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PFT’s Week 11 picks

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

That five-game lead over MDS has grown to seven, with seven weeks left.

If anyone is capable of blowing this lead, I am.

This week, we disagree on three games.  Last week, we were 10-3-1 and 8-5-1, respectively.  (I would have predicted the Rams-49ers would end in a tie, if I’d known games could end in ties.)

For the year, I’m now 93-52-1.  MDS is 86-59-1.

Dolphins at Bills

MDS’s take: NFL Network gets the week started with a pretty lousy game, with the Dolphins reeling and falling out of AFC wild-card contention, and the Bills even further behind in the AFC East. I’m expecting the difference in this one to be Bills running back C.J. Spiller, who will do to the Dolphins’ defense the same thing that Titans running back Chris Johnson did to the Dolphins’ defense last week. Spiller will have a big game and lead the way as the Bills win.

MDS’s pick: Bills 28, Dolphins 20.

Florio’s take:  The Dolphins have cooled off.  The Bills were never hot.  It’ll be cold on Thursday night in Buffalo.  More importantly, it’s hard to imagine the Dolphins recovering  from Sunday’s debacle against the Titans in only four days.

Florio’s pick:  Bills 28, Dolphins 20.

Cardinals at Falcons

MDS’s take: The Falcons are no longer undefeated and no longer viewed by many people as the best team in the league, but a home game against the Cardinals should be a nice way for Atlanta to get back in the W column. The Cardinals’ defense might be able to keep this game close, but Arizona’s offense won’t be able to do anything.

MDS’s pick: Falcons 16, Cardinals 9.

Florio’s take:  This is precisely the kind of game the Cardinals could steal.  The Falcons, fresh from their first loss, view Arizona as a show-up-and-win opponent — the puff-pastry appetizer to a two-pack of tough steaks in the form of the Bucs and Saints on a short week.  And the Cardinals have had two weeks to get ready for this one.  If I didn’t have a seven-game lead over MDS entering the week, I’d consider calling for the upset.  Instead, I’ll play a little prevent defense.

Florio’s pick:  Falcons 35, Cardinals 21.

Buccaneers at Panthers

MDS’s take: Both of these teams have talented young quarterbacks, but it’s Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman who has taken a big step forward recently, while Carolina’s Cam Newton is looking shaky. The Bucs are entering the NFC playoff conversation with a win in Carolina.

MDS’s pick: Buccaneers 28, Panthers 14.

Florio’s take:  When the Bucs beat the Panthers 10 weeks ago, it was regarded as a surprise.  When the Bucs beat the Panthers this time, it won’t be.  Tampa has gradually improved, and Greg Schiano could soon be getting some coach of the year buzz.

Florio’s pick:  Buccaneers 24, Panthers 16.

Browns at Cowboys

MDS’s take: This is the first of three straight home games, all against teams with losing records, for the Cowboys. So their schedule is setting up for them to go on a nice little run. After saving their season against the Eagles, the Cowboys won’t blow their season against the Browns.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 23, Browns 16.

Florio’s take:  The Cowboys get ready for their Thanksgiving date with the Redskins by feasting on the team that is the color of sweet potatoes, both fresh and digested.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 27, Browns 17.

Packers at Lions

MDS’s take: When the Lions get their passing game going, they’re as dangerous an offense as there is in the NFL.  The Vikings were doing all they could to stop Calvin Johnson on Sunday, and he still went over 200 receiving yards. Unfortunately for Detroit, the Lions usually don’t get their passing game going until their defense and special teams have already given up an early lead. And the Packers are not the kind of team the Lions want to be playing catchup against.

MDS’s pick: Packers 23, Lions 20.

Florio’s take:  The Packers are ready to make their move to the top of the division.  The Lions already have made their move to the bottom.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 27, Lions 14.

Jaguars at Texans

MDS’s take: Given that Florio is way ahead of me in our season picks contest, I’m tempted to take the Jaguars here because I’m going to need to hit on some big upsets if I’m going to have any chance of catching up. But even though I think the Texans might be due for a letdown after their big win in Chicago, the Jaguars are so bad that the Texans should beat them even if they turn in their worst effort of the season.

MDS’s pick: Texans 20, Jaguars 13.

Florio’s take:  Didn’t this used to be an actual rivalry?  It’s not anymore, thanks to the fact that one team has an 8-1 record, and the other is 1-8.

Florio’s pick:  Texans 41, Jaguars 17.

Bengals at Chiefs

MDS’s take: Cincinnati’s big win over the Giants could be the first step toward a surprise late-season run back to the playoffs, and there’s no way the Bengals will stumble against a terrible Chiefs team.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 34, Chiefs 10.

Florio’s take:  Logic tells us that the winless-at-home Chiefs should fall to a Bengals team that found a way to knock off the defending NFL champions.  But the Chiefs are due to finally get that second pickle.  It won’t do much to make things better in Kansas City, but things won’t get worse — at least not this week.

Florio’s pick:  Chiefs 23, Bengals 20.

Colts at Patriots

MDS’s take: I’m a believer in the Colts, in the sense that I believe they are going to make the playoffs this season. But that’s largely because the Colts have an easy schedule the rest of the way, with four games remaining against teams that currently have losing records. Unfortunately for Indianapolis, this is one of the toughest games the Colts still have to play, and I just don’t think the Colts’ defense is good enough to keep Tom Brady and company in check. This game may be a first-round playoff preview, but it’s not a close game.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 28, Colts 10.

Florio’s take:  A year after the annual Colts-Patriots game lost its luster with the absence of Peyton Manning, the arrival of Andrew Luck could help restore the sizzle.  With the Colts better than folks realize and the Pats not quite as good as believed, the Colts could steal this one.  They likely won’t, but they could.

Florio’s pick:    Patriots 28, Colts 24.

Jets at Rams

MDS’s take: Neither one of these teams is very good, but the Rams have a lot of young guys who look like they’re hungry and playing as hard as they can in every game, while the Jets have a bunch of veterans who look like they give up when they fall behind and anonymously snipe at each other in the media. Advantage Rams.

MDS’s pick: Rams 21, Jets 17.

Florio’s take:  Last week, Pete Carroll got a little revenge against the team that once fired him as its head coach.  This week, Brian Schottenheimer gets a shot at revenge against the team that fired him without really firing him as its offensive coordinator.  The fact that the Rams currently are good and the Jets aren’t will make it easier.

Florio’s pick:  Rams 20, Jets 10.

Eagles at Redskins

MDS’s take: Stick a fork in the Eagles. They’re already on the first five-game losing streak of Andy Reid’s career, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see that losing streak extend all the way to the end of the season.

MDS’s pick: Redskins 28, Eagles 13.

Florio’s take:  The struggling Philly offense finally finds an equally struggling defense.  And the struggling Philly defense finally finds digs deep and finds a way to avoid getting torched.

Florio’s pick:  Eagles 24, Redskins 21.

Saints at Raiders

MDS’s take: There’s not much doubt after the Saints beat the Falcons that New Orleans has turned this thing around. It should be easy to keep things going against a Raiders team that looks like it has given up on the season.

MDS’s pick: Saints 38, Raiders 17.

Florio’s take:  Dennis Allen knows the Saints offense well, given the time he spent there as a defensive backs coach.  Unfortunately, he lacks the personnel to slow it down.

Florio’s pick:  Saints 34, Raider 20.

Chargers at Broncos

MDS’s take: The Broncos may be playing the best football in the league right now. Peyton Manning has the offense humming, of course, but Von Miller is a defensive player of the year candidate, and Trindon Holliday is one of the most dynamic special-teams players in the NFL — at least as long as he remembers that you’re supposed to cross the goal line before you start celebrating your touchdown. This is a complete football team, and the Broncos will all but wrap up the AFC West with an easy win over the Chargers.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 31, Chargers 13.

Florio’s take:  This one will look a lot more like the second half of their last meeting, not the first half.  And it could be the final two halves of football for Norv Turner in San Diego.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 31, Chargers 17.

Ravens at Steelers

MDS’s take: Ben Roethlisberger’s injury came at the worst possible time for the Steelers.  Before Big Ben got hurt, I was expecting the Steelers to beat the Ravens both this week in Pittsburgh and two weeks from now in Baltimore, and to take the lead in the AFC North. But with Byron Leftwich in for Roethlisberger, I like the Ravens.

MDS’s pick: Ravens 17, Steelers 13.

Florio’s take:  The Steelers have played the Ravens close without Ben Roethlisberger.  And that’s when the Ravens actually had a great defense.  If the Steelers can run the ball effectively and if Byron Leftwich can start his elongated throwing motion quickly enough to get the ball out before Terrell Suggs plants him into the ground, the Steelers can hold serve at home.

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 17, Ravens 13.

Bears at 49ers

MDS’s take: In a battle of teams that may be playing without their concussed starting quarterbacks, I have more faith in the 49ers’ ability to win by running the ball and playing good defense.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 24, Bears 16.

Florio’s take:  Though the Bears likely won’t have another five-game free fall like they did last season, the losing streak will extend at least to two — regardless of who ends up playing quarterback for either team.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 20, Bears 13.

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Stephen Hill hears heckling from fans, responds to it

Hill AP

Generally, the Jets currently enjoy a strong (and increasingly loud) sense of optimism.  Specifically, the team still has some players about whom there is concern.

Atop the list sits receiver Stephen Hill.  The 43rd overall pick in 2012, taken two spots before Alshon Jeffrey (yes, Jets fans, Alshon Jeffrey), Hill faces a likely up-or-out training camp and preseason in 2014.

Some Jets fans already are casting a vote for out.  Via Jane McManus of ESPNNewYork.com, a fan at training camp on Friday expressed a sentiment of that sort to Hill.  And Hill responded.

“Take me out of the game?” Hill shouted to the fans behind him as he ran to the field. “You act like I didn’t hear that sh-t.”

Hill is tall and he’s fast and he went to Georgia Tech.  And that’s where the similarities with Calvin Johnson end.

Through 23 games in two seasons, Hill has caught 45 passes for 594 yards and four touchdowns.  The man who drafted Hill, G.M. Mike Tannenbaum, is long gone, and it was clear from the get-go that, like Friday’s heckler, coach Rex Ryan doesn’t belong to the Stephen Hill fan club.

“Well, nothing told me he would [contribute],” Ryan said in 2012. “Nothing. When I saw the tape [of his collegiate play] I was concerned. But Mike Tannenbaum and [senior personnel executive] Terry Bradway and all our scouts were adamant about this guy. They were adamant that this guy can do it. He can run all these routes, he had good hands and he’s got 4.2 speed at 6-foot-5. He was the guy they all wanted, but honestly, when it came down to it, a wideout? Not my dream pick. But now that we have him, of course, I want to claim him: ‘Oh, that was my pick.’ But it really wasn’t.”

Through two years, Hill has proven Ryan right.  Which could mean that Ryan will finally get his wish.

But even if Hill has joined Tannenbaum as a former Jets employee before the season starts, Ryan will be reminded of the decision to take Hill over Jeffrey when the Bears come to MetLife Stadium for a Week Three Monday night game.

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Jaworski would take Foles over Wilson and it’s “not even close”

Jaws Getty Images

At a time when the jury seems to be out on whether Eagles quarterback Nick Foles will perform at the same level he did in 2013, a former Eagles quarterback is ready to entering a verdict, beyond a reasonable doubt.

Recently appearing on 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia, Jaworski was asked whether he’d want Foles or Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who like Foles entered the NFL via round three of the 2012 draft.

“I’m taking Foles,” Jaworski said.  “Not even close.  Russell Wilson is just . . . because of that system he is in.  Russell Wilson plays with that defense, the best in football.  He just managed the game very well.  I think Russell Wilson has played terrific, a great maturity, but I’m going to take Nick Foles.”

While Jaworski is entitled to his opinions (and ESPN is entitled to milk three days or programming out of each of them), this one seems a little kooky.

As to Foles, it’s possible his success can be attributed in part to working with Andy Reid ad a rookie and Chip Kelly in 2013.  Also, since Mike Vick was the starter entering the 2013 season, defenses didn’t have tape on Foles, giving him an advantage during his truncated first tour through an NFL schedule.

As to Wilson, he’s hardly a game manager.  By all accounts, he’s a dynamic and driven young leader who has done a lot more for the Seahawks than hand off the ball and throw safe, first-read passes.  Wilson threw for more yards in 2013 than Colin Kaepernick, who helped ESPN create several days of news churn last year when Jaws declared Kaepernick could become one of the best to ever play the position.  Also, Wilson’s passer rating exceeded 100.  (Kaepernick’s didn’t.)

More importantly, Wilson wins.  Yes, it’s a cliché and it’s not very insightful and it draws a fine from producer Matt Casey if it’s uttered on NBCSN’s Pro Football Talk when we return from hiatus on Monday.  But the game is about winning, and Wilson has shown from the outset of his career that he can and does.

Wilson also has shown that he can continue to perform at a high level even after opposing defenses have had seven months to break down everything he did in his first season of action.  Foles will have to do the same thing in 2014 before there’s even a fair debate as to whether he’s in the same conversation as Russell Wilson.

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49ers worry about Kendall Hunter’s leg injury

Hunter Getty Images

It suddenly could be easier for the 49ers to divvy up tailback carries, but that’s a very thin silver lining in the dark cloud currently hovering over contract-year backup Kendall Hunter.

Hunter, a largely forgotten 49ers favorite amid the arrivals of Marcus Lattimore and Carlos Hyde in the last two drafts, suffered a leg injury during practice on Friday.  The specific nature and extent of the injury isn’t known, but Ed Werder of ESPN reports that the team is “concerned.”

Per Werder, Hunter went down awkwardly in a non-contact session.  The team “didn’t like the way it looked,” and now time and testing will test whether Hunter will be gone for a little while or a long time.

Lattimore remains on the Physically Unable to Perform list, which means that Hyde could get plenty of opportunities to show that he can do what Hunter does, which includes a 4.6-yards-per-carry average and a thorough and complete understanding of the team’s pass protections and his role in them.

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Report: “Impassioned plea” from Rice’s wife influenced Goodell

Rice AP

No one knows what the wife of Ray Rice said to the Commissioner when she accompanied the Ravens running back to New York for his personal-conduct policy session.  Whatever it was, it apparently helped Rice get a lesser penalty than most believe he deserved.

According to Jonathan Lehman of the New York Post, Janay Palmer Rice made an “impassioned plea” to Commissioner Roger Goodell.  Her words, whatever they were, reportedly were “instrumental” in the decision to suspend Ray only two games.

What she said isn’t known, and possibly will never be known (unless they have another press conference with no questions from the press).  Peter King of TheMMQB.com has reported that Mrs. Rice “urged” Goodell to “not ruin Rice’s image and career” with the punishment.  She also presumably apologized for her role in the incident that culminated in Rice knocking her out, given that she expressed that same sentiment during that press-conference-without-questions-from-the-press.

It’s all meaningless without seeing the video of the incident.  While troubling footage of Rice dragging his fiancée-turned-wife out of an elevator quickly emerged after the February incident, the video of the punch has been zealously concealed.  Our marginally-educated speculation is that the video shows aggression by Janay that could make the likes of Stephen A. Smith sympathize with the ultimate knockout blow, but that the video nevertheless is far more disturbing than what we’ve already seen, given that it ultimately shows Rice delivering an uppercut to a female and rendering her unconscious.

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Kraft wants L.A. team within 2-3 years

Kraft AP

When it comes to talking about putting franchises in London or Los Angeles, the league routinely creates a sense of urgency that, when it comes to acting on it, doesn’t seem to actually exist.

Appearing Friday on ESPN’s SportsCenter, Patriots owner Robert Kraft said that a return to L.A. “within the next two to three years . . . would be in everybody’s best interest.”

The problem continues to be finding a stadium solution that is in the best interests of the NFL and the local interest that would be involved in building a stadium and buying all or part of a relocated team.  For years, it’s been believed that the NFL won’t make a deal to return to the NFL unless it’s the right deal, which the ongoing lack of a deal to return to L.A. would seem to confirm.

“We’ve gone a generation — almost 20 years — without a team in L.A.,” Kraft said, via SportsBusiness Daily.  “We have a generation of young people growing up not really branded and tied to a team. I think that kind of passion only comes when you have a team you can root for, and I think it’s very important.”

Kraft, who said he’d like to see two teams return to Los Angeles, hinted at one point about ESPN eventually televising a Monday Night Football game “from downtown L.A.,” a reference to the dormant-if-not-dead AEG proposal to build a stadium near Staples Center.  Whether an idle comment or deliberate, finding a location for a stadium continues to be one of the biggest challenges.

“It’s complicated, because L.A. is a [big] market, the weather is great, you have so many choices,” Kraft said.  “So we need to make sure we have ownership that’s passionate about the game, really feel that the franchise is one of the most important things in their life.  Then we’ve got to get the right venue.  Having the right venue is so critical because I don’t think we’ll get fans in the L.A. market to come if it’s not really special.”

Sam Farmer of the L.A. Times recently reported that the right venue could be a venue built and owned by the NFL.  Whatever the solution, there continues to be plenty of talk about returning to Los Angeles and expanding to London, but no action.

That doesn’t mean quick action isn’t possible, especially with the two teams that left L.A. in 1995 — the Raiders and the Rams — now operating on year-to-year leases.

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Cam Newton: I can’t stress enough that I’m not 100 percent yet

camnewton AP

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is healthy enough to practice at training camp. But he’s not healthy enough to do all of the things we’re accustomed to seeing from him on the football field.

“I can’t stress enough that I’m not 100 percent yet,” said Newton, who had ankle surgery in March. “It’s just going to take treatment and time.”

Panthers coach Ron Rivera echoed those comments, saying he’s glad Newton is practicing but realizes Newton’s ankle isn’t allowing him to do everything.

”It was good to see Cam out there,” Rivera said. ”He’s a little rusty in terms of his quarterback to running back exchange. But he’s working himself back in and he has to work those techniques. But it was nice to see him make some nice throws. . . . A big thing is developing that footwork and getting that flexibility back in that ankle. As he practices and goes through day by day we have to be smart with it. I think he will work back into shape pretty soon.”

Newton’s ankle had been bothering him for years, and the goal of the surgery is to make the ankle better in the long run. He’s not there yet, but he should be in good shape when the season starts in six weeks.

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Manziel says he’s “on the same page” with Browns, admits “rookie mistakes”

Johnny Manziel AP

As he begins his first NFL training camp after an offseason filled with chatter about his off-field habits, Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel admitted Friday he has made some “rookie mistakes” early in his pro career.

However, the Browns’ first-round pick also made it clear he doesn’t see a problem having a good time once in a while.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with me going out and having a nightlife and having a social life,” Manziel said at a press conference. “I mean, I am 21 years old, and I do like going out.

“It was the offseason. It’s free time for us, and if I want to go out and hang out with my friends or go to nightclubs or do things like that, then I think that’s within my rights to being doing that, and I think there’s other guys throughout the league that are going that. And I’m not trying to compare myself to anybody else, but I think that’s within my rights to be doing that.”

While not specifically addressing what he considered to be missteps, Manziel noted he had communicated with coach Mike Pettine and G.M. Ray Farmer and that all was well entering camp.

“Me and Coach Pettine and Ray Farmer have really talked about a lot of things that have transpired over the course of the offseason, and for me, my main thing is, people within this building, my teammates, coaching staff, the higher-ups in this organization, we’ve all been on the same page, we’ve all been good, and very eager to be moving forward,” Manziel said.

Of his “rookie mistakes,” Manziel said: “There’s some things I wish I could have gone back and done a little differently, but (I’m) continuing to move forward and try to represent this organization and this team in a positive manner and in a positive light.”

The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner added he was “just very excited to be back in camp, when it’s football 24-7. That’s what I love doing, that’s what I live for, and it’s what my job is.”

As to be expected, Manziel was asked early in his press conference about the controversial photo of him appearing to roll a dollar bill.

“I’ve talked about that with Coach Pettine,” Manziel said. “I’ve talked about it with Ray Farmer and the people that I need to talk about that with. And moving forward, they’re good with everything, and I’ve told them everything that I need to, and everything’s been good.”

Manziel’s remarks came on the same day that the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported some in the Browns’ organization were “alarmed” by a few of the rookie quarterback’s off-field actions in the offseason.

The Browns’ first training camp practice is Saturday.

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Doug Baldwin, Pete Carroll have different views on contracts

dougbaldwin AP

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin do not agree about the holdout of running back Marshawn Lynch.

Carroll says Lynch needs to get to camp because Lynch signed a contract and needs to honor it. But shortly after Carroll made those comments, Baldwin took to Twitter and said he hates hearing from NFL teams about how players have to honor their contracts, because teams routinely cut players who have years left on their contracts.

“I hate the ‘but you signed the contract’ argument,” Baldwin wrote. “Players can’t say that s–t when organizations cut them.”

Baldwin’s view is a common one among NFL players, who often complain that their contracts don’t have the same guarantees of their colleagues in professional baseball and basketball. Lynch’s holdout may not be exposing a rift within the Super Bowl champions’ locker room, but it is at the very least demonstrating that players and coaches often have very different views about what it means to live up to a contract.

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Report: Vick Ballard tore his Achilles

Vick Ballard AP

The Colts saw running back Vick Ballard get carted off the field at practice on Friday and initial reports are that Ballard has suffered a severe injury for the second straight season.

Chris Mortensen of ESPN reports that Ballard tore his Achilles tendon during the workout. That sets up another lost season for Ballard, who tore his ACL in the first week of the 2013 season and missed the remainder of the season.

It also leaves the Colts looking a bit shaky at running back heading into the preseason. Trent Richardson did not impress anyone after arriving in Indianapolis in a trade with the Browns after Ballard got hurt last season and Ahmad Bradshaw ended last season on injured reserve with a neck injury. Bradshaw has also dealt with foot troubles throughout his career, which creates further reason to worry about their depth.

Dan Herron, Chris Rainey and Zurlon Tipton round out the running back group, which makes it seem likely that the Colts will be looking for help outside the organization if and when they confirm Ballard’s diagnosis. Michael Bush, Felix Jones, Ronnie Brown and Willis McGahee are some unsigned veteran options that could be of interest to the Colts.

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Pete Carroll on Marshawn Lynch: It’s called a contract for a reason

Marshawn Lynch, Pete Carroll AP

Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch is unhappy with his contract and expressing that displeasure by staying away from training camp, an approach that General Manager John Schneider says that the team isn’t planning to give him another one with two years to go on the current pact.

Coach Pete Carroll echoed Schneider’s comments on Friday, saying that the deal they gave Lynch in 2012 was part of the organization’s long-term plan to build a winning team and that they expect Lynch to hold up his end of that contract.

“It’s a contract for a reason. We made a decision and it was signed, by us and by them,” Carroll said, via USA Today. “We expect them to honor their contract just as we will. We’re going to honor it and we expect them to do the same.”

Red Bryant, Chris Clemons and other players released by the Seahawks with time and money left on their contract would probably be interested to know that the Seahawks’ policy is to honor every contract until the moment it expires, especially since they were doing Lynch one better and showing up for work before they were cut loose. USC might feel the same way about Carroll leaving the school for the Seahawks while still under contract.

Carroll’s skewed view of the way contracts work is beside the point when it comes to the Lynch situation, though. Right now, the Seahawks have made it clear that they’ll move on with Robert Turbin and Christine Michael before giving Lynch any more money and Lynch has made it clear he won’t show up until he gets more money. Someone is going to have to change their mind if Beast Mode is going to run again this season.

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Patriots release TE Nate Byham

Nate Byham, Haruki Nakamura AP

Less than a week after signing tight end Nate Byham, the Patriots have let him go.

The club released Byham on Friday, five days after adding the ex-Buccaneers tight end to their roster.

The move leaves the Patriots with one open roster spot. They have five tight ends: Rob Gronkowski, Michael Hoomanawanui, Justin Jones, Asa Watson and D.J. Williams.

A fourth-year pro from Pittsburgh, Byham (6-4, 265) is a vested veteran, leaving him free to immediately sign elsewhere. He has played 29 NFL regular season games, catching 11 passes for 83 yards and a touchdowns. After beginning his career with San Francisco (2010-2011), Byham spent the last two seasons with Tampa Bay.

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Steelers place Mike Mitchell on PUP list to start camp

Mike Mitchell AP

The Steelers will open camp without a pair of players, including one of their rare free agent splurges.

The team announced that safety Mike Mitchell and running back Alvester Alexander would begin training camp on the physically unable to perform list.

Mitchell parlayed a solid season with the Panthers into some security, with the Steelers stepping out of form with a five-year, $25 million deal.

He showed last year he’s not averse to coming up and making big hits (though he thinks Roger Goodell is targeting him for fines), but will have to play more of a coverage role paired with Troy Polamalu.

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Tyrann Mathieu says he’s 6-8 weeks away from returning

Tyrann Mathieu AP

The Cardinals placed safety Tyann Mathieu on the Physically Unable to Perform list earlier this week, a procedural move that confirms he’s not ready to start practicing after last year’s torn ACL.

The team can remove the designation and allow Mathieu to practice at any point during camp, but it doesn’t sound like that’s imminent. And it might not happen at all.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic reports that Mathieu said Friday that he thinks he is 6-8 weeks away from playing, a time frame that fits with coach Bruce Arians’ earlier comment that he wasn’t expecting to have Mathieu back before October 1.

The question for the Cardinals, then, will be whether they activate Mathieu from the PUP list at all or if they will have him remain on the list into the regular season. If they opt for the latter route, Mathieu will not be allowed to play or practice for the first six weeks of the season and the Cardinals could fill his roster spot with another player.

It’s premature to make any assumptions about which way they’ll go, but it is certainly a possibility if Mathieu is going to miss the first month of the season.

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Carl Nicks, Buccaneers part ways

Carl Nicks AP

Two years ago, the Buccaneers pilfered free-agent guard Carl Nicks from the Saints with a five-year, $47.5 million contract.  Now, Nicks is a free agent again.

Jay Glazer of FOX reports that the Bucs and Nicks have struck a deal to end his time in Tampa.  Glazer calls the situation an “amicable settlement,” which implies that something other than an outright release happened.

It’s possible Nicks has given back some of the $25 million he has received for appearing in only nine games.  It’s possible that the Bucs gave him a little more money to resolve any potential claims arising from the staph infection he contracted last year.

Either way, Nicks will be able to continue his career with another team, if/when he has fully recovered from last year’s illness.

Nicks was due to earn a base salary of $7 million in 2014.

UPDATE 5:03 p.m. ET:  The Buccaneers have announced the move, and Nicks’ comments create the impression that he will not be continuing his NFL career.

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New Vikings stadium raises bird concerns

Birds Getty Images

The new Vikings stadium will resemble in many respects a gigantic terrarium, with plenty of glass under which humans will be potentially baking.  But that’s still better than what it may do to the birds.

Deadspin recently pointed out a press release from Audubon Minnesota, which accuses the Vikings of creating a “death trap” for our fine, feathered friends (except when one of those bastards craps on my toupee).

“We’re talking about a billion dollar stadium here, and the cost to save perhaps thousands of migratory birds –- and make the Vikings a global leader in green stadium design — is about one-tenth of one percent of that,” Audubon Minnesota Executive Director Matthew Anderson said.  “Hundreds of millions of dollars of public money is going to build this stadium, and we know the people of Minnesota do not want their money killing birds.  The Vikings recently approved spending millions and millions of additional dollars to make sure the stadium is ‘iconic’ – surely they also want to make sure it’s not a death trap.  We’re asking them to change their minds and do the right thing.”

The issue isn’t a new one.  For months, concerns have been raised regarding the importance of making sure that birds won’t fly into what they believe to not be a giant slab of glass.

Per the release, Audubon Minnesota “communicated regularly with stadium developers until April 2014, when they were told that another meeting would be scheduled before a July 15 decision on the type of glass to be used.”  The meeting allegedly was canceled, and on July 17 Audubon Minnesota was told that there would be no change in the stadium glass.

Apparently, someone decided it would be cheaper to pay someone to pick up all those dead birds from the stadium grounds over the next 30 or 40 years than it will be to fix the glass.  Those costs may go up when dead birds start landing on toupees.

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