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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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Kevin Greene’s Hall of Fame candidacy nearly got lost in the cracks

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Much has been said about one key omission from the new Hall of Fame class. Let’s take a moment to talk about one key inclusion.

Linebacker Kevin Greene finally has made it, passed over for more than a decade despite being third on the all-time sack list with 160. He has more sacks that Hall of Famers Chris Doleman, Michael Strahan, Richard Dent, John Randle, Lawrence Taylor, Rickey Jackson, Derrick Thomas, Charles Haley, Andre Tippett, Warren Sapp, and Howie Long.

Greene picked up those 160 sacks in 15 NFL seasons. But he got none as a rookie, which means that he averaged nearly 11.5 sacks every year for 14 seasons.

So how didn’t he make it sooner? Appearing on Friday’s PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio and NBCSN, Greene suggested that, because he spent the bulk of his career with the Los Angeles Rams, he may have gotten lost in the cracks.

Greene, one of the first players to change teams via true free agency, spent three seasons with the Steelers after eight in L.A. Then came a year in Carolina, a year with the 49ers, and two more with the Panthers. (Greene called his time in San Francisco a “fart in the wind,” which also accurately describes Jim Tomsula’s lone year as head coach — in multiple ways.)

Ultimately, it was PFT’s Darin Gantt (who holds the Carolina vote for the Hall of Fame) task to make the case for Greene, and this year Greene got in.

So as many wring hands (rightfully so) for the omission of Terrell Owens, it’s time for a deep exhale on Greene — and not simply because of an effort to avoid inhaling the odors of a fart in the wind.

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Super Bowl big dog Kony Ealy sued for not producing big dog

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 21: Eileen Weatherbee stands next to Obilio, a South African Boerboel, following the announcement that the Westminster Dog Show would introduce seven new dog breeds into the annual competition at Madison Square Garden on January 21, 2016 in New York City. The seven new dogs breeds are the Bergamasco, Berger Picard, Boerboel, Cirneco dell'Etna, Lagotto Romagnolo, Miniature American Shepherd, and Spanish Water Dog. (Photo by Bryan Thomas/Getty Images) Getty Images

Panthers defensive end Kony Ealy is having more problems with dogs in Charlotte than he was Broncos in Santa Clara last week.

According to Michael Gordon of the Charlotte Observer, Ealy was named in a lawsuit which claims he bilked sports bar owner Kris Johnson out of $3,000 when a dog-breeding plan fell through.

The lawsuit says Ealy and his brother Danny “Dogman” Jones lured him into a plan to breed African Boerboel puppies. The dogs can grow to more than 200 pounds, and the lawsuit said Ealy and his brother told Johnson they needed $6,000 for a breeding female, promising they could make $35,000 a litter and $1 million a year.

(It sounds like they might have neglected the sheer amount of chow it takes to feed a bunch of 200-pound dogs when formulating this business plan.)

(Also, Ealy has a brother named “Dogman.”)

(Proceed.)

Johnson wrote a check for $3,000, but then the operation never came together for whatever reason, so he’s suing to get his money back.

Ealy could not be reached for comment, but attorney Kenneth Raynor said Ealy and his brother: “dispute the allegations , . . . and I plan on vigorously defending the lawsuit.”

The second-year defensive end had three sacks and an interception in the Super Bowl, raising his profile a bit, and making him a more visible target.

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Super Bowl draws huge numbers in Canada, too

SANTA CLARA, CA - FEBRUARY 07:  Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers in action against the Denver Broncos during Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Getty Images

The United States isn’t the only country where the Super Bowl is a huge television draw.

According to John Kryk of the Toronto Sun, 18 million Canadians watched at least part of Super Bowl 50. That represents 52 percent of the Canadian population — the same percentage of Americans who watched at least part of Super Bowl 50. Last year, Super Bowl XIL was actually watched by a slightly higher percentage of the Canadian population than of the American population.

Twice as many Canadians watched the Super Bowl as watched the Grey Cup, the championship game for the Canadian Football League.

The experiment with the Bills playing one game a season in Toronto failed, but that’s not a reflection of the level of interest in the NFL in Canada. Football is big north of the border, too.

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Looming prosecution, possible paid leave will put McCoy, Bills in a tough spot

LeSean McCoy AP

Before the Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, and Adrian Peterson cases of 2014, NFL players who faced criminal charges typically continued to show up for work while prosecution was pending. Except in rare cases (like Mike Vick’s dogfighting and gambling indictment of 2007, which sparked an indefinite suspension without pay), the league took no action until the court proceedings had ended.

The notorious Ray Rice video, followed four days later by the child-abuse allegations against Peterson and amid the then-lingering domestic violence case against Hardy, prompted the NFL to find a way to get Peterson and Hardy off the field without suspending them. They both agreed to be placed on paid leave at a time when they otherwise were free men who were presumed innocent.

In December 2014, the NFL codified the availability of paid leave for any players facing criminal charges. It’s a vague, discretionary process that the league uses in some cases and not in others, with no clear rules or formulas for invoking it.

As to Bills running back LeSean McCoy, who is expected to be charged with aggravated assault in Philadelphia, the league won’t be using paid leave during the portion of the calendar in which all players are on unpaid leave. At some point, however, the players will return — and the wheels of justice often grind slowly. If McCoy chooses to fight the case through trial, he could miss all of the 2016 season, but with pay.

The alternative would be to resolve the charges with a plea deal. The prosecutors will know that McCoy needs to get the case behind him in order to play, which means they’d potentially drive a harder bargain.

If McCoy pleads guilty to anything before the start of the 2016 season, he’ll then face an unpaid suspension for a baseline of six games, which can be increased or decreased based on a variety of factors.

From the team’s perspective, there’s no good solution. Already, $2.5 million of McCoy’s base salary is fully guaranteed for 2016. The remaining $2.3 million becomes fully guaranteed on March 9. A suspension would void the guarantees, and it also would allow the Bills to recover a portion of his signing bonus. Paid leave would have no impact on the guaranteed money; even if they cut McCoy now or while he’s on paid leave, they’ll still owe him the money. (That said, cutting him now would avoid the extra $2.3 million guaranteed.)

For McCoy, the question becomes whether it’s more important to play in 2016 or to maximize his earnings. He could get all of his money for 2016 but then face an unpaid suspension in 2017, if he’s convicted in the next offseason. Or he could plead guilty sooner than later and lose a large chunk of his 2016 pay after being suspended by the league.

Few will shed tears for McCoy, based on videos that seem to show him participating in an assault. Regardless, the league’s post-Rice protocols will put McCoy in a much more delicate spot than he would have been before 2014, when players who were facing charges typically played while the charges were pending, no questions asked.

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All-Pro Colts receiver Willie Richardson dies at 76

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Willie Richardson, a star receiver for the Colts in the 1960s and a member of one of the most athletic families in the history of football, has died at the age of 76.

After an All-American career at Jackson State, Richardson was drafted by both the Baltimore Colts of the NFL and the New York Jets of the AFL in 1963. He signed with the Colts and became a first-team All-Pro in 1967, when he was third in the league with 63 catches and added 860 receiving yards and eight touchdowns.

Richardson had five brothers who played at Jackson State, and three of them played in the NFL: Gloster Richardson played for the Chiefs, Cowboys and Browns, Tom Richardson played for the Patriots and Ernie Richardson played for the Browns.

In Super Bowl III, Richardson was the Colts’ leading receiver, catching six passes for 58 yards in a loss to the Jets.

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Dolphins add a coach, lose a personnel executive

LANDOVER, MD - SEPTEMBER 13: A Miami Dolphins helmet sits on the grass before the start of their game against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on September 13, 2015 in Landover, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Dolphins added another coach to Adam Gase’s first staff on Friday afternoon.

The team announced that Daronte Jones has been named the team’s assistant defensive backs coach. He will work with Lou Anarumo, who moved back to the defensive backs role he occupied before being named the interim defensive coordinator when Kevin Coyle was dismissed during the regular season.

Jones spent the 2015 season as the defensive backs coach at the University of Wisconsin and served in the same role at the University of Hawaii from 2012 to 2014. He’s also coached in the CFL and at lower collegiate levels since entering coaching in 2001.

The Dolphins also announced that they have parted ways with Eric Stokes, who was the team’s senior personnel executive and assistant general manager for the last two years. Stokes accompanied Dennis Hickey from Tampa Bay to Miami when Hickey was named the General Manager in 2014, but Hickey was relieved of his duties with the team last month.

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Joe Webb fined $8,681 for Super Bowl unnecessary roughness

during their game at Bank of America Stadium on January 3, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Getty Images

The Panthers picked up 12 penalties on their way to their 24-10 loss in Super Bowl 50, including a personal foul on the final play of the game.

Wide receiver Joe Webb was flagged for unnecessary roughness at the end of a short pass completion to running back Fozzy Whittaker. PFT confirmed with the league on Friday that Webb has been fined $8,681 for the play, which is a sour cherry to put on top of an altogether unpleasant Sunday.

Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib and defensive end Malik Jackson were also fined for infractions during the game.

The league also confirmed that guard Trai Turner was not fined after being penalized for unnecessary roughness at the end of a 10-yard run by Whittaker in the third quarter. Safety Tre Boston also avoided a fine after being penalized for an illegal blindside block and unsportsmanlike conduct during the game. Those are both personal fouls, which may result in an ejection if the NFL adopts a rule proposed by commissioner Roger Goodell at his Super Bowl press conference.

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Dolphins cut Coples, McCain

JACKSONVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 20:  Allen Robinson #15 of the Jacksonville Jaguars makes a catch over Brice McCain #24 of the Miami Dolphins during a game  at EverBank Field on September 20, 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Dolphins released cornerback Brice McCain and defensive end Quinton Coples Friday.

McCain lasted one season in Miami after a big year with the Steelers in 2014 helped him land $3 million in guarantees from the Dolphins on the open market.

McCain, 29, was due to make $2.5 million in 2016. He finished 2015 with one interception, 10 pass breakups and 31 tackles in 11 starts.

Coples was claimed off waivers from the Jets last November. He played in six games for the Dolphins without recording any stats.

A first-round pick of the Jets in 2012, Coples has 16.5 career sacks but had none last season.

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Broncos’ Malik Jackson fined $8,681 for late hit

during Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. Getty Images

Broncos defensive lineman Malik Jackson had a big game in the Super Bowl, but he’s not getting his full paycheck from the game.

The NFL has fined Jackson $8,681 for a late hit on Cam Newton in the second quarter.

Although Jackson got a 15-yard penalty for the hit, it turned out not to be costly for the Broncos. On the next play, the Panthers gave the ball to Mike Tolbert, who fumbled the ball back to the Broncos.

Jackson scored the game’s first touchdown when he recovered Newton’s fumble in the end zone. He also tipped a pass and was in on five tackles, all of which were tops for two or fewer yards. So other than the penalty, it was a strong game from Jackson.

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B.J. Raji hasn’t talked to Packers about contract yet

GREEN BAY, WI - AUGUST 09: B.J. Raji #90 of the Green Bay Packers watches from the bench as his teammates take on the Arizona Cardinals at Lambeau Field on August 9, 2013 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Cardinals defeated the Packers 17-0.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Packers re-signed an impending free agent defensive lineman on Friday when they agreed to terms on a deal with Letroy Guion, but another one hasn’t heard from the team yet.

B.J. Raji told Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette that Guion’s new deal was “well deserved” and that he hasn’t started any contract negotiations with the team at this point. The Packers also extended defensive end Mike Daniels before the end of the regular season.

Guion’s deal is reportedly worth up to $11.25 million and Raji said he was “uncertain” about how that contract might impact Raji’s future with the team. Given that both players see time on the interior of the defensive line and played out last season on similar one-year deals, it’s fair to assume that there’s going to be some impact on what the Packers are willing to do to keep Raji at this point.

Raji started 17 games for Green Bay across the regular season and playoffs, which was his sixth as a member of the Packers. He had 22 tackles and half a sack in the regular season and four more tackles in the postseason.

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Charles Woodson lands in Keyshawn’s seat at ESPN

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When word emerged that ESPN would part ways with Keyshawn Johnson after nine years with Sunday NFL Countdown, it was believed they already knew who would take his place. And Charles Woodson was believed to be on the short list.

He was. And he’s now on the even shorter list. Woodson has the job, according to Jason McIntyre of TheBigLead.com.

The 1997 Heisman winner (beating out the likes of Peyton Manning and Randy Moss), Woodson retired last month after 18 NFL seasons with the Raiders, Packers, and Raiders again.

Per McIntyre, Woodson will join the current cast of Chris Berman, Tom Jackson, Mike Ditka, and Cris Carter. However, many in the industry expect the lineup to last only one year, with even more changes coming in 2017 as the network tries to unload bloated salaries and simultaneously skew younger.

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NFL fines Aqib Talib $26,044 for Super Bowl personal fouls

SANTA CLARA, CA - FEBRUARY 07:  Aqib Talib #21 of the Denver Broncos celebrates after defeating the Carolina Panthers during Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. The Broncos defeated the Panthers 24-10.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) Getty Images

Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib got two personal fouls in Super Bowl 50, and the NFL has fined him for both of them.

Talib was fined a total of $26,044 for facemasking and taunting against the Panthers.

The NFL suspended Talib during the regular season for an eye poke, and he’s lucky he wasn’t suspended again for his Super Bowl actions. The facemasking foul was especially egregious, and Talib admitted after the game that he did it on purpose, figuring that since the penalty was at the 3-yard line, the half the distance to the goal line penalty wouldn’t be a big deal.

When it comes to on-field misconduct, Talib is a repeat offender. The NFL will be watching him closely in 2016, and further offenses may result in another suspension.

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Von Miller, Anquan Boldin to appear at Grammys

SANTA CLARA, CA - FEBRUARY 07:  Super Bowl MVP   Von Miller #58 of the Denver Broncos celebrates with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  The Broncos defeated the Panthers 24-10.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

A pair of NFL stars are heading to the Grammys, and believe it or not, it’s not going to be Adam Jones and Antonio Brown.

The league announced that Super Bowl MVP Von Miller and Walter Payton Man of the Year Anquan Boldin will appear during Monday night’s awards show for the music industry.

Miller and Boldin will introduce a performance by Carrie Underwood and Sam Hunt, taking a victory lap for the honors they earned last week.

Of course, it would be a lot more interesting if Brown had actually been nominated for a Grammy, as Jones suggested he should have been for “faking” a concussion after a hard shot to the head from Vontaze Burfict.

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Mike Carey’s problems come more from form than substance

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In many jobs, the ability to perform successfully hinges on the ability to communicate effectively. For anyone who appears on TV (and speaks while doing so), the ability to communicate well becomes critical.

For oft-criticized CBS officiating expert Mike Carey, his actual or perceived struggles in the job have much more to do with his ability to communicate than his ability to accurately predict the outcome of replay reviews.

Two years ago, when I heard that CBS had hired Carey, my reaction was this, “Good move. He communicates very well as a referee.  He’ll be perfect for the job.”

During the 2014 season, Carey’s first on the job with CBS, the differences in communication requirements for the two jobs became obvious.

A referee communicates in narrow, short, tightly-constructed sound bites: “Holding. Offense. Number 65. 10 yard penalty. Still first down.”

It’s a small universe of possible messages that converts most referees (i.e., anyone not named Ed Hochuli) into the human equivalent of Woody from Toy Story. That’s why Hochuli’s verbosity gets noticed. He’s not a doll with a string who quickly declares “there’s a snake in my boots” and shuts up. He strays from the script, often extremely far from the script. (It’s also why Ben Dreith’s “he’s giving him the business” continues to be one of the most memorable officiating moments in history.)

For the job Carey currently has, there’s no menu of phrases that get slapped together to communicate a message without often even constructing an actual sentence. For anyone who has to speak on the air in extemporaneous fashion, it takes time and repetitions to master the task of producing a clear explanation that was formulated on the fly. Through two years, Carey hasn’t mastered that skill. The real question is whether CBS will give him enough time and opportunities to do so, before eliminating the position or hiring someone else for it.

It appears that, at least for now, CBS plans to circle the wagons and stand behind Carey, despite the obvious difference between his performance that the performance of FOX’s Mike Pereira. A new interview of Carey at TheMMQB.com feels almost like part of the effort to prop Carey up, with a headline declaring that Carey has a “tough job,” introductory paragraphs that defend Carey’s 0-for-1 performance in Super Bowl 50, and a Q&A that gives him plenty of opportunities to offer excuses for his struggles.

For example, Carey at one point explains that he has fewer replay angles as a commentator than he had as a referee.

“When I’m on the field, I go to the box and I tell them exactly what I want to see, and then I tell them to freeze it or roll it slowly. When I’m on TV, I’m subject to whatever they show, so I don’t have any control there,” Carey said.

But that’s where the skill of speaking extemporaneously in a frank, self-aware way becomes even more important. Even with limited time, Carey could say something like, “Maybe the referee has access to an angle that we don’t” in order to properly gauge the expectations of the audience — and to make an eventual mistake seem like less of a mistake.

Carey also tried to compare his effort to predict rulings with efforts by others in the media to predict the outcome of games.

“[N]ot unlike all the other experts who chose who was going to win the AFC Championship, I make errors,” Carey said. “Everybody makes errors.”

He’s right that everyone makes errors (and I know that as well as aynone), but it’s not right to compare errors in picking winners to errors in analyzing the outcome of a replay review. The latter isn’t even a prediction; it’s an assessment of what the ruling should be. And the best officiating experts will make it look like their assessments are more accurate than the official NFL assessment, in the event the two differ.

With Carey, his inability to communicate beyond saying “holding, offense, number 65, 10 yard penalty, still first down,” has contributed to the impression that he’s clumsily throwing a dart, not that he’s analyzing in a persuasive, authoritative fashion what he sees — and that even if the referee explains it a different way, Carey is right and the referee is wrong.

Yes, the job is tough. Yes, the communication requirements are fundamentally different. And, yes, the fact that Mike Pereira makes it look so easy makes the job even tougher for someone who, through two full seasons, has not yet shown he’s suited for it.

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Sean Payton: Jahri Evans was an integral part of our success

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 13:  Guard Jahri Evans #73 of the New Orleans Saints walks off the field following the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 13, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Cardinals defeated the Saints 31-19.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

We’ve known for a few days that guard Jahri Evans won’t be back with the Saints in 2016, but the team didn’t officially announce his departure until Friday.

The statement about the release is headed with a message of thanks on the Saints website along with a list of Evans’ accomplishments while he was a member of the team. It also includes praise from General Manager Mickey Loomis, who said Evans was “one of the best guards” in the league over his time with the team, and coach Sean Payton.

“Jahri has been a fantastic player for our team and an integral part of our success over the last 10 years,” Payton said in the statement. “He’s one of the toughest and smartest players I have ever been around in coaching and that coupled with his unselfishness and dependability made him one of the most respected players in our locker room. When we arrived in 2006, he was a part of our first draft class, which became the foundation for our 2009 championship team.”

Evans’ agent says his client wouldn’t take a pay cut to remain with the team and is “healthy and hungry” to move on to another team for the 2016 season.

In addition to formalizing the Evans move, the Saints announced the previously reported departures of linebacker David Hawthorne, linebacker Ramon Humber and wide receiver Seantavius Jones. They also announced that they have re-signed cornerback Tony Carter and fullback Austin Johnson. Both ended the season with the team, although Carter didn’t play after signing in December.

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