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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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Eddie LeBaron dies at 85

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Quarterback Eddie LeBaron, who made it to the NFL despite a five-foot, seven-inch, and 160-pound frame, died Wednesday at the age of 85, according to the Sacramento Bee.

A tenth-round pick in 1950, LeBaron played for Washington in 1952 and 1953, and from 1955 through 1959.  He went to Canada in 1954, and he finished his career with the Cowboys from 1960 through 1963.

Between being drafted and debuting in the NFL, LeBaron earned a Bronze Star in the Korean War.  He also was wounded twice in battle.

A member of the Washington Ring of Fame, LeBaron made it to three Pro Bowls in D.C., and another in Dallas.   He was the league’s rookie of the year in 1952.

After his playing career, LeBaron worked as a broadcaster with CBS.  He later became the G.M. of the Atlanta Falcons, and later and executive vice president with the franchise.  He was named the NFL’s executive of the year in 1980.

LeBaron also worked as a lawyer, obtaining his law degree in 1959.

He’s survived by his wife, Doralee.  Married 61 years, they have three sons and five grandchildren.

We extend our condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues.

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Top tight end Maxx Williams won’t attend the draft

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The top two quarterbacks in this year’s draft, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, have both said they don’t plan to attend the festivities in Chicago. Now the top tight end is opting out as well.

Maxx Williams, regarded by many as the best tight end in the 2015 draft class, told KARE 11 that he intends to spend the weekend with his family instead of going to the draft.

Not every top prospect is skipping the event. West Virginia wide receiver Kevin White, a likely Top 10 pick, confirmed that he will be there. But in recent years, all the top picks have been there in person. That won’t be the case this year.

Officially, the NFL says each player can decide for himself whether to attend the draft. But the league might quietly ask players who say they’re not going to reconsider. The draft is the NFL’s biggest offseason event, and the league wants to use it to market its new stars. That’s harder to do when those new stars choose to stay home.

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Steve Bisciotti possibly commits tampering by saying Haloti Ngata could return in 2016

Steve Bisciotti Getty Images

Nose tackle Haloti Ngata spent nine seasons playing for the Baltimore Ravens and owner Steve Bisciotti said Wednesday that he doesn’t rule out the possibility of Ngata returning to Baltimore in 2016.

However, there’s a problem with that statement because Ngata is now a member of the Detroit Lions.

Bisciotti commenting on having interest in another team’s player is the definition of tampering.

The Lions elected not to pursue tampering charges against the Miami Dolphins for their pursuit of Ndamukong Suh at the start of free agency and they may elect not to pursue it again in this instance. It is a difficult matter to police anyway.

But Bisciotti surely appears to have committed tampering in this instance. He can certainly have a desire to reunite with Ngata in the future. He just can’t express that thought publicly with Ngata in a Lions uniform.

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Bisciotti: Ravens working on extension with Marshal Yanda

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Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said Wednesday the team is currently working on a contract extension for guard Marshal Yanda.

Yanda has been one of the best guards in the leagues over the last few seasons. He was made the Pro Bowl in four straight seasons and was name a first-team All-Pro for the first time in 2014.

Yanda is about to enter the final year of his contract with the Ravens with $5.5 million due in base salary.

Yanda has started 78 of a possible 80 games for the Ravens over the past five seasons. Yanda even started the final three games of the regular season and Baltimore’s playoff victory over Cincinnati at right tackle.

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Fourth defendant pleads guilty in Sean Taylor murder case

seantaylor

The fourth of five defendants charged in the 2007 murder of Sean Taylor has pleaded guilty.

Charles Wardlow entered his guilty plea in a courtroom in Miami today and was immediately sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Four down, one to go,” Taylor’s father, Pedro Taylor, told the Miami Herald after the sentencing.

Eric Rivera, who pulled the trigger on the shot that fatally wounded Taylor, was convicted last year. Rivera, who was 17 at the time he killed Taylor, was sentenced to 60 years in prison.

Jason Mitchell, whom prosecutors say organized the planned burglary of Taylor’s home, was also convicted last year and sentenced to life in prison. Venjah Hunte pleaded guilty years ago and agreed to testify against the others. He got 29 years in prison.

The fifth defendant, Timmy Brown, is still awaiting trial.

Taylor was a star player for the Miami Hurricanes and Washington’s first-round draft pick in 2004, becoming a Pro Bowl safety in his third season. Today would have been Taylor’s 32nd birthday.

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Vikings sign Mike Kafka, Caesar Rayford

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The Minnesota Vikings have signed quarterback Mike Kafka and defensive end Caesar Rayford.

Kafka’s agent, Mike McCartney, announced his signing with Minnesota while Rayford made his own announcement via his facebook page.

Both players took part in the NFL veteran combine in Arizona.

Kafka spent the 2014 season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the third-string quarterback behind Josh McCown and Mike Glennon. Kafka has not appeared in a regular season game since 2011 when he played sparingly in four games for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Rayford was traded from Indianapolis to Dallas in 2013 after a standout preseason with the Colts. Rayford appeared in seven games for the Cowboys and recorded five tackles. He spent the 2014 split between playing in the CFL and the Arena League.

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Seahawks re-sign Will Tukuafu, Jesse Williams

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The Seattle Seahawks re-signed fullback Will Tukuafu and defensive tackle Jesse Williams on Wednesday.

Tukuafu was an unrestricted free agent following last season while Williams had been released in a salary related move in March.

Tukuafu was signed by Seattle during the season after Derrick Coleman broke a bone in his foot in pre-game warmups in St. Louis in October. He appeared in nine games for Seattle while playing both fullback and some defensive tackle as well.

Williams was a fifth-round pick by the Seahawks in 2013 but has missed the last two seasons due to knee injuries. Williams has only appeared in two preseason games in his two years with the team.

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Bengals unveil April Fool’s gag that takes shot at Browns

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Sam Wyche probably got a kick out of this one.

On April Fool’s Day, the Cincinnati Bengals introduced a new logo and helmet. And the new logo and helmet are no different than the old logo.

Making the non-change change even more brilliant is the strong likelihood that the Bengals were taking a shot at the Browns, who recently pulled the sheet off a new helmet and logo that looked not much different than their prior helmet and logo.

So well played, Bengals. Well played.

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Dwight Lowery visited with Colts

Atlanta Falcons v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

The Colts re-signed safety Mike Adams, but they’re still in the market for more help at the position and had a veteran option in for a visit.

Albert Breer of NFL Media reports that veteran safety Dwight Lowery met with the team. Lowery played for the Falcons last year, but should be familiar to several members of the Colts organization after playing for the Jets and Jaguars during the first six years of his career.

Lowery made 15 starts while playing in every game for the Falcons last season and finished the year with 79 tackles, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and a sack. He was also a starter during his three years with Jacksonville, although injuries limited him to 12 games during the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

With Adams back in the fold, Lowery would likely compete to take over next to him with LaRon Landry and Sergio Brown both moving on from Indianapolis.

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Jamari Lattimore signs with Jets

Matthew Stafford, Jamari Lattimore AP

The Jets have added another player to their linebacking corps.

They announced the signing of former Packer Jamari Lattimore on Wednesday. Lattimore visited with the team last month.

Lattimore made the Packers as an undrafted free agent in 2011 and spent the last four years playing mostly on special teams and as a reserve in Green Bay. He did make five starts at inside linebacker last season, although the Jets will likely keep him as a depth option as long as David Harris and Demario Davis, their starters on the inside, are healthy.

Lattimore is the third Packers inside linebacker from last season to wind up with a new team this offseason. A.J. Hawk signed with the Bengals and Brad Jones landed in Philly after getting released by Green Bay.

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Bears re-sign CB Sherrick McManis

Jacksonville Jaguars v Chicago Bears Getty Images

The Bears have retained a backup defensive back and key special-teamer, reaching a one-year deal with cornerback Sherrick McManis, the club announced Wednesday.

The 27-year-old McManis appeared in 12 games as a Bears reserve in 2014, with the club crediting him with 13 special teams tackles. A Northwestern product, McManis has played in 39 games the last three seasons for Chicago after two seasons with Houston (2010-2011).

McManis’ ticket onto the roster figures to be tied to his versatility and experience. He could project as the Bears’ fourth or fifth cornerback and a core kicking game player.

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Stefen Wisniewski’s latest free agent visit with Patriots this week

Stefen Wisniewski Getty Images

The Patriots became leverage for Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain to get a better deal at home, but they won’t have to worry about that with their latest visitor.

According to Albert Breer of the NFL Network, the Patriots hosted Raiders center Stefen Wisniewski on a visit this week.

Wisniewski is coming off shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum, but has still drawn considerable interest. He’s had visits with the Seahawks, Buccaneers and Bears already, with others checking in.

The Raiders don’t need him after signing former Chiefs center Rodney Hudson to a big money deal, but plenty of others could use him and realize an upgrade (assuming he’s healthy).

While the number of visits and his injury history indicates he’s not yet ready to sign, the Patriots clearly think he could help.

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Texans sign Nate Washington

Tennessee Titans v Jacksonville Jaguars Getty Images

The Texans have added another veteran wideout to the group of players vying for playing time alongside DeAndre Hopkins in their 2015 lineup.

The team announced Wednesday that they’ve agreed to a deal with former Titans wide receiver Nate Washington. Houston has also signed ex-Jaguar Cecil Shorts this offseason while losing Andre Johnson to the Colts in their game of AFC South receiver roulette.

Washington spent six seasons with the Titans, culminating with 40 catches for 647 yards and two touchdowns while making 11 starts for the team in 2014. Those numbers are in line with his usual production in Tennessee, outside of the 74-catch, 1,023-yard season in 2011 that stands as Washington’s most productive NFL season.

John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reports that it is a one-year deal worth $1 million with $30,000 in guaranteed money, which doesn’t leave the Texans with much reason to hold onto Washington should the 31-year-old look unable to help the team once they start on-field preparations for next season.

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Ravens trade Gino Gradkowski to Broncos

Baltimore Ravens v Chicago Bears Getty Images

The Broncos have been looking to add to their options at center this offseason and it looks like they’ve settled on a player who played for head coach Gary Kubiak in Baltimore last season.

The Ravens announced Wednesday that they have traded center Gino Gradkowski and a 2016 draft pick to the Broncos in exchange for a 2016 draft pick. There are no details about which picks will be swapped or if there are any conditions based on Gradkowski’s output in Denver that can change the compensation.

Gradkowski was a fourth-round pick by Baltimore in 2012 and started every game at center for the Ravens during his second NFL season. The results were not all that good, leading Baltimore to trade for Jeremy Zuttah before the 2014 season. Gradkowski saw just a handful of snaps as a reserve in Baltimore and may not have made the team this year with John Urschel and Ryan Jensen on hand as other options in the middle of the line.

The Broncos had Manny Ramirez at center to start last season and moved Will Montgomery into the first team as they looked for a better unit as the year went on. Montgomery is a free agent, leaving Gradkowski without much in the way of experienced competition for the job at the moment.

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Kevin White will attend the draft

White AP

With Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota not attending the 2015 NFL draft, the NFL needs some of the other big-name prospects to show up for the first non-New York draft show since 1965.  In that regard, the NFL can count on former West Virginia receiver Kevin White.

White told PFT this week that he’ll be backstage at the draft when his name is called.  He also may need a tissue.  Or two. Or more.

“I think I’m going to be very emotional, a lot of tears, just because it has been a very long journey for me,” White said.  “A lot of the guys go straight out of high school to Division One. I had to go to junior college and even when I was at junior college, I had to miss a season.  It’s been a long journey.  My junior year wasn’t great.  I had a lot of nicks and bruises and we had a losing season.  It’s been a long journey for me, a lot of pressure on me to kind of do what I have to do to make it.  It’s not very common for a guy like me to make it so come draft day, I’m going to be very emotional.”

While it’s a given White will hear his name early in round one, he hasn’t been hearing from many teams.

“When I was training, a lot of teams would call but after the Combine, not too many teams called me,” White said.  “I haven’t been getting a lot of interest or phone calls or a lot of team meetings or workouts.  I’m not sure what the deal is.  Like I said, I am going to continue to train and do what I have to do and hopefully everything will pay off. . . .

“Maybe they’ve seen it all and heard it all so maybe I’m in the clear,” White added.  “Until they call or I have a set workout schedule, I’m just going to continue to do what I have to do and wherever I do go, if I have a workout or prior workout, I’ll enjoy it and try to make the most out of it.”

The full interview with Kevin White appears below.  Among other things, he identifies a couple of NFL receivers who remind White of himself (one of whom wears No. 11), and he talks about his NFL mentor (a different guy who also wears No. 11).

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