Skip to content

PFT’s Week 17 picks

Griffin Reuters

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.

Permalink 59 Comments Feed for comments Latest Stories in: Features, Rumor Mill, Top Stories

Bell didn’t make trip to Philly with Steelers

Bell AP

Early Wednesday afternoon, Steelers running backs Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount had a brush with the law that resulted in an allegation of marijuana possession for both of them, and a DUI charge for Bell.

Later in the day, the Steelers left for a preseason game in Philadelphia.  According to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Bell didn’t make the trip.

A second-round pick in 2013, Bell is expected to be the starting tailback this year.  Other players will get opportunities to carry the ball in Bell’s absence.

Permalink 0 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Marrone thinks training-camp fights hurt game’s “integrity”

Marone AP

Plenty of teams have had fights during training camp.  The Bills had one on Wednesday, which included some fairly strong language from one of the participants.

According to Tim Graham of the Buffalo News, veteran center Eric Wood and rookie defensive lineman Bryan Johnson had an altercation during a goal-line drill.  Tight end Scott Chandler intervened, taking Johnson to the ground.

I’ll f-cking kill you!” Wood yelled at Johnson.

Defensive end Jerry Hughes was amused.

“Twenty-one days in pads and counting!” Hughes yelled. “I love it! That’s what happens, baby!”

Coach Doug Marrone wasn’t.

“It’s not part of the game,” Marrone told reporters after practice. “Therefore, I don’t want to speak about it. It hurts the integrity of our game the more we talk about it. That’s how I feel about fighting.”

It may hurt the integrity of the game, but it’s definitely part of the fabric of the game.  Still, at some point a fight during practice becomes a case of workplace violence, which is prohibited by the NFL’s personal-conduct policy.  At some point between harmless pushing and shoving and Albert Haynesworth shredding the forehead of Andre Gurode resides a line that players shouldn’t cross.  It’s unclear precisely where that line resides.

Permalink 0 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Report: 49ers move practice after footing problems on Levi’s Stadium turf

Denver Broncos v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

49ers coach Jim Harbaugh reportedly stopped Wednesday’s practice at Levi’s Stadium and moved the workout to the club’s practice field after the club had footing problems on the stadium’s playing surface.

According to Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, Harbaugh gathered his team after Stevie Johnson fell running a pass route during the workout, which featured “huge divots” and “uneven turf.” Also, CSNBayArea.com observed that Niners G.M. Trent Baalke was “clearly agitated” about field conditions at the new stadium, which hosted its first-ever NFL game just three days ago. Rookie wideout Bruce Ellington also appeared to slip and fall on the field, according to Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee.

The Levi’s Stadium practice was open to fans, who were reportedly given free admission to the 49ers Museum after the team moved the workout.

The Niners’ next home preseason game is Sunday vs. San Diego. It’s the club’s third preseason contest, which customarily is the final dress rehearsal for the regular season opener. The question now is whether the field will be in better shape after Wednesday’s events.

Permalink 0 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Five Questions: Oakland Raiders

Jacksonville Jaguars v Oakland Raiders Getty Images

You may recall we voted the Raiders 32nd in our preseason power rankings.

You may also recall the bottom five teams in our ratings were AFC clubs.

On paper, this doesn’t look like a banner year for the American Football Conference. Which, in turn, doesn’t hurt Oakland’s chances to perhaps exceed expectations, as we noted in our preseason Raiders analysis. And the Raiders have started decently enough in Dennis Allen’s first two seasons as head coach, posting 3-4 marks through seven games each time. However, they struggled down the stretch in both seasons, going 1-8 in Games 8 through 16 in 2012 and 2013.

With the club’s stadium lease expiring after the season, and with Allen and G.M. Reggie McKenzie under pressure to win after a couple of tough years, Raiders owner Mark Davis could have some major strategic decisions to make in the coming months. Here’s a look at five questions facing Oakland in 2014:

1. Who will start more regular season games at quarterback — Matt Schaub or Derek Carr?

Schaub has been the starter throughout the summer, and he’s on track to start in Week One. However, he lacks mobility, and the Raiders’ pass protection is very much an area to watch.

If the Raiders can’t protect Schaub, and if the 11th-year quarterback again struggles to take care of the ball, Oakland could turn to Carr, a second-round pick from Fresno State. Carr played well in extended action in the Raiders’ Aug. 15 preseason game vs. Detroit before suffering a concussion and injured ribs.

The Raiders’ bye is in Week Five, which could be a nice time to change quarterbacks if the Raiders have reason to do so. However, the Raiders get a fairly favorable draw in September, meaning the club may want to keep continuity. And why wouldn’t they if Schaub plays back to his best Houston form?

2. If the Raiders’ passing game sputters, can the ground game pick up the slack?

As a team, the Raiders rushed for 2,000 yards in 2013, 13th-best in the NFL. The club gained 4.6 yards per attempt, sixth-highest in the league, though TD runs of 93, 80 and 63 yards helped drive up the average.

There’s reason to believe Oakland can again have a productive rushing attack. The Raiders have three capable ball carriers (Maurice Jones-Drew, Darren McFadden, Marcel Reece). The offensive line is deeper than a season ago, too.

Still, the success of Oakland’s running game could very well be tied to its passing game. If the Raiders can’t give Schaub the time he needs to find open receivers, teams will be inclined to bring extra pressure and play tighter coverage. In this scenario, the Raiders could see defenses stacking the line and daring Oakland to do something about it. Then, it will be on the Raiders’ passing game to get defenses to back off, thus opening a little more room for that ground game.

3. Will the Raiders’ front seven have to carry the defense?

Let’s say this for the Raiders: they are going to be fun to watch when they force teams into obvious passing situations. Defensive ends Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley and defensive tackle Antonio Smith all know how to generate pressure, and young strong-side linebacker Khalil Mack has upside as a rusher, too.

The Raiders should also be solid against the run. Oakland surrendered just 3.9 yards per attempt a season, and its front seven is stronger this season.

However, the Raiders’ pass defense could be an area of concern. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford shredded Oakland’s secondary in the second preseason game, completing 9-of-10 passes for 88 yards and two scores. While the Raiders did well to add ex-Niners cornerbacks Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers in the offseason, they could very much use a real contribution from 2013 first-round pick D.J. Hayden, who remains on the PUP list because of a foot injury.

4. Can the Raiders get off to a good start?

A 2-2 record in September is a reasonable goal for Oakland. The Week Three matchup at New England will be very, very tough, but matchups at the Jets (Week One) and against the Texans (Week Two) and Dolphins (Week Four) are games in which Oakland should be competitive. In fact, if Oakland plays well, 3-1 isn’t an impossible dream in the least.

With the schedule turning much tougher later in the year, the Raiders must seize the moment in September.

5. Will the uncertainty about the Raiders’ future in Oakland continue throughout the season, or will there be clarity?

The Raiders’ stadium situation will be a storyline until it is resolved, whether the club is contending or struggling. The longer this drags on, the more it threatens to be the issue that defines the season, especially if the team falls out of contention. Davis’ willingness to meet with San Antonio this summer speaks to the franchise’s need for a viable long-term home.

Permalink 2 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Pot precedent creates dilemma for Steelers

Bell Getty Images

The Steelers haven’t had a player face marijuana possession charges since 2008.  They now have two.  The way they handled that six-year-old incident could create an awkward situation for the 2014 Steelers.

The last time it happened, the Steelers deactivated receiver Santonio Holmes with pay for the next regular-season game.  Technically, any discipline imposed by the team infringes on the league’s exclusive jurisdiction under the substance-abuse policy.  And while a suspension of up to four games without pay is available for conduct detrimental to the team, the labor deal doesn’t contemplate a paid suspension.

So what will the Steelers do about running backs Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount, who were simultaneously charged with marijuana possession after being stopped by a police officer in the Pittsburgh suburb of Ross Township?  If the Steelers deactivate both for Week One against the Browns, the Steelers will have a harder time holding serve against a division rival.  If they do nothing, they’ll contradict the precedent created by the Holmes situation.

Don’t be shocked if the Steelers let this one play out, since neither Bell (who also was charged with DUI) nor Blount will face discipline from the NFL until the legal case is resolved in a way that reflects responsibility of some sort for the charges they face.  With a third person in the car who possibly will contend that the 20 grams of marijuana were hers and not theirs, it’s possible that Blount eventually will escape liability.  (With police contending that all three already have admitted to possession of marijuana, that one could be hard to pull off.)  While the DUI would remain an issue for Bell, a first offense usually results in a two-game fine; marijuana possession routinely triggers a one-game suspension.

Meanwhile, the police officers in and around Pittsburgh have a reputation for not being overly aggressive when it comes to Steelers players — unless those players were overly aggressive when dealing with the cops.  It’ll be interesting to see any video or audio generated by the traffic stop for evidence of cooperation or lack thereof by Bell and Blount.

Permalink 18 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount both arrested

bellblount AP

The Steelers’ top two running backs were arrested together today.

Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount, Pittsburgh’s first- and second-string running backs, were in a car together and stopped by Ross Township Police this afternoon. Detective Brian Kohlhepp of the Ross Police Department tells PFT that a motorcycle officer smelled marijuana smoke coming from the car and pulled it over. Police found a baggy containing about 20 grams of marijuana in the car.

Both Bell and Blount are expected to be charged with possession of marijuana. Bell is also expected to be charged with driving under the influence. An unidentified female in the car is also expected to be charged with possession of marijuana. According to police, all three people in the car admitted that the marijuana belonged to all of them.

The Steelers took Bell in the second round of last year’s draft, and he won the starting job as a rookie. He carried 244 times for 860 yards and eight touchdowns last year.

Blount signed with the Steelers this offseason after spending last year in New England, where he had 772 yards and seven touchdowns on 153 carries.

Bell and Blount could both now be subject to league discipline, but likely not until the case is resolved.

Permalink 130 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

RGIII calls out the “doubters”

Griffin AP

As Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III prepares for his third NFL season, some think he won’t be the player he was in 2012.  Others think he can’t keep himself healthy, especially after a couple of unnecessarily reckless and risky plays on Monday night against Cleveland.  Some think both.

Griffin has taken to Twitter to call out any and all of the so-called doubters.

“They doubted in High School,” Griffin said.  “They doubted a turnaround at Baylor.  They doubted a Heisman was possible.  Keep doubting.  It’s nothing New.”

Many of the “they” who are doubting Griffin now didn’t know who he was in high school.  Or at Baylor.  Or in the early stages of his chase for a Heisman.  Regardless, it’s fair for “they” to think that Griffin won’t be able to find the right balance between effectiveness and safety, and that if he plays at the highest possible level he won’t be able to keep himself healthy.

While Griffin has proved the doubters wrong before, it doesn’t mean he’ll prove them wrong now.  But if the doubters motivate him to find that delicate balance between playing well and playing safely, then it’s good that he’s concerned about the “they.”

Permalink 64 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Andre Johnson doesn’t like the increase in penalties

Johnson AP

The renewed emphasis on illegal contact and defensive holding penalties benefits NFL offenses.  That doesn’t mean all NFL offensive players appreciate the move.

Specifically, Texans receiver Andre Johnson doesn’t like the increased throwing of flags in the 2014 preseason.

“Watching the game last week against Atlanta, it kind of makes the game longer.” Johnson said Wednesday, via 610 Sports Radio in Houston.  “It actually makes you hate it a little bit because every time you look around there’s a flag on the ground.”

Johnson believes that the officials won’t call illegal contact and defensive holding as tightly once the regular season begins.  The NFL has said that the emphasis on illegal contact and defensive holding will continue.  We’ll begin to find out whether the NFL means what it says when the Packers travel to Seattle to start the 2014 regular season in only 15 days.

Permalink 22 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Five Questions: St. Louis Rams

San Francisco 49ers v St. Louis Rams Getty Images

In a loaded NFC West, the St. Louis Rams have been quietly going about their business. The Rams have watched their division rivals deal with season-ending injuries (Darnell Dockett, Kendall Hunter), contract disputes (Marshawn Lynch, Alex Boone) and off-field issues (Aldon Smith, Daryl Washington).

Outside of the loss of reserve running back Isaiah Pead, the Rams have been steadily preparing for the start of the season without many bumps in the road.

St. Louis has won seven games in each of the last two seasons under head coach Jeff Fisher. Here are five questions that will determine if the Rams will improve that total this year.

1. Can Sam Bradford finally put it all together?

Sam Bradford is entering his fifth NFL season and last under his rookie contract with the Rams. He’s healthy once again after a knee injury last season. The Rams receiving corps appears to be the most talented group of Bradford’s tenure and the offensive line no longer appears to be a significant liability.

It’s now time to see if Bradford can live up to the lofty expectations of a former No. 1 overall draft pick and guide the Rams to the postseason for the first time since 2004.

Bradford had completed 61 percent of his passes last season with a 14-4 touchdown to interception ratio in seven games before going down with a torn ACL. It was a promising sign that Bradford may still have it in him.

2. Just how good can the Rams front seven be?

Robert Quinn and Chris Long combined for 27.5 sacks last season for St. Louis. Michael Brockers added 5.5 sacks from the defensive tackle position and the team went out and added Aaron Donald with second of two first-round draft picks. With William Hayes, Eugene Sims and Kendall Langford still as rotational players, the Rams defensive line could be one of the league’s most formidable units.

Add in James Laurinaitis and Alec Ogletree at linebacker and the front seven for St. Louis looks like the strength of the team. Is it enough to vault the Rams defense into the conversation of the league’s best? That will rely on the answer to our next question.

3. Will secondary play be St. Louis’ Achilles heel?

As strong as the front seven is for the Rams, the secondary has its question marks. With Cortland Finnegan gone, the Rams are relying on Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson to take hold of the starting jobs at cornerback. At safety, Rodney McLeod and T.J. McDonald were shaky at times last year too.

Rookies Lamarcus Joyner at cornerback and Mo Alexander at safety could help stabilize the back-end of the defense. The dominant pass rush should give the secondary a hand as well by putting repeated pressure on opposing quarterbacks. However, the Rams defense will likely only reach its ceiling if the play from the secondary can be adequate.

4. Do the Rams finally have a competent receiving corps?

The Rams have thrown draft pick, after draft pick, after draft pick at the receiver position in hopes of improving a group that has been perpetually lacking in St. Louis. Five receivers have been selected in the first four rounds in the last three years: Tavon Austin (1st round, 2013), Stedman Bailey (3rd round, 2013) Austin Pettis (3rd round, 2011), Brian Quick (2nd round, 2012) and Chris Givens (4th round, 2012). They also signed former Tennessee first round pick Kenny Britt this offseason.

Finally, the group may be good enough to give Sam Bradford the weapons he needs offensively. Austin caught 40 passes as a rookie to lead the Rams receivers. Britt looks to restart his career after a disappointing season where he fell out of favor in Tennessee. Quick, Givens, Pettis and Bailey give St. Louis capable depth.

A strong year from the receiving corps could help get the Rams over the hump.

5. Can Michael Sam make the roster and can he contribute if he does?

As detailed earlier, the Rams defensive line is loaded with star talent and quality depth. It makes it a difficult task for Michael Sam, a seventh-round pick out of Missouri attempting to become the first openly gay player to make an active NFL roster, to earn his way onto the squad.

Sam has held his own and picked up a sack last week against the Green Bay Packers. The battle for the final roster spot along the defensive line appears to be between Sam, Sammy Brown, Matt Conrath and Ethan Westbrooks. If he doesn’t make the final 53-man roster, the Rams could put Sam on their practice squad to develop.

If he does make the roster, Sam will likely be a deep reserve option only at the outset unless he can find his way onto the field in a special teams role.

Permalink 19 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Bengals reach a new deal with Vontaze Burfict

Vontaze Burfict, Paul Guenther AP

With Andy Dalton taken care of, the Bengals are moving on to other business.

The next in line is weakside linebacker, who has agreed to a multi-year extension with the team, according to Adam Caplan of ESPN. Adam Schefter says it’s a four-year, $20 million deal, with $7.6 million this year.

He was entering the final year of his contract, but would have been a restricted free agent next year.

While many were scared off of Burfict before the draft because of off-field concerns, the Bengals rolled the dice and found a consistent performer after signing him as an undrafted rookie in 2012.

Now he’s been rewarded, and they continue to lock up the core of a good, young team.

Permalink 39 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Steven Jackson could practice soon, on track for Week One

Steven Jackson AP

The Falcons haven’t had running back Steven Jackson on the practice field in almost a month because of a hamstring injury suffered early in camp, but one of the remaining Hard Knocks episodes may feature the veteran’s return to practice.

Coach Mike Smith said Wednesday that Jackson has stepped up his rehab work with the team’s trainers and could be ready to take the next step and practice with his teammates soon. Smith even left open the possibility that Jackson could play in the team’s final preseason game.

“We are encouraged by what he has done over on that side with athletic performance,” Jackson said, via the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “It’s going to depend on the individual in terms of how he feels and once the doctor gives him the clear to go, then he will go.”

The Falcons generally haven’t played starters in the final preseason game and Smith said Jackson was on track to play in the regular season opener, so it might prove to be more risk than reward to get Jackson snaps in the preseason.

 

Permalink 10 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Cardinals keep bolstering defensive line, add Ryan McBean

Ryan+McBean+uLTgKd5ZAn6m Getty Images

The Cardinals aren’t done trying to bolster their defensive line.

In addition to bringing in veteran defensive lineman Isaac Sopoaga, the Cardinals have also agreed to terms with veteran defensive lineman Ryan McBean, a league source tells PFT.

The 30-year-old McBean hasn’t seen the field in a regular-season game since 2011, when he played all 16 games for the Broncos. In 2012 he signed with the Ravens in the offseason but didn’t play for them in the regular season.

The Cardinals have been trying to beef up their defensive line since losing Darnell Dockett to a torn ACL. Sopoaga and McBean may provide some veteran depth, but neither player will come close to making up for the loss of Dockett.

Permalink 6 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Cardinals find some defensive line depth with Isaac Sopoaga

San Diego Chargers v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

If at first you don’t succeed, try to find a defensive tackle who played on the other end of Pennsylvania.

According to Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic, the Cardinals are signing veteran lineman Isaac Sopoaga after working him out this afternoon.

Sopoaga had a long run with the 49ers, and was an early free agent pickup by the Eagles last year. But he didn’t make it through the season, making an appearance with the Patriots as well.

The 32-year-old is more of a nose tackle, and not a comparable player to Darnell Dockett, who was lost to a torn ACL.

The Cardinals tried to bring longtime Pittsburgh defensive end Brett Keisel in before he signed to return to the Steelers.

Permalink 4 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Report: Broncos lose Jordan Norwood to torn ACL

Jordan Norwood, Terrell Thomas AP

Word from Denver was that wide receiver Jordan Norwood had done enough this summer to have a firm grip on a roster spot as the team’s punt returner and sixth wideout, but that status changed on Wednesday.

Norwood injured his left knee while running a pattern during the team’s joint practice with the Texans and Mike Klis of the Denver Post reports that Norwood has suffered a torn ACL. If that becomes a confirmed diagnosis, Norwood won’t play this season.

Norwood didn’t play in the NFL last season and played 16 games for the Browns in 2011 and 2012 before a foot injury knocked him out in his final year with the Browns. He caught 36 passes for 405 yards and a touchdown. He had four catches for 54 yards and two punt returns for 37 yards for the Broncos in their first two preseason games.

If Norwood’s out of the picture, undrafted rookie Isaiah Burse could have an improved chance to make the team as he’s also seen time on punt returns. The Broncos could also opt to use Wes Welker or look at other options, however, so Burse will have to impress if given more opportunities in the wake of Norwood’s injury.

Permalink 12 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Geno Atkins is ready to make his preseason debut

Geno Atkins AP

The Bengals are about to get one of their best players back on the field.

According to Coley Harvey of ESPN.com, defensive tackle Geno Atkins is scheduled to play a few series Sunday against the Cardinals.

Atkins, who tore his ACL on Oct. 31, was activated from PUP at the start of camp but didn’t play in the first two games.

Having him back’s a huge deal for us,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “It’s good to see him back. It definitely means a big deal to us.

“I’m sure he’s ready to get back and get his confidence up. I’m sure he’s anxious to get back in there and play with the guys.”

Atkins was off to another great start last year, with 6.0 sacks before going down with the knee injury in Week Nine. Getting him back will obviously be a big boost for the Bengals defense, as few players can create the kind of interior push Atkins can when he’s well.

Permalink 14 Comments Feed for comments Back to top