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PFT’s Week 14 picks

Peterson Getty Images

With four weeks to go, the lead is back to three.

And we disagree on three games.

In other words, MDS a/k/a the master of Raiders exacta, could catch me by 4:30 p.m. ET on Sunday.

Last week, I went 11-5.  MDS was 10-6.  For the season, I’m now at 123-68-1, a 64.0 percent accuracy rate.  MDS is 120-71-1, which equates to 62.5 percent.

Broncos at Raiders

MDS’s take: My amazing run of accuracy in predicting Raiders scores has put a lot of pressure on me to get this one right. So here’s what it boils down to: The Broncos are good, the Raiders are not, and the score won’t be close.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 31, Raiders 13.

Florio’s takePeyton Manning has never lost in Oakland.  Then again, he has played there only twice.  Make it three on Thursday night.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 27, Raiders 13.

Rams at Bills

MDS’s take: The Bills’ defense has turned things around recently, with Mario Williams getting five sacks in the last three games. I think Williams will bring the pressure to Sam Bradford, and the Bills will win.

MDS’s pick: Bills 17, Rams 14.

Florio’s take:  The up-and-down Rams play very well inside the division and not so well outside of it.  The Bills sometimes play well at home, and sometimes they don’t.  The difference here is that the Rams have an arguably realistic shot at the postseason, and the Bills don’t.

Florio’s pick:  Rams 17, Bills 13.

Falcons at Panthers

MDS’s take: The Falcons are playing for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and the Panthers are playing for the first overall pick in the draft. Advantage Atlanta.

MDS’s pick: Falcons 21, Panthers 13.

Florio’s take:  Earlier this year, the Panthers nearly toppled the Falcons in Atlanta.  The rematch comes in Charlotte, with the Falcons chasing the top seed and the Panthers pursuing respect.  As they move closer to proving that they’re ready to hang with the big boys, the Falcons prove that their near-miss against Carolina was a fluke.

Florio’s pick:   Falcons 31, Panthers 20.

Cowboys at Bengals

MDS’s take: This is a close, competitive game, and I have a funny feeling the Bengals’ superior special teams could turn out to make the difference. The Bengals will bolster their own playoff hopes and deal a lethal blow to the Cowboys’ hopes.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 24, Cowboys 20.

Florio’s take:  Yes, the Cowboys won last week.  But they beat the Philly “B” team, barely.  The Bengals are moving in the right direction, and it’ll stay that way at least until they have to play the Steelers or Ravens again.

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 24, Cowboys 20.

Chiefs at Browns

MDS’s take: The weekend’s worst game will be in Cleveland, where the Browns will win an ugly one.

MDS’s pick: Browns 15, Chiefs 12.

Florio’s take:  A week after the biggest win of his career, Brady Quinn returns to the place where his career started.  Though the Browns probably will win this one, I can’t pick against Quinn and the Chiefs.

Florio’s pick:  Chiefs 23, Browns 20.

Titans at Colts

MDS’s take: I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Colts stumble on their march to the playoffs here — this team could be ripe for an upset after gutting out a tough, physical, hard-fought game in Detroit last week. I also have major doubts about the ability of the Colts’ defense to keep them in big games down the stretch. The Titans, however, don’t have much offensive firepower, and so I’ll take the Colts in a close one.

MDS’s pick: Colts 20, Titans 17.

Florio’s takeAndrew Luck and the Colts move closer to one of the most unlikely playoff berths in recent history.  Meanwhile, Titans owner Bud Adams moved toward a series of pink slips and middle fingers fired at his employees.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 34, Titans 20.

Jets at Jaguars

MDS’s take: Rex Ryan gave Mark Sanchez what should be an easy win in Jacksonville. I’m not sold on Sanchez, but I am sold on the Jets’ ability to shut down the Jaguars’ offense.

MDS’s pick: Jets 20, Jaguars 10.

Florio’s take:  Whether it’s Mark Sanchez, Greg McElroy, Tim Tebow, Vinny Testaverde, or Joe Namath at quarterback, the Jets have the defense to shut down the Jacksonville offense.

Florio’s pick:  Jets 10, Jaguars 6.

Bears at Vikings

MDS’s take: After an amazing start to the season, Chicago’s defense has declined in recent weeks. Playing against the struggling Christian Ponder is just the thing to cure what ails the Bears.

MDS’s pick: Bears 17, Vikings 7.

Florio’s take:  It’s the last, best chance for the Vikings to remain in the playoff race.  And it’s the last, best chance for offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave to show that he realizes that, with Adrian Peterson in the backfield, there’s never a reason to pass the ball.

Florio’s pick:  Vikings 24, Bears 16.

Chargers at Steelers

MDS’s take: The Steelers showed what kind of team they are in Sunday’s win over the Ravens, while the Chargers showed what kind of team they are in Sunday’s loss to the Bengals: The talent gap between these two teams isn’t big, but the Steelers play their best in crunch time, and the Chargers play their worst in crunch time.

MDS’s pick: Steelers 23, Chargers 20.

Florio’s take:  The Chargers haven’t won in Pittsburgh since somehow toppling the Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium for the 1994 AFC title.  The 0-6 streak will continue on Sunday.

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 24, Chargers 13.

Eagles at Buccaneers

MDS’s take: Greg Schiano’s guys are playing hard every week, win or lose, while Andy Reid’s guys have quit on the season. This is an easy one.

MDS’s pick: Buccaneers 35, Eagles 10.

Florio’s take:  The Phillies have won more recently than the Eagles.  That fact should hold for another week, or longer.

Florio’s pick:  Buccaneers 27, Eagles 17.

Ravens at Redskins

MDS’s take: The Ravens’ run defense is terrible, and the Redskins’ run offense is excellent. Washington will rush for 200 yards and win a tough, physical game.

MDS’s pick: Redskins 13, Ravens 10.

Florio’s take:  The Redskins currently look more like the potential Super Bowl team, beating every other team in the NFC East in a three-game stretch.  Though it remains to be seen whether God really is on the Redskins’ side, He’s definitely not on the Ravens’ this year.

Florio’s pick:  Redskins 23, Ravens 21.

Dolphins at 49ers

MDS’s take: Colin Kaepernick may have taken a step backward last week against the Rams, but he’ll show against the Dolphins that Jim Harbaugh made the right decision. And even if Kaepernick has a bad game, it’s not like the Dolphins are putting many points on the board against San Francisco’s defense.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 28, Dolphins 6.

Florio’s take:  This game has considerably less hype than their Super Bowl XIX rendezvous.  But the outcome will be similar.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 38, Dolphins 16.

Saints at Giants

MDS’s take: The Saints are out of the playoff race, but they’re still a dangerous team, and I’m tempted to pick them against the Giants, coming off a tough loss on a short week. But the Giants know their backs are against the wall, and that’s when this team usually plays its best football.

MDS’s pick: Giants 28, Saints 27.

Florio’s take:  New York’s margin for error has, for now, shrunk to zero.  Which matches the Saints’ chances of getting to the postseason.

Florio’s pick:  Giants 28, Saints 17.

Cardinals at Seahawks

MDS’s take: With the Cardinals’ horrendous offense playing in a tough environment in Seattle, this game could get ugly. Looks to me like the biggest mismatch of the week in the NFL.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 35, Cardinals 3.

Florio’s take:  The Seahawks don’t lose at home.  The Cardinals don’t win anywhere.

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 20, Cardinals 10.

Lions at Packers

MDS’s take: The Lions have a knack for playing well enough against good teams to keep it close, and then losing. That’s what they’ll do in Green Bay, where Calvin Johnson will have another big-time performance but Aaron Rodgers will pick apart Detroit’s secondary.

MDS’s pick: Packers 31, Lions 27.

Florio’s take:  The Packers need to keep winning.  For the Lions, it’s too late.  At this point, they’re playing only for Calvin Johnson to break Jerry Rice’s record.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 31, Lions 20.

Texans at Patriots

MDS’s take: Now this is a great Monday Night Football game. If the Texans win, the race for home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs is pretty much over. But I think the Patriots are a better football team right now, and they’re going to take this one and make a big statement that they’re the favorites to get to the Super Bowl out of the AFC, even if they have to win a rematch in Houston in January to get there.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 28, Texans 14.

Florio’s take:  The Pats make their move toward the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoff field.  It’s a great game on paper, but it’s got the potential to be a snooze-fest.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 34, Texans 24.

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Michael Irvin’s team wins the Pro Bowl

michaelirvin AP

The team chosen by Michael Irvin has defeated the team chosen by Cris Carter.

The Pro Bowl, in its second year of the new format with team captains picking the teams, went down to the final minute, with Team Irvin beating Team Carter 32-28. Team Carter’s last, best chance ended when an Andy Dalton pass fell incomplete; on a day when offenses dominated, Dalton was an exception, completing just nine of his 20 passes for 69 yards.

Does it matter who wins the Pro Bowl? Not really. There’s $27,000 on the line (players and coaches on the winning team get $55,000 while those on the losing team get $28,000), but that’s not enough to make the players play particularly hard.

But what does matter is whether the Pro Bowl is a compelling enough product for the fans to keep watching. The fans at University of Phoenix Stadium seemed to be enjoying themselves, although thousands left early, and there were many empty seats late in the fourth quarter, even though the game was close. The Pro Bowl needs to be well played enough that the fans don’t turn away.

So far, the fans aren’t turning away. And that alone makes it a success, from the NFL’s perspective.

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Pro Bowl still attracts thousands at the stadium, millions on TV

emmanuelsanders

Plenty of people think the Pro Bowl is such a lousy exhibition game that the NFL ought to scrap it. Here’s why the NFL will do no such thing: Plenty of fans still enjoy it.

Here at University of Phoenix Stadium, there are very few empty seats and tens of thousands of fans who seem to be having a good time. Cardinals fans dominate (the three most common jerseys I’ve seen are Larry Fitzgerald, Patrick Peterson and Pat Tillman), but a quick look at the crowd reveals jerseys representing just about every team in the NFL. And they seem to be enjoying themselves. A great Odell Beckham catch drew a loud ovation, and even during the commercial breaks fans are laughing and cheering as mascots from a dozen or so teams engage in their usual mascot buffoonery. (There were loud cheers while mascots played musical chairs during a commercial break, then even louder cheers when some mascot-on-mascot violence broke out and the Patriots’ mascot took the brunt of it.)

The fans also enjoyed the opportunity to do some booing: When the Seahawks’ Pro Bowlers (who aren’t playing in the game because they’re preparing for the Super Bowl) were shown on the big screen, the crowd booed loudly. Putting Richard Sherman’s face on the screen seemed to draw particular ire from the fans.

And, of course, the TV ratings will be strong, as they always are. In fact, the Pro Bowl frequently draws bigger television audiences than the baseball, basketball and hockey All-Star games.

So while the NFL may continue to tinker with the format, make no mistake: The Pro Bowl is here to stay.

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Richard Sherman thinks Goodell-Kraft relationship will protect Patriots

Sherman AP

The Seahawks had done a good job last week of dancing around #DeflateGate, with perhaps the strongest comment from cornerback Richard Sherman when he compared the potential handling of underinflated footballs to the league’s reported threat to prevent Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch from playing with gold cleats.

Sherman went all in on Sunday after arriving in Arizona, suggesting that the friendship between Commissioner Roger Goodell and Patriots owner Robert Kraft ultimately will lead to the exoneration of the Patriots.

Will they be punished?  Probably not,” Sherman told reporters, via Don Banks of SI.com.  “Not as long as Robert Kraft and Goodell are still taking pictures [together] at their respective homes.  I think he was just at Kraft’s house last week for the AFC Championship.  Talk about conflict of interest.  You know, as long as that happens, it won’t affect them at all.  Nothing will.”

Sherman’s point is undermined by the fact that Goodell hammered the Patriots for Spygate in 2007, despite the fact that the team will still owned at the time by Kraft.  Still, if the Patriots aren’t punished for the latest controversy, some will point to the strong support Kraft provided Goodell during the Ray Rice situation as proof of preferential treatment, even if the truth is that the league tried to catch the Pats in the act of underinflating footballs and ultimately failed to do so.

From the sideline of the Pro Bowl, Sherman had a chance to elaborate during an interview with ESPN’s Lisa Salters, who asked about his belief that the Pats won’t face consequences.

“I don’t because how that’s gonna be,” Sherman said.  “It’s the world we live in.  It’s the league we play in.”

Sherman also addressed the substance of the NFL’s suspicion of deliberate underinflation, stopping short of poking a bear that already will be poised to prove to the world that the Patriots deserve to be in the Super Bowl.

“I think the perception is the reality,” Sherman said.  “It is what it is.  Their resume speaks for itself.  You talk about getting close to the line. . . .  I don’t really have a comment about that, but their past is what their past is, their present is what their present is.”

Still, we don’t know what their past or present is regarding ball inflation, because the NFL has never dealt with this type of situation before — and because the NFL apparently was woefully unprepared to link proof of underinflated balls to proof of foul play.  Absent a clear plan to make that connection, the NFL never should have pulled the pin on this specific grenade.

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Jim Irsay compliments Patriots, says he’s “confident” in NFL’s investigation

Jim Irsay AP

While complimenting the Patriots on their rout of his club in last week’s AFC title game, Colts owner Jim Irsay expressed support Sunday night for the league’s investigation of the Pats’ alleged under-inflation of footballs.

Via his verified Twitter account, Irsay said his franchise is “confident the NFL and Commissioner [Roger Goodell] will address the concerns that arouse from our [championship game].”

Wrote Irsay: “The integrity of the game is critical.”

The footballs used by New England in the first half of its 45-7 victory vs. Indianapolis were tested by the NFL, which said Friday that “the evidence thus far supports” the Pats used under-inflated game balls in the first 30 minutes of regulation. The NFL’s investigation remains ongoing.

On Saturday, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick defended his club, saying the team didn’t break any rules and offering evidence to support his contention.

Before directly addressing the inflation controversy, Irsay published three Patriots-related tweets, at one point calling New England “a team with championship lineage.”

Here were Irsay’s remarks:

“We congratulate The Patriots as AFC Champions. We knew the difficulties of going to New England and did not overcome the obstacles we faced.

“Our rivalry with The Pats is something we treasure in the depths of our competitive soul,where the fire burns hot. We look forward to 2015.

“Seahawks/Pats will be a great Super Bowl. It’s a great matchup between defending Champions and a team with championship lineage.”

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Browns blew it with Josh Gordon

Gordon Getty Images

With Browns receiver Josh Gordon facing a one-year suspension that he’s not expected to be able to defeat via the appeal process, his time with the team probably is over.  After not having him for 10 games to start 2014 due to a marijuana violation and suspending him for the regular-season finale after missing a walk-through practice, the Browns now won’t have Gordon for all of 2015.

Her arrived in 2012 via the second-round of the supplemental draft.  Despite plenty of warning signs regarding marijuana use in college, the Browns under former CEO Mike Holmgren, G.M. Tom Heckert, and coach Pat Shurmur rolled the dice, likely knowing that with Jimmy Haslam poised to purchase the team from Randy Lerner, a strong season would be a key to remaining employed.  So why not use the 2013 second-round pick in July 2012, if there’s a chance they won’t be there to use the pick in April 2013?

A negotiated two-game suspension to start the 2013 season showed that concerns about Gordon were well founded.  But the Browns could have traded Gordon before the October deadline, and ultimately Haslam prevented president Joe Banner, G.M. Mike Lombardi, and coach Rob Chudzinski from doing so.  After the season, Gordon had outlasted a pair of team presidents, a pair of General Managers, and a pair of head coaches.

Then came the news at draft time that Gordon was facing a one-year suspension.  The Browns didn’t draft a single receiver to replace him, even though they could have had Sammy Watkins with the fourth pick or Odell Beckham after trading down with Buffalo to No. 9.

Now, Gordon has once again let the Browns down, and it becomes very hard for the Browns to trust him again.  If he’s reinstated in a year, the Browns would be wise to trade him.  This time around, they surely won’t get anything close to what they could have gotten in 2013.

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Narrow goal posts at the Pro Bowl look a little goofy

unnamed

With the Pro Bowl about to kick off, PFT is coming to you live from University of Phoenix Stadium, and our first reaction to surveying the scene is this: The narrower goal posts look a little goofy.

One of the NFL’s many experiments with different rules at this year’s Pro Bowl is the narrowing of the goal posts from 18 feet across to 14 feet across, which the league hopes will make field goals and extra points more difficult, and therefore more interesting for the fans. On first glance, those posts look strange.

Two people who don’t like it are the two Pro Bowl kickers, Adam Vinatieri of the Colts and Cody Parkey of the Eagles.

Other people might enjoy that,” Vinatieri said. ”For me, I’m a traditionalist. Don’t change it unless it needs to be changed. The league has never been more successful. The fan base has never been greater. But the deciding powers are way above me.”

Added Parkey, “I don’t prefer it but it is what it is,. It’s going to be way harder. It’s the kind of situation where there are so many good kickers in the league that I guess made it look easy. They’ve got to find other ways to make it harder. No matter what it is, we’ll accept the challenge.”

There has been talk in the NFL of moving extra points farther back to make them more difficult, and there was an experiment with that last preseason. This year, perhaps the Pro Bowl experiment will be the first step toward making field goals and extra points harder by making the goal posts narrower. Even if the sight of those narrower posts takes some getting used to.

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Rob Gronkowski favored to score a touchdown in Super Bowl 49

New England Patriots Practice Getty Images

We’ve entered the third day of PFT’s Prop Challenge, our daily look at a Super Bowl proposition bet.

The first two props studied were Over-Unders — bets that require choosing whether a given statistic will finish above or below a given number.

On Day One, we pondered Patriots wide receiver Brandon LaFell’s chances at exceeding 50.5 receiving yards in the Super Bowl.

On Day Two, we looked at the Over-Under on catches by Seahawks wideout Doug Baldwin (four).

In both cases, PFT Planet preferred the OVER by a roughly 55-to-45 margin.

Now, on Day Three, we look at a “Yes” or “No” prop made by the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.

Here’s the prop: Will Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski score a touchdown in Super Bowl 49?

“Yes” is favored at -130, meaning a bettor have to lay $13 to win $10.

“No” is +110, with a successful $10 resulting in $11 of profit.

Gronkowski has 14 touchdown catches in 17 games this season, with one TD catch in five consecutive games.

On the other hand, the Seahawks have surrendered 11 TDs to tight ends in 18 games, per ESPN statistics.

So here we go. Does Rob Gronkowski score a touchdown next Sunday, or does Seattle hold him out of the endzone? Let us know via the poll and in the comments. Remember: after the Super Bowl, we’ll tally the votes and see just how well PFT Planet handicaps in this hypothetical, just-for-fun exercise.

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Raiders continue filling out coaching staff

Buffalo Bills v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

The Raiders have continued putting together head coach Jack Del Rio’s first Oakland staff by adding a pair of former NFL players.

Jerry McDonald of Bay Area News Group reports that the team has added Rob Moore as their new wide receivers coach and Bernie Parmalee as the new running backs coach.

Moore spent his first year as an NFL coach working with the wide receivers in Buffalo after spending several years on the staff at his alma mater Syracuse, where he worked for former Bills coach Doug Marrone as well. Moore played 10 seasons for the Jets and Cardinals, making the Pro Bowl twice and the All-Pro team once.

Parmalee played nine years for the Dolphins and Jets and moved into coaching after his playing career came to an end following the 2000 season. He worked for the Dolphins and then spent time working under Charlie Weis when he was a head coach at Notre Dame and Kansas as well as during his time with the Chiefs.

The Raiders have filled out the majority of their offensive staff and hired a few defensive assistants, but they’re still looking for a defensive coordinator.

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Browns not yet notified of positive test for Josh Gordon

Josh Gordon AP

While noting they were “very disappointed” to learn of news of Josh Gordon’s positive test for alcohol, the Browns say they have not yet been notified of the wide receiver running afoul of league policy.

“At this point, due to the confidential nature of the NFL’s substance abuse policy, we have not been made aware by the league of a failed test,” the club said in a team-issued statement Sunday. “We are in the process of gathering more information and will provide further comment at the appropriate time.”

Gordon was subject to alcohol testing because of his 2014 DWI arrest, PFT’s Mike Florio reported Sunday. Gordon now faces a one-year ban.

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Report: Chris Polian interviews with Eagles for second time

Philadelphia Eagles v New York Giants Getty Images

The Eagles have opened the offseason by making a change to the structure of their organization with Howie Roseman’s title changing from General Manager to executive vice president of football operations and coach Chip Kelly taking on a bigger role in player personnel matters.

The team has been looking for another personnel executive to take on some of the General Manager duties while working under Kelly and that search reportedly took a step forward recently. Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Jaguars director of pro personnel Chris Polian interviewed with the Eagles for a second time.

Polian appears to be the first candidate to get a second opportunity to talk to the Eagles, who have seen other candidates blocked by their current teams or other ambitions as they try to find the right person to slot into their reworked front office.

Polian has spent the last two years working with the Jaguars and was the Colts’ General Manager from 2009-2011, although the presence of his father Bill at the top of the organization made that job look similar to the one he’d fill with the Eagles if he winds up in Philly.

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Dick LeBeau won’t be joining Cardinals staff after all

Dick LeBeau AP

The Cardinals still don’t have a defensive coordinator, and they apparently won’t be adding one of the best at that job of all time.

According to Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic, longtime Steelers coordinator Dick LeBeau won’t be taking a job on Bruce Arians’ staff.

Arians was expected to fill the coordinator job vacated by Todd Bowles from within his current staff, but he was hoping to add LeBeau as a senior assistant to lend some gravity to the group.

They’ve also shown some interest in Falcons coordinator Mike Nolan, and he’d fit the general criteria established by their pursuit of LeBeau, if not to the same degree.

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Josh Gordon tests positive for alcohol, faces one-year ban

Cleveland Browns v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon faces yet another NFL suspension.

PFT’s Mike Florio has confirmed Gordon is in line for a one-year ban for a violation of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.

A source tells Florio that Gordon tested positive for alcohol. Moreover, a source tells Florio that Gordon’s suspension looks to be a “done deal,” with a reversal of the ban not expected. As Florio notes, Gordon is subject to alcohol testing because of his July 2014 DWI arrest.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter first reported Gordon was set to draw a one-year ban from the league.

If Gordon’s suspension sticks, it’s a major setback for a wonderfully talented player who has already lost 13 games to league- and team-levied suspensions in his NFL career.

Furthermore, the news of Gordon’s potential ban throws his future with the Browns into doubt. At season’s end, coach Mike Pettine said the receiver was “squarely at a crossroads with us.”

The 23-year-old Gordon was suspended for the first 10 games of the 2014 regular season for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. After returning to the lineup, he did not recapture his best form, catching just 24 passes for 303 yards in five games. Making matters worse, Gordon was suspended for the Browns’ season finale at Baltimore for a violation of team rules.

Fifty-two Sundays ago, Gordon was playing the Pro Bowl, the coda to a spectacular second NFL season, one that saw him catch 87 passes for 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns in just 14 games.

One year later, it’s fair to wonder whether Gordon’s Cleveland career will soon be over. What’s more, his NFL future is in some question, as he will have to gain reinstatement if banished by the league.

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NFL bears plenty of blame for #DeflateGate

2011 NFC Championship: Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears Getty Images

At this point, it’s unclear whether the NFL will find any evidence to support the suspicion that someone from the Patriots deliberately caused footballs to lose air pressure.  If the NFL fails to find a proverbial smoking gun, that alone could become a different kind of smoking gun.

Even if (and at this point it could be a big if) the league finds proof of foul play, was it really worth it?  The NFL has tarnished its own shield by painting a Super Bowl participant as a cheater without clear evidence of cheating.  As noted on Friday, some believe that former Commissioners (such as Paul Tagliabue) would have addressed complaints coming from teams like the Colts regarding underinflated footballs not by trying to lay a trap for the Patriots, but by letting the Patriots know that the league office is paying attention to the situation, and that if there’s any funny business happening it needs to stop, now.  Instead, the league office opted to try to catch the Patriots red handed.

But what has the NFL really found?  As one league source has explained it to PFT, the football intercepted by Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson was roughly two pounds under the 12.5 PSI minimum.  The other 10 balls that reportedly were two pounds under may have been, as the source explained it, closer to one pound below 12.5 PSI.

The NFL has yet to share specific information regarding the PSI measurements of the balls that were confiscated and measured at halftime.  Which has allowed the perception of cheating to linger, fueled by the confirmation from Friday that the NFL found underinflated balls, but that the NFL still doesn’t know how they came to be that way.

“The goals of the investigation will be to determine the explanation for why footballs used in the game were not in compliance with the playing rules and specifically whether any noncompliance was the result of deliberate action,” the league said. “We have not made any judgments on these points and will not do so until we have concluded our investigation and considered all of the relevant evidence.”

Regardless of how hard or easy it could be or should be to get to the truth, the NFL owes it to the Patriots and the league to get there, quickly.  Instead, the premier American sporting event apparently will be played under a dark cloud, and anything other than an eventual finding of cheating will seem anticlimactic and contrived.  Even if the conclusion is regarded as legitimate, it won’t undo the damage that the Patriots and the NFL will have suffered during this bizarre period of pending allegations that have not yet been proven.

So at a time when the league office is still reeling from an insufficient investigation in the Ray Rice case, the league office now faces even more criticism for a clumsy sting operation that possibly will end up being a swing and a miss.  Surely, much of that criticism will be directed privately at the league office from the Patriots.

Complicating matters for the NFL is that the bat initially was swung by Mike Kensil, a former employee of the Jets with a reputation among the Patriots for being an agitator. (Kensil’s father, Jim, served as president of the Jets for 10 years from the late 1970s to the late 1980s.)  And so on the same day that the tampering charges filed by the Patriots against the Jets over Darrelle Revis became the latest chapter in a longstanding feud between the franchises, the tentacles of acrimony between the two franchises found a way to erupt into a brouhaha unlike many the NFL ever has seen.

The NFL never should have let this specific situation get to that point.  Even if the league deemed it proper to lay a trap, they should have realized the challenges of actually making a trap work.  In this case, it appears that they didn’t.

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Akeem Ayers: Titans did me a favor trading me to Patriots

Rob Ninkovich, Akeem Ayers AP

Akeem Ayers is in the Super Bowl because he was traded from the Titans to the Patriots during the 2014 season. He’s thankful for that.

Ayers said he appreciates the Titans for getting rid of him and getting him to a place where he could succeed.

“They made a decision that they felt like they needed to make,” Ayers said, via the Providence Journal. “I don’t have any hard feelings. I just took it as motivation and especially being here on this team, I feel like they did me a favor, honestly. I really don’t have any hard feelings for them. I have a lot of close friends on the team and I still talk to them. It’s nothing personal. I came here and I did a good job here and we’re going to the Super Bowl.”

Ayers barely got on the field for the Titans during the first half of the season, but he was a key contributor to the Patriots’ defense during the second half of the season. The Titans didn’t just do Ayers a favor. They did the Patriots a favor as well.

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Report: Raheem Morris expected to be Falcons defensive coordinator

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

The Falcons are believed to be waiting for the Seahawks to finish the Super Bowl so that they can go ahead and hire Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn as their next head coach, but that hasn’t stopped them from moving forward with other coaching moves.

They’ve decided on Kyle Shanahan as their next offensive coordinator and they may be moving forward with his defensive counterpart as well. Mike Jones of the Washington Post reports that the Falcons have set up an interview with Redskins defensive backs coach Raheem Morris and that the expectation is that Morris will take the position.

Morris interviewed for the coordinator job in Washington as well as the one with the Giants, but both teams went in other directions with their ultimate hire. Morris has never been a coordinator at the pro level, although working under Quinn wouldn’t be quite a full coordinator role because Quinn is expected to still call the defensive plays.

Morris played for Hofstra when Quinn was an assistant and then joined him on the coaching staff at the Long Island school before both men moved on for other jobs. Morris and Shanahan were both on the same Washington staff in 2012 and 2013.

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