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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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Mark Davis has yet to reject Oakland proposal

OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 18:  Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis stands on the sidelines prior to their NFL game against the Atlanta Falcons at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on September 18, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images) Getty Images

The last time Oakland released information regarding its plan to build a stadium that would keep the Raiders from moving to Las Vegas, owner Mark Davis quickly made it clear that he’s not interested in deviating from his plan to relocate the team. With Oakland releasing a term sheet that outlines the project, Davis has said nothing, yet.

Meanwhile, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, a publication owned by casino mogul and potential Las Vegas stadium partner Sheldon Adelson, has published a profile (puff piece) about Davis that doesn’t even mention the effort in Oakland to persuade Davis to stay, or his reaction to it.

The Raiders did not respond to a request for comment on the Oakland proposal submitted early Saturday by PFT.

There’s still no reason to believe Davis will change his mind about moving, and it could be that he has opted to say nothing for now, allowing his partners come to the conclusion that the proposal isn’t as attractive as the Las Vegas plan, which carries with it $750 million in taxpayer money. The Oakland effort would result in a $1.3 billion, 55,000-seat venue, with the city putting up $200 million for infrastructure and site preparation via bond sales (not taxes) and donating $150 million in land. The group led by Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott would contribute $400 million toward the construction of the stadium.

The proposal goes nowhere if Davis wants nothing to do with it. For now, there’s no reason to think he has changed his mind.

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Will any coach be fired during the season?

ORCHARD PARK, NY - NOVEMBER 27: Head coach Gus Bradley of the Jacksonville Jaguars yells out on the sideline during NFL game action against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field on November 27, 2016 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) Getty Images

In each of the two seasons preceding 2016, a head coach was fired after only four weeks. This year, with four weeks to go, no head coach has been fired yet.

The question becomes whether anyone will be.

There’s been a sense for several weeks that only one embarrassing loss is standing in the way of the Jaguars firing coach Gus Bradley and giving former Bills coach Doug Marrone a test drive for the balance of the campaign. Beyond Bradley, the coaches of the other struggling teams (Browns, 49ers, Bears, Jets) aren’t believed to be in danger of being let go before the day known in NFL circles as Black Monday.

If no coach is fired during the season, it will be only the fourth time that’s happened since at least 2000. Four years ago, no firings happened during the season.

Last year, the Dolphins fired Joe Philbin after a Week Four loss in London. The Titans also fired Ken Whisenhunt, and the Eagles fired Chip Kelly. In all, 27 head coaches have been fired during the season since 2000.

At this stage of the season, it’s smart to wait. Teams that appoint an interim head coach from the surviving staff often see a short-term improvement in performance, as the players try to help the interim head coach shed the temporary label. Otherwise, a new coach will arrive and commence the process of finding new players.

Then, once the interim head coach becomes the permanent head coach, the players can go back to playing the way they did before the prior coach got fired.

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Cardell Hayes insists Will Smith had gun, denies shooting Smith’s wife

Cardell Hayes is placed in an Orleans Parish Sheriff van to be transported back to Orleans Parish Prison as he leaves Orleans criminal court, after the first day of testimony in his trial for shooting and killing NFL star Will Smith, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016, in New Orleans. (David Grunfeld/NOLA.com The Times-Picayune via AP) AP

Trials arising from “stand your ground” incidents will be resolved in large part based upon the credibility of the key witnesses. On Saturday, the man who shot and killed former Saints defensive end Will Smith in April made some incredible claims.

Via the Associated Press, Cardell Hayes testified that Smith had a gun when Hayes opened fire. Smith’s gun however, was found inside his vehicle. Indeed, most accounts and suggestions had been that Hayes shot Smith as Smith was returning to his car to get the gun.

Hayes himself didn’t mention that Smith had a gun to the authorities on the night of the shooting.

“I never gave a full statement to anyone,” Hayes said. (With the case turning on whether Hayes believed he was about to be shot, whether Smith had a gun would seem to be an important detail.)

More surprisingly, Hayes strongly denied shooting Smith’s wife, a contention that flies in the face of the ballistics evidence indicating that the bullets that struck Raquel Smith, who survived the incident, came from Hayes’ gun.

Hayes also denied ramming his vehicle into Smith’s, another contention that contradicts other evidence.

The trial is expected to conclude on Sunday, with closing arguments and the commencement of jury deliberations.

Whatever the outcome, the glitches in the evidence prove how hard it can be for a jury to reconstruct the events that culminate in one person shooting another in supposed self-defense. In this case, however, it may not be all that difficult for the jury to reject Hayes’ testimony regarding the circumstances that led to him pulling the trigger — and in turn to reject the claim that he was acting in self defense.

Unfortunately for Hayes, he may not be lying. It’s possible that he genuinely remembers that things happened in a way that they didn’t, due simply to the stress of the situation.

Which is another reason for states with “stand your ground” laws to reconsider allowing private citizens lacking the training and experience of police officers to attempt to discern in a fog of actual or perceived threats whether it is appropriate to open fire.

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Mike Zimmer will coach from the sideline, with special sunglasses

LANDOVER, MD - NOVEMBER 13: Head coach Mike Zimmer of the Minnesota Vikings looks on against the Washington Redskins in the second quarter at FedExField on November 13, 2016 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) Getty Images

With the Vikings’ playoff hopes in doubt as four games remain in a season of constant adversity, the team will be getting its coach back for Week 14 — and things will be mostly normal for him.

Via Mark Craig of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Mike Zimmer will coach from the sideline on Sunday in Jacksonville. He’ll wear special sunglasses in his first game since multiple additional eye surgeries to repair a detached retina caused him to miss the Week 13 prime-time matchup with the Cowboys.

The glasses will black out his right eye, which still has some double vision.

“We’ll be OK,” Zimmer told reporters when asked about his eye.

Whether the Vikings will be OK is a different issue. From 5-0 to 6-6, the Vikings now need to win games and hope for help to get to the playoffs. That’s a far cry from visions of home-field advantage and a path to Houston for the Super Bowl.

If they get to the playoffs, they’ll be climbing the playoff tree the hard way. Which would be fitting, because little about the team’s 2016 season has been easy.

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Giants activate Shane Vereen

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 20:  Shane Vereen #34 of the New York Giants in action against the Atlanta Falcons during their game at MetLife Stadium on September 20, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Giants on Saturday activated running back Shane Vereen from their injured-reserve list.

Vereen had been out since September due to a triceps injury. He returned to practice in late November and was activated, as expected, ahead of the deadline for the Giants to make a decision on his status.

Vereen was a valuable and productive pass-catcher out of the backfield for the Giants last season. In three games this season he’s caught eight passes for 75 yards.

Offensive lineman Adam Gettis was waived to create a roster spot for Vereen.

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Jaguars place Thomas, Odrick on IR

JACKSONVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 13:  Julius Thomas #80 of the Jacksonville Jaguars rushes against  Dwight Lowery #33 of the Indianapolis Colts during the game at EverBank Field on December 13, 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Jaguars placed tight end Julius Thomas and defensive end Jared Odrick on their season-ending injured-reserve list Saturday.

Thomas has a back injury and has missed the team’s last two games. He finishes 2016 with 30 catches for 281 yards and four touchdowns.

Odrick played in just six games this season due to a shoulder injury.

The Jaguars filled their open roster spots by promoting running back Bronson Hill from the practice squad and activating offensive lineman Luke Bowanko from the physically unable to perform list.

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Pitt’s James Conner declares for the draft

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 25: James Conner #24 of the Pittsburgh Panthers reacts after scoring a touchdown against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets during the game at Heinz Field on October 25, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Panthers lost 56-28. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images) Getty Images

A year after disclosing a cancer diagnosis, Pitt running back James Conner has declared for the draft.

The redshirt junior, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards and scored 20 total touchdowns, announced his intentions on Twitter.

Conner became the ACC player of the year as a redshirt freshman in 2014. His 2015 season was derailed by a knee injury. Then came the news that Conner has Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

He’ll finish as No. 2 on the all-time rushing list at Pitt with 3,701 yards, behind only Pro Football Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett. (Making the accomplishment even more impressive is the fact that Pitt has enjoyed the likes of Curtis Martin, LeSean McCoy, and Craig Hayward over the years.) Also, Conner’s 56 touchdowns are an ACC record.

“When they talk about someone who made a positive impact on the program,” Conner said on Twitter, “I hope they mention my name.”

Conner’s college career will conclude later this month in the Pinstripe Bowl, when Pitt faces Northwestern at Yankee Stadium.

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Danny Amendola out, Martellus Bennett questionable for Pats

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 04:  Danny Amendola #80 of the New England Patriots is tackled by T.J. McDonald #25 of the Los Angeles Rams during the second half of their game at Gillette Stadium on December 4, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images) Getty Images

As the Ravens prepare to face the Patriots on Monday night. They won’t have to worry about Danny Amendola. (Or, for that matter, Danny Woodhead.)

Amendola will miss his first game of the season, due to an ankle injury suffered last Sunday in a win over his former team, the Rams.

Questionable for the Patriots is tight end Martellus Bennett, with ankle and shoulder injuries. He became the team’s top option at the position after a season-ending back injury suffered by Rob Gronkowski.

Also questionable for the 10-2 Patriots are safety Jordan Richards (knee), linebacker Elandon Roberts (hamstring), cornerback Eric Rowe (hamstring), and receiver Matt Slater (foot).

The best news for the Patriots is that quarterback Tom Brady has been removed completely from the injury report. He practiced all week without being mentioned in any way on the report. Brady had missed practice time in recent weeks with a knee injury.

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Browns sign Jamar Taylor to three-year, $15 million extension

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 20:  Jamar Taylor #21 of the Cleveland Browns can't make a catch in front of Ladarius Green #89 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 20, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) Getty Images

Browns cornerback Jamar Taylor will be sticking around for the rebuilding project in Cleveland.

The Browns and Taylor have agreed to a three-year, $15 million contract, Mike Garafolo of NFL Network reports.

Taylor arrived in Cleveland in April in a draft-day trade that was for basically nothing: The Browns sent the 223rd pick in the draft to the Dolphins for the 250th pick. For the Dolphins to give up Taylor for that little compensation suggests that they were planning to cut him and were happy to get anything for him.

But in Cleveland this season, Taylor has started 10 games and started to show the promise that the Dolphins thought he had when they drafted him in the second round in 2013. Now Taylor will get paid like a starter and try to help the Browns turn things around, not just this year, but for the coming years as well.

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Cowboys leave Lucky Whitehead home for violating team rules

ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 30:  Lucky Whitehead #13 of the Dallas Cowboys runs during a game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles at AT&T Stadium on October 30, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

Cowboys return man Lucky Whitehead won’t play tomorrow against the Giants, as the team has announced that he isn’t making the trip to New Jersey because of a violation of team rules.

It’s unknown what rule Whitehead violated and unclear whether the Cowboys are suspending him — which would mean he loses his weekly paycheck — or simply deactivating him.

Whitehead is the Cowboys’ primary kickoff returner, with 10 returns for 238 yards this season, and he’s the only player on the team who has returned a punt at all this season. It’s not immediately clear who will take his place on returns.

Whitehead also occasionally contributes as a runner and receiver and will be missed by the Cowboys in a big game in the NFC East race.

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Belichick can still diagram his dad’s Navy plays from the 1950s

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 22:  Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots reacts on the sideline during the first half against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium on September 22, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) Getty Images

Bill Belichick became a football savant long before he was head coach of the Patriots. His education in football dates back to the 1950s, when Bill was just a tyke and his father, Steve Belichick, was an assistant coach at Navy.

For this year’s Army-Navy game, CBS brought together Bill Belichick and perhaps the best player his late father coached at Navy, Heisman Trophy-winning halfback Joe Bellino, and asked Belichick to diagram one of Bellino’s plays.

Although Belichick was 7 years old in 1959, he had no trouble diagramming a play from that season, 27 F Trap.

“I remember my dad sitting there going through the film, talking about if the tackle is split a little wider, if the back is in T formation, halfback-fullback-halfback, a lot of teams run it straight, if the back is tilted up run to that side, if the back is tilted back, run away. Teams ran the Power-I formation. He would show it on the film: On this play the back is split it’s going to be here. On this play he’s not split it’s going to be there. The same thing defensively: When the defensive lineman would stunt down he’d go outside, when he’d not stunt he’d play it straight. That’s where I started to learn to identify line splits, backfield alignments, wide receiver splits to run crossing routes from tight splits and things like that.”

Although the game has evolved a lot since the 1950s, Belichick said 27 F Trap isn’t much different from a handoff to LeGarrette Blount the Patriots could run in their 2016 offense.

“Football is football,” Belichick said. “Off tackle power? Every team in the league runs off tackle power.”

But not every team has a coach whose education in the off tackle power dates back quite that far.

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Ankle injury lands Jaelen Strong on IR

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 16: Jaelen Strong #11 of the Houston Texans motions to his wrist after a 36 yard reception in overtime during the NFL game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on October 16, 2016 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) Getty Images

As the Texans prepare for a playoff push, they won’t have one of the members of their receiver rotation, for the rest of the year.

The Texans have placed receiver Jaelen Strong on injured reserve, ending his season.

Strong had been ruled out for Sunday’s game at Indianapolis with an ankle injury. To fill his spot on the roster, the Texans elevated cornerback Denzel Rice from the practice squad.

A third-round pick in 2015, Strong faced stiff competition on the depth chart, when the Texans added receivers Will Fuller and Braxton Miller in the 2016 draft. Strong caught 14 passes in his second season, matching his total for 2015.

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Luke Kuechly will miss his third straight game on Sunday

SANTA CLARA, CA - FEBRUARY 07:   Luke Kuechly #59 of the Carolina Panthers reacts after a play against the Denver Broncos in the first quarter during Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly is still not cleared from the league’s concussion protocol and will not play on Sunday against the Chargers.

The Panthers announced today that Kuechly, who returned to practice this week, still hasn’t been given the medical go-ahead to play.

Kuechly suffered the concussion in Week 11 against the Saints and was carted off the field. He hasn’t played since.

The 25-year-old Kuechly also missed three games with a concussion last season. Given that the 4-8 Panthers will almost certainly not make the playoffs this season, it might make sense for Carolina to shut Kuechly down for the season even if he does gain medical clearance next week. This has already been a miserable year in Carolina, and lingering concussions for Kuechly could make this year even worse.

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Bucs activate Charles Sims

TAMPA, FL - SEPTEMBER 25:  Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Charles Sims lll #34 sprints 60 yards ahead of Los Angeles Rams cornerback Troy Hill #32 during the second half of their NFL football game at Raymond James Stadium on September 25, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Buccaneers are getting running back Charles Sims back on the field in time for a push to the playoffs.

Tampa Bay is activating Sims from the injured reserve list to the active roster, according to Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times.

Sims played in the first four games of the season and started two before suffering a knee injury that has kept him out the last eight games. He was not off to a very good start, with just 116 yards on 41 carries, but Sims has shown promise in the past and could be an important part of the Bucs’ offense down the stretch.

The Bucs are also promoting receiver Donteea Dye from the practice squad to the 53-man roster and waiving offensive lineman Josh Allen and defensive tackle John Hughes to make room for Sims and Dye on the 53-man roster.

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Saturday one-liners

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 30: Brandon Marshall #15 of the New York Jets runs with the ball while playing the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 30, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) Getty Images

Jets WR Brandon Marshall could return punts this weekend at San Francisco.

Is Bills coach Rex Ryan sliding back toward the hot seat?

When Dolphins DE Cameron Wake heard defensive coordinator Vance Joseph talking about the challenge of covering Arizona slot receiver Larry Fitzgerald, Wake said, “I can play nickel. What’s up?

The Patriots could be playing a game in London or Mexico next year.

The Ravens know that one guy grabbing RB LeGarrette Blount won’t get him down.

In 35 games played against Cleveland since the team returned to the NFL, the Bengals have had an 100-yard rusher 18 different times.

Browns players want to get a win on Sunday for coach Hue Jackson.

Rex Ryan realizes that Steelers LB James Harrison has “whipped a lot of players, but he whipped Father Time as well.”

Texans DE J.J. Watt seemed happy to be wearing Penn State colors and logos after the Nittany Lions beat his alma mater.

Get to know Colts WR Donte Moncrief.

Jaguars WR Jimmy Smith, who will be inducted to the team’s Ring of Honor on Sunday, discusses his battle with drug addiction.

The Titans will announce the replacement for now-cut starting CB Perrish Cox on Sunday.

Broncos RB Justin Forsett is ready for whatever his new team wants him to do.

The Epstein’s mother-style note from Chiefs coach Andy Reid had mixed results.

The Raiders are catching heat for their play calling on third and one from the Kansas City 14.

CB Brandon Flowers has had four concussions since joining the Chargers in 2014.

The Cowboys received a motivational speech this week from Ray Lewis.

Giants coach Ben McAdoo is hoping for snow on Sunday night against Dallas.

While playing in Buffalo, Eagles CB Leodis McKelvin once returned home to find testicles spray painted n his lawn.

Should Washington keep WR Pierre Garςon or WR DeSean Jackson?

Young Bears players remain fully engaged, despite the team’s 3-9 record.

With Quandre Diggs out for the year, Lions CB Adairius Barnes is about to go from obscure undrafted rookie to key member of the defense.

For Packers OT Bryan Bulaga, losing only 10 pounds has made a big difference.

Vikings WR Adam Thielen has proven he’s not a joke.

Should the Falcons give WR Julio Jones some time off due to turf toe?

Panthers QB Cam Newton knows that the search for reasons for his subpar performance in 2016 starts with him.

LB Travis Freeney, previously on the Pittsburgh practice squad, didn’t expect the phone call that made him a Saint.

WR Josh Huff could be a key figure for the Buccaneers against New Orleans.

Cardinals CB Tyrann Mathieu eventually may need shoulder surgery.

The Rams are waiting for QB Jared Goff to begin to approach his potential.

49ers RB Carlos Hyde needs 78.5 yards per game to get to 1,000.

When it comes to Seahawks C Justin Britt, Russell Wilson is figuratively kissing the area where he literally puts his hands.

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