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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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Jim Caldwell thinks a deal with Ndamukong Suh will get done

Ndamukong Suh AP

Lions coach Jim Caldwell doesn’t agree with the recent report that the Lions aren’t optimistic about a long-term contract with defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

Asked if he thinks the Lions can keep Suh long term, Caldwell said he believes they can, noting that the team views Suh as a building block and saying that Suh showed up to training camp in phenomenal shape.

“Absolutely,” Caldwell said, via the Detroit News. “I’m always optimistic . . . and I think without question [Lions management and Suh’s agent] are working at it. And I think something will be done at the appropriate time.”

Suh’s enormous cap number of $22.4 million this year — and the fact that franchising him next year would cost a whopping $26.9 million — makes it easy to see why the Lions would love to work out a long-term deal that provides them with some immediate cap relief. But it also makes it easy to see why Suh is tempted to simply play out his deal. The Lions probably wouldn’t franchise him because they wouldn’t want to eat that cap hit, which means Suh would hit the open market after this season.

Caldwell may have reasons to be optimistic about getting a deal done with Suh, but Suh has even more reasons to be optimistic that he’s going to get paid a fortune over the coming years, from the Lions or some other team.

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LaMichael James likely to miss preseason with dislocated elbow

LaMichael James, Colin Kaepernick AP

The good news for 49ers running back LaMichael James is that he is expected to be ready to go by Week One after suffering a practice injury on Sunday. The bad news is that the inexperienced James won’t benefit from any preseason experience.

James suffered a dislocated left elbow that will take about a month to heal, meaning he’s likely out for the entire preseason, ESPN reports. The 24-year-old James has just 39 carries for 184 yards so far in his NFL career, and the 49ers would have liked to see him get more action in the preseason, especially after they already lost running back Kendall Hunter for the entire season when he suffered a torn ACL on Friday.

The 49ers suddenly find themselves thin at running back, a position where they expected to be deep. In addition to the Hunter and James injuries, 2013 fourth-round pick Marcus Lattimore is still not practicing because he’s still not 100 percent recovered from the serious knee injury he suffered at South Carolina in 2012.

After starter Frank Gore, the only 49ers running backs able to practice right now are second-round pick Carlos Hyde and former practice-squad player Jewel Hampton.

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Rudolph gets $6.5 million to sign on deal with maximum value of $40 million

Rudolph AP

Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph has a new five-year extension, announced tonight by the team and reportedly carrying a base value of $36.5 million.  A source with knowledge of the terms has shared some additional details with PFT.

Rudolph gets a $6.5 million signing bonus.  Along with a technically non-guaranteed but as a practical matter fully guaranteed base salary of $956,343 for 2014, Rudolph definitely will earn $7.456 million in the next five months.

Per the source, the deal has another $12 million in injury-only guarantees that eventually convert to full guarantees on the third day of a given league year.  (The number of years over which the guaranteed money is spread isn’t currently known.  Until the relevant dates pass and the money becomes fully guaranteed, it’s not actually or practically guaranteed.)

On the back end, Rudolph earns an extra $750,000 for each year in which he catches 80 passes, and $500,000 for each year he makes it to the Pro Bowl.  Over five years, that’s a total of $6.25 million in available incentives, but the total he can earn through these accomplishments is capped at a total of $3.5 million.

The base new-money value of $7.3 million puts him behind only Jimmy Graham ($10 million in new money), Rob Gronkowski ($9 million), Jason Witten ($7.4 million), and Vernon Davis ($7.35 million).  A single 80-catch season will throw another $0.25 million on the annual average, vaulting Rudolph ahead of Witten and Davis.

Eighty catches won’t be a breeze, but in Norv Turner’s offense it’s a distinct possibility.

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Vikings strike five-year deal with Kyle Rudolph

Kyle Rudolph AP

The Vikings have signed one of their core offensive players to a contract extension.

The club confirmed Sunday night it had reached a new deal with 24-year-old tight end Kyle Rudolph, who was entering the final year of his contract.

According to FOX’s Jay Glazer — who first reported news of the extension — Rudolph received a five-year, $36.5 million contract from Minnesota.

NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport reports the new deal makes Rudolph the game’s fifth highest-paid tight end.

Rudolph has hauled in 109 passes for 1,055 yards and 15 touchdowns in three NFL seasons, all with Minnesota. The Vikings selected Rudolph in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft. He played collegiately at Notre Dame.

“I’m extremely excited to get this extension completed and continue my career with the Minnesota Vikings,” Rudolph said in a statement issued by the club Sunday night. “I’ve said all along I wanted to stay in Minnesota. I love the fans, the community and, most importantly, I’m excited about where this team is going. I’m looking forward to the 2014 season and helping this organization reach our ultimate goal.”

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Christine Michael bangs up shoulder

Seahawks AP

As the Marshawn Lynch holdout lingers, his leverage spikes if/when any of the team’s alternatives at tailback gets injured.

If became when on Sunday, when second-year running back Christine Michael left practice with a shoulder injury.

“He just banged his shoulder a little bit,” coach Pete Carroll told reporters after practice.  “They think he will be ready to go on Tuesday.”

The injury serves as a reminder that Plan B can quickly becomes Plan C and so on, unless and until Lynch returns to the fold.  There’s been no progress along those lines, with Lynch wanting a new contract and the Seahawks refusing to rip up the last two seasons of a four-year, $30 million deal.

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Ron Rivera: De’Quan Menzie is retiring

Arizona Cardinals v Kansas City Chiefs Getty Images

The Panthers waived defensive back De’Quan Menzie on Saturday.

And now, it appears the third-year pro could be electing to end his career.

According to Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera indicated Sunday that the 24-year-old Menzie was retiring.

Menzie’s verified Twitter account had the following post Sunday: “Officially done….”

An Alabama product, Menzie (5-11, 200) was a fifth-round selection of Kansas City in 2012. He spent his rookie season on injured reserve (hip flexor). After being waived by Kansas City in May 2013, Menzie had a brief stint with Detroit before being waived in August 2013. The Panthers signed Menzie to a futures contract in January 2014.

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LaMichael James carted off during 49ers practice

James Getty Images

Another day, another injured tailback in San Francisco.

Via Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, third-year running back LaMichael James was carted off during practice with an apparent wrist/arm injury.

James, who has appeared in only 14 regular-season games in two NFL seasons, has a chance to show that he can contribute to the base offense following the season-ending ACL injury suffered on Friday by Kendall Hunter.  While the specific nature and severity of the injury isn’t known, guys usually don’t get carted off with arm/wrist injuries.

Before practice, coach Jim Harbaugh said that the team has “complete and total confidence” in James, who along with Marcus Lattimore and Carlos Hyde will be counted on to make an impact, especially with Hunter done for the year.

In two seasons, James has only 39 regular-season rushing attempts for 184 yards.  He has caught five passes for 45 yards.  His primary contributions have come as a kickoff and punt returner, with 49 total returns in two season.

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McCoy, Cole downplay practice-field fracas

McCoy AP

On Sunday, during the second practice of camp and a day before the pads go on, Eagles running back LeSean McCoy took issue with a hit from defensive end Trent Cole, sparking the first fight of the year.  After the session ended, Cole and McCoy downplayed the exchange of pleasantries.

I don’t even know what you’re talking about,” Cole said, via Geoff Mosher of CSNPhilly.com.  “That’s my brother, man.  We were just playing around.  We’re competitors.  We’re very competitive.”

McCoy was a little less willing to let it all go.  But he seems to have moved on, too.

“The whole camp so far, it’s been touching a little too much,” McCoy said. “I’m trying to let them know, ‘It’s OK if you can’t cover me.’”

Defensive end Brandon Graham, who was in the middle of the melee but called himself a spectator, initially tried to describe the hit as a “nudge.”

“You know, it wasn’t really a nudge because it was 270 [pounds] against 200,” Graham said.  “I wasn’t taking it that seriously because it was just a regular catfight.”

But Graham admitted there’s no place for fighting or otherwise hurting teammates.

“You gotta draw the line,” Graham said.  “You gotta take care of each out out here.  Even when we get pads on you can’t just be out here trying to kill everybody, because we do got to have them for the season.  But [Monday] is gonna be a lot of aggression.”

Coach Chip Kelly isn’t a fan of aggression that results in fights — cat-style or otherwise — between guys who wear the same uniform.  Kelly may need to send a clear message to his players to keep things from getting out of control.

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Texans offensive line dedicates season to Quessenberry

Quessenberry Getty Images

As Texans offensive lineman David Quessenberry prepares to endure his third round of chemotherapy, his teammates have found a way to honor him.

“Absolutely, we have dedicated this season to him as a line,” left tackle Duane Brown told FOX 26 and the Houston Chronicle.  “He’s in the ultimate battle right now.”

Center Chris Myers intends to take it a step farther, finding ways to raise money and awareness for lymphoma.

“With everything going on with David right now this season is obviously going to be dedicated to him,” Myers said.  “He’s on our minds 24-7, and that’s not going to stop. . . . It’s going to go throughout the whole season and for us to be able to do something special this season would be huge for him.”

“Hey, every night we go to bed, we say a prayer for the man,” guard Ben Jones said. “Every day we try to reach out to him because he means a lot  to us.  We want him to know we’re behind him.”

The support from his teammates has had a major impact on Quessenberry.

“It’s hard to put into words what it means to have the support of your brothers on the team,” Quessenberry said. “It’s humbling.  Truly it’s an honor.  I want to do them proud. I want to come back stronger and come back and help these guys when I do come back eventually.  “This year I got blind-sided getting diagnosed with cancer.  Just knowing that my teammates and my brothers got my back is truly something special.”

A sixth-round pick in 2013, Quessenberry was diagnosed with lymphoma in June.  We wish him the best as he continues the battle.

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DeMarcus Ware has a lower leg injury

Ware AP

During his time with the Cowboys, defensive end/linebacker DeMarcus Ware played through plenty of injuries.  He’s already dealing with one in Denver.

Ware was held out for roughly half of Sunday’s practice due to what coach John Fox called a lower leg injury.  Fox told reporters it doesn’t appear to be serious.

Of course, “doesn’t appear” leaves the window slightly open for the possibility that it is.  And as Broncos fans learned four years ago with former Denver pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil, a season-ending injury can happen out of nowhere in the early stages of training camp.

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Patrick Peterson’s days on offense and special teams are done

patrickpeterson AP

In training camp last year, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said cornerback Patrick Peterson could be one of the Top 5 receivers in the NFL. But at training camp this year, Arians has decided to put a stop to the experiment of giving Peterson snaps on offense.

Arians told Darren Urban of the Cardinals’ website that the addition of speedy receivers Ted Ginn in free agency and John Brown in the draft means that Peterson won’t be needed to make plays on offense. That’s no surprise: Peterson didn’t do much of anything on offense last season, catching six passes for 54 yards and carrying the ball four times for 21 yards. If that’s all the Cardinals are going to get out of Peterson on offense, it’s probably not worth the time and energy it takes for Peterson to work with the offense.

Peterson added that not only will he not be a wide receiver anymore, but he won’t return punts either. That decision is a little more surprising because Peterson is an outstanding punt returner who led the league with 699 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie. But Ginn and Brown can both return punts as well, and taking Peterson off punt returns will allow him to focus on his most important job, at cornerback.

As for talk that Peterson is due for a pay raise and a long-term contract extension soon, Peterson said he’s not worrying about that.

“I’m here to play football,” Peterson said. “I have two years left on my deal and I want to do the best I can to help this team win. I haven’t been to the playoffs since I’ve been here & that’s my first goal.”

Arians thinks Peterson can do more to help the Cardinals make the playoffs if he’s doing nothing other than playing defense.

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Panthers sign running back Fozzy Whittaker

RB-Fozzy-Whittaker-AP-Photo-by-Cleveland-Browns AP

Though it sounds strange to see given their track record, the Panthers found themselves short at running back.

So they solved that problem for the moment by bringing in former Browns running back/return man Fozzy Whittaker. (Waka! Waka!).

The Panthers had an immediate need with Jonathan Stewart on the shelf with a hamstring and sixth-round pick Tyler Gaffney going on injured reserve with a knee injury.

Whittaker has some return ability, but has been looking for work since the Browns cut him in May.

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Redskins cut the cord on 2013 draft pick Brandon Jenkins

Washington Redskins v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

Players with value get chances. Players without value get made into examples.

The Redskins released 2013 fifth-round pick Brandon Jenkins Sunday, less than a week into his second training camp.

According to Tarik El-Bashir of CSNWashington.com, Jenkins “had a particularly poor effort in Sunday morning’s one-on-one battle drills,” and was released hours later.

The former Florida State linebacker had one tackle in six games last season, and barely played in the second half of the season, since he didn’t contribute on special teams.

Draft picks usually get a longer leash, especially in their first two seasons. But he might be more useful to the Redskins as an object lesson than as a player.

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Jason Pinkston absent, and neither he nor Browns will say why

Pinkston Getty Images

Hard to believe as it may seem, the Browns currently employ football players not named Johnny Manziel.  As to one of them, a question has arisen regarding his employment.

Via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, offensive lineman Jason Pinkston isn’t around.  And no one will say what’s going on.

“I can assure you I’m in no legal trouble and retiring hasn’t come up,” Pinkston said via Twitter.  “As far as my situation, I’ll leave it to them to explain.”

The only problem is that the Browns won’t explain.

“Pinkston’s unavailable to practice and due to his circumstances I cannot comment on it any further,” Pettine said.  “I want to give you more, but just given the circumstances, I can’t.  That’s where we are with Jason.”

Agent Neil Schwartz, who has a history of holding players out (including 49ers guard Alex Boone), couldn’t be reached for comment.

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Cassel, Bridgewater “pretty much splitting reps”

Cassel AP

After being called out by Peyton Manning for his smedium shirt and all-access pass to Broncos training camp, FOX’s Jay Glazer took his bus-defacing training-camp tour to Mankato State University.  He liked what he saw and heard of Vikings rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

Per Glazer, Bridgewater and veteran Matt Cassel are “pretty much splitting reps” at practice, and “[h]ugeee” (maybe the tight shirt made the button stick) optimism exists for Bridgewater’s future.

It doesn’t mean that Bridgewater will be the Week One starter.  It does mean that, the longer the rep-spitting lasts, the less prepared the Week One starter will be.

Though in different conferences, the Vikings and Browns will provide an intriguing apples-and-apples quarterback comparison in 2014 and beyond, given that both were interested in Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater.  Cleveland ultimately traded up to get Manziel before the Vikings could, and Minnesota moved back to round one to get Bridgewater.

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