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PFT’s Week 17 picks

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Well, it’s officially over.

With an eight-game gap and one week of games left, MDS and yours truly disagree on only five games.  Which means that, even if MDS sweeps, I’ll still be three games ahead.  (Math continues to be my strong suit.)

Of course, if I sweep I’ll finish with a 13-game lead.  And based on the five disagreements, I think I will.

Read on to see our picks and our takes for the final week of the regular season.  It all re-sets to 0-0 for the playoffs, at which time MDS will have a chance to exact revenge.  Or to fail again.

Last week, I was 11-5 and MDS went 10-6.  For the year, I’m now at 157-82-1, good for 65.4 percent.  MDS is 149-90-1, which keeps him at 62.0 percent.

Buccaneers at Falcons

MDS’s take: The Falcons wrapped up home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, but they say they’re playing to win in Week 17. They shouldn’t have much trouble winning against the Bucs, who have collapsed at the end of the season.

MDS’s pick: Falcons 34, Buccaneers 13.

Florio’s take:  The Bucs haven’t been the same team since they nearly beat the Falcons in Tampa.  The Falcons are still trying to prove that they’re one of the best teams in the league.

Florio’s pick:  Falcons 27, Buccaneers 17.

Jets at Bills

MDS’s take: Football fans, the Greg McElroy-Ryan Fitzpatrick quarterback matchup you’ve all been waiting for is finally here. Fitzpatrick will throw a couple of touchdown passes in what may be his final start in Buffalo.

MDS’s pick: Bills 20, Jets 10.

Florio’s take:  The Jets have folded the tents, even though the circus is still in town.  Buffalo celebrates the news of a new lease with a home win to end the season, just in time for plenty of changes.

Florio’s pick:  Bills 27, Jets 14.

Ravens at Bengals

MDS’s take: At first glance this might look like a big game, matching up two playoff teams. But with the Bengals locked into the No. 6 seed and the Ravens highly likely to end up with the No. 4 seed, neither of these teams has a lot to play for. I think the Ravens, however, will be a little more motivated to build on the momentum from last week’s win over the Giants and will take this one.

MDS’s pick: Ravens 21, Bengals 14.

Florio’s take:  This meaningless game has plenty of meaning for the Bengals, who need to convince themselves that they can beat the Ravens, in order to obtain the confidence that they can do something else they haven’t done in an even longer time — win in the playoffs.

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 27, Ravens 20.

Bears at Lions

MDS’s take: In 2000, the Lions were 9-6 heading into Week 17 and needed only to beat the 4-11 Bears to make the playoffs. Instead, the Bears pulled the upset and Lions owner William Clay Ford cleaned house and began the disastrous Matt Millen era. This year it’s the 9-6 Bears who need to beat the 4-11 Lions to have a shot at the playoffs. I’ll take the Lions to get their revenge in an upset.

MDS’s pick: Lions 28, Bears 24.

Florio’s take:  Rodney Harrison declared while watching the Lions lose to the Falcons that Detroit’s body language suggests the Lions have quit.  The Bears haven’t.  Sometimes, it’s that easy.

Florio’s pick:  Bears 24, Lions 10.

Texans at Colts

MDS’s take: The Texans are playing for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, while the Colts are already locked into the No. 5 seed in the AFC. Houston has more to play for and is a better team and will win this one going away.

MDS’s pick: Texans 36, Colts 17.

Florio’s take:  The Texans have never won in Indianapolis.  They need it this time more than ever.  But the Colts will have coach Chuck Pagano back, and even if the Colts leave so much on the field that it will make it harder to win in the playoffs, they’ll leave it all on the field to beat the Texans.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 27, Texans 23.

Packers at Vikings

MDS’s take: This is the biggest game played in Minnesota since Brett Favre led the Vikings to a divisional playoff win over the Cowboys three years ago. Unfortunately for Vikings fans, they’re hosting a Packers team that’s peaking at the right time. I like Aaron Rodgers to lead the Packers to a high-scoring win.

MDS’s pick: Packers 35, Vikings 27.

Florio’s take:  The Vikings are playing for a postseason berth.  The Packers are playing for a bye.  The Packers remain the better team, and they have every reason to demonstrate that on Sunday.  To the delight of the Bears.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 34, Vikings 21.

Dolphins at Patriots

MDS’s take: A win probably won’t be enough to earn New England a first-round playoff bye, but the Patriots will be motivated to try — and to wash out the bad taste of back-to-back disappointing performances, in a loss to the 49ers and a close win over the Jaguars.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 41, Dolphins 14.

Florio’s take:  The Pats still have a crack at a bye.  That’s all the incentive they need to take out the Dolphins for the second time this month.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 34, Dolphins 17.

Panthers at Saints

MDS’s take: It’s a meaningless game for both teams, but that doesn’t make it a bad game: Both of these teams have been playing good football in recent weeks, despite falling short of the playoffs. I like the Panthers to keep their winning streak going and make a statement that they’re a team to keep an eye on in 2013.

MDS’s pick: Panthers 24, Saints 21.

Florio’s take:  New Orleans is trying to finish on a high note.  And they are succeeding.

Florio’s pick:  Saints 34, Panthers 10.

Eagles at Giants

MDS’s take: The Eagles quit on Andy Reid months ago. The Giants have looked in the last couple weeks like they quit on Tom Coughlin. Both of these teams are slouching toward the end of the season, but the Giants have more to play for.

MDS’s pick: Giants 14, Eagles 10.

Florio’s take:  The Giants are playing for pride, along with a sliver of hope that they could make it to the playoffs if enough other teams lose.  If the Giants find a way in, there’s a pretty good chance they won’t lose again.

Florio’s pick:  Giants 27, Eagles 20.

Browns at Steelers

MDS’s take: This game is meaningless, and I’m tempted to pick the Browns on the theory that the Steelers will be feeling a hangover from their disappointing Week 16 loss. But the Browns have gone in the tank over the last couple of weeks, and at this point I’m not sure I’d pick them to win on the road against anyone.

MDS’s pick: Steelers 17, Browns 9.

Florio’s take:  The Browns haven’t swept the Steelers since 1988, 11 years before the current edition of the Browns was born.  With rampant changes looming in Cleveland, the Steelers still have enough gas in the tank to avoid getting punked by the franchise they’ve owned since 1999 (even though the Browns are now technically owned by a guy who still owns a chunk of the Steelers).

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 20, Browns 10.

Jaguars at Titans

MDS’s take: Last time the Titans suffered a humiliating blowout loss and were called out by their owner, they responded by winning the next game. I think they’ll do it again.

MDS’s pick: Titans 24, Jaguars 14.

Florio’s take:  Bud Adams isn’t happy with his coaching staff.  He’ll be slightly less unhappy after Sunday, but still unhappy enough to clean house.

Florio’s pick:  Titans 27, Jaguars 16.

Chiefs at Broncos

MDS’s take: Knowing they need to win in order to earn a first-round playoff bye, the Broncos will pound the Chiefs, who have nothing to play for other than the first pick in next year’s draft — which Kansas City will earn by losing.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 27, Chiefs 10.

Florio’s take:  With 10 straight wins each by at least seven points, the Broncos could be the best team in the playoff field.  They’re definitely good enough to continue chasing a bye week.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 34, Chiefs 10.

Raiders at Chargers

MDS’s take: With Norv Turner virtually assured of being fired after the game, his team will send him out a winner in an AFC West contest that doesn’t really matter for much of anything.

MDS’s pick: Chargers 24, Raiders 10.

Florio’s take:  Norv Turner has one last chance to change the owner’s mind.  It won’t matter.

Florio’s pick:  Chargers 24, Raiders 10.

Cardinals at 49ers

MDS’s take: San Francisco will shake off Sunday night’s thrashing in Seattle to clinch the NFC West.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 28, Cardinals 3.

Florio’s take:  The Niners are on the brink of squandering the NFC West title that we were ready to hand them back in September.  If they can’t beat the Cardinals and Brian Hoyer at home, San Fran doesn’t even deserve to be in the playoffs.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 31, Cardinals 13.

Rams at Seahawks

MDS’s take: No one wants to play the Seahawks right now. They’re destroying everything in their paths. The Rams will be no different.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 45, Rams 7.

Florio’s take:  The Seahawks, who lost their first round of NFC West games, have been exacting revenge in a big way.  They finish the job on Sunday.

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 41, Rams 17.

Cowboys at Redskins

MDS’s take: In the biggest game of the day, the Cowboys will ride Tony Romo and Dez Bryant to a high-scoring win. I suspect that Robert Griffin III is hurting more than he’s letting on and won’t be able to move as effectively as he did in the Redskins’ Thanksgiving win over the Cowboys. Dallas will take the NFC East crown.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 31, Redskins 28.

Florio’s take:  For the second straight year, the NFC East title game returns to prime time in Week 17.  For the second straight year, the home team advances.  For the second straight year, the Cowboys come up short.

Florio’s pick:  Redskins 24, Cowboys 21.

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A.J. Green on Andy Dalton: You can’t blame one person for playoff losses

Andy Dalton, A.J. Green AP

The Bengals lost their playoff opener for the fourth straight season, leading to a renewed wave of opinions that quarterback Andy Dalton isn’t the right player to lead the team where they want to go.

Wide receiver A.J. Green took issue with that view during an appearance on PFT Live on Thursday. Green told Mike Florio that the Bengals have lost those games in all three phases of the game.

“In those big games, we haven’t played well as a football team. I think you can’t blame one guy for us losing those games,” Green said.

You wouldn’t expect Green to say that Dalton’s the only reason the team has lost and he certainly doesn’t sound like he’s in a hurry to find a new place to play. He told Florio that he hopes to reach agreement on an extension to remain in Cincinnati this offseason. To see what else Green shared, including his love of juggling, check out the video below.

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Josh Gordon: I failed myself again, but I will persevere

Cleveland Browns v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon has received plenty of criticism since word broke recently of a one-year suspension for a failed test for alcohol use and he answered some of his critics in an open letter on Medium.com on Thursday.

In the letter, which is addressed to Charles Barkley, Stephen A. Smith and Cris Carter and “other interested parties,” Gordon took issue with those who claim he has substance abuse problems. He explained that he had several drinks on a flight to Las Vegas after the end of the season and then received a notice to report for testing after he arrived.

“In the end, of course, I failed myself,” Gordon wrote. “It doesn’t matter if I thought that the league-imposed restriction on drinking had expired at the end of the regular season; what matters is that I didn’t confirm whether or not that was the case. Now, that oversight has further jeopardized my relationship with my team and our fans, my reputation, and maybe even my career.”

Gordon writes that “words cannot express” his remorse and regret for putting himself in this position while outlining other times that he’s failed to take advantage of the opportunities his football ability has provided him. He’s also adamant that those criticizing him don’t know his entire story, much of which he details, and vows to persevere to a future he believes is bright.

“What I do know is the following: I am not a drug addict; I am not an alcoholic; I am not someone who deserves to be dissected and analyzed like some tragic example of everything that can possibly go wrong for a professional athlete. And … I am not going to die on account of the troubled state you wrongly believe my life to be in. I am a human being, with feelings and emotions and scars and flaws, just like anyone else. I make mistakes  —  I have made a lot of mistakes  —  but I am a good person, and I will persevere.”

There’s a lot more to the letter and there’s ample time for a 23-year-old to make good on that vow, but Gordon’s reached a point where actions, not words, will determine where his life goes from here.

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Tom Brady hopes Peyton Manning comes back next year

New England Patriots Vs. Denver Broncos At Gillette Stadium Getty Images

Tom Brady wants Peyton Manning to come back.

And not just because he kind of owns him.

The Patriots quarterback had kind words for his Broncos counterpart, who hasn’t made a firm announcement about his future plans.

What a great player that he’s been for this league,” Brady said when asked abut Manning, via Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. “He’s a great competitor. I’ve been fortunate to play against him a bunch of times. I certainly hope he comes back, because the league will miss him if he doesn’t. But those decisions are up to him. I’m sure it’s up to whether he’s mentally and physically, if that’s what he wants to do. But I certainly hope he’s back.”

The respect is real, but the record is one-sided.

Brady and Manning have played 16 times in their career, and Brady owns an 11-5 edge in those head-to-head matchups.

With a record like that, it’s no wonder Manning wants to keep him around.

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Aaron Hernandez murder trial gets underway

Aaron Hernandez AP

While many of Aaron Hernandez’s former Patriots teammates are preparing to play in the Super Bowl on Sunday, Hernandez is in a Massachusetts courtroom for the first day of his trial on charges that he murdered Odin Lloyd.

The trial got underway on Thursday after a slight delay caused by the failure of one member of the 18-person jury to appear for service. That juror was replaced and the attorneys for both sides delivered their opening statements.

In his opening, prosecutor Patrick Bomberg said, via the Boston Globe, that Hernandez and two other men took Lloyd “to a secluded, isolated area in North Attleborough, a town where Odin Lloyd knew no one but the defendant and the defendant’s fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins. There Odin Lloyd was shot 6 times. He was killed and he was left in a secluded area.”

Bomberg said that a joint with DNA from Hernandez and Lloyd was found near Lloyd’s body, a footprint at the scene matched Hernandez’s sneakers and that surveillance video from Hernandez’s home security system shows Hernandez, Carlos Ortiz and Ernest Wallace returning to Hernandez’s home without Lloyd shortly after the crime allegedly occurred.

Hernandez’s attorney Michael Fee countered by saying that the investigation was “sloppy” and that the evidence against his client is circumstantial. Fee also argues that the prosecution has not found a motive for Hernandez to murder someone he describes as a friend who Hernandez smoked marijuana with frequently.

Several members of the Patriots organization and former pro and college teammates of Hernandez’s are on the witness list for the trial. Wallace and Ortiz will be tried separately.

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Reporter who broke #DeflateGate says fans have threatened him

Screen shot 2015-01-29 at 1.24.22 PM

When you’re in the news business, you anticipate blowback when you break a story that casts someone in a negative light.

But Indianapolis writer Bob Kravitz, who works for television station WTHR, said he was floored by the volume of response from Patriots fans after he wrote the first story about #DeflateGate.

“Feedback? Hell, it’s been a tsunami of hatred,” Kravitz said, via Ben Volin of the Boston Globe. “My office voice mail is full. My emails are overflowing from New England fans. The tweets are just out of control. It’s gotten very personal, very mean-spirited, some anti-Semitic remarks, some threats to my well-being, but, then, I didn’t expect otherwise.

“I’ve been in the business for over 30 years and I’ve developed some very thick skin over the years. I’m a big boy; I can handle it. I’ll say this: New England fans are among the most vocal and passionate I’ve ever seen, which is a good thing.”

Kravitz said the last week and a half “has been the most insane period of my professional life.”

“Other writers keep jokingly coming up to me and saying, “This is all your fault,’’ but I’m quite sure this story would have gotten out whether I reported it or not,” he said. “An NFL investigation into allegations of cheating is a big thing; surely, someone would have caught wind of it. As it happened, I’m the one who heard about it and confirmed it and reported it — accurately, I might add.”

That reporting has caused many Patriots fans to misplace their anger, with social media giving the bullies a louder voice.

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Marshawn Lynch to reporters: I ain’t got nothing for you all

marshawn AP

Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch made his final media appearance of Super Bowl week, and it was the strangest one yet.

Lynch turned the tables on a few reporters who gathered around his podium, asking them why they felt the need to continue peppering him with questions when he had already made it clear he wasn’t going to answer.

“All week I done told you all what’s up. And for some reason you all come back and do what you did,” Lynch told the assembled media. “I don’t know what image you all are trying to portray me, but it don’t matter what you all think, what you all say about me. Because when I go home at night, the people I look in the face, my family, that I love, that’s all that matters to me. So you all can go make up whatever you’re going to make up”

Lynch indicated that it angers him that reporters won’t respect his privacy.

“I come to you all’s event, you all shove cameras and microphones down my throat,” Lynch said. “I ain’t got nothing for you all. . . You all will sit here doing the same thing. I’m here preparing for a game.”

Lynch set a timer on his table and sat there for only five minutes. At about the two-minute mark, he indicated that his patience was already wearing out.

“I’m not about to say nothing. So for the remainder of my — what’s that, three minutes? — because I’m here, I’m available for you all. All my requirements are fulfilled. So now for the next three minutes I’ll just be looking at you all like you’re looking at me.”

Lynch did answer one question directly: When a reporter asked him where to buy Beast Mode gear, Lynch answered, “Beastmodeonline.com.”

And then his five minutes were up, and he left. He won’t have to face reporters again until after the Super Bowl.

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Carroll says refs will help Seahawks figure out Patriots’ formations

Carroll Getty Images

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is confident that his defense won’t be confused by the Patriots’ unusual formations in the Super Bowl, thanks to some help from the officials.

The Patriots have successfully disguised which players are eligible receivers and which players are ineligible receivers in this year’s playoffs. But Carroll said at his press conference today that he’s been told that the officials will do a more thorough job of making it clear to the defense which receivers are eligible, and which players are lined up in ineligible positions.

The NFL rules are clear: Players with ineligible jersey numbers must report to the referee if they’re going to line up as eligible receivers, and players with eligible jersey numbers must report to the referee if they’re going to line up in ineligible positions. The referee, in turn, must announce those declarations. But in this year’s playoffs, both the Ravens and the Colts have been confused by the Patriots’ formations, which have included trick plays with running back Shane Vereen lined up as an ineligible lineman, and plays with lineman Nate Solder lined up as an eligible receiver.

Now, according to Carroll, the officials will change their mechanics so that it’s clearer to the defense whether each player is eligible or ineligible. That’s an advantage to the Seahawks, and something the Ravens and Colts wish would have been done for them.

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Nick Foles expects to be back in Philadelphia next year

Foles AP

Yes, Nick Foles has heard the trade rumors. But no, he’s not worrying about them.

While making the rounds at radio row this morning, the Eagles quarterback said he expects he’ll still be the Eagles quarterback come next year.

“Yeah you hear about it,” Foles said, via Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com. “You are going to hear about it every single year. That’s just part of it. The main word is ‘rumor.’ You can’t put too much into it. . . . I plan on being in Philly.”

With Foles’ inconsistent play before his broken collarbone, and the easy dot-connecting from Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota to coach Chip Kelly, it’s reasonable to think his future might not be so secure.

But until Foles hears from Kelly, he’s not going to put much stock into any of the reports.

“I only listen to Chip Kelly. That’s what is most important. He is the one that will make the decision,” Foles said. “Right now all I am going to do is work because I plan on being back in Philadelphia and playing with my team. That’s all I ever thought. So that is what I plan on doing and I’m not looking at it any other way.”

Of course, Foles opened the door to a lot of this speculation himself. He threw 10 interceptions in eight games before his injury, after throwing two picks and leading the Eagles to the playoffs the year before.

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League says incidents of racial slurs on field dropped sharply

Kaepernick Getty Images

Either the NFL is becoming a more respectful place, or players just want to keep their money in their pockets.

According to Mark Maske of the Washington Post, the number of on-field incidents involving racial slurs and abusive language dropped sharply this season.

The league enacted rules to punish players who used slurs during games, and told the Fritz Pollard Alliance that there were only six incidents this year, down from 29 during the 2013 season.

“I think it says very clearly that the players understand the gravity of what we’re trying to do,” said John Wooten, the chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance. “I think the clubs and everyone else are to be congratulated. The key thing here is we’re talking about respect. It’s about respect and dignity. Ideally it should be zero. But it’s headed in the right direction.”

While the rule created a gray area that many thought officials would struggle with, the numbers indicate that the rule’s working. It’s unclear where Colin Kaepernick’s penalty falls on their scale, since he was penalized for it on the field but later had his fine cut in half.

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Bruce Irvin sees Seahawks’ defense as one of the all-time greats

Seattle Seahawks v Arizona Cardinals Getty Images

Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin thinks Seattle’s defense is one win away from establishing a legacy as one of the all-time greats.

“I definitely feel like we’ll go out as one of the top defenses to ever play the NFL,” Irvin said. “But, we got to win first. I don’t want to talk about winning the game. We just got to prepare and keep practicing. Those guys are a really good team so we got to stay focused and really bust our tail if we really want to win Sunday.”

Irvin said he believes that not only do the Seahawks have the best starting 11 in the NFL, but they have plenty of backups who would be starters on other teams.

“I think on defense we go 13, 14 or 15 deep so we got our twos and threes can be starters somewhere else,” Irvin said.

Can the Sehawks be remembered alongside the Steelers of the 1970s and the Bears of the 1980s as the greatest defenses in the history of the sport? If they were to shut down Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in back-to-back Super Bowls, it would be hard to argue against them.

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Richard Sherman won’t say if he’ll miss Super Bowl for son’s birth

sherman AP

Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and his girlfriend are expecting a baby soon, and Sherman isn’t saying if he’d miss the Super Bowl if the baby comes on Sunday.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” Sherman said, via ESPN. “We’re not thinking about the possibility.”

Sherman’s girlfriend, Ashley Moss, is in Arizona and will give birth at a local hospital if she goes into labor in the next five days.

Having a son on the way put Sherman in a contemplative mood.

“It’s someone that actually depends on you for everyday living,” Sherman said. “Everything they do is dependent on you and how you provide and how successful you are.”

Some NFL players have missed games for the births of their children, and some NFL players have missed the births of their children for games. But we’ve never heard of a player grappling with that decision before the Super Bowl. It’s a decision Sherman hopes he doesn’t have to make.

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Belichick on Junior Seau: “I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to coach him”

Super Bowl XLII Getty Images

We will learn Saturday whether the late Junior Seau is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2015.

This morning, Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked about the former New England linebacker’s legacy, as well as what it would mean to have the 12-time Pro Bowler in the Hall of Fame.

Here was Belichick’s response:

“Well, it’d mean a lot. I mean, it’s obviously got to happen,” Belichick said of Seau, who played for New England from 2006 through 2009 after a decorated career with San Diego. “I can’t imagine having a professional football hall of fame without Junior Seau in it.

“I’d say the one word that comes to me when I think about Junior and football (is) passion. He’s a very passionate guy, lot of energy, lot of enthusiasm, first guy in the building in the morning, watching film, lifting weights, ready for practice — always loved to practice — flying around on the practice field, energy before the game, on the sideline, during the game. Emotional player, but a smart player, player that played with a purpose, played with good physical skill but also good concentration, good awareness. Great team player, very supportive of his teammates.

“I mean, everybody in the locker room loved Junior. They loved what he did, and they loved the way that he interacted with the team. He was a great player, and I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to coach him.

“We had a lot of great experiences together. Obviously, it was the end of his career. There were some things a little different than when he was in San Diego and so forth, but he brought a lot of energy and passion to our team, and I personally had a very good relationship with Junior.

“I love coaching him, and he always expressed how much he enjoyed playing on the New England Patriots, and that meant a lot to me.”

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Rex Ryan, Drew Brees and much more on huge PFT Live at noon ET

Drew Brees AP

There’s never a good day to miss PFT Live if you want to know the latest from around the NFL, but you really don’t want to miss Thursday’s show.

Mike Florio’s lined up a guest list studded with some of the biggest names in football. We’ve got Bills coach Rex Ryan, Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green, Saints quarterback Drew Brees and the Eagles tandem of Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy to share their plans for offseason work they hope can get them to the Super Bowl next year. We’ve also got Hall of Famers Marshall Faulk and Troy Aikman to share their memories of winning Super Bowls and former Raiders wide receiver Tim Brown a couple of days before he finds out if he’ll join them in Canton.

Cardinals president Michael Bidwill and Hall of Famer Warren Moon will also be on hand to make for a program as packed as any we’ve ever had.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can listen live via the various NBC Sports Radio affiliates, through the links at PFT, or with the NBC Sports Radio app. And you can also watch a simulcast of all three hours of the show by clicking right here.

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RGIII: Goal is to stay healthy and the rest will fall into place

The Dallas Cowboys play the Washington Redskins Getty Images

Robert Griffin III got a new quarterback coach this week in Matt Cavanaugh and he told John Keim of ESPN.com that he’s excited to work with an experienced coach who “can help the operation run more smoothly.”

He’s also hoping to play a season without injury concerns for the first time in his NFL career. An ankle injury was the health obstacle that Griffin had to deal with in 2014 as it knocked him out in the second week of the season and then left him trying to catch up in a new offense late in the season. If he can stay healthy, Griffin said during an interview on 980 ESPN that he feels like everything else will work out for him and the Redskins.

“Stay healthy, go out and have fun and play the game, and the rest will fall in place,” Griffin said. “I think with the moves that we’ve made, that the coach and the G.M. have made, it will allow us to be in a better position to win games, and I think all the guys are excited about that. You never want to see guys go, coaches and players, but I know coaches have to do what’s best for the team, and we all hope and pray we end up winning.”

Griffin’s issues in Jay Gruden’s offense appeared to go beyond the ankle injury last year as he struggled in preseason and the opening weekend before going on the shelf and Gruden himself questioned Griffin’s fit for the scheme on occasion. The quarterback’s chances of changing that are nil if he’s not healthy, though, so the argument that getting things to fall in place starts there is a pretty sound one.

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Tom Brady calls James Develin the best fullback in the NFL

develin AP

The fullback position is an endangered species in the NFL. But Tom Brady says that when the Patriots do line up in a formation that features a fullback, they’ve got the best in the NFL.

Brady said today that New England’s James Develin is the best fullback in football and ought to get more recognition for what he does for the Patriots.

“I love James and I think he’s the best fullback in the league,” Brady said. “He doesn’t get as much credit for it because he doesn’t get as many opportunities, but any time we call on him he delivers.”

Develin was only on the field for about a quarter of the Patriots’ offensive snaps during the regular season, and he only touched the ball nine times. But he delivered in the AFC Championship Game with a touchdown catch, and Brady says that Develin delivers every time he’s on the field, whether he’s getting the ball or (much more often) blocking.

“He really, at that position, can bring a significant element of toughness because you’re blocking for the guy with the ball, and he takes a lot of pride in that,” Brady said. “Hopefully he gets some opportunities on Sunday and hopefully we make the most of them.”

Develin rarely gets the opportunity to do anything more than block. But even if that’s all he does, the Patriots know that’s a lot.

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