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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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Murray says durability comes from offseason workouts with Witten

murraywitten AP

Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray is on pace to break the NFL record for carries in a season, and so far he’s shown no signs of slowing down. Murray says tight end Jason Witten deserves a lot of the credit for that.

Murray told the Star-Telegram that Witten pushed him through offseason workouts that have them both in better shape and ready to withstand the rigors of a 16-game season.

“It helped a lot, obviously with the stamina aspect just building a good armor for your body so you can take some hits and take the pounding of a long season,” Murray said. “He’s done it for a long time, and he’s someone who has had a lot of success in this league, and he knows what to do to take care of your body in season and out of season, so it helped a lot, and I have to thank him, and we’re still working together.”

Witten said he taught Murray this offseason that working hard in the spring is the best way to remain healthy during the fall. Murray said he’s never been in better shape than he is now, thanks to Witten pushing him through a workout routine.

“Witten is the big dog, and I can’t tell him no,” Murray said. “It was understood, hey, let’s get some work in, and we did it.”

The Cowboys are benefiting from that work now.

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Mayhew mum on Megatron’s future

Johnson AP

When the Lions became infatuated with pass-catchers in the top 10 of the draft, the future of receiver Calvin Johnson instantly became cloudy.  With a contract carrying cap numbers that surpasses $20 million in 2015, the Lions will have tough decisions to make about Johnson’s future in 2015 and possibly beyond.

An item exploring that point earlier this month made some Lions fans more than a little nervous.

With the team winning while Johnson isn’t playing, it becomes easier to justify putting a salary squeeze on Johnson, who could choose to take less to stay — especially if his agent realizes that, even with the Lions paying Johnson less, it’ll still be more than what another team would pay.

Meeting this week with reporters, the man who ultimately approved the backloaded ball-and-chain contract wouldn’t address what could or will happen in the offseason.

You’re asking me a hypothetical question,” Mayhew said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.

While the specific question Mayhew was being asked didn’t appear in print, it’s not hypothetical to ask whether the Lions can justify devoting so much cap space to a player who can’t play on a consistent basis.  Last year, Johnson missed three games due to a knee injury and was hampered by it in multiple others.  This year, a sprained ankle has kept him from even approaching the level of play that earned his current deal.

“I don’t have any expectations,” Mayhew said regarding whether Johnson will finish his career in Detroit.  “I’m just getting ready to play the Atlanta Falcons and try to get to 6-2.”

At this point, the expectation should be that, without major salary slashing in 2015 or 2016, Johnson won’t retire as a Lion.  Unless it’s on a one-day contract after he plays for another team or two.

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Chargers now admit Jahleel Addae had a concussion

addae AP

During Thursday night’s game against the Broncos, Chargers safety Jahleel Addae appeared to be suffering from the symptoms of a concussion. At one point he looked disoriented and seemed to go into a convulsion while remaining on his feet, but he stayed in the game while fans on social media questioned why he was still playing while displaying such obvious distress.

Now the Chargers have admitted that Addae had a concussion.

After the game, Addae said he was evaluated on the sideline and had only suffered a stinger, but on Friday night the Chargers acknowledged that Addae did, in fact, have a concussion. The Chargers say he was cleared on the sideline during the game but diagnosed with additional tests on Friday.

It’s troubling that Addae kept playing and troubling that fans watching on TV could see something was wrong with him but the Chargers’ medical staff couldn’t. The Chargers have a history of allowing players to stay on the field when they’ve been concussed: Chargers guard Kris Dielman was staggering around on the field in 2011 but wasn’t immediately taken out of the game. His concussion turned out to be so severe that he never played again.

Chargers coach Mike McCoy became defensive when asked about Addae on Friday, telling reporters, “I was at the game. I was watching the game. I was there. I was watching it.” The Chargers’ medical staff should have been watching Addae more closely. He had no business continuing to play.

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Lions shorthanded at tight end, but it may not change offense much

Detroit Lions Training Camp Getty Images

The Lions have five tight ends on their roster, but they could very well have just two available for Sunday’s game against the Falcons in London.

Two Lions tight ends — Joseph Fauria and Eric Ebron — have been ruled out for Sunday. Another tight end, Brandon Pettigrew, is doubtful because of a foot injury. This could leave Detroit with just newly signed Kellen Davis and recently promoted Jordan Thompson at tight end against Atlanta.

At first glance, this seems like a potential problem for the Detroit offense. After all, Thompson is entering just his second game on the Lions’ active roster, while Davis joined Detroit just this week.

However, the Lions have experience carrying just two active tight ends. In fact, they’ve done it the last four games with Fauria on the mend with an ankle injury.

And a look at formation data logged by the NFL suggests the Lions’ offense can probably fare just fine with just two tight ends in the club’s final game before its Nov. 2 bye.

Through seven games, the Lions have used two or more tight ends on 23.9 percent of their plays from scrimmage (110-of-461). They have deployed at least two tight ends on 28.6 percent of first downs and 28.3 percent of second downs.

On third down, however, the Lions have utilized two tight ends or more on just 7-of-102 plays (6.9 percent). On fourth downs, they have trotted out two tight ends on 2-of-4 snaps.

On average, the Lions are running about 66 plays. And if their typical tight end usage continues, they’ll have Davis and Thompson on the field together about 16 times.

Whenever the Lions return to closer to full strength at tight end, offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi may be afforded more schematic flexibility. But the Lions have shown they can manage even with less-than-ideal circumstances at this key position.

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Steelers hand kickoff return duties to LeGarrette Blount

LeGarrette Blount, Thomas DeCoud, Luke Kuechly AP

The Steelers have been miserable running back kickoffs this season, averaging just 17.5 yards a return. As a result, they’ve made a change on the special teams depth chart.

Dri Archer, who has been the primary return man so far this year, is being replaced with running back LeGarrette Blount. Archer is a 5-foot-8, 173-pound rookie with great speed, but he’s frequently been taken down by the first person to reach him on kickoff coverage. The Steelers hope the six-foot, 250-pound Blount will be able to break some tackles and break some long returns.

Things didn’t work out as well as they wanted before, so they switched it up,” Blount said. “I’m excited about it. It’s going to be fun. We’re hoping that we can get everything done the way that we want to get it done, and we hope that we can be effective with it so we can keep it going.”

Steelers special teams coach Danny Smith said he’s still a big believer in Archer’s skills, even though it’s been disappointing that Archer’s longest return this season was just 23 yards.

Blount did a good job returning kickoffs in New England last year, averaging 29.1 yards. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said kickoff returns are something “we have to get better at,” and he’s hoping Blount is the man to make that happen.

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Week Eight skill-position injury report — final

Giovani Bernard AP

Here are the skill-position players in Sunday games listed on the final Week Eight injury report. Key fantasy starters are bolded. Inactives are announced 90 minutes before kickoff.

The final injury report for Monday night’s Washington-Dallas game will be released Saturday.

Sunday’s Lions-Falcons matchup will start at 9:30 a.m. ET, so set your lineups — and alarms — accordingly.

Byes: 49ers, Giants.

OUT

Bills RB Fred Jackson (groin).

Browns WR Rodney Smith (hamstring).

Cardinals TE Troy Niklas (ankle).

Chiefs WR Donnie Avery (groin).

Colts WR Reggie Wayne (elbow).

Eagles WR Brad Smith (groin).

Lions TE Eric Ebron (hamstring).

Lions TE Joseph Fauria (ankle).

Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams (ankle).

Panthers RB Fozzy Whittaker (thigh).

Panthers WR Corey Brown (concussion).

Raiders WR Vincent Brown (hamstring).

Ravens TE Owen Daniels (knee).

Saints RB Khiry Robinson (forearm).

Saints RB Pierre Thomas (rib, shoulder).

Seahawks RB Derrick Coleman (foot).

Seahawks TE Zach Miller (ankle).

Seahawks WR Bryan Walters (concussion).

Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph (abdomen, groin).

DOUBTFUL

Bengals WR A.J. Green (toe).

Bills WR Marquise Goodwin (hamstring).

Lions RB Reggie Bush (ankle).

Lions TE Brandon Pettigrew (foot).

Titans TE Taylor Thompson (knee).

QUESTIONABLE

Bills WR Marcus Easley (knee).

Buccaneers QB Josh McCown (right thumb).

Buccaneers WR Vincent Jackson (rib).

Chiefs WR Junior Hemingway (hamstring).

Colts RB Trent Richardson (hamstring).

Colts TE Jack Doyle (knee).

Eagles RB Darren Sproles (knee).

Falcons WR Harry Douglas (foot).

Jets WR Greg Salas (ankle, wrist).

Lions WR Calvin Johnson (ankle).

Panthers RB Chris Ogbonnaya (groin).

Patriots RB Shane Vereen (illness).

Patriots WR Matt Slater (shoulder).

Raiders RB Marcel Reece (quadricep).

Saints TE Jimmy Graham (shoulder).

PROBABLE

Bears TE Martellus Bennett (hamstring).

Bears WR Chris Williams (illness).

Bengals RB Giovani Bernard (ribs).

Bills WR Sammy Watkins (groin).

Cardinals RB Andre Ellington (foot).

Cardinals WR John Brown (ankle).

Chiefs RB Cyrus Gray (hand).

Chiefs TE Travis Kelce (ribs).

Dolphins TE Charles Clay (knee).

Dolphins TE Dion Sims (neck).

Eagles RB Chris Polk (hamstring).

Falcons WR Julio Jones (ankle).

Jaguars RB Toby Gerhart (foot).

Jets RB Bilal Powell (foot).

Jets RB Chris Johnson (ankle).

Jets WR Eric Decker (hamstring).

Lions RB Theo Riddick (hamstring).

Packers RB James Starks (ankle).

Patriots QB Tom Brady (ankle).

Rams PK Greg Zuerlein (illness).

Rams RB Benny Cunningham (knee).

Rams WR Kenny Britt (ankle).

Ravens WR Steve Smith (not injury related).

Seahawks Marshawn Lynch (not injury related).

Seahawks RB Robert Turbin (shoulder).

Seahawks TE Luke Willson (groin).

Titans QB Jake Locker (right hand).

Titans RB Shonn Greene (hamstring).

Vikings TE Chase Ford (foot).

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NFLPA says NFL won’t cooperate with its Ray Rice investigation

Ray Rice Press Conference Getty Images

The NFL Players Association has begun its own investigation into the Ray Rice case. The NFL apparently thinks that’s one investigation too many.

According to the NFLPA, the NFL isn’t cooperating with the NFLPA investigation, which is being conducted simultaneously with both the league-sanctioned investigation by former FBI Director Robert Mueller and Rice’s appeal of his indefinite suspension.

Richard Craig Smith, the attorney leading the investigation for the union, told the Associated Press that the NFL has not provided documents and witnesses and the Ravens have refused to cooperate at all. In the NFLPA’s view, that calls into question the NFL’s public statements that it favors transparency on the Rice matter.

The NFL hasn’t commented and hasn’t committed to assisting in the NFLPA’s investigation.

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Ryan Shazier probable for Sunday vs. Colts

Dennis Pitta, Ryan Shazier AP

One of the Steelers’ defensive starters is set to return.

Rookie left inside linebacker Ryan Shazier (sprained MCL) is probable for Sunday’s game vs. Indianapolis, according to the injury report.He has practiced fully in each of the last two days.

The Steelers’ first-round pick in May, Shazier has missed the last four games, with Sean Spence taking his place in the lineup. An Ohio State product, Shazier has recorded 20 combined tackles in his three starts. In his first two games, Shazier played 124-of-138 defensive snaps for Pittsburgh, per Pro Football Focus. He suffered his injury in the Steelers’ Week Three win at Carolina.

The 6-1, 237-pound Shazier posted the best vertical jump (42 inches) and broad jump (10 feet, 10 inches) among linebackers at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine. At 22, he is one of the building blocks for a defense in transition.

While Shazier looks ready to return, starting nose tackle Steve McLendon (shoulder) and right cornerback Ike Taylor (forearm) remain out for the 4-3 Steelers.

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Week Eight injury report roundup

Cincinnati Bengals v Indianapolis Colts Getty Images

Over the course of the week, there are a lot of posts about the most prominent injured players but we know that you might not see all of them and that some others may fall through the cracks. As a result, we’ll comb through all the injury reports every Friday afternoon so that there’s one stop for all the news from every team playing on Sunday. So, without further delay, the injury report roundup for Week Eight of the 2014 season.

Lions vs. Falcons (in London)

The Lions listed running back Reggie Bush (ankle) and tight end Brandon Pettigrew (foot) as doubtful, but there’s still a chance for wide receiver Calvin Johnson (ankle, questionable). No such chance remains for tight ends Eric Ebron (hamstring) or Joseph Fauria (ankle). The Falcons hope to get wide receiver Harry Douglas (foot, questionable) back in the lineup and also listed defensive tackle Jordan Babineaux (foot) as questionable.

Seahawks at Panthers

Seattle will cross the country without running back Derrick Coleman (foot), defensive tackle Jordan Hill (ankle), cornerback Byron Maxwell (calf), tight end Zach Miller (ankle), center Max Unger (foot), linebacker Bobby Wagner (toe) or wide receiver Bryan Walters (concussion). Everyone else on their injury report is probable. The Panthers raise the Seahawks one on the number of players ruled out. Cornerback Bene’ Benwikere (ankle), linebacker Chase Blackburn (knee), wide receiver Corey Brown (concussion), guard Amini Silatolu (calf), guard Trai Turner (knee), running back Fozzy Whittaker (thigh) and running back DeAngelo Williams (ankle) are all going to miss the game. Running back Chris Ogbonnaya (groin) and Jason Williams (hip) are both questionable.

Ravens at Bengals

Owen Daniels (knee) is out after having arthroscopic surgery, leaving the Ravens without their top two tight ends. Left tackle Eugene Monroe (knee) and left guard Kelechi Osemele (back) should return to the lineup after being listed as probable. Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (toe) is doubtful after missing practice all week and defensive tackle Brandon Thompson (knee) is questionable. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict (neck) is probable.

Dolphins at Jaguars

The Dolphins are waiting to see what linebacker Koa Misi (ankle, questionable) can do, but they don’t think defensive back Jimmy Wilson (hamstring, doubtful) will be able to play. The Jags have issues on defense with cornerback Alan Ball (biceps) and defensive end Andre Branch (groin) ruled out and cornerback Dwayne Gratz (hip, questionable). The offense should have running back Toby Gerhart (foot, probable) back.

Rams at Chiefs 

The Rams could be short at cornerback with Janoris Jenkins (knee) and Trumaine Johnson (knee) both questionable. Cornerback Brandon McGee (foot) has already been ruled out, as has center Tim Barnes (shoulder). The Chiefs hope to get safety Eric Berry (ankle, questionable) back in the lineup. Wide receiver Donnie Avery (groin) and cornerback Christopher Owens (knee) will both miss the game.

Bears at Patriots

The Bears are unlikely to have linebackers Jon Bostic (back, doubtful) and Lance Briggs (ribs, doubtful), but cornerback Kyle Fuller (hand/hip) is probable. Right tackle Jordan Mills (foot, questionable) trended in the wrong direction as the week played out. The Patriots won’t have defensive end Chandler Jones (hip) and they listed running back Shane Vereen (illness) questionable after he missed Friday’s practice. As always, several other Pats, including concussed offensive linemen Dan Connolly and Bryan Stork, are questionable.

Bills at Jets

Bills running back Fred Jackson (knee) was officially ruled out and wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (hamstring) is doubtful. The team hopes safety Aaron Williams (neck, questionable) can play and they have no worries about wide receiver Sammy Watkins (groin, probable). The Jets are 1-6, but they’re pretty healthy. Linebacker Trevor Reilly (knee) and wide receiver Greg Salas (ankle, wrist) are questionable and the only players on the injury report listed as anything but probable.

Vikings at Buccaneers

Vikings center John Sullivan (concussion) is probable, but the team will wait to make a call on guard Vlad Ducasse (knee). Linebacker Gerald Hodges (hamstring) is doubtful and tight end Kyle Rudolph (abdomen/groin) remains out. The Bucs return from their bye week with linebacker Jonathan Casillas (hamstring), tackle Anthony Collins (knee), safety Dashon Goldson (ankle), wide receiver Vincent Jackson (rib), quarterback Josh McCown (right thumb) and safety Keith Tandy (hamstring) questionable to play on Sunday.

Texans at Titans

Questionable linebackers are all the rage in Houston. Jadeveon Clowney (knee), Brian Cushing (knee), Brooks Reed (groin) and John Simon (ankle) all got that designation with Cushing looking the least likely to play come Sunday. Titans cornerback Coty Sensabaugh (knee) and tight end Taylor Thompson (knee) are doubtful and linebacker Quentin Groves (ankle) is questionable. Quarterback Jake Locker (thumb) is probable, but he’ll just be holding a clipboard if all goes well for Tennessee.

Eagles at Cardinals

Center Jason Kelce (hernia), linebacker Mychal Kendricks (calf) and running back Darren Sproles (knee) are all questionable. It’s a surprising positive for Kelce and a negative for Kendricks, who the team hoped would be returning this weekend. Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell (knee, questionable) has a chance to play, which is a bit of a positive surprise as well given the initial timeline for his injury.

Raiders at Browns 

The Raiders ruled out tight end David Ausberry (foot), wide receiver Vincent Brown (hamstring), cornerback Keith McGill (groin), defensive end LaMarr Woodley (biceps) and safety Usama Young (knee). Another four players — guard Khalif Barnes (quadricep), running back Marcel Reece (quadricep), cornerback Carlos Rogers (knee) and defensive end Justin Tuck (knee) — are questionable. It looks like the Browns should have defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin (ankle, probable) back in the lineup, but defensive end Phil Taylor (knee) remains out. Safety Jim Leonhard (ankle) and defensive end Billy Winn (quadricep) are both questionable.

Colts at Steelers

Wide receiver Reggie Wayne (elbow) is out for the Colts, while tight end Jack Doyle (knee) and running back Trent Richardson (hamstring) are questionable. Defensive tackle Steve McLendon (shoulder), cornerback Ike Taylor (forearm) and safety Shamarko Thomas (hamstring) are out for Pittsburgh, but it looks like linebacker Ryan Shazier (knee, probable) should return to the lineup. Tackle Marcus Gilbert (concussion) is questionable.

Packers at Saints

The Packers will be without defensive end Datone Jones (ankle) and cornerback Sam Shields (knee) is unlikely to play after being listed as doubtful. Safety Morgan Burnett (calf) is questionable and the Packers, who like to check every box) listed running back James Starks (ankle) as probable. Center Jonathan Goodwin (knee, ankle), linebacker Kyle Knox (ankle) and running backs Khiry Robinson (forearm) and Pierre Thomas (rib, shoulder) are all out for New Orleans. They have the same number of questionable players, with decisions pending on defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley (concussion), tight end Jimmy Graham (shoulder), linebacker Ramon Humber (ankle) and cornerback Keenan Lewis (knee, shoulder).

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Blandino says ref made right call on Broncos non-fumble

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 4.08.21 PM

The Broncos appeared to catch a huge break on Thursday night when the on-field ruling of a fumble by kickoff returner Andre Caldwell was reversed on instant replay, with the referee saying Caldwell was down before he lost control of the ball. On Friday, NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino said that was the right call.

In a video released by the league, Blandino says Caldwell’s forearm hit the ground before he lost the ball.

“The forearm was down and the player still had control of the loose ball,” Blandino said. “You’ll see it get pulled loose after the forearm hits — not the elbow, and the referee made an incorrect announcement by saying the elbow. He should have said the forearm. . . . The arm was down before the ball got pulled free. You can see the forearm coming down, the player still in control of the football — slight movement does not constitute a loss of control. . . . That’s why the call was overturned. It’s close, but in the referee’s judgment, and we agreed, the forearm was down before the ball came loose.”

Blandino noted that although San Diego’s Ladarius Green started to pull the ball from Caldwell’s hand before Caldwell was down, Caldwell hadn’t actually lost the ball until his forearm had already hit the ground.

“Slight movement does not constitute a loss of possession — that’s in the rulebook. Loss of control means the ball being pulled loose,” Blandino said.

Complicating matters was that former NFL referee Mike Carey, now the rules expert for CBS, said on the live TV broadcast that replays confirmed that the call on the field was correct. When rules experts like Carey and FOX’s Mike Pereira look at the same replay as the referees — but come to a different conclusion than the referee about what the replay says — that contributes to a climate around the NFL in which it’s perceived that no one knows exactly what the complex rulebook says.

Blandino’s explanation probably won’t placate Chargers fans, who feel that the call was a huge turning point in the game: If the fumble hadn’t been overturned on replay, the Chargers probably would have scored just before halftime and gone into the half leading 10-7 or 14-7. Instead Denver kept the ball, drove down the field and scored, and it was the Broncos who led 14-7 at halftime. It was a huge call, and the NFL says it was the right call. It’s understandable if Chargers fans disagree.

Screen cap via NFL.

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Mike McCoy: Jason Verrett wouldn’t have played if he wasn’t ready

San Diego at Denver Getty Images

Chargers coach Mike McCoy met the media on Friday and there were more questions about how the team handled a pair of injuries from Thursday night than there were about why they couldn’t handle the Broncos.

McCoy was asked about the decision to play cornerback Jason Verrett after he missed last Sunday’s game with an injured shoulder. Verrett left the game after aggravating the injury and reports on Friday are that Verrett stands to miss an extended period of time as a result. McCoy said the team didn’t rush Verrett back into the lineup.

“If he wasn’t ready to go, we wouldn’t have put him out there,” McCoy said, via Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego.

Whether it was too soon or not, the result will be a painful one for the Chargers if they have to go without the rookie because he’s played a big role in their 5-3 start to the season.

McCoy also faced questions about whether safety Jahleel Addae suffered a concussion in the second half when he got up from a hit and staggered for a couple of moments. Addae said he suffered a stinger and was cleared to return to the game after being evaluated on the sideline. McCoy also said Addae suffered a stinger while adding that medical evaluations were ongoing and that he hadn’t spoken to the trainer since the team returned to San Diego.

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Judge blocks New Jersey sports betting

sports_betting_board_78396227 Getty Images

Well, if you’d wagered that a federal judge would block New Jersey’s plan to trot out sports wagering this weekend, it’s time to collect.

Per multiple reports, Judge Michael Shipp has granted a temporary restraining order preventing New Jersey from implementing a plan to launch sports betting this weekend at racetracks and casinos.

The order presumably will last until the litigation filed by the NFL and other sports leagues on Monday is resolved.  Which probably will result in a ruling that New Jersey’s plan cannot proceed.

The NFL long has opposed the expansion of legalized sports betting.  This is Round Two with New Jersey, which failed in a prior effort to circumvent a 1992 federal law aimed at stopping new states from adding sports wagering.

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Pats will soon get a close look at the one who got away

Sanders AP

During 2013 free agency, the Patriots signed then-restricted free agent Emmanuel Sanders to an offer sheet, willing to give up a third-round pick if it meant getting the player away from Pittsburgh on a one-year, $2.5 million deal.

The Steelers matched, but many believed that New England’s gesture would be rewarded in 2014, when Sanders hit the open market with the ability to sign with anyone.

It didn’t happen.  Sanders instead landed in Denver, and now the Patriots are nine days away from hosting Sanders, Peyton Manning, and the rest of the Broncos.

So why isn’t Sanders a Patriot?

“They were in the mix, it just didn’t get done with anyone,” agent Steve Weinberg told Tom Curran of CSN New England.  “[Sanders] went on several visits — Jacksonville, Tampa, Kansas City, and I was talking to New England the whole time.  But the process went real slow.”

Complicating matters for the Patriots was Sanders’ decision to hire Weinberg to replace Jordan Woy, who had represented Sanders when he signed the offer sheet in New England.

“If Emmanuel hadn’t switched agents, he may have ended up [with the Patriots],” Weinberg told Curran.  “New England was competitive throughout the process.  Had they been aggressive from the beginning it would have gotten done, but, in this market, nobody knew what to do with the wide receivers. New England expressed interest during the [pre-free agency] negotiation period.”

Instead, the Patriots have to figure out how to slow down a guy who scored a touchdown on Sunday night and three more on Thursday night.  And how to get the most out of a receiving corps that would have benefited from the presence of a player who generated a season-high 98 yards against New England last year with the Steelers.

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Shane Vereen questionable due to illness

New York Jets Vs. New England Patriots At Gillette Stadium Getty Images

Shane Vereen wasn’t at Patriots practice on Friday, a new development after the running back had been on the field each of the first two days of the week.

The good news for the Pats is that Vereen isn’t injured. The bad news is that he’s sick enough that his status is up in the air for Sunday’s game against the Bears.

The Patriots listed Vereen as questionable for the game because of his illness, which could leave them without the player that’s moved into the lead running back role with Stevan Ridley out for the season. It would also cost Vereen a chance to play against his brother, Bears safety Brock Vereen. Brandon Bolden, Jonas Gray and James White are the other running back options for New England.

As expected, the Patriots ruled out defensive end Chandler Jones because of a hip injury. Offensive linemen Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork and Cameron Fleming and defensive lineman Dominique Easley are also questionable.

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Saints rule out two RBs; Jimmy Graham questionable

Jimmy Graham, Pierre Thomas AP

The Saints will be down two tailbacks Sunday night vs. Green Bay.

According to the injury report, the club has ruled out Khiry Robinson (forearm) and Pierre Thomas (rib/shoulder).

Mark Ingram figures to be the Saints’ featured back against the Packers, with Travaris Cadet likely the top pass-catching option out of the backfield. And with Ingram and Cadet the Saints’ only two healthy backs, it’s possible a transaction could be coming for New Orleans. The club has tailback Edwin Baker in reserve on the practice squad.

In other Saints injury news, tight end Jimmy Graham (shoulder) is officially questionable for Sunday night. He was questionable entering last Sunday’s loss to Detroit but still played. However, he was held without a catch and played less than half the snaps for the Saints (2-4).

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