Can Christian Ponder perform in consecutive games? Will the Packers correct their mistakes in time? Mike Florio breaks down the biggest storylines from this NFC wild card matchup.This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!
ProFootballTalk: Previewing Vikings-Packers
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has taken another step toward returning to the field. But that doesn’t mean his return will come on Sunday.
Rodgers practiced in pads today in Green Bay, the first time he has put the pads on since breaking his collarbone a month ago. Matt Flynn, however, is continuing to take all the reps with the first-string offense, which is a strong sign that the Packers still aren’t planning on having Rodgers back on Sunday against the Falcons.
The Packers’ medical staff has not cleared Rodgers to return to contact, but Rodgers has indicated that he’s feeling good and hoping to play soon. If Rodgers can play, the Packers still have a real shot of catching the Lions and winning the NFC North. But without Rodgers, it’s hard to see the Packers winning out, which is what they’d have to do (while hoping the Lions lose two of their last four) to win the division.
At the moment, it looks like Flynn will be the starter for another week, even if Rodgers is getting closer.
The Vikings continue to wonder on a week-in, week-out basis who the quarterback is going to be.
Freeman himself might wonder the same thing, although he’s close enough to free agency that he’s not going to rock the boat.
“I don’t think there’s any concrete reason,” Freeman said, via Charley Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “I think they want me to get more fluent and continue to understand the system, and I’m continuing to do that, learning a lot. I’m watching a lot of film and staying in these game plans.
“If you ask coach and he feels he wants to go with the other guy, . . . coaches are paid to coach, and players are paid to play.”
Freeman diligently avoided answering whether he wanted to stay with the Vikings, or say much at all really. He mostly said he was trying to focus on getting better each week to be ready in case they called on him again after his one too-soon start.
“Who’s to say — it’s out of my control, so I’m just controlling what I can control,” he said. “If they call on me, I think I’d be ready to go. But at the same time, it’s not really my call.
“I’m here to support Matt or Christian, whoever’s in, and continue to just grow in the system. An NFL offense — I know you guys really haven’t been around them — but they’re pretty complex. There’s a lot of ins and outs, different layers, stuff they might have run earlier in the year that’s a pretty hard concept. They adjust for a certain week. There’s a lot to take in. It’s been fun learning it.
“Of course, as a competitor I want to play. But I’m a guy who’s just going to work my butt off until that opportunity comes. Will that opportunity come again? I’m not to say. I hope it does, but you never know.”
In a weird way, Freeman might be better off going into the market without playing for the Vikings again this year. At the moment, it’s not exactly an environment conducive to making any offensive player shine.
By not playing, there’s still an element of mystery about his game, which could lead some coach to fall for the first-round talent which has peeked through the clouds from time to time, even if it hasn’t been evident lately.
Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee was ruled in for Monday night’s game against the Bears by owner Jerry Jones early this week, but he still needed to actually get out on the practice field and show that his hamstring could handle a return to football work.
Lee accomplished part of that on Thursday as he joined the rest of the Cowboys at practice. It’s the first time that Lee’s been able to do that since getting hurt on November 10 and he’ll be ready to go for Monday as long as there aren’t any setbacks.
It also looks like they have a good shot at getting Justin Durant back from his hamstring injury as well. Durant, who has also missed the last two games, was practicing as the Cowboys remained outside despite cold and rainy weather in Dallas. Coach Jason Garrett explained he wanted the team prepared for conditions in Chicago.
“We want to practice here, outside. The weather has been good to us, going off to play in some of these northern cities where the weather is bad. A couple of weeks ago against the Giants, we got some bad weather down here in the days leading up to that,” Garrett said, via the team’s website. “We thought that was a positive, just to get out and practice in it. And it sounds like the weather is not going to be great here the next couple of days, so we’ll certainly embrace that opportunity.”
On the same day Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston will found out whether he’ll face criminal charges (there’s possibly a confidential settlement agreement somewhere that guarantees he won’t), Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard will learn the consequences of his recent probation violation.
Unless he doesn’t.
According to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, Dennard faces a Nebraska judge at 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday for sentencing in connection with the admitted violation, arising from a DUI that occurred when he was on probation following a conviction for assaulting a police officer in April 2012. On Friday, Dennard faces sentencing on the underlying DUI charge.
Dennard’s lawyer has asked the judge to delay the sentencing until after the football season ends. If the judge denies the motion and imposes a sentence of jail time, Dennard could be put behind bars immediately.
While the result would be jarring, it shouldn’t be surprising. Probation is, literally, a get out of jail free card. Failure to comply with the terms of probation suggests that the defendant hasn’t gotten the message.
The judge could decide to send a loud and clear message to Dennard on Thursday.
Chargers offensive lineman Johnnie Troutman picked up a personal foul penalty on Sunday against the Bengals, and he says the result is he learned a valuable lesson: When one player takes a cheap shot and another player reacts, the officials are going to throw the flag on the guy who reacted.
That’s what Troutman says happened on Sunday, when Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict started it, but Troutman got flagged for pushing Burfict.
“Usually the second guy gets caught,” Troutman said, via Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego. “I was the second guy, so I got caught.”
Chargers coach Mike McCoy says it doesn’t matter if Burfict started it. Troutman needs to be composed enough not to react.
“You have to be poised under pressure,” McCoy said. “It’s something that whether you get baited or not, it’s unacceptable. That’s what I told him instantly after the play happened. I’m sure you all saw that. After the game, talking to the team, it’s something we can’t accept. You don’t want any unsportsmanlike conducts. . . . That’s kind of certain players’ jobs to bait you into certain penalties. You have to stay away from it. It really hurt our football team.”
And Burfict, who has been known to pick up personal fouls of his own, helped the Bengals by getting a rise out of Troutman.
Bush insists he loves the slop and he’d like to see it in Philadelphia when the Lions travel to face the Eagles this weekend.
“I actually welcome it and I love playing in the bad weather conditions,” Bush said, via MLive.com. “I feel like it’s an advantage for the running backs because the defenders, safeties and the linebackers don’t know which way we are going. Anytime we can make a move and get them off balance, especially in bad weather and in mud, that’s a win for the running back.”
The weather may not be the biggest issue for Bush this week, however. Bush missed practice on Wednesday because of a calf injury. Tim Twentyman of the team’s website reports that Bush was back on the field Thursday, but wasn’t wearing a helmet and was doing only “very light” work during the session. Bush wasn’t doing any cutting, so people will be keeping an eye on his injury reports for the next few days while Bush focuses on the weather.
As Titans coach Mike Munchak prepares to face Peyton Manning and the Broncos on Sunday, he thinks the Titans’ chances get better as the weather gets colder. And it’s long been said that Manning freezes on cold days.
But Manning doesn’t see it that way. When the idea that Manning struggles in cold weather was brought up on Wednesday, Manning quickly dismissed it.
“That’s not how I feel,” Manning said, via USA Today.
Manning’s teams have a 3-7 record in the 10 games he has played in freezing weather, but then again, most of those games were on the road against playoff opposition. It’s hard to win on the road in the playoffs whether it’s warm or cold, indoors or out.
The two most recent of those losses were the home game against the Ravens in last season’s playoffs, and the road loss at New England two weeks ago. Broncos coach John Fox noted that those were both overtime games that could have gone either way.
“If we won those games, we wouldn’t be talking about weather right now. And we could have easily won either one of those games,” Fox said.
Unfortunately for Fox and Manning, they didn’t win either of those games. The good news for Manning is that this postseason, he has an opportunity to put to bed any talk that he can’t win in the cold, if the Broncos win two cold-weather playoff games and follow that by winning the first-ever cold-weather Super Bowl.
The Saints have had a trying week.
They failed a road test in Seattle last Sunday as they got rolled by the Seahawks and then they had to stick around in Seattle hours longer than planned because of flight trouble. That ate into the time they’d have in New Orleans to prepare for this week’s NFC South showdown with the Panthers and we’ll find out what, if any, effect Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Times-Picayune thinks that will have on the team when he stops by PFT Live on Thursday.
Duncan and Mike Florio will look ahead to that game, which will have major bearing on the NFC playoff picture, and tell us what to watch for when the two teams hit the field.
It’s Thursday, so that means it is also time for MDS and Florio to talk about their picks for this week’s games. MDS has a 10-game edge on Florio over the course of the season, should you be looking for a hint about whose advice to take.
You can watch it all live at noon ET by clicking right here.
Every now and then, a player heading into free agency struggles and questions are asked about whether trying to get that new deal is leading to problems producing on the field.
Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks is a player that’s heard such questions as he’s scuffled his way to mediocre production ahead of a chance to hit the open market. One of his teammates is having the opposite problem.
Left tackle Will Beatty got a five-year, $38.75 million contract before the season and has turned in a dreadful campaign that has included getting beaten like a drum by Redskins pass rushers last Sunday night. According to Beatty, the problem isn’t that he got paid and then shut it down.
“I know I came into this year trying to do way too much and trying to change who I was to fulfill the media hype,” Beatty said, via the New York Post. “It’s like you got the contract, now eyes are on you, people are expecting more from you and you’re trying to live up to it. My first big contract, I’m like I want to earn this contract, I want to make sure they know that I’m not just a fluke and I’m going out there just not being me, not being the guy that got me to this contract.”
There wasn’t all that much hype about Beatty coming into the season, at least relative to other Giants like Nicks, Jason Pierre-Paul and Corey Webster who have underperformed this season. There was an expectation that he would provide a solid anchor to the offensive line, however, and the team has faltered because of his inability to do that.
Beatty was able to do it in 2012 and the Giants will likely bank on a rebound from him next year because they have plenty of other holes to fill without adding a new left tackle to the shopping list.
The Browns are a step closer to having something resembling an actual NFL quarterback on the field Sunday.
While that’s still a step short of the necessary clearance from an independent neurologist, it’s at least a positive sign the Browns might not have to start trick-shot artist Alex Tanney or the just-signed Caleb Hanie this week.
Of course, the possibility of making Browns fans update that list of starting quarterbacks since 1999 does have a twisted bit of anticipation about it.
Brandon Weeden has not yet been cleared to practice after his concussion, and since these things move in stages, makes it unlikely he’d be ready for Sunday’s game.
With his team out of playoff contention, Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III has heard the talk that he should sit out the rest of the season to protect his surgically repaired knee and focus on getting into peak condition for 2014. Unsurprisingly, Griffin does not agree.
Instead, Griffin says that people who think he should yield to Kirk Cousins for the rest of the season simply don’t know what they’re talking about.
“I don’t take any offense to that. That’s just outsiders looking in that don’t understand the game of football,” Griffin said, via the Washington Post. “When it comes to a time like this, it’s easy for guys to check out. I think it would be real cowardly of me to check out and say, ‘Hey, I don’t want to play these next four games.’ It’s not who I am. It’s not who any competitive football player is. You want to play, so we’re going to finish out the year and you take what’s happened this year, being 3-9, and you face it.”
Apparently Griffin thinks 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks doesn’t understand the game of football, as Brooks is one of the people saying Griffin shouldn’t be playing. But Griffin says he’s going to play the next four weeks the same way he would play if his team were fighting for a playoff spot.
“You have to do the same thing no matter whether you’re winning or losing, and we’ve got four games, and I’m going to give it my all these four games, and I know these guys will, too,” Griffin said.
Even if some on the outside think the wiser course of action would be to sit out.
The Patriots are giving the Austin Collie experiment another chance.
The team announced they had re-signed the veteran wide receiver today for his second stint with the team this year. He was released in November after spending five weeks with the team, playing three games.
The 28-year-old wideout had a minor knee injury during his previous stay with the Patriots, during which he caught three passes. Of course, he had a major knee along with numerous concussions with the Colts, which led to the end of his run there.
Collie has bounced around through a series of workouts this year, with a number of teams willing to take a look. So far, the Patriots have been the only ones to put him back in a game.
Bryant, who was put on the non-football injury list yesterday because of an irregular heartbeat, is taking steps to keep it from becoming a bigger issue.
According to a Browns team spokesman, Bryant is having “a minor heart procedure” this week, via the Akron Beacon Journal.
While the only “minor” heart procedure is the one they do on somebody else, Bryant has discussed in the past the possibility of having an ablation to correct the issue. According to the American Heart Association’s website, such procedures are described as “low-risk,” with a recovery time of a few days.
The Browns said Bryant is expected to be able to resume his career.
He reported symptoms after playing 47 snaps against the Jaguars Sunday. It’s the second time he’s been treated this season, after he was hospitalized in October after complaining of shortness of breath against the Bills. But even though he hasn’t missed a game, he also left a game against the Raiders in November with similar symptoms. That’s after having it become an issue when he played for the Raiders last year.
Hopefully whatever he has done this week keeps it from ever becoming a problem again.
The pending $765 million concussion settlement gives the NFL one very significant benefit: The ability to pull the plug on litigation before anyone knows what the league knew and when the league knew it about the long-term effects of head injuries.
That benefit could be undermined by a new lawsuit brought by a group of players who could have the ability to take a blow torch down the rabbit hole.
Earlier this week, five former members of the Chiefs filed suit in Missouri against only the Chiefs. The quintet of Chiefs all played during the six-year window from 1987 through 1993 when the NFL had no labor deal in place. This means that the league’s strongest threshold argument against players who played under a labor deal — that they can’t sue in court for concussions but must seek relief under the collectively-bargained contract — won’t be available to the league or to the Chiefs.
Another factor that makes the Chiefs a viable target comes from a Missouri law that allows employees who chose not to seek workers’ compensation benefits to file suit instead. The window created by that 2005 Missouri law closes on December 31, 2013.
Then there’s the issue of the statute of limitations, which in most jurisdictions gives only two years after a plaintiff knew or should have known about the violation of his rights. The lawsuit, a copy of which was forwarded to PFT by the attorneys who filed it, explains that the pending class action in Pennsylvania delays the expiration of the deadline for suing.
The motivation to sue comes in large part from the fact that the proposed settlement potentially would give these five plaintiffs nothing.
“I think all of our clients were disappointed,” lawyer Ken McClain said regarding the broader settlement, via the Kansas City Star. “It doesn’t appear that they will receive any compensation from it; it only affects players with very severe injuries, those that have dementia or currently diagnosed cognitive skills.”
McClain is right. Although all retired players will be included within the global settlement, only players with a “severe cognitive impairment” will be eligible for compensation. Under the new lawsuit filed against the Chiefs, no such restrictions will apply.
It’s unknown whether other lawsuits are planned. The decision of these five players to proceed with a new lawsuit shows that some players (especially those not bound by the requirements of a federally-recognized Collective Bargaining Agreement) may decide to opt out of the settlement and roll the dice, if for no reason other than to force the NFL to answer questions and disclose documents regarding the league’s alleged efforts to conceal information about the risks of concussions.
But here’s the catch. (And there’s always a catch.) The bulk of the NFL’s alleged efforts to deny reality and hide the truth came under the auspices of the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee, which was formed in 1994, after a federal labor deal returned to the NFL.
As a result, any former player who hopes to expose the worst of the league’s alleged misconduct will still have to persuade a judge to ignore the terms of a labor deal that slams the door on most if not all civil lawsuits that a player could pursue on his own.
This also means that the players who fit within with 1987-93 window will have to conjure evidence that, as of 1987 through 1993, the league knew more than it admitted about the true risks of concussions. Or, at a minimum, that the league should have known more than it did.
While that burden may not be insurmountable, it would be a lot easier to be able to point to the efforts from 1994 through 2009 to deny and ignore the evidence of the concussion risks.
Titans safety Michael Griffin will be back in the lineup for the Titans this week after serving a one-game suspension in Week 13 for accumulating several hits against defenseless receivers.
Griffin sounded the familiar lament of present day defenders by saying he felt defensive players were “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” while trying to hit receivers in legal areas while those receivers are moving in ways that make that difficult. As a result, Griffin said he won’t be changing the way he plays because he feels like it’s a choice between being fined by the league or being dropped by your team if you don’t make the hits.
“At the end of the day, the question is this: either the league is going to take money out of my pocket or the team is going to release you if you can’t get the job done,” Griffin said, via ESPN.com. “They’re going to find somebody else to come in here that can get the job done. You’re losing money regardless, however you want to look at it. You tell me. However I need to get the job done, I’m going to get the job done. You can’t think about it. The league ain’t going to give me money. They’re not going to pay me to do the job correctly. I’ve just got to play.”
Griffin lost more than $200,000 because of last week’s suspension, which provides financial impetus to avoid drawing flags for hits on defenseless receivers. As Griffin makes clear, though, the fear of losing that money every week will not be enough to keep some players from altering their style. If they feel a change will impact their employment, they’ll risk losing one week’s pay before jeopardizing their spot on the roster.