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PFT’s Week Ten picks

Minnesota Vikings v Detroit Lions Getty Images

The lead is back to five.

Last week, we disagreed on one game:  Eagles at Saints.  I took the home team, MDS took the road team.  And I ended up 10-4 for the week to MDS’s 9-5.

This week, we disagree on twice as many games as last week.  Which sounds better than two.

For the year, I’m 83-49, and MDS is 78-54.  Yep, that’s a five-game lead.  Which definitely sounds better than two.

Colts at Jaguars

MDS’s take: The 5-3 Colts have an easy enough schedule the rest of the way that if they just win the games they should win, they’ll finish the season with a winning record. One of the games they should win is this one, and I think they will.

MDS’s pick: Colts 20, Jaguars 17.

Florio’s take:  The last time the Colts visited Jacksonville, a win by the home team ensured that Andrew Luck would head to Indy.  The Colts return as a playoff contender, intent on avenging a September home loss to the Jaguars.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 27, Jaguar 20.

Raiders at Ravens

MDS’s take: For a 6-2 team, the Ravens have a lot of question marks, especially on their aged and injured defense. But the Raiders have even more problems on defense, and I like Baltimore to win a high-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Ravens 35, Raiders 31.

Florio’s take:  The Raiders aren’t as bad as you’d think, and the Ravens aren’t as good.  Look for Baltimore’s decimated run defense to thrive against Oakland’s decimated running game, and for the Ravens to do enough to fend off the Steelers as a pair of games against Pittsburgh loom on the schedule.

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 31, Raiders 14.

Broncos at Panthers

MDS’s take: Broncos coach John Fox will win back at his old stomping grounds in Carolina, where Peyton Manning will pick apart the Panthers’ defense while Von Miller will make Cam Newton’s life miserable.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 28, Panthers 14.

Florio’s take:  John Fox returns to Charlotte with a quarterback far better than any he ever had when he coached the Panthers.  Against a team with plenty of guys Fox knows very well.  The Carolina winning streak ends at one.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 30, Panthers 20.

Giants at Bengals

MDS’s take: I could pick this game with confidence if I knew which Giants team was going to show up. Will it be the team that showed up for 60 minutes and pounded the 49ers, or the team that sleepwalked through long stretches of close wins against the Redskins and Cowboys, and a close loss to the Steelers? Given the way the Giants have played the last three weeks I’m tempted to go with the upset, but the Bengals’ defense has been so bad this season that Eli Manning simply has to have a good game.

MDS’s pick: Giants 29, Bengals 25.

Florio’s take:  The Bengals are in a free fall, and the Giants are caught in the early stages of their annual midseason swoon.  I’ve got more faith in the Giants getting it done, especially since Eli Manning will surely have the benefit of some insights from his big brother, who won four days ago in Cincinnati.

Florio’s pick:  Giants 31, Bengals 20.

Titans at Dolphins

MDS’s take: The Dolphins missed a golden opportunity to establish themselves as the AFC wild-card frontrunners on Sunday against the Colts, but I still like the way this team is playing, especially on defense. The Titans got a tongue-lashing from their owner after another bad loss on Sunday against the Bears, but that won’t be enough to shake them out of their doldrums.

MDS’s pick: Dolphins 35, Titans 17.

Florio’s takeJake Locker returns, his left shoulder coincidentally healing at the time Matt Hasselbeck lost his hot hand.  Locker will learn what everyone else has learned this year.  The Miami defense is pretty good.

Florio’s pick:  Dolphins 17, Titans 13.

Lions at Vikings

MDS’s take: When these teams met in Week Four in Detroit, the Vikings were bolstered by two kick return touchdowns and won 20-13. But the Lions have shored up their special teams problems, Vikings kickoff returner Percy Harvin is hurt, and the Lions should earn their first NFC North victory of the season in the rematch in Minnesota.

MDS’s pick: Lions 23, Vikings 10.

Florio’s take:  With a brutal post-bye schedule, this game could determine whether the Vikings will finish 6-10 or 5-11.  I’ll pick the Vikings now, primarily because it’s the last time I’ll pick them all season.

Florio’s pick:  Vikings 23, Lions 20.

Bills at Patriots

MDS’s take: In another rematch of a Week Four meeting, the Bills’ defense is in big trouble.  It probably won’t get quite as ugly for Buffalo as it did in the Patriots’ 52-28 win in September, but the Patriots will put plenty of points on the board.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 38, Bills 20.

Florio’s take:  The Pats scored 45 points against the Rams in 60 minutes, and 45 against the Bills in 25.  New England needs to keep its foot on the gas in order to get ready for some tough challenges that are waiting in the postseason.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 38, Bills 21.

Falcons at Saints

MDS’s take: The Saints have won three out of four, and a win here would signal that New Orleans really has turned its season around. Unfortunately, there are just too many holes on the Saints’ defense for New Orleans to stop a Falcons team that can attack with Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez, Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers. This Falcons team just has too many weapons.

MDS’s pick: Falcons 27, Saints 21.

Florio’s take:  Halfway to an unblemished regular season, the Falcons simply don’t have the feel of a 16-0 team.  With four games against the Saints and Bucs over the balance of the year, the Falcons most likely won’t be.  It starts now, with the Saints staking their claim for a wild-card berth by hanging loss No. 1 on Atlanta.

Florio’s pick:  Saints 28, Falcons 27.

Chargers at Buccaneers

MDS’s take: With running back Doug Martin and a solid front seven on defense, the Bucs are becoming exactly the kind of team Greg Schiano wanted to build: A team that wins by running and stopping the run. Tampa Bay will do it again against a Chargers team that has yet to beat a good opponent all season.

MDS’s pick: Buccaneers 16, Chargers 14.

Florio’s take:  By playing last Thursday, the Chargers had some extra time to figure out how to stop the Muscle Hamster.  It won’t be enough.

Florio’s pick:  Buccaneers 27, Chargers 21.

Jets at Seahawks

MDS’s take: Seattle is a tough team to play for anyone, but I see Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez and his receiving corps having a particularly tough game against a good Seahawks secondary. Rex Ryan will have a good game plan to contain Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, but the Seahawks’ defense will lead the way to a low-scoring win.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 12, Jets 7.

Florio’s take:  The Pete Carroll-Mark Sanchez reunion provides a great story line.  But the bottom line is that it’s foolish to pick against the Seahawks at home.

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 21, Jets 13.

Cowboys at Eagles

MDS’s take: Until Monday night, I was still a believer in the Eagles’ ability to turn their season around. But Philly’s offensive line looked terrible, the defense looked like it has taken a step backward with the departure of coordinator Juan Castillo, and the Eagles look like they’re ready to pack it in for the season. The Cowboys may still make a run at the playoffs, but the Eagles are done.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 24, Eagles 14.

Florio’s take:  It’s a early playoff game between two teams that are destined to miss the playoffs.  In the past two weeks, the Cowboys gave the Falcons a much better game in Atlanta than the Eagles gave the Falcons at home.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 24, Eagles 21.

Rams at 49ers

MDS’s take: The 49ers’ defense has had a few letdowns, but when they’re on their game it’s just about impossible to score on them. And they’ll be on their game against a mediocre Rams offense.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 20, Rams 3.

Florio’s take:  Lost in the success of the Falcons and the Bears, the resurgence of the Packers, and the collapse of the Eagles, the Niners are ready to remind everyone that they may be the best team in the conference.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 27, Rams 9.

Texans at Bears

MDS’s take: In the best game of the week, the Bears’ opportunistic defense will try to force turnovers against a Texans offense whose quarterback, Matt Schaub, has only four turnovers all season. I like the Bears to get the best of it.

MDS’s pick: Bears 17, Texans 10.

Florio’s take:  The Texans haven’t been stepping up in high-profile games, which doesn’t bode well for the playoffs.

Florio’s pick:  Bears 19, Texans 13.

Chiefs at Steelers

MDS’s take: The Steelers are on a three-game winning streak and the Chiefs are in a tailspin. The Monday night game will be over by halftime, and millions of Americans will go to bed early.

MDS’s pick: Steelers 34, Chiefs 9.

Florio’s take:  Todd Haley gets a crack at the Chiefs.  But the Chiefs also get a crack at Todd Haley.  If this one were being played in Kansas City, I’d take the upset.  But it’s hard to imagine a one-win team toppling the Steelers in their own building.

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 24, Chiefs 16.

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Kam Chancellor hated watching player he was earlier this season

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Seattle Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor couldn’t stand watching the player he was at times earlier this season.

Bone spurs in his ankle, coupled with a nagging hip issue left him unable to recognize the player he saw on film each week. The enforcer of Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” just wasn’t able to be the player he came to expect week in and week out.

“Yeah, definitely. It was tough,” Chancellor said. “I hated watching film. I hated watching myself. Just hated it.”

Chancellor was ultimately sidelined for two weeks due to a groin issue to go along with the ankle and hip injuries he played through the first half of the year. They were only the second and third games Chancellor had missed due to injury since assuming the starting safety job alongside Earl Thomas in 2011.

“It comes with the territory. It comes with football and you’ve just got to find way to get through it and push forward,” Chancellor said.

The silver lining was that the downtime helped alleviate the ankle and hip issues as well for Chancellor. His performance the last two weeks against Kansas City and Arizona appeared to be the best two games Chancellor had played since Seattle’s season opener against Green Bay.

“It definitely helped me out a lot. I feel a lot better (now),” Chancellor said.

Chancellor has 60 tackles in nine games this season with an interception and a forced fumble.

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Griffin is surely done in D.C.

Griffin Getty Images

Well, that escalated quickly.

Only nine days ago, quarterback Robert Griffin III remained entrenched as the starter in D.C.  After nearly beating the Vikings in his return from a dislocated ankle, Griffin had two weeks to get ready for a gimme putt against the Buccaneers.

And then Tampa won by 20, Griffin looked horrible in the process, and coach Jay Gruden launched a public campaign against Griffin that laid the foundation for Tuesday’s news that Gruden had benched Griffin — even though Gruden said after a closer-than-expected game in San Francisco that Gruden had “every intent” to start Griffin at Indianapolis.

With the report that Griffin has been benched for the second time in less than a year comes the news (from the same reporter) that Griffin “still appears to be a significant part” of the team’s “long-term plan.”

Sure he is.  He’s a significant part of the team’s long-term plan because the long-term plan is to trade him for draft picks who will become part of the long-term plan.

There’s no way the bridge can be rebuilt again in 2015, not after former coach Mike Shanahan cast Griffin aside and now current coach Jay Gruden has done the same thing.  Unless Gruden gets fired after one year (it’s not as outlandish a proposition as it would seem), Griffin won’t want to return to Washington next season, where at a minimum he’ll have to win via open competition during the offseason, training camp, and preseason a job his head coach currently thinks he isn’t suited for.

So look for Griffin to quietly begin clamoring to be traded or cut.  Trading him makes the most sense, because if he’s cut it’s likely he’ll land in Philly with Chip Kelly, with a strong incentive to do everything possible to make Washington look like it made a mistake with the guy on whom Washington made a mistake by giving up three first-round picks and a second-round pick.

And if the team resists given Griffin what he wants, maybe he’ll decide to finally share his personal opinion about the team’s nickname.

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Bruce Arians says Cardinals needed a bigger back in backfield

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With a rushing attack that ranks 31st in total yards and dead last in yards per attempt, Arizona head coach Bruce Arians knew the Cardinals needed a different piece in their backfield for the stretch run.

A bigger back is a piece the Cardinals have been lacking since Jonathan Dwyer was placed on the non-football injury list after a domestic violence arrest in September. After a failed waiver claim on Ben Tate, the Cardinals elected to turn to Michael Bush instead, working him out and signing him to a deal on Tuesday.

We really miss (Dwyer),” Arians said in an interview with Alex Marvez and Takeo Spikes on Sirius XM NFL Radio. “I like our backs but we need a guy who’s going to pound it in there and close out some games in short yardage and goal line situations. Michael is in great shape.”

Bush has not played for anyone since the Bears released him in March after two years with the team. He ran for 608 yards and eight touchdowns on 177 carries during his time in Chicago.

The Cardinals have been held to less than 65 rushing yards as a team in their last three games against Seattle, Detroit and St. Louis.

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Report: Washington to start Colt McCoy on Sunday

Washington Redskins v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

Robert Griffin III’s return to the starting lineup lasted all of three games.

Griffin is being benched in favor of Colt McCoy for Sunday’s game at Indianapolis, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Tuesday night.

Washington coach Jay Gruden initially indicated Griffin would likely start against the Colts, but Gruden made it clear he reserved the right to change his mind. Now, on the eve of Washington’s first practice of the week, comes word McCoy, not Griffin, will be getting the first-team reps.

Since returning from an ankle injury in Week Nine, Griffin has been sacked 17 times in three games, and he completed just 11-of-19 passes for 106 yards with a lost fumble in Sunday’s loss at San Francisco.

According to Schefter, a club source indicated Griffin is still regarded as a key part of the club’s future. Nevertheless, this is no small setback for Griffin, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. And it will invite further speculation that Griffin faces an uncertain future in Washington.

For McCoy, the return to the lineup is another high point in a comeback season for the former Browns starter. In his lone start for Washington, McCoy helped lead an upset of Dallas on October 27.

Six days later, Griffin was back as Washington’s starter to begin November. But now, two days before Thanksgiving and five weeks before the end of the season, Griffin has been demoted, another chapter in a hard-to-believe story.

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Rams promote TE Justice Cunningham from practice squad

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The Rams added yet another tight end to their roster Tuesday, signing Justice Cunningham from the practice squad. The transaction was disclosed in the NFL’s personnel notice.

Perhaps best known for being the final pick of the 2013 NFL Draft, the 23-year-old Cunningham spent the 2014 offseason and preseason with St. Louis before being placed on injured reserve on September 1. The Rams re-signed him to the practice squad in late October.

Cunningham (6-3, 258) appeared in one 2013 regular season game for the Colts, his original team.

Cunningham’s addition gives the Rams five tight ends on the roster. Two tight ends — Jared Cook (back) and Cory Harkey (quadriceps) — were on the Week 12 injury report, but both played in the loss at San Diego. The Rams had all four tight ends active vs. the Chargers.

With Cunningham arriving, the Rams waived wide receiver Damian Williams, who appeared in two games as a reserve with St. Louis this season. He was inactive vs. the Chargers.

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Kyle Fuller, Lance Briggs could be game-time calls

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Two of the Bears’ key defensive starters were listed as non-participants in Tuesday’s  practice.

Outside linebacker Lance Briggs (groin) and cornerback Kyle Fuller (knee) didn’t take part in today’s workout, according to the injury report. However, the Bears held just a walk-through, according to Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune.

Briggs and Fuller both departed Chicago’s 21-13 win vs. Tampa Bay on Sunday with injuries, leaving them less than four days to heal before Thursday’s matchup with the Lions in Detroit.

Bears coach Mark Trestman indicated the availability of Briggs and Fuller might not be determined until Thursday morning, according to the Tribune.

Five other Bears didn’t practice on Tuesday: offensive lineman Brian De La Puente (ankle), defensive tackle Jay Ratliff (knee), defensive end Trevor Scott (knee), linebacker Darryl Sharpton (hamstring) and wide receiver Chris Williams (hamstring).

Wide receiver Brandon Marshall (ankle) was limited, with right tackle Jordan Mills (ribs) a full participant for Chicago (5-6).

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Hernandez double-murder trial delayed

Hernandez AP

The second of former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez’s two murder trials has been postponed.

Originally set for May 28, the case regarding the July 2012 shooting deaths of Daniel Abreu and Safiro Furtado had been scheduled for May 28.  It has been delayed indefinitely.

Hernandez faces trial in January 2015 for the June 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd.  Hernandez has been jailed without bond on all charges since his late June 2013 arrest for killing Lloyd.

Jury selection in the Lloyd murder case is due to begin on January 9.

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NFL indeed does not fine Raiola

Raiola Getty Images

Sunday’s game against the Patriots included a pair of incidents involving Lions center Dominic Raiola.  He leveled Patriots defensive tackle Zach Moore with a blow to the head during a play, and then Raiola took out Moore’s knees on the final snap of the game, because Raiola was unhappy about New England’s decision to score a garbage-time touchdown.

Raiola said on Tuesday that he wasn’t fined.  Per a league source, he won’t be.

It’s unclear why the league has opted to look the other way in both instances, especially in light of the safety-conscious nature of today’s NFL.  And in light of the league’s fine-happy nature on issues that have little to do with safety.  Or, as some would argue, common sense.

Raiola punched Moore in the head and then dove at Moore’s knees on a play when the Lions were taking a knee.  If failing to talk to the media or wearing the wrong kind of headphones or selecting shoes that don’t reflect the proper color scheme justify the withholding of a portion of a player’s paycheck, how do neither of Raiola’s infractions trigger punishment?

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Reggie Bush limited in practice with ankle, back injuries

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Lions running back Reggie Bush intends to play on Thursday against the Bears.  To do so, he’ll need to overcome another injury.

Already dealing with an ankle problem, Bush was limited in Tuesday’s practice with a back injury, too.

He also would have been a limited participant on Monday with both injuries, if the Lions had actually practiced.

Several other Lions were limited in practice on Tuesday as well, including receiver Calvin Johnson (ankle), defensive end Ziggy Ansah (elbow), safety James Ihedigbo (knee), and safety Glover Quin (back).

Tackle Riley Reiff (knee), guard Larry Warford (knee), and defensive tackle Nick Fairley (knee) did not practice.

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Dominic Raiola says he has no fine and no regrets

Dominic Raiola AP

Lions center Dominic Raiola took a cheap shot at Patriots defensive tackle Zach Moore on Sunday, but Raiola says he hasn’t been fined and doesn’t have any regrets.

There’s no fine,” Raiola said, via Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News. “It’s during the game. I don’t know about regrets, I don’t live life with regrets. I didn’t intentionally try to hurt anybody. I didn’t try to do anything out of the ordinary. I would’ve gotten a FedEx letter [from the league office regarding a fine]. So, just play the game. I didn’t make it a big deal, everybody else did.”

Patriots coach Bill Belichick ripped Raiola the day after the cheap shot, pointing out that Raiola was probably sore at the Patriots because he’s been in the NFL for 14 years and has never beaten the Patriots. Raiola declined to get into a war of words with Belichick.

“I don’t really care what he said,” Raiola said. “Not a lot of people beat those guys. I didn’t make it an issue. I just finished the game.”

Raiola may say he was just finishing the game, but he was also taking a cheap shot at an opponent. Just because the NFL says he didn’t technically break the rules, that doesn’t change the fact that what he did was dirty.

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Vikings look at Webb, Winston

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With right tackle Phil Loadholt done for the season due to a torn pec, the Vikings need help at tackle.

They explored getting that help by bringing in veterans J’Marcus Webb and Eric Winston for tryouts on Tuesday, per a league source.

Webb appeared in eight games for the Vikings last year, with one start.  He’s perhaps best known for getting bumped by Bears quarterback Jay Cutler on national television when Webb was Cutler’s left tackle.

Winston, the current NFLPA president, started 16 regular-season games from 2007 through 2013 with the Texans, Chiefs, and Cardinals.  He spent some of training camp with the Seahawks, and he has gotten periodic look-sees throughout the season.

Neither Webb nor Winston have been signed by the Vikings, yet.

Loadholt will be replaced in the starting lineup by Mike Harris, who arrived to the NFL undrafted in 2012 and spent two years with the Chargers.  Harris has 27 regular-season appearances and 12 starts.  Sunday will be his first as a Viking.

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“Without question” Marshawn Lynch plays Thursday night

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Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch has been dealing with a back injury.  But that back injury won’t keep the 49ers from having to deal with Lynch on Thursday night.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Lynch “without question” will play in Santa Clara on Thanksgiving night.

If Lynch can get through the short-week game, he’ll have a chance to get some extra rest before the Seahawks head to Philly for a showdown with the 8-3 Eagles.

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Titans release Shaun Phillips, place Brian Schwenke on injured reserve

Brian Schwenke AP

Reports on Tuesday morning indicated that the Titans were going to part ways with veteran linebacker Shaun Phillips and they came to fruition in the afternoon.

Phillips has been waived, which makes him available to any of the league’s 31 other teams if they choose to make a claim. Phillips wasn’t overly productive in Tennessee this year, but he had 10 sacks for the Broncos in 2013 and there’s not a lot of available players with Phillips’s history as a pass rusher at this point in the season.

The Titans also announced that they have placed center Brian Schwenke on injured reserve. Schwenke hurt his knee during last Sunday’s loss to the Eagles, which also saw him catch a deflected pass and then fumble it as his career as a center didn’t set him up well for the role of ballcarrier.

Tennessee signed offensive lineman Eric Olsen to help fill the void left by Schwenke. Left tackle Taylor Lewan also suffered a sprained ankle against Philly, so there might be multiple starters missing when the Titans face the Texans this week.

Linebacker Dontay Moch was promoted from the practice squad to round out the set of moves for the day.

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Matt Ryan on Mike Smith: We’ve got to make him right

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Falcons coach Mike Smith said Monday that he felt he didn’t give his team the best chance to win based on the way he handled the clock during the team’s final offensive drive in a 26-24 loss to the Browns, echoing criticism from many corners that didn’t do anything to help Smith’s job security.

Quarterback Matt Ryan said Tuesday that he thought Falcons players were angry at themselves in the wake of the loss, but that their anger didn’t extend to Smith. He also said that the players’ job is to make Smith’s decisions the right ones on the field.

“There’s nobody that takes more responsibility than Mike,” Ryan said on 680 The Fan, via ESPN.com. “And that’s one of the reasons, as a player, you love him. He is the first to say, ‘Listen, I wish we would have done that one differently.’ So from a player’s perspective, we’ve got to make him right. We can’t worry about anything else other than we’ve got to convert that third down, we’ve got to get a first, we’ve got to be able to make them burn their timeouts and then kick it in the uprights and win that game. I feel for [Smith] because he’s ‘the man’ when it comes to that. He will stick his neck out there for us and take the brunt of the responsibility. But, from a player’s standpoint, we’ve got to make him right.”

Ryan’s loyalty to his coach is clear, but it’s less clear how much loyalty owner Arthur Blank will show Smith once the season comes to a close. Finding a way to finish atop the NFC South would help and Ryan correctly points out that the Falcons control their own destiny in that regard. So would Ryan finding a way to cut down on interceptions against the Cardinals, who visit Atlanta this week, after throwing nine of them in two games against Arizona the last two years.

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Aaron Rodgers swears he wasn’t squeezing Vikings with grape soda

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In these cynical and sarcastic times we live in, many folks saw Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers drinking a Grape Crush soda after beating the Vikings and thought there was a message.

As it turns out, he just really likes grape soda.

Rodgers cleared up the social media-generated flap during his weekly radio show with Jason Wilde of ESPNWisconsin.com, insisting he wasn’t trolling the Vikings.

He apparently eats a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and drinks the same soda after every game, which makes seem like he’s a 9-year-old even if he’s not going for juvenile humor.

Seven years. To all the idiot trolls out there, seven years,” Rodgers said. “PBJ and Grape or Orange Crush. It’s been grape for the last five, the first couple years it was orange or grape. Seven years.”

While it’s hardly a controversial topic, he seemed offended at the perceived lack of respect for opponents.

“Anybody who knows, any of the local media or anybody who’s seen me after a game, I’m always carrying that around with me. That’s probably the only soda that I ever drink – right after the game, when you’ve got to get those nutrients back with you,” Rodgers said. “So that’s my post-game [snack] – PBJ and the Grape Crush. I do like it, contrary to anybody who thinks I was trolling anything. It’s absolutely ridiculous. It’s comical.

“I don’t do those kind of things.”

Now, if he beats the Patriots this week and walks to the podium with a Sam Adams, we will be able to call shenanigans on him.

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