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Tracy Porter cleared to play for Broncos

Tracy Porter AP

Denver Broncos cornerback Tracy Porter has been cleared for game action and could make his first appearance in six weeks against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.

Porter has missed the Broncos’ last fives games after being sidelined due to experiencing symptoms similar to the seizure he suffered during training camp in August. According to Mike Klis of the Denver Post, just because he’s cleared doesn’t mean Porter will play against the Chiefs this week.

“I finally made the plane,” Porter said. “Now, we’ll see if I make the field.”

With Chris Harris and Tony Carter playing well in Porter’s absence, Porter may not be immediately be inserted back in the lineup. He may not even be active on game day. Even Porter would understand being held out with the way his teammates are playing.

“Chris and Tony, everybody has been playing great,” Porter said. “Why would you stop their chemistry? I wouldn’t stop that chemistry. We’ll see what happens.”

For the season, Porter has appeared in just five games with 16 tackles, six passes defensed and an interception that was returned for a touchdown in the Broncos season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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Drew Brees remains confident in Saints’ direction

Atlanta Falcons v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

A lot of people thought that the Saints would be playing into January, but their season will come to an end before the end of 2014 after losing five of their last seven games to crash out of the playoff picture.

The Saints need a win over the Buccaneers to avoid their first 10-loss season since 2005, the year before quarterback Drew Brees and coach Sean Payton arrived in New Orleans and ushered in the most successful period in the history of the franchise. Things have gone off track this year, but Brees doesn’t need any explanations about why he should be confident about the team’s ability to keep that run going in 2015 and beyond.

“This year did not dissuade me in any way from feeling the way I always have about this team and myself and what we have here and what we’re continuing to build here,” Brees said, via ESPN.com. “I’m very confident. I look around me at this team, and I feel like we have all the pieces in place, knowing we’re going to go out and add pieces as well. I’m very confident in our management, our general manager Mickey Loomis to do that, Sean Payton, our entire coaching staff.”

You wouldn’t expect Brees to say that the bottom had fallen out of the franchise, but a messy cap situation and the need to fix a defense that broke down this year top the list of reasons to dim expectations for the Saints’ immediate future. The former is usually manageable, but there are no guarantees on the latter and the Saints have learned in two of the last three years that ranking at the top of the league offensively isn’t enough to overcome a defense that offers token resistance to the opposition.

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League fines Lynch $11,050 for unsportsmanlike conduct

Lynch Getty Images

Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch won’t be saying “thank you” to the league office this week.  (He may instead be using a different two-word expression that ends in “you.”)

Per a league source, Lynch received a fine in the amount of $11,050 for his backward dive while grabbing his crotch into the end zone at the tail end of his career-long 79-yard touchdown run.  Lynch wasn’t flagged for the move, which was deemed to be unsportsmanlike conduct.

It’s the same finisher Lynch applied nearly four years ago, at the tail end of his “Beastquake” run against the Saints in the playoffs.  Monday’s edition of PFT on NBCSN included a split-screen of the eerily similar runs with the identical endings.

In the 2010 playoffs, Lynch was neither flagged nor fined for the move.  Last year, the NFL fined Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan $10,000 for doing the same thing.

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Geno Smith: I’m part of the problem, I want to be part of the solution

New York Jets AP

All Geno Smith wants for Christmas is another chance to be the Jets’ starting quarterback.

Smith will make his 29th start at quarterback for the Jets over the last two seasons when they close out their 2014 season against the Dolphins on Sunday and spent some time ruminating about the previous 28 on Wednesday. Smith’s belief that he “underachieved” this year will be easier for many people to swallow than his assertion that he’s improved “to the point where I can go out there and be very productive. Smith would like a chance to convince the masses of that improvement in 2015.

“I see myself being the quarterback here for a long time,” Smith said, via the New York Post. “I see myself helping this team turn things around. Obviously, I’m a part of the reason why we are in this position, so I’d love to be a part of the solution.”

Figuring out Smith’s chances of starting next year are all but impossible before knowing who will be coaching the Jets and running the front office, but the 2013 second-round pick is almost certainly going to be around when the team starts work on 2015 and there’s no guarantee that there will be a surefire starter added to the roster in the offseason. That should give him an opportunity to show he can be part of the solution, although there’s a need for further improvement before anyone will be banking on Smith for the long term.

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Lions haven’t pulled many big road upsets over the years

Detroit Lions v Phoenix Cardinals Getty Images

With a victory Sunday at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field, the Lions will win the NFC North.

They will also have pulled off a major road upset, something they haven’t often done in recent years. Oddsmakers have made the Lions 7.5-point underdogs against the Packers, who have not lost at Lambeau all season.

According to the Spreadapedia database, the Lions have lost 24 road games in a row as underdogs of seven points or more. Their last win against a home favorite of seven-plus points came on December 31, 2006, when 2-13 Detroit (+14) stunned Dallas.

Digging deeper, the numbers don’t get much prettier.

Since 1978, the Lions are 8-96 as road underdogs of seven points or more (.077). Moreover, they are 2-25 in December vs. home favorites of at least seven points (.074).

The Lions’ last December road win of significance came in 1993, when Detroit (+7) knocked off the then-Phoenix Cardinals. The Lions would go on to win the NFC Central.

Alas, Detroit hasn’t won a division title since. But the Lions can end that drought in style on Sunday — and while pulling one of the most important road upsets in their history.

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Le’Veon Bell: It’s “pick your poison” against Steelers offense

Le'Veon Bell AP

Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell had a good week.

He was selected to go to the Pro Bowl and named the MVP of the Steelers by his teammates in recognition of the leap he’s taken in his second season. Bell leads the AFC in rushing and he’s set team records for yards from scrimmage and receiving yards by a running back to help the Steelers get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2011.

Bell’s production has slowed a bit in the last two weeks as the Falcons and Chiefs have held him to 192 total yards after Bell topped 200 yards in each of Pittsburgh’s three previous outings. Bell’s not feeling down about that, though, because he’s seen the way the choice to key on him has opened up things up for the rest of the offense.

“I wouldn’t say [it’s] frustrating,” Bell said, via the Southwestern Pennsylvania Observer-Reporter. “Teams are obviously trying to slow down the run a little bit but they can’t stop the pass when they do that. Pick your poison.”

With Ben Roethlisberger second in the NFL in passing yards and Antonio Brown leading the league in receptions and receiving yards, that’s a pretty apt description of what defenses are faced with when lining up against the Steelers this season. That versatility has helped them to the top of the league’s offensive rankings while mitigating the impact of a defense that’s been leakier than we’re used to seeing from Steelers playoff teams.

If that defense can hold up, the offensive balance should make the Steelers a tough out in January whether they’re playing at Heinz Field or on the road.

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Rams, Seahawks get Christmas off

Santa

The calendar says it’s Christmas, but the work week says it’s Thursday.  And 16 NFL games will be played on Sunday.

Which makes Thursday an important day of preparation.  Which makes it a little surprising (pleasantly) to see that both the Rams and Seahawks have opted to pull the plug on practice, giving their players the day off.

Both teams have submitted estimated injury reports for practices that won’t happen today.  For Seattle, the most troubling disclosure comes from the fact that running back Marshawn Lynch, if practice had in fact occurred, would not have practiced due to a back injury.  Lynch didn’t practice Wednesday, for the same reason.

The good news is that tackle Russell Okung would have fully participated, a day after fully participating due to a chest injury that caused him to miss Sunday night’s win over the Cardinals.  Center Max Unger, who has missed the last five games with knee and ankle injuries, also would have practiced on a limited basis — as he did on Wednesday.

Also missing practice on Wednesday and the practice that didn’t happen on Thursday were defensive end Demarcus Dobbs (ankle), receiver Jermaine Kearse (hamstring), tight end Cooper Helfet (ribs), receiver Chris Matthews (hamstring), and cornerback Tharold Simon (shoulder).

Hopefully, they’ll rest, eat a few sandwiches, and be good to go on Friday.

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Richard Sherman thinks Marshawn Lynch is the NFL’s MVP

Lynch Getty Images

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson deserves consideration for the league’s MVP award.  Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman would give the honor to another member of the team.

Marshawn Lynch is playing MVP-caliber football,” Sherman said earlier this week, via the team’s official website.  “I remember the last time a running back got it — I think he had 2,000 yards and broke close to a record, but he also had 14 touchdowns, and Marshawn has 16 touchdowns. . . .

Sherman is referring to Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who had 2,097 yards in 2012.  Peterson actually had only 13 total touchdowns that year; 12 rushing and one receiving.  Still, touchdowns scored won’t influence the MVP vote unless Lynch scores four or more on Sunday and pushes his total 20 or above.

For Peterson, the 2,097 rushing yards — second in league history — got him the award.  With 1,246 rushing yards in 2014, Lynch currently is tied with 1975 Franco Harris for 243rd all time.  So Lynch would need to have a pretty big day against the Seahawks to move the needle in that regard.

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Logan Thomas settles down after shaky start to practice

Seattle Seahawks v Arizona Cardinals Getty Images

The Cardinals will give rookie Logan Thomas his first NFL start at quarterback this weekend against the 49ers as they try to close their regular season with a win that could give them the NFC West title and that means he’s getting his first extended time with the first team at practice this week.

Things were a bit rocky out of the gate on Wednesday. Coach Bruce Arians termed Thomas’s outing “shaky” in the early portion of practice, something that Thomas agreed with while also agreeing with Arians that “it got better and better” as he took more reps. Thomas said that it is different learning the offense as the third-stringer he’s been for much of the season and actually executing it, something Arians indicated would be the rookie’s biggest challenge.

“He’s worked, fundamentally, extremely hard and gotten much better,” Arians said, via ESPN.com. “But putting those fundamentals to use in the offense, that’s two totally different things.”

The Cardinals remain hopeful that Drew Stanton will be healthy enough to start their first playoff game, which will be at the NFC South winner if they can’t win and get help from the Rams on Sunday. If Stanton can’t go, though, they’d feel a lot more comfortable with their situation if Thomas’s fundamental improvement translates to a competent performance in Week 17.

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A.J. Green’s injured arm “feeling a little better”

A.J. Green AP

A big game from wide receiver A.J. Green would go a long way toward helping the Bengals secure the AFC North title in Sunday night’s game against the Steelers, but the chances of getting that big game have a lot to do with the status of Green’s injured arm.

Green bruised his right biceps when he got hit by Broncos safety T.J. Ward early in last Monday night’s victory and didn’t have a catch while trying to play through the injury. Green didn’t practice on Wednesday, but said the arm was “feeling a little better” a couple of days after suffering the injury.

Green still expects to play on Sunday night, which comes at the end of a trying season. The wideout missed three games and almost all of another because of a toe injury that has kept Green, who said he was surprised to make the Pro Bowl, from feeling totally comfortable this season.

“It was definitely the most challenging, because you’ve missed so many games and you have to work back into the groove,” Green said, via the Cincinnati Enquirer. “You don’t have time to get all the timing you need.”

Green’s not the only Bengal dealing with medical issues this week. Quarterback Andy Dalton went home with the flu on Wednesday and three other members of the team — tight end Jermaine Gresham, cornerback Terence Newman and safety Reggie Nelson — were also under the weather.

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Ryan Tannehill: I feel I’ve improved across the board

Ryan Tannehill AP

Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s third NFL season is coming to a close and he’s got reason to feel good about his performance this season.

He’s en route to setting new bests in completion percentage, yards per attempt and just about every other positive metric used to measure the success of a quarterback, which is a pretty good way to cap a year that started with plenty of doubts about whether Tannehill would be the right man to lead the offense in Miami.

“I feel like I’m better all-around,” Tannehill said, via ESPN.com. “I think I’ve grown throughout the season and gotten better each week. The guys around me have been playing well at the same time. When the whole offense elevates its play, it’s easy to get better.”

The Dolphins will be making a decision about Tannehill’s 2016 option in the coming months, something that represents the start of serious contemplation about whether he’s the franchise quarterback the Dolphins wanted with the eighth pick of the 2012 draft. Tannehill made his strongest case yet that he can be that quarterback, which likely helped Joe Philbin keep his job and the continuity should in turn help Tannehill continue to grow as a player.

If that doesn’t pay off in a winning season in 2015, continuity probably won’t be the order of the day so the charge for next season in Miami is clear.

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Merry Christmas to all

Whoville

Sources close to me tell me it’s Christmas morning.  Hopefully, sources close to you will allow you to have a memorable, safe, and happy day, spending it with family and friends.

We’ll be working sporadically or more throughout the day, in large part because it’s not really work.  And because we realize that plenty of you have new computers, laptops, tablets, phones, and whatever newfangled Electro-Who-Cardio-Floox allows you to connect to the Internet and get updates on your favorite teams and players as Week 17 looms.

So have a cup of cheer and sit back to see if we have a few too many cups of cheer before typing up a post.  Again.

And thanks as always for your support.  You’ve helped make this thing whatever it is that it is, and we’ll always be grateful for whatever that is that that is.

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Panthers coach and family replaced gifts for break-in victims

Carolina Panthers v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

Panthers defensive line coach Eric Washington did something far more important than design a gameplan for the Falcons this week.

He did the work of Santa Claus for a family in need too.

According to Rad Berky of WCNC, Washington and his family saw a report about a Charlotte family whose home was broken into. Crystal Davis was a single mother of five children, working a pair of jobs to buy presents for her children. But they were stolen by thieves last Sunday.

Washington’s family, including wife Amy and sister Angela, was so moved by the story they went shopping to replace all the gifts.

Oh thank you so much, we are your number one fans,” Davis said. “This has turned out to be an awesome Christmas. I think its the best one yet.”

“We are just so thrilled to be able to share the holiday with Ms. Davis and her family,” Amy Washington said. “We think every child should wake up and have a smile on Christmas morning.”

Thanks to their generosity, another family did.

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Rex Ryan thinks Aaron Donald can’t hold Sheldon Richardson’s jock

Richardson Getty Images

Rex Ryan is going out in a blaze of glory.

The soon-to-be-former Jets head coach met with the media on Christmas Eve, one day after the NFL announced the players who qualified for the Pro Bowl.  And Ryan objected to the failure of defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson to make it by questioning the skills of a guy who did.

After saying Ryan was “kind of shocked” by the snub of Sheldon, Ryan took an indirect shot at Rams rookie defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

“If it kept him out of the Pro Bowl because some guy had ‘X’ amount of sacks, and that guy can’t hold his jock as a player, to be honest with you, I think that’s kind of strange to me,” Ryan said, via Dom Cosentino of NJ.com.

Ryan didn’t name names, but he said, “I guess you guys will figure out who I’m talking about.”  Cosentino, citing an unnamed source, explains that Ryan was indeed talking about Donald.

“Clearly, the guys missed on Sheldon Richardson,” Ryan said. “You’ve got to look at the big picture … I see the tapes. This guy deserves to be in there. There’s no doubt about it.”

A combined vote of players, coaches, and fans determines the Pro Bowlers.

While Donald and Richardson play in different conferences, the Pro Bowl players currently are compiled without regard to AFC or NFC.  So Donald took a spot that could have gone to Richardson.

While Richardson didn’t specifically call out anyone who made it instead of him, the second-year player admitted that his reaction to not making the team was “too explicit for TV.”

Apparently, he didn’t watch Hard Knocks when the Jets were the featured team and Ryan was the star.

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Michael Crabtree can’t wait to see what happens this offseason

San Francisco 49ers v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

The 49ers season came apart weeks ago, leaving little for anyone to look forward to other than the end of the season-long Jim Harbaugh saga or their own future if their contract is coming to its conclusion.

Wide receiver Michael Crabtree is in the latter group. Crabtree will be a free agent this offseason and said Wednesday that he hasn’t had any talks with the team about returning. He evaded a question about whether he wants to return, saying that “it depends,” but did say that he’s excited to see what happens come the offseason.

“I’ve grown a lot, seen a lot,” Crabtree said, via CSNBayArea.com. “I feel like we’ve done a lot as a team. I feel like I’ve contributed a lot to the team. Feel like the sky’s the limit for me, and I’m taking it one day at a time. I can’t wait to see what’s next, the next chapter in my career. I’m going to go hard every day. I’m going to go hard every year, try to get better. Try to maximize my talent.”

Crabtree isn’t heading into free agency on a high note. He’s caught 64 passes for 657 yards, a career-low in average yards per catch, and has never built on what looked like a breakout season in 2012. The overall offensive issues with the Niners surely didn’t help, but Crabtree’s appeal to the league come March isn’t an obvious one thanks to his middling production this year.

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Odell Beckham picks up $10,000 fine

St. Louis Rams v New York Giants AP

Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham has notched a lot of firsts during his rookie season, but not all of them are positives.

On the other side of the ledger is Beckham’s first fine as an NFL player. Giants players have received word from the league about fines levied for their behavior during a chaotic game with the Rams that featured three ejections after a brawl on the sideline.

Beckham was hit late by Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree to touch off that brawl and he’s been fined $10,000 for kicking at Ogletree when Ogletree was on the ground after the tackle. Ogletree was penalized for a late hit, but said Wednesday that he hasn’t heard from the league about a fine.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher said that he thought Giants kicker Josh Brown should have been ejected for kicking at a Rams player, but he was penalized and fined $8,200 instead. Brown said, via the Associated Press, that he plans to appeal.

Defensive end Damontre Moore joined wide receiver Preston Parker with a $15,000 fine after getting ejected for throwing punches during the melee and long snapper Zak DeOssie was fined for a late hit. With defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins also picking up a fine for roughing the passer, Giants players wound up handing over more than $72,000 for their actions in a game that saw players on both teams lose control of themselves far too often.

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