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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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With three days left, no tags yet

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The window for using the franchise or transition tags opened 11 days ago.  It closes in three.  So far, not a single player has been tagged.

With time still left to try to negotiate long-term deals before application of the tag, it makes sense to wait those three additional days.  After that, however, time could be on the side of the players who are tagged.

With no further injury risk (other than the day-to-day risk of off-field trauma), players who are tagged can wait until after the market opens to see how much money is spent on other players.  If, for example, the Lions don’t (and they shouldn’t) tag defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, why wouldn’t the other elite, game-changing players who merit application of the tag wait to see what Suh gets before negotiating a long-term deal?

There’s another reason to wait.  Two words:  Sammy Watkins.

Last year, the Bills gave up the ninth pick in the 2014 draft, a first-round pick in 2015, and a fourth-round pick in 2015 to get an unproven receiver.  There’s already talk that one or more teams will at least consider signing a franchise-tagged player to an offer sheet and giving up a pair of first-round picks, especially if this year’s first-round pick falls at the bottom of the round.

Alternatively, a team can wait until after the 2015 draft to sign a franchise-tagged player to an offer sheet.  Then, the compensation if the offer isn’t matched would be first-round picks in 2016 and 2017.

Sure, it would cost a lot more to sign the franchise-tagged player than it costs to sign a first-round pick.  But for teams hoping to win now, the combination of draft picks and cash could merit taking rolling the dice and rolling out the green carpet.

 

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Cardinals release Darnell Dockett

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The Cardinals were able to reach agreement with wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald on a new contract that lowered his cap hit for the 2015 season significantly and they hoped to do the same with defensive lineman Darnell Dockett, but those efforts have been unsuccessful.

Arizona announced Friday that they have released Dockett, who missed the entire 2014 season because of a torn ACL. Dockett had $6.8 million coming his way from the Cardinals before the move and he was set to count $9.8 million against the cap.

Dockett joined the Cardinals as a third-round pick out of Florida State in 2004 and has been a fixture in the starting lineup since his arrival. He made one All-Pro team and was selected to three Pro Bowls while helping to spearhead the Cardinals Defense during his decade in the desert.

Dockett turns 34 in May, but the inability to work out a new deal suggests Dockett likes his chances of landing a better contract than the Cards were offering once on the open market. If he can’t, Darren Urban of the team’s website reports that the Cardinals remain interested in a Dockett return at a lower price tag.

Should Dockett not land a job at all for some reason, he can occupy his time advising the youth of America about the dangers of hanging out in strip clubs.

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Dolphins drop Brandon Gibson

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Mike Wallace is running out of veteran company in the Dolphins wide receiver corps.

Brian Hartline was sent packing on Friday morning and the Dolphins said farewell to another receiver in the afternoon when they announced the release of Brandon Gibson. Gibson was due to make $3.26 million with a cap hit of $4.3 million and the difference will go as dead money on Miami’s 2015 cap.

Gibson signed a three-year deal with Miami before the 2013 season and caught 30 passes in his first seven games with the team before a knee injury knocked him out for the remainder of the year. He had 29 catches for 295 yards and a touchdown in 14 games last year as rookie Jarvis Landry passed him in the team’s pecking order.

The team’s been noncommittal about their plans with Wallace, but word out of Miami is that they’d like to either trade him or convince him to take a pay cut. If he does wind up leaving, Landry will be joined by Matt Hazel and Rishard Matthews in a receiving group that will surely be a focus for the Dolphins this offseason.

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Cruz, Newton, Kaepernick part of fruit/vegetable endorsement

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If this is a real thing, it’s certainly better for us than another beer or soda commercial.

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz are part of Team FNV, which appears to be a campaign designed to push healthy food choices.

From looking at their website, what we know now is that it’s the product of some slick marketing minds, who know how to package an ad.

Their website has shots of Cruz catching a big apple (I see what they did there), Kaepernick playing with a pineapple, and Newton pushing carrots.

There appear to be numerous other celebrity and athlete endorsers involved as well.

Their website is new and their Twitter feed (@TeamFNV) launched yesterday, so it seems to be in the early stages.

But if they can make my kids eat the colorful stuff on their plates without calling me the worst parent ever, how bad can it be?

Photo credit: Team FNV, via Black and Blue Review.

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Stephen Bowen joins Barry Cofield on discard pile in Washington

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The Redskins signed defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois on Thursday, a move that seems to have made two members of their defensive line expendable.

On Friday, the team confirmed that defensive tackle Barry Cofield has been released and also announced that defensive end Stephen Bowen’s reached the end of his time with the team. Bowen was set to count $8 million against the cap in 2015 and the team gets his $5.5 million in salary and bonuses back to use for other purposes. When you add that to the savings for cutting Cofield, the Redskins gained almost $10 million in cap space.

Bowen signed a five-year deal with the Redskins before the 2011 season and started all 32 regular season games in his first two seasons with the club. Injuries limited him to just 18 games over the last two years, however, and the Jean Francois signing signaled the team’s intention to look elsewhere for help at end in 2015.

The Redskins also announced that they have signed right tackle Tom Compton to a one-year deal. Compton started nine games for Washington last season and was set to become a restricted free agent next month.

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Packers open up Lambeau Field for Favre jersey retirement

File photo of Brett Favre in New Orleans Reuters

The Lambeau Field Atrium is not big enough for all the Packers fans who want to cheer on Brett Favre when he has his number retired this summer.

After the 1,600 tickets for the ceremony at the Atrium quickly sold out, the Packers have announced that fans can also sit inside the bowl at the stadium and watch the Favre jersey retirement ceremony on the big screen. Those tickets will cost $4, with proceeds going to Favre’s foundation.

Favre said this month that he was hoping the ceremony would take place in the stadium so that as many fans as possible could see it. That won’t happen — the tickets for the more intimate Atrium event are already sold — but this ensures that tens of thousands of fans can be there at Lambeau for the event.

The ceremony, which takes place on Saturday, July 18, will also be shown on NFL Network and streamed at Packers.com.

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Chris Canty plans to play in 2015

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The Ravens released defensive end Chris Canty on Friday, a move that came a bit more than a month after Canty said he wasn’t sure if he would continue his NFL career for an 11th season.

Canty has done some broadcasting work since the end of the season and looks forward to moving into that arena at some point, but he said Friday his plan for the immediate future is to continue his playing career.

“It’s the business of the NFL, and we move on,” Canty said, via the Baltimore Sun. “I loved it here. I thanked Steve Bisciotti, Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh for giving me an opportunity to be part of the great tradition of this franchise. I had a ball. I rediscovered my passion for football. I had a lot of fun. I’m grateful. I’m just looking forward to the next opportunity to continue my playing career.”

In a statement announcing the release, coach John Harbaugh credited Canty for adding maturity and leadership to the team “with intelligence and in a first-class manner.” Other teams looking for that kind of veteran influence may be giving Canty a call now that he’s confirmed he plans to keep playing.

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Vikings release guard Charlie Johnson

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The Vikings had a guard named Charlie Johnson and a wide receiver who goes by Charles Johnson on their roster in 2014, but only one will remain on the roster in 2015.

The team announced Friday that they have released Charlie Johnson after four years with the team. Johnson was due to make a non-guaranteed $2.5 million in salary and bonuses next season.

Johnson started all 61 games he played for the team in that run, mostly at left guard although he did play left tackle during his first year with the team in 2011. His performance left room for improvement, but the Vikings couldn’t find a player to bump him out of the starting lineup. Now they’ll be forced to find someone else to hold down the position.

2014 fifth-round pick David Yankey is on the roster as a possibility, although the Vikings will likely look for help across the line this offseason after allowing 51 sacks last year.

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Falcons release veteran guard Justin Blalock

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The Falcons are in the midst of clearing cap space and re-tolling a roster, so the Steven Jackson cut was far from the last one.

The team just announced they had released veteran guard Justin Blalock.

Blalock, their 2007 second-rounder, had started 125 games for the Falcons.

But he was due $4.75 million this year, and might not have been a perfect fit as they transition to more of a zone blocking scheme under new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.

The 6-foot-4, 326-pounder has been a durable player, missing just three games in eight seasons.

The Falcons have also cut Jackson and wide receiver Harry Douglas already, some significant changes for an offense that was the strength of the team the last few years.

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NFL considering changes to combine drills

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The NFL scouting combine just wrapped up its frenzy of 40-yard dashes, shuttle runs and other drills, but it may be the last time that the event goes according to that familiar schedule.

While speaking at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston on Friday, NFL director of player development Matt Birk and Saints coach Sean Payton said the league would look at the traditional drills this offseason to see if they can be made more useful to teams. For example, Birk said that the only reason anyone ever gives for running the 40 is that it is the way it’s always been done.

“That’s a project we’ll be working on this offseason,” Birk said, via Mike Rodak of ESPN.com. “Once we look at the data that was gathered in-game this year, it may be important to know how fast a wide receiver or defensive back can go 60 yards. Maybe for an offensive lineman it’s only 20 yards. We can actually see that in-game: how far are these guys running? What are the real or improved measures of importance and value as it relates to evaluating players and whether or not they should be drafted in the first round or the sixth round?”

Payton also talked about position-specific changes to the drills in order to get the best gauge on how players will transition to the NFL as well as using data about body types to improve scouting for particular needs. Whatever changes the league undertakes as a whole when it comes to the scouting combine, it’s a good bet that teams will also be using their own proprietary methods — as mentioned in Friday’s one-liners, Jaguars vice president Tony Khan recently bought a sports analytics company — to get an edge on the competition.

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Washington cuts Barry Cofield after signing Ricky Jean Francois

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The rolls of free agents are becoming swollen with released veterans, with teams purging before they binge.

According to agent Mike McCartney, Washington has informed defensive tackle Barry Cofield of his release.

Cutting the 30-year-old Cofield will save Washington more than $4 million worth of cap room this year, in addition to the $4.55 million in base salary he was due this year.

After signing Ricky Jean Francois last night, Cofield became expendable, but should find work elsewhere.

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Bengals release Robert Geathers, Greg Little

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The Bengals are letting go of a defensive stalwart who had been with the club for almost the entire Marvin Lewis era.

Defensive end Robert Geathers, an 11-season veteran, was released on Friday, the club announced.

The 31-year-old Geathers recorded 325 tackles and 34 sacks for Cincinnati, which drafted him in Round Four in 2004. Though a starter for most of his Bengals career, Geathers was a reserve a season ago, notching 21 tackles and a sack. He was set to make $2.85 million in salary in 2015, according to the NFL Players Association.

According to the Bengals, only Tim Krumrie and Eddie Edwards have played more games as defensive linemen for Cincinnati than Geathers, who made 152 regular-season appearances.

The Bengals also released veteran wideout Greg Little, who played six games with club in 2014, catching six passes for 69 yards. Little, 25, has caught 161 passes for 1,890 yards and eight touchdowns since entering the NFL with Cleveland in 2011.

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Bears sign TE Zach Miller to one-year deal

Zach Miller, Jason Phillips AP

The Bears have struck a deal with tight end Zach Miller.

Chicago has signed Miller to a one-year contract, the team said Friday morning on Twitter. He was slated to become an unrestricted free agent. (The Bears have referred to Miller’s deal as an extension; however, per NFLPA records, Miller’s last listed year under contract was 2014.)

The 30-year-old Miller spent the 2014 regular season on injured reserve after suffering a foot injury in August. At the time of his injury, Miller was bidding to make the Bears, and he had just come off a six-catch, two-TD performance in Chicago’s preseason opener.

A Nebraska-Omaha product, Miller has caught 45 passes for 470 yards and four touchdowns in NFL regular-season play, all with Jacksonville (2009-2011).

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Vince Young scheduled to work out at new veteran combine

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Michael Sam’s not going to be the only curiosity at the NFL’s first veteran combine on March 22.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, former first-round quarterback Vince Young will be there taking part as well.

Young had allegedly retired, and taken a job at the University of Texas, but he apparently has the itch to play again.

He’s been out of the league since being cut by the Browns last offseason (roll that around in your head for a moment), saying at the time his retirement was “definitely official, I think in my book.”

Young made a pair of Pro Bowls with the Titans, but also floundered through stints with the Eagles, Bills and Packers as well.

This veteran combine idea is good for the players who have come back from injuries or were otherwise marginalized and out of the league. It also provides some needed inventory for the league’s own television network during an otherwise slow time of the year.

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Oklahoma State hires ex-Bucs assistant Marcus Arroyo to coaching staff

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The former quarterbacks coach and interim offensive coordinator for the Buccaneers has landed a job in college.

Oklahoma State has hired Marcus Arroyo as an assistant, the school said Thursday.

Before joining the Buccaneers in 2014, Arroyo was an assistant at Southern Miss, California, Wyoming, San Jose State and Prairie View A&M.

Oklahoma State also announced the addition of former Bills tight ends coach Greg Adkins to its coaching staff. Adkins had served in his role with Buffalo the last two seasons. Adkins had previously coached in college with Syracuse, Tennessee, Troy, Georgia and Marshall.

Oklahoma State said it would announce the specific roles for Arroyo and Adkins at a later time.

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