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Lovie Smith: Packers game wasn’t must-win, but this week is

Lovie Smith AP

Bears coach Lovie Smith is feeling a sense of urgency after losing his fifth game in the last six weeks on Sunday against the Packers, and he says the Bears simply must beat the Cardinals this week.

“Yesterday’s game was a must-game for the NFC North championship, but besides that, it wasn’t a must-game with what can happen for our season,” Smith said at his press conference on Monday. “This week it is a must game.”

Smith is right that Sunday’s game wasn’t a must-win in the sense that it didn’t eliminate the Bears from playoff contention. However, losing to the Packers did mean that for the first time all season, the Bears don’t control their own destiny: They now need to get some help to reach the playoffs, even if they win their last two games.

The good news, however, is that the Bears have the easiest remaining schedule of the 8-6 teams in the NFC, with the Cardinals and the Lions coming up. Smith said he knows generally how the NFC stacks up, but he’s focused only on Arizona, not on what other teams are doing.

“There are a lot of 8-6 teams,” Smith said. “We haven’t gone over every scenario, but we just know that there’s a lot of us in it, and for us it’s about getting to 10-6. And getting to 10-6 is about beating Arizona and getting to 9-6.”

Smith sounded like he’s running out of explanations for how his team could play so well over the first half of the season, with a 7-1 start, and then go 1-5 over six straight games.

“When you’ve lost as many as we have, I can’t give you a good reason for it,” Smith said.

If Smith can’t find a way to reverse it, these could be his last two games as the Bears’ head coach.

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Andrew Luck declares himself to be 100 percent, sets sights on Super Bowl

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For the Colts, the 2015 season was a mess. For quarterback Andrew Luck, it was even more of a mess.

With camp opening, Luck told reporters that he’s 100 percent after multiple injuries last year, included a lacerated kidney. Entering 2016, Luck made it clear that he and the rest of the team have a chip on their shoulder.

“Yeah, I think so,” Luck said regarding whether the team has an edge this year. “I think so.”

Like every team, Indy’s goal is to get to the Super Bowl. “And win that game,” Luck added.

That’s a long way away, but the foundation for a successful season is put in place during training camp. Luck embraces that.

“Camp is awesome,” Luck told reporters. “I had a coach once explain camp is like second Christmas and it certainly feels that way. There’s an energy. There’s a buzz in the air. It’s great to see all the guys. There are some new faces absolutely. That’s sort of the nature of the NFL and there’s also some consistent faces like T.Y. Hilton, Chuck Pagano, Dwayne Allen, Anthony Castonzo, so there’s a great core group of guys on this team and integrating the new guys is always a big deal for the offseason and training camp.”

What about camp makes it so awesome?

“That it’s ball all day,” Luck said. “You don’t really have to think about anything. You can wear the same clothes, you know, two weeks in a row and no one is going to judge you unless you start smelling and then someone tells you, ‘You smell.'”

Last year, the Colts smelled bad. This year, the goal is to turn that stink into something that smells a lot more like napalm in the morning.

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Jimmy Smith to be inducted into the “Pride of the Jaguars”

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As the Jaguars begin their 22nd NFL season, they will be adding a sixth person to the “Pride of the Jaguars.” The next name on the list will be receiver Jimmy Smith. It’s an honor reserved to those who have made the biggest contributions to the franchise.

I’m definitely proud and emotional right now,” Smith said Tuesday morning, via Jaguars.com, who got the call informing him of the decision from owner Shad Khan. “It was a 217 area code. I started not to pick up the phone because I usually don’t answer numbers I don’t know. It was Shad Khan, and I knew right then. My heart started beating fast and I couldn’t catch my breath. He said, ‘Jimmy, this is Shad Khan with the Jacksonville Jaguars . . . .”

Smith joins Tony Boselli, Fred Taylor, Mark Brunell, and former owners Wayne and Delores Weaver as the members of the team’s most exclusive group of honorees.

The 1992 second-round pick of the Cowboys became an original Jaguar in 1995, spending 11 seasons with the team. He caught 862 passes for 12,287 yards and 67 touchdowns.

Smith won’t be insisting on the exclusive club remaining small. He already is lobbying for former Jaguars receiver Keenan McCardell and former Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin to be added to the group.

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Report: Seahawks extend Pete Carroll through 2019

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 17:  Head coach Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks looks on prior to the NFC Divisional Playoff Game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on January 17, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) Getty Images

General Manager John Schneider signed an extension with the Seahawks over the weekend and, as expected, his partnership with coach Pete Carroll won’t be ending any time soon.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the Seahawks and Carroll have agreed to an extension that puts Carroll under contract in Seattle through 2019. Carroll and Schneider both joined the Seahawks in 2010 and their record leaves little reason to wonder why the Seahawks will keep everything in place.

The team has gone 60-36 under Carroll in the regular season and 8-4 in the playoffs. The latter record includes their Super Bowl XLVIII title, their run back to the game the next year and at least one playoff win in each of the last four seasons.

There’s no word on the financial terms of the deal, but Carroll was already among the best-paid coaches in the league. His new deal will keep him there and keep him in Seattle through at least his 68th birthday if all goes according to plan.

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Report: Kurt Coleman set to sign extension

Kurt Coleman AP

The Panthers and safety Kurt Coleman have agreed on a three-year extension that Coleman will sign Wednesday, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported.

Coleman had a career-best seven interceptions last season, and the new deal rewards Coleman for the work he did last season as under the radar signing who became a productive player on one of the league’s best defenses.

Coleman, 28, was a seventh-round pick of the Eagles in 2010. He played four years with the Eagles and one with the Chiefs before joining the Panthers last season.

After starting just three games in 2013-14, Coleman started all 15 games he played for the Panthers last season. He was a full-time starter in 2011-12 for the Eagles but started just thee of 15 games he played for the Chiefs before signing a two-year deal with the Panthers in March 2015.

Coleman has 17 career interceptions and had his first career sack last season.

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As expected, Joe Haden starts camp on PUP

Marcus Mariota, Joe Haden, Craig Robertson AP

Browns cornerback Joe Haden was placed on active/physically unable to perform Tuesday, an expected move before the team opens full training camp on Friday.

Haden, a two-time Pro Bowler, had offseason ankle surgery and was mostly a spectator for the team’s spring workouts.

Various injuries limited Haden to five games last season, and he had ankle surgery in March. Haden, 27, has started 68 of 77 career games and has 16 career interceptions.

The Browns also announced that rookie tight end Seth DeValve would be placed on active/PUP and that first-year offensive lineman Conor Boffelli would be placed on the active/non-football injury list. Reinstated wide receiver Josh Gordon was also placed on active/NFI.

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NHL Commissioner declines to admit link between concussions and CTE

LAS VEGAS, NV - JUNE 22:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks during the 2016 NHL Awards at The Joint inside the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on June 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) Getty Images

Football has become synonymous with concussions and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. However, other sports have found themselves embroiled in political and legal fights regarding head injuries and long-term health consequences.

In hockey, the Commissioner of the NHL has declined to admit a link between concussions and CTE. In response to written questions from Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Gary Bettman stressed that the medical research remains in an early phase and argued that lawyers and the media have presumed a connection and other medical facts without sufficient scientific support.

“The science regarding CTE, including on the asserted ‘link’ to concussions that you reference, remains nascent, particularly with respect to what causes CTE and whether it can be diagnosed by specific clinical symptoms,” Bettman wrote, via the New York Times. “The relationship between concussions and the asserted clinical symptoms of CTE remains unknown.”

As explained by John Branch of the Times, Bettman “repeatedly blamed the media for spreading the fear of CTE, and accused the plaintiffs in the concussion case for a public relations assault on the topic.” Bettman pointed out that the brain of former NHL player Todd Ewen, who committed suicide in 2015 at the age of 49, did not show signs of CTE.

“Ultimately, the most concerning aspect of the current public dialogue about concussions in professional sports (as well as youth sports) is the implicit premise that hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of individuals who have participated in contact sports at the high school, collegiate and/or professional levels are not only at a high level of risk for, but actually more than likely to develop, a degenerative, irreversible brain disease (i.e., CTE), and that they should be informed as such,” Bettman wrote. “The NHL chooses to be guided on this very serious subject by the medical consensus of experts examining the science, not the media hype driven in part by plaintiffs’ counsel.”

Regardless of the science, it’s obviously not beneficial for the human brain to absorb repeated injuries. Bettman’s letter, which if written by the Commissioner of the NFL would surely result in much greater attention and criticism, echoes a point that many have made: The scientific research still has a long way to go regarding questions like the prevalence of CTE, the causes of CTE, the symptoms of CTE, and the consequences of CTE.

Plenty of former pro football and hockey players believe that serious cognitive problems for them are not simply possible but inevitable; the medical evidence has yet to reach that point. Regardless of the specific nature and degree of the risk and the specific nature and extent of the potential harm, it’s known that head injuries should be taken seriously, and it’s assumed that too many of them can lay the foundation for long-term health problems.

Even with that knowledge, people are still choosing to engage in sports and other activities that entail a risk of head trauma. At some point, the medical evidence will provide much greater information about the long-term health risks. For now, the vague-but-generally-accepted (and by all appearances accurate) notion that concussions can cause cognitive problems later in life is not deterring many adults with the physical gifts necessary to play professional sports from doing so.

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Tyler Varga retires

ORCHARD PARK, NY - SEPTEMBER 13:   Tyler Varga #38 of the Indianapolis Colts runs the ball as Nickell Robey #37 of the Buffalo Bills defends during the first half at Ralph Wilson Stadium on September 13, 2015 in Orchard Park, New York.  (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) Getty Images

After recovering from a serious concussion suffered in his rookie season, Colts running back Tyler Varga has decided not to risk another one.

The Colts have placed Varga on the reserve/retired list. His roster spot was filled via the signing of running back Abou Toure.

In May, Varga went public with his experiences from 2015, which resulted in his placement on the retired list after he declined to take medication aimed at helping his recovery due to concerns about potential side effects.

Toure, who like Varga was signed as an undrafted free agent a year ago, spent the offseason and training camp with the Colts, before being released. He later joined the Steelers and Cardinals practice squads.

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Paxton Lynch: I think I have a chance to play right away

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 27: Quarterbacks Paxton Lynch (right) of Memphis and Dak Prescott of Mississippi State look on during the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

Broncos defensive tackle Sylvester Williams said recently that coach Gary Kubiak “kind of let us know he’s going to go with” Mark Sanchez at quarterback.

That likely fits with what most people believed the Broncos would do at the start of the year as Sanchez worked with the first team most often in the spring and has more experience than Trevor Siemian and first-round pick Paxton Lynch. Siemian has appeared to be the likelier alternative of the two, but Lynch said Tuesday that he hasn’t gotten that impression from Kubiak or anyone else despite his perceived place in the pecking order.

“I definitely think I have the opportunity to better myself and put myself up in that position to play right away or sooner than I had thought,” Lynch said, via ESPN.com. “I knew those guys were going to be ahead of me just because of experience — Trevor his experience in the offense and Mark his experience in the league and me being a rookie, and this is the first time I’ve seen a playbook like that.”

Lynch acknowledges that his competitive side makes it hard to “take the backseat in this” even if signs are pointing elsewhere for the team’s starting quarterback, but he wouldn’t be the first rookie to make an unexpected leap up the depth chart once a team saw everyone in action during training camp and the preseason. The veterans report for Denver on Wednesday, so it won’t be long before everyone starts to get a clearer idea of where everyone will stand come September.

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Report: Andre Johnson visits Titans

Andre Johnson AP

Veteran wide receiver Andre Johnson visited the Titans Tuesday, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Johnson, 35, caught 41 passes with the Colts last season before being released. He starred for 12 seasons with the Texans, making six Pro Bowls and twice being named an All Pro.

Johnson recently said he’d like to catch on with a team and prove he can still play.

The Titans would be an interesting fit because they believe second-year quarterback Marcus Mariota is ready to make a leap and because Johnson could serve as a tutor of sorts for another big receiver, second-year man Dorial Green-Beckham.

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Bengals will play it safe, keep Burfict out of preseason games

SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 20:  Vontaze Burfict #55 of the Cincinnati Bengals reacts after a play during their NFL game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on December 20, 2015 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis told reporters Tuesday that he plans to keep linebacker Vontaze Burfict out of the team’s four preseason games this summer.

Though the NFL has suspended Burfict for the first three regular season games for repeated on-field misconduct incidents, the decision to also keep Burfict out of preseason games was made by Lewis.

Lewis wants to keep Burfict out of trouble, and more importantly wants to make sure that he stays healthy a year off microfracture surgery.

“I kept him on the sideline as often as I could during this offseason,” Lewis said Tuesday. “I did everything I could during this offseason and I’m going to do the same thing this training camp. There’s no reason for us to risk him getting hurt. It’s hard because he’s so competitive [that] we have to continue to hold him back. One day he gets it the next day he wants to fight me on it. That’s it.

“There’s just no reason for us to expose him to injury because he’s too valuable.”

Burfict, 25, went to the Pro Bowl in 2013, his second season after signing with the Bengals as an undrafted free agent. He’s been held to 15 games over the last two seasons but has remained a productive and important player.

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Chiefs don’t expect Justin Houston to work at training camp

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 15:  Linebacker Justin Houston #50 of the Kansas City Chiefs beats the block of Michael Schofield #79 of the Denver Broncos to get to quarterback Brock Osweiler #17 of the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on November 15, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Chiefs defeated the Broncos 29-13.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images) Getty Images

Safety Eric Berry isn’t expected to join his Chiefs teammates on the field for the start of training camp and he won’t be the only high-profile member of the defense missing from the field.

Linebacker Justin Houston had surgery to repair his ACL in February and the team initially gave a 6-12 month timetable for his recovery. General Manager John Dorsey later said that the expectation is that Houston will be able to play this season, but coach Andy Reid said Tuesday that he doesn’t expect Houston to be ready during training camp.

“I don’t think that will happen,” Reid said, via the team.

That would seem to make Houston a candidate for the regular season version of the physically unable to perform list, which would leave him ineligible to play during the first six weeks of the season. Tamba Hali and Dee Ford should lead the group of outside linebackers until Houston’s ready to go.

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Colts sign Chase Coffman

ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 23:  Chase Coffman #86 of the Tennessee Titans leaps over Kemal Ishmael #36 of the Atlanta Falcons in the second half of a preseason game at the Georgia Dome on August 23, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Colts signed tight end Chase Coffman on Tuesday.

Coffman has played in 37 career regular-season games and three playoff games. Originally drafted by the Bengals in 2009, he’s also spent time with the Falcons, Titans and Seahawks.

Undrafted rookie cornerback Daniel Davie was waived, and the Colts placed running back Tyler Varga on the reserve/did not report list.

Varga was placed on the team’s season-ending injured reserve list last October. He had made the team as an undrafted rookie and played in three games.

The team had previously announced some procedural moves, most notably placing safety Clayton Geathers on the non-football injury list and placing defensive end Henry Anderson on the physically unable to perform list.

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Josh Gordon returns to Browns, lands on NFI with quad injury

Josh Gordon

The Browns moved reinstated wide receiver Josh Gordon to the 90-man roster Tuesday, but Gordon then landed on the team’s active/non-football injury list.

Gordon was allowed to be in the team’s facility for the first time in more than a year, and a physical revealed a quad injury. The Browns open camp on Friday, but the team’s release said Gordon was injured “while working out on his own this summer” and that Gordon is “expected to be out at least a couple of weeks.”

Gordon is allowed to participate in training camp and the preseason but will be suspended for the first four games of 2016 as part of his conditional reinstatement, which the NFL announced Monday.

Per multiple reports, Gordon met with new Browns coach Hue Jackson, executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown and other key Browns personnel Tuesday. The team is likely to have strict guidelines for Gordon to follow as he tries to return from suspension.

After leading the NFL with 1,646 receiving yards in 2013, Gordon has played in only five games over the last two seasons due to various suspensions. He last played a game in Dec. 2014.

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Cowboys’ Charles Brown retires

New Orleans Saints v New England Patriots Getty Images

The Cowboys have lost some veteran depth on their offensive line.

Charles Brown, who served as the Cowboys’ third tackle last season, had decided to retire.

The 29-year-old Brown was the a second-round pick of the Saints in 2010 out of USC. He spent four seasons in New Orleans and then had short stays with the Giants and Jets before signing with the Cowboys last season.

Brown, who played just 21 offensive snaps and 51 special teams snaps last season, was no lock to make the Cowboys’ roster, which may have played a role in his decision to retire.

The Cowboys also waived rookie tackle David Hedelin and signed offensive tackles Cameron Bradfield and Darryl Baldwin.

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Texans owner was as sick of DeflateGate as the rest of us

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 13: New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft (right) shakes hands with Houston Texans owner Bob McNair before the game on December 13, 2015 at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images) Getty Images

Like most of the rest of the world, Texans owner Bob McNair was tired of #DeflateGate.

But unlike a lot of people, he thinks the guy who presided over it is doing a great job.

McNair told John McClain of the Houston Chronicle that he — in a sentiment shared by most — grew tired of the spectacle created by whether Tom Brady did or did not authorize the removal of air from a football.

I’m just glad it’s all behind us,” McNair said. “We all allowed it to become a mountain out of a molehill. It was completely overplayed. All the parties could have handled it better. Hopefully, we’ve all learned from it and will be better able to handle difficult situations in the future in the best fashion.”

Whether or not that’s the case remains to be seen, but McNair’s defense of commissioner Roger Goodell was unequivocal.

“I support Roger,” McNair said. “I think he’s done a good job. He’s got the toughest job. Imagine the amount of stress he’s placed under, the people pulling from different directions. He’s got 32 bosses. I’m sure there are a few who aren’t happy with some of his decisions.

“He’s got to do, in his opinion, what’s in the best interests of the league.”

He was also paid more than $30 million for that onerous task, and McNair’s stance also underscores why Goodell is the world’s highest-paid pinata and his bosses are happy to fill him with candy.

For the owners, writing an annual check for a million bucks each buys them the kind of PR insurance they love, so they can at once complain about Goodell’s legacy, and congratulate him for it.

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