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Matt Cavanaugh is out in New York

Cavanaugh AP

The Jets have yet to fire offensive coordinator Tony Sparano.  And they may not at all.

But they won’t be keeping quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh.

Cavanaugh is out, according to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News.  The long-time NFL assistant came to New York with Rex Ryan in 2009, after his second stint at his alma mater, Pitt.

And so, even though Cavanaugh’s primary pupil, Mark Sanchez, possibly will stay, Sanchez will have at a minimum a new position coach.

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Coaching staff wanted Vick, gets Geno instead

Vick AP

There’s no greater sign of dysfunction in a professional sports organization than folks who lack the qualifications to make coaching decisions making coaching decisions.

In the current chase for the title of most dysfunctional organization in the NFL, the Jets have a clear edge over Washington in this category.

In Washington, coach Jay Gruden apparently has the power to pick his quarterback.  In New York, coach Rex Ryan apparently doesn’t.

Per Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, Ryan, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, and the “majority” of others in the organization wanted to stick with Mike Vick.  Instead, Geno Smith will return to the starting lineup.

Vick seems to have the same sense of resignation that prompted the coaching staff to go along with the switch back to Geno Smith.

“I don’t own this organization,” Vick said Wednesday.  “I just play for it.  Why do things happen?  I don’t know.  I don’t ask too many questions.”

The decision to return to Smith possibly arises from a desire to answer any lingering question about whether Smith has a future with the organization.  Or maybe owner Woody Johnson has realized that there are legitimate ways to improve draft position by tanking games down the stretch.  With the Jets eliminated from the playoffs, why not make it easier to climb higher in the pecking order to get the true franchise quarterback that the franchise hasn’t had since . . . since . . . Joe Namath?

Ultimately, the dysfunction that results in the front office and/or ownership overriding the coaching staff could be the only solution to a 4.5-decade failure to get back to the Super Bowl.

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Report: Indy ready for “remote possibility” of Rams game moving

St. Louis Rams vs San Diego Chargers Getty Images

While it seems unlikely at this point, the NFL has at least looked into the chance of moving Sunday’s Raiders-Rams game in St. Louis because of the tension in nearby Ferguson.

According to Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star, a league source called it a “remote possibility,” though Indianapolis would be ready to host the game Monday if need be.

He cited public safety officials saying they’d be ready and concessions workers saying they were “on call,” if the game needed to be played there Monday.

While it’s likely just a contingency plan (one which frankly every team should have in a folder in a locked drawer somwhere), the fact it’s a possibility should underscore the seriousness of the situation in Missouri.

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Sean Payton reminding Saints of past turnarounds

Sean Payton AP

When the Saints won the Super Bowl after the 2009 season, they became the first team to take home a Lombardi Trophy after losing their final three games of the regular season.

That doesn’t mean that every team with championship aspirations should be trying to drop games at the end of the season, but it does mean that good runs can follow bad ones over the course of a year. That’s a message that Saints coach Sean Payton is trying to send to this year’s edition after they dropped three straight games at the Superdome to miss a chance to grab control of the NFC South.

Instead they fell to 4-7 and Payton feels there’s “value to referencing” past turnarounds in New Orleans and elsewhere as a way to keep the team focused on what’s still possible for them this season.

“You’re constantly, as a teacher, trying to do that,” Payton said, via the Associated Press. “You look at some parallels, some comparisons.”

Whether it’s those Saints, a Giants team that saved Tom Coughlin’s job or any of the other moments in sports history when a contender rose off the mat, there are plenty of examples that show it ain’t over until it’s over. This version of the Saints will have to play much better to join those teams, starting with this Sunday in Pittsburgh.

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Thursday morning one-liners

Terrell Suggs (55) AP

Donte Whitner’s not backing off comments he made about Buffalo and the Bills.

The Dolphins aren’t fooling themselves about the late-season danger of the Jets.

Patriots special teamer Matt Slater is thankful for a new contract.

The Jets fans who buy billboards have a new target — owner Woody Johnson.

Ravens OLB Terrell Suggs reached the 100-sack milestone last week.

The Bengals are comfortable on the road.

Browns LB Karlos Dansby is “close” to coming back from a knee injury.

Steelers backup RBs Dri Archer and Josh Harris are ready for their chance to run.

Finding an answer at QB tops the Texans’ offseason priorities (since it didn’t last offseason).

The Colts can’t be sure their running game will carry them into January.

After poking holes in QB Blake Bortles earlier in the week, Jaguars coach Gus Bradley was building him back up.

The Titans added a LB after releasing veteran Shaun Phillips.

Broncos LB Danny Trevathan returned to practice.

The Chiefs will have a tough time replacing S Eric Berry.

Raiders G Gabe Jackson is working his way back to the starting lineup.

Chargers C Chris Watt is the next man up, again.

Cowboys LB Keith Smith is riding the practice squad roller coaster.

The Giants are trying to blitz, it’s just not working.

The Eagles are still giving up far too many downfield plays.

Some Washington teammates were surprised by the decision to bench Robert Griffin III.

The Bears can’t worry about style points today.

Will this be Lions DT Ndamukong Suh’s last Thanksgiving with the team?

Packers WR Jordy Nelson isn’t sure which Patriots CB he’ll draw.

Vikings RT Phil Loadholt expects to be back by training camp.

The Falcons added some WR depth to the practice squad.

The Panthers aren’t expecting DT Star Lotulelei back this week.

Saints TE Benjamin Watson’s Facebook post about Ferguson went viral.

The Buccaneers continue to be hamstrung by a series of, well, hamstrings.

Cardinals DE Josh Mauro made a good first impression.

Rams WR Stedman Bailey has emerged as an option in the passing game again.

49ers RT Jonathan Martin is set to make his seventh start tonight.

The Seahawks are back on top of the league’s defensive rankings.

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Division winners should lose automatic home playoff game

Lynch Getty Images

The NFL’s current structure of four divisions per conference and four teams per division creates a neat, tidy, and symmetrical collection of franchises.  It looks great on paper.  And it makes it easier for the league to craft a scheduling formula that permits every team to play every other team every four years.  It also gives season-ticket holders a chance to see every team in the league once every eight years.  (Unless one of those interconference games gets shipped to London.)

But the structure has its flaws.  To get to the playoffs — and to host a postseason game — a team needs only to be the best of four teams.  No matter how bad any of those four teams are in any given year.

This year, four teams with bad records have congregated in the NFC South, where the Saints and Falcons stand at 4-7, the Panthers have a record of 3-7-1, and the Buccaneers sit only two games back, despite winning only two of 11 games.

The best cure to the problem would come from shifting back to three divisions per conference.  The league used that structure before the Texans joined the NFL in 2002, with five divisions having five teams each and one sporting six.  Now with 32 franchises, four divisions would have five teams, and two would have six.

Having at least five teams in a given division would make it much harder for a team to win a division with a non-winning record.  Which would result in three divisions winners plus three wild cards per conference filling out the postseason dance card.

The next best alternative would be to remove the guaranteed home game in the wild-card round for a division winner.  Give the four division champs plus the next best two teams tickets to the party, but seed them based not on division title but on overall record.

Some would say that would be an overreaction to the possibility that a five-win team will be hosting a playoff game in January.  Actually, it would be an appropriate reaction to a trend that has forced better teams to travel to face lesser teams in the postseason.

Last year, the 12-4 49ers had to play the 8-7-1 Packers in Green Bay.  The home-field advantage was exacerbated by dangerously cold conditions, but the 49ers overcame the inherently unfair requirement that a team with 50 percent more wins had to hit the road.

The prior season, a 10-6 Ravens team launched its Super Bowl run by hosting an 11-5 Colts team.  While the difference in records wasn’t as glaring, the Colts had a better season than the Ravens.  The game should have been played in Indianapolis.

After 2011, the 8-8 Broncos earned a home game against the 12-4 Steelers.  Pittsburgh headed to Denver without safety Ryan Clark, whose sickle-cell trait prevents him from playing at altitude.  If that game had been played at Heinz Field, Clark would have been available — and perhaps Tebowmania wouldn’t have fueled an unlikely overtime win.

The issue bubbled to the surface most conspicuously in 2010, when the 7-9 Seahawks hosted the 11-5 Saints.  After Seattle won, some argued that the outcome validated the structure, since Seattle proved to be the better team.  The truth is that the Seahawks rode an unearned home-field advantage to the win; if the game had been played in New Orleans, the Saints would have been far more likely to prevail.

Perhaps it will take an extreme outcome to provoke change.  If, for example, the Saints finish 5-11 or 6-10 and defeat in the Superdome, for example, an 11-5 or 12-4 Seahawks team, maybe the league will take notice — and take action.  That specific result also would represent the appropriate bookend to the game that first brought the biggest flaw of having eight four-team divisions into focus.

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Michael Bush: I didn’t get a “fair shake” in Chicago

Michael Bush AP

The Cardinals signed veteran running back Michael Bush this week, ending a spell on the unemployment line that started when Bush was released by the Bears in March.

Bush’s departure from Chicago came after two years with the team as the No. 2 behind Matt Forte, but Bush says the 2013 season isn’t one that he really counts. Bush, who ran the ball 63 times for 197 yards, feels like the Bears didn’t make enough use of him during Marc Trestman’s first year as a head coach.

“When people ask me how long I was in Chicago, I say one season because last year, where was I?” Bush said, via ESPN.com. “It has nothing to do with Forte because he played great. He’s a hell of a running back. I just think that I didn’t get a fair shake. And I’m not trying to complain or anything, but if you look at it, maybe two games I didn’t touch the field.”

Bush said he thinks that the limited usage hurt his efforts to get another job after parting ways with the Bears, although he may be underrating the impact that his mediocre first season in Chicago and being 30 had on team’s minds. Bush is fresh at a time in the season when that’s a rarity, however, and that should help him prove that the Bears and the rest of the league overlooked a player who still has something to offer.

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Browns teammates said Josh Gordon needed to “find himself”

Cleveland Browns v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

Josh Gordon said he felt alienated during his suspension, felt alone.

And some of his teammates think that’s exactly the point.

“You’re going to have that disconnect,” linebacker Karlos Dansby said, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “It’s part of it. You have to find yourself.

“It gave him an opportunity to find himself, and it made him a better person, I think. For him to come back and be so energetic and ready to be a part of this process and be a part of this team, I’m glad to have him back. I think it’s a great thing.”

Gordon told the NFL Network that he felt the cold shoulder from some teammates when he returned, like he had a disease they didn’t want to catch.
But he assimilated quickly on the field, and players said they’re obviously glad to have him back.

“We like Josh Gordon the receiver a lot better than Josh Gordon the used car salesman,” left tackle Joe Thomas said. “I don’t think he ever lost our trust. He made some poor choices, I’m sure he’ll admit to them. But throughout his suspension, with the things that he did and the way he conducted and handled himself and came back in shape, he proved that he was a new person that had grown up from the situations.”

Thomas said he’s been impressed with the way Gordon has bounced back, and the professionalism he showed during the suspension.

That matters more than whether Gordon’s feelings are hurt, since producing on the field will heal any wounds that were there.

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Seahawks need to solve offensive line issues, quickly

Wilson AP

As the Seahawks prepare to face the 49ers on Thanksgiving night, Seattle coach Pete Carroll would be thankful if he could find a way to get better performance out of an offensive line that gave up seven sacks four days ago against the Cardinals.

We had all kinds of problems,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Wednesday, via Terry Blount of ESPN.com.  “We got beat one on one, we had some scheme issues, and we held the ball too long.  To have that kind of an onslaught it took a lot of stuff.”

The good news for the Seahawks is that 40 percent of the offensive line could be different this week.  As noted by Blount, guard James Carpenter could be returning from an ankle injury.  That would send Alvin Bailey to the bench.

Also, with center Max Unger still out, the Seahawks may bench Patrick Lewis for Lemuel Jeanpierre, who had been released in August but who returned after Unger’s injury.

The bad news for the Seahawks is that the 49ers have linebacker Aldon Smith, who produced a pair of sacks on Sunday in his second game back from a nine-game suspension.  Smith now has 44 sacks in 45 career regular-season games.

The Seattle offensive line gets its next test on a national stage, in the annual prime-time Thanksgiving game.  Fail, and they may fall to 7-5 — which could cause the Seahawks to stumble out of the playoffs.

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Arian Foster looks “pretty good” in practice

Arian Foster, Troy Polamalu AP

Texans running back Arian Foster has missed the last two games while dealing with a groin injury, which has dropped him down the list of league leaders in rushing yards.

Foster’s descent on the leader board could be coming to an end. The running back practiced on Wednesday and coach Bill O’Brien liked what he saw from Foster during the workout.

“He looked pretty good,” O’Brien said, via John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

McClain reports that Foster will start against Tennessee this week unless he has a setback, something you can’t rule out after Foster practiced early last week and then wound up back on the sideline. If he can play, he may shoot right back up the stat sheet. Foster had 151 rushing yards and scored three touchdowns in Houston’s earlier victory over the Titans.

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Justin Forsett’s ready to settle down in Baltimore

Justin Forsett AP

Justin Forsett has played for five teams in six years, but he’s ready to settle down.

And he might have finally found a spot where they want him to.

Forsett’s found a home in Baltimore, and said he hopes to sign a longer-term deal this offseason.

“Definitely, this is a great place, a great organization,” Forsett told Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun. “It’s hard not to want to be here. Definitely, I’m sure after the season sometime they’ll probably get something done.

“I would love to sign here. I’ve been waiting my whole career to find a home somewhere to not have to move every offseason. So, that would be nice.”

Forsett emerged from the early season chaos regarding Ray Rice, and took over as the lead back. He has a career high 903 yards and seven touchdowns, and has helped the Ravens to rank sixth in the league in rushing offense.

“I think this time of year you have to be able to run the football,” Forsett said. “You want to be able to control the clock. We have a dominant front with the offensive line that we have, and we’re able to wear guys out. When it comes to the fourth quarter in the back end of the season, it’s difficult to stay with us.”

Time will tell if he stays with the Ravens past this season. After all, he’s 29, and has done stints with the Seahawks, Colts, Texans, Jaguars before landing in Baltimore this offseason.

But the fact he’s as old as he is may make them think twice about making a long-term commitment.

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Muhammad Wilkerson likely to miss Week 13

New York Jets v Buffalo Bills Getty Images

For much of this season, defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson has been the rare member of the Jets roster that isn’t an answer to the question of what’s wrong with the Jets this season.

A toe injury suffered last Monday night against the Bills looks like it will change that. Wilkerson has gone for further evaluations and an MRI this week and it doesn’t sound like he’ll be in the lineup when the Jets face the Dolphins next Monday. Wilkerson is in a walking boot and coach Rex Ryan indicated the team’s planning not to have him.

“It doesn’t look good for Big Mo,” Ryan said, via ESPN.com. “If you’re in a boot, that doesn’t look good for this week. But, hopefully, we’ll get him back as soon as we can.”

Defensive end Sheldon Richardson is also banged up and left the loss to the Bills with a back injury. He missed practice on Wednesday and losing both Wilkerson and Richardson would offer the Dolphins a big advantage in a game Miami can’t afford to lose if they’re going to make the playoffs, but Ryan said he expects Richardson to be in the lineup.

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Week 13 skill-position injury report — Wednesday

Marshawn Lynch AP

Here are the skill-position players listed on the injury report as of Wednesday. Key fantasy starters are bolded.

Finally, a friendly reminder three games will be played Thursday: Bears-Lions (12:30 p.m. ET), Eagles-Cowboys (4:30 p.m. ET) and Seahawks-49ers (8:30 p.m. ET, NBC).

DID NOT PRACTICE

Bears WR Chris Williams (hamstring). — OUT

Bengals WR Mohamed Sanu (not injury related).

Bills TE Chris Gragg (knee).

Bills TE Lee Smith (illness).

Broncos RB Montee Ball (groin).

Broncos RB Ronnie Hillman (foot).

Broncos TE Julius Thomas (ankle).

Browns WR Marlon Moore (hamstring).

Buccaneers TE Brandon Myers (calf).

Buccaneers TE Luke Stocker (concussion).

Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald (knee).

Chiefs TE Anthony Fasano (knee).

Chiefs WR Junior Hemingway (concussion).

Colts TE Dwayne Allen (ankle).

Colts WR Reggie Wayne (not injury related).

Eagles QB Nick Foles (collarbone). — OUT

Falcons WR Harry Douglas (foot).

Falcons WR Roddy White (ankle).

49ers TE Derek Carrier (foot). — OUT

Jaguars WR Cecil Shorts (illness).

Panthers WR Corey Brown (illness).

Rams WR Kenny Britt (back).

Saints RB Khiry Robinson (forearm).

Seahawks TE Cooper Helfet (ankle). — OUT

Steelers TE Heath Miller (not injury related).

Steelers WR Martavis Bryant (illness).

Texans WR Andre Johnson (not injury related).

Vikings RB Jerick McKinnon (back).

Vikings TE Chase Ford (hamstring, foot).

Vikings WR Cordarrelle Patterson (knee).

LIMITED

Bears WR Brandon Marshall (ankle). — PROBABLE

Bills K Dan Carpenter (right groin).

Bills WR Robert Woods (ankle).

Browns TE Jordan Cameron (concussion).

Buccaneers RB Charles Sims (ankle).

Buccaneers TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (back).

Cardinals RB Andre Ellington (hip/foot).

Cardinals WR John Brown (teeth).

49ers TE Vance McDonald (back). — QUESTIONABLE

49ers WR Bruce Ellington (ankle). — QUESTIONABLE

Lions RB Reggie Bush (ankle, back). — QUESTIONABLE

Packers TE Brandon Bostick (hip).

Patriots RB Shane Vereen (ankle).

Patriots WR Brandon LaFell (shoulder).

Raiders RB Latavius Murray (concussion).

Rams TE Cory Harkey (thigh).

Rams TE Jared Cook (back).

Ravens WR Michael Campanaro (thigh).

Texans RB Arian Foster (groin).

Titans RB Dexter McCluster (concussion).

Titans RB Leon Washington (hamstring).

Vikings RB Matt Asiata (concussion).

Washington RB Silas Redd (rib).

Washington TE Jordan Reed (hamstring).

FULL

Broncos RB Juwan Thompson (knee).

Broncos TE Virgil Green (calf).

Cardinals QB Drew Stanton (ankle).

Chargers RB Ryan Mathews (shoulder).

Chargers WR Eddie Royal (toe).

Chiefs WR Donnie Avery (groin).

Cowboys QB Tony Romo (back). — PROBABLE

Cowboys WR Terrance Williams (finger). — PROBABLE

Eagles K Cody Parkey (right groin). — PROBABLE

Eagles WR Jordan Matthews (knee). — PROBABLE

Eagles TE Zach Ertz (oblique). — PROBABLE

49ers RB Bruce Miller (shoulder). — PROBABLE

49ers RB Frank Gore (knee). — PROBABLE

49ers WR Brandon Lloyd (quadricep). — PROBABLE

Giants WR Odell Beckham (back).

Jaguars QB Blake Bortles (left wrist).

Lions WR Calvin Johnson (ankle). — PROBABLE

Panthers RB Mike Tolbert (knee).

Patriots QB Tom Brady (ankle).

Patriots WR Julian Edelman (thigh).

Raiders TE Brian Leonhardt (concussion).

Saints RB Mark Ingram (shoulder).

Saints RB Pierre Thomas (ribs, shoulder).

Saints RB Travaris Cadet (hamstring).

Saints WR Robert Meachem (ankle).

Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch (back). — PROBABLE

Seahawks WR Jermaine Kearse (ankle). — PROBABLE

Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph (abdomen, groin).

Vikings WR Greg Jennings (rib).

Vikings WR Jarius Wright (hamstring).

Note: All injury information is cited from the NFL and clubs.

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Bucs stadium caught selling non-alcoholic alcohol

Tequila Getty Images

On the football field, the 2-9 Buccaneers currently are as strong as a stiff drink.  Especially when the drink is mixed with some of the alcohol sold at the team’s stadium.

According to WFLA, at least one customer purchased on November 9 a shot of tequila that ended up being colored water.

Aramark, the concessions vendor at Raymond James Stadium, contends that the liquid accidentally had been poured from a bottle that was intended to be decorative.

Troy Sykes captured cell-phone video of his experience, with the bar manager explaining that the decorative bottles were filled with water.  Aramark has said it will stop that practice going forward.  Sykes quickly got a refund; it sounds like what he really wanted was his drink.

“To see the Bucs play, you have to have a lot of alcohol in your system,” Sykes said.

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Charles Woodson has no intention to retire after this season

Charles Woodson Getty Images

Fresh off an AFC defensive player of the week award, Oakland Raiders safety Charles Woodson doesn’t see any reason to hang up his cleats anytime soon.

No question,” Woodson said when asked about playing in 2015, per the Associated Press.

“I’m not thinking about going into the 40s but I don’t know. I’ll continue to say it: I feel great. Why that is, I have no clue. I’ll play this season out and we’ll see what happens after that.”

The 17-year veteran defensive back only signed a one-year deal to return to the Raiders this past offseason. He became the first player in NFL history to record 50 interceptions and 20 sacks in a career with a sack of Alex Smith last Thursday night.

Woodson did say he may reconsider he intention to play next year, or longer, based on how his body feels at the end of the year.

But for now, Woodson expects to be roaming the defensive backfield again next season with a preference to stay with the Raiders.

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Chris Long appears likely to return for Rams this week

Chris Long Getty Images

Defensive end Chris Long appeared in only the season opener against the Minnesota Vikings before having ankle surgery and landing on the injured reserve-designated to return list for the St. Louis Rams.

But Long appears set to return to the lineup for the Rams this Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.

He’s coming on,” head coach Jeff Fisher said, via R.B. Fallstrom of the Associated Press. “We’ve missed him, we’ve missed his production.”

Long has been able to practice the last three weeks with St. Louis with a Monday deadline to activate him from the injured reserve list.

Long has tried to lobby himself back into the lineup last week against San Diego with the Rams ultimately electing to hold him out another week. The 10 games Long has missed are the first of his seven-year career with the Rams.

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