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PFT’s Week 13 picks

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With 176 games completed, the gap has been cut from seven to two.

After a four-game sweep of our disagreements in Week 11, MDS posted another 3-1 mark in Week 12, making it very interesting over the final five weeks.

This week, we have only one disagreement.  So it’ll be down to one or back to three by Monday.  (I are good at the math.)

Of course, that doesn’t mean we’ll be right on the picks on which we agree.  But we’re doing OK.  MDS was 11-5 for Week 12, and I was 9-7.  For the season, I’m at 112-63-1, a 63.6 percent accuracy rate.  MDS is 110-65-1, which equates to 62.5 percent.

Saints at Falcons

MDS’s take: It sounds crazy to say this about a 5-6 team facing a 10-1 team, but right now the Saints are playing better football than the Falcons. Having said that, I have a hunch the Falcons will turn in their best effort of the season at home against the team that gave them their only loss.

MDS’s pick: Falcons 28, Saints 21.

Florio’s take:  An already contentious rivalry will become even more contentious now that eggs have flown into the Saints bus and former Falcons linebacker Curtis Lofton has declared that his new team, the Saints, don’t regard the rivalry as a rivalry, given that the Saints have won 11 of 13.  With the Falcons closing in on a playoff berth and sensitive about the perception that they can’t win big games at home, it’s time to drop the Saints’ mark against the Falcons to 11 of 14.

Florio’s pick:  Falcons 27, Saints 24.

Jaguars at Bills

MDS’s take: Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne has been impressive enough since replacing Blaine Gabbert that I’m tempted to pick the Jags to pull off a home upset. But these are still the Jaguars, and even if Henne has improved the offense, they still have a terrible defense, plus the Bills have a big special teams edge.

MDS’s pick: Bills 27, Jaguars 23.

Florio’s take:  The Jags are riding a rare one-game winning streak.  The Bill are trying to break a not-so-rare one-game losing streak.  Home team gets the advantage, even though the Jaguars are better with Chad Henne at quarterback.

Florio’s pick:  Bills 24, Jaguars 17.

Seahawks at Bears

MDS’s take: This might be the day’s most interesting game, especially if you enjoy watching teams that play tough, physical defense. I think Seattle’s defensive front has the potential to make life a nightmare for Jay Cutler playing behind the Bears’ woeful offensive line, and yet the Seahawks have struggled so much away from home that I’m taking the Bears in a close one.

MDS’s pick: Bears 14, Seahawks 13.

Florio’s take:  It’s chicken salad time for the Chicago offensive line, with failed first-round tackle Gabe Carimi being pressed into service at guard.  But Jay Cutler knows how to avoid the pressure and deliver the ball, and the Seahawks still haven’t learned how to win on the road.

Florio’s pick:  Bears 23, Seahawks 13.

Colts at Lions

MDS’s take: The Lions are playing better football than their record suggests, while the Colts are playing worse football than their record suggests. I still think Indianapolis will be a wild card team, but in this game Calvin Johnson will have a huge day against a weak secondary.

MDS’s pick: Lions 31, Colts 20.

Florio’s take:  Assuming that the Lions haven’t folded the tents after a season-crushing Thanksgiving loss, they’ve got the horses to hold off a Colts team that has yet to learn how to win away from Indy consistently.

Florio’s pick:  Lions 27, Colts 20.

Vikings at Packers

MDS’s take: Green Bay had a letdown against the Giants last week, but that won’t happen again. This is the game when the Packers pull ahead of the pack in the NFC wild card race, as well as staying within striking distance of the Bears in the NFC North.

MDS’s pick: Packers 34, Vikings 13.

Florio’s take:  Minnesota has embarked on its long-expected late-season collapse, and the Packers will be extra salty after getting peppered by the Giants.  This one could get ugly.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 34, Vikings 13.

Panthers at Chiefs

MDS’s take: It’s too late for the Panthers to get back in the playoff race, but I do see them going on a little bit of a late-season run. With Cam Newton playing well, they’ll easily win in Kansas City.

MDS’s pick: Panthers 27, Chiefs 9.

Florio’s take:  The Chiefs can’t lose every game the rest of the season, can they?  Carolina is on the road after a Monday night on the road, cramming two rounds of travel into a short week after a game in which they are feeling better about themselves than they should.  The Chiefs, if they don’t win this one, may not win another.  Ever.

Florio’s pick:  Chiefs 20, Panthers 16.

Patriots at Dolphins

MDS’s take: I like a lot about the way the Dolphins are playing, especially defensively. And the Patriots’ secondary has a bad tendency to leave receivers wide open, so Ryan Tannehill may have a decent statistical game. But New England’s offense is such a well-oiled machine that I like the Patriots to get into the end zone five or six times.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 38, Dolphins 28.

Florio’s take:  The Dolphins will win if the sprinklers come on again.  And if the are loaded with hydrochloric acid and aimed at the eyes of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.  Otherwise, advantage Pats.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 35, Dolphins 24.

Cardinals at Jets

MDS’s take: This is a stinker of a game between two teams with all kinds of problems at the quarterback position, but it says something about how far the Cardinals have sunk that Mark Sanchez is easily the top quarterback in this game.

MDS’s pick: Jets 20, Cardinals 10.

Florio’s take:  It’s easy to assume the Jets will continue their implosion.  The schedule suggests they could win five in a row.  They may not get to 9-7, but 5-7 is looking pretty promising.

Florio’s pick:  Jets 30, Cardinals 17.

49ers at Rams

MDS’s take: I don’t think this game is going to be easy for the 49ers because St. Louis isn’t an easy place to play anymore, but in the end San Francisco just has too much power on both sides of the ball for the Rams to have much of a chance.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 24, Rams 13.

Florio’s take:  They pick up where they left off after five quarters that ended in a tie.  The Rams try to extend their 3-0-1 record in the NFC West.  The Niners are simply a better team with Colin Kaepernick at quarterback.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 31, Rams 23.

Texans at Titans

MDS’s take: The Titans fired offensive coordinator Chris Palmer this week, as if that will fix anything. The Titans’ problems go much deeper than the offensive playcalling, and the Texans — getting a well deserved three extra days of rest following their back-to-back overtime games the last two weeks — will look fresh and win this one handily.

MDS’s pick: Texans 41, Titans 20.

Florio’s take:  Yes, before the season I thought the the Titans, who were unexpectedly 9-7 in 2011, were poised to topple the Texans.  It hasn’t happened.  And it won’t happen for the Titans on Sunday, not with the Texans closing in on their second straight playoff berth.

Florio’s pick:  Texans 27, Titans 14.

Buccaneers at Broncos

MDS’s take: The Bucs are thin in the secondary after trading away Aqib Talib and losing Eric Wright to a suspension, and Peyton Manning is the last quarterback you want to face when you’re thin in the secondary. Manning will pick the Bucs’ defense apart. The best chance the Bucs have of keeping this game close is to control the ball by running Doug Martin, but in the end Manning will just have too much for Tampa Bay.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 35, Buccaneers 24.

Florio’s take:  With Eric Wright suspended and Aqib Talib long gone, it’ll be a long day for the Bucs’ porous pass defense.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 31, Buccaneers 21.

Steelers at Ravens

MDS’s take: The Steelers need this one, but they’re not going to get it. Without Ben Roethlisberger the Steelers just aren’t a very good team, and I expect the Ravens to earn a big win that helps them pull away in the AFC North.

MDS’s pick: Ravens 23, Steelers 7.

Florio’s take:  With or without Ben Roethlisberger, the Ravens are tough to beat at home.  And even though it would be fitting for the Steelers to win in Baltimore after the Ravens won in Pittsburgh, the Ravens are the better team — and the Steelers are on the verge of a late-season implosion.  All that’s left is for coach Mike Tomlin to vow to “unleash hell.”

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 19, Steelers 13.

Browns at Raiders

MDS’s take: Both teams are 3-8, but they’re a different 3-8. The Browns are a 3-8 team that is playing competitive football and has a lot of young guys who look hungry. The Raiders are a 3-8 team that just wrapped up an 0-4 November in which their four losses came by a total of 90 points. The Browns will go into the Black Hole and come out with their first road win of the season.

MDS’s pick: Browns 21, Raiders 17.

Florio’s take:  The Browns are better than their record suggests.  The Raiders are worse.  With Browns players trying to save the job of their head coach (and in turn their own jobs), Cleveland has more incentive to try to emerge with a win.

Florio’s pick:  Browns 17, Raiders 13.

Bengals at Chargers

MDS’s take: The Bengals are rolling and the Chargers are reeling. Marvin Lewis will take another step toward the playoffs while Norv Turner takes another step toward the unemployment line.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 24, Chargers 14.

Florio’s take:  San Diego’s AFC North tour continues, and they wish it wouldn’t.  After losing to the Browns and to the Ravens, a surging Cincinnati team is ready to keep pushing toward their first consecutive playoff appearances in non-strike years.

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 27, Chargers 17.

Eagles at Cowboys

MDS’s take: The Eagles have given up on the season. At this point I don’t think I’d pick them to beat anyone, and I certainly won’t pick them to win on the road against a Cowboys team that still has slim playoff hopes.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 28, Eagles 20.

Florio’s take:  Philly is in a full-blown free fall.  After seeing them lose to the lowly Panthers, I’m done picking them until next September at the earliest.  The Cowboys aren’t much better, but they’re good enough (and sufficiently healthier) to get it done.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 34, Eagles 20.

Giants at Redskins

MDS’s take: The Redskins have done a great job of pulling themselves back into NFC East contention, and if you want to see an interesting playoff race in December you should be rooting for the Redskins to beat the Giants on Monday night. But Robert Griffin III playing so well as a rookie has masked the fact that the Redskins have big problems on both sides of the ball. The Giants will be too much for them.

MDS’s pick: Giants 34, Redskins 17.

Florio’s take:  The Giants have awoken from their slumber.  That may not be enough to contain a streaking RG3 in his Monday night debut.  Forced to make a choice, however, let’s stick with the team that has shown that it still has the ability to periodically play up to its potential.  Especially when it has to.

Florio’s pick:  Giants 31, Redskins 27.

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Mark Brunell doesn’t think RG3 is good enough

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Mark Brunell spent four years playing quarterback in Washington. And he thinks this should be the fourth and final year that Robert Griffin III plays quarterback in Washington.

Asked on ESPN if he thinks RG3 is good enough to succeed in the NFL, Brunell answered, “I do not.”

He has gone backwards,” Brunell continued, via the Washington Post. “It’s not just his decision-making, it’s his fundamentals. He’s taking too many hits, he’s quick to get out of the pocket. Last year was difficult to watch. Does he have the skill set? Yes, but we haven’t seen it in some time.”

Washington picked up Griffin’s fifth-year option for 2016, which suggests that the team still thinks he can be its franchise quarterback. But Brunell thinks Griffin may be gone before the 2016 season.

“This is a make or break season for RGIII, without a doubt,” Brunell said. “If he doesn’t fix those inconsistencies, this could be it for him.”

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NFLPA has short, simple response to Troy Vincent

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After inflammatory comments emerged from NFL executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent regarding NFL Players Association spending on legal fees in cases arising from discipline imposed by the league, PFT extended separate invitations to the NFL and NFLPA to provide guests for Tuesday’s PFT Live to flesh out the issue.

Both requests were declined, but the NFLPA opted to issue a short response to Vincent, via Twitter.

“You consider infinite number of ways to respond to something like this,” NFLPA spokesman George Atallah said, linking the original item from ESPN.com, “and simple is best: ‘small.'”

The public reaction to Vincent’s comments has been as universal as any red state/blue state sports issue ever can be. The union is fighting on behalf of players whose rights were violated by the league. If the league didn’t impose more discipline than it should under the relevant policies, a fight wouldn’t be necessary.

The problem for both sides is that the NFL will continue to be inclined to overdiscipline players. Despite the public rebukes that necessarily occur when the Commissioner’s decisions are struck down, the P.R. fallout for 345 Park Avenue is minimal. Conversely, the perceived failure of the Commissioner to go far enough with misbehaving players nearly brought down his empire last year, in the Ray Rice case.

Apart from the legal fees that justifiably arise when the union is required to fight the league after the league goes too far with discipline is the question of actual waste. And many of you have noted that true waste arose from the NFL making #DeflateGate into a much bigger deal than it should have been, with millions spent on an investigation aimed perhaps not at getting to the truth, but at justifying a knee-jerk result selected early in the process, when no one from the league office realized that the PSI numbers generated by New England’s footballs were both below the 12.5 minimum and also in line with the normal operation of the Ideal Gas Law.

As to the issue of NFLPA legal fees, the smarter (but not necessarily better) approach by the league may have been to cajole one or more members of the media into making the argument. Between the reporters on the league’s payroll and the reporters who have a track record of open disdain for current NFLPA leadership (or both), it shouldn’t have been hard to make the point without forcing a senior member of NFL leadership to connect his name to the remarks.

Some would say it’s admirable for Vincent to express his views directly. The only problem in this case is that his views are substantively incorrect and ultimately not helpful to building the kind of relationship needed to avoid unnecessary fighting.

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Cowboys unsure who their starting running back will be

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Cowboys owner and General Manager Jerry Jones has said he’s very comfortable with the group of running backs he has on his roster. But what the Cowboys don’t know is which one of those running backs will be primarily responsible for replacing the departed DeMarco Murray.

Cowboys running backs coach Gary Brown says he isn’t sure if Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden or Lance Dunbar will be the starter, but he’s confident that some combination of the three of them will add up to a good running game.

“We’re very confident in what we have,” Brown said, via the Dallas Morning News. “We got some very good football players. With the addition of Darren it’s going to be a nice group. I can’t say who is going to be the lead dog right now, but those guys are going to compete and we’re going to do what’s necessary to win games. I think we have three capable guys who can go out and do what we need to do. I’m not concerned about it at all.”

As great as Murray was last season, Randle was also very good in limited action as his backup: Randle gained 343 yards on 51 carries, a whopping 6.7 yards a carry. He would seem to be the likely choice as the starter.

The addition of McFadden to go with Randle and Dunbar gives the Cowboys some depth in the backfield, and those running backs will be running behind the best offensive line in the NFL. Despite the loss of Murray, Brown’s optimism is justified: The Cowboys’ running game should be just fine, even if there’s not a clear-cut starting running back just yet.

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Jerry Jones donates $1 million to cancer initiative started by Bob McNair

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When an NFL owner is trying to raise money for charitable causes, they have 31 places around the league where they know they’ll find people with deep pockets who could help.

Texans owner Bob McNair wasn’t looking specifically to NFL owners to help provide the financing for Hope Lodge Houston, which the American Cancer Society would operate as a place for people battling cancer to receive free lodging and support services while in Houston to receive treatment. He and his wife Janice announced that their foundation will donate $1 for every $2 raised through December 31, up to $4 million, to help break ground on the lodge before the end of the year.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is helping to push them closer to their goal. The Jerry and Gene Jones Foundation has donated $1 million to the cause.

“Cancer is already daunting enough, but worrying about travel, lodging, and other necessities while enduring treatment can be a huge burden,” Jones said, via the Houston Chronicle. “Gene and I are proud we can help by joining Bob and Janice McNair and President George and Barbara Bush as they work to bring a Hope Lodge to Houston.”

McNair received a clean bill of health last year after a 10-month fight with two forms of cancer and announced the fundraising challenge a short time later.

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Kevin Coyle: Ndamukong Suh “everything as advertised”

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There was some uncertainty about whether defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh would take part in OTAs with the Dolphins this offseason because he’d routinely missed them when he was a member of the Lions, but any fears of his absence went unrealized.

Suh was more than just present at the offseason workouts as well. Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said that Suh went through the workouts with so much energy that the team had to have him dial it down, which Coyle saw as a positive for a player who has lived up to his expectations thus far.

“Quite honestly, yeah, we had to tone him down there a little bit,” Coyle said on the Joe Rose Show on WQAM. “That was a good thing. We had to back him off because he’s really something. First of all he’s an extremely intelligent player. I’ve been totally impressed with his football knowledge and he comes out to the practice field. He’s extremely hardworking. He’s the first guy in line showing the younger guys how to do it. And I’ve never been around a more explosive, powerful man of his size and his athleticism. He’s been everything as advertised. Quite frankly, you can only do so many things in OTAs when you just have shorts and helmets on. I can’t wait to get going here at the end of July when we start training camp and get the pads on and get ready to go because he’s a rare talent and great addition for us.”

It’s a good bet that OTAs will be the only time that the Dolphins ask Suh to go at anything less than full speed and that the Dolphins will continue to avoid buyer’s remorse as long as he’s pushing it to the limit every Sunday.

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Golden Tate: We’re trying to become elite now

Golden Tate AP

The Lions won 11 games last season for the first time since 1991, which was good enough for a playoff berth in Jim Caldwell’s first season as the team’s head coach.

There haven’t been consecutive playoff appearances for Detroit since the 1995 team capped a three-year run of trips to the postseason with a loss in the Wild Card round. Wide receiver Golden Tate says that the team is shooting for the same kind of sustained run of regular season success right now while trying to establish themselves as the team to beat in the NFC North.

“I think it’s time for us to consistently, year in and year out, win ballgames,” Tate said, via the Detroit Free Press. “I think we have the personnel. I think we have the coach, the coaching staff. I think we have a heck of a fan base. It’s time. We’re trying to shake ‘the same old Lions.’ We’re trying to become — I thought we were good — I think we’re trying to become elite now. I think we’re trying to compete with the Packers and give them a run for their money and take over our division year in and year out.”

The Lions won’t be able to lean on Ndamukong Suh up front on defense this year, which means they’ll have to plot a different course to the playoffs in 2015. One hope is that the offense will be more effective in offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi’s second year at the reins, something Tate and other Lions receivers will work on with quarterback Matthew Stafford in Atlanta before training camp.

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Brett Favre: “I think I could play”

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Herschel Walker isn’t the only middle-aged former NFL player who thinks he could still play in the NFL. Brett Favre says he could, too.

“I think I could play,” Favre tells Sports Illustrated in a “Where Are They Now?” double issue. “As far as throwing, of course. I could make all the throws I made before. . . . We’re not trying to start some he’s-coming-out-of-retirement deal. . . . But I could play.”

Plenty of former NFL players probably feel the same way, because they still feel like the guys they were when they played in the NFL. They won’t realize that they can’t until they try, and very few ever return after a multi-year absence from the game.

Regardless of whether Favre could play now, he could have played longer in Green Bay, if he hadn’t made such a hasty decision seven years ago to retire.

“Had I [taken my time deciding], I would have come back and played,” Favre said. “The drama would have been avoided.”

That response overlooks the fact that the Packers pushed him for an early decision, possibly because the Packers knew that by pushing Favre for an early decision, Favre would decide to retire — and the Packers could start the Aaron Rodgers era. If that was the plan, the performance of Aaron Rodgers since Favre retired has vindicated it.

This year, Favre finally returns to Green Bay. And the Packers can be confident that Favre won’t be unretiring one final time before his number 4 is finally retired.

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Colts bring back defensive tackle Jeris Pendleton

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The Colts brought back one of their own, now that he’s healthy.

The team announced they signed defensive tackle Jeris Pendleton.

He spent the last two years with the Colts, but was on injured reserve all last season because of a knee injury. He was originally a seventh-round pick by the Jaguars in 2012.

The 6-foot-2, 323-pounder gives them another big body up front, and someone they have experience with. He played in both playoff games for them in 2013, so they have an idea what he can do.

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NFL sets July 9 date for supplemental draft

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The date is set for the NFL supplemental draft.

The supplemental draft will take place on July 9, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.

No team has made a supplemental selection since the Browns used a second-round pick on Josh Gordon in 2012, so the supplemental draft has become a non-event the last couple years. But this year there’s a good chance that a supplemental pick will be used: Clemson offensive tackle Isaiah Battle, who declared for the supplemental draft last week, is an NFL talent who has a real shot of helping some team this season.

West Georgia defensive tackle Dalvon Stuckey, West Georgia defensive end Darrius Caldwell and North Carolina Central wide receiver/kick returner Adrian Wilkins are also available in the supplemental draft.

If a team uses a supplemental pick on a player, that team loses the corresponding pick in the 2016 NFL draft. Players who are not selected in the supplemental draft become free agents.

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Jim Brown “encouraged” Johnny Manziel isn’t “still in denial”

Johnny Manziel, Jim Dray AP

Last summer, Browns icon Jim Brown said that he didn’t mind the amount of attention that quarterback Johnny Manziel received for his off-field social life because he remembered what life was like as a player.

Brown has a different opinion about enjoying the nightlife after the way Manziel’s rookie season with the Browns played out. Manziel went to alcohol rehab after an underwhelming rookie season and has talked about wanting to “close that chapter in my life” as he tries for better results in 2015, something that Brown finds encouraging.

“I’m encouraged, because Johnny is addressing his situation, and that’s speaking to the world,” Brown said, via Jarrett Bell of USA Today. “That message is encouraging. He’s going to give himself the best chance to succeed. Now if he were still in denial, we’d have a different conversation. If he didn’t go to rehab, this would be totally different. … What I would have said to Johnny, or would have hoped he’d do, he’s doing. So I’d say to him, ‘Your commitment to allow the world to know you want to work to change your life, I encourage and support you.’ It would be that simple. I wouldn’t try to impart any great wisdom on him, because it’s a day-to-day process that he’s got to live with.”

Brown doesn’t think the change in Manziel’s off-field habits will necessarily boost him to better things on the field. Brown said last year that he thought Manziel had “something going on” as a player and said this year that Manziel “creates action,” but added that Manziel is going to be a star or a bust without laying a bet on which side of the line the 2014 first-round pick would wind up on.

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Jeremy Hill focused on breaking more tackles this year

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After Bengals running back Jeremy Hill ran for 40 yards on 13 carries against the Buccaneers last season, he said there wasn’t a lot of running room available because the Bucs were playing eight men in the box.

Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson didn’t care for Hill’s read on what happened to the running game that afternoon. Jackson said that running backs are supposed to break tackles and that Hill’s “job is to run through somebody and come out the other side” regardless of what the defensive front looks like on a given play.

Getting past initial contact was a focus for Hill this offseason and Jackson said that the back did a good job laying the groundwork for better results.

“For me, it’s just getting that acceleration from the first level to the second level,” Hill said, via ESPN.com. “I’m just trying to lift my acceleration up and miss more tackles. That’s the biggest thing for me. The first guy got me down way too much last season.”

ESPN Stats and Info had Hill averaging 2.29 yards after contact during his rookie season, which was good for fourth in the league last season and helps explain why Hill became such a big part of the offense in the second half of the season. If he becomes even harder for defenses to stop this time around, the backfield work in Cincinnati may not be as balanced as Hill expected earlier this offseason.

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Brian Dixon set to go on trial during Saints’ training camp

Josh Lenz, Brian Dixon

Saints cornerback Brian Dixon may miss some of training camp as a result of his March arrest.

Dixon is scheduled to go on trial in Florida on August 3, the Times-Picayune reports. The Saints will be in training camp in West Virginia at that time.

Dixon was arrested for resisting arrest without violence after a traffic stop in Miami Beach. He has accused the arresting officers of racial bias.

As an undrafted rookie last season, Dixon became a surprisingly important player to the Saints, appearing in all 16 games.

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How much is Russell Wilson worth?

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In his latest interview, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson once again declined to talk about his contractual expectations. But he mentioned two salaries numbers for 2015 — $1.5 million (the amount he’s due to earn under his current contract) and $25 million.

Some have brushed it off as a random figure, plucked from the sky. Others believe it possibly reveals what Wilson is actually targeting.

The numbers came after Wilson was asked what he deserved, provoking this question from Wilson: How much would you pay me?

So we’ll put that question out to PFT Planet. How much would you pay him per year?

The options are below, and we’ll be discussing the issue during Tuesday’s PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio, which also will feature phone visits from two-sport athlete Brandon Magee, former NFL player and current multimedia superstar (or something) Ross Tucker, and Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune.

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Bud Dupree: We want to be the group that revives Steelers defense

Bud Dupree AP

The Steelers have a long history of riding strong defenses to playoff berths, but that trend has slowed in the last couple of years as the team has said goodbye to several fixtures of the unit without getting the same production in their place.

They’ve spent high picks on defensive players in each of the last three drafts with a particular focus on linebackers. Jarvis Jones, Ryan Shazier and Bud Dupree have been the team’s last three first-round selections and Dupree says that they want to be part of the core that brings about a revival of the old defensive ways in Pittsburgh.

“I want to be in that group that brings it back,” Dupree said, via Cleveland.com. “We want to bring back that hunger, that eagerness to go after the quarterback.”

Dupree said he takes particular motivation from the chance to join players like Joey Porter, Greg Lloyd and James Harrison as star outside linebackers in the Steelers system. Harrison is still around and Dupree said he’s learned a lot from the veteran about how to thrive in the NFL during their short time working together.

Expecting Dupree to turn into that kind of linebacker as a rookie may be asking too much, but the Steelers need some of their young defenders to make significant strides if there’s going to be a reprise of the old days in 2015. With a strong offense already in place, getting that would leave the team well positioned for another playoff berth.

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United Church of Christ joins effort to change Washington nickname

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The United Church of Christ usually has other business on Sundays, but they’re using their massive membership to try to get involved in the NFL.

According to John Woodrow Cox of the Washington Post, the nearly 1 million-member church is asking its members to boycott Washington’s franchise because of the nickname that many find offensive.

The Rev. Linda Jaramillo, a national officer of the church, said the name “is offensive and causes direct harmful effects to the public health and well-being of the Native American population.”

The UCC is far from the first to take that stance, but their support was noted in a joint release from the National Congress of American Indians and the Oneida Indian Nation, which has led the effort for a change.

“We applaud the United Church of Christ for taking a bold stance against the use of this demeaning and damaging racial epithet,” the statement read. “With its vote, the UCC is demonstrating that organizations and individuals can make conscious choices to demonstrate compassion and respect for their fellow man by working to eliminate this offensive, dictionary-defined slur from our nation’s vernacular.

“As religious leaders from diverse backgrounds all across America continue to speak out about the need to change this derogatory term, Washington team owner Dan Snyder should face the facts and stop clinging to this deeply offensive name. Profiting from the slurring of people of color is a choice that he is making, but we remain hopeful that he will in time come to recognize that changing the mascot is an important moral and civil rights issue that is not going away.”

Of course, Snyder has refused all such suggestions in the past, and will likely continue to until it becomes more attractive to him (financially) to do so.

But hey, as long as they’re “winning off the field,” no one really minds, or notices that they’re not winning on the field, right?

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