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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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Eagles lose Nolan Carroll with broken ankle

Nolan Carroll AP

A bad season just got a lot worse for the Eagles.

Starting cornerback Nolan Carroll has a broken ankle, the team announced. Carroll suffered in the injury in the first half of Thursday’s game at Detroit.

Carroll, 28, spent his first four seasons with the Dolphins before joining the Eagles in 2014. He became a full-time starter in Philly this year, which given his contractual status could be his last with the Eagles.

Carroll has been replaced by rookie second-rounder Eric Rowe, who possibly will become the replacement for the rest of 2015 and beyond.

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It feels like now or never for Chip Kelly in Philly

Chip Kelly AP

Four days after being blown out, 45-17, by a team that won two games in all of 2014, the Eagles are down 24-7 through 30 minutes of a game against a team that had won one game in the first half of 2015.

And with Philly and coach Chip Kelly on track to lose a third game in a row, questions will get louder and more persistent about his future. While USC indeed remains a possibility, the primary NFL option is the one that first became obvious after Kelly couldn’t strike a deal to land former Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota in the draft.

The Titans already have fired their head coach, and interim coach Mike Mularkey hasn’t done enough to merit serious consideration for the permanent gig. If Tennessee ownership has interest in Kelly (and if they know what they’re doing, they should), a reunion makes plenty of sense.

It wouldn’t be nearly as complicated as some have suggested. As PFT previously has explained, the Titans simply need to call the Eagles and ask whether it’s possible to work out a deal that would allow the Titans to hire Kelly, if he’s interested in making the leap. With each additional loss, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie presumably will become more willing to let Kelly go in exchange for reasonable compensation — especially if Lurie already is thinking about making a change.

Of course, Kelly also would have to want to make the change. If Kelly does, maybe he simply would try to force his way out, which would allow him to go straight to Nashville without the Titans giving up draft picks that otherwise would help Kelly put talent around Mariota.

While it’s a point of pride (supposedly) for a coach to be traded for two first-round picks, two second-round picks, and $8 million in cash like the Bucs did for Jon Gruden nearly 14 years ago, those selections would have helped Gruden put a team on the field that may have allowed him to do better than 60-57 in Tampa.

Ultimately, this one comes down to: (1) whether the Titans want Kelly; and (2) whether Kelly wants the Titans. The Eagles likely wouldn’t force Kelly to stay for another year, especially if what has become a disastrous third season continues.

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Lions take big lead into halftime on Megatron TD

Mark Sanchez, Ezekiel Ansah AP

Matthew Stafford is dealing, and Mark Sanchez is struggling.

Stafford hit Calvin Johnson in the end zone for a touchdown with 12 seconds remaining in the second half to give the Lions a 24-7 lead heading into halftime, and it’s been pitch-and-catch for the Lions’ offense.

The Eagles’ offense had one good drive that ended with a Sanchez touchdown pass to Brent Celek, but for the most part it’s been an ugly half of offense. Chip Kelly needs to figure something out at halftime.

Detroit fans cheered as their team went to the locker room. You can bet Philly fans are grumbling over their Thanksgiving dinners.

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Eagles score after Lions lose Glover Quin to leg injury

Glover Quin AP

The Eagles’ offense is starting to get moving, and the Lions’ defense has lost a key player.

Lions safety Glover Quin suffered a leg injury late in the first quarter and hasn’t returned to the game. He appeared to be in pain, and frustrated that he couldn’t run on the sideline. Quin went to the locker room and the Lions said he was questionable to return with an ankle injury.

The Eagles, taking advantage of a depleted secondary, took the lead with a two-yard touchdown pass from Mark Sanchez to Brent Celek. That tied the score at 7-7.

Philadelphia also suffered a loss in the secondary, as starting right cornerback Nolan Carroll went down in the second quarter. Carroll was carted off the field, wearing the look of a player who knows he had just suffered a significant injury.

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Lions take early lead on Theo Riddick touchdown

Theo Riddick AP

Heading into this week, Detroit’s Theo Riddick was the leading receiver among all NFL running backs. He’s getting more work done today.

Riddick has two catches for 31 yards in the first quarter against the Eagles, and his second catch was a touchdown to give the Lions an early 7-0 lead.

After an ugly first drive that went backward, the Lions’ offense settled down and got contributions from Riddick, Golden Tate and Ameer Abdullah on the second drive. Matthew Stafford also threw a beautiful pass to Brandon Pettigrew that could have gone for a touchdown, but Pettigrew dropped it.

Now the Mark Sanchez-led Eagles’ offense will have to answer.

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Eagles left tackle Jason Peters suffers leg injury

jasonpeters Getty Images

Eagles left tackle Jason Peters has had more than his share of injury problems, and now he has another.

Peters suffered an apparent leg injury on the first drive of the game when Lions defensive end Jason Jones rolled up on him from behind. Peters was able to get up and walk off under his own power. The Eagles said he was questionable to return.

The Eagles’ offense moved the ball well on its first drive, but a facemasking penalty on Lane Johnson, who moved to left tackle to take Peters’s place, pushed Philly back and Caleb Sturgis missed a 50-yard field goal.

The Lions’ offense could do nothing with its good field position after that, and there was an exchange of punts. Not much action so far on Thanksgiving.

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Report: Manziel lied to Browns about recent photos

Johnny Manziel AP

As if Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel hadn’t already given the team more than enough reasons to never trust him again, here’s another. According to Jay Glazer of FOX Sports, Manziel lied to the Browns about the circumstances surrounding the photos that surfaced following his bye-week excursion to Texas.

Per Glazer, Manziel not only told the team that the photos weren’t taken over the weekend but also recruited others to vouch for the falsehood.

The news underscores the fact that Manziel simply isn’t ready to be a full-time NFL starter, and perhaps never will be. Apart from the medical condition that resulted in a 10-week stay in rehab, Manziel has shown a troubling lack of maturity and self-awareness.

After getting the starting job for the rest of the season, with a chance to parlay that six-game audition into the full-time gig for 2016 and perhaps beyond, Manziel didn’t dedicate himself to doing everything he could to becoming the best quarterback he could be. (Manziel should read Peter King’s article on Carson Palmer’s approach to absorbing a game plan for an example of the level of commitment required.) Instead, Manziel opted to take a break, going to a place where he knew alcohol would be unavoidable, putting himself in position to be photographed partying, and then concocting a flimsy fabrication to cover it all up.

So, basically, Manziel squandered in one weekend whatever trust he had rebuilt with the team following his disastrous rookie season. Coach Mike Pettine would be foolish to trust Manziel a third time, and at this point the only reason to keep Manziel around is to eventually try to unload him onto Cowboys owner Jerry Jones for a draft pick or two.

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Bucs receive notice of Kwon Alexander suspension, subject to appeal

Kwon Alexander AP

It’s official, sort of.

The Buccaneers have received notice that linebacker Kwon Alexander has been suspended for four game for violating the league’s PED policy, via Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times. The suspension is subject to appeal, and Alexander has five days to file the paperwork challenging the outcome.

Stroud reports that Alexander will play Sunday in Indianapolis. The rookie likewise will be permitted to keep playing until his appeal is resolved.

Alexander has acknowledged the positive test; he has blamed it on an energy drink he has been using since high school.

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Bradford inactive; Peters, Kelce, Megatron, Slay active

Wild Card Playoffs - Detroit Lions v Dallas Cowboys Getty Images

Although key players on both teams were listed as questionable on the Thanksgiving injury report, the Eagles’ and Lions’ inactives were exactly as expected.

Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford is inactive today in Detroit, meaning Mark Sanchez will start for the second straight week. The Eagles will have left tackle Jason Peters and tight end Jason Kelce, both of whom were listed as questionable as well.

The Lions will have their best offensive player, wide receiver Calvin Johnson, and their best defensive player, cornerback Darius Slay, active. Both were also listed as questionable.

The Lions’ inactive are defensive tackle Gabe Wright, receiver T.J. Jones, offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle, offensive tackle Corey Robinson, defensive tackle Jermelle Cudjo, safety Isaiah Johnson and tight end Tim Wright.

The Eagles’ inactives are Bradford, running back Ryan Mathews, receiver Jonathan Krause, cornerback Denzel Rice, offensive lineman Tanner Hawkinson, tight end Zach Ertz and defensive end Brandon Bair.

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Belichick expresses gratitude to media, high school football

Bill Belichick AP

There’s a perception that Patriots coach Bill Belichick never has anything to say at his press conferences, primarily because the regular examples of Belichick not having anything to say at his press conferences become the sound bites from those press conferences. (Except when he’s making My Cousin Vinny references.)

But Belichick often provides lengthy, instructive answers to good questions about football, showing that he’s not generally disinclined to talk, but that he merely is reluctant to talk in response to questions that he deems to be bad or uninteresting.

On Thursday, Belichick added a finally comment at the end of his press conference, not in response to any specific question.

“I’ll jump in there and just wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving,” Belichick said. “I appreciate the professional way that this group covers us and being the conduit of information from the team to the fans. We have great fan support.

“Today is also a day to be recognized with the high school football level with so many traditional and rivalry games taking place. Having been at high school and played in those games myself, we always had a traditional Thanksgiving Day game between Annapolis and Severna Park, and I know how important that was to the teams, the families and really the whole school body that supported us. It’s such a good traditional way to capture and bring a lot of things together — family, community, friendship — and do it in a competitive way but also in a way that bonds friendship and community support. And just recognizing the high schools, the great job the coaches and those programs do to develop players that eventually become our players and how impactful they are to our players.

“When I talk to players at the [scouting] combine in the spring and so forth usually the two most influential people for kids are their parents or in some cases one parent and then the high school football coach or maybe a junior high school football coach — somebody who mentored them along the way or kind of helped them develop as young men. All of us who have had that opportunity have certainly gained from it and taken from it. So just reaching out to them with our level of appreciation for what they do for kids that we eventually see at this level and for all the support that the parents and the families and the high schools gives those teams and those players and how it brings everybody together. And again, thanks to all of you for taking time on your Thanksgiving morning to accommodate us, and we look forward to seeing you out in Denver. Happy Thanksgiving.”

It’s a rare public glimpse of the human side of Belichick, which often is kept within the hard shell of a lifelong football coach who has been involved in the game since a very early age, helping his father, Steve, break down film at the Naval Academy. Belichick usually stays true to the job, but every once in a while we get a reminder of the fact that there’s more to him than the gruff, stern, abrupt, and aloof persona he adopts when in full-blown coaching mode.

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Will Mike Shula finally get NFL head-coaching consideration?

Cam Newton, Mike Shula AP

When listing assistant coaches who could be NFL head coaches in 2016, names like Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels sit near the top of the stack. One name has yet to crack the assistant coach “A” list.

Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula.

In early 2014, PFT made the case for Shula to be considered for the vacancy in Washington, given his work with Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. Carolina had just finished a 12-4 campaign, with the 11-1 finish after a 1-3 start sparked in large part by Shula’s decision to scour Newton’s film from Auburn in search of plays and concepts that would work.

Shula didn’t get any sniffs then, he wasn’t mentioned last year after a late-season surge carried the Panthers to a second straight NFC South title, and his name has come up recently only in connection with the University of Miami vacancy.

It’s unclear why Shula, who has helped transform a spread-offense, one-read, simplistic-playbook college quarterback into one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, hasn’t gotten more attention. His father, Don, was one of the greatest coaches in NFL history. Mike Shula’s brother, David, was one of the worst of the last 25 years. And Mike had a shot with Alabama, but he was fired — and he was followed by Nick Saban, who took the program back to its houndstooth heights.

Still, there’s a fundamental difference between coaching in college and coaching in the NFL. The pro game places a major premium on quarterback play, and with so many college quarterbacks not ready for the NFL, a guy who has accomplished what so few coaches can should at least be getting talked about as an NFL head coach.

Shula’s next chance to make a name for himself while carrying one of the most recognizable names in football comes later today, when the Panthers square off against the Cowboys. In past years, players like Randy Moss and Robert Griffin III have used that spot for coming-out parties.

This year, if/when (when) Newton is throwing touchdown passes and dancing in the end zone, maybe someone who will be looking for a head coach will at least make a note of Shula’s role in that process.

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Undefeated Panthers still have Marty Hurney’s fingerprints on roster

17529d1296072619-panthers-gm-marty-hurney-says-quarterback-teams-marty-hurney Getty Images

When Panthers fans gather around their televisions this afternoon to watch their 10-0 team, there are many people for whom they should be thankful.

But one of the unheralded architects of their current success is a guy they fired over three years ago.

Fourteen of the 53 players on the Panthers roster were acquired by former General Manager Marty Hurney, before he was fired on Oct. 22, 2012. And while that’s just over a quarter of the team, he’s responsible for most of their biggest stars.

Their offense has been built from the inside out with his draft picks, with quarterback Cam Newton, center Ryan Kalil and running back Jonathan Stewart. Throw in trade acquisition Greg Olsen and free agent fullback Mike Tolbert, and the guts of their offense have been in place for years.

On the other side of the ball, former defensive player of the year Luke Kuechly, linebacker Thomas Davis, defensive end Charles Johnson and breakout cornerback Josh Norman were all drafted by Hurney.

The rest of his guys on the roster include backup quarterback Derek Anderson, punter Brad Nortman, safety Colin Jones, long snapper J.J. Jansen and defensive tackle Dwan Edwards. Three other players he acquired (Amini Silatolu, Nate Chandler and Frank Alexander) are on injured reserve.

That’s not to say current G.M. Dave Gettleman hasn’t done a good job building a championship-level roster, he has with good drafting and strategic forays into free agency. Gettleman’s also had to do it while digging out from salary cap problems, and those get pinned on the guy he replaced. But with time to look back on the glut of deals Hurney signed in 2011, it’s worth wondering how much of that cap consequence might have been avoided if owner Jerry Richardson would have let him extend some of those players before the lockout. Instead, Richardson effectively handcuffed his own roster to prove a larger labor point, at a time he was helping Roger Goodell negotiate a new CBA.

But Hurney’s best move might have been hiring first-time head coach Ron Rivera, and allowing him to develop. Rivera looked like a guy in over his head at the time Hurney was fired (he was 7-15 at that point), but has grown into a legitimate coach of the year candidate, having won 14 straight regular season games with a style built on being steady.

The greater point might be that the Panthers have allowed such a strong core of players and coaches to grow together, and the three years of stability have as much to do with their success as the individual identities of the players or coaches.

But the guy who put them there deserves at least a little credit too.

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Red Grange’s debut, 90 years later

(UNDATED):  Red Grange, the "Galloping Ghost", poses for a portrait. Grange, a three-time All-American at Illinois also played for the Chicago Bears.  (Photo by MLB Photos via Getty Images) Getty Images

On Thanksgiving night, the Chicago Bears will play the role (the Packers hope) of the Washington Generals for the Brett Favre Jersey Retirement Celebration. Ninety years ago on Thanksgiving, the Bears were the main event for a Thanksgiving Day slate of games that helped give pro football early legitimacy.

As noted by the 2015 Official NFL Record & Fact Book, Harold “Red” Grange made his debut with the Bears on Thanksgiving in 1925, sparking what then was the largest crowd in pro football history — 36,000 — to show up for what turned out to be a scoreless tie between the Bears and the Chicago Cardinals at Wrigley Field.

At a time when college football had much greater credibility and popularity than the pro game, the arrival of Grange only days after the end of his college career gave the professional football a major boost.

Not long after that Thanksgiving, the Bears played eight games in 12 days, in St. Louis, Philadelphia, New York, Washington, Boston, Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Chicago. And that Thanksgiving attendance record didn’t last long; after drawing 36,000 for the game against the Cardinals, the Bears and Halas attracted 73,000 to the Polo Grounds for a game against the Giants.

The game has changed dramatically since then, but Thanksgiving is the ideal time to reflect on the rich history of the NFL, which started playing Thanksgiving Day games in 1920 with a slate of six contests: the Akron Pros against the Canton Bulldogs, the Decatur Staleys (which became the Chicago Bears) against the Chicago Tigers, the Elyria Athletics against the Columbus Panhandles, the Dayton Triangles against the Detroit Heralds, the Chicago Boosters against the Hammond Pros, and the All-Tonawanda versus the Rochester Jeffersons.

Nearly a century later, it’ll be the Philadelphia Eagles at the Detroit Lions, the Carolina Panthers at the Dallas Cowboys, and Red Grange’s Bears at Brett Favre’s Packers on Thanksgiving 2015. Enjoy the day, appreciate the gifts you have, and get ready for three helpings of the greatest game in the world.

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Titans want to up threat of Mariota running the ball

JACKSONVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 19:  Marcus Mariota #8 of the Tennessee Titans dives for  touchdown in front of Johnathan Cyprien #37 of the Jacksonville Jaguars during the third quarter of a game at EverBank Field on November 19, 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) Getty Images

In Week 11’s game against the Jaguars, the Titans took a third quarter lead when quarterback Marcus Mariota kept the ball on a read-option and sprinted 23 yards for a touchdown.

The Jags would rally to win the game in the fourth quarter, but the sight of Mariota keeping the ball and hurting a defense with his feet is one that interim coach Mike Mularkey would like to see more of in the future. Mariota ran the ball 11 times in his first six starts of the year, but has 10 rushes in the last two weeks as Mularkey has put more emphasis on that aspect of Mariota’s game.

“We’re tinkering a little more with his running ability,” Mularkey said, via the Tennessean. “As he’s gotten healthier, we’ve put more things in there that has given him the [ability to] run. It doesn’t mean he’s going to, but it gives him the opportunity to run. … I like those plays because it keeps defenses honest. It helps the run game. One thing he is trying to do — and I’m adamant about — is what he does after he hands the ball off. If he can hold somebody for any type of time, even for a split second, it’s a guy that’s not going to be in on the play — whether that’s a guy in the secondary or a safety [wondering] ‘Does he have it or doesn’t he?'”

Mariota’s running ability was put to good use in college, but the Titans emphasized pocket passing as Mariota made the transition to the NFL during the offseason and preseason. He’s done well on that front and adding something else for defenses to think about when facing the Titans should be to his benefit well beyond the final weeks of this season.

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St. Louis, Rams fighting over London game, again

Rams keep St. Louis businesses going AP

Nearly four years ago, the Rams announced that they would play one game per year over three years in London. The St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission quickly informed the Rams that, under the terms of their lease to play games in the Edward Jones Dome, the Rams couldn’t play games anywhere but there. The two sides eventually worked out a deal to allow the Rams to play a single game in London.

Now, the Rams are scheduled to play another game in London. And the CVC promptly informed the Rams that, if they don’t move away from St. Louis, they can’t move one of the games away from St. Louis.

“We recently became aware that the NFL has selected the Rams to play in London during the 2016 football season, and have designated them the ‘home’ team,” the CVC said in a statement issued Wednesday, via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “The Rams are on a year-to year lease and have until Jan. 28, 2016 to inform us if they will play the 2016 season at the Edward Jones Dome. We have had no formal discussions with the Rams about their 2016 intentions or a London game in 2016, but if they do play in the Dome in 2016, the terms of the lease remain in effect and provides that all Rams NFL home games (other than preseason) will be played at the Facilities.”

It seems like a gratuitous agitation of the Rams by the CVC, given that the Rams have the right to leave St. Louis after this year — if of course the NFL lets them. The CVC could be banking on indications that either the Rams will lose their current tug-of-whereabouts with the Chargers or that the NFL will kick the relocation can down the road for a year.

Regardless, it’s a strange situation in St. Louis, with a city that could soon lose all Rams games after this season making a big stink out of the possibility of losing only one next season.

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