqueze Dennard (hamstring), linebacker Rey Maualuga (hamstring) and guard Kevin Zeitler (calf) all drew the doubtful tag, which is actually a step forward for Maualuga after he missed multiple games.

Buccaneers at Browns

The Buccaneers don’t expect to have tackle Anthony Collins (foot, doubtful) and running back Doug Martin (ankle, doubtful). They definitely won’t have kick returner Trindon Holliday (hamstring) or linebacker Brandon Magee (knee), but it could go either way with defensive end Michael Johnson (hand, questionable). The Browns ruled out tight end Jordan Cameron (concussion) and defensive end Phil Taylor (knee) will miss another game. Wide receiver Rodney Smith (hamstring) is questionable.

Cardinals at Cowboys

Safety Tony Jefferson (concussion) is questionable for the Cardinals, while cornerback Patrick Peterson (concussion) is probable. Running back Stepfan Taylor (calf) has been ruled out and tight end Troy Niklas (ankle) is questionable. The Cowboys will let us know if quarterback Tony Romo (back, questionable) is playing on Sunday behind an offensive line that could be without guard Ronald Leary (groin, questionable). Tackle Doug Free (foot) will miss another week.

Eagles at Texans

The Eagles expect center Jason Kelce (sports hernia surgery, probable), running back Darren Sproles (knee, probable) and guard Todd Herremans (biceps, probable) to be in the lineup. Safety Nate Allen (hamstring, questionable) will wait to have his fate determined over the weekend. The Texans listed linebacker Jadeveon Clowney (illness) as questionable, although coach Bill O’Brien’s tone was doubtful while discussing Clowney’s availability. Linebacker Brian Cushing (knee) is also questionable after missing last week’s game.

Jets at Chiefs

The already skeletal Jets cornerback corps should be without Darrin Walls (calf, knee) after the team listed him as doubtful. Quarterback Geno Smith (shoulder) is questionable on the injury report, but the team has moved on to Michael Vick either way. Chiefs coach Andy Reid said safety Eric Berry (ankle, probable) will play for the first time since Week Two. So will quarterback Alex Smith (shoulder, probable), but wide receiver Donnie Avery (groin), cornerback Jamell Fleming (hamstring), linebacker Josh Martin (hamstring, knee) and cornerback Christopher Owens (knee) are all out.

Chargers at Dolphins

Linebacker Manti Te’o (foot), cornerback Jason Verrett (shoulder) and running back Ryan Mathews (knee) are all out, although Mathews did practice on Friday. Safety Jahleel Addae (concussion) is doubtful and linebacker Jerry Attaochu (hamstring) is questionable after missing the last two games. The Dolphins are holding out hope for guard Daryn Colledge (illness, back) and linebacker Koa Misi (ankle) after listing each of them as questionable, but tight end Dion Sims (toe) won’t play.

Redskins at Vikings

As you’ve likely heard, Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III (ankle, probable) is expected to return to the starting lineup. Cornerback Bashaud Breeland (knee) is questionable after getting hurt at Friday’s practice. Tight end Kyle Rudolph (sports hernia surgery) remains out for the Vikings, cornerback Jabari Price (hamstring) is questionable and everyone else on the 53-man roster is healthy enough to play.

Rams at 49ers

The Rams won’t be taking defensive tackle Aaron Donald (shoulder), linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar (toe), cornerback Janoris Jenkins (knee) or safety Rodney McLeod (knee) with them to St. Louis. Cornerback Trumaine Johnson (knee, probable) is expected to play for the first time this year. Toe injuries have left 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis and cornerback Tramaine Brock questionable to play in the NFC West matchup.

Broncos at Patriots

Safety Quinton Carter (hamstring), tight end Virgil Green (calf) and linebacker Steven Johnson (ankle) are all questionable for the Broncos, who will play without running back Montee Ball (groin) again this week. Running back Ronnie Hillman (shoulder, probable) looks good to go, however. Defensive end Chandler Jones (hip) is out for New England. Defensive lineman Dominique Easley (knee), safety Nate Ebner (finger), tackle Cameron Fleming (finger) and wide receiver Matt Slater (shoulder) have been listed as questionable.

Raiders at Seahawks

The Raiders don’t expect cornerback Carlos Rogers (knee, doubtful) to play. If he doesn’t, he’ll join tight end David Ausberry (foot), wide receiver Vincent Brown (hamstring), cornerback Chimdi Chekwa (hamstring) and cornerback Keith McGill (groin) on the sideline. The Seahawks ruled out defensive tackle Jordan Hill (ankle), safety Jeron Johnson (concussion), cornerback Byron Maxwell (calf), tight end Zach Miller (ankle), linebacker Malcolm Smith (groin) and linebacker Bobby Wagner (toe). Questionable tags were placed on safety Kam Chancellor (groin), tackle Russell Okung (calf), center Stephen Schilling (knee) and center Max Unger (foot), which could make for a lot of street clothes if game-time calls go the wrong way.

Ravens at Steelers

Baltimore will roll into Pittsburgh without wide receiver Michael Campanaro (thigh) and cornerback Jimmy Smith (foot). They’ll hold off on decisions about defensive end Chris Canty (wrist), tight end Owen Daniels (knee) and guard Marshal Yanda (knee) after listing them as questionable. Cornerback Ike Taylor (forearm) and safety Ross Ventrone (hamstring) were ruled out by the Steelers, whose injury report is otherwise comprised of probable players.

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Brandian Ross fined for hit that concussed Jordan Cameron

brandianross AP

Browns tight end Jordan Cameron will miss Sunday’s game after suffering a concussion last week. The Raiders safety who gave Cameron the concussion has now been disciplined by the NFL.

The league office has confirmed that Brandian Ross was fined $22,050 for hitting a defenseless receiver in the head and neck area.

The hit also drew a 15-yard penalty during the game, and resulted in Cameron staying down on the field for a minute before he was eventually able to get up, looking unstable as he walked slowly to the locker room.

Cameron has now suffered three concussions in the last two years.

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Kam Chancellor, Russell Okung will be game-time decisions

Seattle Seahawks v St. Louis Rams Getty Images

The Seahawks have injury concerns at several positions heading into Sunday’s game with the Raiders, with safety near the top of the list.

Kam Chancellor was listed as questionable on Friday because of a groin injury and coach Pete Carroll said, via PFT teammate Curtis Crabtree, that he will be a game-time decision. Chancellor’s backup Jeron Johnson was ruled out with a concussion, leaving Earl Thomas, Deshawn Shead and Steven Terrell as the team’s healthy safeties heading into Sunday.

Center is another spot where the Seahawks could find themselves in a bit of trouble on Sunday. Neither Max Unger nor Stephen Schilling have been ruled out and coach Pete Carroll expects them to dress on Sunday, but both are listed as questionable and third option Patrick Lewis has played only a handful of snaps.

Elsewhere on the offensive line, Carroll said left tackle Russell Okung will also be a game-time decision as he deals with a calf injury. Should the calls on Chancellor, Okung and the centers go the wrong way, the Seahawks will have a lot of holes to fill.

The Seahawks came into the week knowing that linebacker Bobby Wagner would miss another game with a toe injury and ruled Malcolm Smith out on Friday because of a groin injury that will likely keep him out for multiple weeks. They will reshuffle their linebacking corps to put rookie Brock Coyle in the middle with K.J. Wright moving outside across from Bruce Irvin. Kevin Pierre-Louis, who saw time in place of Smith after his injury last week, is another option against Oakland.

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Gilbert, Smith campaign looms

Gilbert Getty Images

As the players on each NFL team elect their representatives, a process that happens every two years and has been unfolding for the last two months in cities throughout the league, no clear indication has emerged regarding whether the new board of player reps will favor keeping DeMaurice Smith as executive director of the NFL Players Association or replacing him with former NFL player Sean Gilbert.

In March, the representatives will have to decide whether they want Smith, Gilbert, or someone else to hold the job for the next three years.  Gilbert’s platform emanates from the argument that the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement must go; if elected, he plans to file a collusion claim that would invoke the union’s right to terminate the deal, which otherwise expires seven years from now, in 2021.

With Smith presumably content to stand pat, it’s possible for the looming election to be couched in the following terms — by voting for change, there’s no downside.  If Gilbert wins the election, tries to negotiate a new deal, and fails, the players will finish in the same position they’d be in if Smith wins the election.

Of course, there’s a chance an effort by Gilbert to blow up the CBA eventually will trigger another lockout, one that causes games to be wiped out and forces players to sacrifice game checks.  The players would have to be willing to assume the risk of a potential work stoppage, if they go along with Gilbert’s plan to seek premature termination of the labor deal based on collusion.

That logic also overlooks Smith’s efforts to negotiate a substance-abuse policy and a PED policy with more favorable player protections.  Moreover, Smith and the union currently are attempting to negotiate a more favorable personal conduct policy.  It’s unclear whether Gilbert would have similar success on those fronts.

Gilbert’s desire to play 18 games also could work against him, since most players seem to be firmly against it.  Still, as it relates to the basic question of whether the current labor deal can be improved, Gilbert is committed to trying.  On that issue, there’s nothing to lose . . . unless it takes a lockout to ultimately improve the current deal.

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Reports: Bucs waive Trindon Holliday, call up Marcus Thigpen

Trindon Holliday AP

The Buccaneers will have a new kickoff and punt returner.

According to Rand Getlin of Yahoo! Sports, the Bucs have waived Trindon Holliday with an “injured” designation. Holliday has a hamstring injury.

If Holliday clears waivers, he will take a spot on the Buccaneers’ injured reserve list.

The 28-year-old Holliday returned two kickoffs and two punts in Tampa Bay’s loss to Minnesota on Sunday. He signed with the Buccaneers just 10 days ago. Holliday had replaced rookie Solomon Patton, who was waived after six games as the Bucs’ returner. Patton is now on the Cardinals’ practice squad.

A potential replacement for Holliday could be coming from the practice squad. Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reports the Buccaneers have called up wide receiver Marcus Thigpen, who returned kickoffs and punts for Miami in 2012 and 2013. Like Holliday, the 28-year-old Thigpen signed with the Buccaneers on Oct. 21.

And now, Thigpen might get a chance to stabilize a problem spot for 1-6 Tampa Bay.

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Judge in NJ gambling case is Marcel Shipp’s brother, which gambling supporters say is a conflict

Cincinnati Bengals v Arizona Cardinals Getty Images

Michael Shipp, the judge who granted a temporary restraining order preventing New Jersey from legalizing sports gambling in the state, is the brother of former NFL running back Marcel Shipp. Some supporters of sports betting in the Garden State say that’s a conflict of interest.

Marcel Shipp played for the Cardinals from 2001 to 2007 and has expressed interest in coaching in the NFL (he is currently an assistant at his alma mater, UMass, and has participated in the NFL’s minority coaching fellowship program). According to some advocates of sports gambling in New Jersey, that calls into question the partiality of his brother, the judge who handed down the ruling the NFL wanted to prevent the state from beginning its plan to allow sports gambling at racetracks and casinos.

State Sen. Raymond Lesniak told the Asbury Park Press that Judge Shipp should recuse himself from the sports gambling case because of “a strong appearance of a conflict of interest that could compromise Judge Shipp’s ability to make an objective decision.’’

Gaming attorney Daniel Wallach agreed, saying he’s not accusing Judge Shipp of wrongdoing but is suggesting that it’s reasonable to ask whether the judge can be unbiased given that a close family member may want to work in the NFL.

“It’s not whether the judge is biased, but whether his impartiality can be questioned. That question is clearly there,’’ said Wallach, who has also written about the issue.

The NFL has long opposed any expansion of sports gambling, and Judge Shipp’s ruling was a victory for the league. Supporters of gambling understandably would like to see Judge Shipp benched — even if it sounds like a stretch to suggest that his brother’s connection to the NFL calls his impartiality into question.

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Johnny Manziel is fine sitting and watching for now

Johnny Manziel AP

Apparently, neither of the Fs in JFF stands for “frustrated.”

Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel said Friday that he didn’t necessarily agree with coach Mike Pettine’s assessment that he was getting antsy about not playing.

I don’t necessarily think that’s the right word,” Manziel said, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “Obviously coming from the situation I’ve been in the past couple years of every rep, every snap, every down of every game, coming into the situation that I’m in now is going to be a lot different for me. So I’m sure there are signs of this being a different situation for me, but I don’t feel frustrated. Obviously, being a competitor I want to play, but there is a difference.”

Manziel said he thinks he’s “in the role that I need to be at this time,” which is backing up Browns starter Brian Hoyer. And he acknowledged that he had a poor camp, when he was given every opportunity to make the job his own.

“I’m still extremely hungry,” he said. “I still feel that obviously coming out training camp, I was disappointed. I wanted to play better and at the same time I am a rookie and I can’t be too hard on myself. I remember thinking back to the days when I was learning the offense at [Texas] A&M. It was frustrating. And it’s like that for everybody coming into a new system and a new place a long way away from home. So there’s a lot of things that were going on in my life at the time. Now I’m a lot more settled in, a lot more comfortable with everything that’s going on in the day-to-day operations.”

The fact he’s been able to cool off a bit hasn’t hurt either, as being in the center of the social media whirl this summer only added expectations that he wasn’t ready to meet.

So for now, Johnny Football is fine with being a backup, which is a nicer F for a middle initial anyway.

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Owen Daniels questionable for Sunday night

Owen Daniels AP

While Ravens tight end Owen Daniels was able to practice on Friday, his status for Sunday night’s game at Pittsburgh remains somewhat uncertain.

Daniels, who had minor knee surgery last week, is listed as questionable on the club’s injury report. According to the team, Daniels put in a full practice on Friday.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh indicated the call on Daniels will likely be made Sunday.

Crockett Gillmore and Phillip Supernaw are the tight ends behind Daniels, who is second on the Ravens in catches (27) and third in yards (275) and TD receptions (three).

Ravens defensive end Chris Canty (wrist) and left guard Marshal Yanda (knee) are also questionable, but both practiced fully on Friday. Harbaugh appeared to indicate Yanda would play.

“We’ll see how the knee reacts, but he’s a tough guy,” Harbaugh said, according to the club.

The Ravens and Steelers are each 5-3. With a win, Baltimore will sweep the season series with Pittsburgh.

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