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Roger Goodell State of the League press conference transcript

[Editor’s note: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had his annual State of the League press conference on Friday. This is the transcript of that press conference, distributed by the NFL.]

Opening Statement:

“Good morning. This Sunday will be the conclusion of an incredible season of NFL football. Our teams this season gave fans dramatic games and amazing performances. Think about it, the inspiring comebacks of Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson; the extraordinary rookie quarterbacks; Calvin Johnson, Tony Gonzalez catching; Aldon Smith, Von Miller and J.J. Watt sacking; the fantastic final Sunday of the regular season. Everyone is buzzing about how exciting the playoffs have been. So wouldn’t it be fitting if we have that one final struggle on Sunday night? This Super Bowl matchup has it all: the Harbaughs, Ray Lewis, Colin Kaepernick, Joe Flacco, the Pistol offense, and the list goes on. Congratulations to Steve Bisciotti, to John, Denise and Jed York. We really can’t wait to see your teams in the Super Bowl on Sunday night.

“There are two important people who are not here, but very much on our minds. Art Modell, the legendary former owner of the Ravens, who passed away in September. Art’s spirit is certainly here this week. And his name will be on the Ravens jersey on Sunday, as it has all season. And this is the first Super Bowl without Steve Sabol, the creative genius behind NFL Films. His imprint is all over our game and the Super Bowl. Steve and Art were innovators. They inspire us to exceed our expectations. As a league, we have challenges. We always do, and we embrace them for the opportunity to do better.

“On and off the field in the last couple of years, we have accomplished some remarkable things that have really strengthened the very foundation of our game. We have the most talented athletes on earth, in a game that those players and fans love. Our mission is to make it even better and we are doing the work. The changes we are making are having a positive impact. The game is exciting, competitive, tough and safer. We are making the game better while also evolving into a health and safety culture. That is a big priority. We are also improving officiating, investing in upgrading the stadium experience and engaging more people in more ways than ever. Our numbers are up in overall fan engagement, in most cases, dramatically. So a big thank you to NFL fans, the best in sports.

“Interest in the NFL is expanding as we grow internationally. In fact, today we are announcing that our two games in London next season – the 49ers and Jaguars and the Steelers and Vikings – are already sold out. It is a sign that the game is growing globally. But there is more work to do and more ways to improve. The Competition Committee’s agenda will include looking at eliminating certain dangerous low blocks; further taking the head out of the game and expanding the standards for the quality of our playing fields. We will take steps to ensure more diversity in our hiring practices. The results this year were simply not acceptable.

“On the health side, we will update our injury protocols and add neurosurgeons to our game day medical resources. We are going to implement expanded physicals at the end of each season. Three days to review players from a physical, mental and life-skills standpoint, so that we can support them in a more comprehensive fashion. We want to pioneer new approaches to player health and safety that emphasize prevention as well as treatment. This will include our commitment to supporting our retired players. Those are some of the priorities. From the quality of our game, to growing fan interest and engagement, to our commitment to evolve and innovate, we have many reasons to be optimistic about the future. I could not be more optimistic or ready to go.

“It’s also terrific for us to be back here in New Orleans. Our 10th Super Bowl here, the first since (Hurricane) Katrina. And it’s clear this city is back bigger and better than ever. Our very heartfelt thanks to Mayor Mitch Landrieu; James Carville and Mary Matalin; the Host Committee; the 7,000 local volunteers for being truly, truly great hosts this week. Also, to Tom and Gayle Benson and Rita LeBlanc, for all you have done for this community. Everybody here has done an outstanding job. You should be very proud and we are very grateful.

“Now we will get to your questions.”

The President recently said he would think twice about having a son play football, if he had a son. He also said that fans need to examine their conscience about football. Is there a deeper-rooted problem with the game and its safety than the NFL might have realized? How can the NFL deal effectively with such problems?

“Well, the issue of player health and safety has always been a priority in the NFL. We will continue to make it a priority. You have our commitment. The players have our commitment that we will do that. I started playing the game when I was in fourth grade, tackle football in Washington D.C. and I love the game of football. I started as a fan, but I wouldn’t give back one day of playing tackle football. The benefits of playing football, teaching you the values, teaching you character, teaching you how to get up when you’re knocked down, how to work with others, teamwork. They are extraordinary lessons in life that I use to this day. I welcome the President’s comments because it has been a priority and we want to make sure that people understand what we’re doing to make our game safer, not just in the NFL, but throughout sports. The changes we’re making in the NFL, I think, are changing all of sports. There is better recognition of head injuries, of treating them conservatively, and that affects every sport, beyond sports, to your children playing in the playground, to our troops overseas. What we’re doing is leading the way to try and make sure people understand that you need to treat these injuries seriously. We can make our games safer, as we have done. I believe that the changes that we’re making to our game will make football better. It will make it safer. It will make other sports safer. We’re proud of our accomplishments and we have more to do, but we will not relent on this.”

More on the same issue – Joe Flacco on Media Day said the current fine system isn’t working. It’s not changing the way that defensive players are playing. He’s going to get hit no matter what, and all that you’re doing is taking money out of their pockets. Steve Bisciotti said that he thinks maybe intent needs to be taken into consideration. Flacco also said maybe suspensions, but with pay, might get through to some of these guys. I wonder what you think about their comments and about maybe whether suspensions is where you need to go? I know that the league did try to suspend Ed Reed.

“I’m glad that you reminded yourself of that. This is something that we have seen, an escalation in the discipline, because we are trying to take these techniques out of the game. I think it was about four years ago at this very press conference, I said, ‘We have to take these hits out of the game that we think have a higher risk of causing injuries.’ The focus was on defenseless players, and I stand by our record because I think we have made those changes and made the game safer. I think we’re going to have to continue to see discipline escalate, particularly on repeat offenders. It’s not just the player, the defenseless player, that’s being protected; it’s the person doing the striking. We see in the injury rates that the defenseless player and the defensive back are having a higher injury rate. Taking these hits out of the game can be positive. The most effective way of doing that, and I’m not for it because we want to see all of our players on the field, is when they are repeat offenders and they are involved with these dangerous techniques, that we’re going to have to take them off the field. Suspension gets through to them. It’s gets through on the basis that they don’t want to let their teammates down, and they want to be on the field. We want to see them on the field. We’re going to continue to emphasize the importance of following those rules. When there are violations, we will escalate the discipline.”

I know that the system for discipline for on-field violations, the way the system exists now, you have neutral arbitrators in Art Shell and Ted Cottrell. Also, my understanding is that in a new drug policy, the league would be willing to have neutral arbitration in that, too. If you can confirm that, fine, but also, the NFLPA said yesterday that it is seeking to have neutral arbitration for off-the-field discipline issues. I’m wondering if you see a connection with that demand as another component to the standstill in negotiations for HGH testing?

“Well interesting, Jarrett, to that point, you are correct. In our Collective Bargaining Agreement that we signed two years ago, we did agree to HGH testing. As part of that, we agreed to neutral arbitration for drug cases. We will do that as soon as we reach agreement on the HGH, which I expect and hope will be very soon. We have moved down that path in an effective way. On the field, we have a system that I think has worked quite effectively. I don’t agree with all of the decisions, but I don’t expect to. Off the field, beyond the drug issue, it is very important for us to maintain our integrity and our brand. We expect that the people that are involved with our game from the commissioner to the players to the coaches will uphold those standards. We have three great young men here today that are finalists for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. I’m proud of our players. I’m proud of what they do, but we always have to make sure that we’re reflecting positively on the shield. When there are violations along those lines, they impact on the integrity of the game. That is something that the commissioner has had the authority on for several decades, several versions of the CBA, and that is not something that we’re going to relent on. We’re going to always uphold the standards of the NFL because the fans deserve that, and I believe the players deserve that. That is the commissioner’s role, and you can hold me accountable for it, and I will stand by my decisions.”

I wanted to ask you about your comment about minority hiring in coaching, and you saying that you weren’t satisfied with it. What do you think are some of the issues that continue to make this a problem and what’s going to bring about real change?

“First, the Rooney Rule has been very effective over the last decade, but we have to look to see what the next generation of the Rooney Rule is. What’s going to take us to another level? We’re committed to finding that answer. That’s going to have to come from conversations with a lot of people in this league to find out exactly what can be most effective in allowing our talent to excel. And that’s what it is – we want to make sure we have the best people in the best possible positions, and give everybody the opportunity to do that. We want to focus on how do we get to a Rooney Rule, or an extension of the Rooney Rule, or a new generation of the Rooney Rule, that will allow us to do that? There was full compliance with the Rooney Rule. There were, in fact, I believe, a record number of interviews. But we didn’t have the outcomes that we wanted, and the outcomes are to make sure that we have full diversity throughout our coaching ranks, throughout our executive ranks, and throughout the league office. It’s very important to the success of the league to do that, and we’re committed to finding those solutions.”

I know you highlighted player safety in your opening statement. What was your reaction to the NFLPA’s study yesterday that said 78 percent of players do not trust their team’s medical staffs?

“I did hear that yesterday. Last week, we met for four hours with union officials. Several players were there. Several owners were there. They did raise the issue of making sure we have proper medical attention, but they didn’t raise those statistics. That was news to me as of yesterday. I’m disappointed, because I think we have tremendous medical care for our players. These are not just team doctors. These doctors are affiliated with the best medical institutions in the world – the Cleveland Clinic, Stanford, Hospital for Special Surgery. The medical care that is provided to our players is extraordinary. Now, we will always seek to improve it. We will always seek to figure out how we can do things better, provide better medical care, but I think it’s extraordinary. And as I talk to players – including one yesterday – they feel the same way, but we’ll have to address that and we’ll have to figure out what we can do to try to improve it. One of those I also mentioned in the opening. We’ll add a neurosurgeon on the field that can be there for consultation, that can be there for another set of eyes on the field, and to support the doctors in making the best possible decisions on the field, and off the field. And I believe our doctors do that.”

You went to owners meetings in Dallas last year and met with MADD. How disappointing is it that so soon after Jerry Brown’s death that his teammate is arrested for DWI, and is there something else that the league can do to tell the players that this is unacceptable?

“Well, Charean, I think we have to go beyond telling players or telling executives. The reality is we have to do a better job of educating people in the NFL that this is a priority. This is for your safety, for the safety of the people in your car, and for innocent people that are out there. There are services designed to help them make better decisions before they leave their homes. We have to make sure that they understand those services, and most importantly, take advantage of them, use them. We did meet with MADD, and I met with MADD last week. We’re going to engage in a number of programs to help educate all of our clubs – players, coaches (and) executives – on what we can do. Victim impact programs have been very effectively used with several clubs over the past several months. We’re going to do that because this is a high priority, not only for the sake of safety, but it’s part of our responsibility in the communities that we live.”

Yesterday, the NFLPA was very vocal about singling out dissatisfaction with Dr. David Chao, the Chargers’ team doctor, and said it requested the league find a ‘suitable replacement’ for him. What is your response to that request and also comments that NFL players deserve better than Dr. Chao?

“In the CBA, at the union’s request, we entered an agreement that is called Article 50. Article 50 states that if there is an issue with any medical decision, or the medical professionals of the club, there can be a solution by engaging with independent doctors, I believe three neutral doctors, including an NFL attorney, and they will review the matter. As I understand it, that is exactly what is going on in San Diego. We’ll allow the process to unfold. I’m confident our doctors make the best possible decisions for the players, and we’re going to stand behind that. We’ll engage in the process and let it unfold.”

The Rams and local stadium authority are waiting for an arbitrator’s decision on stadium improvement proposals there. Are you confident that the parties can resolve their differences and that the Rams will stay in St. Louis?

“I haven’t gotten an update on the arbitration process. I expect the possibility of a decision in the next couple of weeks. It is, as you know, a clause and a part of a contract that they initially agreed to when the Rams came to St. Louis 12-15 years ago. That is something we are engaging in. We want to make sure that the team gets the stadium issues resolved because they need to have the type of stadium that will help support them for the long term in St. Louis. I believe that the business community and the officials in St. Louis want that outcome. I believe Stan Kroenke wants that outcome. They’re all working together to try and get there. Again, the process is unfolding and I hope they’ll be able to reach that agreement. I’m optimistic they will.”

If they cannot pass the renovations, is the NFL willing to provide any stadium funding for those improvements?

“We’re willing to do that in any market where there is a public/private partnership, to allow the other 31 clubs to help contribute to financing the stadium that will help solve the problem for the long term. If we can get to the point where we have the structure of a deal, I’m very confident that the league will support that and participate.”

The 18-game schedule is still on the table. Is that a reality? And, HGH testing. is that going to happen or not?

“Let me start with the second portion of your question. I believe that HGH testing is going to happen prior to the 2013 NFL season. It’s the right thing to do for the players, for their health and well-being long-term. It’s the right thing to do for the integrity of the game. It’s also the right thing to do to send the right message to everybody else in sports. You don’t have to play the game by taking performance-enhancing drugs. The science is there. There is no question about that. Baseball, Olympics, everyone believes that the science is there and are utilizing the tests, so we need to get to that agreement. On the first part of your question, we’re always going to reevaluate our season structure. We’ve been very open about the fact that we want to address our preseason. Do we need four preseason games? Do we only need two or three? How do we continue to develop talent? How do we continue to evaluate players? The fans’ reaction to the quality of preseason is a big concern. So, we have to do that collectively. That’s what our CBA does. If we wanted to implement an 18-game schedule, we could have done that in the prior CBA. The ownership and management agreed that we would do that collectively and we would consider and balance the player health and safety issues with that. So, we’ll continue to evaluate that. I think the changes we made in the CBA, particularly in offseason training, the training camp period and even during the regular season – eliminating contact, allowing players to get away from the game – that’s been great for the players. They deserve that. Every player I talk to tells me they feel better at this time of the year than they’ve ever felt in the past. I think that’s a direct result of some of the changes in the CBA. We will continue to figure out how we can improve with our season structure, but we will not make changes if we can’t do it in a safe and effective way.”

The union yesterday advocated the appointment of a chief safety officer to overview all player safety, and that would be mutually agreed upon, whoever that person is. Also, advocated credentialing for all team doctors and trainers. Do you see anything that could stand in the way of those kinds of advancements with player health and safety?

“Well again, Albert, let me start with the fact that we spent four hours last Friday meeting with union officials, including many players and owners, and that issue did not come up. It was not raised during that entire four hours. That being said, I would tell you that I believe safety is all of our responsibilities. I can’t appoint somebody who’s going to make the game safer as an individual. That’s all of our responsibilities. I’ll stand up, I’ll be accountable. It’s part of my responsibility, I’ll do everything. But the players have to do it. The coaches have to do it. Our officials have to do it. Our medical professionals have to do it. All of us are going to have to do that. All that being said, since I just heard this in the last 12 hours, I’ll do anything that’s going to help us make the game safer and better. They have my commitment on that, so I’ll be happy to engage in the dialogue in a meeting where we can talk about the plusses and the minuses and how we make the game safer.”

First of all, I have been to 41 Super Bowls. I don’t want to brag on that, but here is what I want to ask you for all of these people. The first ticket to the Super Bowl only costs $12 and that was in Los Angeles. Now, the tickets cost $850, $950 and $1250.

“It sounds like the prices went down.” (Laughter)

Well yeah, they are down in a certain manner.

“I hear you. I understand your point.”

The thing I wanted to know, and I have asked you before, is there some way to put a cap on this thing so the ticket only sells for a certain price? The other thing I was going to say is about the Pro Bowl and that you will still leave it in Hawaii except come after the Super Bowl. A man makes the Pro Bowl, and he might make the Super Bowl, but the way it is with this arrangement is I still think it would be better after the Super Bowl the way it was before.

“OK, well let me start with your question because the second was a comment. The first part of your point was, ‘Could there be a cap on the Super Bowl ticket prices?’ I would tell you that we have worked very hard to try to keep them reasonable and to try to give access to people so they can attend the Super Bowl. It is very difficult because, as you know, they are being sold on the secondary market at multiples of the face value. So, a couple of years ago, it may have been five years ago because it was the first year I was the commissioner, we put a cap on a certain number of tickets so that they could go to the fans. I think we capped it at $500. We found that a lot of times, most of the time, those tickets ended up on the secondary market at multiples. I want our fans to be able to attend NFL games. I want them to be able to come because they want to enjoy the experience and enjoy the event and it’s affordable and that it’s safe. But the realities are that there is a market demand, and there is a limited number of tickets. Only 70,000 people are going to get into that Superdome, but there are hundreds of thousands of people here in New Orleans that are celebrating and part of the event. We work hard to try to engage fans, create the NFL Experience and allow people to be able to come and be part of the event, but there is only a limited number of seats.”

Looking back, do you have any regrets on how the Saints bounty investigation was handled? Even though the player penalties were overturned ultimately, do you feel like the message was still sent to the teams and to the players to avoid this type of behavior in the future?

“Let me just take a moment and get back and make sure everyone is clear on the record. There is no question there was a bounty program in place for three years. I think that that is bad for the players, for the game, and I think the message is incredibly clear, and I don’t believe that bounties will be part of football going forward. That’s good for everybody. I do think that message has come through clear. As it relates to the regrets, I think my biggest regret is that we aren’t all recognizing that this is a collective responsibility to get them out of the game to make the game safer. Clearly the team, the NFL, the coaching staffs, executives and players, we all share that responsibility. That’s what I regret, that I wasn’t able to make that point clearly enough with the union, and with others. That is something we are going to be incredibly relentless on.”

How do you define innovation to improve the NFL? Whether it’s consumer marketing, digital media, player safety, game operations, or the fan experience, is it solving a problem or satisfying a need in a glamorous way that increases value? Within the NFL, is innovation primarily viewed as an ideology or viewed as a process that is less glamorous but more productive?

Well, innovation is something that we are proud of. I made that point in my opening remarks. It’s a philosophy. It’s about you can always get better and it’s your responsibility to seek solutions. I like solutions. I believe in solutions. You have to identify problems and find those solutions. But you also have to have a commitment to finding a better way, and that is part of innovation. What is tricky in an organization like the National Football League is we rely a lot on our tradition. That is important to us. We believe in it. It’s what we are all about. I said this when I became commissioner, I said it to the owners when they fortunately selected me for this job. I said, ‘Our biggest risk is being complacent. We cannot assume that our success is going to continue just because we have been successful.’ I think the last six years, we have continued to find ways to improve. Whether it’s player health and safety, whether it’s making the game better or more exciting, whether it’s giving the fans more opportunity to engage with the game of football closer. The NFL Network is now fully distributed. People are engaging with the NFL on their cell phones. We have more ways for fans to engage, and that’s why I like to say that there has never been a better time to be a fan. Innovation is not just some theme. ,It is something that we feel in our core and something where we are always going to live, to try to make things better.”

You’ve mentioned on previous occasions that the Competition Committee will revisit blocks toward the knee so we don’t have situations like Brian Cushing with the Houston Texans losing a season on a block like that. Is the long-term goal of player safety to create a baseball-type of strike zone, which is mid-chest to just above the knee? Have your studies shown that this is the safest way to avoid the head injuries and maybe some of the lower-limb extremity issues?

“There are several things. First, we’re going to review all low blocks. In working with our Player Advisory Committee that Ronnie Lott and John Madden chair we talked about that earlier this year shortly after the Brian Cushing injury. We need to review all of those low blocks. It’s important for us to try to find ‘Is there a better way of doing what we’re doing?’ We are focused on that with the Competition Committee. As it relates to what you call the ‘strike zone’, there is no question that there is a focus to try to get back to the fundamentals of tackling. The number one issue is: take the head out of the game. I think we’ve seen in the last several decades that the players are using their head more than they have, when you go back several decades. There are several theories on that. The helmets are better; they feel safer using their head. The facemask. You can come up with a lot of theories that we’ve discussed. But the reality is we have to get back to tackling, using the shoulders, using your arms properly to tackle. And there is a strike zone, and that’s where we are encouraging our players to focus and our coaches to coach that way, and it’s made a difference. We have seen a dramatic change in the way that’s happening over the years, so we’ll continue that.”

Vincent Gray, the Mayor of Washington D.C., recently said if the Redskins were ever going to entertain the idea of coming back to the District, there would have to be discussion about the name issue. Recently, the most recent “Indian Country Today” polls, the largest Native American magazine, they dispute and contradict everything Sports Illustrated or the NFL did about 10 years ago. They say that the overwhelming number of Indians, American Indians, do not like the name, they feel it’s offensive: Does the league try to absorb the legal costs for the team when they are sued over trademark infringement by American Indians? And, as a progressive commissioner, how do you feel about the name, and do you have any problem with it going forward?

“Well, the first part of your question, I couldn’t answer. I have no idea who pays the legal costs. I do know that, growing up in Washington, I do understand the affinity for that name with the fans. I also understand the other side of that, and I don’t think anybody wants to offend anybody, but this has been discussed several times over a long period of time. I think Dan Snyder and the organization have made it very clear that they’re proud of that heritage and that name, and I believe the fans are, too.”

The various committees that are down here for next year’s Super Bowl have talked a lot about feeling a little bit of pressure carrying the banner for cold-weather cities. Is what they do next year, and the success or problems of the logistical challenge they have, will that affect your future decisions or consideration of other cold-weather sites?

“The answer is undoubtedly the game next year is going to have an impact on future decisions for open-air, cold-weather sites. We believe, though, in the New York/New Jersey market. We think it’s going to be a fantastic event. I have said many times before, and I believe that the membership has supported this through their vote of awarding the Super Bowl there, that not only is the community prepared for this – they have a great stadium with two teams. The plans that have been developed for the Super Bowl, I think, are extraordinary, and they’re just beginning to be released, and we will be prepared for the weather factors, and this community can do that, but the game of football is made to be played in the elements. Now, we hope they’re not extreme on one hand, but we’ll be prepared for that if that’s the case. Some of our most classic games in our history were played in extreme weather conditions. We know them all, the ‘Ice Bowl,’ some of the games that I look back as a fan and say, ‘That was fun.’ So I’m confident the people of New York and New Jersey, the two teams, the host committee are going to do an extraordinary job next year, and we’re looking forward to it.”

The largest attendance in the history of the league is in Mexico. The first game outside the U.S. was in Mexico. I wanted to ask you why hasn’t the NFL gone back since 2005. Why?

“I’m proud to say I was at that game, and it was a great event. And you could see the passion of the fans in Mexico for that game, and we would like to be back there. Our focus in the last couple of years has obviously been on trying to prove the model works in the UK. We have to make sure that whenever we do come back to Mexico, and I expect we will, that we do it successfully, with the right kind of television support, fan support and sponsor involvement. The stadium will be the kind of stage that we want for that game. So I would expect if we are successful in the UK, where we thankfully are continuing to grow, that we’ll have the opportunity to get back there. And the sooner, the better for me.”

Any time frame?

“No.”

Yesterday the union talked about filing multiple grievances against the NFL, and it recently appealed its collusion loss in the Minnesota federal court to the eighth circuit. Are you disappointed the relationship with the union has remained so litigious?

“Well, Dan, let me start with, the point is I don’t really control that. What I think disappoints me is that we reached a very comprehensive agreement a couple of years ago for 10 years to take the game to another level, and unfortunately we’re spending most of our time focusing on issues that we had agreed to. As you point out, collusion charges, which were very clearly dealt with in the agreement. HGH was agreed to and we should have gotten to the point where we solved our differences and gotten that resolved. Commissioner discipline – I can go on. These are things that were resolved and are clear in the document and in our partnership. What we need to do is get back to focusing on how do we all work together to make the NFL better? I understand we’re going to have differences, I understand why there are grievances, I understand why there are lawyers, but we have to find solutions for the best interests of the game, and that’s my commitment and that’s what we have to work towards.”

Addressing the player safety issue, you said it’s a shared responsibility. Well, earlier this year Alex Smith sustained a concussion, was forthcoming about his condition and while he was out, he lost his starting job. My question for you is, how concerned are you that going forward players are going to be less honest about their condition after seeing a situation like that?

“I believe very strongly that there’s a difference between a medical decision and a football decision. I’m glad that he came forward and identified that he had an injury. That wouldn’t be in the best interest of Alex in the short term or the long term, so players need to do that. I also believe, and he’s been healthy for several weeks, that those are football decisions that the coach has now made. He’s healthy enough to return to play, but the coaches made a decision that they’re going in another direction, and that’s something that the coaches have to do. So while I understand somewhat the dilemma, the highest priority you can have is for players to make sure that they raise their hands when there’s an injury and so that they can get the proper treatment, because they’re not going to be effective as players if they have lingering problems, if they have lingering issues with a concussion. They need to be as healthy as possible to compete in this league, and we all want to see the players on the field, but we let the coaches make the football decisions and the medical personnel make the medical decisions.”

First of all, do you feel welcome here in New Orleans given the way people feel about you in light of the bounty scandal? We have establishments that have your picture that say, ‘Do not serve this man,’ or do you feel somewhat like you’re behind enemy lines? Secondly, Saints fans want to know why you won’t return that second-round draft choice in the next draft?

“Let me take the first part of your question first. I couldn’t feel more welcome here. You know when you look back at it, my picture, as you point out, is in every restaurant. I had a float in the Mardi Gras parade. We got a voodoo doll. I’m serious, really, the people here have been incredible. The last couple of nights I’ve been out with a lot of the people that I worked very closely with following the Katrina tragedy, and we celebrated the work that we did then, but what we did is we all reflected on how great that was that we worked together, and they couldn’t be nicer. They couldn’t be more welcoming, and the same is true with fans. Now, I understand the fans’ loyalty is to the team. They had no part of this. They were completely innocent in this. So I appreciate the passion. I saw that for myself when we were down here for Katrina, and it’s clear that that’s what they’re all about. So I support the fact that they’re passionate in supporting their team. On the last point, the reason there won’t be any change in the second-round draft choice is what I said earlier. There are clear violations of the bounty rule for three consecutive years. That’s not going to be permitted in the NFL. That’s not just my judgment. Commissioner Tagliabue reviewed this, and had his own process and came to the same conclusion that there were violations. So, the reason why we’re not returning any of the draft choices or any of the discipline is because it occurred, and it should not have occurred.”

Kind of piggybacking off that question, yesterday I talked with NFLPA President Domonique Foxworth, and he said because of the bounty scandal and everything that’s happened, trust has been fractured from the players within the league. How do you fix that considering penalties were levied, and then they were vacated twice by parties other than you?

“Let’s make sure the record is clear that the first penalties were vacated only briefly to make sure that there was a distinction between what was a salary-cap violation and what was discipline on the field. That body, the panel that was established by the CBA, made it very clear that that’s the authority of the commissioner. The second issue is Commissioner Tagliabue and I agree on the facts. There was no difference in the findings of the facts with respect to the investigation done by the league overseen by Mary Jo White, verified by Commissioner Tagliabue’s process. The only difference was that he vacated the disciple from the players. We disagree with that. I disagree with that. I believe that we’re all responsible for what goes on in our locker rooms, on the field, as part of our game. That’s a collective responsibility. We’re not going to hide from that. That will be something that – and I said it to our clubs in December when we met – everyone here should understand the responsibility for our rules will be enforced as fairly and as clearly as possible. So I’m going to have to work harder to try to make sure that we can work together; we can trust one another. But we also need to make sure that we understand that we’re going to have differences from time to time, and that’s OK. But there needs to be a fair resolution and move forward in a positive way for the game of football.”

Could you tell us what the selling out of two games in London for 2013, what kind of message that says to your ownership with regard to potential UK franchises?

“I think the message is very clear. There are passionate fans that love the NFL in the UK and, I believe, globally, and that there is another step that we need to look forward to in London. We’re already beginning that process. What’s the next step, beyond the two games? Should we move to three? Should we consider other alternatives to continue to accelerate the growth of the game in the UK? But I think that’s a positive reaction from the fans and our ownership understands this is a market where we need to be more active, and that we need to continue to grow our game. Thank you.”

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NFL Weather Watch — Week 12

Minnesota Vikings v Chicago Bears Getty Images

The weather forecasts suggest snow is unlikely to be seen in any of the outdoor NFL games on Sunday.

However, fans of a certain age might have occasion to hum a few bars of “November Rain.”

Precipitation is possible for Buccaneers-Bears in Chicago and Packers-Vikings in Minneapolis. Meanwhile, the strongest winds could be experienced in Denver for Dolphins-Broncos. And if you like sunshine beaming from the television, Rams-Chargers and Washington-49ers are your best bets.

Here’s a quick look at the game-time weather conditions expected for Sunday’s NFL outdoor games. Forecast data is cited from WeatherUnderground.com:

Titans and Eagles (1 p.m. ET)

Temperature: 51 degrees.

Wind: Six mph out of the south-southwest.

Precipitation chance at kickoff: None.

Lions at Patriots (1 p.m. ET)

Temperature: 52 degrees.

Wind: Eight mph out of the southwest.

Precipitation chance at kickoff: One percent.

Packers at Vikings (1 p.m. ET)

Temperature: 41 degrees.

Wind: Six mph out of the west-northwest.

Precipitation chance at kickoff: 24 percent (increasing as game goes on).

Buccaneers at Bears (1 p.m. ET)

Temperature: 52 degrees.

Wind: 13 mph out of the south.

Precipitation chance at kickoff: 24 percent (increasing as game goes on).

Cardinals at Seahawks (4:05 p.m. ET)

Temperature: 50 degrees.

Wind: 10 mph out of the south-southwest.

Precipitation chance at kickoff: 18 percent.

Rams at Chargers (4:05 p.m. ET)

Temperature: 73 degrees.

Wind: 14 mph out of the northwest.

Precipitation chance at kickoff: None.

Dolphins at Broncos (4:25 p.m. ET)

Temperature: 38 degrees.

Wind: 19 mph out of the northwest.

Precipitation chance at kickoff: 16 percent.

Washington at 49ers (4:25 p.m. ET)

Temperature: 64 degrees.

Wind: Eight mph out of the north-northwest.

Precipitation chance at kickoff: None.

Cowboys at Giants (8:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

Temperature: 46 degrees.

Wind: Five mph out of the south.

Precipitation chance at kickoff: Two percent.

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Cuban calls opposition to gambling “hypocritical”

Cuban AP

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver recently expressed public support for sports wagering.  Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has now echoed Silver’s view that the time has come for legalized gaming on America’s various athletic games.

I agree 100 percent,” Cuban said Saturday, via Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com.  “I think we’re the world’s biggest hypocrites when we say, ‘Oh, we don’t want you betting on our games,’ and then we get all excited about the sports betting line and people go to Vegas on trips won from the NBA or NFL.  I mean, it’s hugely hypocritical.”

Cuban, who made waves in the NFL earlier this year by suggesting that the league’s hoggish tendencies will eventually lead it to the slaughterhouse, predicted that widespread legalized gambling is coming.

“I think over the next three to five years, it will change,” Cuban said.  “And it’ll be interesting to see how the NFL reacts as well, because they’ve still so far said that they’re adamant against it because I guess they have data that says the NFL doesn’t benefit from gambling.”

Cuban pointed to a specific revenue stream that would come from legalized gambling.

“We’ll charge the casinos for information sources, video sources,” Cuban said.  “All you’ve got to do is look overseas.  You can go and legally bet on the NBA in the U.K. and a bunch of other countries, and they’re actually big customers of NBA video. . . .  So you’ve got a template already that’s legal in the rest of the world other than America.”

The NFL remains staunchly opposed to legalized gambling, possibly/probably because the NFL realizes that the pressure to improve officiating and to ensure full integrity of injury reporting would increase dramatically with the legalization of sports wagering.  Likewise, the federal authority charged with regulating gambling would be keenly interested in any irregularities, including a late call that doesn’t change the outcome of the game but that results in significant dollars changing hands by affecting the application of the point spread.

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Jameis Winston not ejected despite contact with official

jameis AP

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston remains the most talked-about college football player in America, for good and for ill, and today he’s added another item that will be recited on the “con” side of the ledger in the NFL draft.

During Florida State’s win over Boston College, Winston moved an official aside as Florida State was trying to get a play run while the official was allowing Boston College’s defense to substitute. It wasn’t a hard shove and Winston wasn’t penalized, but former NFL head of officiating Mike Pereira says that Winston should have been kicked out of the game.

“I’ve looked at this play several times, and in my opinion, Winston should have been penalized for shoving Webster not once, but twice. In fact, I feel he should have been ejected,” Pereira says.

Taken alone, this wouldn’t be a big deal as teams evaluate Winston for the draft. In fact, if a player with a clean image (like the other top quarterback prospect in next year’s draft, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota) did the same thing, people would probably say it just shows what a fiery competitor he is.

But when it’s Winston — who always seems to find a way for his behavior to overshadow his brilliant play — it raises questions once again about whether NFL teams will worry that the headaches he creates are too much to tolerate. Winston is a great college quarterback, but one whom a lot of NFL teams may view as the last person they want to be the face of their franchise.

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Doug Marrone: Fred Jackson likely to play vs. Jets

Fred Jackson AP

The Bills are planning on having their elder statesman in the lineup against the Jets.

Tailback Fred Jackson (groin) is expected to play in Monday night’s game in Detroit, Bills coach Doug Marrone said Saturday, according to Mike Rodak of ESPN.com. Jackson was listed as questionable on the club’s Friday injury report.

The 33-year-old Jackson has missed two out of the last three games because of the injury. He’s third on the team in rushing yards and carries, gaining 249 yards and a touchdown on 58 attempts. His 37 catches are second on the club, and he’s accumulated 300 receiving yards and a TD reception.

A major winter storm forced the Jets-Bills game to be moved from Orchard Park, New York on Sunday to Detroit on Monday night.

The Bills (5-5) are currently 1.5 games out in the AFC wild-card race.

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Week 12 skill-position injury report — final

Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman AP

For fantasy football participants, here are the skill-position players listed on the final Week 12 injury report, with both Monday-night games (Jets-Bills, Ravens-Saints) included. Key fantasy starters are bolded.

Inactives will be posted 90 minutes before game time.

Byes: Steelers, Panthers.

OUT

Bears WR Chris Williams (hamstring).

Broncos RB Montee Ball (foot).

Broncos RB Ronnie Hillman (foot).

Browns TE Jordan Cameron (concussion).

Browns WR Marlon Moore (hamstring).

Colts TE Dwayne Allen (ankle).

Eagles QB Nick Foles (collarbone).

Packers TE Brandon Bostick (hip).

Rams WR Damian Williams (hamstring).

Ravens WR Michael Campanaro (thigh).

Saints RB Khiry Robinson (forearm).

Vikings RB Matt Asiata (concussion).

Washington TE Jordan Reed (hamstring).

DOUBTFUL

Dolphins TE Charles Clay (knee).

QUESTIONABLE

Bills RB Fred Jackson (groin).

Broncos TE Julius Thomas (ankle).

Broncos TE Virgil Green (calf).

Buccaneers RB Charles Sims (ankle).

Buccaneers RB Doug Martin (ankle).

Cardinals RB Andre Ellington (hip, foot).

Dolphins RB Lamar Miller (shoulder).

49ers TE Vance McDonald (hip).

49ers WR Bruce Ellington (ankle).

Lions RB Reggie Bush (ankle).

Rams TE Cory Harkey (quadriceps).

Rams TE Jared Cook (back).

Saints WR Robert Meachem (ankle).

Texans RB Arian Foster (groin).

Titans WR Justin Hunter (knee).

Vikings WR Greg Jennings (rib).

Vikings WR Jarius Wright (hamstring).

PROBABLE

Bears WR Alshon Jeffery (hamstring).

Bears WR Brandon Marshall (ankle).

Bears WR Josh Morgan (shoulder).

Bengals RB Cedric Peerman (hip).

Bengals RB Giovani Bernard (hip).

Bills QB Kyle Orton (toe).

Bills RB Frank Summers (neck).

Bills WR Chris Hogan (hip).

Bills WR Marquise Goodwin (ankle).

Bills WR Sammy Watkins (groin).

Broncos RB Juwan Thompson (knee).

Broncos WR Emmanuel Sanders (concussion).

Cardinals RB Robert Hughes (hamstring).

Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald (knee).

Chargers QB Philip Rivers (chest).

Colts RB Trent Richardson (illness).

Colts WR Reggie Wayne (not injury related).

Cowboys QB Tony Romo (back).

Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill (left shoulder).

Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry (shoulder).

Dolphins WR Mike Wallace (calf).

Eagles WR Jeff Maehl (foot).

Eagles WR Jordan Matthews (knee).

49ers WR Brandon Lloyd (quadriceps).

Falcons RB Steven Jackson (illness).

Falcons WR Devin Hester (wrist).

Falcons WR Harry Douglas (foot).

Falcons WR Julio Jones (illness).

Jaguars QB Blake Bortles (left wrist).

Jets QB Geno Smith (right shoulder).

Jets RB Chris Ivory (shoulder).

Jets RB Chris Johnson (knee).

Jets WR Greg Salas (wrist).

Jets WR T.J. Graham (neck).

Lions RB Joique Bell (ankle).

Lions TE Brandon Pettigrew (foot).

Lions WR Calvin Johnson (ankle).

Lions WR Golden Tate (hip).

Patriots QB Tom Brady (ankle).

Patriots WR Julian Edelman (thigh).

Ravens FB RB Kyle Juszczyk (foot).

Ravens TE Owen Daniels (not injury related).

Saints RB Mark Ingram (shoulder).

Saints RB Pierre Thomas (rib, shoulder).

Saints RB Travaris Cadet (hamstring).

Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch (back).

Texans QB Ryan Mallett (chest).

Texans RB Jonathan Grimes (ankle).

Texans WR Andre Johnson (not injury related).

Titans TE Delanie Walker (concussion).

Vikings RB Jerick McKinnon (back).

Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph (abdomen, groin).

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Broncos sign RB Jeremy Stewart

Denver Broncos practice at Dove Valley Getty Images

The Broncos have swapped reserve running backs in advance of Sunday’s game vs. Miami, promoting veteran Jeremy Stewart from the practice squad and waiving rookie Kapri Bibbs.

The roster move was announced in the NFL’s Saturday transactions.

The 25-year-old Stewart has appeared in 17 regular season games, all with Oakland from 2012 through 2013. A Stanford product, Stewart (5-11, 215) has rushed 27 times for 103 yards and one TD and has caught 10 passes for 68 yards.

Stewart will back up C.J. Anderson and Juwan Thompson on Sunday. Stewart has regular season special teams experience, and he could be called upon to cover kicks, too.

The Broncos have ruled out tailbacks Ronnie Hillman (foot) and Montee Ball (groin) with injuries.

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Reggie Bush is targeting Thanksgiving for return

Bush Getty Images

A lingering ankle injury caused Lions running back Reggie Bush to miss last Sunday’s loss in Arizona.  He’s currently expected to miss Sunday’s game at New England.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Bush intends to return on Thanksgiving, when the Lions host the Bears.

Bush practiced all week on a limited basis, fueling optimism that he’ll help pump up an offense that mustered only six points against the Cardinals.  Officially questionable for Sunday, it’s looking like he won’t be ready to go until Thursday.

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Glenn Dorsey won’t be back for at least a few more weeks

Dorsey Getty Images

Five days ago, the 49ers activated defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey from injured reserve with designation to return.  Per a league source, Dorsey nevertheless remains a few weeks away from being ready to play.

Dorsey suffered a torn biceps in August; he’s listed as out for Sunday’s game with a forearm injury.  Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said recently that Dorsey’s recovery has plateaued.

The problem for the 49ers comes from the decision to activate Dorsey.  He would have remained on IR/DFR until ready to play.  By activating him, they had to make a move to permit Dorsey to count toward the 53-man roster.

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Is Henderson independent? As usual, NFL and NFLPA can’t agree

Peterson Getty Images

The NFLPA wanted Commissioner Roger Goodell to delegate the ability to resolve the appeal of Adrian Peterson’s suspension to a neutral, third-party arbitrator. Goodell instead delegated the case to former NFL executive Harold Henderson.

While not the kind of independence the NFLPA envisioned, Henderson isn’t currently a direct employee of the league office. Sure, he’s routinely appointed by the league to handle hearings involving player discipline, and he’d presumably like those assignments to continue. But a buffer definitely exists between Goodell and Henderson that wouldn’t apply if Goodell had appointed someone like general counsel Jeff Pash to decide the Peterson appeal.

Henderson has handled 87 player appeals since 2008, and he serves as president of the NFL Player Care Foundation, which is funded jointly by the NFL and the NFLPA. Still, the NFLPA wants the league to treat appeals under the personal conduct policy the same way most appeals are now treated under the substance-abuse and PED policies — with a truly neutral and disconnected entity handling the appeal. The fact that Goodell handed the baton to someone to whom he has handed the baton many times before shows that the Peterson case will be handled the same way most cases have been handled in past years. The union believes the issues raised in this case require independence of the kind that was obtained in the Ray Rice appeal.

To legitimize the disciplinary process, the NFLPA wants true independence in every case. The decision to give the Peterson appeal to someone who falls within the bubble of people to whom Goodell is comfortable delegating appeals shows that the league doesn’t want the same kind of independence.

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Pierre Thomas is poised to return, after more than a month

Thomas Getty Images

As the Saints try to avoid falling three games under .500 and in turn losing three straight games at the Superdome for the first time since 2001, they’ll have some extra help in the backfield.

Running back Pierre Thomas appears as probable on the injury report with a rib and shoulder injury.  Thomas last played on October 19 at Detroit.

For the season, he has 133 rushing yards and 204 receiving yards in six games.

Also probable are running back Mark Ingram (shoulder) and running back Tavaris Cadet (hamstring).  Running back Khiry Robinson (forearm) remains out.

The Saints host the Ravens on Monday night, in the normal Monday night slot of 8:30 p.m. ET.  The Jets and Bill play in Detroit, starting at 7:00 p.m. ET.

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Charles Woodson wasn’t pleased with Sio Moore’s celebration

Woodson AP

Raiders linebacker Sio Moore is lucky his excessive third-down celebration didn’t prevent Oakland from winning for the first time in 17 tries.  If that had happened, Moore would have had a problem beyond the Raiders falling to 0-11.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Woodson said, via Michael Wagaman of ESPN.com.  “That was the first time I had ever seen somebody celebrate for a whole 40-second clock. That was ridiculous, and they know it. I told Sio he’s lucky we got the win because we really probably would’ve had to fight, and I would’ve seen exactly what kind of fighter he is.”

Moore has apologized for lingering so long in celebration that a timeout had to be taken, because he and Khalil Mack were well behind the Kansas City backfield as the Chiefs prepared to snap the ball.

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Eric Decker admits it’s tough to see Emmanuel Sanders’s success

decker AP

This offseason saw receiver Eric Decker leave Denver for the Jets in free agency, and Emmanuel Sanders sign with the Broncos to take Decker’s place. Decker sometimes feels the way you’d expect a receiver to feel about leaving a first-place team quarterbacked by Peyton Manning and joining a last-place team quarterbacked by Geno Smith and Michael Vick.

“Honestly, sometimes it’s hard to watch them when they’re playing,” Decker told the New York Daily News. “When they’re clicking on all cylinders, they’re a tough football team. They got the right pieces.”

Sanders ranks fifth in the NFL with 954 receiving yards, while Decker ranks 62nd in the NFL with 450 receiving yards. Decker isn’t crazy about watching that.

“Emmanuel Sanders is playing well in my spot, so to speak,” Decker said. “Sometimes, you know, it’s tough to see all the success. But that’s football. It’s going to go in swings. Who says we can’t be a great football team? We got to obviously do some right things to get there, but I’m happy for Peyton and Demaryius [Thomas]. I respect them so much. They’re all good friends, so I like to see them do well, but sometimes it’s hard.”

Decker isn’t saying he regrets leaving Denver, and his contract with the Jets gives him 36 million reasons to be happy where he is. But Decker is being honest about his mixed emotions: It’s tough to leave a team like the Broncos to play like a team for the Jets.

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Jerry Hughes fined $22,050 for abusive language to an official

Buffalo Bills v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes said something naughty to an official on Thursday night, and he’ll pay for it.

The NFL has fined Hughes $22,050 for unsportsmanlike conduct. Specifically, according to the NFL, Hughes “directed abusive language towards an official.”

We don’t know exactly what Hughes said, but he insisted that it was nothing that warranted a penalty. Hughes said all he did was tell the officials that they had missed a holding penalty that should have been called on the Dolphins.

“There really wasn’t one,” Hughes said when asked what explanation he got from the officials. “I did yell because I did get held on that play. I made sure I yelled, ‘Holding.’ Whatever else came after that, I really don’t know. I don’t know. . . . I’ve never really seen a holding call missed at the point of attack like that. So I really don’t know. I’m at a loss for words right now.”

This was the second time referee Walt Coleman’s crew gave Hughes an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty this season. The last time was Week 6 against the Patriots, when Hughes appeared to do nothing warranting a penalty. Hughes says he doesn’t know what the deal is with this officiating crew.

“It’s the same crew from New England, from when we played New England, so it just doesn’t surprise me,” Hughes said.

But in this case, the NFL obviously agrees with the officials that Hughes said something wrong. Something that will cost him $22,050.

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DeMarcus Ware added to injury report, listed as probable

Denver Broncos vs New England Patriots, NFL Getty Images

One of the Broncos’ top pass rushers is a late addition to the injury report, but it does not appear to be a big deal.

Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware (illness) was placed on the report Saturday, the team said. However, he’s listed as probable for Sunday’s game vs. Miami.

According to Mike Klis of the Denver Post, Ware was sent home sick on Saturday.

The 32-yard-old Ware has started all 10 games for the Broncos this season, notching 28 tackles and nine sacks. He had played the previous eight seasons with the Cowboys, where he established himself as one of the top pass rushers of his generation.

The Broncos (7-3) are a half-game ahead of the Chiefs and one game in front of the Chargers in the AFC West.

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Week 12 “Three and Out”

Romo AP

With only six Sundays left in the season, things are getting more and more interesting for the teams in contention.  And, for some of the teams not in contention, more and more dysfunctional.

Speaking of dysfunctional, PFT continues to produce every Saturday a three-questions-per-game look at every contest to be played on every Sunday.  There’s one less Sunday game this week, with Jets-Bills moved to Monday.  But with only two teams on byes, there will be plenty of stuff going on in the twelfth Sunday of 2014.

To get up to speed on all of the action, perform the action that requires precious little effort — scroll down.

Browns at Falcons

1.  How much will Josh Gordon be used?

Plenty.  Heavily.  Extensively.

Officially, the Browns plan to ease Gordon, who missed 10 games under his latest drug suspension, back into the game plan.  The Falcons aren’t buying it.  Neither is anyone else.

Gordon remains one of the best receivers in the NFL.  He potentially opens up the rest of the offense.  He’ll be on the field, and he’ll be a key contributor.

2.  What kind of chemistry do Gordon and Brian Hoyer have?

Given that they have played in only three games together, this isn’t quite Montana and Rice.  But in their very first career game together last year, it was.

Hoyer and Gordon connected 10 times for 146 yards and a touchdown against the Vikings.  It was the last time the Browns played in a dome.

On Sunday, Gordon and Hoyer are together again.  In a dome again.  So, yeah, things could get interesting.

3.  Do the Falcons wash their hands enough?

Apparently not.  Three offensive starters have missed time this week with the flu.

Receiver Julio Jones, running back Steven Jackson, and fullback Patrick DiMarco headline the victims of the virus.  Coach Mike Smith has said Jones will play, and he’s listed a probable (as are Jackson and DiMarco).  But will Jones be ready?

It’s been kind of difficult,” Roddy White said this week regarding the absence of Julio Jones. “Going through plays and stuff, we’ve got people moving around.  He’s just got to get healthy.  He’s going through the flu bug so we’ve just got to get him right and get him ready on Sunday.”

Buccaneers at Bears

1.  What kind of reception will Lovie Smith get?

The over/under on signs that say “Lovie Come Home” or something similar at Soldier Field should be 52.5.  Smith, whom linebacker Lance Briggs has said should be regarded among the best coaches in franchise history with George Halas and Mike Dikta, remains beloved in Chicago.  Smith is likely even more beloved now that the team is struggling under Marc Trestman.

Those cheers could quickly subside if/when Smith and his 2-8 Bucs upend the Bears, who continue to struggle even though they managed to outscore the Vikings a week ago.  Or maybe Bears fans will convert to Tampa fans.  After all, the Buccaneers are a lot closer to playoff contention in the NFC South than the Bears are in the NFC North.

2.  Can Mike Evans keep it going?

There’s no reason to think he can’t.  The rookie told PFT Live earlier this week that the pro game already has slowed down for him.  His performances the past three weeks underscore that reality.

In each of the last three games, Smith has seven catches.  In each of the last three games, he generated at least 124 passing yards.  In each of the last three games, he scored at least one touchdown.

Last Sunday, Evans became the youngest player in league history to surpass 200 receiving yards in one game, securing the NFC offensive player of the week award with seven catches for 209 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

With size, speed, and uncanny ball skills, Evans quickly is becoming one of the best receivers in the NFL.  Soon, he could simply be one of the best receivers in the NFL, regardless of age.

3.  Will the clocks at Soldier Field work any better this week?

They can’t work much worse.  Last week, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer wasn’t happy with a malfunction that forced quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to play a soccer-style guessing game regarding the amount of time remaining.  This week, the situation apparently has been remedied.

“That was a first, and we’d like to say a last,” a Soldier Field spokesman said this week.  “But the [clocks] are ready for Sunday.”

The one thing we know for sure is that, given Lovie Smith’s more laid-back style, it’s unlikely he’ll describe the clocks the same way Zimmer did.

Bengals at Texans

1.  Which Andy Dalton will show up?

Good question.  Two weeks ago, it was Andy Dalton 2.0.  Last Sunday, it was Andy Dalton 2.0.

Having a healthy and productive receiver A.J. Green helped; Green generated 127 receiving yards against the Saints.  Rookie running back Jeremy Hill added 152 on the ground.  Now, running back Gio Bernard has recovered from a hip injury.  So Dalton has weapons.

Of course, the Texans have a fairly potent weapon in defensive end J.J. Watt.  If he can make Dalton uncomfortable, we may see more of the guy who failed in Cleveland two weeks ago — and less of the guy who beat the Saints in their own building.

2.  Are the Texans a legitimate contender?

Only one game behind the Colts, Houston has a pair of encounters remaining against Jacksonville and a visit from the Titans.  That should get Houston to eight wins.  Standing between eight and 11 are the Bengals, Colts, and Ravens.

The test starts Sunday.  Beat the Bengals, and nine games should be a sure thing — 10 games will be a strong possibility.

3.  With Gio Bernard healthy, how much will we see Jeremy Hill?

With Bernard injured, Hill gained more than 360 yards in three games.  Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson says that has resulted in Hill earning more time once Bernard returns on Sunday.

While the Hill-Bernard rotation could drive fantasy owners crazy down the stretch, it could help the Bengals hold off the other three teams in the AFC North.

Jaguars at Colts

1.  What will the Colts do without Ahmad Bradshaw?

Trent Richardson gets yet another chance to justify Indy’s decision to send a first-round pick for the guy on whom the Browns burned the No. 3 overall selection.  Richardson currently has an average of 3.4 yards per carry; Bradshaw, who is out for the year with a broken bone in his leg, was gaining 4.7 yards per attempt.

If Richardson can’t get it done, look for Boom Herron to get more chances.

One guy who won’t be helping the cause is Ben Tate.  While the Colts made a waivers claim on the former Browns tailback, the Vikings had priority.  Surprisingly, the Colts showed no interest in LeGarrette Blount, who gained 166 yards and scored four touchdowns against Indy in the 2013 playoffs.

2.  Could Coby Fleener have a big game?

With tight end Dwayne Allen ruled out due to an ankle injury, Fleener will get a chance to build on his Week 11 performance, which resulted in 144 receiving yards.

I think he’s playing better than I’ve ever seen him,” receiver (former, as of Saturday afternoon) Griff Whalen said this week of his Stanford and Colts teammate. “His demeanor on the field is more physical and more aggressive. After the catch, he’s not shying away from contact. He’s embracing it.”

It’s not bad for a guy who nearly quit football in high school, but who stuck with it because a scholarship was the only path to college.

3.  Does Jags coach Gus Bradley like a little scuffling in practice?

Absolutely.  It happened on Thursday, and Bradley approved.

“We had some guys getting together and had to break them up a little bit but through competition going on,” Bradley said.  “It was a very spirited practice. . . .  It wasn’t like a like a big fight. It was just a scuffle.”

But it shows that the Jaguars still have a little fight in them, despite having only one win on the year.

Packers at Vikings

1.  Will Teddy Bridgewater’s presence make a difference?

Probably not.  While the rookie definitely represents a step up over Christian Ponder, who played poorly when Bridgewater was injured in Week Five, Bridgewater has yet to play like he did in his debut as a starter against the Falcons.

And the Falcons are a far cry from the Packers, who have been rolling over every team in their path.  To outscore Green Bay, Bridgewater must be able to go toe-to-toe with Aaron Rodgers.  Few quarterbacks in the NFL currently can pull that off.

2.  How much will Ben Tate play?

Tate was cut by the Browns in part because he didn’t like his role.  In Minnesota, he doesn’t care what his role will be.

He could have a fairly significant one, given that Matt Asiata won’t play this week with a concussion.

Of course, none of the team’s running backs will have much of a role if the Packers run away with the game the way they ran away with the first round last month in Green Bay.

3.  Will Clay Matthews be used outside or inside?

For now, it looks like he’ll primarily stay inside.  Even with outside linebacker Nick Perry questionable due to a shoulder injury, the Packers may opt not to slide Matthews, who is probable with a groin injury, from the inside.

“I think it’s more of a next man up type of mentality around here,” Matthews said this week. “I’m sure [Jayrone] Eliott will have more opportunities as well as Mike [Neal] and [Julius Peppers]. As we have seen in weeks prior, I rush off the edge and play in the middle, so wherever they need me, I will be there.”​

Lions at Patriots

1.  Will the Patriots double-team Ndamukong Suh?

Not constantly.  Coach Bill Belichick is leery about devoting too many resources to stifling Suh.

“As much as you try to double anybody, say Suh, sometimes you can’t because the guy you would have doubling him has to block a blitzer in pass protection,” Belichick said this week. “They create some single matchups like that.”

Still, Belichick knows he needs to find a way to stop Suh.

He changes everything,” Belichick said later in the week.

2.  How much of LeGarrette Blount will we see?

We could see plenty.  Coach Bill Belichick says Blount’s role will be up to him.  It also may be up to Jonas Gray’s ability to show up on time.

With Gray being sent home after being late on Friday due a cell-phone battery snafu, Blount already has a leg up.

Blount used his legs in January, gaining 166 yards and scoring four touchdowns against the Colts.  Gray duplicated the four touchdowns and added 35 yards last Sunday against Indy.  Either guy could give the running game a boost as the weather turns and the wind starts to whip.

3.  How will the Lions deal with tight end Rob Gronkowski?

It sure sounds like they’d like to knock Gronk out of the game.

“Obviously, when we get him in situations where he’s having to block, our defensive ends, we’ve got to rough him up,” Lions safety Glover Quin said this week.  “When we get him in situations where he catches the ball, we’ve got to make sure we’re hitting him.”

Gronk has a history of getting injured, and he plays with reckless abandon. If you hit him hard and hit him often, there’s a chance he gets injured and exits the game.

Before 2012, it was a given that teams should aspire to put the opponent’s best players on the sidelines.  The bounty scandal forced that talk to become muted.  But the incentive remains.  For the Lions, rendering Gronkowski unable to play could be the difference between winning and losing.

Titans at Eagles

1.  How is Mark Sanchez doing?

It depends on who you ask.  Sanchez thinks he’s not doing well enough.  Coach Chip Kelly seems to think he’s doing OK.

The numbers suggest Sanchez is struggling.  But the Eagles currently have no viable alternative to Sanchez.  They need to simply hold it together while Nick Foles‘ collarbone heals.

With seven good teams jockeying for five playoff berths in the NFC, it may not heal in time to salvage Philly’s seat at the postseason table.

2.  How is Zach Mettenberger doing?

He had a solid showing on Monday night, averaging 11 yards per throw and racking up a passer rating of 110.2.  But the rookie has yet to earn a victory for the Titans, who have lost four in a row.

Still, his teammates believe in him.

I think Zach has been doing outstanding,” veteran receiver Nate Washington said this week.  “He brings a lot to the table, a big strong arm. He’s smart behind the center, knows what is going.  We were playing the Pittsburgh Steelers, and as a rookie he gave his all.  He is progressing every week, and I think Zach has a huge, bright future in this league and I am excited to watch him grow.”

“He throws a pick-six on the first play of the game and it takes a lot of maturity and a lot of consistency and love for the game to not just throw it in from there,” tackle Taylor Lewan said. “That kind of stuff will get you, and he just bounced right back and started slinging the ball.  That’s the kind of guy he is.  I think he somewhat made a name for himself.”

He would have made more of a name for himself if the Titans had beaten the Steelers.  He has another chance to do it against the other team from Pennsylvania.

3.  Is LeSean McCoy the same player he was in 2013?

He says he is.

“Man, listen: I don’t care what’s out there,” McCoy said this week.  “I’m not going to address, ‘Am I the same player?’  For what?  What are we talking about, am I the same player?  That’s for you all to figure out.  Are you crazy?  Am I the same player?  I am the same player.”
The evidence suggests otherwise.

72.9 yards per game on average.  3.7 yards per carry on average.

He has only one 100-yard game, and three with fewer than 25.  Injuries along the offensive line surely are a factor.  But it’s possible McCoy has indeed slipped, which could make it harder for coach Chip Kelly, who is willing to assess every player relative to skills, salary, and cap number, to justify bringing him back in 2015.

Rams at Chargers

1.  Is Philip Rivers injured?

Yes, but that isn’t slowing him down.

“I can honestly say that there’s nothing going on that’s hindering me in any way,” Rivers said this week. “Shoot, there’s a lot of guys in that locker room that are playing that are a lot sorer than I am.”

It’s not in Rivers’ DNA to cry uncle when it comes to injuries.

“Growing up around it, my dad always said, ‘Shoot, unless you can’t walk, you find a way to play, or find a way to get off the field,’” Rivers said.  “That was the main thing.  Don’t lay out there on the field.  I found my way off a few times last Sunday.”

The Chargers finally put Rivers on the injury report, three days after tight end Antonio Gates said the quarterback has a “very severe rib injury.”  But Rivers says he’ll play on Sunday, and that he’ll be “fresh.”

2.  Is Rivers’ center injured, again?

Yes.  And it could mean that the team’s fourth different starting center will play on Sunday.

Rich Ohrnberger is questionable; if he can’t play, rookie Chris Watt gets the nod.

Watt has 64 snaps at center so far, and he has been playing some guard.

“The old adage is, he’s no longer a rookie,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said this week. “He’s proven himself.”

3.  When will Chris Long be back?

Possibly soon.  He suffered an ankle injury in Week One, and he remains on injured reserve with designation for return, even though he could have returned to the active roster three weeks ago.

“He’s getting better each day,” coach Jeff Fisher said this week. “We’ll just wait and see how he is [Friday].  If that’s the case [and Long is ready], then obviously we have to make a roster move, so we’ll see how he is.”

Whether or not the roster move is made late Saturday, the roster move could be coming sooner.

Cardinals at Seahawks

1.  What’s wrong with Seattle’s passing game?

The easy answer is that receiver Golden Tate left for free agency, that receiver Percy Harvin was traded, and that tight end Zach Miller has landed on IR.  And that the offensive line has been banged up all year.

The tougher answer is the question of whether quarterback Russell Wilson has plateaued as a passer.  Heading into the season, it appeared he had found the proverbial next level.  Now, not.

Since a Monday night performance at Washington that launched an MVP campaign for the third-year quarterback, Wilson has lost a lot of his touch.

In the four games including the win at Washington, Wilson threw eight touchdown passes and one interception.  In the six games since then, five touchdown passes and four picks.  He also is missing open receivers and relying much more on his legs.

Whether it’s by the air or by the ground, the Seahawks need Wilson to come through on Sunday against Arizona, or the chances of repeating as NFC West champions will be slim and none even before a Thanksgiving night showdown against the 49ers.

2.  How much should be expected from Larry Fitzgerald?

It’s hard to say.  He has a Grade 2 MCL sprain, and as former NFL athletic trainer Mike Ryan explained earlier this week on PFT on NBCSN, that usually means the player will miss at least a week.

But Fitzgerald played a full half with the knee injury, and he remains optimistic that he’ll be able to go on Sunday.

Officially a game-time decision, Fitz has had a big game in every other game since the bye week.  This week, he’s due for another big game.  With the Cardinals unexpectedly soaring and one win away from delivering a regular-season knockout punch to the Seahawks, don’t count him out.

3.  How has Drew Stanton discovered his current level of performance?

In part, by revising his diet.  An offseason consultation with an allergist resulted in a determination that Stanton is allergic to milk.  In addition to dairy products, he also was advised to ditch pork, turkey, bananas, and cucumbers.

(Cucumbers?  If I couldn’t eat cucumbers I would no longer want to live.)

Stanton dropped 15 pounds, and he feels better than ever.

“I recover faster, feel light and still have my strength,” Stanton said this week. “I just feel a lot better at this weight.”

The way he’s playing, he’d feel good at any weight.

Dolphins at Broncos

1.  Why is Peyton Manning getting impatient?

Because he knows the window is closing on his team’s ability to force the road to Arizona through Denver.  And if the Broncos eventually have to return to Foxboro in January, it’s probably not going to end any better than it did three weeks ago.

Your sense of urgency has to increase,” Manning said this week.  “Realizing there aren’t many games left and we better get on it, better get going.  Need to play better, I need to play better, . . . You can say all you want, you can talk about doing it, but you’ve got to go and do it.”

It starts, in many respects, with the offensive line.  The Dolphins have the horses to swarm Manning like the Rams did last week, and like the Seahawks did in the Super Bowl.  That’s a lingering problem that needs to be fixed or the Broncos won’t be able to get back to the NFL championship game.  And if they do, they may get roughed up yet again.

2.  Is Bill Lazor worried about reports of griping from players?

Nope.

He says that any actual or perceived friction with players reflects that which is normal for NFL teams.

“You’ve been at practice, nothing is different,” Lazor said this week. “You’ve been at training camp where you could be at the whole practices.  I would like to think that, if the players were asked, that they would say I’ve been professional.

“I’d say there would probably be very, very few times that a curse word has come out of my mouth, but that I’m demanding from them.  The greatest feedback I’ve gotten from our players in one-on-one settings is when they’ve told me how much they appreciate the expectations I have for the offense.”

Those expectations, for the most part, haven’t been met.  So the truth is that the players, not the coaches, are the more likely source of any friction.

3.  Will the Broncos sign Richie Incognito?

Denver hasn’t given him a job yet; if he’d been on the team for Sunday’s visit from Miami, the story lines (and punchlines) would have written themselves.  It remains unclear whether Denver will give him a shot.

No real updates,” coach John Fox said this week. “It’s kind of a personnel matter and we did have him in for a workout. I think that was well-documented. . . .  We work out a lot of people throughout the season. We’re always looking to improve our football team any way possible and I’ll leave it at that.”

So what does Incognito’s former head coach think of the possibility of Incognito getting a job with the Broncos?

“I think Denver has a great front office and a great personnel staff, and they have to certainly make decisions that are best for their football team,” coach Joe Philbin said.  “I’ll leave it at that.”

So they’ll both leave it at that.  For now, the NFL has continued to leave Incognito on his couch.

Washington at 49ers

1.  What should be expected from Aldon Smith in his second game of the year?

Plenty.  In his first game after a nine-game suspension, Smith participated in 54 of 68 defensive snaps.  His mere presence helped make it easier for his teammates to create pressure on Eli Manning, by diluting the available protection.

This week, the protection for Washington could be diluted from the get-go, if left tackle Trent Williams (knee, ankle) can’t play.  Williams’ absence would thrust rookie Morgan Moses into the fray, and he’d be facing Smith.

In other words, quarterback Robert Griffin III had better be ready to run.

2.  Is Robert Griffin III in trouble?

Yes, if the head coach has any say in Griffin’s future.  On Monday, Jay Gruden called out the quarterback both for calling out teammates and for not playing very well.  Gruden later said he went too far — and then he went even farther, calling Griffin “coddled” and making it clear that the “clock’s ticking” on the second overall pick in the 2012 draft.

Gruden specifically mentioned that Colt McCoy has generated a 2-0 record during games played while Griffin was injured.  McCoy could end up playing while Griffin is not injured.

After the year, Washington could be moving on from Griffin — if Gruden gets to make the call on the future of the quarterback position.

3.  Is Jay Gruden in trouble?

Yes, if the owner still remains fully committed to the guy for whom the team gave up three first-round picks and a second-round pick less than three years ago.

While Daniel Snyder and president/G.M. Bruce Allen have remained silent about this week’s string of regrettable remarks from quarterback and coach, they surely have an opinion.  If the opinion is that the first-year head coach has unfairly undermined the franchise quarterback, the franchise may not give the coach a second year.

Cowboys at Giants

1.  Will Cowboys limit DeMarco Murray’s touches?

They claim they won’t, but they should.  The Giants have the worst run defense in the entire league, and the Cowboys have to play again on Thursday, against the Eagles.

This would be a great opportunity to get Murray a little rest, give Joseph Randle some reps, and have Murray ready to roll on a short week made even shorter by playing on Sunday night and again on Thursday afternoon.

2.  How healthy is Tony Romo?

He apparently has recovered from the fractured transverse processes in his back, but he still doesn’t practice on Wednesdays due to the broader concerns about the condition of his spine.  With a game on Thursday, that’s more than a little concerning.

The best move for the Cowboys would be to build a big lead on Sunday night and then get Romo out of the game, so that he’ll have maximum time to rest before facing Philly with the division lead on the line.

3.  Is Eli Manning on the hot seat?

We’d have a more clear picture if his coach were Jay Gruden.  And while no one with the Giants is saying anything bad about Eli (indeed, co-owner John Mara has praised him), the seat has heat as it relates to a contract that expires after the 2015 season.

With a salary of $17 million and a cap number of $19.5 million next year, it could become very difficult to apply the right value to Eli for 2016 and beyond.  Impasse on that point could be the thing that ultimately forces the Giants to move on, because they surely won’t be inclined to apply the franchise tag to Manning in 2016, when based on his 2015 cap number he’d be owed a guaranteed salary of $23.4 million.

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