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PFT’s Week 15 picks

Peterson AP

Three weeks remain, and I’ve gradually built the lead back to four games.

But MDS has a chance to trim the gap down to one, if he’s right and I’m wrong on the three games on which we disagree.

And yes, Raiders fans, after four weeks of picking your team to lose, getting the exact score of two games right, missing a third exacta by one point, and correctly predicting the Raiders’ point total in all four games, MDS is picking your team to win this week.

Our picks on all Week 15 games appear below.  (Then again, where the hell else would they be?)

For last week, I eked out the win, 11-5 to 10-6.  For the year, I’m 134-73-1, a 64.4 percent accuracy rate.  MDS is 130-77-1, which keeps him at 62.5 percent.

Bengals at Eagles

MDS’s take: I’d been saying for weeks that the Eagles have given up on the season and wouldn’t win another game this year, and they proved me wrong with a spirited effort on Sunday, beating a Buccaneers team with playoff aspirations. So can they do that twice in a row? I don’t see it. Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins will lead a defense that will make life miserable for Nick Foles.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 24, Eagles 10.

Florio’s take:  The Eagles have now won more recently than the Phillies.  At least that can’t change until April.  Between now and then, the Eagles will change, plenty.

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 24, Eagles 17.

Giants at Falcons

MDS’s take: The Falcons are still the favorites to earn home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, but I think the Giants are the better team. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Giants win in Atlanta in December and then do it again in January.

MDS’s pick: Giants 30, Falcons 20.

Florio’s take:  The Falcons need a win to prove they can win in the playoffs.  The Giants need a win to help ensure they’ll get to the playoffs.  This one feels like the NFC version of Texans-Patriots.

Florio’s pick:  Giants 31, Falcons 21.

Broncos at Ravens

MDS’s take: Baltimore’s decision to fire offensive coordinator Cam Cameron strikes me as a desperation move. The Ravens know they’re not as good as the three elite teams in the AFC, and the Broncos are going to demonstrate that on Sunday in Baltimore.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 24, Ravens 14.

Florio’s take:  The Ravens don’t match up well against Peyton Manning.  They never have.  Throw in a flat-tire offense that the Ravens are trying to change while the car is moving, and the late-season slide continues.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 28, Ravens 20.

Packers at Bears

MDS’s take: The Packers can clinch the NFC North with a win, and I think they’ll do just that. Lovie Smith has said from his first day as the Bears’ coach that his No. 1 goal is to beat Green Bay, and Smith’s seat will get even hotter when he fails to do that on Sunday at Soldier Field.

MDS’s pick: Packers 28, Bears 13.

Florio’s take:  If Jay Cutler doesn’t play, who’ll shove J’Marcus Webb when this one starts to go south?

Florio’s pick:  Packers 24, Bears 13.

Redskins at Browns

MDS’s take: The Redskins have been red hot lately, but the Browns are better than people give them credit for. Whether it’s Robert Griffin III or Kirk Cousins, the Redskins’ quarterback is going to have a tough time against Cleveland’s defense, and I like the Browns to win a close, low-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Browns 13, Redskins 10.

Florio’s take:  With or without RG3, the Redskins have found their groove and they’ll continue to push for the playoffs.  Still, this one could be the toughest challenge yet, notwithstanding wins over the Ravens, Giants, and Cowboys.

Florio’s pick:  Redskins 24, Browns 21.

Colts at Texans

MDS’s take: The Texans don’t have much time to lick their wounds after the epic beating they took in New England, but Houston is a more complete team than Indianapolis and should put the Colts away and clinch the AFC South.

MDS’s pick: Texans 24, Colts 17.

Florio’s take:  The Texans may have never won in Indy, but they’ve finally figured out how to beat Indy in Texas.  Besides, the Texans need the win to stay ahead of the Pats for the top seed — and the Colts for the division crown.

Florio’s pick:  Texans 28, Colts 17.

Jaguars at Dolphins

MDS’s take: Neither of these teams is particularly good, but the Dolphins at least look like they’re going in the right direction, while the Jaguars look like they need to be torn apart and rebuilt from the ground up.

MDS’s pick: Dolphins 20, Jaguars 7.

Florio’s take:  The Jags’ travel expenses will be low.  Their offensive output will be even lower.  And no one will notice.

Florio’s pick:  Dolphins 20, Jaguars 10.

Buccaneers at Saints

MDS’s take: Drew Brees will turn in a big game against a depleted Buccaneers secondary, and the Saints will put together a solid win, too late for it to matter in the playoff race.

MDS’s pick: Saints 31, Buccaneers 21.

Florio’s take:  Not long ago, both of these teams had a real shot at the postseason.  Now?  Not.  Though the Bucs have held their own in the Bayou in recent years, the Saints will be buoyed by their bounty victory.

Florio’s pick:  Saints 27, Buccaneers 23.

Vikings at Rams

MDS’s take: Raise your hand if you actually predicted before the season that this Week 15 game would have playoff implications for both teams. I’m betting on both of these teams falling just short, but I’m impressed that Jeff Fisher and Leslie Frazier have their teams playing well into December. I see the Rams’ defense forcing Christian Ponder into three interceptions and the Rams ending the Vikings’ playoff hopes.

MDS’s pick: Rams 21, Vikings 16.

Florio’s take:  I broke from my vow to never pick the Vikings again this year after their Week 11 bye, and it turned out to be a smart move.  For a change.  So why not do it again?  The young Rams remain inconsistent, and they’re due to lay an egg like the one they popped out against the Jets last month.  Meanwhile, Adrian Peterson is making a run at history.  What better way to take a big chunk out of the gap between A.P. and E.D. (that nickname isn’t as cool as it used to be) than to do it against the team with which he set the record?

Florio’s pick:  Vikings 20, Rams 13.

Lions at Cardinals

MDS’s take: Neither team is playing particularly well, but at least the Lions are playing competitively. The Cardinals aren’t doing anything right.

MDS’s pick: Lions 20, Cardinals 6.

Florio’s take:  Something’s gotta give when a pair of crappy teams get together in Arizona.  The Lions are the lesser of two evils, thanks to the fact that they have the better of the two starting quarterbacks.  By far.

Florio’s pick:  Lions 31, Cardinals 17.

Seahawks at Bills

MDS’s take: Seattle catches a break here, as a bad road team is going not to Buffalo but to Toronto, where the pro-Bills crowd won’t be quite as raucous. The Seahawks strike me as a team peaking at the right time, and they’ll beat Buffalo handily.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 34, Bills 17.

Florio’s take:  The Seahawks are getting better on the road.  Especially when the road is more like the semi-neutral site that is Toronto.  The push continues for a playoff berth — and possibly the NFC West crown.

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 33, Bills 20.

Panthers at Chargers

MDS’s take: Give credit to both of these teams: Late in a tough season, when it would be easy to mail it in, they’re both playing hard. So this should be a pretty good game, something you can’t often say about a December game when both teams have losing records. A big game from Philip Rivers will win it for the Chargers.

MDS’s pick: Chargers 31, Panthers 28.

Florio’s take:  Ron Rivera returns to San Diego, with inside information about the Chargers’ offense and a quarterback who seems to be finding his stride, again.  Sunday’s upset by San Diego over the Steelers was an aberration; the Panthers’ unexpected win over Atlanta wasn’t.

Florio’s pick:  Panthers 27, Chargers 20.

Steelers at Cowboys

MDS’s take: This might be the best game on a great NFL Sunday because both teams are desperate. Then again, the Steelers were desperate last week, too, and they laid an egg. Pittsburgh looks like it’s fading down the stretch.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 20, Steelers 13.

Florio’s take:  It’s a rematch of three prior Super Bowls, and each team’s ability to pursue another Super Bowl appearance rides on the outcome.  It’s hard to overlook that ugly home loss by the Steelers — and it’s even harder to ignore the sense that the Cowboys are finding a way to pull together after Saturday’s tragedy.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 27, Steelers 17.

Chiefs at Raiders

MDS’s take: This might be the worst game on a great NFL Sunday because both teams have nothing to play for other than possibly getting the first overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. I like the Raiders to win and the Chiefs to take another step toward the top pick.

MDS’s pick: Raiders 21, Chiefs 13.

Florio’s take:  It’s the latest renewal of a once-great rivalry, and it continues to disintegrate.  If the Raiders can win at Arrowhead, they can hold serve at home.

Florio’s pick:  Raiders 17, Chiefs 7.

49ers at Patriots

MDS’s take: In a potential Super Bowl preview on Sunday night, I think the Patriots will show they’re playing at another level from the rest of the league. Tom Brady will have a big game against a good 49ers defense, and Bill Belichick will have something up his sleeve for 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 31, 49ers 17.

Florio’s take:  Another prime-time home game against a playoff-caliber team, another big win for a Patriots team that is poised to make another assault on a championship.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 34, 49ers 24.

Jets at Titans

MDS’s take: I don’t think the Jets are particularly good, but none of the teams they’re playing in December are particularly good, either. So I like the Jets to win this one, and probably win out to earn a surprising 9-7 record and even an outside shot at an AFC wild card berth.

MDS’s pick: Jets 14, Titans 10.

Florio’s take:  The Jets keep moving toward an unlikely playoff berth.  The Titans keep moving toward an inevitable house cleaning.  Mittens off for Bud Adams!

Florio’s pick:  Jets 14, Titans 10.

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Lions shorthanded at tight end, but it may not change offense much

Detroit Lions Training Camp Getty Images

The Lions have five tight ends on their roster, but they could very well have just two available for Sunday’s game against the Falcons in London.

Two Lions tight ends — Joseph Fauria and Eric Ebron — have been ruled out for Sunday. Another tight end, Brandon Pettigrew, is doubtful because of a foot injury. This could leave Detroit with just newly signed Kellen Davis and recently promoted Jordan Thompson at tight end against Atlanta.

At first glance, this seems like a potential problem for the Detroit offense. After all, Thompson is entering just his second game on the Lions’ active roster, while Davis joined Detroit just this week.

However, the Lions have experience carrying just two active tight ends. In fact, they’ve done it the last four games with Fauria on the mend with an ankle injury.

And a look at formation data logged by the NFL suggests the Lions’ offense can probably fare just fine with just two tight ends in the club’s final game before its Nov. 2 bye.

Through seven games, the Lions have used two or more tight ends on 23.9 percent of their plays from scrimmage (110-of-461). They have deployed at least two tight ends on 28.6 percent of first downs and 28.3 percent of second downs.

On third down, however, the Lions have utilized two tight ends or more on just 7-of-102 plays (6.9 percent). On fourth downs, they have trotted out two tight ends on 2-of-4 snaps.

On average, the Lions are running about 66 plays. And if their typical tight end usage continues, they’ll have Davis and Thompson on the field together about 16 times.

Whenever the Lions return to closer to full strength at tight end, offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi may be afforded more schematic flexibility. But the Lions have shown they can manage even with less-than-ideal circumstances at this key position.

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Steelers hand kickoff return duties to LeGarrette Blount

LeGarrette Blount, Thomas DeCoud, Luke Kuechly AP

The Steelers have been miserable running back kickoffs this season, averaging just 17.5 yards a return. As a result, they’ve made a change on the special teams depth chart.

Dri Archer, who has been the primary return man so far this year, is being replaced with running back LeGarrette Blount. Archer is a 5-foot-8, 173-pound rookie with great speed, but he’s frequently been taken down by the first person to reach him on kickoff coverage. The Steelers hope the six-foot, 250-pound Blount will be able to break some tackles and break some long returns.

Things didn’t work out as well as they wanted before, so they switched it up,” Blount said. “I’m excited about it. It’s going to be fun. We’re hoping that we can get everything done the way that we want to get it done, and we hope that we can be effective with it so we can keep it going.”

Steelers special teams coach Danny Smith said he’s still a big believer in Archer’s skills, even though it’s been disappointing that Archer’s longest return this season was just 23 yards.

Blount did a good job returning kickoffs in New England last year, averaging 29.1 yards. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said kickoff returns are something “we have to get better at,” and he’s hoping Blount is the man to make that happen.

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Week Eight skill-position injury report — final

Giovani Bernard AP

Here are the skill-position players in Sunday games listed on the final Week Eight injury report. Key fantasy starters are bolded. Inactives are announced 90 minutes before kickoff.

The final injury report for Monday night’s Washington-Dallas game will be released Saturday.

Sunday’s Lions-Falcons matchup will start at 9:30 a.m. ET, so set your lineups — and alarms — accordingly.

Byes: 49ers, Giants.

OUT

Bills RB Fred Jackson (groin).

Browns WR Rodney Smith (hamstring).

Cardinals TE Troy Niklas (ankle).

Chiefs WR Donnie Avery (groin).

Colts WR Reggie Wayne (elbow).

Eagles WR Brad Smith (groin).

Lions TE Eric Ebron (hamstring).

Lions TE Joseph Fauria (ankle).

Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams (ankle).

Panthers RB Fozzy Whittaker (thigh).

Panthers WR Corey Brown (concussion).

Raiders WR Vincent Brown (hamstring).

Ravens TE Owen Daniels (knee).

Saints RB Khiry Robinson (forearm).

Saints RB Pierre Thomas (rib, shoulder).

Seahawks RB Derrick Coleman (foot).

Seahawks TE Zach Miller (ankle).

Seahawks WR Bryan Walters (concussion).

Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph (abdomen, groin).

DOUBTFUL

Bengals WR A.J. Green (toe).

Bills WR Marquise Goodwin (hamstring).

Lions RB Reggie Bush (ankle).

Lions TE Brandon Pettigrew (foot).

Titans TE Taylor Thompson (knee).

QUESTIONABLE

Bills WR Marcus Easley (knee).

Buccaneers QB Josh McCown (right thumb).

Buccaneers WR Vincent Jackson (rib).

Chiefs WR Junior Hemingway (hamstring).

Colts RB Trent Richardson (hamstring).

Colts TE Jack Doyle (knee).

Eagles RB Darren Sproles (knee).

Falcons WR Harry Douglas (foot).

Jets WR Greg Salas (ankle, wrist).

Lions WR Calvin Johnson (ankle).

Panthers RB Chris Ogbonnaya (groin).

Patriots RB Shane Vereen (illness).

Patriots WR Matt Slater (shoulder).

Raiders RB Marcel Reece (quadricep).

Saints TE Jimmy Graham (shoulder).

PROBABLE

Bears TE Martellus Bennett (hamstring).

Bears WR Chris Williams (illness).

Bengals RB Giovani Bernard (ribs).

Bills WR Sammy Watkins (groin).

Cardinals RB Andre Ellington (foot).

Cardinals WR John Brown (ankle).

Chiefs RB Cyrus Gray (hand).

Chiefs TE Travis Kelce (ribs).

Dolphins TE Charles Clay (knee).

Dolphins TE Dion Sims (neck).

Eagles RB Chris Polk (hamstring).

Falcons WR Julio Jones (ankle).

Jaguars RB Toby Gerhart (foot).

Jets RB Bilal Powell (foot).

Jets RB Chris Johnson (ankle).

Jets WR Eric Decker (hamstring).

Lions RB Theo Riddick (hamstring).

Packers RB James Starks (ankle).

Patriots QB Tom Brady (ankle).

Rams PK Greg Zuerlein (illness).

Rams RB Benny Cunningham (knee).

Rams WR Kenny Britt (ankle).

Ravens WR Steve Smith (not injury related).

Seahawks Marshawn Lynch (not injury related).

Seahawks RB Robert Turbin (shoulder).

Seahawks TE Luke Willson (groin).

Titans QB Jake Locker (right hand).

Titans RB Shonn Greene (hamstring).

Vikings TE Chase Ford (foot).

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NFLPA says NFL won’t cooperate with its Ray Rice investigation

Ray Rice Press Conference Getty Images

The NFL Players Association has begun its own investigation into the Ray Rice case. The NFL apparently thinks that’s one investigation too many.

According to the NFLPA, the NFL isn’t cooperating with the NFLPA investigation, which is being conducted simultaneously with both the league-sanctioned investigation by former FBI Director Robert Mueller and Rice’s appeal of his indefinite suspension.

Richard Craig Smith, the attorney leading the investigation for the union, told the Associated Press that the NFL has not provided documents and witnesses and the Ravens have refused to cooperate at all. In the NFLPA’s view, that calls into question the NFL’s public statements that it favors transparency on the Rice matter.

The NFL hasn’t commented and hasn’t committed to assisting in the NFLPA’s investigation.

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Ryan Shazier probable for Sunday vs. Colts

Dennis Pitta, Ryan Shazier AP

One of the Steelers’ defensive starters is set to return.

Rookie left inside linebacker Ryan Shazier (sprained MCL) is probable for Sunday’s game vs. Indianapolis, according to the injury report.He has practiced fully in each of the last two days.

The Steelers’ first-round pick in May, Shazier has missed the last four games, with Sean Spence taking his place in the lineup. An Ohio State product, Shazier has recorded 20 combined tackles in his three starts. In his first two games, Shazier played 124-of-138 defensive snaps for Pittsburgh, per Pro Football Focus. He suffered his injury in the Steelers’ Week Three win at Carolina.

The 6-1, 237-pound Shazier posted the best vertical jump (42 inches) and broad jump (10 feet, 10 inches) among linebackers at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine. At 22, he is one of the building blocks for a defense in transition.

While Shazier looks ready to return, starting nose tackle Steve McLendon (shoulder) and right cornerback Ike Taylor (forearm) remain out for the 4-3 Steelers.

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Week Eight injury report roundup

Cincinnati Bengals v Indianapolis Colts Getty Images

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

Lions vs. Falcons (in London)

The Lions listed running back Reggie Bush (ankle) and tight end Brandon Pettigrew (foot) as doubtful, but there’s still a chance for wide receiver Calvin Johnson (ankle, questionable). No such chance remains for tight ends Eric Ebron (hamstring) or Joseph Fauria (ankle). The Falcons hope to get wide receiver Harry Douglas (foot, questionable) back in the lineup and also listed defensive tackle Jordan Babineaux (foot) as questionable.

Seahawks at Panthers

Seattle will cross the country without running back Derrick Coleman (foot), defensive tackle Jordan Hill (ankle), cornerback Byron Maxwell (calf), tight end Zach Miller (ankle), center Max Unger (foot), linebacker Bobby Wagner (toe) or wide receiver Bryan Walters (concussion). Everyone else on their injury report is probable. The Panthers raise the Seahawks one on the number of players ruled out. Cornerback Bene’ Benwikere (ankle), linebacker Chase Blackburn (knee), wide receiver Corey Brown (concussion), guard Amini Silatolu (calf), guard Trai Turner (knee), running back Fozzy Whittaker (thigh) and running back DeAngelo Williams (ankle) are all going to miss the game. Running back Chris Ogbonnaya (groin) and Jason Williams (hip) are both questionable.

Ravens at Bengals

Owen Daniels (knee) is out after having arthroscopic surgery, leaving the Ravens without their top two tight ends. Left tackle Eugene Monroe (knee) and left guard Kelechi Osemele (back) should return to the lineup after being listed as probable. Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (toe) is doubtful after missing practice all week and defensive tackle Brandon Thompson (knee) is questionable. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict (neck) is probable.

Dolphins at Jaguars

The Dolphins are waiting to see what linebacker Koa Misi (ankle, questionable) can do, but they don’t think defensive back Jimmy Wilson (hamstring, doubtful) will be able to play. The Jags have issues on defense with cornerback Alan Ball (biceps) and defensive end Andre Branch (groin) ruled out and cornerback Dwayne Gratz (hip, questionable). The offense should have running back Toby Gerhart (foot, probable) back.

Rams at Chiefs 

The Rams could be short at cornerback with Janoris Jenkins (knee) and Trumaine Johnson (knee) both questionable. Cornerback Brandon McGee (foot) has already been ruled out, as has center Tim Barnes (shoulder). The Chiefs hope to get safety Eric Berry (ankle, questionable) back in the lineup. Wide receiver Donnie Avery (groin) and cornerback Christopher Owens (knee) will both miss the game.

Bears at Patriots

The Bears are unlikely to have linebackers Jon Bostic (back, doubtful) and Lance Briggs (ribs, doubtful), but cornerback Kyle Fuller (hand/hip) is probable. Right tackle Jordan Mills (foot, questionable) trended in the wrong direction as the week played out. The Patriots won’t have defensive end Chandler Jones (hip) and they listed running back Shane Vereen (illness) questionable after he missed Friday’s practice. As always, several other Pats, including concussed offensive linemen Dan Connolly and Bryan Stork, are questionable.

Bills at Jets

Bills running back Fred Jackson (knee) was officially ruled out and wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (hamstring) is doubtful. The team hopes safety Aaron Williams (neck, questionable) can play and they have no worries about wide receiver Sammy Watkins (groin, probable). The Jets are 1-6, but they’re pretty healthy. Linebacker Trevor Reilly (knee) and wide receiver Greg Salas (ankle, wrist) are questionable and the only players on the injury report listed as anything but probable.

Vikings at Buccaneers

Vikings center John Sullivan (concussion) is probable, but the team will wait to make a call on guard Vlad Ducasse (knee). Linebacker Gerald Hodges (hamstring) is doubtful and tight end Kyle Rudolph (abdomen/groin) remains out. The Bucs return from their bye week with linebacker Jonathan Casillas (hamstring), tackle Anthony Collins (knee), safety Dashon Goldson (ankle), wide receiver Vincent Jackson (rib), quarterback Josh McCown (right thumb) and safety Keith Tandy (hamstring) questionable to play on Sunday.

Texans at Titans

Questionable linebackers are all the rage in Houston. Jadeveon Clowney (knee), Brian Cushing (knee), Brooks Reed (groin) and John Simon (ankle) all got that designation with Cushing looking the least likely to play come Sunday. Titans cornerback Coty Sensabaugh (knee) and tight end Taylor Thompson (knee) are doubtful and linebacker Quentin Groves (ankle) is questionable. Quarterback Jake Locker (thumb) is probable, but he’ll just be holding a clipboard if all goes well for Tennessee.

Eagles at Cardinals

Center Jason Kelce (hernia), linebacker Mychal Kendricks (calf) and running back Darren Sproles (knee) are all questionable. It’s a surprising positive for Kelce and a negative for Kendricks, who the team hoped would be returning this weekend. Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell (knee, questionable) has a chance to play, which is a bit of a positive surprise as well given the initial timeline for his injury.

Raiders at Browns 

The Raiders ruled out tight end David Ausberry (foot), wide receiver Vincent Brown (hamstring), cornerback Keith McGill (groin), defensive end LaMarr Woodley (biceps) and safety Usama Young (knee). Another four players — guard Khalif Barnes (quadricep), running back Marcel Reece (quadricep), cornerback Carlos Rogers (knee) and defensive end Justin Tuck (knee) — are questionable. It looks like the Browns should have defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin (ankle, probable) back in the lineup, but defensive end Phil Taylor (knee) remains out. Safety Jim Leonhard (ankle) and defensive end Billy Winn (quadricep) are both questionable.

Colts at Steelers

Wide receiver Reggie Wayne (elbow) is out for the Colts, while tight end Jack Doyle (knee) and running back Trent Richardson (hamstring) are questionable. Defensive tackle Steve McLendon (shoulder), cornerback Ike Taylor (forearm) and safety Shamarko Thomas (hamstring) are out for Pittsburgh, but it looks like linebacker Ryan Shazier (knee, probable) should return to the lineup. Tackle Marcus Gilbert (concussion) is questionable.

Packers at Saints

The Packers will be without defensive end Datone Jones (ankle) and cornerback Sam Shields (knee) is unlikely to play after being listed as doubtful. Safety Morgan Burnett (calf) is questionable and the Packers, who like to check every box) listed running back James Starks (ankle) as probable. Center Jonathan Goodwin (knee, ankle), linebacker Kyle Knox (ankle) and running backs Khiry Robinson (forearm) and Pierre Thomas (rib, shoulder) are all out for New Orleans. They have the same number of questionable players, with decisions pending on defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley (concussion), tight end Jimmy Graham (shoulder), linebacker Ramon Humber (ankle) and cornerback Keenan Lewis (knee, shoulder).

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Blandino says ref made right call on Broncos non-fumble

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 4.08.21 PM

The Broncos appeared to catch a huge break on Thursday night when the on-field ruling of a fumble by kickoff returner Andre Caldwell was reversed on instant replay, with the referee saying Caldwell was down before he lost control of the ball. On Friday, NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino said that was the right call.

In a video released by the league, Blandino says Caldwell’s forearm hit the ground before he lost the ball.

“The forearm was down and the player still had control of the loose ball,” Blandino said. “You’ll see it get pulled loose after the forearm hits — not the elbow, and the referee made an incorrect announcement by saying the elbow. He should have said the forearm. . . . The arm was down before the ball got pulled free. You can see the forearm coming down, the player still in control of the football — slight movement does not constitute a loss of control. . . . That’s why the call was overturned. It’s close, but in the referee’s judgment, and we agreed, the forearm was down before the ball came loose.”

Blandino noted that although San Diego’s Ladarius Green started to pull the ball from Caldwell’s hand before Caldwell was down, Caldwell hadn’t actually lost the ball until his forearm had already hit the ground.

“Slight movement does not constitute a loss of possession — that’s in the rulebook. Loss of control means the ball being pulled loose,” Blandino said.

Complicating matters was that former NFL referee Mike Carey, now the rules expert for CBS, said on the live TV broadcast that replays confirmed that the call on the field was correct. When rules experts like Carey and FOX’s Mike Pereira look at the same replay as the referees — but come to a different conclusion than the referee about what the replay says — that contributes to a climate around the NFL in which it’s perceived that no one knows exactly what the complex rulebook says.

Blandino’s explanation probably won’t placate Chargers fans, who feel that the call was a huge turning point in the game: If the fumble hadn’t been overturned on replay, the Chargers probably would have scored just before halftime and gone into the half leading 10-7 or 14-7. Instead Denver kept the ball, drove down the field and scored, and it was the Broncos who led 14-7 at halftime. It was a huge call, and the NFL says it was the right call. It’s understandable if Chargers fans disagree.

Screen cap via NFL.

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Mike McCoy: Jason Verrett wouldn’t have played if he wasn’t ready

San Diego at Denver Getty Images

Chargers coach Mike McCoy met the media on Friday and there were more questions about how the team handled a pair of injuries from Thursday night than there were about why they couldn’t handle the Broncos.

McCoy was asked about the decision to play cornerback Jason Verrett after he missed last Sunday’s game with an injured shoulder. Verrett left the game after aggravating the injury and reports on Friday are that Verrett stands to miss an extended period of time as a result. McCoy said the team didn’t rush Verrett back into the lineup.

“If he wasn’t ready to go, we wouldn’t have put him out there,” McCoy said, via Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego.

Whether it was too soon or not, the result will be a painful one for the Chargers if they have to go without the rookie because he’s played a big role in their 5-3 start to the season.

McCoy also faced questions about whether safety Jahleel Addae suffered a concussion in the second half when he got up from a hit and staggered for a couple of moments. Addae said he suffered a stinger and was cleared to return to the game after being evaluated on the sideline. McCoy also said Addae suffered a stinger while adding that medical evaluations were ongoing and that he hadn’t spoken to the trainer since the team returned to San Diego.

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Judge blocks New Jersey sports betting

sports_betting_board_78396227 Getty Images

Well, if you’d wagered that a federal judge would block New Jersey’s plan to trot out sports wagering this weekend, it’s time to collect.

Per multiple reports, Judge Michael Shipp has granted a temporary restraining order preventing New Jersey from implementing a plan to launch sports betting this weekend at racetracks and casinos.

The order presumably will last until the litigation filed by the NFL and other sports leagues on Monday is resolved.  Which probably will result in a ruling that New Jersey’s plan cannot proceed.

The NFL long has opposed the expansion of legalized sports betting.  This is Round Two with New Jersey, which failed in a prior effort to circumvent a 1992 federal law aimed at stopping new states from adding sports wagering.

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Pats will soon get a close look at the one who got away

Sanders AP

During 2013 free agency, the Patriots signed then-restricted free agent Emmanuel Sanders to an offer sheet, willing to give up a third-round pick if it meant getting the player away from Pittsburgh on a one-year, $2.5 million deal.

The Steelers matched, but many believed that New England’s gesture would be rewarded in 2014, when Sanders hit the open market with the ability to sign with anyone.

It didn’t happen.  Sanders instead landed in Denver, and now the Patriots are nine days away from hosting Sanders, Peyton Manning, and the rest of the Broncos.

So why isn’t Sanders a Patriot?

“They were in the mix, it just didn’t get done with anyone,” agent Steve Weinberg told Tom Curran of CSN New England.  “[Sanders] went on several visits — Jacksonville, Tampa, Kansas City, and I was talking to New England the whole time.  But the process went real slow.”

Complicating matters for the Patriots was Sanders’ decision to hire Weinberg to replace Jordan Woy, who had represented Sanders when he signed the offer sheet in New England.

“If Emmanuel hadn’t switched agents, he may have ended up [with the Patriots],” Weinberg told Curran.  “New England was competitive throughout the process.  Had they been aggressive from the beginning it would have gotten done, but, in this market, nobody knew what to do with the wide receivers. New England expressed interest during the [pre-free agency] negotiation period.”

Instead, the Patriots have to figure out how to slow down a guy who scored a touchdown on Sunday night and three more on Thursday night.  And how to get the most out of a receiving corps that would have benefited from the presence of a player who generated a season-high 98 yards against New England last year with the Steelers.

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Shane Vereen questionable due to illness

New York Jets Vs. New England Patriots At Gillette Stadium Getty Images

Shane Vereen wasn’t at Patriots practice on Friday, a new development after the running back had been on the field each of the first two days of the week.

The good news for the Pats is that Vereen isn’t injured. The bad news is that he’s sick enough that his status is up in the air for Sunday’s game against the Bears.

The Patriots listed Vereen as questionable for the game because of his illness, which could leave them without the player that’s moved into the lead running back role with Stevan Ridley out for the season. It would also cost Vereen a chance to play against his brother, Bears safety Brock Vereen. Brandon Bolden, Jonas Gray and James White are the other running back options for New England.

As expected, the Patriots ruled out defensive end Chandler Jones because of a hip injury. Offensive linemen Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork and Cameron Fleming and defensive lineman Dominique Easley are also questionable.

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Saints rule out two RBs; Jimmy Graham questionable

Jimmy Graham, Pierre Thomas AP

The Saints will be down two tailbacks Sunday night vs. Green Bay.

According to the injury report, the club has ruled out Khiry Robinson (forearm) and Pierre Thomas (rib/shoulder).

Mark Ingram figures to be the Saints’ featured back against the Packers, with Travaris Cadet likely the top pass-catching option out of the backfield. And with Ingram and Cadet the Saints’ only two healthy backs, it’s possible a transaction could be coming for New Orleans. The club has tailback Edwin Baker in reserve on the practice squad.

In other Saints injury news, tight end Jimmy Graham (shoulder) is officially questionable for Sunday night. He was questionable entering last Sunday’s loss to Detroit but still played. However, he was held without a catch and played less than half the snaps for the Saints (2-4).

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Brian Cushing on playing Sunday: We’ll see how it goes

Buffalo Bills v Houston Texans Getty Images

Earlier this week, Mike Florio of PFT reported that Texans linebacker Brian Cushing would miss at least one game because of issues with his surgically repaired knee.

Texans coach Bill O’Brien said there was “no accuracy to that report” on Thursday, but the linebacker was listed as questionable Friday after missing practice for the third straight day and sounded like there was a pretty good chance he winds up on the inactive side of that question come Sunday.

Cushing said “we’ll see how it goes” over the weekend while pointing out how much his knee has gone through with two surgeries in the last two offseasons and that he hasn’t been the player he wants to be so far this season.

“We’re going to make the best decision for myself (and) the team,” Cushing said, via ESPN.com. “I think we all can agree the last couple weeks I haven’t really been myself. It’s been really hard on me. Any time I go out there I want to put the best of myself out there to help the team win. If it’s to a point where I’m really not with my play and where I am with my health, that’s what we’re going to do.”

Cushing said he was feeling better after a restful week, which leads you to believe that he’d be feeling even better if he got the weekend off as well. The Texans have a game against the Eagles and then a bye in Week 10, so there’s time ahead to get Cushing rest while limiting the amount of time he’d have to miss on Sundays.

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Kyle Fuller expected to play with broken hand

Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears Getty Images

The Bears defense hasn’t had many bright spots this season, but rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller has been one of them.

That made the fact that he suffered a pair of injuries last weekend a troubling development for the unit. Fuller broke his right hand and suffered a hip pointer during the loss to the Dolphins, but he has been able to practice with a brace on the hand and the team listed him as probable for Sunday’s date with the Patriots.

The news is less positive at linebacker. Jon Bostic and Lance Briggs were both listed as doubtful for the game, leaving them both on track to miss a third straight contest.

Right tackle Jordan Mills is somewhere in the middle. He was a full participant on Wednesday, a limited participant on Thursday and out altogether at Friday’s practice as he deals with a foot injury that has left him questionable for this week. Michael Ola would start if Mills can’t go.

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Fox not too concerned about Broncos’ scoreboard operator

foxrivers AP

Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning made a point of calling out the scoreboard operator in Denver last night, noting that messages on the scoreboard were encouraging the fans to make noise while Manning was trying to audible. But Broncos coach John Fox doesn’t sound too concerned about that.

“There is a lot of stuff that goes on at one of these games,” Fox said, via ESPN. “There are a lot of people that work really hard to make sure that our great fans are entertained. Obviously people like when you win. There are a lot of people that have a lot of responsibilities for each one of these things. And look, you’re never perfect. I’m never perfect. Our product sometimes comes under attack, and rightfully so. But all in all, it’s about the fans – [that] they have a great experience. Sometimes it’s not perfect. You’re going to make mistakes and that happens. We’ve moved on. We had a real big win, a nice big spotlight, and now we’re on to New England.”

The scoreboard operator used pictures of Manning and Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers to get fans to alternate between cheering and booing, which Manning didn’t find funny. Fox was asked if he felt that’s a serious problem.

“I think you take everything seriously, but at the end of the day, it’s not going to be perfect,” Fox said. “There are people working really hard. We’re all trying to do what’s best for the organization and sometimes it’s not perfect. That’s the way of life.”

Manning may want to have a word with the scoreboard operator, but Fox isn’t going to lose any sleep over it.

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