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PFT’s Week 16 picks

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The proverbial pink champagne is on ice.

Yes, with a clean sweep in the three games on which we disagreed last weekend, I’ve now built a seven-game lead over MDS, with only 32 games to go.

The problem for MDS is that we probably won’t disagree on seven games in the final two weeks.  Even then, he needs to be right on all of them.

For Week 16, we disagree on three.  So I’ll lead by at least four and possibly by 10 by the time the fat man in the red suit breaks into my house, eats my cookies, and leaves behind a bunch of stuff for everyone but me.

For the week, I was 12-4 to a 9-7 from MDS.  On the year, I’m at 146-77-1, good for 65.1 percent.  MDS is 139-84-1, still at 62.0 percent.

Falcons at Lions

MDS’s take: Both of these teams have been severely inconsistent this season, with the Falcons consistently managing to pull out wins when they don’t play very well, and the Lions consistently managing to pull out losses when they play competitively. So after a week in which the Falcons blew out a good team and the Lions got blown out by a bad team, I’m picking both teams to revert to their inconsistent ways. Does this logic make sense? Maybe not, but I’m going to have to pick some upsets to catch Florio.  So what the heck?

MDS’s pick: Lions 21, Falcons 20.

Florio’s take:  It would be fitting for the Lions to close out a disappointing year with a pair of home wins over postseason contenders from Atlanta and Chicago.  It would be fitting, but after seeing the Lions lay an egg against the nine-eggs-in-a-row-laying Cardinals, it’s impossible for me to think the Lions can take down a Falcons team that put a goose egg on the Giants.

Florio’s pick:  Falcons 31, Lions 17.

Giants at Ravens

MDS’s take: Both of these teams once looked like locks to win their divisions and now look desperate. Former Giants coach Bill Parcells liked to say that in games like this, you go with the more desperate team. That’s the Giants, who probably need to win out to make the playoffs.

MDS’s pick: Giants 24, Ravens 13.

Florio’s take:  The Ravens are desperate for a win.  The Giants are more desperate for a win.  Even though Eli Manning’s Giants have lost to two teams that Peyton Manning’s Broncos played previously and beat, the third time needs to be a charm, or Eli will have no chance to chase his third ring.

Florio’s pick:  Giants 27, Ravens 20.

Raiders at Panthers

MDS’s take: A couple weeks ago this looked like it could be a game to determine the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. But the Panthers have won two in a row, and the Raiders won last week, and so now it looks merely like a game that could help shape the Top 10 of the draft. Which makes it an even less interesting game than it otherwise would have been.

MDS’s pick: Panthers 31, Raiders 10.

Florio’s take:  Ron Rivera is making it very hard for the next G.M. to hire a new coach.  It will keep getting harder.

Florio’s pick:  Panthers 31, Raiders 20.

Saints at Cowboys

MDS’s take: The Dallas secondary is going to struggle mightily against the Saints’ passing attack, but with the season on the line I see Tony Romo having a big game against the Saints’ defense.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 34, Saints 31.

Florio’s take:  A loss to Dallas is a win for the Saints, since it makes it more likely that there won’t be a place with the Cowboys for Sean Payton.  Even though the Saints won big over the Bucs, the Cowboys are chasing a playoff berth no one thought they’d secure.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 30, Saints 24.

Titans at Packers

MDS’s take: Tennessee has actually played some reasonably good football in the five weeks since owner Bud Adams put the team on notice following a humiliating loss to the Bears: In those five weeks the Titans have blown out the Dolphins, ended the Jets’ playoff hopes and played a very close game against the playoff-bound Colts. But Green Bay in December is a tough place to play, and the Packers won’t have too much trouble putting the Titans away.

MDS’s pick: Packers 35, Titans 21.

Florio’s take:  Green Bay is reached for a No. 2 seed.  The Titans are reaching for a lower draft pick.  Advantage Packers.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 27, Titans 17.

Vikings at Texans

MDS’s take: It’s impressive that the Vikings are still playing meaningful games this deep in the season, but this is where it comes to an end.  The Texans will clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs by spanking the Vikings, and the loss will severely damage the Vikings’ playoff hopes.

MDS’s pick: Texans 41, Vikings 20.

Florio’s take:  The Texans may not be able to stop Adrian Peterson, but they’ll likely come through in the most important statistical category — points scored versus points allowed.

Florio’s pick:  Texans 31, Vikings 20.

Patriots at Jaguars

MDS’s take: The Patriots can’t be feeling good about themselves after Sunday night’s loss to the 49ers. They’ll take it out on the Jaguars in the day’s biggest blowout.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 38, Jaguars 3.

Florio’s take:  Five years ago, these two teams squared off in the playoffs.  The closest the Jaguars ever get to returning comes from periodically losing to New England.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 41, Jaguars 14.

Colts at Chiefs

MDS’s take: Let’s just stop and reflect for a moment on how important the quarterback position is in the NFL: In 2010, with Peyton Manning, the Colts were a playoff team. In 2011, with Curtis Painter, Dan Orlovsky and Kerry Collins, the Colts were the worst team in the league. In 2012, with Andrew Luck, the Colts will beat the Chiefs on Sunday and clinch a playoff berth.

MDS’s pick: Colts 28, Chiefs 14.

Florio’s take:  The team that lucked into the top pick in the 2012 draft faces the team that won’t have the same good fortune finding a quarterback with the first or second overall selection in 2013.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 24, Chiefs 13.

Bills at Dolphins

MDS’s take: Amazingly, the Dolphins are still in playoff contention, although they would need a lot of help in order to get there, even if they win out. They’ll at least take care of their end by winning on Sunday.

MDS’s pick: Dolphins 24, Bills 20.

Florio’s take:  The Dolphins are surprisingly still alive for the postseason.  The Bills unsurprisingly aren’t.  Edge to the home team and the team that still have something to play for, which in this case is the same team.

Florio’s pick:  Dolphins 20, Bills 17.

Redskins at Eagles

MDS’s take: The Redskins just need to win out and they win the NFC East. No way they get tripped up by the Eagles, who are just playing out the string. Who would have figured before the season that the Redskins would be playing for a division title while the Eagles would be long since eliminated from playoff contention?

MDS’s pick: Redskins 31, Eagles 10.

Florio’s take:  It’s likely the final home game for Eagles coach Andy Reid.  And Reid surely would love to spoil Washington’s chances to get to the postseason.  Of course, Reid also would have loved to have had the kind of year that would have made Sunday’s game not his final home game.

Florio’s pick:  Redskins 24, Eagles 14.

Bengals at Steelers

MDS’s take: The game of the day is in Pittsburgh, where these two teams will be fighting for the one open playoff spot remaining after the Colts take care of business. I like the Steelers to summon everything they have left and put themselves in prime position to clinch in Week 17.

MDS’s pick: Steelers 21, Bengals 20.

Florio’s take:  The Bengals are 0-9 in their last eight games against the Steelers and Ravens.  And the Steelers are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception.  And the Steelers desperately need a win in order to keep their playoff hopes alive.  This isn’t a game the Steelers lose.

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 23, Bengals 13.

Rams at Buccaneers

MDS’s take: I was surprised the extent to which the Bucs looked on Sunday like they’ve given up on the season. Greg Schiano and Jeff Fisher both have rebuilding jobs on their hands, but Fisher’s Rams appear to be closer to getting that job done than Schiano’s Bucs.

MDS’s pick: Rams 17, Buccaneers 9.

Florio’s take:  The Bucs play their final home game of the season while in a full-blown free fall.  Since it’s potentially cornerback Ronde Barber’s final home game of his career, look for the Bucs to find a way to turn things around against a Rams team that saw its unlikely postseason run slam to a halt in Week 15.

Florio’s pick:  Buccaneers 28, Rams 17.

Browns at Broncos

MDS’s take: The Broncos just need to beat two bad teams, the Browns and Chiefs, in order to ensure that if they rematch the Patriots in the playoffs, that game takes place in Denver. Peyton Manning and Co. will take care of business.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 28, Browns 10.

Florio’s take:  The Broncos are closing in on a bye.  The Browns are closing in on saying “bye” to their coach and G.M.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 27, Browns 14.

Bears at Cardinals

MDS’s take: The Bears need to win out and get some help to make the playoffs. I’m not sure if they’ll get the help, but with only the Cardinals and Lions left on the schedule, they should win out.

MDS’s pick: Bears 27, Cardinals 9.

Florio’s take:  No one’s ass is getting crowned as a result of this one.

Florio’s pick:  Bears 20, Cardinals 10.

49ers at Seahawks

MDS’s take: The Sunday night game is a big one, matching the two teams that may be playing the best football in all of the NFL right now. On a neutral field I’d probably take the 49ers, but in Seattle I give the Seahawks the edge.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 21, 49ers 17.

Florio’s take:  The “what’s your deal?” rivalry suddenly has become one of the best in the game, making the frosty relationship between the two coaches an afterthought.  The Seahawks could have, and should have, won the last time these teams met.  This time, the Seahawks are even better.

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 20, 49ers 17.

Chargers at Jets

MDS’s take: Greg McElroy may get the loudest ovation at home that a Jets quarterback has received since Joe Namath. I don’t think McElroy is the long-term answer, but I do think he’ll play competently, and the Jets’ defense will play well, and Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow will stand together on the sideline awkwardly watching the McElroy-led Jets win a low-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Jets 13, Chargers 10.

Florio’s take:  The McElroy era begins with a Bolt.  Or maybe a butt fumble.  There’s too much drama this week in the locker room for the Jets to come together and win.

Florio’s pick:  Chargers 17, Jets 10.

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Patriots awarded safety Don Jones on waivers from Miami

Don Jones AP

Six days before meeting the Dolphins in the regular season opener, the Patriots have added an ex-Miami defensive back.

The Pats were awarded second-year safety Don Jones on waivers from the Dolphins on Monday, the club said.

The 24-year-old Jones notched a team-best 11 special teams tackles in 2013 for Miami, according to club statistics. An Arkansas State product, Jones was a seventh-round pick of the Dolphins in 2013.

Jones’ addition gives the Patriots six safeties. He is listed as a third-stringer behind Duron Harmon on the club’s depth chart. And, of course, Jones brings an intimate knowledge of the Dolphins to Foxborough.

In a corresponding roster move, the Patriots waived second-year offensive lineman Chris Barker.

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Tedford’s status for Week One not determined yet

Tedford AP

Buccaneers offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford recently underwent an undisclosed medical procedure.  His return date is similarly unknown.

Via JoeBucsFan.com, Tedford wasn’t at practice on Monday.  Head coach Lovie Smith said a decision regarding Tedford’s status for the regular-season opener has not yet been made.

He’s getting better,” Smith said, via Pat Yasinskas of ESPN.com.  “He stopped through this weekend.  We’re taking our time with him.  He’s getting better each day.  When he’ll be back here full-time, I don’t know.  When he’ll be available full-time, whether he’ll be available for the game this week and all those questions, we don’t have answered right now.  He’s getting better and we’ll see how all that plays out.”

Replacing Tedford will continue to be a group effort.

“In the meantime, the rest of our offensive staff will pick up for Jeff, similar to how we did it last week, with all of the guys really pitching in,” Smith said.

The Buccaneers host the Panthers on Sunday, with kickoff coming at 4:25 p.m. ET.  We continue to extend our best wishes to Tedford.

 

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Report: Raiders tab Derek Carr as starting quarterback

Derek Carr AP

The Raiders are going with a rookie at quarterback to begin the regular season.

Fox’s Jay Glazer reports the Raiders have switched starters in advance of Sunday’s opener at the Jets, with Derek Carr getting the nod over Matt Schaub.

According to Glazer, players have been informed of the decision.

The call to go with Carr comes after the second-round pick from Fresno State completed 11-of-13 passes for 143 yards and three touchdowns in the preseason finale vs. Seattle. Schaub sat out the game with elbow soreness.

Schaub, whom the Raiders acquired from Houston in the offseason, was just 24-of-47 passing for 218 yards with no touchdowns and one interception in exhibition play. He was sacked three times.

Carr is the fourth different Week One starter for Oakland in as many seasons. Terrelle Pryor was the initial starter in 2013, with Carson Palmer (2012) and Jason Campbell (2011) preceding him.

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Gronkowski’s announcement a little confusing

Gronk AP

Yes, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has declared that he has gotten the green light to play on Sunday from his doctors, after a torn ACL derailed his 2013 season.  The bigger question could be whether he got the green light from his head coach to disclose that he got the green light from his doctors.

When it comes to injury information, the Patriots notoriously disclose none of it.  Or, when it comes to Tom Brady’s chronic right shoulder problem, deliberate misinformation.  Last year, for example, Gronkowski was routinely listed as questionable as he continued to recover from multiple arm surgeries, hinting at a 50-50 chance he’d play even though, in hindsight, it was clear he wasn’t going to suit up early in the season.

This year, instead of keeping the Week One opponent guessing about whether he’ll play, Gronkowski has revealed on his own that he’ll play.  He either did so without the blessing of the boss, or as part of a deliberate plan to make the Dolphins think they’ll see more of Gronk than they actually will.

If it’s the former, Gronk could still be chafing from the questions that swirled last year regarding whether he was milking the arm injury, able to practice but unwilling to play.  Or maybe he’s feeling a heightened sense of urgency to play now that Tim Wright has arrived.  If it’s the latter, it’s hardly out of character.

Regardless, it’s unusual for anyone from the team to be quite so forthcoming when it comes to injuries.  And it’s hard not to wonder whether, given Belichick’s Naval Academy upbringing and penchant for strategic gamesmanship, the Dolphins won’t see Gronkowski very much, and possibly not at all.

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Rams claim Case Keenum off waivers from Texans

Case Keenum AP

The Rams have another quarterback, just in case.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, the Rams claimed Case Keenum off waivers from the Texans.

Keenum was squeezed out in Houston when the Texans traded for Ryan Mallett, and he’ll slot in with the Rams behind Shaun Hill. Austin Davis was the only other quarterback on the Rams roster after the season-ending knee injury to Sam Bradford.

Keenum got eight mop-up starts for the Texans last year, and was the loser in each of them. But that’s hardly his fault, as he was merely the guy holding the wheel after the ship hit the iceberg and Matt Schaub was thrown overboard to save weight.

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Decision on Josh Gordon lawsuit coming soon

Gordon Getty Images

Five days ago, the NFL suspended Browns receiver Josh Gordon for the entire 2014 season.  Within the next day or two, a decision will be made regarding whether Gordon will challenge the suspension via the court system.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Gordon’s legal team plans to reach a conclusion in the immediate future.  If suit is filed, expect it to come swiftly — and to include a motion for what the law calls a preliminary injunction.

Identical to the move that blocked the StarCaps suspensions for months even though the players ultimately failed to secure a court order overturning the outcome of the internal appeal, Gordon would ask a judge to prevent the NFL from implementing the suspension until the case ends.

If it happens, it will be a tall order.  Courts routinely consider various factors when deciding whether to freeze the status quo in place until a lawsuit ends.  Key considerations include a showing that the player will suffer irreparable harm if he later wins the case, since he can’t go back and play the games he missed, along proof that the player has a strong likelihood of eventually securing a victory.

It won’t be easy for Gordon, unless his legal team finds an obscure Ohio law that the NFL’s substance-abuse policy and testing program violates.  Still, even if there’s a slim chance of Gordon delaying the suspension via the court system, not spinning the Wheel of Wapner guarantees a Blutarskiesque outcome.

Then again, suing could make it harder to persuade the NFL to move quickly and favorably when Gordon applies for reinstatement.  That’s a real consider for Gordon; with plenty of discretion available when the time comes to determine whether he’s cleared to return early in the 2015 offseason, angering the league could delay a green light.

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Rams sign 10 to practice squad, none of them Michael Sam

michaelsam AP

If Michael Sam signs on a practice squad, it won’t be with the Rams.

At least not this week.

The Rams announced 10 signings to their practice squad, and none of them were the seventh-round pick vying to become the first openly gay player in the NFL.

The team signed linebacker Denicos Allen, wide receiver Emory Blake, safety Christian Bryant, defensive tackle Matt Conrath, safety Matt Daniels, quarterback Garrett Gilbert, tackle Sean Hooey, linebacker Kevin Reddick, wide receiver Justin Veltung and guard Brandon Washington.

Eight of those guys were in Rams camp, while Allen was with the Panthers and Reddick with the Saints.

So Sam’s quest for employment will continue, away from the team that knows him best.

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A healthy Cam Newton is a life preserver for Panthers

Carolina Panthers v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is already big.

But he cut an even more imposing figure Monday, wearing a heavily padded flak jacket to protect the hairline fracture in a rib that kept him out of the preseason finale.

“I told him in the event of a water landing he can be used as a flotation device,” center Ryan Kalil cracked, via Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review.

Newton apparently didn’t look perfectly loose during the portion of practice open to media, but that stands to reason. After taking a nasty shot in the third preseason game against the Patriots, he’s done little since then.

“He threw a few more passes today than we expected,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “He’s all right. He’s sore, but it’s not like it was when it first happened.”

There’s little doubt he’ll play Sunday against Tampa, as he’s demonstrated his toughness during his three years there.

The question is how much the time he missed this offseason (both because of ankle surgery and the recent rib issue), will impair a Panthers offense that’s breaking in an entirely new receiving corps and a mostly-new offensive line.

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Eagles add fifth-rounder Ed Reynolds to practice squad

Ed Reynolds, Jaylen Watkins AP

The Eagles didn’t have room for fifth-round safety Ed Reynolds on their initial 53-man roster, but he’ll continue to get chances to show them what he can do on the field.

Reynolds was one of eight players added to the team’s practice squad. The former Stanford Cardinal defender missed a chunk of offseason work because of the school’s late end date and wasn’t able to catch up over the summer. With three safeties and special teamer Chris Maragos on the 53-man, Reynolds could get a look sooner rather than later if injury strikes in the secondary.

The Eagles also brought back quarterback G.J. Kinne, who has gained some experience in the offense while spending the last two summers with the team. Kinne’s chances of advancing to the active roster aren’t so good since the Eagles have Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez and Matt Barkley in the fold as well.

Linebacker Emmanuel Acho, guard/center Josh Andrews, tackle/guard Kevin Graf, defensive lineman Wade Kelilikipi, wide receiver Will Murphy, running back Matthew Tucker and wide receiver Quron Pratt are the others that have been added to the practice squad in Philly.

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Ras-I Dowling signed to Raiders’ practice squad

New England Patriots v Tennessee Titans Getty Images

A former Patriots second-round pick is among 10 players signed to the Raiders’ initial practice squad.

Cornerback Ras-I Dowling, whom New England took with the first pick of Round Two in 2011, is the most experienced of the 10 signees announced by Oakland on Monday.

Dowling (6-1, 210) appeared in nine games for New England from 2011 through 2012. He was most recently with the Jets, who released him on August 24.

Seven of the Raiders’ practice squad members are rookies: tailback George Atkinson III, defensive end Denico Autry, linebacker Bojay Filimoeatu, linebacker Spencer Hadley, offensive tackle Dan Kistler, wide receiver Seth Roberts and tight end Scott Simonson.

Second-year offensive guard Lamar Mady and first-year defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin round out Oakland’s practice squad.

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RG3: We fixed what we needed to fix on offense

Jay Gruden Robert Griffin III AP

Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III served as a talking point last preseason because no one had seen him play since tearing his ACL and he was a talking point again this summer because he was playing.

Griffin took too many hits in a game against the Browns and played poorly against the Ravens, leading to concerns about how quickly he’s picking up the offense installed by new head coach Jay Gruden this offseason. Griffin played down those concerns by pooh-poohing “doubters” and saying people were overreacting to preseason performances, a theme he stuck with on Monday when he said that all the work the team did in the offseason would now “come to fruition.”

“We fixed what we had to fix in practice,” Griffin said, via CSNWashington.com. “That’s for us to know and you guys to find out.”

We’ll all find out Sunday when the Redskins square off against the Texans. Any struggles in that game will lead to even more doubters for Griffin and Washington and they won’t have the preseason caveat to use as an explanation.

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Ryan Succop signs one-year deal with Titans

Cleveland Browns v Kansas City Chiefs Getty Images

The word on Monday morning was that the Titans were interested in signing kicker Ryan Succop.

The deal is done on Monday afternoon. Succop visited with the team and Terry McCormick of 247Sports.com reports that he reached agreement on a one-yet deal.

Travis Coons, who outlasted Maikon Bonani in preseason, will be dropped from the roster with Succop coming aboard. Succop was cut by the Chiefs over the weekend in favor of the younger Cairo Santos, who flashed good leg strength to go with his cheaper salary during the preseason.

Succop has made 81 percent of his field goals and all of his extra points since taking over as Kansas City’s kicker in 2009. He’ll get a chance to kick against his former team in the regular season opener.

Succop wore No. 6 in Tennessee, a number that is currently taken by punter Brett Kern. No word on whether Succop will try to persuade Kern to give it up with a monetary offer or fictional arm wrestling match.

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Lions coach doubts orientation’s reason Michael Sam’s unemployed

South Dakota State v Missouri Getty Images

Most of the practice squad jobs around the league are filled, or will be by the end of the day.

So it stands out that Michael Sam still doesn’t have a job on one of them.

But while some teams might fear the attention that comes with employing the league’s first openly gay player, Lions coach Jim Caldwell said he doesn’t think Sam’s sexual orientation is the reason he’s not signed yet.

I doubt that seriously,” Caldwell said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.

The Rams figured to be his best chance, but they haven’t made a move to bring him back. Some teams will cross him off the list because he’s legitimately a bad scheme fit. The Lions weren’t interested in him initially because they like their defensive ends taller, and Sam lacks the speed to play in a 3-4 as an outside linebacker.

“He wasn’t here on our squad, we didn’t play against [the Rams) to have an opportunity to look at them,” Caldwell said. “But what I would assume is the case is the fact that he doesn’t fit in with whomever’s system, or anybody’s system right now in terms of being able to come in and play for them at this point in time. If he could, if it benefits someone, and he still may. A lot of things happen here in the next three or four days, anyway. But he still may, he may still get that opportunity.”

Sam was in familiar surroundings in St. Louis, but he also landed with one of the deepest and most talented lines in the league. Other teams lack their depth, and Sam played well enough in the preseason that a football-simple answer seems unlikely.

That only leaves our worst suspicions, which appear more true by the minute.

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Chargers sign Ricardo Mathews

Miami Dolphins v Indianapolis Colts Getty Images

Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco reached into his past to find some help on the defensive line.

Telesco was in the Colts organization when they drafted defensive tackle Ricardo Mathews in the seventh round of the 2010 draft and he saw enough to like about Mathews to sign him to a contract with the Chargers for the 2014 season.

Mathews had 51 tackles and 1.5 sacks in 52 games, six of them starts, for the Colts. He signed with Houston in April and spent the summer with the Texans before being released as they dropped to 53 players. Mathews should settle into a reserve role behind Sean Lissemore in San Diego.

San Diego waived running back Marion Grice to open up a roster spot for Mathews.

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Rolando McClain to start in the middle for the Cowboys

Rolando McClain AP

Maybe it’s just the state of the Cowboys’ defense, or maybe Rolando McClain can really play.

Either way, the twice-retired No. 8-overall pick is a starter again, after not playing since 2012.

According to Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Bruce Carter said he was starting on the strong side, McClain in the middle and Justin Durant on the weak side.

Durant spent most of the preseason practicing in the middle, though he has the versatility McClain doesn’t. But team owner Jerry Jones declared McClain “very impressive” this preseason, and that endorsement means a lot.

But they were clearly hoping McClain could win the job, based mostly on the lack of impact players on their defense.

If McClain is engaged and motivated, he could be a solid player for them. Remaining that way has always been the challenge, however.

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