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Please don’t pick your nose and touch Bernard Pollard

Bernard Pollard AP

Among the strangest comments we’ve come across during the week of nonstop interviews of Super Bowl players were those from Ravens safety Bernard Pollard, who discussed his obsession with cleanliness.

Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata had said that Pollard is the team’s most high-maintenance player, and when Pollard was asked about that, he launched into a discussion about his hatred of germs.

“My teammates tend to get upset with me because I carry my hand sanitizer, I carry my disinfectant wipes, my baby wipes,” Pollard said. “When you sneeze, I tell you to cover your mouth, and when you cough, I tell you to cover your mouth. If you pick your nose, I tell you not to touch me. They don’t like that.”

Frankly, if Pollard’s teammates think it’s strange that Pollard doesn’t want them picking their noses and then touching him, I’d have to say it’s the rest of the Ravens who are strange and Pollard who’s the normal one.

But Pollard admits that he has a lifelong obsession with germs.

“That’s how I came up,” Pollard said. “My mom would yell at us if we drank out of someone else’s glass. It’s just one of those things where that’s how I grew up. That’s how my mom raised and groomed us. But I’m starting to rub off on some of the guys. Now you see some of them also with hand sanitizer in their pockets and everything else. It’s like I’ve told my teammates. We’ve got to be clean. We’ve got to protect each other. But some guys are disgusting – they ought to be ashamed on themselves.”

Pollard said he was just teasing about the “disgusting” comment, but he sincerely means it when he says this: If you must pick your nose, please wash your hands before you touch Bernard Pollard.

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Marc Trestman expects to return

Chicago Bears v Minnesota Vikings Getty Images

Black Monday has arrived and Chicago will be one of the towns we’re watching for changes as the day unfurls itself.

Chatter over the weekend was that there could be significant changes to the organization with president Ted Phillips, General Manager Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman all at serious risk of losing their jobs after a 5-11 season that saw just about everything that could go wrong misfire for the Bears.

After Sunday’s loss to the Vikings, Trestman said that he expects to be back and made his case as the right guy to oversee fixing the mess that he helped to create this season.

“I don’t have to go into the reasons that I expect to be back. I couldn’t look at it any other way or with any other kind of focus. My plan is to continue to finalize my notes now that the season is over and make sure that if the opportunity arises, I’ll be able to explain how we fix this thing. Because we have to get better,” Trestman said, via the Chicago Tribune. “Nobody understands the situation better than I do,” he said. “I’ve lived it every day for the last two years. And certainly the last six months. So I think I have some expertise in that area. And putting my thoughts down, I don’t think there’s anybody in a better position to assess it other than myself or Phil.”

We’ll know soon whether team ownership agrees with Trestman’s read on the situation, but status quo is going to be a tough sell for the Bears after a year that went off the rails as spectacularly as this one.

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A.J. Green in concussion protocol

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Bengals watchers spent last week monitoring wide receiver A.J. Green’s recovery from a bruised bicep and Green ultimately made it into the lineup for Sunday night’s loss to the Steelers.

The watch will be on again this week and it might be more difficult to get the same happy outcome for the Bengals. The team announced early Monday morning that Green is in the concussion protocol after suffering a concussion on a hit from Steelers safety Mike Mitchell in the fourth quarter of the game.

Green fumbled on the play, a turnover that all but sealed his team’s losing fate in Pittsburgh. Their chances of losing a second straight game to the Colts next Sunday will increase if Green isn’t able to progress through the protocol over the course of the week and there’s nothing that the Bengals or anyone else can do to speed the process along.

That will make for some tension in Cincinnati in the coming days as they wait to find out if Green will be able to help them avoid a fourth straight year with a loss in their first playoff game.

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Mike Smith: Ultimately, I’m the one held responsible

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The Falcons barely showed up against the Panthers with the NFC South title on the line on Sunday and that appears to be the final straw for Falcons coach Mike Smith.

There was a search firm contracted to help find the team’s next coach before the Falcons lost to Carolina and nothing that happened on the field Sunday made an argument for keeping him on the job any longer. Smith wouldn’t talk about the search firm report after the game, but knows that he can’t evade what comes with having a 6-10 record.

“I wish I would have done a whole lot of things better,” Smith said, via ESPN.com. “Ultimately, I’m the one that’s held responsible. This is a 6-10 football team, and there’s one person that the record is attributed to. That’s the head football coach, and we were 6-10 in 2014. There’s a whole lot of things I could have done differently and better. They’re all learning experiences, and I will take those and in the future, make sure that I don’t make the same mistakes that I made this season.”

At some point Monday, we expect to know for sure that Smith, who lead the Falcons to the playoffs in four of his first five years before crashing to 10 wins over the last two seasons, will be somewhere else when he shows what he’s learned from this experience.

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Tomlin says post-game incident with Nelson was unrelated to hit on Bell

Tomlin Getty Images

A post-game discussion between Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and Bengals safety Reggie Nelson started fairly innocuously — before becoming heated before resulting in Bengals coach Marvin Lewis breaking it up.  The initial assumption was that Tomlin either objected to Nelson’s low hit on running back Le’Veon Bell or to Nelson’s arguably taunting after inflicting a knee injury.

Instead, Tomlin said after the game that it was totally unrelated to anything that happened on the field.

It’s not an illegal hit,” Tomlin told reporters.  “It’s not illegal. I did not [have an issue with it].”

So what happened between Tomlin and Nelson?

“You have to ask him about that,” Tomlin said.  “He was talking about some he-said, she-said type of a deal. I don’t know what he was talking about. . . .  I guess a teammate told him that I said something regarding him.  That’s untrue.  Ask him.  I have a lot of respect for Reggie Nelson.  He’s a good player.”

Via Coley Harvey of ESPN.com, Nelson refused to talk about the situation after the game.

The situation is bizarre, to say the least.  And it’s odd to think that any “he-said, she-said” disagreement involving a coach of one NFL team and a player on another NFL team would lead to an awkward post-game incident, under any circumstances.

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Report: Jets to “swiftly” fire Idzik, Ryan

Idzik AP

To little (or no) surprise, a new regime is coming to the Jets.

Chris Mortensen of ESPN reports that Jets owner Woody Johnson will move “swiftly” on Monday to fire G.M. John Idzik and coach Rex Ryan.

Idzik, who has been on the job for only two years and never got to hire his own coach, has had a disastrous run at the team’s personnel chief.  But Johnson contributed to that by forbidding Idzik from firing Ryan in 2013, creating differing agendas with Ryan hoping to win now to save his job and Idzik trying to build for the future.

Ultimately, Idzik got two years and Ryan six.  The former will likely get little consideration for G.M. vacancies; the latter could be considered for coaching jobs in Oakland, Atlanta, and Chicago.

As Peter King of TheMMQB.com explained on Football Night in America, the first order of business will be to hire a new G.M., with Ravens assistant G.M. Eric DeCosta and Vikings assistant G.M. George Paton believed to be the early frontrunners.  Former Buccaneers G.M. Mark Dominik also could get some consideration, along with Falcons assistant G.M. Scott Pioli.

Then there’s Falcons G.M. Thomas Dimitroff.  If owner Arthur Blank decides to clean house (and that would be a mistake), Dimitroff would surely rocket to the top of the list in New York.

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Mike Smith is “absolutely done” in Atlanta

Smith Getty Images

Black Monday is here, and one of the first guys to be gone will be Falcons coach Mike Smith.  Per a league source with knowledge of the situation, Smith is “absolutely done” after seven seasons with the team.

It’s hardly a surprise; owner Arthur Blank already has hired a search firm to find the next head coach.

Some will think that Smith lost his job once he lost Sunday’s NFC South championship game.  But he likely was gone even if the Falcons had won on Sunday.  He likely would have been gone even if the Falcons had won in the wild-card round.

Before Smith’s arrival, the Falcons had never had consecutive winning seasons.  Smith led them to five in a row.  But a 4-12 season followed by 6-10 has sealed Smith’s fate.

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Sunday Night wrap-up: Ben Roethlisberger on the spot now

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With Marshawn Lynch last week and Ben Roethlisberger this week, stomach bugs might become a fad before prime time games.

While the Steelers quarterback wasn’t his most prolific, he did enough to boost the Steelers to the AFC North title with a 27-17 win over the Bengals.

He overcame an upset stomach that limited him in pregame — and sent him to the locker room in the first quarter — to throw for 317 yards and two touchdowns.

The Steelers will now host Baltimore Saturday night, while the Bengals will go to Indianapolis Sunday afternoon.

And with running back Le’Veon Bell’s status up in the air with a knee injury, Roethlisberger’s going to have more of a burden on him than ever when he sees the Ravens. Bell left with a hyperextended right knee, and didn’t return.

The Steelers Offense has been clicking, thanks to the balance a multi-purpose threat like Bell provides. But Roethlisberger has been successful moving the ball around all season, and showed after Bell left he can still make plays.

He’s going to have to be prepared to carry more of the load next week, depending on Bell’s condition.

He’s proven he can do it before.

Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:

1. Remember back when the Steelers had the looming Mike Wallace contract situation, and Antonio Brown got a spite contract out of it?

Yeah, that’s worked out pretty well for the Steelers.

For that $60 million deal, Wallace has gone out to be good-not-great for the Dolphins, catching an average of 70 passes per year. He also was benched during Sunday’s finale under some shady circumstances.

Brown has turned into the league’s leading receiver, and delivered the dagger to win a division title.

The Steelers have been able to take hard lines on contract negotiations because they’ve been able to draft and develop young receiving talent like Brown and Martavis Bryant.

Brown should probably remember that, and his own windfall, when his contract numbers grow unwieldy in the future.

2. Speaking of the reasons the Steelers offense has clicked, the work of line coach Mike Munchak deserves some mention.

Roethlisberger had plenty of time to stand around and look for open targets because the Bengals weren’t getting any pressure.

Munchak has taken over a unit that has underperformed in recent years (at least in terms of the draft-round investment in blockers) and turned it into a solid group.

The Bengals aren’t exactly a great pass-rushing team (actually they’re really bad at it), but the Steelers line stopped them cold.

3. While the Steelers are playing well on offense this year, they clearly don’t have a trustworthy defense.

That’s the only rational explanation for the fake punt-interception in the fourth quarter.

Rather than play field position and trust their stop-side with a three-point lead late, they let punter Brad Wing throw a pass.

Dane Sanzenbacher was there to intercept the pass, one which never should have been designed, much less thrown.

4. Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green has been playing hurt.

But Sunday night, he wasn’t playing well.

Green at least shared the blame for Andy Dalton’s first-half interceptions, and his fourth-quarter fumble might have cost his team a home game in the playoffs.

After cutting a route off leading to the first pick, he and Dalton had a conversation on the sidelines about what should have happened. The second pick was high but off Green’s fingertips.

The fumble was followed by a hard shot from Steelers safety Mike Mitchell, leaving Green dazed on the sidelines.

But cornerback Antwon Blake had raked the ball out previously, adding injury to insult.

5.The Bengals were willing to let Michael Johnson walk in free agency last year.

And while he might not have necessarily earned his payday with the Buccaneers, the Bengals haven’t replaced him.

Other than Carlos Dunlap, there’s not a consistent source of pressure up front, something they’ve been able to count on in the past.

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Steelers holding their breath over Le’Veon Bell knee injury

Le'Veon Bell AP

The Steelers are looking good at the moment, but they’re also holding their breath.

Running back and legitimate MVP candidate Le’Veon Bell just went down clutching his right knee. He got up and jogged off the field under his own power, but was limping.

Safety Reggie Nelson hit Bell squarely on the knee, though it didn’t appear maliciously low.

If Bell — who entered the game with over 2,100 yards from scrimmage — is out any amount of time, the Steelers are going to be hurting.

After letting LeGarrette Blount talk his way out of town, they’re thin at the position, making Bell’s condition crucial.

The fact he went to the locker room after watching a replay of the play’s not a good sign, and the team has referred to his return as doubtful.

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Teammates angry at Mike Wallace for pulling himself from game

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Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace may have some fences to mend with his teammates in the offseason.

Many players on the Dolphins are angry at Wallace because he told coach Joe Philbin he wanted out of today’s game, according to Jeff Darlington of NFL Network. Several different players told Darlington they feel that Wallace’s actions were tantamount to abandoning the team.

Wallace exited the game late in the first half and told Philbin he didn’t want to play anymore, according to the report. Wallace did not speak with the media after the game.

Wallace has not been the player the Dolphins hoped he’d be when they signed him away from Pittsburgh with a huge contract two years ago. Although Wallace has started all 32 games in Miami, he’s yet to have a 1,000-yard receiving season for the Dolphins. His 2014 season ends with 67 catches for 862 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Next year Wallace is due a base salary of $9.85 million. For that kind of money, the Dolphins would like to think Wallace could be counted on not to quit on his team.

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Wild-card weekend lineup is set

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The first four games of the 2014 postseason are set.  Sort of.

The final schedule hinges on the outcome of tonight’s game.  For now, here’s the format.

The postseason begins with the Panthers hosting the Cardinals at 4:30 p.m. ET, Saturday on ESPN.  On Saturday night, NBC will have the Steelers against someone; it’ll either be at home against the Ravens (if Pittsburgh beats the Bengals) or at Indy (if Cincinnati wins).

Sunday begins with a 1:05 p.m. ET game on CBS.  It’ll be Baltimore at Cincinnati or Cincinnati at Indianapolis.  Then, the weekend ends with the Lions visiting the Cowboys at 4:30 p.m. ET on FOX.

This incomplete (for now) schedule allows the Bengals to avoid a second straight short week, since they played on Monday night in Week 16.

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Bucs claim they didn’t tank for top pick

Smith Getty Images

By blowing a 20-7 fourth-quarter lead over the Saints, the Buccaneers secured the top pick in the draft.  Predictably, the Bucs claim that there wasn’t a whole lot of tankin’ going on.  Even though plenty of key players were removed from the contest in the second half.

I don’t think anybody tanked it,” quarterback Josh McCown said after the game, via Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times.  “We played the guys we played to rotate guys in to give them a look.”

Not every player got the memo.

“The whole second half I didn’t play,” rookie receiver Mike Evans said.  “They just pulled me because I was gassed.  It was [the coach’s] decision.”

“I guess I understand why,” said linebacker Lavonte David, who also didn’t play in the second half.  “We wanted to get everybody else some playing time or whatever.  They told me I wasn’t playing the second half, so I just took it for what it was.”

Coach Lovie Smith didn’t make a very convincing case that he wasn’t trying to clinch the first pick in the draft.

“The guys you saw in the first half, the game plan was for them to be in there,” Smith said, via Stroud.  “The second half, we wanted to look at some more football players.  I think that’s not out of the realm of possibilities, to look at some other guys.  We’re not going to the playoffs and we have a comfortable lead and we’re going to run the football.

“One win wouldn’t have helped an awful lot.  We’re going to feel better when we’re winning our division.  Until then, we don’t feel good about a lot except for knowing our roster a lot better and knowing the direction we need to go.  If we had won today, we would’ve felt better about this game, but the season as a whole, that’s not where we want to be.”

While players will never tank, the coaching staff or front office can easily engineer a tanking via the decisions made about who will and won’t play.  And it makes a ton of sense for the Bucs to hold the No. 1 pick.  They’re now on the clock for the first selection, and they can stockpile draft picks and players if they eventually choose to trade the spot.

That’s why the league should have a draft lottery.  Apart from minimizing the temptation to tank, it would give the NFL another made-for-TV event.

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Cowboys, Panthers open as favorites in wild-card round

Cam Newton AP

The lone postseason entrant with a losing record is favored in the wild-card round.

The Panthers (7-8-1) have been made home favorites of 4.5 or five points over the 11-5 Cardinals at Nevada sports books.

The line speaks volumes about the form of both clubs. The Panthers have won four straight games, while the Cardinals lost four of their final six contests, including both games with third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley in the lineup. If Drew Stanton (knee) cannot play in the wild-card round, Lindley would likely get another start.

In the other NFC wild-card game, the Cowboys (12-4) are favorites of 6.5 or seven points over the visiting Lions (11-5). Detroit hasn’t won a playoff game since January 5, 1992, when it defeated Dallas in the divisional round at the Pontiac Silverdome.

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Dalton picked again, Steelers take advantage

Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

It’s not that Andy Dalton has been a total disaster tonight.

But he’s thrown two really bad passes, and they both ended up in the hands of Steelers cornerback Brice McCain.

As a result, the Steelers are up 17-10 on the Bengals in the AFC North title game.

Martavis Bryant just hauled in a 21-yard touchdown catch for the score quickly after McCain’s second pick.

Dalton’s primetime struggles are well-documented, but the second pick hit the hands of wide receiver A.J. Green, and Green appeared to cut off his route on the first one.

If the Bengals want to shake their reputation for folding in big games, those two will have to play better, quickly.

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Ice Bowl rematch looms, 47 years later

IceBowl AP

Forty-seven years ago Wednesday, the Cowboys visited the Packers at Lambeau Field for the NFL Championship game.  Ultra-frigid temperature and wind chill gave the contest the unofficial label of “The Ice Bowl.”

The Packers won a thriller and would later emerge as the victors in Super Bowl II, over Oakland.  Since then, the Cowboys have never returned to Green Bay for a postseason game.  If Dallas beats Detroit next weekend, that’ll happen the following weekend, with the third-seeded Cowboys facing the second-seeded Packers.

It’ll also be the first time ever, according to our friends at Elias, that a team that went 8-0 at home will host a team that went 8-0 on the road in the playoffs.

Teams undefeated on the road and at home have faced each other twice before in a something’s-gotta-give format.  In 1972, the 7-0-at-home Steelers hosted the 7-0-on-the-road Dolphins.  (Miami won, 21-17.)  In 1948, the 6-0-at-home Eagles hosted the 6-0-away Bears, with the Eagles winning, 7-0.

Before the Cowboys will get a chance to put their 8-0 road record on the line at Lambeau, they’ll need to hold serve against the Lions.

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Antonio Brown gives the Steelers an early lead

Antonio Brown AP

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looks like he needs a minute.

So Antonio Brown just gave him one.

After Roethlisberger retreated to the locker room, presumably to deal with his upset stomach, Brown gave the Steelers a 7-0 lead with a 71-yard touchdown return.

Brown’s return ability is impressive enough, considering he also happens to lead the league in receptions.

The fact he bought his quarterback some time will be appreciated as well.

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