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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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Federal judge strikes down latest New Jersey attempt at sports betting

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The powers-that-be in New Jersey continue to swing and miss when it comes to circumventing federal law that prevents the legalization of gambling there.

According to the Associated Press, Judge Michael Shipp has ruled that the latest effort by New Jersey to legalize sports betting at race tracks and casinos cannot proceed.

“We are going to continue pursuing every legal option available,” New Jersey Senate president Steve Sweeney told the AP.  “The economic impact that sports wagering can have on New Jersey is far too important to simply shrug our shoulders and move on.”

For now, the immediate legal option will be pursuing an appeal of the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which already has blocked efforts by New Jersey and Delaware to avoid the clear terms of a 1992 law that prevents the expansion of sports wagering.

The NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and NCAA filed suit to block New Jersey’s latest attempt.  Maybe New Jersey should simply legalize gambling on whether its efforts to legalize gambling will ever succeed.

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Gruden says the “clock’s ticking” on Griffin

Gruden AP

Two years ago, Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III took the NFL by storm with a combination of running and passing that kept defenses off balance and guessing all year long.  Until he was injured while running.

Since then, an effort has been made to make Griffin more of a passer and less of a runner.  And it hasn’t worked.

Now?  Coach Jay Gruden sounds willing to consider having Griffin run some more as a last-ditch effort to make him more productive.

“It’s a production-based business,” Gruden told Albert Breer of NFL Media.  “We haven’t won many games lately with him.  We gotta figure out a way to get in the end zone.  We just have to score.  I don’t care how we do it.  If it’s running the zone-read, I don’t care.  Quarterback sneaks, I don’t give a damn.  We gotta find a way to utilize him where we can get productive drives and stay away from negative plays and have some consistency.”

Consistency and the absence of negative plays could help Griffin rebuild his shattered confidence.  Which Gruden may have further shattered while discussing Griffin’s shattered confidence on the record.

“His biggest thing, he’s been coddled for so long,” Gruden said of Griffin.  “It’s not a negative, he’s just been so good, he just hasn’t had a lot of negative publicity.  Everybody’s loved him.  Some adversity is striking hard at him now, and how he reacts to that off the field, his mental state of mind, how it affects his confidence, hopefully it’s not in a negative way.  I read Drew Brees said after a couple interceptions, ‘I’m never gonna lose confidence, I’m gonna come out firing all the time.’”

And then Gruden may have stomped the shattered pieces of confidence into powder.

“He’s auditioned long enough,” Gruden said of Griffin.  “Clock’s ticking.  He’s gotta play.  We’ll see. . . .  We want Robert to excel, we really do.  But the last two games, it hasn’t been very good, anywhere.  We gotta play better around him.  And the biggest thing for us as playcallers, and for him, we just have to come together and jell with plays he’s comfortable with.  That takes time.  But we don’t have a lot of time.”

Griffin’s time could run out because of the backup who won two games before Griffin returned from injury.

“We have a guy behind him that played pretty well, and people are looking, ‘OK, he’s 2-0,’” Gruden said regarding Colt McCoy.  “There’s always pressure on the quarterback to perform.  And if you don’t perform, like any other position, somebody’s behind you pushing you.”

The way Gruden has been talking lately, maybe McCoy will end up pushing Griffin to the bench.  Or maybe right out of town.

Unless Griffin pushes another head coach out of town first.

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Refs missed a Cutler fumble, but replay couldn’t fix it

cutler AP

One of the limitations of instant replay was demonstrated on Sunday in Chicago, where Jay Cutler fumbled, only to have the officials wrongly rule it an incomplete pass — and to have the referee unable to do anything about it on a replay rule.

As explained by NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino in a video distributed by the league, players on the field stopped when they heard an official blow a whistle for what he thought was an incomplete pass by Cutler. Replays clearly showed that Cutler had fumbled, not thrown a pass, but that didn’t matter because if the players stopped playing when they heard an official blow a play dead, there’s nothing instant replay reviews can do about it.

“The problem is, everybody has stopped,” Blandino said. “The rule is, if the ruling on the field is an incomplete pass or down by contact but it’s really a fumble, in order to give the ball to the recovering team, that recovery has to happen in the immediate continuing action. So players can’t stop as a result of the dead ball ruling, as a result of the whistle.”

Blandino acknowledged that video of the play clearly showed Cutler had fumbled, and a Vikings player was the first to pick it up — but only after everyone had stopped playing because of the whistle.

“It is a fumble, you can see that,” Blandino said. “The referee ruled incomplete pass. It should’ve been a fumble.”

Bears fans saw a similar play last year, when an Aaron Rodgers fumble that most of the players on the field thought was an incomplete pass was picked up by the Packers and run in for a touchdown. The difference in that play was that the players stopped because they thought it was an incomplete pass, not because an official blew a whistle. On that play, the officials on the field correctly ruled that Rodgers had fumbled, and they correctly allowed the play to keep going even though most of the players on the field thought it was an incomplete pass.

“What we teach is do not blow the whistle,” Blandino said.

Unfortunately, the ref in Sunday’s game didn’t follow that teaching.

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Week 12 injury report roundup

Larry Fitzgerald, Mohammed Seisay AP

Over the course of the week, there are a lot of posts about the most prominent injured players but we know that you might not see all of them and that some others may fall through the cracks. As a result, we’ll comb through all the injury reports every Friday afternoon so that there’s one stop for all the news from every team playing on Sunday. So, without further delay, the injury report roundup for Week 12 of the 2014 season.

Browns at Falcons

Browns tight end Jordan Cameon (concussion) and wide receiver Marlon Moore (hamstring) are out, with linebacker Karlos Dansby (knee, doubtful) likely to join them on the sideline. Safety Johnson Bademosi (concussion) and linebacker Jabaal Sheard (foot) are both questionable. The Falcons have ruled out cornerback Robert Alford (wrist) and tackle Jonathan Scott (hamstring), but the rest of the 53-man roster is healthy enough to play.

Buccaneers at Bears

It’s a four-man injury report for Tampa and all four — linebacker Lavonte David (hamstring), running back Doug Martin (ankle), running back Charles Sims (ankle) and cornerback Alterraun Verner (hamstring) — are questionable. The Bears ruled out defensive end Trevor Scott (knee), linebacker Darryl Sharpton (hamstring) and wide receiver Chris Williams (hamstring) while listing tackle Eben Britton (illness), cornerback Demontre Hurst (knee) and tackle Jordan Mills (ribs) as questionable.

Bengals at Texans

Bengals running back Giovani Bernard (hip,collarbone) is set to return after being listed as probable, but linebacker Vontaze Burfict (knee) is out again this week. Defensive end Margus Hunt (ankle) is also out. The Texans will wait to make a call on running back Arian Foster (groin, questionable) for a second straight week and they’ll continue to be without cornerback Kareem Jackson (knee).

Jaguars at Colts

The Jaguars ruled out defensive end Andre Branch (groin) and linebacker Jeremiah George (ankle), but the rest of the roster is healthy heading into Sunday. The Colts ruled out tight end Dwayne Allen (ankle), tackle Gosder Cherilus (shoulder) and cornerback Greg Toler (concussion). Defensive tackle Arthur Jones (ankle, probable) is set to return.

Packers at Vikings

It will be a week without tight end Brandon Bostick (hip) for the Packers. Cornerback Jarrett Bush (groin), linebacker Jay Elliott (hamstring), defensive end Datone Jones (ankle) and linebacker Nick Perry (shoulder) are all questionable. The Vikings added running back Ben Tate this week because Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon were banged up. Asiata (concussion) won’t play, but McKinnon (back) is probable. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (knee), wide receiver Greg Jennings (rib), tackle Matt Kalil (knee) and wide receiver Jarius Wright (hamstring) are questionable.

Lions at Patriots

The Lions will wait to make a final determination on running back Reggie Bush (ankle) and they’ve ruled out defensive tackle Nick Fairley (knee) and guard Larry Warford (knee) for another week. New England listed tackle Marcus Cannon (hip), defensive end Dominique Easley (knee) and safety Nate Ebner (finger) as questionable. Quarterback Tom Brady (ankle) is probable, though.

Titans at Eagles

Cornerback Marqueston Huff (hamstring) is unlikely to play for the Titans, who will wait to make final calls on wide receiver Justin Hunter (knee), linebacker Derrick Morgan (knee), safety Daimion Stafford (shoulder) and cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson (back) after listing them as questionable. Quarterback Nick Foles (collarbone) remains out, but the rest of the Eagles on the injury report, including offensive lineman Matt Tobin (concussion), are probable.

Rams at Chargers

The Rams will try to win against another AFC West team without defensive tackle Alex Carrington (knee), cornerback Lamarcus Joyner (groin), cornerback Marcus Roberson (ankle) and wide receiver Damian Williams (hamstring). They hold out hope for tight end Jared Cook (back), tight end Cory Harkey (quadricep) and long snapper Jake McQuaide (back) after listing them as questionable. Chargers safety Jahleel Addae (concussion) and center Rich Ohrnberger (ankle, back) are both questionable and quarterback Philip Rivers (chest) is probable.

Cardinals at Seahawks

Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (knee, questionable) will be a game-time decision after missing practice all week. Defensive tackle Ed Stinson (toe) is out. The Seahawks expect to have linebacker Bobby Wagner (toe, probable) back in the lineup, but cornerback Marcus Burley (hamstring), linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis (shoulder) and center Max Unger (knee, ankle) have all been ruled out. Guard James Carpenter (ankle) is questionable.

Dolphins at Broncos

The Dolphins ruled out linebacker Jonathan Freeny (hamstring) and have little hope that cornerback Cortland Finnegan (ankle, doubtful) or tight end Charles Clay (knee, doubtful) will play. Running back Lamar Miller (shoulder, knee) and guard Daryn Colledge (back) are both questionable. The Broncos ruled out running backs Ronnie Hillman (foot) and Montee Ball (groin), but wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (concussion) was listed as probable after practicing on Friday. Tight end Julius Thomas (ankle) didn’t practice and is listed as questionable.

Redskins at 49ers

Defensive end Chris Baker (chest) and tight end Jordan Reed (hamstring) are out for the Redskins, who listed two offensive linemen — guard Shawn Lauvao (concussion) and left tackle Trent Williams (knee, ankle) — as questionable. Defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey (biceps) won’t make his return this week and right tackle Anthony Davis (concussion) is out as well. Cornerback Tramaine Brock (hamstring), wide receiver Bruce Ellington (ankle), tight end Vance McDonald (hip) and linebacker Dan Skuta (ankle) are all questionable for the home team.

Cowboys at Giants

Cornerback Tyler Patmon (knee, ankle) is out, but the Cowboys are otherwise free of injury concerns as they return from the bye week. The Giants ruled out defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins (calf), right tackle Justin Pugh (quadricep) and linebacker Jacquian Williams (concussion) with Geoff Schwartz (toe, probable) expected to take Pugh’s spot in the lineup.

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Roman Harper fined $8,268 for unnecessary roughness

Atlanta Falcons v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

Panthers safety Roman Harper has drawn a $8,268 fine from the NFL for an unnecessary roughness penalty in Sunday’s loss to Atlanta, the league confirmed to PFT on Friday.

Harper was flagged for unnecessary roughness after tackling Falcons wide receiver Roddy White around the helmet in the third quarter. As White was falling, both of Harper’s hands contacted White’s helmet, and Harper punctuated the tackle with a little push to the head with his left hand. This started a brief confrontation between Harper, White (who struck the safety in the facemask) and Falcons tailback Antone Smith (who shoved Harper). Ultimately, Harper drew the 15-yard penalty.

A ninth-year pro, the 31-year-old Harper has started all 11 games for Carolina this season, recording 41 tackles and three interceptions.

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Report: Chiefs to sign Jason Avant

Pittsburgh Steelers v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

The Chiefs went an 11th game without a touchdown catch by a wide receiver in Oakland on Thursday night and Friday has brought a reported change to the receiving corps.

It’s a familiar face to head coach Andy Reid.

Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reports that the Chiefs are signing Jason Avant, who worked out for the team on Friday. The Chiefs haven’t made an announcement, but Avant’s agent Doug Hendrickson congratulated his client on finding a new team.

Avant was released by the Panthers earlier this week after catching 21 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown in 11 games for the team. Avant was critical of the team’s offensive approach at the end of last week’s loss to the Falcons, though the Panthers explained the move as one designed to get more playing time for younger receivers.

It was Avant’s first year with the Panthers after spending the first eight years of his career with the Eagles. The first seven of those years came when Reid was in charge of the team and Avant had 259 catches for 3,199 yards and 10 touchdowns as a regular in the team’s offense.

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Tickets to be free for Jets-Bills in Detroit

Ford Field AP

Tickets for Monday night’s Jets-Bills game at Detroit’s Ford Field will be free, general-admission seats, the Lions announced Friday.

Bills season-ticket holders are being offered free tickets beginning today, as are Lions season-ticket owners. All other ticket giveaways will begin Saturday, according to the Lions.

Monday night’s game will start at 7 p.m. Eastern. The NFL moved the game to Detroit on Thursday because of heavy snow in the Buffalo metropolitan area.

The Lions also announced they would hold an in-game raffle to benefit the American Red Cross of Western and Central New York Disaster Relief Fund.

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Patrick Willis undergoes toe surgery, declares it successful

St. Louis Rams v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

Patrick Willis had surgery today.

And judging by the smile on his face, it was a successful one.

The 49ers linebacker had surgery on the toe problem that landed him on season-ending injured reserve.

“Surgery went well thank u all for the support and heartfelt wishes. Determined to get back on that field and be better than ever. Road back starts now! #alwaysbelieve,” he wrote on Instagram.

This has been an upside down year for the 49ers in many respects, and losing Willis will be tough.

Rookie replacement Chris Borland has played solidly, but things aren’t the same without their leader in the middle, as the 49ers scrap for a playoff berth.

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Rodney McLeod not fined for hit that concussed Emmanuel Sanders

Denver Broncos v St. Louis Rams Getty Images

During the Rams’ 22-7 victory over the Broncos last Sunday, safety Rodney McLeod knocked Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders out of the game with a concussion when he hit Sanders while Sanders was trying to catch a ball from Peyton Manning.

McLeod was flagged for the hit during the game, although the chance for repeated viewings it didn’t look like McLeod violated the league’s rules on contacting a defenseless receiver. The league often fines players it feels were guilty of such penalties, but PFT has confirmed with the league that McLeod has not been fined.

It doesn’t sound like that will be greeted as bad news by Sanders. The receiver said after Friday’s practice that he thought it was a clean hit while also wishing McLeod made more of a play on the ball.

“I think it was a legal hit. Obviously, [McLeod] didn’t hit me in the head or lead with the head. He hit me with the shoulder. But in terms of the intentions of targeting, I feel like the guy could have had an opportunity to go for the ball, but I think his intentions the whole time were to come over and deliver a blow. That’s the only thing that I’m not too happy about,” Sanders said, via ESPN.com. “I feel like the National Football League, although it is a violent game, you’re also supposed to protect your brother. And most free safeties, they like interceptions. Obviously, his intent was to try and make a statement, and I guess he did.”

Sanders has been listed as probable to play Sunday after practicing on Friday for the first time this week.

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Union questions Harold Henderson’s neutrality

Peterson Getty Images

On Friday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell appointed former NFL executive Harold Henderson to resolve the appeal filed by Vikings running back Adrian Peterson under the personal conduct policy.

The NFL Players Association does not believe that the action satisfies its request for a neutral third-party arbitrator.

“A long-time NFL Executive and current legal consultant cannot, by definition, be a neutral arbitrator,” the union said in a statement released to PFT.

The NFL appointed Henderson without addressing the union’s request for a neutral third-party arbitrator.  The league previously appointed former U.S. Judge Barbara Jones to handle the appeal of Ray Rice’s indefinite suspension.

Judge Jones ultimately required Goodell to testify at the Rice appeal hearing, over the strenuous objection of the NFL.  That ruling may or may not have influenced the NFL’s willingness to appoint a true outsider to handle Peterson’s case.

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Lions trying to pull one of the bigger surprises of Belichick’s tenure

Denver Broncos v New England Patriots Getty Images

The Patriots are seven-point home favorites Sunday vs. Detroit. That may not sound like a lot of points — just a touchdown and an extra point. And the Lions, at 7-3 and tied with Green Bay atop the NFC North, are tougher-than-usual underdogs.

But with the Patriots, those seven points can seem like 70.

According to Spreadapedia.com, and as noted for “The Linemakers” of Sporting News, the Patriots have recorded 50 wins and just four losses as home regular-season favorites of seven points or more in Bill Belichick’s 15 seasons as head coach — a 92.6 percent success rate.

By contrast, since Belichick became New England’s coach in 2000, all other NFL clubs have won about four in every five games as seven-point regular-season home favorites (681-175-2, 79.5 percent). It should be noted two sizable favorites lost just last Sunday — Washington (-7) and New Orleans (-8.5).

The Patriots, meanwhile, are 2-0 as favorites of seven or more this season. Since 2000, the lone regular-season underdogs of seven-plus points to knock off New England were the 2006 Jets (+10.5), the 2008 Dolphins (+12.5), the 2011 Giants (+9.5) and 2012 Cardinals (+13.5).

In the playoffs, the Patriots are 9-2 straight-up as home favorites of at least seven points, with the only defeats to the 2010 Jets (+9.5) and 2012 Ravens (+8).

Interestingly enough, the Patriots aren’t great bets as big home favorites, covering in just 24-of-54 regular-season games and just 5-of-11 playoff contests when laying seven points or more since 2000.

Still, there’s a difference between wedging the door open with your foot and having said door slammed on said foot.

In short, in a league where big favorites generally take care of business, the Patriots almost always get the job done.

Which is why they’re the Patriots.

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Ricardo Lockette fined $10,000 after last week’s ejection

Ricardo Lockette AP

Seahawks wide receiver Ricardo Lockette joined running back Marshawn Lynch in returning a lost wallet earlier this week and now he’s joined Lynch as the recipient of a fine from the NFL.

PFT has confirmed with the league that Lockette has been fined $10,000 for the actions that led him to be ejected from last Sunday’s loss to the Chiefs. At the tail end of a long De’Anthony Thomas punt return, Lockette responded to a shove from Chiefs defensive back Kurt Coleman by throwing a punch that connected with Coleman’s helmet. Lockette was penalized and ejected from the game as a result.

While Lockette has no one to blame but himself for throwing the punch or getting tossed from the game, he can grumble a bit about the circumstances that led to the punch.

Upon replay, officials ruled that Thomas stepped out of bounds well before he was tackled on the Seattle 40-yard-line and there likely wouldn’t have been an altercation had they made the correct ruling on the field in the first place.

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Rob Gronkowski fined $8,268 for bouncer move

New England Patriots v Indianapolis Colts Getty Images

Rob Gronkowski is going to have to work a lot of weekends as a bouncer to make up for this one.

The league office tells PFT that Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was fined $8,268 for unnecessary roughness during last week’s game against the Colts.

The fine stemmed from his “blocking” Colts safety Sergio Brown out of bounds and into a cameraman late in their Sunday night win.

Gronkowski joked afterward he had thrown Brown “out of the club.”

Now he gets to make a donation instead of paying the cover charge.

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Larry Fitzgerald officially questionable for Sunday

Larry Fitzgerald AP

The Cardinals practiced without wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald again on Friday, making it an entire week of missed practices for the veteran.

That’s not enough to rule him out for Sunday’s game against the Seahawks, however. Fitzgerald is listed as questionable and coach Bruce Arians said, via Darren Urban of the team’s website, that the team will monitor him over the weekend before making a game-time decision about his status on Sunday afternoon.

Fitzgerald has maintained an optimistic attitude about his chances of playing all week and said that his knee has been feeling better, but the Cardinals have to weigh how much he can help them in a diminished state against the possibility that playing him against Seattle leaves him compromised moving into the future.

The 9-1 start to the season has left the Cardinals in a very strong position heading into the final six games, but three of those games are against the Seahawks and 49ers so they definitely don’t want to lose sight of the end goal by taking too many risks this weekend.

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The Ibillarod: Bills send snowmobiles to get players to stadium

Wintry Weather AP

As the Bills are trying to get to Detroit to practice tonight, they’ve had to employ some unique measures to get to the airport.

With many players snowed in by this week’s blizzard, the team sent out snowmobiles to collect some of them, according to Mike Rodak of ESPN.com. They finally collected all 53 players, and are en route now.

There has been a driving ban in greater Buffalo after this week’s storms, which dumped nearly eight feet (FEET!) of snow in some places.

Not all were lucky enough to get a ride, as wide receiver Chris Hogan tweeted that he was walking to Ralph Wilson Stadium, where buses were ready to take players to the airport.

What would have been better is a dog sled, as they could have had themselves an Ibillarod. Either that, or sent out the St. Bernards with flasks for the stragglers, and those who don’t get to escape to balmy Detroit.

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