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Mickey Loomis got a new contract too

Sean Payton, Mickey Loomis AP

Sean Payton isn’t the only member of the Saints with a new five-year contract.

Saints vice chairman Rita Benson LeBlanc told Mike Garafolo of USA Today that the team also secured General Manager Mickey Loomis’ services for the next five years. Both Loomis and Payton are now under contract through the 2017 season, which gives Payton the kind of assurance about stability he was looking for when looking for an out in his since-voided contract in the event Loomis was dispatched.

“To have that kind of stability for the long term, that’s reassuring because that’s always the kind of thing people like to talk about,” Benson LeBlanc said. “Plus, football is a stressful enough business as it is. It’s hard enough to put a competitive team on the field. (Payton and Loomis) shouldn’t have those extra stresses of having to worry about their future and the future of the franchise.”

It was a rough year for the Saints, but things are getting back to normal. And they look to stay that way for quite a while longer with the news about Loomis’ extension.

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Lions bring back Joique Bell

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 27: Joique Bell #35 of the Detroit Lions celebrates a second quarter touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers at Ford Field on December 27, 2015 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) Getty Images

The injury-plagued Lions are bringing back a familiar face.

Joique Bell, a running back who played for the Lions for the last five years, has re-signed with the team today.

Bell will provide some depth at running back after Dwayne Washington got hurt against the Saints on Sunday. Bell knows the Lions’ offense and had 311 rushing yards and 286 receiving yards for the Lions last season. Bell briefly played for the Bears this season but was released after having just three carries for six yards.

The Lions also placed defensive end Armonty Bryant on injured reserve with a knee injury.

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Will Smith murder trial begins

gettyimages-51559875 Getty Images

As authorities in Louisiana try to figure out what to do with the man who shot and killed former NFL player Joe McKnight, a jury in Louisiana will eventually decide what to do with the man who shot and killed former NFL player Will Smith.

Via the Associated Press, opening statements were delivered Tuesday at the trial arising from the April death of Smith, and they demonstrate the stark differences in perspectives that arise when a shooter has the “stand your ground” law available as a defense.

Prosecutors claim Cardell Hayes committed murder by shooting Smith once in the right side and seven times in the back. Defense lawyers claim Smith was shot after he reached to get his gun.

A 12-person jury will decide based on the evidence submitted during the trial whether Jones acted in self defense, or whether he committed murder. Hayes also is charged with attempted murder for shooting Smith’s wife, Raquel, during the same incident.

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Randy Gregory expected at Cowboys practice Wednesday

Randy Gregory AP

Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory is serving the second of the two suspensions the league enacted this year and may have a third coming his way after reportedly failing a drug test, but that hasn’t caused the team to wash their hands of him once and for all.

As a result, it appears that they’ll have him at Wednesday’s practice. Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com reported on Tuesday that Gregory is eligible to return to practice this week, which is two weeks ahead of when he’d be eligible to play at the end of his combined 14-game suspension, and the Cowboys have confirmed that they expect to have him at the team’s facility.

Gregory would be eligible to play in Week 16, although that date may shift if the aforementioned failed drug test results in a suspension that would keep Gregory off the field for at least another year. Breer reports that it’s under appeal, so, for now, Gregory is able to move forward with the team.

In ideal circumstances, Gregory would return to give the Cowboys another piece to use on defense. With so little about Gregory’s NFL career qualifying as ideal, it’s unlikely anyone is planning on that actually happening.

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Report: Luke Kuechly to be evaluated Wednesday

CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 17:  Luke Kuechly #59 of the Carolina Panthers returns a blocked field goal against the New Orleans Saints in the second quarter during the game at Bank of America Stadium on November 17, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) Getty Images

Anyone who watched last Sunday night’s game between the Panthers and Seahawks likely saw how animated Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly was on the sideline.

He was talking and gesturing to players, coaches and officials over the course of Carolina’s loss and it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to say that he would have done anything he could to put on a uniform right then and there. Until he’s cleared from the concussion protocol, however, that’s not an option.

David Newton of ESPN.com reports that Wednesday will bring the next evaluation for Kuechly, who has missed two games with the concussion he suffered against the Saints in Week 11 and could take part in some on-field work if he passes through the early stages of the protocol.

At 4-8, the Panthers don’t have realistic playoff hopes any longer and some teams might think twice about bringing a key player back from injury to play out the string. The Panthers haven’t shown any sign that they’ll go that way with Kuechly, however, so we’ll see if his status changes at all this week.

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Lions sign cornerback Asa Jackson off Ravens practice squad

BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 13: Asa Jackson #27 of the Baltimore Ravens warms up before the start of the Ravens preseason game against the New Orleans Saints at M&T Bank Stadium on August 13, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Lions have found a somewhat experienced replacement for their secondary.

According to Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network, the Lions are signing cornerback Asa Jackson off the Ravens practice squad to fill the spot created when Quandre Diggs suffered a season-ending pectoral injury.

Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin coached Jackson with the Ravens, so there’s some familiarity there. It also establishes Jackson as one of the oldest practice squad players in the league, since Austin left Baltimore after the 2013 season.

Jackson just turned 27, and was a fifth-round pick of the Ravens in 2012. He’s served a pair of PED suspensions in his career, and has never played more than seven games in any of his five years in the league.

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Steelers should have their kicker back this week

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 20:  Chris Boswell #9 of the Pittsburgh Steelers kicks a 33 yard field goal during the second quarter against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 20, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Steelers may only need one kicker this week.

Coach Mike Tomlin told reporters Tuesday that injured Chris Boswell had a “legit chance” to play this week against the Bills, per Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Boswell didn’t play Sunday against the Giants with an abdominal injury, which forced them to sign Randy Bullock for the week.

Bullock was perfect on three field goals and his extra point attempt, but Tomlin made it clear that if Boswell was well enough to kick, that he was the choice.

Boswell has been kind of ordinary this year, hitting 12-of-16 field goals (but all his extra points), but the Steelers are apparently confident he’s their guy moving forward. Tomlin has shown such confidence in him before, saying he’d let him try his unorthodox rabona onside kick again even though the attempt at Baltimore failed miserably.

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Colin Kaepernick will start for 49ers in Week 14

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 04:  Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers runs for a first down against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on December 4, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the 49ers 26-6.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) Getty Images

There are plenty of games on the Week 14 schedule that will help decide who makes the playoffs and which teams will match up once the postseason gets underway.

There are also games that will matter only to those involved and the draft prospects who will be going at the top of the first round. The Jets-49ers clash in Santa Clara falls into that category and we now know that only one of those two teams will be changing their starting quarterback from Week 13.

49ers coach Chip Kelly wasn’t ready to name a starter after benching Colin Kaepernick in favor of Blaine Gabbert during last Sunday’s loss to the Bears, but offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins spilled the beans on Tuesday. Modkins met with the media in Kelly’s place as the head coach is away from the team following the death of his father and announced that Kaepernick will make another start.

Kaepernick completed 1-of-5 passes for four yards while being sacked five times against the Bears on a snowy day in Chicago. It will be Kaepernick’s eighth start and the four starts before the Bears debacle featured far better performances than he turned in during Week 13.

The Jets will be going with a new starter for the game. Bryce Petty, who relieved Ryan Fitzpatrick in Monday night’s blowout loss, has been installed as the starter for the rest of the season for the 3-9 Jets.

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Chiefs expect full practice for Jeremy Maclin Tuesday

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - OCTOBER 30: Jeremy Maclin #19 of the Kansas City Chiefs reaches for a pass  during the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on October 30, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Chiefs only have one full practice this week before they take on the Raiders in a home game on Thursday night and the word from Kansas City is that wide receiver Jeremy Maclin will be a full participant in it.

Coach Andy Reid broke the news when he met with the media on Tuesday and it represents a major step up for Maclin. The wideout has missed four straight games because of a groin injury and practiced on a limited basis last week before being ruled out for the team’s game against the Falcons.

The Chiefs were able to win three of the four games they’ve played without Maclin, but having him back in action would be a boost for their offense in a game that would give them a season sweep over Oakland with a win. It would also give them a tiebreaker advantage should the teams wind up with the same record at the end of the year.

Kansas City doesn’t have any other major injury concerns heading into the game as everyone on the 53-man roster is expected to practice on Tuesday.

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ESPN avoids ratings disaster on Monday night

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 05:  A New York Jets fan wears a bag on his head after they were defeated by the Indianapolis Colts 41 to 10 at MetLife Stadium on December 5, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Getty Images

The bad news is that the ratings for Monday night’s Colts-Jets game were really bad. The good news is they could have been worse.

Not much worse, but worse.

Via SportsBusiness Daily, the 6.0 overnight rating narrowly beat the all-time low from late September, when a game between the Falcons and Saints that went against a presidential debate generated a 5.7 rating.

It was still the lowest Monday Night Football, and it reflected a 40-percent reduction from Cowboys-Washington a year ago in Week 13.

That should change next week, when the Patriots host the Ravens. Also, the final MNF game of the year, in Week 16, features the Cowboys hosting the Lions.

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Week 14 Power Rankings

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 1: Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys is surrounded by cameras after the game against the Minnesota Vikings on December 1, 2016 at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Cowboys defeated the Vikings 17-15. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images) Getty Images

1. Cowboys (11-1; last week No. 1): Great teams find a way to win games they should lose, which is exactly what the Cowboys did against the Vikings.

2. Raiders (10-2; No. 2): Great teams find a way to win games they should lose, which is exactly what the Raiders did against the Bills.

3. Patriots (10-2; No. 3): Great teams find a way to dismantle bad teams, which is exactly what the Patriots did against the Rams.

4. Chiefs (9-3; No. 5): The Chiefs may soon control the division that most have already handed to Oakland.

5. Seahawks (8-3-1; No. 6): The best path to the Super Bowl could be to secure the No. 2 seed and hope the Cowboys lose in the divisional round.

6. Giants (8-4; No. 4): It’s probably too late to catch the Cowboys, but a sweep of Dallas could go a long way toward building confidence for the postseason.

7. Broncos (8-4; No. 8): Last year, they were the No. 1 seed. This year, they may be the No. 6 seed. It will be slightly harder to get to the Super Bowl that way.

8. Lions (8-4; No. 9): They deserve credit for their best game of the year, but they still have a narrow margin for error, if they want to hold off the Packers.

9. Buccaneers (7-5; No. 13): The Cowboys will soon find out why they want nothing to do with the Buccaneers in the playoffs.

10. Falcons (7-5; No. 7): Their new stadium should be sponsored by Murphy’s Law.

11. Ravens (7-5; No. 15): If they win the division, they’ll be the most dangerous team in the AFC playoffs.

12. Steelers (7-5; No. 16): If they win the division, they’ll be the most dangerous team in the AFC playoffs.

13. Dolphins (7-5; No. 10): Sometimes, you just have to absorb a butt kicking.

14. Packers (6-6; No. 14): They still have the inside track to win the division, regardless of whether Lions fans don’t want to hear that.

15. Washington (6-5-1; No. 11): That tie is going to haunt them when the time comes to sort out the playoff tree.

16. Bills (6-6; No. 12): Sometimes, a season evaporates slowly. Sometimes, it goes really, really quickly.

17. Colts (6-6; No. 23): Let’s not get excited about Monday night until the Colts win like that against a team that is actually trying.

18. Texans (6-6; No. 17): If Brock Osweiler is “playing great,” how bad would the team’s record be if he wasn’t?

19. Titans (6-6; No. 19): The good news is that they’re in a three-way tie for first place. The bad news is that they should be in first place all by themselves, and they know it.

20. Vikings (6-6; No. 18): From Super Bowl dreams to “maybe if things line up just right we’ll lose in the wild-card round.”

21. Bengals (4-7-1; No. 24): If they lose to the Browns on Sunday, do they become No. 32?

22. Cardinals (5-6-1; No. 25): Too little, too late, too bad.

23. Eagles (5-7; No. 20): A coach with emotional intelligence comes in handy during a 2-7 stretch.

24. Chargers (5-7; No. 21): If they move to L.A., they’ll instantly be the best team in town.

25. Saints (5-7; No. 22): It’s spoiler time for the Saints, which isn’t how they envisioned the last four weeks of the season to be.

26. Panthers (4-8; No. 26): It’s spoiler time for the Panthers, which isn’t how they envisioned the last four weeks of the season to be.

27. Rams (4-8; No. 27): “I don’t make excuses. Here are my excuses.”

28. Bears (3-9; No. 29): When the best news is that Matt Barkley isn’t horrible, it’s been a bad year.

29. Jets (3-9; No. 28): At what point do we ask whether Christian Hackenberg has been kidnapped?

30. Jaguars (2-10; No. 30): Blake Bortles is the quarterback of the future. Literally, based on how things seem to be going in the world.

31. 49ers (1-11; No. 31): In 1980, NBC broadcast a game without announcers. On Sunday, CBS will broadcast a game without fans.

32. Browns (0-12; No. 32): RGIII is back. Don’t blink.

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Jay Gruden wants more Rob Kelley on offense

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 04:  Robert Kelley #32 of the Washington Redskins runs with the ball  against the Arizona Cardinals during the second quarter at University of Phoenix Stadium on December 4, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) Getty Images

During a three-game unbeaten streak that started with a tie against the Bengals in London in Week Eight, the Redskins gave running back Rob Kelley at least 21 carries in each game and he responded with 321 yards and four touchdowns over that span.

Kelley hasn’t been used quite as heavily the last two games, both of which have ended with the Redskins on the wrong side of the final score. He had 14 carries of limited effectiveness against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving in a game that saw Washington trying to mount a comeback and then 14 more against the Cardinals that resulted in 63 yards.

That game remained close throughout, but Kelley ran only six times in the second half. Coach Jay Gruden said that the team will look to change that over the final four weeks.

“We ideally would like to get that running game going a little bit more — more touches for Robert because he’s been very good as far as running the football,” Gruden said, via CSNMidAtlantic.com. “We have got to make sure that we get him more involved, maintain the time of possession and stay more balanced.”

The Eagles are next up on the schedule and their secondary has been picked apart the last two weeks, so there should be opportunities for Kirk Cousins to throw the ball. Establishing a solid ground game would open up play action possibilities on top of those other opportunities, although it will be up to Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay to ensure that happens.

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Giants “hopeful” Jason Pierre-Paul won’t need surgery

FILE - In this Aug. 27, 2016, file photo, New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (90) talks to teammate Olivier Vernon (54) as they walk off the field after the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the New York Jets in East Rutherford, N.J. After having the NFL’s worst defense last season, the Giants have the potential to make big strides. They open the season Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun, File) AP

Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul is seeing a specialist today about his recent groin injury, but the Giants are holding out hope the news will be good.

According to Ralph Vacchiano of SNY, the Giants “are hopeful that Pierre-Paul will avoid surgery,” which is reasonable since surgery would be season-ending. They also think he could miss a few weeks either way, but that’s a pretty big deal for a team in the hunt for a playoff berth.

But after Sunday’s loss to the Steelers, Pierre-Paul suggested he wasn’t particularly worried.

“It’s just pulled,” he said. “Not too many details that I know. No, it doesn’t concern me at all. We’ll see. It was frustrating, especially when I’m sitting out, it sucks to just watch it in our locker room.”

Pierre-Paul went to Philadelphia today to see high-profile surgeon Dr. William Meyers, who specializes in core muscle injuries.

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Sheriff explains Joe McKnight shooting with another bizarre press conference

newell-normand-e1456281828654-680x365 Getty Images

The authorities in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana initially did not arrest Ronald Gasser, the 54-year-old man who shot and killed former NFL running back Joe McKnight last week. Gasser has since been arrested for manslaughter.

Sheriff Newell Normand, whose press conference from Friday seemed unreasonably defensive and unnecessarily combative, took it to the next level on Tuesday, complaining about the criticism his department has absorbed by pounding on the podium on multiple occasions and quoting from profanity-laden messages directed to elected officials who supported law enforcement’s desire to take a deliberate approach to the investigation of the shooting.

MSNBC quickly cut away from the press conference once Normand began reading the comments, which contained a variety of words not appropriate for broadcast.

Later in the press conference, when Normand finally stepped down from his soapbox and addressed the case, he said that Gasser became irritated when McKnight cut Gasser off in traffic. Gasser then pursued McKnight. McKnight eventually parked and went to Gasser’s car. At that point, Gasser fired three shots.

Gasser, according to Normand, became fearful of McKnight based on things McKnight said to Gasser.

Normand explained that the decision to arrest Gasser for manslaughter came after the authorities located multiple key witnesses. As to the witness who initially claimed that Gasser got out of his car and stood over McKnight before shooting him a final time, Normand said that the witness told three different stories in the course of an hour.

“Shame on that individual,” Normand said.

Normand then said the comments started the process down a path “that we collectively should be ashamed of.”

Normand perhaps should be ashamed of himself for being so thin-skinned about the situation. When a white man shoots a black man and the shooter initially goes free without explanation, there will definitely be a reaction from members of the public. But a sheriff should aspire to be above the fray, not to roll around in the middle of it.

The reaction from Normand suggests that neither he nor his department are fit to run the investigation or handle the case. Hopefully, the matter eventually will be pursued and prosecuted by responsible adults who realize that a certain amount of inaccurate and ill-informed scrutiny goes with the territory.

Without the involvement of professionals who are committed to doing the right thing without reacting to the noise, it becomes impossible for true and complete justice to be done. And that’s all anyone should want in the case of the death of Joe McKnight: True and complete justice.

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Malik McDowell will enter NFL Draft

EAST LANSING, MI - OCTOBER 3: Malik McDowell #4 of the Michigan State Spartans celebrates after a tackle for loss against the Purdue Boilermakers in the first half at Spartan Stadium on October 3, 2015 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

Before Michigan State began its 2016 season, defensive lineman Malik McDowell said that he would not leave school after his junior season unless he was projected to be one of the top three picks in the 2017 NFL Draft.

McDowell has either heard something very good about where he will come off the board next year or he has decided that his status as one of the top defensive players in the country was enough to make foregoing his senior year worthwhile. McDowell announced that he will not return to East Lansing for another season on Tuesday.

“This was a difficult decision and I will always cherish my time in East Lansing. … I’m ready to fulfill my childhood dream of playing in the NFL,” McDowell wrote on Twitter.

McDowell missed the last three games of the Spartans’ disappointing season with an ankle injury, although that hasn’t seemed to impact his rankings on the many draft projections that populate the landscape. He’s generally regarded as a first-round pick in those projections, which would continue a string that’s seen at least one Michigan State player go on the first day of the draft in each of the last three years.

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Cowboys can clinch home-field advantage this weekend

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 1: Byron Jones #31 of the Dallas Cowboys celebrates an incomplete pass on third down in the third quarter of the game against the Minnesota Vikings on December 1, 2016 at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) Getty Images

Dallas is already in the playoffs, and very soon, they can forge an easier path in them.

The league has announced this week’s playoff scenarios, and Dallas is closer to the top spot in the NFC playoffs.

The Cowboys can clinch home field advantage this weekend with a win over the Giants on Sunday Night Football, along with a Lions loss or tie to the Bears and a Seahawks loss to the Packers.

They can clinch a first-round bye in the playoffs with an win and either of those occurrences, and only need to win themselves to clinch the NFC East title.

The Seahawks can clinch the NFC West title with a win and a Cardinals loss or tie, or a tie and a Cardinals loss.

On the AFC side, the Patriots can clinch the AFC East with a win and a Dolphins loss or tie, or a tie and a Dolphins loss. They can clinch a first-round bye with a win coupled with a Dolphins loss or tie and a Steelers loss or tie.

The Raiders can also secure a playoff berth through four scenarios, the easiest to process being a win and losses by the Dolphins and Broncos.

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