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PFT’s wild-card picks

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Well, the regular season has ended, and I finished strong with a 13-3 mark.  More importantly, I went 4-1 in the five games on which MDS and I disagreed, pushing the final margin to 11 games.

With only 11 postseason games and one agreement on the four wild-card games, he can’t catch me.

But we’ll start a new contest and re-set the clock to zero and we’ll see what happens.

I finished 170-85-1, good for 66.0 percent.  MDS ended at 159-96-1, which puts him at 62.1 percent.

Bengals at Texans

MDS’s take: The rematch of last year’s first playoff game will look a lot like the prior meeting: J.J. Watt will make big plays on defense for the Texans, and although the Bengals will keep the game close early on, the Texans’ offense will sustain long drives in the second half to put the game away. As the No. 3 seed in the AFC, the Texans will move on to a divisional round playoff game at New England — where they played their worst game of the regular season.

MDS’s pick: Texans 24, Bengals 14.

Florio’s take:  I’ve been accused of not believing in the Bengals.  I’ve been accused of not believing in the Texans.  I currently believe in one of them.  And it’s the one that finished the season strong.  The one that didn’t lose three of its last four games by a combined score of 45 points.  The one that didn’t squander two shots at the No. 1 seed.  The one with a quarterback who actually has postseason experience.  The one with an underrated defense and an overlooked defensive tackle.  Yes, Houstonians, I don’t believe that the Texans will be able to turn it around — especially since the reward for doing so is a return to New England, site of a 30-point Sunday night shellacking on December 10.

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 24, Texans 21.

Vikings at Packers

MDS’s take: Six days after they played a great game in Minnesota, they’ll do it again in Green Bay. At this point, everyone knows the Vikings are going to ride Adrian Peterson, and defenses can’t stop it anyway. So that gives the Vikings a chance to put some points on the board, especially if Christian Ponder can play as well as he did on Sunday. Unfortunately for the Vikings, I don’t see Ponder playing as well at Lambeau Field as he did at the Metrodome, and I see Aaron Rodgers having a big game against the Vikings’ defense. The Packers will win this one and head to San Francisco.

MDS’s pick: Packers 34, Vikings 20.

Florio’s take:  The Packers gave up 37 points to the Vikings in a game that could have given Green Bay a bye.  Christian Ponder hasn’t lost since playing a key role in squandering a winnable game at Lambeau Field.  And with Adrian Peterson’s shot at Eric Dickerson’s regular-season rushing record coming up 27 feet short, Peterson’s next goal will be the single-game postseason rushing record of 248 yards.  Which is held, of course, by Eric Dickerson.  All this one will need is Randy Moss rubbing his butt against the goalpost.

Florio’s pick:  Vikings 30, Packers 27.

Colts at Ravens

MDS’s take: It’s amazing that the Colts are here at all after being the worst team in the league last season, but this is where I see the Colts’ great run coming to an end. Ravens running back Ray Rice will have a huge game against a weak Colts defense, and look for Jacoby Jones to make at least one big play on special teams. The Ravens will move on to the divisional round in Denver.

MDS’s pick: Ravens 28, Colts 17.

Florio’s take:  The news that Ray Lewis will retire after the postseason transformed a toss-up into a sure thing.  Which makes me very nervous.  If I’m Colts coach Chuck Pagano, here’s what I’m telling my team:  “Guys, they’re scared.  They’re not just scared, they’re desperate.  They know that we’re the better team.  So how do they close the gap?  Ray Lewis tells them he’s retiring.  I know Ray Lewis.  He ain’t retiring.  Especially if he loses.  And he will.  And they know it.”  Or something like that.  Either way, few stories in all of football are more compelling than Ray’s.  But one is Chuck Pagano’s, and the Colts won’t be deterred one bit by the knowledge that they’ll be sending Lewis into a retirement that may not take.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 24, Ravens 23.

Seahawks at Redskins

MDS’s take: The presence of Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III and Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson — the only two rookies in NFL history to record passer ratings above 100 — makes this the marquee matchup of wild-card weekend. But I think the difference will be the Seahawks’ defense, especially cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, who are going to make it tough for Griffin to find open receivers. The Seahawks beat the Redskins in the playoffs in 2005 and 2007 and will do it again.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 20, Redskins 10.

Florio’s take:   Before Week 17, we all assumed that the Seahawks would blow out any and all comers.  When the Rams managed to lose only by a touchdown in Seattle and the Redskins finished their climb from 3-6 to 10-6, the sense that the Seahawks would make easy work of the postseason field evaporated.  Though it may not fully return on Sunday, the Seattle defense will do a better job of containing the Washington offense than vice-versa, and the quarterback taken five spots after a punter will relish the opportunity to show that he can beat a quarterback with top-two pedigree.

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 31, Redskins 21.

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Bruce Arians: We’ll be dressing in 49ers locker room this time next year

Bruce Arians AP

The Cardinals lost to the Panthers in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, leaving them a couple of steps short of becoming the first team to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium.

Coach Bruce Arians has already set a new goal for next season and shared it after he was named the NFL’s top coach for the second time in the last three seasons. It involves playing in the home of another NFC team when the 49ers host the Super Bowl at Levi’s Stadium this time next year.

“We’re dressing in their locker room,” Arians said, via the team’s website. “We can write it down today.”

Confidence is nothing new from Arians, who never wavered in his belief that the Cardinals could win the Super Bowl this year even as they lost several key players to season-ending injuries. Predictions for next season are a fool’s errand at this point, but getting some of those players back and the continued presence of Arians on the sideline are good reasons to think the Cardinals can be a winning team again next year.

And if they do make good on Arians’ prediction, they may just permanently etch his name on that coaching trophy. To hear more about what Arians thinks needs to happen for the Cardinals to play in Santa Clara a year after the Seahawks dress in their lockers, check out his appearance on PFT Live from Arizona last week.

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Marvin Harrison happy Tim Brown made Hall, but T.O. up next

Jerome Bettis, Tim Brown AP

There’s a measure of disappointment for every Hall of Fame finalist who doesn’t make it to Canton.

But for former Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison, there was at least the relief that another prolific wideout made it.

Harrison told Mike Chappell of WRTV 6 in Indianapolis that he was happy for former Raiders receiver/return man Tim Brown finally making it.

I’m ecstatic that Tim Brown got in,” Harrison said. “I’m glad he doesn’t have to wait and go through this another year. Tim Brown is the man. Tim Brown, in my opinion, should have been in there five years ago. That’s just my opinion.

“Now my night is made. I’m cool. I’m a happy camper. Tim Brown is in the Hall of Fame. That’s more important than anything going on right now. I like Tim Brown as a person. I love Tim Brown as a player. At least he got in.”

The reality is, with 15 finalists and five spots each year, roughly 10 deserving guys get left out this year.

The next issue for Harrison is whether he gets leapfrogged by another modern wideout with eye-popping stats.

When wide receiver Terrell Owens joins the list of eligible receivers next year, Harrison may have a harder time getting in that he did this this.

Consider, Owens has 1,078 receptions (sixth all-time) for 15,934 yards (second) and 153 touchdowns (third).

Harrison has 1,102 receptions (third all-time) for 14,580 yards (seventh) and 128 touchdowns (fifth).

That could make next year’s meeting another long wait for Harrison, who survived the cut from 15 to 10 this year but failed to make the final five.

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Geno Smith ready for a “very, very vital offseason”

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The new Jets coaching staff will start holding meetings to plan for the offseason next week and the quarterback position is sure to be a topic for discussion.

Geno Smith said Saturday that he’s expecting to have competition in the form of a high draft pick or other acquisition in what’s a “very, very vital offseason” in terms of establishing himself as an NFL starter. One edge that Smith has on that competition is that he knows he’s going to be on the Jets in 2015. Smith said he’s started watching tapes of offensive coordinator Chan Gailey’s past offenses, some of which have used spread looks familiar to Smith from his college days.

“The familiarity with it will help,” Smith said, via the New York Post. “I don’t know what the ins-and-outs of his offense is, but I can’t wait to get back into it and learn it and develop timing with the guys. I’ll try and learn as much as I can without actually having the playbook.”

Smith said he doesn’t think this is his “last chance,” but there’s a good chance that three strikes will mean the same for Smith in football as they would in baseball.

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Pete Carroll to Seahawks: Have fun with the opportunity

Pete Carroll AP

During a joint Friday press conference, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll differed from Patriots coach Bill Belichick when he said that the Super Bowl experiences over the last two years have “been nothing but fun.”

It’s the same message that Carroll sent to his team on Saturday night in Arizona.

A member of the Seahawks told Albert Breer of NFL Media that Carroll was the “same ole Pete” while addressing the team the night before their attempt to repeat as Super Bowl champions. The coach told his players that they should have fun with the opportunity that sits in front of them on Sunday and play loose in pursuit of a second straight title.

Those have been big parts of the consistent message Carroll’s sent since he returned to the NFL with the Seahawks and they’ve worked out awfully well for him thus far. If it works out again on Sunday night, there probably won’t be any reminders needed to have fun with the moment.

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Report: Falcons alleged to have piped in crowd noise, NFL discipline “expected”

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Did the Falcons use canned crowd noise to make the Georgia Dome louder as opposing teams were on offense?

According to a broadcast report, the Falcons are alleged to have done so — and now could face NFL discipline.

On ESPN’s Postseason NFL Countdown, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the Falcons are alleged to have played “artificial” crowd noise as the opposition had the ball in 2013 and 2014. It’s unclear what specific games the allegations span.

According to Schefter, the Falcons’ alleged actions are “expected” to result in NFL discipline, including a fine and even the potential loss of a draft pick for the practice.

The Falcons have cooperated with the NFL’s investigation, the team told ESPN.

According to the report, the Falcons’ game operations department is alleged to have “originated” the noise plan.

The focus now turns to the league’s findings. If the crowd noise allegations are proven and considered a violation of game integrity by the NFL, the Falcons would not figure to get off easily or quietly, given the climate.

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Report: Seahawks offer Marshawn Lynch sizable extension

Marshawn Lynch AP

Seahawks General Manager John Schneider said this week that he “kind of” loves running back Marshawn Lynch’s act and the team is reportedly looking to make sure the act keeps running in Seattle.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that the Seahawks have offered Lynch a big contract extension that would keep him with the team for “years to come.” Lynch would reportedly stand to make more than $10 million in 2015 under the extension, a big raise from the current $5 million salary on the books in the final year of his four-year deal.

Lynch held himself out of team work briefly in the offseason and returned to work after getting a slight salary bump, which helped fuel speculation about 2014 being his final year with the team. Lynch had another huge season with 1,306 rushing yards and 17 total touchdowns, though, and added a great NFC Championship game performance that makes thoughts of parting ways with him anytime soon harder to fathom.

Talks have been going on for a few weeks according to Rapoport and the Seahawks are also expected to have talks about an extension for quarterback Russell Wilson as they work to keep a very successful band together.

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Calvin Johnson: I’ll do whatever I can to keep Suh in Detroit

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Once the final seconds ticked off of their playoff loss to the Cowboys and kicked off their offseason, the Lions’ thoughts turned to defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

Suh is set to become a free agent next month if the Lions don’t sign him to a long-term contract or franchise tag him at a potential cost of $26.9 million. Wide receiver Calvin Johnson would like to avoid that possibility and pledged to help the team out in their attempt to hold onto one of the league’s best defensive players.

“I’ll do whatever I got to do,” Johnson said, via the Detroit Free Press.

That could take the form of direct appeals to Suh or a contract restructuring that frees up more money in the short term with Johnson set to account for a little more than $20 million of the team’s 2015 cap space. However things play out with Johnson, the Lions’ decisions with Suh will be a big part of setting the course for the offseason in Detroit and elsewhere since Suh’s address for 2015 is one of the biggest dominoes to fall on the way to next season.

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Sunday morning one-liners

Shad Khan AP

Running through the Bills’ connections to this year’s Super Bowl.

Dolphins General Manager Dennis Hickey won the executive award at the Steinberg DeNicola Humanitarian Awards.

DE Rob Ninkovich has done whatever’s necessary to carve out a productive career with the Patriots.

Jets head coach Todd Bowles was named the league’s top assistant for the 2014 season.

What is CB Lardarius Webb’s future with the Ravens?

Breaking down the Hall of Fame candidacy of former Bengals QB Ken Anderson.

Questions about WR Josh Gordon will be part of the Browns offseason.

The Steelers secondary should have a different look next season.

Texans DE J.J. Watt had the best showing by a defensive player in MVP voting since the voting pool expanded to 50 people.

The Colts are celebrating Bill Polian’s election to the Hall of Fame.

Count Jaguars owner Shad Khan among those in favor of a larger playoff field.

Titans CB Jason McCourty wants the Super Bowl experiences his brother has enjoyed with the Patriots.

Bum Phillips continues to be an influence on son Wade Phillips as he takes over the Broncos Defense.

Hall of Famer Will Shields’ impact on Kansas City went beyond his play for the Chiefs.

Late Raiders icon Al Davis was remembered by Ron Wolf after Wolf was elected to the Hall of Fame.

Kevin Acee of U-T San Diego was missing having former Chargers LB Junior Seau present when his election to the 2015 Hall of Fame class was announced.

Said Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray of being named the NFL Offensive Player of the Year, “It’s definitely an honor to receive that award. Obviously I got the award, but a lot of the success and everything has to go to the offensive line and coach [Scott] Linehan and coach [Gary] Brown and the entire team, and the work they put in alongside with me.”

Giants WR Victor Cruz continues to make progress in his rehab from a torn patellar tendon.

What can the Eagles take from the Patriots?

Timmy Smith and Doug Williams are among the biggest Super Bowl heroes in Redskins history.

WWE wrestlers think Bears QB Jay Cutler could have a future in their ring.

Lions QB Matthew Stafford will miss C Dominic Raiola.

LB Clay Matthews discussed the injuries that sidelined him for part of the Packers’ loss in the NFC title game.

The Vikings shouldn’t have a hard time seeing the benefits of a power running game.

Will the Falcons be looking for a running back in the draft?

Panthers LB Thomas Davis called the Walter Payton Man of the Year award the biggest honor in his career.

Former Saints K Morten Andersen fell short of the Hall of Fame again.

Candidates with ties to the Buccaneers failed to earn enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.

Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald has no idea what will happen in talks with the team about his status for 2015.

Breaking down NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s comments about the Rams and their future in St. Louis.

Ten things the 49ers can do to improve their chances of getting to the Super Bowl next year.

The Seahawks bring a simpler approach to their game than the Patriots.

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Field in great shape for Super Bowl XLIX

Field AP

There was concern among the teams who in fewer than 12 hours will be playing in Super Bowl XLIX that the grass field at University of Phoenix Stadium (home of the only undefeated college football team in American history) would be in rough shape after:  (1) the Pro Bowl last Sunday; and (2) rehearsals for tonight’s halftime show.

Per a high-ranking official with one of the teams that will square off there tonight, the field is considered to be in excellent condition, especially in light of the recent usages of it.

During Saturday rehearsals for the NBC pregame show, the perimeter of the playing surface seemed to be soft and fully covered with thick grass, unlike so many of the grass fields that develop conspicuous bare patches.  Some field, like University of Phoenix Stadium in 2013, have displayed bare patches even early in the season.

As a result, neither team will be able to claim that the balls weren’t fully inflated, and neither team will be able to blame any poor performances on the large sliding tray of earth under their feet.

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Giants matriarch Ann Mara dies at 85

annmara AP

Ann Mara, who spent six decades as an influential figure on the New York Giants, has died at the age of 85.

Mara, who married the late Giants owner Wellington Mara in 1954, passed away early this morning after spending the last two weeks in the hospital.

“I am sad to say that our mother has passed away,” Giants President and CEO John Mara said in a statement. “She has been the leader of our family in every way, and we will miss her dearly. She slipped in front of her home during the ice storm two weeks ago. She had been in the hospital since the following day, initially due to a head injury she suffered in her fall. After a few days, we were hopeful for her recovery, although we knew it would be a long road back. Unfortunately, there were complications. She loved her family, and all of us were able to spend time with her in these final days. All 11 of her children and our spouses and numerous grandchildren were with her when she passed away.”

Ann Mara used to talk about how she embraced the sports that her husband loved, although she was also a Giants fan before she met Wellington.

“Our dates were at Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden and the Fordham gymnasium. That was my courtship,” she said.

Although her husband and her son were more directly involved in the team’s football operations, Ann Mara took a strong interest in the welfare of the team. Just weeks ago, at the Giants’ end-of-year press conference, John Mara said his mom gets frustrated when the Giants miss the playoffs “probably even more so than I do.”

The Giants will miss that passion, and the NFL will miss one of its most influential women.

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49ers add three defensive coaches

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The 49ers continue to add former defensive coordinators to their coaching staff.

Eric Mangini will run the defense with the help of three assistants who used to have the same responsibilities. Former Raiders coordinator Jason Tarver will be coaching the outside linebackers and Alex Marvez of FOX Sports reports that Clancy Pendergast and Tim Lewis will be joining him on the staff. Pendergast will be coaching the inside linebackers while Lewis works with the defensive backs.

Pendergast was the defensive coordinator for the Cardinals from 2004-2008 and then with the Chiefs in 2009 before dropping to the college ranks to run defenses at Cal and USC. Lewis was the defensive backs coach in Atlanta since 2010 and ran defenses for both the Steelers and Giants early in the 2000s before moving back to being a position coach.

Marvez also reports that the 49ers will make Scott Brown their defensive line coach. Brown was a college assistant coach before joining the 49ers as a midwest regional scout in 2012 so he’ll be transitioning back to an old role.

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Dan Rooney: Pittsburgh Super Bowl “should happen”

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The NFL returned to Glendale for this year’s Super Bowl, but they’ll be taking the game to Santa Clara for the first time next year and Commissioner Roger Goodell has talked about his desire to get the game “to as many communities as possible” in the future.

Steelers president Art Rooney II said last year that he wanted Pittsburgh to be in the mix for the game in the future. Rooney’s father feels the same way. Team chairman Dan Rooney said he hasn’t spoken to Goodell directly, but that people from the team have spoken to the league to relay his message.

“Yeah, I think it should happen,” Rooney said, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “As of last year, the (New York) Giants have had one. There have been games in Minnesota and Detroit, places like that. So now you think about it. Of course, you’ll have a lot of teams in the Northeast that will want one, but I think Pittsburgh would be a good place for the next one in the North.”

The size of Heinz Field, which is being expanded to 67,440 seats, and number of hotel rooms in Pittsburgh are potential stumbling blocks, although the league picked Minneapolis for the 2018 game despite the city pledging less than the 30,000 hotel rooms the league has said they look for in a host city.

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Eric Decker wants to play with Demaryius Thomas again

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Last offseason, wide receiver Eric Decker made the move from the Broncos to the Jets as a free agent.

The move led to fewer victories and a drop in production with Geno Smith and Michael Vick throwing the passes instead of Peyton Manning. The Jets don’t have a surer bet at quarterback for 2015, but Decker’s hoping he can convince his former Denver receiving mate Demaryius Thomas to make the same move he made.

“I’ve been pushing for the entire year now,” Decker said, via the New York Post. “It was just another opportunity to talk to him about it. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens. I think it would be tough for Denver to let him go. So whether they franchise-tag him here in the next month or give him a long-term deal, he’s just one of those premier players in this league. If he happens to make it to free agency, I would love to sign him because playing alongside him for four years and especially the last two years made it a lot of fun and made it a lot easier. He’s just one of the great players in this league.”

Decker’s probably going to have to use his marketing skills on other players because the Broncos letting Thomas walk is hard to see whether or not Peyton Manning returns for another season. The Jets have the cap space and the mindset to make a big play for Thomas should things go the other way, but it does look like this round of free agency will play out differently than Decker’s did.

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Jed York: We’ve got to put Colin Kaepernick in position to make plays

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Some 49ers fans may not be confident that the team is headed in the right direction based on the changes to the coaching staff that they’ve made since the end of the regular season, but CEO Jed York thinks that they’re going to be pleasantly surprised by the results on offense in 2015.

During an interview with NFL Network, York said that he doesn’t believe that quarterback Colin Kaepernick needs to be fixed. Instead, it’s a matter of putting him in the right position to make plays that take advantage of his particular set of skills and York’s confident that offensive coordinator Geep Chryst and quarterbacks coach Steve Logan are the right men to do it.

“But with Kap you got a guy in Geep Chryst who knows him better than anybody else,” York said. “You have a great guy in Steve Logan that’s coming in that’s going to work with him on fundamentals and to put a system that’s going to put Kap in the best position to make plays. How many quarterbacks in this league can run 90 yards for a touchdown? I can’t think of many, but you have to put Kap in position where he can make those plays and put Kap in position where we can run the ball. We can throw the ball in ways that allows him to be successful and let him be the absolute stud that he can be on the field, and that’s what you’re going to see from us next year. Defenses are not going to want to play against us because you’re not going to know where we’re going to hit you.”

Kaepernick ran for 639 yards during the regular season, but designed runs made up less than half of his carries. York suggests that will be different the next time around and that’s not likely to be the only change for the 49ers after the shakeup at the top of their coaching staff. Few of the other ones are likely to have as much to do with the success or failure of that shakeup, however.

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Report: Bernard Pollard asked Titans to release him

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The Titans parted ways with vice president of player personnel Lake Dawson on Friday and the move wasn’t popular with one member of the roster.

Safety Bernard Pollard tweeted “talk about the wrong guy getting fired” and said he could name a lot of players and other people in the organization that should have been let go before Dawson. According to Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean, Pollard wanted to be one of them.

Wyatt reports that Pollard requested his release from the Titans at the end of the 2014 season. Pollard is set to make $3.1 million on his deal with the Titans for 2015 and the team could drop him without incurring a lot of dead money on their cap.

Pollard’s season came to an early end when he ruptured his Achilles five games into the season. Wyatt reports he’s progressing in rehab and asking out of a contract suggests that he’s pretty confident he’ll be able to sell himself to another team well ahead of next season.

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