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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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Jets decide to stay home instead of going to camp this summer

Geno Smith AP

Add the Jets to the list of teams who won’t be going away for camp this summer.

The team announced they would not be returning to SUNY-Cortland this year for training camp, staying put at their own training facility instead.

“SUNY Cortland felt like home because of the tremendous local support we received during our time there,”  owner Woody Johnson said in a statement. “President Erik Bitterbaum and the university staff, as well as the families and businesses of Central New York, all went above and beyond to embrace our organization and create a comfortable environment for our team and fans. They always will be a part of our Jets family.”

The Jets had gone to Cortland five of the last six years, but referred to “locating camp closer to the team’s core fan base in the New York/North Jersey metropolitan area.”

They’re not alone in that desire to stay close, as 21 of 32 teams stay at their own places.

Between the cost and logistical challenges of going to another place, more teams are finding it to be not worth the trouble to go away, forgoing whatever bonding might happen when forced into an unfamiliar environment.

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Ravens sign Matt Schaub

Matt Schaub AP

Joe Flacco has a new backup.

Matt Schaub, who spent last season holding a clipboard in Oakland, has signed with the Ravens, according to Peter King of TheMMQB.com.

The Ravens had been looking for a backup with some experience, as the only other quarterbacks on their roster are the totally untested Keith Wenning and Bryn Renner.

Schaub is experienced, having been the starter in Houston for seven seasons. But he looks just about washed up at age 33. Last year he barely got on the field for the Raiders, and the year before that he suffered through a miserable season in Houston.

The Ravens hope Flacco will stay healthy and Schaub will never see the field, but if something does happen to Flacco, Schaub at least gives them the presence of someone who has started in the NFL. Even if it’s been a long time since he played well.

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Former Browns owner sells English soccer club

Lerner Getty Images

The world’s most irrelevant billionaire soon will be even less relevant.

Former Browns owner Randy Lerner, whose commitment to the franchise was questioned at time based on his ownership of an English soccer club, reportedly will sell the English soccer club for $222 million, according to the London Daily Mirror.

Lerner reportedly paid $94.2 million for Aston Villa of the Premier League a decade ago, which means that he has generated a profit of more than $127 million.

In 2012, Lerner sold the Browns to Jimmy Haslam for more than $1 billion.  Lerner’s father, Al, founded the reconstituted Browns in 1999.

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Lions talk up Theo Riddick as replacement for Reggie Bush

theoriddick AP

With Reggie Bush now in San Francisco, the Lions are seeking a complement to starting running back Joique Bell. It might just be a running back who’s already on the roster.

Theo Riddick, who has played for the Lions the last two years, seems to be in line for more work now that Bush is out.

“I do think that he’s going to improve,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said, via the Detroit News. “He has all of the qualities. If you’re smart, if you’re tough, if you’re disciplined, if you have a great work ethic, there’s improvement ahead. And he has all those things, so I think he’s going to improve. And I think he’ll force us to get him the ball a little bit more in some situations.”

Riddick has shown some promise as a receiver out of the backfield and lined up in the slot, but as a runner, if Riddick “has all of the qualities,” he sure hasn’t shown it yet. In two NFL seasons Riddick has played in 28 games and carried only 29 times for 76 yards, a 2.6-yard average. The longest run of his career went for nine yards.

No one played particularly well in the Lions’ running game last year. Detroit ranked 28th in both rushing yards and yards per carry last season. The Lions need someone to do better than that in 2015. Maybe that someone can be Riddick.

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Jameis Winston looks flabby at Florida State Pro Day

Jameis Winston AP

Looking at a college quarterback’s physique isn’t a great way to determine whether he’ll be a good pro. Tom Brady didn’t look special at the Combine. Brady Quinn looked so good they put him on the cover of Muscle & Fitness.

But the fact is NFL teams do weigh and measure draft prospects, and look at them shirtless to see whether they look flabby or muscular. And Winston looks flabby.

Winston has looked flabby for a long time now. Maybe he’s just a guy who doesn’t look very athletic, but is able to produce on the field anyway.

Or maybe he’s more like JaMarcus Russell, whom the Raiders drafted first overall despite concerns that his flabby physique was evidence of a lack of work ethic. That pick didn’t turn out too well.

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher claims he can’t understand why there are questions about Winston’s character, a ridiculous claim given that a woman says Winston raped her. There are also questions about Winston’s work ethic, and Winston’s physique does nothing to quell those questions.

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Jaguars cut their last fullback, unless they already have one in mind

Toby Gerhart AP

It wouldn’t necessarily be big news that the Jaguars waived fullback Bradie Ewing.

But it is reasonably interesting that they don’t have any now, as Hays Carlyon of the Florida Times-Union points out.

The Jaguars made a run at DeMarco Murray, which tells you they wanted to upgrade there. And claiming Bernard Pierce off waivers shows you they’re going to look high and low for more bodies at running back.

And with Denard Robinson showing some flashes there, it makes you wonder what their intentions are for last year’s free agent pickup, Toby Gerhart.

To call his debut season with the Jaguars a disappointment would be kind, averaging 3.2 yards per carry after an early foot injury he couldn’t seem to shake.

Whether he could return to his form if healthy remains to be seen. Now, it’s worth watching to see if they simply turn him into a fullback, and try to get something for that three-year, $10.5 million contract they gave him a year ago.

There have been reports they want to turn him into an H-back, as Ian Rapoport of NFL Media points, out, which seems like as good an idea as anything.

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Jacquizz Rodgers visiting Bears

Jacquizz Rodgers ,Kevin Minter AP

The Bears have Matt Forte and Ka’Deem Carey on the top two rungs of their running back depth chart and it appears they’re open to adding a little veteran depth to go with that duo.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that Jacquizz Rodgers is visiting with the Bears. Rodgers spent four years with the Falcons after Atlanta drafted him in the fifth round of the 2011 draft.

Rodgers was of most use in the passing game during his tenure with the Falcons, catching 155 passes for 1,104 yards and five touchdowns while also playing the role of pass blocker when the situation called for it. He didn’t add nearly as much as a runner, but that’s probably not the chief concern in Chicago with Forte and Carey already on hand.

The Falcons parted ways with Steven Jackson, leaving Devonta Freeman and Antone Smith in Atlanta’s backfield at the moment.

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PFT Live: Kevin White, PFT Planet calls and tweets

AutoZone Liberty Bowl - Texas A&M v West Virginia Getty Images

Kevin White is expected to be one of the first two wide receivers off the board in the first round on April 30 and we heard his thoughts on why he should go before Amari Cooper during a visit with PFT on NBCSN on Monday evening.

During Tuesday’s PFT Live, they’ll be an opportunity to hear even more from White. He’ll talk to Mike Florio about his preparations from the draft and what he’s heard from teams as we move closer to finding out where this year’s top prospects will land.

We also want to hear from PFT Planet. Email questions at any time via the O’Reilly Auto Parts Ask the Pros inbox or get in touch on Twitter at @ProFootballTalk to let us know what’s on your mind.

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

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Patriots security chief confirms Hernandez’s alibi attempt

Hernandez AP

At the first Aaron Hernandez murder trial, Patriots owner Robert Kraft was followed to the witness stand by Patriots security director Mark Briggs.  And Briggs confirmed the most important aspect of Kraft’s testimony.

Via Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports, Briggs (like Kraft) testified that Hernandez said he didn’t kill Lloyd, and that Hernandez was at a “club.”

He swore on his baby’s life he was telling the truth,” Briggs said of Hernandez.

Hernandez definitely wasn’t telling the truth about his whereabouts.  The prosecution will now hope that this will help the jury conclude he also wasn’t telling the truth about his innocence.

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Mark Ingram “looking forward” to splitting time with C.J. Spiller

New Orleans Saints v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

Mark Ingram got the most work of his NFL career during the 2014 season and responded with 964 rushing yards and nine touchdowns in the final year of his rookie contract.

Ingram parleyed that success into a new four-year, $16 million deal with the Saints, but not into a role as an offensive workhorse. The Saints gave a similar deal to C.J. Spiller a couple of days after signing Ingram, all but ensuring that the two backs will be shuffled in and out of the lineup over the course of the season.

Ingram’s been in that position with the Saints before and says he’s not bothered about being in the same spot after his successful 2014 campaign.

“He’s a special player,” Ingram said, via ESPN.com. “He’s a game-breaker, can take it to the house no matter where he is on the field, punt return, kick return, pass, run. So I’m looking forward to it. … So it wasn’t anything strange or anything when we signed him. I talked to him before it even got announced.”

Ingram and Spiller bring different things to the offense, which should provide plenty of room for both of them to thrive without being asked to do things outside their skill set. Given Spiller’s receiving ability, they could even share time on an offense that figures to take on a different shape with Jimmy Graham now plying his trade in Seattle.

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Kraft tells jury Hernandez said he was in “club” during shooting

Hernandez AP

Testifying on Tuesday in the first Aaron Hernandez murder trial, Patriots owner Robert Kraft provided a piece of evidence that could be very useful for the prosecution.

Via Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports, Kraft told jurors that Hernandez denied involvement in the murder of Odin Lloyd, explaining that he was in a “club” at the time of the shooting.

As Wetzel notes, the evidence introduced to date makes it clear that Hernandez wasn’t in a “club” at the time of the shooting.  Which indicates Hernandez lied to Kraft.

Hernandez may dispute that he gave a false explanation to the man who at the time of the shooting was Hernandez’s ultimate boss.  But Hernandez has only one way to rebut the testimony from Robert Kraft — by taking the witness stand.

That’s where the right to remain silent creates a huge dilemma for a criminal defendant.  While the accused isn’t compelled to testify in court, anything he has said out of court can be used against him.  Since it’s a statement from a party to the lawsuit, it’s not hearsay.  And as it relates to one-on-one communications, it’s unchallenged unless the defendant chooses to waive the right against self-incrimination and testify.

Hernandez most likely won’t be testifying at all.  To do so would expose him to cross-examination. Which could quickly erase any chance his lawyers have of identifying “reasonable doubt” during closing arguments.

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Golden Tate: Losing Suh doesn’t add to pressure on the offense

Detroit Lions v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

The Lions Offense struggled at times in 2014, but the team was able to advance to the postseason thanks to one of the best defenses in the league.

That unit won’t have Ndamukong Suh back in the middle of the defensive line in 2015, something that wide receiver Golden Tate reasonably considers “a big hit” to the team as they prepare for the coming season. Tate doesn’t think that the loss of Suh is going to put extra pressure on the offense to carry the load, however.

“No, I don’t think it adds any pressure,” Tate said, via ESPN.com. “We just need to be who we are. We know that we have a lot of weapons all over the field. We just need to reach our potential each and every week. We just need to go out there and play fundamentally sound football and I have no doubt our defense is going to be really good again this year and we just got to do our jobs. There’s no pressure on anyone but to be ourselves and to play good football.”

Suh wasn’t the only reason why Detroit’s defense thrived last season. He was a big one, though, and some slippage is a reasonable expectation now that he’s gone. That might not put any more pressure on the offense to improve than there would be if he was still in Detroit, but the need to improve exists either way.

Having a healthy Calvin Johnson would help on that front as would progress from tight end Eric Ebron in his second season. Throw in a running game that underwhelmed last year and there’s three places where the Lions offense could show growth that can help offset their big offseason loss.

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Robert Kraft takes the stand at Aaron Hernandez murder trial

Denver Broncos vs New England Patriots, NFL Getty Images

The Patriots had largely been able to keep themselves at arms length from the Aaron Hernandez murder trial, until today.

Via multiple reports, Patriots owner Robert Kraft is in the Fall River Justice Center today, and has been called to the stand.

Trainer Brian McDonough was called to the stand in late February to testify about a series of text messages he exchanged with Hernandez. McDonough doesn’t work for the team, but worked with a number of players at Gillette Stadium.

Coach Bill Belichick and linebacker Brandon Spikes are also on the witness list, though it’s unclear if they’ll actually be asked to testify.

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Tyrann Mathieu: I want to let everyone know I’m back

Arizona Cardinals v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu was able to return to the lineup in Week Two last season, which marked a relatively quick turnaround after he tore his ACL late in his rookie season.

Mathieu didn’t immediately return to a prominent place in the lineup and then missed a couple of games late in the season when he broke his thumb just as he was finding his stride on the field. Coach Bruce Arians said it “was very frustrating” for Mathieu to not be the player he was used to being last year and Mathieu said he felt he didn’t make enough plays to help the team, but things are looking up.

Arians said he sees “a gleam” in Mathieu’s eyes that was missing in 2014 as the safety prepares to restore what was missing.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been healthy,” Mathieu said, via the team’s website. “Last year I felt like I took a back seat. I played well my rookie year and then last year it was kind of, eh, I was there but I wasn’t there. This [year] is more important for me because I really want to let everyone know I’m back and I can still make some plays.”

How Mathieu will fit into the lineup isn’t entirely clear since the Cardinals have Tony Jefferson, Deone Buccannon and Rashad Johnson at safety in a defense that’s been creative about utilizing all of them. If he’s back to his old playmaking ways, though, he’ll be filling a major role one way or another.

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Jameis Winston will be on center stage again at pro day today

Jameis AP

For a moment today, Jameis Winston won’t have to answer questions about his past or his maturity or his ability to be the face of a franchise.

For a moment today, he’s going to get to do the thing he’s very good at — throw a football.

Winston will be on center stage today for Florida State’s pro day, and that might come as a reprieve for him after all the digging and poking that teams have done at him since the process began.

Now, as soon as the workout’s over, that will begin again for another month. But today might serve as a reminder for the teams at the top of the draft of what he can offer.

He’s big and strong. Can make all the throws. Has shown good football IQ and led his team to a 26-1 record and a national championship in two years as the starter at Florida State.

So in the tightly scripted world of quarterback auditions, the chance he’ll look bad during this workout seems slim.

But the entire league will be watching, and monitoring his every move, just to see how he responds to the pressure of it all.

Again.

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