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Steelers teammates confident in Leftwich’s abilities

Byron Leftwich AP

Byron Leftwich knows no one is giving him much of a chance.

The Steelers are 0-4 against the Ravens without the injured Ben Roethlisberger, who is not going to play Sunday night because of a dislocated rib and sprained shoulder.

But the Steelers backup remains confident in his own abilities, as do the players around him.

“I know they’re saying, ‘Hey, man, they got a backup quarterback playing Sunday night against the Ravens’ and we understand nobody’s giving us a shot,” Leftwich said, via Alan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “That’s OK.”

While Roethlisberger is clearly their most important piece on offense, teammates are rallying behind Leftwich, with center Maurkice Pouncey saying: “I think we’ll do a great job with him. People are making this out to be bigger than it’s going to be.”

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Leftwich was “fully capable of running their whole package,” though there are significant differences.

First and foremost, what Leftwich lacks in mobility he makes up for in arm strength.

“Probably about 20-25 miles per hour,” wide receiver Mike Wallace said of the difference between Roethlisberger and Leftwich. “Byron’s ball comes out a lot faster. I like Byron’s ball. Ben has a nice soft touch on it, you just pluck out of the air and keep rolling. Byron, you definitely got to brace yourself because it’s coming.”

How well they’re able to adapt to the difference will determine whether the naysayers are right.

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Bryan Bulaga questionable due to concussion

New England Patriots v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

The Packers may need to turn to J.C. Tretter at right tackle again this weekend.

Right tackle Bryan Bulaga is questionable to play in Sunday’s game against the Buccaneers after suffering a concussion in last Sunday’s loss to the Bills. Tretter replaced him and struggled against the Bills defensive line during his time in the game, including a play that saw defensive end Mario Williams beat him for a sack and fumble of Aaron Rodgers that turned into a safety.

The Packers didn’t hold a formal practice on Friday, but coach Mike McCarthy said, via the Green Bay Press-Gazette, that Bulaga would have been limited if they did because he remains in the concussion protocol. McCarthy did say that Bulaga was making process, so he could still get out of the protocol in time for kickoff against the Bucs.

Cornerback Davon House has been ruled out again this week because of a shoulder injury and the team is hopeful that he’d be able to return for a possible playoff game in a couple of weeks.

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Ryan Lindley will start regardless of Drew Stanton’s status

Drew Stanton AP

The Cardinals are holding out hope that quarterback Drew Stanton’s knee will feel well enough for him to suit up on Sunday, but they aren’t wavering from their plan to start Ryan Lindley even if Stanton can play.

Coach Bruce Arians said Friday, via Darren Urban of the team’s website, that Stanton will be a game-time decision on Sunday after getting some practice time in during the week. Arians added that Stanton will be backing up Lindley in the event that decision leads to Stanton being in uniform.

If Stanton isn’t well enough to start, it’s a bit perplexing that the Cardinals would put him into the game at any point since they already have Logan Thomas on the roster to serve as relief for Lindley. Playing a rookie like Thomas against a defense like Seattle’s is hardly an ideal place to find yourself, but neither is playing a balky Stanton when you’ve already booked a ticket for the playoffs.

The Cardinals ruled out guard Jonathan Cooper because of a wrist injury. Paul Fanaika, who missed the last two games with an ankle injury, is expected to return to the lineup.

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Testimony suggests other NFL players drugged drinks

Sharper AP

The criminal cases involving former NFL safety Darren Sharper contain some of the most disturbing allegations ever made against a current or former pro football player.  Testimony generated in connection with one of the criminal cases suggests that other NFL players may have done some of the same things Sharper allegedly did.

Sharper is accused of being a serial rapist, using drugged drinks to incapacitate his victims.  Via Adam Grimm of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, an FBI agent has testified at a pre-trial hearing that one of Sharper’s co-defendants, Brandon Licciardi, told federal agents that, at a Las Vegas convention attended by multiple NFL players, one player told Licciardi that drinks had been spiked with drugs.

The FBI agent declined to name any of the involved players Licciardi mentioned.

“It’s possible I could mess it up,” FBI Special Agent Robert Blythe testified. “There are a couple.”

Blythe said that none of the other players are being investigated — yet.

“There could be investigations going forward.  There’s not currently,” Bythe testified.  “If given time, I intend to look into those allegations.”

Blythe also testified that Licciardi referred to the drugged drinks as “horny juice.”

Another agent, DeWayne Horner, testified that Sharper bet on football and baseball games.  Sharper allegedly lost $25,000 to Russians in California — and stiffed them.  (If that’s true, Sharper probably is far safer in prison.)

Apart from Sharper’s case raising the very troubling question of whether other players are rapists, it highlights the naivete that the league, fans, and the media display when assuming players aren’t betting on football, playing high-stakes fantasy football, or otherwise doing things that could, directly or indirectly, undermine the integrity of NFL games.

In light of the league’s new personal conduct policy, the situation gives rise to another important question.  Will the league affirmatively investigate the vague allegation that other players put drugs in women’s drinks?

UPDATE 3:16 p.m. ET:  “We would look into any information of this nature,” the league office told PFT in response to a request for comment.

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Just like old (sad) times: Buccaneers double-digit home underdogs vs. Packers

San Francisco 49ers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

Given the franchise’s many losing seasons, the Buccaneers being 12-point home underdogs to Green Bay on Sunday probably doesn’t rank as an all-time indignity for Tampa Bay.

That said, the Buccaneers haven’t often been home underdogs of this many points.

According to point spread records kept by Spreadapedia.com, the Buccaneers have only been home underdogs of 12-plus points on two other occasions since 1978. (The site’s records don’t go back any farther than ’78; it’s quite possible the ’76 and ’77 Bucs were major home underdogs at some point, too.)

In 1993, the Buccaneers were 14.5-point underdogs vs. visiting San Francisco, which shook off an early Tampa challenge to pull away for a 45-21 victory. And in 2009, the Patriots (-15.5) knocked off the Buccaneers 35-7 in London.

The 1993 Buccaneers were coached by Sam Wyche, who never had a winning record in his four seasons on the job (1992-1995). However, in his final year, the Buccaneers drafted Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, cornerstones for the franchise’s most successful stretch in history.

The 2009 Bucs, meanwhile, were coached by Raheem Morris, who led the Buccaneers to a 10-6 record in his second season. But in Year Three, the Bucs fell apart, and Morris lost his job.

While the 2014 Bucs are 2-12, eight of their losses are by eight points or less. Improvement in Lovie Smith’s second year on the job wouldn’t be a surprise, especially with the Bucs’ NFC South competition having its own problems. Nevertheless, this has been a trying season for the Buccaneers, and Sunday’s point spread, in its own way, tells a little of that story.

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Troy Polamalu not expected to play on Sunday

Troy Polamalu AP

The Steelers host the Chiefs on Sunday in a game that’s vital for both team’s chances of making the playoffs and it looks like the Steelers are going to have to try to win it without safety Troy Polamalu.

Polamalu has been out of practice all week after hurting his knee against the Falcons in last weekend’s Steelers win and the team listed him as doubtful for the matchup with Kansas City. By definition, that means he has a 25 percent chance of getting on the field although his lack of practice time and previous knee issues this season likely drop that even lower.

Polamalu missed two games earlier this year because of knee problems and he’s generally looked like a less effective player this year than he has over the course of his career. That may lead to some tough decisions about his future come the offseason as Polamalu is signed for two more years at salaries calling for more than he’s shown this season.

Cornerback Ike Taylor is also doubtful because of a variety of injuries and tight end Matt Spaeth is questionable because of an elbow injury.

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T.Y. Hilton is questionable, but they’re not ruling him out

Indianapolis Colts v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

The Colts are listing wide receiver T.Y. Hilton as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Cowboys, and he has taken the designation to heart.

Hilton told Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star that he felt “50-50,” in reference to his ankle injury, and he hasn’t practiced all week.

But Colts coach Chuck Pagano wasn’t ready to rule him out, saying “this guy is pretty special.”

Hilton leads the Colts in receptions and receiving yards, and they’ve already clinched their playoff berth via the AFC South title. So there’s a clear temptation to let him rest and recover for the postseason.

Right tackle Gosder Cherilus is officially out with his groin injury. Veteran wideout Reggie Wayne was held out of Friday’s practice, but it was for rest and he’s listed as probable.

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Anthony Barr done for year with knee surgery

Barr AP

Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr, who has missed the last two games with a knee injury, will miss the final two games of the season due to that injury.

Coach Mike Zimmer announced on Friday that Barr, the ninth overall pick in the draft, will have surgery on the knee.

“He played great,” Zimmer said of Barr.  “Played great.  And he’s a great football player.  Good kid.  Studies hard, does everything right.  He’s very conscientious, hard working. . . .  He’s already excited about getting back, getting this fixed and getting going.”

Zimmer called the procedure “very minor” before making an obvious observation that ranks among our favorites:  “Again, minor procedure.  When it’s on somebody else.”  But Zimmer added “it should be nothing” and later called it a “slight meniscus tear.”

Barr’s impact was a lot more than nothing in 2014.  He had four sacks, three interceptions, two forced fumbles, and the NFL equivalent of a partridge in a pear tree — a forced fumble, fumble recovery, and fumble recovery return for a touchdown in overtime as the Vikings beat the Bucs for what was Minnesota’s third win of the season.

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Doug Free, Zack Martin remain out of practice

Dallas Cowboys v Chicago Bears Getty Images

There’s been a lot of attention paid to running back DeMarco Murray this week as he tries to go from Monday hand surgery to Sunday’s lineup, but that’s not the only injury concern for the Cowboys.

It’s also not the only injury concern that could impact the team’s ability to run the ball against the Colts. Right tackle Doug Free and right guard Zack Martin are both dealing with ankle injuries and both players were out of practice for a third straight day on Friday. Coach Jason Garrett sounded pessimistic about Free’s chances of playing, but is holding out hope that Martin can make it to the field on Sunday.

“We’ll just see what he’s able to do today. Hopefully he can move around a little bit — did a great job in the game the other night, just fighting through it,” Garrett said, via the team’s website. “He’s worked very hard in his rehab, so we’ll see what he’s able to do today.”

It would be unusual for a rookie to play without any practice time during the week, but Martin’s 14 starts into his first NFL season and hasn’t shown much shakiness over the course of the season. Given how important offensive line play has been to the Cowboys’ success this season, we’d guess that he’ll have a strong shot of playing if his ankle cooperates over the next 48 hours.

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Bills officially activate Spiller

Spiller Getty Images

It’s official.  C.J. Spiller is back.

Placed on IR with designation to return after breaking a collarbone in October, it seemed unlikely the fifth-year tailback (and friend of PFT) would be back this year.  He returned to practice earlier this week, and the Bills officially have added him to the active roster.

The move gives Spiller an unexpected chance to make a strong closing argument before becoming a free agent.  He hadn’t done much before suffering the injury; he now has a chance to showcase the skills that helped him average six yards per carry en route to 1,244 rushing yards in 2012.  That same year, Spiller had more than 1,700 yards from scrimmage.

The ninth pick in the 2010 draft, Spiller has made more than $25 million in five seasons.  How much he makes in 2015 will hinge on what he does for the rest of 2014.

And getting a chance to play in the playoffs wouldn’t hurt.

Before the Bills can do that, they need to win Sunday in Oakland, a place where Buffalo hasn’t prevailed since 1966.  Spiller’s return can’t hurt.

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Drew Stanton not seen working early at Cardinals’ Friday practice

Arizona Cardinals v St. Louis Rams Getty Images

As the Cardinals began their final significant workout in advance of Sunday’s game vs. Seattle, their current starting quarterback was not among those practicing.

According to Darren Urban of AzCardinals.com, Drew Stanton was not taking part in drills during the portion of practice open to media. Instead, the quarterback donned a baseball cap and watched the proceedings off the side.

Stanton, who sprained the ACL and MCL in his right knee in the Cardinals’ Week 15 win at St. Louis, went through a limited practice on Thursday. However, given the nature of his injuries, his participation for Sunday has always seemingly been in doubt.

Ryan Lindley will start if Stanton is held out, with rookie Logan Thomas in reserve.

The Cardinals (11-3) have already clinched a playoff spot. They will win the NFC West and earn homefield advantage throughout the conference playoffs with a victory over Seattle (10-4).

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Peyton Manning back at work for Broncos

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The Broncos practiced without quarterback Peyton Manning on Thursday as Manning went for treatment on his thigh after stretching with the team.

There wasn’t much made of Manning’s absence and it appears there was good reason not to worry. Manning, who was also battling an illness against the Chargers last weekend, is back in drills with the rest of the squad on Friday, giving him plenty of time to work with his teammates before facing the Bengals on Monday night.

“At this time of year everybody, not just me, is dealing with different things physically,” Manning said Thursday, via the Denver Post. “So if you can get a little extra time to take care of your body, treatment or what not, I think guys take advantage of that, and hopefully that will pay off for us.”

Mike Klis of the Denver Post reports that Manning is moving well, “relatively speaking,” during the practice session. We’ll see if there are any updates on his condition later in the day, but it seems like a good bet that Manning is on track to play after his return to practice.

 

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C.J. Spiller probable to return Sunday

C.J. Spiller AP

An AFC wild-card contender looks set to get a key player back for the final two games.

Bills tailback C.J. Spiller will be activated from injured reserve/designated for return, coach Doug Marrone said Friday, according to the club’s official Twitter feed.

Spiller is probable to face the Raiders in Oakland on Sunday, the club said.

The 27-year-old Spiller has missed the last seven games with a broken clavicle. A dual-threat back with top speed, Spiller has rushed for 287 yards on 69 carries and caught 14 passes for 109 yards and one touchdown for 8-6 Buffalo, which is one game out of the final wild-card spot.

Spiller’s return gives the Bills a strong hand in the backfield, with Fred Jackson, Anthony Dixon and Bryce Brown also capable performers.

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Panthers list Cam Newton as probable for Sunday

Newton AP

To little surprise, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton will play on Sunday, only 12 days after a car accident that could have ended a lot worse than it did.

After missing the Week 15 win over the Buccaneers with a pair of fractured bones in his back, Newton is listed as probable for Sunday’s visit from the Browns.  It technically means there’s a virtual certainty Newton will be available for normal duty.

It also means that, barring something completely unforeseen, Newton will play in a game the Panthers desperately need to win in order to keep alive their slim hopes of winning the NFC South.

All signs have pointed toward Newton playing after missing only one week.  That’s the same amount of time Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo missed for the same injury, and Romo had other pre-existing back problems.

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Joe Thomas facing charges for discharging manure

Joe Thomas AP

Some days the jokes fall right into your lap.

According to the Associated Press, Browns left tackle Joe Thomas is accused of multiple enviornmental violations on his Wisconsin hunting land, including “discharging manure into a wetland.”

Considering his employer has been doing that along the banks of Lake Erie for the last few decades, we’ll assume he’ll have the support of management.

The report said the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources sent him a letter claiming he has built bridges and dams without permits, along with dredging a pond and tearing down a barn without notice.

The DNR wants to meet with him on Jan. 6 to discuss the violations, and he could face $10,000 a day in fines

There are actual environmental and property rights issues at play here, but let’s not kid ourselves.

Discharging manure. That’s all.

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Rashad Jennings not spotted practicing Friday

Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants Getty Images

The Giants could be short a key tailback for Sunday’s game at St. Louis.

Starter Rashad Jennings (ankle) wasn’t on the field at the outset of practice Friday, per Jordan Raanan of NJ.com. Raanan, who covers the club, said Jennings would not play against St. Louis. The 29-year-old tailback did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday, and a third straight day without working would, at the very least, leave his Week 16 status in some doubt.

The Giants’ final injury report will be released later today.

The 29-year-old Jennings has been limited to just three carries in the last two games for the Giants (5-9). Rookie Andre Williams will start and get the bulk of the carries against the Rams if Jennings cannot play.

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