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Bernard Pollard strikes again, Ravens up 28-13

AFC Championship - Baltimore Ravens v New England Patriots Getty Images

Ravens safety Bernard Pollard has caused a lot of pain to members of the Patriots over the years and he doled out another big hit in the fourth quarter on Sunday.

Pollard laid out Patriots running back Stevan Ridley, who appeared to be out on his feet before fumbling the ball on his way to the turf. Ridley returned to the locker room, likely to be evaluated for a concussion that would put him alongside Tom Brady, Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski on the list of Patriots knocked out of games by Pollard.

It looked like Ridley might have been down before the ball came out, but referee Bill Leavy ruled otherwise after the replay and the Ravens took possession of the ball just a few plays after an Anquan Boldin touchdown put them up 21-13.

And it led to another Boldin touchdown just a few plays later. It’s the third touchdown pass of the game for Joe Flacco, who has completed 11 of his last 12 passes, and the Ravens have scored 21 straight points to grab a 28-13 lead with just over 11 minutes to play.

UPDATE 9:16 p.m. ET: The Patriots have announced that Ridley won’t return to the game.

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Tony Romo says his back is no worse than anyone else’s injury

Tony Romo AP

Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is downplaying any effects of the back injury that forced him to miss a game this season.

Romo noted that no NFL player is feeling 100 percent healthy by late November, and he doesn’t think he’s dealing with anything worse than any other player.

“You don’t really think about it,’’ Romo said, via the Dallas Morning News. “You just go and play. I mean, everyone has something wrong with them during the football season. We say it all the time. Once you step on the field no one cares what you have. You’ve got to go produce. Our job is to play well regardless of what’s going on around you. That’s our job as players.’’

Romo said he’s feeling good on a short week and eager to get on the field against the Eagles on Thanksgiving.

“We’re playing against a really good football team who is going to bring great energy,” Romo said. “We understand how important this game is for both teams and I think it’ll be fun to just to see them try and attack us and come after you and be an aggressive team. That will be an enjoyable game to go against.’’

Not many people with a bad back would consider getting hit by 300-pound defensive linemen “enjoyable,” but Romo is feeling good about this season, no matter how his back feels.

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League has no comment on Richard Sherman’s press conference skit

Sherman AP

I’m still not quite sure what to make of Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman’s Tuesday stunt at his weekly press availability, which included a life-size cutout of receiver Doug Baldwin coupled with the real thing lurking under the podium to chime in from time to time.

The league apparently doesn’t know what to make of it either; the NFL has no comment on Sherman’s antics.  However, despite Sherman’s gratuitous reference to the headphone company that sponsors him personally but not the NFL, don’t look for Sherman to be fined.

Fine or no fine, Sherman’s remarks lumbered clumsily through issues of hypocrisy and greed that entail far more nuance that he gave them. Perhaps more importantly, the attempted Abbott-and-Cardboard-Costello routine wasn’t funny.

The players benefit financially from the league’s deals with headphone manufacturers and beer companies. They also benefit financially from short-week football, a topic that Sherman awkwardly wedged into what was supposed to be a satirical commentary on the NFL’s media policy. Most importantly, the players get paid significant amounts of money in part because a strong relationship with the media — which serves as a conduit to the fans — has helped the NFL become the behemoth that it is.

For more on that, consider this recent item from Ed Sherman, to which NFL spokesman Greg Aiello tweeted a link on Tuesday night as a “bit of history on NFL media relations.”

Sherman became Seattle’s NFLPA representative earlier this year.  If he has genuine issues with the media policy, the NFL’s sponsorship portfolio, and/or Thursday night football, Sherman now has a far more direct and meaningful way to agitate for change.  If he simply prefers to give short-shrift to these issues while advancing a “look at me, I sometimes say provocative stuff” agenda, then mission accomplished, I suppose.

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PFT Live: Jets talk with Manish Mehta, Week 13 picks

New York Jets v Buffalo Bills Getty Images

The Jets have decided to go back to quarterback Geno Smith after Monday night’s 38-3 thrashing at the hands of the Bills in a move that some have reported is the opposite of what head coach Rex Ryan wanted to do at the position.

One of those reports came from Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News and he’ll join Mike Florio on Wednesday’s edition of PFT Live to discuss the latest episode in the never-ending soap opera that is the Jets. They’ll discuss the reasons for going back to Smith, the machinations that went on in coming to that decision and what it all means for the futures of Ryan, General Manager John Idzik and Smith with the franchise.

We usually do the weekly picks on Thursday, but Thanksgiving is a day for stuffing turkeys and watching football so Florio and MDS will discuss this week’s slate of games during Wednesday’s program.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can watch it all live by clicking right here.

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Chris Cooley’s breakdown of RG3’s tape shows bigger issues

chris-cooley AP

While the benching of Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III is news this week, it’s clear that we should have all seen it coming.

If you need any further evidence, take a look back at the scathing critique of RG3 by former tight end Chris Cooley last week.

During his radio show on the Dan Snyder-owned ESPN 980, Cooley (who has also been an outspoken advocate on nickname issues on behalf of the team) spent 24 minutes breaking down the Xs and Os after studying the film of their loss to the Buccaneers.

And the way he picked apart Griffin made it clear that there were problems, problems which were acted upon by coach Jay Gruden.

Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post transcribed the bulk of it, and offers visual evidence to confirm the particulars, but it’s clear the pressure for yesterday’s move was mounting.

“I can’t grade the pass game. Our quarterback does not allow a proper grading of the pass game, because there was something I’ve never seen go on on a football field before,” Cooley said. “There was a game plan initially installed, which was not run or operated in any way shape or form the way it should have been. There was a quarterback not reading the field when he should have been, there was a quarterback scrambling when he [shouldn’t have been]….

“You can’t grade anyone else around Robert because of the way Robert played.”

Cooley went chapter-and-verse through the problems Griffin had, and it was a football criticism more than the more parenthetical media/social media/personality issues that have been at play. At the end of the monologue, Cooley made it clear what other team employees were thinking as well.

“My ultimate evaluation is: he is gun-shy in the pocket,” Cooley said. “He is so so concerned about anyone putting a hand on him in the pocket, . . . he doesn’t feel what’s going on around him, he doesn’t see what’s going on down the field. He’s not capable of moving and scrambling to make a good throw, he’s inaccurate when he’s on the move, and he’s really inefficient.

“And as a player, if I were on that team — and I will promise you, all the players would feel this way, because I would feel this way, and you’re wrong to not feel this way — he will not allow you to get better as a player, the way he played in this one week.”

Again, this was a week ago, and from a guy who is personally invested in the team. And it sounds like Gruden came to the same conclusion this week, and made the ultimate change.

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Anthony Dixon named AFC special teamer of the week

Anthony Dixon AP

The Bills ransacked the Jets 38-3 in Detroit on Monday night by dominating them on offense, defense and on special teams.

Their biggest play on special teams came when a blocked punt extended a 17-3 lead in the third quarter and turned the game into a laugher. Linebacker Manny Lawson fell on the ball in the end zone, but it was running back Anthony Dixon that came up with the block and came home with some recognition from the league.

Dixon was named the AFC special teams player of the week thanks to his block of Ryan Quigley’s punt. It’s the second punt he’s blocked this season and the first time he’s won weekly honors, although it is the third time that a Bills special teamer has received recognition this season. Kicker Dan Carpenter won in Week One and running back C.J. Spiller took it home in Week Two for his work as a kickoff returner.

In addition to his punt block, Dixon also capped the Bills’ scoring for the night with a 30-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

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Josh Huff named NFC special teams player of the week

Tennessee Titans v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

A flash of brilliance to begin Sunday’s win vs. Tennessee has garnered Eagles rookie returner Josh Huff the NFC’s weekly special teams honor.

The NFL has named Huff the conference’s special teams player of the week, the league announced Wednesday morning. Huff’s 107-yard kickoff return score on the game’s first play gave the Eagles a lead they would not relinquish in a 43-24 victory over the Titans.

The touchdown — Huff’s first as a professional — was a reminder of the Eagles’ exceptional skill and diligence on special teams. It also highlighted the playmaking ability of Huff, a third-round pick from Oregon.

Huff received the opening kickoff seven yards deep in the endzone. He encountered traffic around his own 15, but his teammates opened a lane, with tight ends Zach Ertz and James Casey, wide receiver Brad Smith and safety Nate Allen getting good blocks. This gave Huff the instant he needed to spy the crease and dart through into the clear nearest the Philadelphia sideline. Another tight end, Trey Burton, would get another key block a little downfield.

By the time Huff reached his 30, Titans kicker Ryan Succop was the closest pursuer. Succop took a decent angle, but the 5-11, 206-pound Huff was too quick. The rookie got the edge, and he delivered a little stiff-arm to boot.

Now, Huff was well on his way to setting up the Eagles in Titans territory. But could he finish the deal? It all rode on whether he could fend off speedy, long-striding Titans cornerback Brandon Ghee, who had an angle and was making up ground.

But here, Huff showed some moves that would make a defensive lineman proud. He braced for contact with Ghee around the Tennessee 30, then struck Ghee was his left hand to create some space. Then, Huff delivered the decisive blow, hitting and pushing Ghee about the facemask around the 20. This sent Ghee off-balance, and he tumbled to the ground at around the 15.

From there, Huff was off to the endzone, and the Eagles were off and running against the Titans, the result of some splendid team execution and tantalizing individual talent. Vision, patience, quickness, speed, power, leverage — Huff emptied out the bag to leave the Titans in the dust.

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Belichick on Brady/Rodgers similarities: They both wear No. 12

Detroit Lions v New England Patriots Getty Images

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers correctly pointed out on Tuesday that Sunday’s game against the Patriots is not about a matchup between him and Tom Brady because they won’t be on the field at the same time barring some really strange coaching decisions.

That doesn’t mean that people are going to stop focusing on the two quarterbacks ahead of their first meeting, however. It also doesn’t mean that anyone involved with the game has to play along any more than Rodgers did. Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked about similarities between Brady and Rodgers at his Wednesday press conference and the one he found came without the deep analysis his questioner may have been looking for.

“They both wear No. 12,” Belichick said in comments distributed by the team.

Belichick said that he didn’t think there was much benefit or disadvantage to Rodgers never having faced one of his defenses — “Whatever hasn’t happened hasn’t happened” was his take — but he made it clear that he thinks highly of the Packers quarterback when asked what makes him different than others that Belichick has faced.

“It’s just, he’s great,” Belichick said. “He’s quick, he’s big, he throws the ball very accurately, has great vision down the field. He finds guys that there’s not a lot of space, but he finds them and he hits them. He’s really good. I’m not taking anything away from anybody else, but this guy is a really good player.”

And Sunday has all the makings of a really good game thanks in large part to the guys wearing No. 12.

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Justin Forsett is AFC offensive player of the week for second time in November

Justin Forsett AP

It’s been a good month for Ravens running back Justin Forsett.

In Week 10, Forsett ran for 112 yards and two touchdowns in Baltimore’s victory over the Titans and was named the AFC offensive player of the week in recognition of his exploits. Forsett couldn’t win the award in Week 11 because the Ravens were on a bye, but he did the next best thing.

Forsett ran for a career-high 182 yards on 22 carries while scoring twice more in Baltimore’s 34-27 victory against the Saints in New Orleans on Monday night. His second touchdown came in the fourth quarter to extend the Ravens lead to 14 points, an edge they’d need after Jimmy Graham caught a touchdown pass later in the proceedings.

That effort left Forsett with 903 yards and seven touchdowns on 155 carries this season, which is easily the best production of his professional career and a big reason why the Ravens have a 7-4 record at this point in the season.

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Charles Woodson named AFC defensive player of the week

Charles Woodson, Sio Moore AP

The Raiders finally won a game, so it’s only right to let them extend the party.

Veteran safety Charles Woodson was named AFC defensive player of the week, for his role in last week’s win over the Chiefs, which snapped a year-long losing streak.

The 17th-year safety had nine tackles (three for a loss), a sack and broke up a pass in the Raiders’ 24-20 win over the Chiefs.

The sack also put him in an exclusive club, as he became the first player with 50 interceptions and 20 sacks.

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Kam Chancellor named NFC defensive player of the week

Seattle Seahawks v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor said this week that he hasn’t enjoyed taking a look at his film from earlier in the season because of the way he played while trying to battle through ankle, groin and hip injuries.

Chancellor missed a couple of games, but has been in the lineup for Seattle the last two weeks and he’s putting better work on film. His work last Sunday in Seattle’s 19-3 win over the Cardinals was good enough that the NFL named him the NFC defensive player of the week.

Chancellor didn’t put up any gaudy numbers in the game, but he had eight tackles while the Seahawks were holding the Cardinals to just 204 yards over the course of an afternoon that left the Seahawks feeling like they had their swagger back.

Whatever Chancellor’s issues are with his work earlier this season, it’s not like he’s always been off his game. He was also the NFC defensive player of the week for the third week of the season.

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Eddie Lacy wins NFC offensive player of week

Anthony Barr, Eddie Lacy AP

Hopefully by Thursday, Eddie Lacy’s stomach has settled down.

He deserves to be able to enjoy a piece of pie after the way he carried the Packers last week.

The second-year running back was named NFC offensive player of the week, for his gutsy performance against the Vikings last week.

Lacy had 25 carries for 125 yards and two touchdowns, as the Packers used him to pound out a win over the Vikings. He carried the ball 10 times over their final two drives in the fourth quarter, as they used him as a battering ram. Of his 138 yards from scrimmage, 65 came in the fourth quarter.

And he did it all with what coach Mike McCarthy called a “GI illness,” which kept him from talking to reporters afterward.

The balance he’s bringing the Packers Offense is going to make them dangerous as the season progresses, and the weather makes it harder for Aaron Rodgers to do it all by himself.

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Report: Devon Still hasn’t paid child support since July

Still AP

The heartwarming story of Devon and Leah Still comes with an icy footnote.  Potentially.  Allegedly.

Via the New York Daily News, the mother of Leah Still has accused Devon Still of failing to pay child support for Leah since August 2014.  Leah Still has been battling cancer, and the efforts of the Bengals to keep Devon Still on the team (he had a job on the practice squad before injuries landed him on the roster) and to raise money for cancer research by selling Still’s jersey have generated headlines all season.

“I don’t consider him a deadbeat dad,” Channing Smythe told the Daily News.  “I know he loves and cares for his daughter and he is there for her.  I just need him to help me financially.”

But the actions speak a lot more aggressively than Smythe’s words.  Her lawyer, Gloria Allred, has sent a letter to the NFL requesting an investigation regarding whether Still’s actions constitute a violation of the league’s personal conduct policy.

“I don’t think it is fair that Devon Still, who is Leah’s father, has refused to pay any child support for her for the months of August, September, October and November of this year,” Smythe said in a document that was sent with the letter to the league office.

Of course, triggering discipline of Still and/or making a public spectacle of the situation won’t be the best way to ensure that Still will continue to earn an NFL player’s salary.  But if he’s not paying and if the efforts to handle the situation privately haven’t worked, there’s only one way to enforce the support obligation.

Neither the Bengals nor Still have commented.  If it’s a misunderstanding, a legitimate dispute over the amount of support owed, or an unwarranted money grab, it should be easy to clear things up.  And if it’s a matter of Still simply failing or refusing to pay, he should be accountable.

If Still is failing to abide by the clear terms of court-ordered child support, a court eventually will enforce that order by sending Still to a cell.

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Doug Martin says he’s the same player he was in 2012

Doug Martin AP

When Buccaneers running back Doug Martin was a rookie in 2012, he ran 319 times for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns while also catching 49 passes and playing in all 16 games.

It’s been all downhill from there. Martin has played in just 12 games since that year and he’s seen his average gain on running plays drop to 3.3 yards. That’s led the Bucs to go with a committee-oriented approach to the running game while some outside the organization question whether Martin can be a successful feature back again.

Martin doesn’t share those doubts and says he doesn’t listen to the criticism because he believes he’s still the same player that he was in 2012.

“I don’t say anything,” Martin said, via “That’s something you’ve got to ignore. That’s just outside noise. You’ve just got to ignore that and keep playing the game and having confidence in my game. It’s just something that you’ve got to brush off.”

Injuries have kept Martin off the field far too often and he’s also been running behind a subpar offensive line, a combination that certainly hasn’t helped him remain at a high level. Proving the critics wrong is going to take finding the right formula to succeed in spite of those obstacles, though, and Martin’s going to need to do that soon if he wants to be more than just another guy in Tampa or elsewhere.

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Jaguars coach on Blake Bortles: “He’s young, but we expect more”

Jacksonville Jaguars v Indianapolis Colts Getty Images

Franchise quarterback teases with potential, then makes so many mistakes he’s part of the problem, so coach decides to call him out.

No, we’re not in Washington anymore.

In Jacksonville, the potential of rookie quarterback Blake Bortles has been overshadowed by his turnover prowess, and coach Gus Bradley was willing this week to point that out.

“He can play better,” Bradley said, via Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union. “At times, he holds the ball a little too long. . . . His decision-making isn’t as quick as we need it to be. . . .

He’s young, but we expect more.”

Pointing out such flaws was a sign that Washington coach Jay Gruden was done with Robert Griffin III, but Bradley and Bortles are in a much different stage of their relationship.

The Jaguars didn’t want to play their first-round pick much at all this year, until Chad Henne forced their hand. Since then, injuries have robbed Bortles of his top receiving targets, and the rookie struggles they hoped to avoid have become manifest.

That’s why Bradley was willing to point out the flaws, and use it as an opportunity to say what he’s doing well.

“He appears to be strong and very confident,” Bradley said. “I think he wants to give more and wants to produce more. . . . We’ve seen progress in his decision-making; he’s throwing fewer interceptions.

“We don’t want to take away his freedom to make plays.”

Bortles has cut down on the interceptions (10 in his first five starts, just five in his last four), but the offense hasn’t been what you’d call dynamic lately.

Unlike in other precincts, however, Bortles is going to get time, and chances to fix things.

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PFT’s Week 13 picks

Peyton AP

As Thanksgiving approaches, I’m quite thankful for my three-game lead through 12 weeks of action.

The three-game lead survived Week 12, because we split the four games on which we disagreed last weekend (I was right on Bengals and Browns, MDS nailed it with the Bears and Seahawks).

This week, with all 32 teams playing for the first time since Week Three, we disagree on only one game.  For all picks for Week 13, scroll down.

For the week, we were both 11-4.  For the year, I’m at 116-60 (65.9 percent).  MDS stands at 113-63 (64.2 percent).

Bears at Lions

MDS’s take: The Lions have gone from first place to on the verge of collapse, just as they did around this time last year. But the difference is that the Lions’ two-game losing streak has gone against two of the best teams in the league. Against the Bears at home, the Lions should be able to get back to their winning ways.

MDS’s pick: Lions 14, Bears 10.

Florio’s take:  The Lions can’t afford to stumble again, at a time when they can’t find the end zone.  Fortunately, they’ll be facing an opponent far less potent than the Cardinals and Patriots.

Florio’s pick:  Lions 31, Bears 20.

Eagles at Cowboys

MDS’s take: First place in the NFC East is up for grabs, and I’m leaning toward the Cowboys mostly because I don’t trust Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez. Although Sanchez is putting up plenty of yardage in Chip Kelly’s offense — three straight 300-yard games — I expect him to throw a couple of interceptions and the Cowboys to capitalize on his mistakes.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 24, Eagles 21.

Florio’s take:  The Eagles won’t be capable of keeping pace with a Cowboys Offense that will present a pick-your-poison dilemma for Philly’s defense.  The Dallas offense continues to fire on all cylinders, and it’ll be enough to secure the first of two games between these teams in only 17 days.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 34, Eagles 27.

Seahawks at 49ers

MDS’s take: The way the NFC playoff race is shaping up, it’s very unlikely that both of these teams can make the playoffs. The loser of this game will be on the outside looking in, without much time left to make up ground. The Seahawks made a statement last week against the Cardinals, and I think they’ll make another one on Thanksgiving.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 20, 49ers 13.

Florio’s take:   The Seahawks held serve at home against the Cardinals to keep Seattle’s playoff hopes alive.  The Seahawks now have a chance to break serve in Santa Clara — and in turn to deliver a potential death blow to the 49ers’ playoff chances.

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 20, 49ers 17.

Washington at Colts

MDS’s take: Remember when there was actually a debate about who was better, Robert Griffin III or Andrew Luck?  That feels so long ago. Luck’s team will whip Griffin’s team on Sunday, while Griffin stands on the sideline watching.

MDS’s pick: Colts 31, Washington 10.

Florio’s take:  In April 2012, this would have been one of the most anticipated games for the entire 2014 regular season, pitting the first and second overall picks n the draft against each other.  The game now has far less cachet, with Andrew Luck clearly the better quarterback and Robert Griffin III taking a seat on the bench.  Again.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 34, Washington 20.

Titans at Texans

MDS’s take: The loss of Ryan Mallett is bad news for the Texans in the long term because it prevents them from knowing whether he’s the type of quarterback who could be the face of their franchise. But for this week, Ryan Fitzpatrick is just as capable of helping Houston beat a bad Tennessee team.

MDS’s pick: Texans 31, Titans 17.

Florio’s take:  Ryan Fitzpatrick gets another crack at a team that gave up on him, playing quarterback for another team that gave up on him.  The latest team that gave up on him is better than the prior team that gave up on him.

Florio’s pick:  Texans 27, Titans 13.

Browns at Bills

MDS’s take: The Bills have gone through a long, rough week, and they emerged looking great in a big win over the Jets. I think they’ll keep it going against the Browns.

MDS’s pick: Bills 23, Browns 20.

Florio’s take:  The Bills return home after a detour to Detroit, and the Browns roll in with a chance to move to 8-4.  Perhaps the toughest game to call given what Buffalo did to the Jets on Monday night and in light of the fact that the Browns are the better team, the Bills have an extra level of motivation in this one, given the snowstorm that turned the region on its head last week.

Florio’s pick:  Bills 24, Browns 20.

Chargers at Ravens

MDS’s take: I think we can officially write off the loser of this one. The AFC playoff pool is just too deep for the loser to remain in contention. I like the Ravens’ chances in a must-win game at home.

MDS’s pick: Ravens 28, Chargers 17.

Florio’s take:  Baltimore has started to make a push to the postseason with a win at New Orleans; the Chargers have won a pair of home games that they easily could have lost.  Baltimore seems to have the better talent on both sides of the ball to get to eight wins before San Diego.

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 27, Chargers 20.

Giants at Jaguars

MDS’s take: The Giants’ season is a mess, but they’re still better than the Jaguars. This looks like it’s going to be a lousy, low-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Giants 15, Jaguars 7.

Florio’s take:  Tom Coughlin heads back to Jacksonville.  Some may want him to stay, if the Giants decide they want him to go.  On the field, always take a Manning against a Bortles.

Florio’s pick:  Giants 24, Jaguars 17.

Bengals at Buccaneers

MDS’s take: The Bucs have played competitive football at times, but on balance they’re a pretty terrible team. The Bengals remain the leaders in the AFC North, and they won’t lose their lead in Tampa Bay.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 27, Buccaneers 7.

Florio’s take:  Another game not on national TV, another appearance from the Dr. Jekyll version of Andy Dalton.  The good news for the Bucs is that they’ll likely still be only two games out of first place after this one ends.

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 27, Buccaneers 17.

Raiders at Rams

MDS’s take: I’m impressed with the way the Rams are playing, even though they have no chance of getting to the playoffs in the tough NFC West. Put the Rams in the NFC South, and they’re in the playoffs. Those are the breaks. At least they’ll whip the Raiders in the battle of former Los Angeles teams.

MDS’s pick: Rams 28, Raiders 14.

Florio’s take:  The Raiders have their one win for the season.  The Rams have fewer than they should.  To make this one more interesting, the winner should get dibs on L.A.

Florio’s pick:  Rams 27, Raiders 14.

Saints at Steelers

MDS’s take: I have a simple philosophy: I’m not picking the Saints outside, in a cold-weather city, against anybody. The Steelers will take this one and remain in the AFC North race, while the Saints will lose and remain in the NFC South race because the NFC South is terrible.

MDS’s pick: Steelers 27, Saints 17.

Florio’s take:  The Saints have lost three games in a row at home.  So it would be fitting for them to win one in Pittsburgh.  But the Steelers are rested and ready and aware of the importance of getting an eighth win in a division of seven-win teams.

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 24, Saints 20.

Panthers at Vikings

MDS’s take: I liked the way the Vikings’ defense played against the Packers last week, and if Teddy Bridgewater can just avoid making too many mistakes, Minnesota can win this one. Against a better defense I wouldn’t have a lot of faith in Bridgewater, but against the Panthers’ defense, the Vikings can win a low-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Vikings 16, Panthers 10.

Florio’s take:  The Vikings win the games they should and lose the games they should.  They should beat the Panthers, swarming Cam Newton with a potent pass rush and methodically gaining yards with a running game and passing game that are good enough to move the ball against a struggling franchise.  Yes, the Panthers are still pushing for a playoff berth.  The Vikings, however, are trying to lay the foundation for long-term success.  Winning winnable games is part of the culture change over which Mike Zimmer is presiding.

Florio’s pick:  Vikings 20, Panthers 16.

Cardinals at Falcons

MDS’s take: The Cardinals aren’t as good a team with Drew Stanton as they were with Carson Palmer, but they’re still a whole lot better than the Falcons. Bruce Arians will have his guys ready to bounce back from last week’s loss in Seattle.

MDS’s pick: Cardinals 24, Falcons 10.

Florio’s take:  Have two division leaders in late November ever had a gap this big in overall quality?  The gap will be obvious, with or without poor clock management.

Florio’s pick:   Cardinals 23, Falcons 13.

Patriots at Packers

MDS’s take: It’s the best game of the day and one of the best games of the season. The Packers have played excellent football at home, but the Patriots are the best team in the NFL and will show it in Green Bay.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 31, Packers 28.

Florio’s take:  I’ve gone back and forth on this one, and I finally need to pick a horse.  Given the ability of Patriots coach Bill Belichick to construct a game plan perfectly suited to each and every game, look for the Pats to grind the clock, keep Aaron Rodgers on the sidelines, actually cover Jordy Nelson, and ultimately prevail on the only stat that matters — points scored vs. points allowed.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 27, Packers 24.

Broncos at Chiefs

MDS’s take: If Denver takes this one, the AFC West race is all but over. Although the Broncos have been inconsistent of late, they haven’t had a loss as bad as the Chiefs losing in Oakland last week. I like the Broncos to complete the season sweep of the Chiefs and take control of the division.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 34, Chiefs 20.

Florio’s take:  The Broncos have looked vulnerable in recent weeks, and Chiefs continue to be one of the toughest teams to beat at home.  Eric Berry’s absence hurts them from a football standpoint, but it will further galvanize a franchise that has overcome plenty of adversity in recent years.

Florio’s pick:   Chiefs 27, Broncos 24.

Dolphins at Jets

MDS’s take: Losing to the Broncos on Sunday may have knocked the Dolphins out of realistic playoff contention, but they’re still a much better team than the Jets. Miami takes this one easily.

MDS’s pick: Dolphins 34, Jets 17.

Florio’s take:  The Jets were a “zillion ways” better after the bye, and it wasn’t nearly enough to hand with the Bills.  The Dolphins are better than the Bills.  Not even Jumbo Elliott could make a difference in this one.

Florio’s pick:  Dolphins 27, Jets 13.

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