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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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Nate Washington: Mettenberger has better understanding of NFL than Roethlisberger did

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Wide receiver Nate Washington entered the NFL with the Steelers in 2005, where he became teammates with second-year quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Washington is now in Tennessee and playing with rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who made his first start against Houston last week. Washington liked what he saw from Mettenberger and compared him favorably to Roethlisberger in terms of NFL readiness on Wednesday while also getting in a little dig at the Titans running game.

“I will comment and say that I don’t think Ben coming in is the same as Zach Mettenberger. At this stage he’s at now, I think Zach understands the NFL a little more than maybe Ben did at that time, but the thing that Ben had at that time that was maybe a little more beneficial was he had an outstanding running game,” Washington said, via Terry McCormick of 247Sports.com. “He had that run game and everything that he had to do was built off our run game, whether it was play action, or whatever else it was, it gave Ben an opportunity to go out and be adjustable to whatever the game was, whereas Zach we’re kind of throwing him out there and saying, ‘We know you’re capable of showing your arm and your ability.’ That’s the leeway I think they’re kind of giving him.”

Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt was also in Pittsburgh early in Roethlisberger’s career and said only that every quarterback has different strengths that coaches need to take advantage of in their game plans.

Roethlisberger obviously developed well beyond the player that Washington describes and Mettenberger has a long way to go before any serious comparisons between the two players can be made. Should the understanding that Washington’s seen translate onto the field, that will change and the Titans will likely have their quarterback for many years to come.

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Panthers forced to resort to Canadian rookie at left tackle

Carolina Panthers at Green Bay Packers Getty Images

The Panthers were hoping they might be able to stash David Foucault on the practice squad this year.

Instead, he’s starting at left tackle for the Panthers tonight against the Saints.

This is hardly the situation they envisioned, when mainstay Jordan Gross announced his retirement this offseason. The plan was to shift Byron Bell over to Gross’s spot, and he’s been up and down this year. Now he’s hurt. The originally planned swing tackle Garry Williams is also on IR again.

This is the situation we’re in,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said, via Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review. “It’s not like we said, ‘Hey, you know what? When we get to Week Nine, why don’t we put the kid out there at left tackle?’”

This will be Foucault’s first start since last year’s Coupe Dunsmore, when his Université de Montréal Carabins lost to Quebec’s Collège Laval last November. He was the fifth overall pick in the CFL Draft, but turned it down for a camp invite south of the border.

 

The 6-foot-8, 305-pound Foucault (pronounced FOO-koh) has impressed coaches with his frame and work ethic, but he’s obviously raw. Naturally, he was a hockey player growing up, who didn’t take up football until he was a teenager.

Also, he will be starting next to a more conventional undrafted rookie, Andrew Norwell of Ohio State, which could make any remake of The Blind Side a horror movie for Cam Newton.

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PFT’s Week Nine picks

Brady AP

Last week was a good week.  For me.  Not for MDS.

We disagreed on two games, and my faith in the Steelers and Saints finally paid off.

So that five-game lead MDS enjoyed has shrinked/shrunk/shrunken/whatever to three.  And we disagree on three games this week.  They also happen to be the biggest three games of the week.

Last week, I went 10-5 and MDS finished 8-7.  For the year, he’s now at 78-43 (64.4 percent) and I’m at 75-46 (61.9 percent).

Saints at Panthers

MDS’s take: Someone has to win the NFC South, and it will probably be this game’s winners, who will be the only team in the division with a .500 record. I think the Saints’ offense will move the ball well in Carolina and make a big statement that New Orleans is the team to beat in the South.

MDS’s pick: Saints 31, Panthers 17.

Florio’s take:  The Saints can’t lose at home, can’t win on the road.  This could be the moment where the latter trend ends (at least for now), with New Orleans chasing a big win over the Packers with a trip to face a so-so team with an offensive line rattled by injuries.

Florio’s pick:  Saints 27, Panthers 23.

Jaguars at Bengals

MDS’s take: Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles just makes far too many mistakes. He’s not ready, and the Jaguars’ coaches know he’s not ready, but they felt they had no choice but to play him because Chad Henne got off to such a bad start this year. Look for Bortles to continue to struggle and the Jaguars to continue to lose.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 30, Jaguars 10.

Florio’s takeA.J. Green is back, a week after the Bengals found a way to win without him.  It will be even easier against a team with only one win.

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 27, Jaguars 10.

Buccaneers at Browns

MDS’s take: The Browns may not be as good as their 4-3 record suggests, but the Bucs are every bit as bad as their 1-6 record suggests. Cleveland will get to five wins at the halfway point, which represents major progress considering the mess new coach Mike Pettine inherited.

MDS’s pick: Browns 22, Buccaneers 17.

Florio’s take:  The Browns avoided a second-straight loss to a winless team.  They now have to guard against a loss to a one-win team.  It won’t be easy, but the Browns are starting to learn how to win the games they’re supposed to.

Florio’s pick:  Browns 24, Buccaneers 16.

Cardinals at Cowboys

MDS’s take: I wish I knew for sure when picking this game whether or not Tony Romo will play, but even if Romo can’t play I lean toward the Cowboys controlling things offensively thanks to their great offensive line and MVP candidate DeMarco Murray.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 21, Cardinals 20.

Florio’s take:  The Cardinals haven’t gotten nearly the respect they deserve.  That ends here.  Despite the injuries, the suspension, the defections, and the Super Bowl hosting jinx, the Cardinals keep winning.  With or without Tony Romo, the Cardinals will be ready to do something they haven’t done since the 1998 playoffs — outscore the Cowboys in Dallas.

Florio’s pick:  Cardinals 21, Cowboys 17.

Eagles at Texans

MDS’s take: Interceptions are piling up for Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, which is a major concern in Philadelphia considering that the Texans have a strong pass defense. But I’m not sold on the Texans’ offense putting many points on the board, and I’ll pick the Eagles to win a close, low-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Eagles 14, Texans 13.

Florio’s take:  The Philly offensive line is getting a little healthier, just in time for J.J. Watt and company.  After nearly toppling the Cardinals in Arizona, the Eagles go to Houston and drag the Texans under .500, where based on the overall talent of the team they belong.

Florio’s pick:  Eagles 27, Texans 17.

Jets at Chiefs

MDS’s take: At this point I’m not sure that it much matters whether Michael Vick or Geno Smith is the Jets’ starter. The Jets aren’t going to win with either quarterback, especially on the road against a solid team like the Chiefs.

MDS’s pick: Chiefs 31, Jets 20.

Florio’s take:  How did the Chiefs lose the Titans in Week One?  Eventually, we also may be asking how the Jets beat the Raiders that same day.

Florio’s pick:  Chiefs 30, Jets 13.

Chargers at Dolphins

MDS’s take: The Dolphins’ defense is a lot better than most people realize, but I still like Philip Rivers to play well enough to earn a hard-fought road win in a game that will have significant implications for the AFC wild card race.

MDS’s pick: Chargers 21, Dolphins 20.

Florio’s take:  The Chargers are due to win.  The Dolphins are due to lose.  Sometimes, it’s just that easy.

Florio’s pick:  Chargers 28, Dolphins 21.

Washington at Vikings

MDS’s take: Neither of these teams is very good, but both of them are coming off overtime wins and will be motivated to show that they’re not dead yet in the NFC playoff race. I’m going with the Vikings, who are starting to play defense the way Mike Zimmer wants to see.

MDS’s pick: Vikings 17, Washington 7.

Florio’s take:  RGIII returns, but is that a good thing?  He looked mediocre before dislocating his ankle, and now he’s rusty.  He’ll also be pressing to make fans forget about a couple of critical wins from Colt McCoy.  Meanwhile, the Vikings have some winnable games down the stretch; if they can get to 4-5, things can get interesting in December.

Florio’s pick:  Vikings 20, Washington 17.

Rams at 49ers

MDS’s take: Looking ahead at the 49ers’ schedule, their path to the playoffs is not an easy one. These are the games the 49ers need to win if they’re going to be a playoff team. They’ll win this one.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 24, Rams 20.

Florio’s take:  The 49ers are rested and motivated to keep up with the Cardinals, who are close to running away with the NFC West.  The Rams won’t be pushovers, but San Fran needs this one too badly to blow it.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 27, Rams 20.

Broncos at Patriots

MDS’s take: The Patriots have really turned things around recently and are probably the second-best team in the AFC right now. Unfortunately, the best team in the AFC is coming to town. Denver’s offense will put up big numbers and win more easily than most people are expecting.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 34, Patriots 20.

Florio’s take:  In fifteen prior Brady-Manning contests, the home team is 10-5.  The Broncos would win easily in Denver.  The Pats find a way to prevail in Foxboro.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 27, Broncos 24.

Raiders at Seahawks

MDS’s take: I still think there are some questions about the Seahawks on both sides of the ball, but they’ll cruise to an easy win at home over the worst team in the league.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 33, Raiders 20.

Florio’s take:  Nothing helps a dysfunctional team get back on track than facing a way more dysfunctional opponent.

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 34, Raiders 13.

Ravens at Steelers

MDS’s take: This game will be closer than their Week Two meeting, but the Ravens will complete the season sweep of the Steelers.

MDS’s pick: Ravens 24, Steelers 17.

Florio’s take:  The Steelers cap a three-game home stand with a win that keeps them very much alive for the division title.  A loss would put them, as a practical matter, three games behind the Ravens with seven to play.

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 13, Ravens 10.

Colts at Giants

MDS’s take: Ahmad Bradshaw returns to face his old team and should have a big game against a Giants run defense that hasn’t been particularly good this year. The Colts will bounce back from last week’s ugly loss.

MDS’s pick: Colts 30, Giants 20.

Florio’s take:  The Giants fully intend to make a run.  It’ll have to wait at least a week.  After giving up 51 in Pittsburgh, the Colts will be ready to go back to New York (sort of) 56 years after the greatest game ever played and edge the Giants, again.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 23, Giants 17.

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Mark Barron wasn’t a fan of Lovie Smith’s defense

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

When the Buccaneers traded former seventh overall pick Mark Barron to the Rams for a pair of draft picks this week, it was easy to say that Barron being a poor fit for the defense run by head coach Lovie Smith was the chief reason for the move.

Barron did nothing to defuse that notion on Wednesday when discussing the deal with the media for the first time. While Barron said he enjoyed his time in Tampa, he also said that he felt Smith’s defense didn’t let him take full advantage of his aggressiveness.

“Yeah, it is passive,” Barron said, via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “That’s kind of the only thing I didn’t like about it a lot of times. I had to sit back and I couldn’t really be as aggressive as I wanted to in that system. So yeah, I would most definitely say that.”

Barron had his issues in Greg Schiano’s system as well, so he’s yet to find a perfect fit at the NFL. It may be a while before we find out if things will be better for him in St. Louis. The team had an abbreviated practice Wednesday because coach Jeff Fisher wanted to rest the many players on the team battling injuries and the coach said he wasn’t yet sure exactly how or when he’ll use Barron.

“We’ll find a way to fit him into our system at some point. I don’t know whether that’s a week or six weeks or next year. But we need depth at the position and we’re banged up a little bit,” Fisher said. “I spoke with him [Tuesday] night after we put the deal together. Obviously he was surprised and shocked but excited about a new start. He’s got a lot of catching up to do. I think he’s going to be, in time, a very good player for us.”

The Rams play the 49ers this weekend and it’s not known whether Barron will be in uniform.

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Torrey Smith sees some good in Vontaze Burfict

Burfict AP

After a pair of WWE-style toe holds against the Panthers earlier this month, Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict instantly became known as the dirtiest player in pro football.  Ravens receiver Torrey Smith agrees with that sentiment, with a caveat.

During the third quarter of Sunday’s game at Cincinnati, Smith ran a slant route from the “X” position on the left side of the field. But receiver Marlon Brown had come in motion, filling the slot between Smith and the left tackle. Bengals cornerback Leon Hall had followed Brown; when Smith made his move to the inside he ran into Hall.  Their helmets collided.

Smith was stunned, and he bent over and put his hands on his legs. Meanwhile, the ball had been thrown. The guy covering Smith, Bengals receiver Adam Jones, intercepted it.

After the interception, Smith was still standing there while Bengals players joined the convoy, looking for Ravens to block. Burfict saw Smith, shoving him half-heartedly before approaching Smith in a way that suggested concern for him.

It could have been a lot worse watching the video,” Smith told Jon Meoli of the Baltimore Sun. “That’s the one time. As a dirty of a player as I think he is — he’s a heck of a player — he’s a dirty one, too.  He definitely held up. He has some good to him.”

Smith also explained that he wasn’t going to try to avoid the concussion protocol after taking a blow to the head.

“It was a flash for me,” Smith said. “Some people were like, ‘Well, if there was a flash, it was bright, you had a concussion.’ I’m like, ‘I’m not playing around with a concussion. I passed my physical test. They had that little iPad thing that you do. I was fine. They kind of left it up for me, and I felt fine. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have went back out there for those few plays. I don’t want to be 50 years old and not know what’s going on with my kids and my grandkids.”

That’s the right attitude for players to have regarding concussions. Hopefully, more will behave that way moving forward.

Hopefully, the good that Smith saw in Burfict will be something other than an aberration.

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Johnny Manziel has been freelancing with the scout team

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

Many figured that Johnny Manziel would be on the field for the Browns by now.

Apparently, that number included Manziel, who is getting a little antsy on the bench behind utterly sufficient Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer.

Safety Donte Whitner said he could see Manziel getting frustrated, but not in a destructive way.

“We talk back and forth and joke back and forth, and still, he wants to get out there and play,” Whitner said, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “He’s one of the biggest competitors on this football team. He wants to get out there and run around and make plays for this team and have something to feel good about when he leaves the stadium.

“He should already, being a backup quarterback and helping Brian as much as he can. [But] he still wants to get out there and make the plays.”

Toward that end, sometimes Manziel will improvise in practice, rather than running the tightly scripted scout team offense.

“Yeah, he does that sometimes where they’ll draw it on the card where they want him to throw it and he’ll see a corner sitting right there waiting on the interception — or a safety — because the coaches have talked to us and taught us in the meeting what to take away,” Whitner said. “And then he won’t throw it in there and he’ll run around and throw it down the field sometimes and make us frustrated as defensive backs and make them frustrated. But that’s what a mobile quarterback can do to you.

“They make you frustrated and that’s why he had the success he had at A&M and that’s why I believe that if he gets out there in the National Football League, he’ll be able to run around and make some plays.”

Manziel hasn’t seen the field since the illegal reception from Hoyer against Baltimore in week three, and coach Mike Pettine has seen the frustration as well. But with Hoyer playing acceptably and Browns having a winning record, now’s probably not the time to make the switch or do too much to accommodate him.

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Ronnie Hillman limited after hurting shoulder in practice

San Diego Chargers v Denver Broncos Getty Images

Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman has made the most of the opportunity provided by Montee Ball’s injury over the past few weeks and there’s been talk that he’s earned a bigger piece of the pie in the backfield even after Ball returns to action.

That makes it a very bad time for Hillman to get injured, which is what appeared to happen when he popped up on the Wednesday injury report as limited in practice because of a shoulder injury. Hillman didn’t have any injury concerns heading into the session and said after the practice that he “landed on it funny” while adding that he wasn’t expecting there to be an issue moving forward.

“No, I’m not, I’ll be at practice [Thursday]. So, I mean, I plan on being at practice [Thursday],” Hillman said, via ESPN.com. “I don’t know what they’re talking about. But I’ll be fine. It’s nothing that I can’t deal with.”

Hillman has run for 283 yards on 58 carries over the last three weeks, which is much more productive than what Ball was doing before he got hurt. Losing the offensive balance he’s provided heading into New England would not be a good thing for the Broncos, but it doesn’t look like anything they’ll need to worry about this week.

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Belichick, Welker say they’ve moved on

belichickwelker Getty Images

Patriots coach Bill Belichick was furious with his former receiver, Wes Welker, after last year’s AFC Championship Game. Welker knocked then-Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib out of the game with a block that Belichick called “one of the worst plays I’ve seen.” But as they prepare to face each other on Sunday, Belichick and Welker both say they’ve moved on.

Belichick said Wednesday that he thinks highly of Welker and has no personal issues with him.

“Way past that,” Belichick said, via the Associated Press. “I have a lot of respect for Wes and what he did for us and what he’s done for the Broncos and what he’s done throughout his career.”

Welker responded that he moved past it immediately, because he was turning his attention to getting ready to play in the Super Bowl.

“I moved on to getting ready for the Super Bowl,” Welker said. “So, it’s the same for me. It’s in the past and I’m just really kind of looking forward to this game.”

Talib never seemed particularly bothered by the incident, saying when he signed with the Broncos this offseason that he considers Welker a friend and doesn’t think Welker was trying to hurt him. So that incident is apparently not serving as motivation this week for anyone involved.

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Alex Smith practices in full, says shoulder feels fine

Alex Smith AP

Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Monday that quarterback Alex Smith sprained his right shoulder while beating the Rams last Sunday, which meant Wednesday’s practice would be one to watch for a gauge of how Smith is feeling as the team heads toward a meeting with the Jets.

There wound up being nothing much to worry about when the Chiefs took the field. Smith has had some shoulder issues in the past, none particularly recent, but he was a full participant in practice after this one and Randy Covitz of the Kansas City Star threw “effortlessly” during the portion of practice open to the media.

For his part, Smith said he was fine and that throwing just one pass over 10 yards against St. Louis last weekend was about the Rams Defense and not any ache in his shoulder.

“It had nothing to do with it,” Smith said. “For me, I’m going where the defense tells me to. We didn’t pre-determine anything … I felt they had a couple of young cornerbacks playing off [the receivers], and they were trying to protect them.”

The Jets have cornerback issues of their own and it doesn’t look like Smith’s shoulder will get in the way of attacking them.

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Thursday morning one-liners

Kyle Van Noy, Rod Streater AP

Bills LB Nigel Bradham is making a name for himself.

You can find stats to prove anything, including that the Dolphins are the second-best team in football.

The emergence of Patriots WR Brandon LaFell follows a familiar script.

This is fun: The New York Daily News came up with a list of teams worse than the Jets.

The Ravens secondary is banged up at the wrong time, facing Ben Roethlisberger on a hot streak.

The Bengals hope to have LB Vontaze Burfict back by their Nov. 16 game against the Saints.

Browns RB Ben Tate thinks problems in the run game can “be fixed

The Steelers have more no-shows than normal for prime time games.

Texans DE J.J. Watt will see plenty of familiar faces when he plays the Eagles.

The Colts are still waiting for that Hakeem Nicks breakout game.

Jaguars TE Marcedes Lewis returned to practice.

Poor drafting has plagued the Titans in recent years.

Broncos WR Wes Welker is getting used to being the third option.

The Chiefs got LB Joe Mays back on the field for the first time in two months.

Raiders QB Derek Carr isn’t afraid to go after anyone.

The Chargers were missing eight players from yesterday’s practice.

The Cowboys have concerns beyond the health of QB Tony Romo.

The Giants are adjusting on the fly to a new-look defense.

It’s hard to gauge why Eagles RB LeSean McCoy is struggling this year.

Washington picked the right kicker, when they had a choice.

The annual discussion of whether the Bears need to replace their sorry grass.

Lions rookie linebacker Kyle Van Noy is expected to make a quick impact when he returns.

A visit to Ghana was a turning point for Packers LB Sam Barrington.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer downplays meeting with old co-worker Jay Gruden.

Falcons QB Matt Ryan is still taking care of the ball, relatively speaking.

The Panthers were fired up about the return of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets name.

The Saints saw the makings of their current run game during their last trip to Carolina.

Buccaneers QB Mike Glennon isn’t getting much help, or protection.

Based on current standings, the Cardinals and Lions would be the top two seeds in the NFC playoffs, of course.

A look at the role trade acquisition Mark Barron could play for the Rams.

The 49ers got a load of players back to practice, including LB Patrick Willis.

Seahawks LB Brock Coyle will start in the middle this week.

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Eric Decker steps into a Twitter minefield of bitter Jets fans

Denver Broncos vs New York Jets, NFL Getty Images

One of these days, earnest people looking for feedback from the public are going to realize that asking Twitter for it is not always the best idea.

New Jets wide receiver Eric Decker was just being nice, offering signed gear to the best response he got to an innocuous question, when Twitter and Jets schadenfreude collided in a glorious mess of sarcasm and bitterness.

As Seth Walder of the New York Daily News points out, his timing probably wasn’t perfect, coming after they changed quarterbacks while falling to 1-7 then had one of the more bizarre General Manager press conferences ever.

“#jetsnation, tell me why you love the @nyjets using #jetsdiehardfan and I’ll send a signed prize to my favorite,” Decker tweeted.

And then came the comedians.

“I love the Jets because they are consistent. They let me down week after week,” said @conor_heraty.

“I’m a #jetsdiehardfan because they let Parcells, Belichick and Carroll walk out the door. Thanks from the rest of the country!” @14TeamMocker wrote.

“because apparently I’m a masochist,” said @JP_NYJ.

Someone going by @peachy931 said simply: “butt fumble.”

I’m sure he’ll find someone genuine to give his gift to. But it took a lot of sifting through the smart alecks to find one, I’m sure.

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Arrest video shows Joseph Randle making more bad decisions

New York Giants v Dallas Cowboys Getty Images

As if weren’t bad enough that Cowboys running back Joseph Randle stole underwear and a tester bottle of cologne from a Dillard’s at a local mall, he showed an utter lack of self-awareness while being booked by police.

Video from the Frisco City Jail, obtained by CBSDFW 11, showed Randle cracking jokes, making unauthorized cell phone calls, and worrying about whether his arrest would end up in the media.

Perhaps the dumbest part (though stealing underwear and a tester bottle of cologne with the word “Guilty in its name is plenty dumb) was an exchange with a female officer.

“If I give you $100 can you give me a massage?” Randle asked.

He called his agent in an effort to bond out in time to make practice as well, and asked cops: “Hey, is this going to be on the news? You think?”

You think, indeed.

The night he was busted, he told cops that if he knew he’d be arrested, he’d have simply kept walking when approached by a mall security guard.

Coupled with his actions at the jailhouse, it’s clear the guy has no respect for other people’s property, the law or common sense.

But he’s since apologized for what he called the “biggest mistake I’ve ever made,” so I guess everything’s OK.

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Buccaneers re-sign Mike Kafka to practice squad

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Two days after waiving him from the 53-player roster, the Buccaneers re-signed quarterback Mike Kafka to their practice squad on Wednesday, per the NFL’s transactions.

The 27-year-old Kafka has been under contract to Tampa Bay, whether on the roster or practice squad, for all but a handful of days since February 10. With his knowledge of the Buccaneers’ offense, he is a logical fit behind Josh McCown and Mike Glennon, the only quarterbacks on Tampa Bay’s roster. If the Buccaneers need Kafka — one of 15 quarterbacks on practice squads around the league — he is ready to be promoted at a moment’s notice.

Overall, 25 clubs, including the Buccaneers, have some combination of three readily available quarterbacks, whether it’s three on the roster or two on the roster and one on the practice squad. Fourteen clubs are carrying at least one practice squad passer.

At the moment, five teams — the Patriots, Bengals, Colts, Giants and Rams — have only two available quarterbacks. All five clubs do not carry a practice squad passer, though it’s possible the Rams could re-sign the recently waived Case Keenum. The Bengals (A.J. McCarron) and Rams (Sam Bradford) each have a quarterback on a reserve list. Bradford is on injured reserve with an ACL tear, while McCarron (shoulder) is on the reserve/non-football injury list.

Just two clubs — the Dolphins and Eagles — have four available quarterbacks. The Eagles have three on the roster and one on the practice squad, while the Dolphins have two on the roster and two on the practice squad. The Panthers, Vikings and Chiefs all have four quarterbacks under contract, but all have one passer on season-ending injured reserve.

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Raiders bring back Larry Asante

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2011 Headshots Getty Images

With three defensive backs missing practice on Wednesday, the Oakland Raiders made a move to bolster their secondary depth.

Oakland re-signed safety Larry Asante to replenish the ranks after Tyvon Branch and Usama Young both landed on injured reserve.

To make room on the roster, the Raiders released linebacker Bojay Filimoeatu, who re-signed to the team’s practice squad.

Asante was waived by the Raiders with an injury designation at the conclusion of training camp in August.

Asante has appeared in 17 games over the last four seasons for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts. He played in 10 games with Tampa Bay in 2011 with 12 tackles and a forced fumble.

Cornerbacks Chimdi Chekwa (hamstring), Keith McGill (groin) and Carlos Rogers (knee) all did not participate in practice for the Raiders on Wednesday.

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Richard Sherman could return punts again on Sunday

Sherman AP

The season began with one member of the Legion of Boom serving as the punt returner.  The experiment with safety Earl Thomas went poorly, and the plug was pulled quickly.

Quietly, another member of the team’s secondary assumed the duties last week, with receiver Bryan Walters injured.

Richard Sherman filled in against the Panthers, returning one punt seven yards (a holding penalty wiped it out) and making a fair catch.  He could be doing it again this week, against the Raiders.

“It depends,” Carroll told reporters on Wednesday. “It depends on who’s available. Really, we were going to go with Doug [Baldwin] last week and Doug needed a break at the time and [Sherman] jumped in to relieve to help us out. He’s not, in our minds, the guy that’s going back to return punts all the time but he is a guy that does a great job of all the situations and knows what’s happening. He’s as well schooled as any of the guys that haven’t been catching punts and he pulled it off last week.”

Using Sherman raises the same concerns that using Thomas did. Sherman could get injured, and he could end up making a mistake — like the three Thomas made in the first half of the season opener against the Packers.

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