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Packers hopeful James Starks can return for playoffs

Minnesota Vikings v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

With the Green Bay Packers running game finally starting to find some consistency, the team is hopeful they can regain another weapon in the backfield when the playoffs begin in three weeks.

According to Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy believes running back James Starks is on pace to return for the postseason from a knee injury suffered three weeks ago.

“That’s what the medical staff is telling me,” McCarthy said. “Starks’ situation is to hopefully get him back for the playoffs. That was a decision that was made a few weeks ago.”

Starks has missed the last two games for the Packers after suffering a bone bruise on his knee against the Minnesota Vikings on Dec. 2. The Packers running game has struggled throughout the season before starting to find productions over the last six weeks. Per Dunne, the Packers are averaging 132 yards a game on the ground, good for ninth best in the league over that span.

Starks said he’s progressing and believes he will be able to return for the playoffs.

“It’s a lot better,” Starks said. “Just how I was bent, when you look at it, it looked a lot worse.”

For the season, Starks has appeared in six games for Green Bay. He has 71 carries for 255 yards and a touchdown.

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T.J. Lang carted to locker room

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 27:  Guard T.J. Lang #70 of the Green Bay Packers on the sidelines during the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on December 27, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Packers 38-8.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

Pacers offensive lineman T.J. Lang was carted to the locker room late in the third quarter of Sunday’s NFC Championship Game.

Lang suffered a lower leg or ankle injury. The Packers have had a miserable day and previously lost Micah Hyde, Kentrell Brice, Lane Taylor and Jake Ryan to injuries, so with Taylor and Lang out they’re trying to mount a comeback without two starting offensive linemen.

The Falcons hold a 37-15 lead late in the third quarter.

Packers running back Ty Montgomery also left the game due to a rib injury and his return is questionable. Unless the Packers somehow make it close, he likely won’t return.

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Michael Floyd, Ladarius Green out for Sunday night

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JANUARY 01:  Michael Floyd #14 of the New England Patriots scores a touchdown during a game against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on January 1, 2017 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) Getty Images

As the Falcons continue to shred the Packers en route to Atlanta’s second Super Bowl appearance, another spot remains to be earned.

Patriots receiver Michael Floyd and Steelers tight end Ladarius Green are among the players who won’t be in uniform for the AFC title game.

Floyd is a healthy scratch for the Patriots, along with quarterback Jacoby Brissett, cornerback Justin Coleman, cornerback Cyrus Jones, running back D.J. Foster, safety Jordan Richards, and tackle LaAdrian Waddle.

Green, who suffered his latest concussion on December 18 and hasn’t played since, will be joined by receiver DeMarcus Ayers, quarterback Zach Mettenberger, cornerback Al-Hajj Shabazz, linebacker L.J. Fort, defensive end Johnny Maxey, and tackle Brian Mihalik as inactive Steelers.

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Ryan throws fourth touchdown pass of the day

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 22: Austin Hooper #81 of the Atlanta Falcons signals for a first down during the first quarter against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome on January 22, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Packers finally scored. The Falcons came back throwing, showing they wanted more.

The Falcons answered the first Packers’ points with another long touchdown drive, going 75 yards in eight plays to make it 37-7. Matt Ryan’s fourth touchdown pass of the game went to Devonta Freeman, and though Matt Bryant missed the PAT it shouldn’t matter.

The Falcons have dominated from the start.

An Aaron Rodgers pass to Davante Adams with 9:19 left in the third quarter got the Packers on the board.

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Pereira, Blandino offer different reasons for Falcons touchback

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 22: Jalen Collins #32 of the Atlanta Falcons recovers a fumble in the second quarter by Aaron Ripkowski #22 of the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome on January 22, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

If NFL fans have a hard time understanding the rules, that’s understandable: Even the head of officiating and the former head of officiating don’t always see a call the same way.

After the Falcons were given a touchback on a recovery of a Packers fumble that almost rolled into the end zone, NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino and his predecessor, FOX rules analyst Mike Pereira, offered different explanations for the ruling.

Blandino wrote on Twitter that Falcons safety Jalen Collins “Gained possession with left leg touching the goal line so it is a touchback.” In other words, the ruling was about where Collins’ leg was, not where the ball was.

But Pereira wrote on Twitter that it was a touchback because “the recovering player did not have total control of the ball until the ball had broken the plane.” In other words, Pereira says the ruling was based on where the ball was, not where Collins was.

Blandino and Pereira both agree that the ruling of a Falcons recovery in the end zone for a touchback was correct. But they disagree on why it was the correct ruling. And when even the experts can’t agree, it’s hard for the fans to understand the league’s convoluted rules.

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Julio Jones showing off speed, skill as Falcons rout Packers

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 22:  Julio Jones #11 of the Atlanta Falcons catches a 5 yard touchdown pass late in the second quarter against LaDarius Gunter #36 of the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome on January 22, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Getty Images

Julio Jones was limited in practice last week. He’s apparently OK — and he’s killing the Packers.

A 73-yard catch-and-run touchdown by Jones early in the third quarter has made it 31-0. Jones also caught a 5-yard touchdown pass just before halftime and is over 140 receiving yards in this NFC Championship Game.

The Packers have had no answers. Matt Ryan is over 300 yards passing; he’s thrown three touchdown passes and he ran for another.

The Packers moved the ball early but Mason Crosby missed a field goal and Aaron Ripkowski fumbled at the end of a run that would have made it first and goal. Now the Packers need a miracle, but they’re struggling to even get first downs.

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Packers have few answers, no points at halftime

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 22: Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons celebrates with Mohamed Sanu #12 after a 14 yard touchdown run in the second quarter against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome on January 22, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Getty Images

Matt Ryan and the Falcons dominated the first half and hold a 24-0 halftime lead over the Packers.

Ryan has thrown touchdown passes to Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu and also ran 14 yards for a score. He threw for 271 yards in the first half.

Jones caught a 5-yard touchdown pass with three seconds left in the first half to further deflate the Packers.

The Packers moved the ball early but Mason Crosby missed a field goal and Aaron Ripkowski fumbled at the end of a run that would have made it first and goal. Ryan has had wide open receivers and has been a step ahead of the Green Bay defense.

At halftime the Falcons have 325 total yards and the Packers have 127. The Falcons have run 46 plays to the Packers’ 21.

The Packers will get the ball to start the second half.

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Falcons finagle touchback after fumble near end zone

Green Bay Packers' Aaron Ripkowski fumbles the ball during the first half of the NFL football NFC championship game against the Atlanta Falcons, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) AP

As Packers fullback Aaron Ripkowski bulldozed toward a touchdown, he lost the ball. Falcons safety Jalen Collins pounced at the one and then rolled into the end zone.

The officials ruled it was a touchback.

Arguably, Collins gave himself up at the one. Arguably, he deliberately took the ball into the end zone, possibly making it a safety.

Regardless, the issue was glossed over by the officials and by the FOX broadcast. Since it was a turnover, any challenge would have come from the replay booth.

It would be nice to know why the play was ruled the way that it was, and why the ruling wasn’t Atlanta ball at its one or two points for Green Bay.

UPDATE 4:17 p.m. ET: NFL senior V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino says via Twitter that, because Collins gained possession at the one with his leg touching the goal line, it’s a touchback. If his leg hadn’t been touching the goal line, the Falcons would have had the ball at the one. The FOX broadcast still hasn’t explained the ruling.

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Ryan runs for score as Falcons extend lead

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 22:  Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons looks to pass in the first quarter against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome on January 22, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) Getty Images

Matt Ryan and the Falcons keep converting third downs, keep moving the chains and keep scoring.

They lead the Packers, 17-0, midway through the second quarter of Sunday’s AFC Championship Game.

Ryan ran 14 yards for a touchdown to make it 17-0. He threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu on the game’s first drive, and he’s had a bunch of wide open receivers on the first three possessions.

Packers fullback Aaron Ripkowski fumbled inside the Falcons’ 10-yard line early in the second quarter, and Falcons safety Jalen Collins recovered in the end zone for a touchback as the Falcons preserved a 10-0 lead. The Packers have moved the ball on both of their possessions but have missed a field goal and fumbled.

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Falcons dominate first quarter, lead 10-0

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 22:  Quarterback Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons passes the ball in the first half against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome on January 22, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Falcons hold a 10-0 lead over the Packers after one quarter in the NFC Championship Game.

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is off to a hot start. Ryan is 11-of-16 for 125 yards and had two passes that would have been big gains dropped.

Falcons wide receiver Mohamed Sanu caught the game’s first touchdown and has been busy. He has four catches for 46 yards and a rush for seven yards.

The Packers moved inside the Falcons’ 25-yard line on their first possession but stalled and Mason Crosby missed a 41-yard field goal. Crosby had made 23 consecutive field goals; it was also the first missed field goal of the entire playoffs.

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NFL teams may have to jam cell signals in locker rooms

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As the Antonio Brown Face Book Live fiasco prepares to yield to an actual football game (during which it will be “fair or not” to point out the potential social-media infraction distraction if Brown struggles), there’s a lingering question about the situation that gave rise to the violation.

How will the NFL prevent similar incidents in the future?

One league source suggests that, eventually, the league will need to implement scrambling devices in the locker room when social-media activity is prohibited — from 90 minutes before kickoff through the conclusion of the post-game media obligations.

That’s the easiest way to keep players from violating the rules, and it’s something the league needs to consider if other players will be tempted to broadcast live from the locker room.

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Ryan sharp as Falcons take early lead

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 11:  Mohamed Sanu #12 of the Atlanta Falcons scores a two-point conversion against Chris Conte #23 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Georgia Dome on September 11, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Falcons got the ball first and scored first in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game.

They went 80 yards in 13 plays with Matt Ryan completing three third-down passes.

The Falcons scored on a third-down shovel pass to Mohamed Sanu after Ryan was flushed out of the pocket. The Falcons have now scored a touchdown on their first drive in eight straight games.

Ryan was 6-of-8 for 64 yards on the first drive. The Packers moved inside the Falcons’ 25-yard line on their first possession but stalled and Mason Crosby missed a 41-yard field goal. Crosby had made 23 consecutive field goals.

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Antonio Brown reportedly fined $10,000 by Steelers for locker room video

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, right, arrives to talk with reporters after their NFL football practice, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, in Pittsburgh. The Steelers face the New England Patriots in the AFC conference championship on Sunday. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic) AP

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said last week that the team would discipline wide receiver Antonio Brown for sharing a video from the locker room on Facebook Live and that discipline reportedly includes a five-figure fine.

Jay Glazer of FOX Sports reports that Tomlin told players at a team meeting that Brown was fined $10,000 for violating the team’s social media policy. The league’s policy prohibits the use of social media from 90 minutes before kickoff through the end of postgame media obligations, so Brown may face other penalties.

Per Glazer, Tomlin asked if anyone had a problem with that decision and then said it was time to move on to get ready for the Patriots. Brown apologized for posting the video and creating what he called a “total distraction” to his teammates leading up the game against New England.

NFL Media reported Sunday that Brown has a six-figure marketing deal with Facebook, which got a lot of publicity as a result of the video. Brown would only say “top secret” when asked about a deal with the company, but the net effect on his bank account will still be a positive one if he’s in business with the social network.

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Report: Chip Kelly could replace Kyle Shanahan in Atlanta

SANTA CLARA, CA - NOVEMBER 20:  Head coach Chip Kelly of the San Francisco 49ers looks on during their NFL game against the New England Patriots at Levi's Stadium on November 20, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) Getty Images

Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is slated for a second interview with the 49ers about their head coaching job this week and the expectation around the league is that he will wind up taking the job.

That would leave the Falcons in need of a new offensive coordinator and Jay Glazer of FOX Sports reported on Sunday that the team has lined up three candidates to take the job, including the man Shanahan would be replacing with the 49ers. Glazer reports that Chip Kelly is one of the potential additions to Dan Quinn’s staff.

Glazer reported that Kelly would consider a coordinator position shortly after he was fired by the 49ers and he interviewed with the Jaguars earlier this month before Jacksonville decided to keep Nathaniel Hackett as the offensive coordinator on a permanent basis. He also reportedly met with Patriots coach Bill Belichick recently, although there’s been no word about whether there was a discussion about joining the staff.

Shanahan is eligible to speak to the 49ers this week whether the Falcons win or lose, but would only be moving on to the 49ers immediately if the Packers are moving on to the Super Bowl.

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Report: Matt Cavanaugh “in negotiations” for Redskins offensive coordinator

Washington Redskins conduct OTAs Getty Images

There’s a report about Kevin O’Connell coming aboard as the new quarterbacks coach in Washington, but it doesn’t look like Matt Cavanaugh, who was in that job during the 2016 season, will be leaving the team.

Mike Jones of the Washington Post reports that the Redskins are “in negotiations” with Cavanaugh about a promotion to offensive coordinator. The job has been vacant since Sean McVay left to become the head coach of the Rams.

A bump up the ladder for Cavanaugh would make two internal promotions to coordinator for the Redskins as they’re moving Greg Manusky from outside linebackers coach to defensive coordinator.

Cavanaugh has spent the last two years as the quarterbacks coach in D.C. and has experience as an offensive coordinator with the Bears, Ravens and the University of Pittsburgh. He also had stints as the quarterbacks coach for the Bears and Jets before joining the Redskins.

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Packers wide receivers active, available

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 28: Jordy Nelson #87 and Davante Adams #17 of the Green Bay Packers celebrate after a touchdown by Adams in the first quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on November 28, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Packers have their injured wide receivers active and available for Sunday’s NFC Championship Game at Atlanta.

Both team submitted their inactive lists 90 minutes before kickoff. Jordy Nelson, Geronimo Allison and Davante Adams will all play after being listed as questionable. Nelson missed last week’s game after breaking ribs in the wild-card round.

The Packers have six wide receivers active, giving them additional depth if Nelson, Allison or Adams are limited by their injuries or have to leave the game.

Packers safety Morgan Burnett, cornerback Quinten Rollins and running back Christine Michael had been listed as questionable but both will play. The Packers had previously ruled running back James Starks out due to a concussion.

Also inactive for the Packers are Joe Callahan, Max McCaffrey, Herb Waters, Joe Kerridge, Kyle Murphy and Christian Ringo.

The Falcons have no injury-related inactives. Their inactives are Nick Williams, Terron Ward, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Dashon Goldson, Josh Keyes, Wes Schweitzer and D.J. Tialavea.

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