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Ravens, 49ers win to set up Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh Super Bowl

Baltimore Ravens head coach Harbaugh argues that New England Patriots' Brady kicked his player as he slid to the turf on a first half run during the NFL AFC Championship football game in Foxborough Reuters

Jack Harbaugh played one year of professional football, with the AFL’s New York Titans in 1961. He began a long career as a high school and college coach in 1964. But Jack Harbaugh’s lasting impact on the game of football will be the fact that he had two sons in the two years between ending his playing career and beginning his coaching career.

On Super Bowl Sunday, John Harbaugh (born in 1962) will coach his Ravens against Jim Harbaugh (born in 1963) and the 49ers. Jack Harbaugh surely had high hopes for his two sons half a century ago, but even the proudest of fathers probably couldn’t have had such high hopes for what his two sons could accomplish in the family business.

Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh will be the dominant storyline in the two-week run-up to the Super Bowl. It will be the storyline you’re sick of hearing about long before kickoff. But it’s also a storyline we all should appreciate: This really is something special, to see two brothers coaching against each other on the biggest stage in American sports.

When the Ravens met the 49ers on Thanksgiving in 2011, it marked the first time two head-coach brothers faced each other in the NFL. John Harbaugh said at the time, “I think it’s an amazing thing. It’s an historic thing. It’s very special.”

To meet in the Super Bowl will be even more special. Perhaps most of all to Jack Harbaugh.

Here are my other thoughts on Sunday’s action:

Colin Kaepernick is the player I’m most excited to see on Super Bowl Sunday. The 25-year-old Kaepernick is in only his second NFL season and will be starting only his 10th NFL game when the 49ers play the Ravens in two weeks. And if he leads the 49ers to a win, he’s going to change the way people think about the quarterback position. Kaepernick is an amazing runner, but he doesn’t have to run to beat you. In last week’s win over the Packers, Kaepernick set an NFL record with 181 rushing yards. So this week, the 49ers would surely make Kaepernick’s running a major part of the game plan, right? Wrong. Kaepernick had just two runs for 21 yards. But the threat of Kaepernick running to the outside helped open up Frank Gore running up the middle. Gore interrupted Kaepernick’s postgame press conference to hug Kaepernick and tell reporters how great his teammate is: “He can do whatever — throw the ball, run the ball,” Gore said. “He’s a different quarterback, man.”

Was Tom Brady trying to kick Ed Reed? With 20 seconds left before halftime, Brady foolishly slid feet-first and then failed to call timeout, running the clock all the way down to four seconds and costing the Patriots a chance to take a shot into the end zone. But he did something else on that play that raised some eyebrows as well: He lifted up his foot with Ravens safety Ed Reed approaching, as if he was trying to kick Reed. Just like with Ndamukong Suh on Thanksgiving, I don’t know if it was an intentional kick. But it sure looked suspicious.

For a first-team All-Pro, Dashon Goldson sure can be a liability in coverage. Goldson is the 49ers safety who got burned on Julio Jones’s first-quarter 46-yard touchdown, and as good as Goldson is at delivering big hits, he struggles staying with fast receivers on deep routes. Look for Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who loves to throw deep, to test Goldson in the Super Bowl.

No one knows what constitutes a catch in the NFL anymore. When Atlanta’s Harry Douglas caught a big pass late in the fourth quarter, Jim Harbaugh challenged it and was sure he was going to win, and he went nuts on the sideline when he lost the challenge and the catch was upheld. I thought he was going to win the challenge, too, but I didn’t know for sure because no one ever knows for sure what a catch is in the NFL anymore. It’s simply impossible to accurately predict how a replay review of a close catch is going to be ruled.

Don’t go, Tony. Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez says he plans to retire, but for my own selfish reasons I hope he changes his mind. Gonzalez is one of the most fun players to watch in the NFL, a player who always goes about his business the right way and is still among the game’s best tight ends at age 36. Plus, he’s five months older than me, and I’m not ready to concede that that means he’s at the right age to retire. I hope Gonzalez is in the playoffs with the Falcons again a year from now.

The 49ers need Aldon Smith to get his groove back in the Super Bowl. In the first 13 games of the regular season, Smith had 19.5 sacks. In the last three games of the regular season and two games of the playoffs, Smith has zero sacks. Whatever is wrong with Smith, San Francisco is going to have a tough time winning the Super Bowl without its best pass rusher stepping up.

David Akers is a liability for the 49ers. Akers led the league in missed field goals during the regular season, and he missed his only attempt in Atlanta on Sunday. If the Super Bowl comes down to a last-second 49ers field goal attempt, no one in San Francisco will feel confident as Akers takes the field.

One more game for Ray Lewis. The best defensive player of his generation — maybe the best defensive player in NFL history — will play his last game in two weeks in New Orleans. Lewis already has a Super Bowl MVP to his credit. Now he’ll try to give his career a storybook ending.

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New NFL policy requires prospects to authorize background check

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Before the NFL can determine whether draft prospects should be barred from the Scouting Combine or other league-related draft events for certain criminal offenses, the NFL must be able to make that determination. Before the NFL can make that determination, the NFL must be able to investigate the prospect.

Before that can happen, the prospect must provide authorization to the NFL during the Scouting Combine registration process. If the prospect refuses to provide authorization, the prospect’s invitation to participate in the Scouting Combine will be revoked, according to the memo sent on January 25 to all team presidents, General Managers and coaches.

As a practical matter, players will gladly sign whatever paperwork they need to sign in order to participate in the Scouting Combine. Still, the mandatory background check represents yet another thing that is required of players as part of a lengthy preemployment process that, via the Combine, provides plenty of free entertainment and TV content for the NFL.

The new policy applies to all felony or misdemeanor convictions, and it broadly encompasses any conviction “involving violence,” with specific citation to crimes involving the “use of a weapon, domestic violence, sexual offense and/or sexual assault.”

As noted earlier, the NFLPA had no comment on the new policy, which the league implemented unilaterally.

The policy has no impact on the ability of teams to independently evaluate or draft the players who are barred from league-related draft events, either due to the outcome of the background check or the refusal to consent to one.

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Patriots release Montee Ball, but most thought he wasn’t on the team

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It was believed that the contract of Patriots running back Montee Ball expired on February 1. If it did, the team at some point re-signed him. Because on Tuesday the Patriots released his rights.

The league’s transaction report for Tuesday shows that the Patriots waived Ball, who finished the season on the team’s practice squad.

A second-round pick in 2013, Ball entered the 2014 season as the starting running back in Denver. He lost the job during the 2014 season and was cut just before the start of the 2015 regular season.

Ball was arrested February 5 after a dispute with his girlfriend. The waiver of Ball on February 9 indicates he was employed by the Patriots on February 5, which resets the “days without an arrest” meter to that day, just as it was once again approaching 50.

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Colts add a few more coaches

Chuck Pagano AP

The Colts let go of several assistant coaches last month after reaching a deal to keep head coach Chuck Pagano and they announced some of the new faces on the staff on Tuesday.

Lee Hull will be the team’s new wide receivers coach, replacing Jim Hostler. There have been reports that Hostler will remain with the Colts in a new role but it has not been announced at this point. Hull spent the last two seasons as the head coach at Morgan State and has also worked at Maryland and Oregon State.

Jemal Singleton has been hired as running backs coach after spending last year as the special teams and running backs coach at the University of Arkansas. Charlie Williams was let go in January after four years with the team.

The Colts also hired Maurice Drayton as assistant special teams coach, Quadrian Banks as conditioning/performance analyst and Andrew Hayes-Stoker as assistant to the head coach. They also announced that Joe Philbin will be assistant head coach in addition to working with the offensive line.

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Raiders move on from Nate Allen

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The Raiders have plenty of money to spend in 2016. They’ll be spending none of it on safety Nate Allen.

Per a league source, Allen has been released after one season with the Raiders.

Signed as a free agent after five years with the Eagles, Allen appeared in five games with three starts last season, picking off one pass.

Allen signed a four-year, $23 million contract in 2015. With no signing bonus and a $4.9 million base salary that was due to become available on the third day of the 2016 league year, the Raiders walk away from Allen with no cap hit and no financial responsibility.

A vested veteran, Allen becomes a free agent immediately.

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Police deliver LeSean McCoy investigation to prosecutors

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Amid a report that an arrest of Bills running back LeSean McCoy is “imminent,” police in Philadelphia have completed their investigation. Via Mike Rodak of ESPN.com, the file has been delivered to the District Attorney’s office for potential prosecution.

McCoy apparently anticipates that he’ll be defending himself in court. Via John Barr of ESPN, McCoy has hired Philadelphia defense lawyer Jack McMahon to handle the case.

Several videos have emerged showing portions of the fight that reportedly sent two off-duty police officers to the hospital, both with fractured ribs and one with a fractured orbital bone. One comes from CrossingBroad.com, another comes from TMZ.com, and the third comes from 6abc.com.

It’s hard to make out many details, although the TMZ video seems to show McCoy throwing at least one punch.

Given the symbiotic relationship between police officers and prosecutors, the D.A. will face plenty of pressure to pursue charges against McCoy and all other suspects, in order to obtain justice for the off-duty police officers who were injured in the assault. Given McCoy’s profile and resources, there also will be pressure on prosecutors to get everything right in order to seal off any potential avenues for injecting “reasonable doubt” into the case.

The NFL already is investigating the situation, and it could impose discipline on McCoy with or without prosecution.

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Jets fill out their coaching staff with three hires

26 Jul 1998:  Offensive lineman David Diaz-Infante #63 of the Denver Broncos looks on during the 1998 Denver Broncos training camp at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colorado. Mandatory Credit: Brian Bahr  /Allsport Getty Images

Jets coach Todd Bowles has filled out his coaching staff, with the team announcing three more hires today.

The Jets hired former NFL offensive lineman David Diaz-Infante as assistant offensive line coach, promoted John Scott Jr. from defensive quality control coach to assistant defensive line coach, and hired Tim Atkins as defensive quality control coach.

Diaz-Infante had background with Bowles in Arizona, where he worked for two seasons.

He was part of two Super Bowl winning teams with the Broncos, and also played for the Chargers and Eagles, along with stints in the CFL, XFL and the World League.

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Rivera to shorten Panthers’ offseason program

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As a team that got to the Super Bowl this year tries to get back next year, one of the biggest impediments to playing into February comes from the fact that the team has just played into February.

The fatigue can take a toll on a team, and Panthers coach Ron Rivera already is thinking about how to manage the extra effort expended in 2015 as 2016 approaches. Specifically, he’ll be delaying the start of the offseason program in order to ensure that his players get more rest.

“We’ve checked with the league and we’re gonna be able to do some things a little bit differently as far as when we can start,” Rivera told reporters on Tuesday. “We checked with the league, the league checked with the Players Association. Because of finishing as late as we did, we’re going to start a little later. I am going to eliminate a little bit of the time, as far as what the OTAs and the offseason program brings.

“The whole idea is that we’ve had five extra weeks of work, our young guys have gotten five more weeks that they normally wouldn’t have gotten, or may not have gotten. So that I think is important. And, again, the idea right now in talking with the trainers, the docters, the strength and conditioning staff, it’s about rest right now. . . . It does complicate things, but it’s a great problem to have.”

The players, Rivera explained, will have the same amount of time off as they had last year. But the program will still end at the same time as it did last year.

It’s a plan that goes against the approach employed by most NFL coaches, who will take full advantage of every rep and every practice and every opportunity — especially under a CBA that limits contact and practice time.

Coaches want more, not less. Rivera’s decision to choose less could start a new trend, if it ensures that the players have more gas in the tank as the team gets to December and, more importantly, January and, even more importantly, February.

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Rams announce over 56,000 deposits for season tickets

SANTA CLARA, CA - JANUARY 03:  Chris Long #91 of the St. Louis Rams reacts after a play against the San Francisco 49ers during their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on January 3, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Rams started taking season ticket deposts on January 19 and more than 45,000 people put down $100 in a couple of days for the right to buy up to eight tickets for the team’s first season back in Los Angeles.

Their deposit drive continued through Monday and the team announced on Tuesday that more than 56,000 deposits were taken before they closed up that portion of their ticket sales effort.

“We are inspired by how enthusiastically NFL fans in Southern California have responded to the return of the Los Angeles Rams,” Rams Chief Operating Officer/Executive Vice President Kevin Demoff said in a statement. “We will reward their passion by providing a terrific game day experience at both the Coliseum this fall and ultimately in Inglewood. We can’t wait to welcome our fans on Sundays and become an integral part of the Greater Los Angeles community.”

The deposits, which are refundable, give holders the right to buy tickets at the Coliseum and season ticket holders will be at the front of the line when it’s time to start selling tickets for the Inglewood stadium that’s expected to be ready for the 2019 season.

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Grand jury indicts eight in Pilot Flying J investigation

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Dormant for months, the Pilot Flying J investigation has revved up again, in a significant way.

Via WBIR.com, a federal grand jury indicted eight former and current employees of the truck-stop conglomerate on Tuesday, including former president Mark Hazelwood.

Hazelwood, who faces three counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of witness tampering, has pleaded not guilty to all charges. The eight defendants were informed through their lawyers on Friday to expect the indictments.

For CEO (and Browns owner) Jimmy Haslam, who has not yet been indicted, the key question is whether Hazelwood at some point will change that not guilty plea to guilty, along with an agreement to testify against Haslam.

Hazelwood reported directly to Haslam, and two of the other defendants (V.P. of national accounts Scott Wombold and V.P. of sales Jon Freeman) reported directly to Haslam, based on an organizational chart posted on the WBIR.com Twitter page.

The scandal relates to the manipulation of a rebate program to prey upon unsophisticated customers. In 2014, the company itself struck a deal to avoid prosecution by agreeing to pay a monetary penalty of more than $92 million. The agreement regarding Pilot Flying J was negotiated by attorney Aubrey Harwell. Because he also represents Haslam personally, many has presumed that Haslam is as a practical matter immune from prosecution, even if technically no individuals are exempt.

Hazelwood clearly isn’t exempt, and if he’s in position to give up the kind of evidence that draws the man at the top of the pyramid into the cross hairs, the NFL could have to revisit the position that Haslam committed no violation of the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy. Otherwise, it would be conspicuous if Haslam is still permitted to attend the Scouting Combine or other league events, given the NFL’s new position on incoming players with criminal records.

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Colts waive Ryan Lindley

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 03:  Ryan Lindley #3 of the Indianapolis Colts looks for an open receiver during the game against the Tennessee Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 3, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Colts needed to bring in a couple of veteran quarterbacks for the end of the regular season due to injuries to Andrew Luck and Matt Hasselbeck, but there’s no need for so many of them on the offseason roster.

Indianapolis parted ways with one of them on Tuesday. The Colts announced that they have waived Ryan Lindley.

Lindley signed with the team before the regular season finale and split time with fellow late arrival Josh Freeman in the team’s Week 17 win over the Titans. He went 6-of-10 for 58 yards and a touchdown in his only action of the 2015 season.

His previous experience all came with the Cardinals, including a start in the team’s playoff loss to the Panthers after the 2014 season. He’ll look for work as a backup this offseason.

Hasselbeck and Charlie Whitehurst are set to become free agents. The Colts have Freeman and Stephen Morris on the roster to go with Luck.

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Silver regrets saying Browns lied, stands by report Manziel was drunk

Johnny Manziel AP

After reporting on the air that the Browns lied about Johnny Manziel having a concussion to cover up Manziel’s drinking, NFL Network reporter Mike Silver has backed off. But only backed off half of the report.

Silver wrote on Twitter on Tuesday afternoon that he regrets saying that the Browns lied about Manziel having a concussion. But Silver still says Manziel was drunk when he reported to work on the Wednesday of Week 17.

“I’ve been told by multiple sources that Manziel showed up late to the team facility for a meeting & noticeably drunk on Wednesday, Dec. 30,” Silver wrote today. “He was later placed in the concussion protocol & sent home. I am not a doctor & thus cannot presume to question the diagnosis of an independent neurologist or any medical professional. I do not have direct knowledge of what Manziel may have told the doctor or doctors who evaluated him, or what might have been suggested. If the Browns say they did not lie about Manziel’s diagnosis, I will take them at their word, and I regret using that term (‘lied’). I stand by my original report that Manziel showed up drunk at practice & that witnesses believed this was the cause of his ‘behavior’.”

In his original on-air report, Silver was emphatic that the Browns lied about Manziel’s concussion diagnosis. It’s not a leap to wonder if the Browns, who own a 1/32nd share of NFL Network, may have suggested to Silver’s bosses that they were not too pleased with that report, and that may have led to Silver backing off.

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Panthers G.M. “not afraid” to franchise Josh Norman if need be

Josh Norman AP

The Panthers don’t have too many free agent decisions to make, but they have one big one.

And it’s worth remembering that General Manager Dave Gettleman said Tuesday he’s “not afraid” of using the franchise tag.

He wasn’t specifically talking about cornerback Josh Norman but he didn’t have to be, as the cornerback who became a star this season is the only one on their roster it’s a consideration for.

“I’ve used it before,” Gettleman said, via Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer. “I’m not shy, I’m not afraid of it. After we evaluate everything, we’re going to do what we think is in the best interests of the Carolina Panthers.”

The tag may be the most sensible answer for the Panthers, even though it would cost them north of $13 million for a year. But because Norman’s 28, there’s a danger in doing a long-term extension now as well. The two sides talked about a deal last offseason, but Norman wasn’t biting on an offer of around $7 million a year, betting on himself.

He won.

He picked off four passes and returned two of them for touchdowns in the first month of the season, making himself a star for a team which would go 15-1. Now, the former fifth-round pick could join some of the top earners at his position if the Panthers don’t prevent him from reaching the market.

Gettleman can only hope it would work out better than the last time he used the tag — on Greg Hardy in 2014. That was a $13.1 million donation to domestic violence awareness, as Hardy played one game before going on the commissioner’s exempt list.

And while the tag makes sense, Gettleman wasn’t going to get into declaring it a necessity, as he prepares to make tough decisions this offseason for a team that should contend for the next few years, but needs upgrades in pass-rush and the rest of the secondary.

“I don’t want to go there,” Gettleman said when asked about Norman’s value. “You’re never only one player away. You’re not. I know you people look at me like I have brain damage but you’re not. I’ve seen it over and over and over again.”

They found out the hard way last time.

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Arthur Blank announces he has prostate cancer

during the first half against the New Orleans Saints at the Georgia Dome on January 3, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. Getty Images

Falcons owner Arthur Blank made an announcement about his health on Tuesday.

Blank released a statement through the team to let the public know that he is receiving medical treatment for prostate cancer. Blank, who is 73, says the prognosis for recovery is a good one.

“In December I was diagnosed with a treatable form of prostate cancer,” Blank said in the statement. “Over the last several weeks Angie and I have visited a number of expert doctors and hospitals across the country to identify the best treatment options for me. I have chosen an aggressive approach that will include surgery and the overall prognosis is good. I’m looking forward to getting this behind me and continuing a very active lifestyle, my upcoming wedding, as well as continued active involvement in our businesses and philanthropic efforts for years to come.”

Everyone at PFT sends best wishes to Blank for success in his treatments and hope for a speedy recovery.

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Former A&M player says Manziel contributed to a chaotic culture

Manziel Getty Images

As the Browns try to clean up the mess left from their decision to spend a first-round draft pick on Johnny Manziel two years ago, a former Texas A&M player is saying Manziel left a mess behind at Texas A&M as well.

Former A&M quarterback Kyle Allen says he transferred to Houston last month largely because he disliked the culture of the A&M football program — a culture that Allen says goes back to Manziel thinking the rules didn’t apply to him.

“I think the culture was a big part of it, and I think that stems from Johnny’s era there — the way that they let Johnny and [others] act there,” Allen told CBS. “They [could] do that and still win games because they had Johnny . . . and five offensive linemen playing in the NFL right now.”

Allen says there was enough talent at A&M that the Aggies were able to go 11-2 and 9-4 in Manziel’s two seasons as their starting quarterback, but thinking they could win on talent alone and not hard work was bad for the long-term health of the football team.

“A lot of people were riding off that, ‘I can do whatever the hell I want and win on Saturday,'” Allen said.

If Allen’s characterization of Manziel is accurate, it doesn’t speak well for the Browns that they thought Manziel could be the leader of their franchise.

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Browns: We did not lie about Johnny Manziel concussion

Johnny Manziel AP

The circumstances surrounding the concussion that kept quarterback Johnny Manziel from playing in the season finale surfaced again when Mike Silver reported on NFL Network that Manziel was drunk at practice on Wednesday during the final week of the season.

Silver, who is close to new Browns coach Hue Jackson, said on air the Browns “lied, to try to protect, and I would argue enable, this irresponsible and very troubled young man.” It’s not the first time that there’s been mention of Manziel showing up to work inebriated, although the Browns maintain that Manziel suffered a concussion and was still dealing with it more than a week after the season ended.

“Johnny Manziel was diagnosed with a concussion by an independent neurologist,” the team said in a statement, via Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. “He wasn’t cleared until Jan. 12. The fact that people are saying we lied about [Manziel’s] concussion is false.”

The NFL didn’t have a comment on the report and Cabot, who says she heard the same as Silver, pointed out their January 4th response to a possible inquiry about Manziel’s concussion was that it was “a team medical issue.” As of now, it doesn’t appear that the report making it to the network they own is causing them to change that opinion.

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