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NFL morning after: Statement Sunday — or was it?

Falcons tight end Gonzalez celebrates after a touchdown against the New York Giants in the first half at their NFL football game in Atlanta Reuters

With six different games matching up teams with winning records, yesterday was hyped by the NFL as “Statement Sunday.” And while it didn’t deliver a lot of particularly competitive games, it certainly did deliver a lot of statements: Statements about the strengths of the Falcons, Packers, Broncos, Texans, Cowboys and 49ers, and statements about the weaknesses of the Giants, Bears, Ravens, Colts, Steelers and Patriots.

But the thing about statements made in the NFL in December is that they often don’t hold up in January. And I’m not so sure that the teams that made statements on Sunday are going to be the teams that continue to make statements in the playoffs. So let me go through a few of the statements that were made on Sunday, and explain which ones are true and which ones are false.

1. The Falcons are the best team in the NFC. FALSE: Yes, the Falcons can make the statement that they’re the best team in the conference, both on the strength of their 34-0 win over the Giants and on their status as the team with the best record in the NFC. But the Falcons don’t play that well consistently — let’s not forget that a week earlier, they lost by 10 to a bad Carolina team. I’d pick either the Packers or the 49ers to win at Atlanta in January.

2. The Giants are in danger. TRUE: The flip side of the Falcons’ blowout over the Giants is that it really did expose some serious problems with the Giants, namely that Eli Manning has been painfully inconsistent, and that injuries in the secondary have done major damage to the defense. Early in the season it looked like the NFC East would belong to the Giants, but now it’s a three-team race, and the Redskins and Cowboys actually appear to be in better shape. The good news for the Giants is that they’ll make the playoffs if they win their final two. The bad news is that the way they played on Sunday, I don’t have a lot of confidence that they’ll win their final two.

3. The Bears are in free fall and will miss the playoffs. FALSE: It’s easy to see why Bears fans are panicking, having lost five of their last six games. But Chicago’s schedule is about to get a lot easier, with trips to Arizona and Detroit. I see the Bears winning both games, finishing 10-6, and sneaking into the playoffs.

4. The road to the Super Bowl in the AFC goes through Houston. TRUE: After the Texans’ disastrous loss in New England on Monday night, it would have been easy to disregard the Texans as legitimate title contenders. But the Texans clinched the AFC South with Sunday’s win over the Colts, and they’re now a win away from clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. I think they’ll get that win against the Vikings on Sunday and ensure that if they rematch the Patriots, it will be in Houston.

5. The Broncos are the best team Peyton Manning has ever played on. TRUE: Does it sound premature to say that this year’s Broncos are better than Manning’s Super Bowl-winning 2006 team in Indianapolis? Maybe. But that team — like many of Manning’s teams in Indianapolis — had major holes on both defense and special teams that the Manning-led offense had to overcome. This Broncos team is winning every bit as much because of its defense as because of the Manning-led offense. If we could stuff these 2012 Broncos into a DeLorean and send them back in time to play any of Manning’s Indianapolis playoff teams, I’d pick these Broncos to win.

6. The Steelers blew it in overtime in Dallas and blew their postseason hopes. FALSE: The Steelers’ final two games are both at home, against the Bengals and the Browns, and if they win both they’re in the playoffs. I think Pittsburgh is going to do it.

7. New England’s Super Bowl hopes were dealt a big blow on Sunday night. FALSE: The Patriots’ loss to the 49ers probably means they’ll have to host a wild card team in the first playoff weekend, then win a couple of road games after that to get to the Super Bowl. But you know what? As much as I like the Broncos and Texans, I like the Patriots’ chances of winning at Denver and at Houston in back-to-back weeks. New England is still a formidable Super Bowl contender.

That’s where I stand on the statements NFL teams made on Sunday. And now here are my statements about the rest of Sunday’s action:

Adrian Peterson is making Eric Dickerson nervous. After his 212-yard effort on Sunday, Peterson needs to total 293 yards over the final two games of the season to break Dickerson’s NFL record of 2,105 rushing yards in a season. Gaining 293 yards in two weeks isn’t easy, but it’s certainly doable for Peterson, considering that he has 366 in the last two games. In the last eight games, Peterson has rushed for 1,313 yards, a stunning yardage total that no NFL player has ever matched over an eight-game stretch of a season.

Calvin Johnson is making Jerry Rice nervous. After his 121-yard effort on Sunday, Johnson needs to total 181 yards over the final two games of the season to break Rice’s NFL record of 1,848 receiving yards in a season. Johnson tied an NFL record with his seventh consecutive 100-yard game on Sunday, so totaling 181 yards over the next two games shouldn’t be a problem. Johnson also became the first player in NFL history to gain 1,600 receiving yards in back-to-back seasons. Unfortunately for Johnson (and unlike Peterson), he’s threatening an NFL record while playing meaningless games for a bad team.

What’s JaMarcus Russell up to these days? I ask because the Raiders chose Russell first overall in the 2007 NFL draft, leaving Johnson available for the Lions to draft second overall, and Peterson available for the Vikings to draft seventh overall. Sorry to have to bring that one up, Raiders fans.

Trent Richardson’s first touchdown run was a thing of beauty. If you love good, old-fashioned, hard-nosed football, it doesn’t get much better than Richardson taking a handoff up the middle at the six-yard line, plunging into the middle and getting stacked up just as he crossed the line of scrimmage, and then simply refusing to go down as he drove forward, churning his legs and getting help from his entire offensive line while the entire Redskins’ defensive line was trying to stop him, and finally falling forward through that massive rugby scrum and into the end zone. As a rookie Richardson hasn’t been the big-play runner the Browns were hoping they’d get when they traded up to take him with the third overall pick in the draft, but he might be the toughest runner to tackle in the league.

Randall Cobb is better than you realize. Cobb had an unreal leaping catch along the sideline in the second quarter in Chicago, picking up 31 yards on third-and-six and somehow getting both feet down in bounds despite taking a hard hit just as he was grabbing the ball. Cobb has been an excellent player for the Packers since arriving last season as a second-round draft pick, but I don’t know if most fans realize just how excellent. Cobb has 2,241 combined rushing, receiving and return yards this season, and 3,857 all-purpose yards so far in his NFL career. That’s an incredible career total for a guy who’s only 22 years old.

The Seahawks are stunning. After beating the Cardinals 58-0 last week, the Seahawks beat the Bills 50-17 this week. The last NFL team to score 50 or more points in back-to-back weeks was the 1950 New York Giants, who beat the Chicago Cardinals 51-21 and then beat the Baltimore Colts 55-20 a week later. (A note of caution for Seahawks fans: Those 1950 Giants were held to just three points in a postseason loss that year.)

I guess Cam Cameron wasn’t the only problem with the Ravens’ offense. The Ravens fired Cameron as their offensive coordinator last week. So how did the offense in Baltimore do in the first game without him? Badly: The Ravens had six three-and-outs, the most of any team in the NFL all season, as they lost 34-17. On Statement Sunday, the Ravens made a statement that they’re not contenders in the AFC, and Cameron made a major statement in his absence: Don’t blame me.

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Report: 49ers “shopping” LaMichael James

San Francisco 49ers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

The 49ers are reportedly willing to deal a recent second-round pick.

According to Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee, the 49ers are “shopping” reserve tailback LaMichael James.

An Oregon product, the 24-year-old James has attempted just 39 regular season rushes since being drafted in 2012. He returned 23 punts and 12 kickoffs for the Niners last season.

According to the Bee, James has “made it clear” he wants more work at running back; it’s unclear whether that has prompted the 49ers to be open to moving in him in trade. Barrows also suggests James could conceivably be used in a package if the Niners were to move up in the draft.

The 49ers have James, Kendall Hunter, Marcus Lattimore and Jewel Hampton in reserve behind starting tailback Frank Gore. Were James to be moved, the 49ers could look to add another back. As Barrows notes, the 49ers have met with UCF tailback Storm Johnson and will meet with Towson running back Terrance West.

Including James, only three of the Niners’ seven 2012 draft picks remain with the club, with first-round pick A.J. Jenkins shipped to Kansas City after just one season.

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Dollars suggest Chris Johnson won’t be a role player

CJ AP

On the surface, it’s easy to assume that Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson will share the load in the New York backfield.  The numbers suggest strongly that Johnson will be the lead dog.

Johnson will earn $4 million in 2014.  Ivory will earn $1 million.  While that doesn’t mean Johnson will have four times the touches as Ivory, it indicates that Johnson has greater value — and in turn that he’ll have the greater role.

Also in the mix is Bilal Powell, who has a base salary of $1.4 million this year.  Mike Goodson remains on the books for another $1 million, but he’s likely the odd man out given the arrival of Johnson.

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Dwayne Bowe pays fine, resolves case stemming from pot arrest

Dwayne Bowe AP

Chiefs receiver Dwayne Bowe, who was arrested in November for marijuana possession, has paid a fine and pleaded guilty to amended charges to resolve the matter.

Bowe pleaded guilty today to defective equipment and littering and paid $610 in fines.

“Like others charged with speeding and possessing marijuana for the first time, Mr. Bowe pleaded guilty to amended charges,” city prosecutor Amy Ashefford told the Kansas City Star, adding that Bowe was treated no better or worse than anyone facing similar charges.

Bowe said in January that he thought he was racially profiled, but last week he released a statement saying the police had treated him fairly.

Now the question is how the league office will treat Bowe. A marijuana offense typically results in a one-game suspension, although littering and “defective equipment” may not be enough to get Bowe in any type of trouble. Still, the fact that this case started with a marijuana arrest could result in Bowe being placed in the league’s substance-abuse program.

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RB-needy teams left to focus on the draft

Carlos Hyde

There has been much said about running backs having a tough go of it in free agency, and in case we had forgotten, we were reminded with Chris Johnson taking more than a week to find a new team.

Johnson, who was PFT’s No. 34-ranked free agent, signed a two-year, $8 million deal with the Jets on Wednesday. And this was a good deal, given the market this offseason, as colleague Mike Florio pointed out.

In all, it took Johnson nine days from his official release from Tennessee to land a new gig. Contrast this with DeSean Jackson, who had a deal with Washington in three days. And Darrelle Revis had an agreement with New England in but a few hours after his departure from Tampa Bay.

With Johnson signed, there are no starter-caliber tailbacks left in free agency. There are some decent complementary players available, with Michael Bush (ex-Bears) and Ronnie Brown (Chargers) two of the better options left, per Rotoworld’s rankings. According to Pro Football Focus, Brown earned a positive grade as a pass blocker in 2013, but he played just 157 snaps, and he had a negative grade as a rusher, as did Bush, who’s gained less than four yards per carry in each of the last three seasons.

In short, teams needing a running back are probably left to add one in the draft. The Titans, Browns, Jaguars, Bears and Vikings are among the clubs who could use at least one more tailback. However, of these teams, only the Titans may need a starter. The Browns (Ben Tate) and Jaguars (Toby Gerhart) signed young, starter-caliber veterans in free agency, while the Bears (Matt Forte) and Vikings (Adrian Peterson) just need understudies for their established lead backs.

The Bengals, Bills, Broncos, Buccaneers, Cardinals, Chiefs, Colts, Cowboys, Falcons, Giants, Patriots, Rams, Ravens, Redskins, Steelers and Texans are other teams who seem logical contenders to bring in another back.

The question is, who takes the first tailback in May, and in which round? In his most recent mock draft, Rotoworld’s Josh Norris has no backs going in Round One. Also, NFL.com’s Nolan Nawrocki has just one back – Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde — listed as a potential first-round selection.

In an offseason that won’t be remembered as an especially glorious one for the running backs of the world, the draft looms as the final act. Not getting any stage time on the draft’s first night would be another low point.

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Busy day for Jets, with Sidney Rice visiting

Sidney Rice Pic Getty Images

On the same day the Jets added a home-run threat to their running game, they’re looking for more help for their passing attack.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, former Seahawks wideout Sidney Rice is visiting with the Jets today.

The Jets will want a look at his surgically repaired knee, as he was just cleared by Dr. James Andrews following his October ACL tear.

When well, Rice has been a good downfield threat (averaging better than 15.0 yards per catch each of the last five seasons).

But staying well has been an issue, as he’s played 16 games in a season twice in seven NFL seasons.

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Police say Sharper’s DNA was found on clothing of one of his accusers

Darren Sharper, Blair Berk, Leonard Levine AP

A Tempe, Arizona police department testified Wednesday that ex-NFL safety Darren Sharper’s DNA was found on the clothing of one of the two women accusing him of drugging and sexually assaulting them.

The Associated Press reports that the testimony came at a hearing in Tempe on Wednesday that saw Sharper’s lawyers challenge the evidence authorities are using as a basis to keep Sharper in jail without bail. Sharper is accused of drugging three women and sexually assaulting two of them last November.

Detective Kevin Mace testified that Sharper’s DNA was found on the clothing of one of the women he’s accused of assaulting, but none was found on the other woman. Mace also testified that Sharper had a prescription for the sedative zolpidem and that a police search of the apartment of one of the women turned up a shot glass with zolpidem residue. 

Sharper also faces charges along similar lines in California and Louisiana with the possibility of more to follow in other states. He was granted bail in California, but will remain in jail in Arizona pending a decision on his bail. The hearing will continue on Thursday.

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Reports: Victor Hampton arrested after altercation with his sister

victorhampton

Former South Carolina cornerback Victor Hampton, a prospect in next month’s NFL draft, was in the news this week when it was reported that he was wanted for questioning in connection with an attack on a man in a New York City nightclub. But that’s not the only incident that has Hampton in the news.

Media outlets in South Carolina are reporting that Hampton has also been arrested and is facing a charge of disorderly conduct after an altercation with his sister.

Local TV station WLTX is reporting that the incident happened at a home in Columbia, South Carolina, on April 6. According to the report, Hampton and his sister, Victoria, got into an argument, police were called, and the two continued to fight even as police tried to separate them. Eventually, both Victor and Victoria were arrested.

Local TV station WIS obtained the police report, in which the arresting officer says the brother and sister wouldn’t stop fighting as both police and their mother attempted to break them up.

“I asked both subjects to stop yelling and they would stop for a second then start right back yelling, threatening each other, calling each other obscene names, using fighting words and stances,” reads the report.

Although he had a year of NCAA eligibility remaining, Hampton left school early to enter the NFL draft. He was viewed as a mid-round pick, but off-field issues will likely have a negative impact on his draft stock.

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Chris Johnson: I want to prove the doubters wrong

New York Jets v Tennessee Titans Getty Images

The Jets landed running back Chris Johnson on Wednesday, ending a brief free agent stint that didn’t feature overwhelming interest around the league in Johnson’s services.

Johnson spoke to Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean after signing his contract and he had some of those teams on his mind when discussing his plans for the upcoming season. Johnson said he’s going to draw motivation from those who think he doesn’t have the same spark he had when he was running for more than 2,000 yards for the Titans.

“I have a fresh start. Now I am going to go out there with a chip on my shoulder,” Johnson said. “I know a lot of people are doubting me. I want to prove everybody wrong who has doubts in me. I am very excited about [joining the Jets]. It’s a team on the rise and I want to make them better. … I still have it.”

Johnson joins Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell and Mike Goodson in the Jets backfield at the moment, although there’s a good chance they’ll part ways with Goodson now that Johnson is in the fold. How things will shake out in terms of playing time remains to be seen, but he new Jet said he’s already spoken to offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg about the different ways he’ll be used in 2014.

“I think I’m going to fit in pretty well,” Johnson said, via the team’s website. “Just talking to him and to Rex, who’s a guy that likes to run the ball, I think I’m going to fit in very well. We talked about all those things, catching out of the backfield, getting the ball to me in space.”

Johnson had 42 catches last season, one fewer than Jets team leader Jeremy Kerley, and his four receiving touchdowns were as many as Jets leader Jeff Cumberland, which underscores the need for more offensive talent on the roster. The Jets have added that in Johnson and wide receiver Eric Decker. With more likely to come in the draft, the Jets will look a lot different offensively than they did last season and that’s a step in the right direction.

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Saints bring former center Jonathan Goodwin in for visit

Divisional Playoffs - New Orleans Saints v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

The Saints lost center Brian de la Puente in free agency, so they need to find a replacement.

They might be turning to the guy de la Puente replaced.

According to Mike Triplett of ESPN.com, the Saints brought veteran center Jonathan Goodwin in for a visit today, making a reunion possible.

Goodwin was made expendable when the 49ers chose to extend Daniel Kilgore this offseason, and let the 35-year-old hit the market after three years as the starter.

They have some other internal options, but the team might want some experience in the middle given the all-in approach they’ve taken this offseason.

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Chris Johnson’s two-year deal has base value of $8 million

chris-johnson Getty Images

At a time when the running back market had maxed out at $3.5 million per year, Chris Johnson has nudged the bar a little higher.

Per a league source, the two-year contract signed by the new Jets running back has a base value of $8 million.  Another $1 million is available in incentives based on yardage.

Given Johnson’s late entry to the market and the ongoing devaluation of the tailback position, it’s a very good deal for Johnson.  It’s also a good deal for the Jets.  Criticized for not closing the deal with Donald Brown early in free agency, they got a much better player for not much more money than Brown received in San Diego.

So now the Jets have Chris Johnson and Mike Vick on the roster.  A couple of years ago, that would have made them Super Bowl contenders.  For now, it’s enough to make a team that was 8-8 without those two players a serious threat to bump one of the 2013 wild-card teams to the curb.

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Santonio Holmes, Anthony Spencer among top unsigned players

Santonio Holmes AP

With Chris Johnson (Jets) and Josh Freeman (Giants) reaching contract agreements Wednesday, only six unrestricted/released free agents ranked in PFT’s Free Agent Hot 100 remain without a team for 2014.

Two other free agents can be signed away for draft-pick compensation: Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (franchise tag) and Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin (restricted free agent). Both have been tendered contract offers by their current clubs and seem likely to stay put.

Here are the remaining unsigned players in PFT’s free agent rankings:

UNRESTRICTED/RELEASED FREE AGENTS

67.  Cowboys defensive end/outside linebacker Anthony Spencer.

74.  Packers tight end Jermichael Finley.

81.  Seahawks outside linebacker O’Brien Schofield.

89.  Ex-Buccaneers offensive guard Davin Joseph.

97.  Ex-Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes.

102.  Panthers offensive guard Travelle Wharton. ***

*** — Has reportedly indicated he could retire.

FRANCHISE TAG RECIPIENT

2.  Saints tight end Jimmy Graham.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENT

82.  Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin.

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Raiders make final push to move Terrelle Pryor

Terrelle Pryor AP

Before the Raiders’ offseason program launches next week, they have one fairly important bit of roster maintenance to address:  The future of quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

Per a league source, the Raiders hope to move Pryor before the start of the offseason program.  It’s currently unclear whether he’ll be cut if he’s not traded.

The effort to deal the third-round pick in the 2011 supplemental draft (the last player chosen by Al Davis) commenced in January, even though news of it didn’t surface until the league meetings in March.  After playing sparingly in his first two years, he appeared in 11 games with nine starts in 2013.

But Pryor eventually was supplanted by Matt McGloin, an undrafted rookie from Penn State who shared an awkward history with Pryor during his search for a college team.

Pryor is now searching for a new NFL team.  It’s unclear which teams are interested and what they’d be willing to give up for Pryor, who has shown flashes of considerable ability but who has yet to show that he can master the quarterback position at the NFL level.

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Cowboys kick the tires on Davin Joseph

Josh Johnson,  Davin Joseph,  Greg Hardy AP

The Cowboys haven’t been doing much buying in free agency, but they’re doing a little looking before the draft.

According to Todd Archer of ESPNDallas.com, the Cowboys had veteran guard Davin Joseph in for a visit recently, and will take a look at former Cardinals wide receiver LaRon Byrd in later this week.

Joseph was cut by the Buccaneers prior to free agency. The two-time Pro Bowler missed 2012 with a knee injury and wasn’t as effective last season, making it easy for the Bucs to take the $6 million cap savings.

If he’s well, the 30-year-old Joseph could push for a starting job with the Cowboys, or at least be good depth behind Mackenzy Bernadeau and Ronald Leary.

Byrd spent last year on IR because of a concussion, and worked out for the Giants recently.

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Bengals sign T.J. Conley

New York Jets v Denver Broncos Getty Images

The Bengals had to scramble for a punter near the end of last season because of Kevin Huber’s broken jaw, but they won’t have to scramble for one if Huber isn’t able to kick this offseason.

The team announced Wednesday that they have signed free agent punter T.J. Conley. Conley punted for the Jets in 2011, but the team moved in a different direction before the 2012 season and Conley hasn’t played in the last two regular seasons. He was with the Browns last summer.

Conley averaged 42.7 yards a punt for the Jets and had a net of 38.8 yards.

Huber is expected to be fine for next season, so Conley is likely just going to be an extra leg for OTAs, minicamps and training camp. That could change, but Huber has turned in two straight strong seasons so any competition will be slanted in his favor.

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So how many quarterbacks will be taken in round one?

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Today’s Pro Football Talk on NBCSN continues to roll through round one.  Today’s focus?  The team that had the first pick last year, and that due to an unexpectedly strong 2013 has fallen to No. 23.

The 30-minute edition (we’re back to an hour on Thursday) also sprints through the latest NFL news, and it concludes with today’s poll question:  How many quarterbacks will be taken in round one?

Cast a ballot below.  And then tune in at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN for the show.  And stick around for NASCAR America and the launch of the 2014 NHL playoffs.

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