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Team-by-team look at who would/could/should be tagged

Clady AP

On Monday, the two-week window for using the franchise tag opens.  Every team can use the franchise tag (or the rarely-used transition tag) on one player.

Last year, 21 teams took advantage of the franchise tag, which no longer is based on the five highest-paid players at the position but on a far more convoluted (and club friendly) formula.

It’s not a coincidence.  The new formula makes it much cheaper to keep a player off the open market than it would to pay him a multi-year market contract.

Here’s a look at the team-by-team candidates for the 2013 tag, in alphabetical order.

Arizona Cardinals:  The Cardinals need to keep hard-nosed cover corner Greg Toler, but not at anything close to the eight-figure franchise number.  No other pending free agents have the talent or potential to justify franchise money.  Last year, the Cardinals used the tag on defensive end Calais Campbell; they eventually signed him to a long-term deal.

Atlanta Falcons:  Left tackle Sam Baker, drafted in round one the same year as the man whose blind side he protects, has had good years and bad years.  After starting 16 games in 2012, Baker hits the market on a high note.  Still, the glut of tackles in free agency and the draft will make it hard to justify tagging Baker; if he leaves, the Falcons can find a capable replacement after the market softens.  In 2012, the Falcons used the tag on cornerback Brent Grimes, who tore an Achilles tendon in Week One.  Tagging him would cost $12.48 million for 2013.  It would cost nearly half that amount to tag safety William Moore.

Baltimore Ravens:  It’s not a question of if the Ravens will tag quarterback Joe Flacco.  The only remaining unknown is the level of the tag.  And while a lazy look at the situation would lead to conclusively presuming that there’s no way Flacco leaves Baltimore, there’s a chance (slim, but a chance) that the player and the team could be destined for a game of chicken that would result in both cars flying off the cliff.  The Ravens could opt to go non-exclusive, daring Flacco to sign an offer sheet with another team — and assuming that he never would.  Another team with plenty of cap space could easily craft a front-loaded offer sheet that the Ravens wouldn’t be able to match.  It’s not likely, but anyone who thinks there’s no way Flacco leaves the Ravens hasn’t been paying close enough attention to the far crazier things the NFL has seen in recent years.

Buffalo BillsJairus Byrd has become one on the best free safeties in the league.  With George Wilson gone in a cap move, the Bills need to keep Byrd.  Absent a long-term deal, the tag is the only way to make it happen.  If a long-term deal can be negotiated, guard Andy Levitre becomes a candidate for the tag.  The only impediment would be the fact that interior offensive linemen get the same franchise tender as tackles.

Carolina Panthers:  Their list of potential free agents contains no names that cry out for use of the tag, especially since the Panthers are still dealing with the sins of salary caps past.

Chicago Bears:  The Bears need to keep defensive tackle Henry Melton, but they’ve already got plenty of cap space tied up with defensive players like sackmaster Julius Peppers, cornerback Charles Tillman, and linebacker Lance Briggs.  With Melton regarding himself as the best defensive tackle in the league, a long-term deal could be hard to come by.  Despite his name recognition, linebacker Brian Urlacher isn’t a serious candidate for the tag.

Cincinnati Bengals:  The Bengals are extremely careful with money.  On defense, lineman Michael Johnson is the most obvious candidate to be tagged.  It’s just as likely that the Bengals will be content to go bargain shopping (again) for defensive players to replace their bevy of free agents on that side of the ball, and then hope that defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer can whip up another batch of chicken salad.  On offense, the tag could be used to keep Andre Smith, who quietly has overcome his notorious Jello run to develop into an elite right tackle.  Last year, the tag was used on kicker Mike Nugent; tagging him again would cost only $3.48 million.  Which could make him the most likely candidate.

Cleveland Browns:  Kicker Phil Dawson was tagged in 2011 and 2012.  Using it a third time would entitle him to quarterback money.  So if it’s used, it won’t be used on him.  Punter Reggie Hodges is hitting the market after three years with the team.  Though his performance doesn’t cry out “franchise tag,” it could be cheaper to squat on him for a year than to sign a replacement on the open market; that’s why so many punters and kickers have been tagged in recent years.

Dallas Cowboys:  Tagged last year at $10.5 million, linebacker Anthony Spencer still hasn’t had the kind of impact that he should, given that he plays across from DeMarcus Ware.  Spencer isn’t worth $12.4 million for one more year.

Denver Broncos:  V.P. of football operations John Elway has said that the tag will be used on left tackle Ryan Clady, and for good reason.  Last year, Clady turned down a five-year, $50 million deal.

Detroit Lions:  It’ll take $12.4 million to use the tag for a second straight year on defensive end Cliff Avril, and it won’t be easy for the Lions to round up the kind of cap space necessary to keep him around.  Safety Louis Delmas doesn’t like being labeled as injury prone, but he is.  And the Lions will have to decide whether they want to make a long-term or short-term (via the tag) investment in the guy who could be this decade’s Bob Sanders.  Tackle Gosder Cherilus also could be tagged, but in a buyer’s market for tackles it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to do it.

Green Bay Packers:  Receiver Greg Jennings turns 30 in September.  In other words, the Packers won’t be using the tag on Greg Jennings.  The Packers learned while he was injured in 2012 that they can live without him, and they won’t be inclined to invest $10 million in cap space to a guy who plays a position that, with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, is virtually interchangeable.  If the Packers wanted to keep Jennings, they’d be trying to sign him.  They’re not, which likely means he won’t be tagged.

Houston Texans:  Last year, the Texans passed on tagging linebacker Mario Williams because of the exorbitant tender that the final year of his first-overall rookie contract would have generated.  With linebacker Connor Barwin, much less cap space would be consumed.  After seeing former Texans receiver Jacoby Jones deliver an MVP-caliber performance in the Super Bowl, G.M. Rick Smith may be a little less willing to let quality players walk away in 2013.  Another possible (and cheaper) candidate for the tag is punter Donnie Jones.

Indianapolis Colts:  The man with the self-styled boomstick can be kept off the market for the low, low price of the punter/kicker franchise tag ($2.9 million).  Absent a long-term deal, it’s hard to envision the Colts moving forward without punter Pat McAfee.

Jacksonville Jaguars:  A roster thin on star power naturally doesn’t create many franchise-tag candidates, especially with a new G.M. and (another) new coaching staff.  If linebacker Daryl Smith didn’t miss most of the season, he’d be a potential candidate.  Fullback Greg Jones would be a candidate, if fullbacks weren’t lumped in with running backs for franchise tag purposes.

Kansas City Chiefs:  The Chiefs are trying to work out a long-term deal with receiver Dwayne Bowe; if they don’t, it would cost $11.4 million to keep him around for a second season via the tag.  But receivers are more plentiful than competent offensive linemen, and new Chiefs coach Andy Reid witnessed the hard way in 2012 the consequences of not having competent blockers.  This reality makes tackle Branden Albert a more likely candidate to be tagged.  Then there’s punter Dustin Colquitt, who like most punters and kickers could be cheaper to keep via the one-year franchise tag.

Miami Dolphins:  Tackle Jake Long’s rookie deal makes the cap number for tagging him way too high to justify, especially in light of the gradual decline in his play.  With cornerback Sean Smith looking for big money, the best move could be to tag him instead of Long.

Minnesota Vikings:  G.M. Rick Spielman wants to keep road-grading right tackle Phil Loadholt.  With left tackle Matt Kalil tied up via an affordable rookie deal, the Vikings can afford to pay Loadholt a large chunk of money for at least the next two seasons, before Kalil will be looking for his second contract.  Whether that large chunk of money equates to the franchise tag for Loadholt is a decision the Vikings have to make in light of the realities of the tackle market — and within the context of the impact of the use of the tag on the expectations of receiver Percy Harvin.  They’d also like to keep fullback Jerome Felton, but there’s no fullback franchise tag; they’d have to tender him at the running back level.

New England Patriots:  The Patriots have a trio of players who are potential candidates for the tag.  Whether it’s receiver Wes Welker, tackle Sebastian Vollmer, cornerback Aqib Talib, or no one, it won’t be an easy decision.  Welker would command $11.4 million, given that he was tagged in 2012.  It would be a shock if they tag him.  Vollmer has Marcus Cannon behind him on the depth chart, plus plenty of other tackles available in free agency.  The Pats could be inclined to let Vollmer leave if someone else is willing to overpay him.  Talib presents the biggest conundrum, given his positive impact on the team’s so-so defense.  They need him, but he present plenty of risk given his history of off-field incidents.

New Orleans Saints:  Left tackle Jermon Bushrod is the most obvious candidate for the tag.  But the Saints don’t have the cap space to spare.  They easily replaced guard Carl Nicks with Ben Grubbs last year, and the tackle market is far more plentiful in 2013 than the market was for guards last season.  Defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis doesn’t project to nose tackle in the team’s new 3-4 defense, but he could be a candidate to play defensive end in Rob Ryan’s defense, if the Saints want to fork over the money necessary to keep him around.  Things would get interesting if the Saints tag Ellis as a tackle despite a desire to move him to end, since there’s a $2.6 million gap between the two tenders.

New York Giants:  But for the likely existence of collusion in the restricted free agency market, the Giants should be thinking about tagging receiver Victor Cruz.  Since teams have abandoned in recent years the pursuit of RFAs, there’s no reason for the Giants to double the compensation they’d get if someone else swipes Cruz.  Left tackle Will Beatty becomes a candidate for the tag, along with safety Kenny Phillips.  The cheapest of all would be tight end Martellus Bennett, who didn’t get the long-term deal he wanted a year ago in free agency, opting instead for a one-year stay in New York and another shot at the market.

New York Jets:  Safety LaRon Landry is the only guy who merits the tag, but his one-year deal from last year expressly prevents the team from using it.  No one else who is due to become a free agent deserves it.

Oakland Raiders:  There’s a major problem with using the franchise tag on punter Shane Lechler, apart from the fact that the Raiders have landed in a salary cap black hole.  While the franchise tag for punters and kickers will be an affordable $2.9 million in 2013, Lechler’s cap number last year was $4.9 million.  Under the CBA, he’s entitled to a 120 percent raise over that number, which translates to a cap number of $5.88 million.  It could be time for the much cheaper Marquette King, a converted receiver who has drawn comparisons to the monster-legged Reggie Roby.  Either way, it’s hard to imagine that the cap-strapped Raiders would pay a punter twice the amount of the base franchise tag for punters.

Philadelphia Eagles:  The Eagles don’t have many looming free agents, which means that they don’t have many candidates for the franchise tag.  Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie would be one, if he was, you know, better.

Pittsburgh Steelers:  The Steelers have said they won’t use the franchise tag.  Which means that receiver Mike Wallace will hit the open market.  Which means that someone will overpay him on the first day of free agency.

San Diego ChargersLook at their free agents.  Though cornerback Quentin Jammer has been a mainstay in San Diego since 2002, he’s not worth what it would cost to keep him via the franchise tag.  No one else with an expiring contract justifies the tag, which is one of the reasons why there’s a new G.M. and head coach.

San Francisco 49ers:  Safety Dashon Goldson doesn’t want to be tagged again, but what he wants and what he gets could be two different things.  Absent a long-term deal, the Niners have to keep Goldson around — even if using the tag for a second time virtually guarantees he’ll hit the market in 2014.  If Goldson gets a new deal, it’ll be interesting to see whether the Niners would use the tag on their second-string but highly versatile tight end, Delanie Walker.

Seattle Seahawks:  The ultra-low kicker tag of $2.9 million could be used to keep the strong-legged Steven Hauschka.

St. Louis Rams:  Receiver Danny Amendola has become one of the best slot receivers in the NFL, but his injury history and the eight-figure franchise tender for wideouts likely will scare the Rams away.  Still, if Amendola hits the market, he won’t be there long.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers:  The Bucs plans to spend on keeping their own guys.  When it comes to using the tag, it’s a toss-up between tackle Jeremy Trueblood and defensive end Michael Bennett, or neither.

Tennessee Titans:  The Titans reportedly are expected to use the tag on tight end Jared Cook, absent a multi-year deal.  Kicker Rob Bironas also is a possibility, but he had a cap number of $3.675 million in 2012.  Which means that the tag would cost the Titans $4.41 million in 2013, $1.5 million more than the base tag for kickers and punters.

Washington Redskins:  With $18 million in missing cap space, the Redskins can’t afford to use the tag.  Especially since tagging tight end Fred Davis again would bump his 2012 tender by 20 percent — a year after he suffered a torn Achilles tendon.  Punter Sav Rocca is a slim possibility, but even the $2.9 million will be more than the Redskins can justify with their cap situation.

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Chargers now admit Jahleel Addae had a concussion

addae AP

During Thursday night’s game against the Broncos, Chargers safety Jahleel Addae appeared to be suffering from the symptoms of a concussion. At one point he looked disoriented and seemed to go into a convulsion while remaining on his feet, but he stayed in the game while fans on social media questioned why he was still playing while displaying such obvious distress.

Now the Chargers have admitted that Addae had a concussion.

After the game, Addae said he was evaluated on the sideline and had only suffered a stinger, but on Friday night the Chargers acknowledged that Addae did, in fact, have a concussion. The Chargers say he was cleared on the sideline during the game but diagnosed with additional tests on Friday.

It’s troubling that Addae kept playing and troubling that fans watching on TV could see something was wrong with him but the Chargers’ medical staff couldn’t. The Chargers have a history of allowing players to stay on the field when they’ve been concussed: Chargers guard Kris Dielman was staggering around on the field in 2011 but wasn’t immediately taken out of the game. His concussion turned out to be so severe that he never played again.

Chargers coach Mike McCoy became defensive when asked about Addae on Friday, telling reporters, “I was at the game. I was watching the game. I was there. I was watching it.” The Chargers’ medical staff should have been watching Addae more closely. He had no business continuing to play.

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Lions shorthanded at tight end, but it may not change offense much

Detroit Lions Training Camp Getty Images

The Lions have five tight ends on their roster, but they could very well have just two available for Sunday’s game against the Falcons in London.

Two Lions tight ends — Joseph Fauria and Eric Ebron — have been ruled out for Sunday. Another tight end, Brandon Pettigrew, is doubtful because of a foot injury. This could leave Detroit with just newly signed Kellen Davis and recently promoted Jordan Thompson at tight end against Atlanta.

At first glance, this seems like a potential problem for the Detroit offense. After all, Thompson is entering just his second game on the Lions’ active roster, while Davis joined Detroit just this week.

However, the Lions have experience carrying just two active tight ends. In fact, they’ve done it the last four games with Fauria on the mend with an ankle injury.

And a look at formation data logged by the NFL suggests the Lions’ offense can probably fare just fine with just two tight ends in the club’s final game before its Nov. 2 bye.

Through seven games, the Lions have used two or more tight ends on 23.9 percent of their plays from scrimmage (110-of-461). They have deployed at least two tight ends on 28.6 percent of first downs and 28.3 percent of second downs.

On third down, however, the Lions have utilized two tight ends or more on just 7-of-102 plays (6.9 percent). On fourth downs, they have trotted out two tight ends on 2-of-4 snaps.

On average, the Lions are running about 66 plays. And if their typical tight end usage continues, they’ll have Davis and Thompson on the field together about 16 times.

Whenever the Lions return to closer to full strength at tight end, offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi may be afforded more schematic flexibility. But the Lions have shown they can manage even with less-than-ideal circumstances at this key position.

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Steelers hand kickoff return duties to LeGarrette Blount

LeGarrette Blount, Thomas DeCoud, Luke Kuechly AP

The Steelers have been miserable running back kickoffs this season, averaging just 17.5 yards a return. As a result, they’ve made a change on the special teams depth chart.

Dri Archer, who has been the primary return man so far this year, is being replaced with running back LeGarrette Blount. Archer is a 5-foot-8, 173-pound rookie with great speed, but he’s frequently been taken down by the first person to reach him on kickoff coverage. The Steelers hope the six-foot, 250-pound Blount will be able to break some tackles and break some long returns.

Things didn’t work out as well as they wanted before, so they switched it up,” Blount said. “I’m excited about it. It’s going to be fun. We’re hoping that we can get everything done the way that we want to get it done, and we hope that we can be effective with it so we can keep it going.”

Steelers special teams coach Danny Smith said he’s still a big believer in Archer’s skills, even though it’s been disappointing that Archer’s longest return this season was just 23 yards.

Blount did a good job returning kickoffs in New England last year, averaging 29.1 yards. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said kickoff returns are something “we have to get better at,” and he’s hoping Blount is the man to make that happen.

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Week Eight skill-position injury report — final

Giovani Bernard AP

Here are the skill-position players in Sunday games listed on the final Week Eight injury report. Key fantasy starters are bolded. Inactives are announced 90 minutes before kickoff.

The final injury report for Monday night’s Washington-Dallas game will be released Saturday.

Sunday’s Lions-Falcons matchup will start at 9:30 a.m. ET, so set your lineups — and alarms — accordingly.

Byes: 49ers, Giants.

OUT

Bills RB Fred Jackson (groin).

Browns WR Rodney Smith (hamstring).

Cardinals TE Troy Niklas (ankle).

Chiefs WR Donnie Avery (groin).

Colts WR Reggie Wayne (elbow).

Eagles WR Brad Smith (groin).

Lions TE Eric Ebron (hamstring).

Lions TE Joseph Fauria (ankle).

Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams (ankle).

Panthers RB Fozzy Whittaker (thigh).

Panthers WR Corey Brown (concussion).

Raiders WR Vincent Brown (hamstring).

Ravens TE Owen Daniels (knee).

Saints RB Khiry Robinson (forearm).

Saints RB Pierre Thomas (rib, shoulder).

Seahawks RB Derrick Coleman (foot).

Seahawks TE Zach Miller (ankle).

Seahawks WR Bryan Walters (concussion).

Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph (abdomen, groin).

DOUBTFUL

Bengals WR A.J. Green (toe).

Bills WR Marquise Goodwin (hamstring).

Lions RB Reggie Bush (ankle).

Lions TE Brandon Pettigrew (foot).

Titans TE Taylor Thompson (knee).

QUESTIONABLE

Bills WR Marcus Easley (knee).

Buccaneers QB Josh McCown (right thumb).

Buccaneers WR Vincent Jackson (rib).

Chiefs WR Junior Hemingway (hamstring).

Colts RB Trent Richardson (hamstring).

Colts TE Jack Doyle (knee).

Eagles RB Darren Sproles (knee).

Falcons WR Harry Douglas (foot).

Jets WR Greg Salas (ankle, wrist).

Lions WR Calvin Johnson (ankle).

Panthers RB Chris Ogbonnaya (groin).

Patriots RB Shane Vereen (illness).

Patriots WR Matt Slater (shoulder).

Raiders RB Marcel Reece (quadricep).

Saints TE Jimmy Graham (shoulder).

PROBABLE

Bears TE Martellus Bennett (hamstring).

Bears WR Chris Williams (illness).

Bengals RB Giovani Bernard (ribs).

Bills WR Sammy Watkins (groin).

Cardinals RB Andre Ellington (foot).

Cardinals WR John Brown (ankle).

Chiefs RB Cyrus Gray (hand).

Chiefs TE Travis Kelce (ribs).

Dolphins TE Charles Clay (knee).

Dolphins TE Dion Sims (neck).

Eagles RB Chris Polk (hamstring).

Falcons WR Julio Jones (ankle).

Jaguars RB Toby Gerhart (foot).

Jets RB Bilal Powell (foot).

Jets RB Chris Johnson (ankle).

Jets WR Eric Decker (hamstring).

Lions RB Theo Riddick (hamstring).

Packers RB James Starks (ankle).

Patriots QB Tom Brady (ankle).

Rams PK Greg Zuerlein (illness).

Rams RB Benny Cunningham (knee).

Rams WR Kenny Britt (ankle).

Ravens WR Steve Smith (not injury related).

Seahawks Marshawn Lynch (not injury related).

Seahawks RB Robert Turbin (shoulder).

Seahawks TE Luke Willson (groin).

Titans QB Jake Locker (right hand).

Titans RB Shonn Greene (hamstring).

Vikings TE Chase Ford (foot).

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NFLPA says NFL won’t cooperate with its Ray Rice investigation

Ray Rice Press Conference Getty Images

The NFL Players Association has begun its own investigation into the Ray Rice case. The NFL apparently thinks that’s one investigation too many.

According to the NFLPA, the NFL isn’t cooperating with the NFLPA investigation, which is being conducted simultaneously with both the league-sanctioned investigation by former FBI Director Robert Mueller and Rice’s appeal of his indefinite suspension.

Richard Craig Smith, the attorney leading the investigation for the union, told the Associated Press that the NFL has not provided documents and witnesses and the Ravens have refused to cooperate at all. In the NFLPA’s view, that calls into question the NFL’s public statements that it favors transparency on the Rice matter.

The NFL hasn’t commented and hasn’t committed to assisting in the NFLPA’s investigation.

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Ryan Shazier probable for Sunday vs. Colts

Dennis Pitta, Ryan Shazier AP

One of the Steelers’ defensive starters is set to return.

Rookie left inside linebacker Ryan Shazier (sprained MCL) is probable for Sunday’s game vs. Indianapolis, according to the injury report.He has practiced fully in each of the last two days.

The Steelers’ first-round pick in May, Shazier has missed the last four games, with Sean Spence taking his place in the lineup. An Ohio State product, Shazier has recorded 20 combined tackles in his three starts. In his first two games, Shazier played 124-of-138 defensive snaps for Pittsburgh, per Pro Football Focus. He suffered his injury in the Steelers’ Week Three win at Carolina.

The 6-1, 237-pound Shazier posted the best vertical jump (42 inches) and broad jump (10 feet, 10 inches) among linebackers at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine. At 22, he is one of the building blocks for a defense in transition.

While Shazier looks ready to return, starting nose tackle Steve McLendon (shoulder) and right cornerback Ike Taylor (forearm) remain out for the 4-3 Steelers.

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Week Eight injury report roundup

Cincinnati Bengals v Indianapolis Colts Getty Images

Over the course of the week, there are a lot of posts about the most prominent injured players but we know that you might not see all of them and that some others may fall through the cracks. As a result, we’ll comb through all the injury reports every Friday afternoon so that there’s one stop for all the news from every team playing on Sunday. So, without further delay, the injury report roundup for Week Eight of the 2014 season.

Lions vs. Falcons (in London)

The Lions listed running back Reggie Bush (ankle) and tight end Brandon Pettigrew (foot) as doubtful, but there’s still a chance for wide receiver Calvin Johnson (ankle, questionable). No such chance remains for tight ends Eric Ebron (hamstring) or Joseph Fauria (ankle). The Falcons hope to get wide receiver Harry Douglas (foot, questionable) back in the lineup and also listed defensive tackle Jordan Babineaux (foot) as questionable.

Seahawks at Panthers

Seattle will cross the country without running back Derrick Coleman (foot), defensive tackle Jordan Hill (ankle), cornerback Byron Maxwell (calf), tight end Zach Miller (ankle), center Max Unger (foot), linebacker Bobby Wagner (toe) or wide receiver Bryan Walters (concussion). Everyone else on their injury report is probable. The Panthers raise the Seahawks one on the number of players ruled out. Cornerback Bene’ Benwikere (ankle), linebacker Chase Blackburn (knee), wide receiver Corey Brown (concussion), guard Amini Silatolu (calf), guard Trai Turner (knee), running back Fozzy Whittaker (thigh) and running back DeAngelo Williams (ankle) are all going to miss the game. Running back Chris Ogbonnaya (groin) and Jason Williams (hip) are both questionable.

Ravens at Bengals

Owen Daniels (knee) is out after having arthroscopic surgery, leaving the Ravens without their top two tight ends. Left tackle Eugene Monroe (knee) and left guard Kelechi Osemele (back) should return to the lineup after being listed as probable. Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (toe) is doubtful after missing practice all week and defensive tackle Brandon Thompson (knee) is questionable. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict (neck) is probable.

Dolphins at Jaguars

The Dolphins are waiting to see what linebacker Koa Misi (ankle, questionable) can do, but they don’t think defensive back Jimmy Wilson (hamstring, doubtful) will be able to play. The Jags have issues on defense with cornerback Alan Ball (biceps) and defensive end Andre Branch (groin) ruled out and cornerback Dwayne Gratz (hip, questionable). The offense should have running back Toby Gerhart (foot, probable) back.

Rams at Chiefs 

The Rams could be short at cornerback with Janoris Jenkins (knee) and Trumaine Johnson (knee) both questionable. Cornerback Brandon McGee (foot) has already been ruled out, as has center Tim Barnes (shoulder). The Chiefs hope to get safety Eric Berry (ankle, questionable) back in the lineup. Wide receiver Donnie Avery (groin) and cornerback Christopher Owens (knee) will both miss the game.

Bears at Patriots

The Bears are unlikely to have linebackers Jon Bostic (back, doubtful) and Lance Briggs (ribs, doubtful), but cornerback Kyle Fuller (hand/hip) is probable. Right tackle Jordan Mills (foot, questionable) trended in the wrong direction as the week played out. The Patriots won’t have defensive end Chandler Jones (hip) and they listed running back Shane Vereen (illness) questionable after he missed Friday’s practice. As always, several other Pats, including concussed offensive linemen Dan Connolly and Bryan Stork, are questionable.

Bills at Jets

Bills running back Fred Jackson (knee) was officially ruled out and wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (hamstring) is doubtful. The team hopes safety Aaron Williams (neck, questionable) can play and they have no worries about wide receiver Sammy Watkins (groin, probable). The Jets are 1-6, but they’re pretty healthy. Linebacker Trevor Reilly (knee) and wide receiver Greg Salas (ankle, wrist) are questionable and the only players on the injury report listed as anything but probable.

Vikings at Buccaneers

Vikings center John Sullivan (concussion) is probable, but the team will wait to make a call on guard Vlad Ducasse (knee). Linebacker Gerald Hodges (hamstring) is doubtful and tight end Kyle Rudolph (abdomen/groin) remains out. The Bucs return from their bye week with linebacker Jonathan Casillas (hamstring), tackle Anthony Collins (knee), safety Dashon Goldson (ankle), wide receiver Vincent Jackson (rib), quarterback Josh McCown (right thumb) and safety Keith Tandy (hamstring) questionable to play on Sunday.

Texans at Titans

Questionable linebackers are all the rage in Houston. Jadeveon Clowney (knee), Brian Cushing (knee), Brooks Reed (groin) and John Simon (ankle) all got that designation with Cushing looking the least likely to play come Sunday. Titans cornerback Coty Sensabaugh (knee) and tight end Taylor Thompson (knee) are doubtful and linebacker Quentin Groves (ankle) is questionable. Quarterback Jake Locker (thumb) is probable, but he’ll just be holding a clipboard if all goes well for Tennessee.

Eagles at Cardinals

Center Jason Kelce (hernia), linebacker Mychal Kendricks (calf) and running back Darren Sproles (knee) are all questionable. It’s a surprising positive for Kelce and a negative for Kendricks, who the team hoped would be returning this weekend. Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell (knee, questionable) has a chance to play, which is a bit of a positive surprise as well given the initial timeline for his injury.

Raiders at Browns 

The Raiders ruled out tight end David Ausberry (foot), wide receiver Vincent Brown (hamstring), cornerback Keith McGill (groin), defensive end LaMarr Woodley (biceps) and safety Usama Young (knee). Another four players — guard Khalif Barnes (quadricep), running back Marcel Reece (quadricep), cornerback Carlos Rogers (knee) and defensive end Justin Tuck (knee) — are questionable. It looks like the Browns should have defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin (ankle, probable) back in the lineup, but defensive end Phil Taylor (knee) remains out. Safety Jim Leonhard (ankle) and defensive end Billy Winn (quadricep) are both questionable.

Colts at Steelers

Wide receiver Reggie Wayne (elbow) is out for the Colts, while tight end Jack Doyle (knee) and running back Trent Richardson (hamstring) are questionable. Defensive tackle Steve McLendon (shoulder), cornerback Ike Taylor (forearm) and safety Shamarko Thomas (hamstring) are out for Pittsburgh, but it looks like linebacker Ryan Shazier (knee, probable) should return to the lineup. Tackle Marcus Gilbert (concussion) is questionable.

Packers at Saints

The Packers will be without defensive end Datone Jones (ankle) and cornerback Sam Shields (knee) is unlikely to play after being listed as doubtful. Safety Morgan Burnett (calf) is questionable and the Packers, who like to check every box) listed running back James Starks (ankle) as probable. Center Jonathan Goodwin (knee, ankle), linebacker Kyle Knox (ankle) and running backs Khiry Robinson (forearm) and Pierre Thomas (rib, shoulder) are all out for New Orleans. They have the same number of questionable players, with decisions pending on defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley (concussion), tight end Jimmy Graham (shoulder), linebacker Ramon Humber (ankle) and cornerback Keenan Lewis (knee, shoulder).

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Blandino says ref made right call on Broncos non-fumble

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 4.08.21 PM

The Broncos appeared to catch a huge break on Thursday night when the on-field ruling of a fumble by kickoff returner Andre Caldwell was reversed on instant replay, with the referee saying Caldwell was down before he lost control of the ball. On Friday, NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino said that was the right call.

In a video released by the league, Blandino says Caldwell’s forearm hit the ground before he lost the ball.

“The forearm was down and the player still had control of the loose ball,” Blandino said. “You’ll see it get pulled loose after the forearm hits — not the elbow, and the referee made an incorrect announcement by saying the elbow. He should have said the forearm. . . . The arm was down before the ball got pulled free. You can see the forearm coming down, the player still in control of the football — slight movement does not constitute a loss of control. . . . That’s why the call was overturned. It’s close, but in the referee’s judgment, and we agreed, the forearm was down before the ball came loose.”

Blandino noted that although San Diego’s Ladarius Green started to pull the ball from Caldwell’s hand before Caldwell was down, Caldwell hadn’t actually lost the ball until his forearm had already hit the ground.

“Slight movement does not constitute a loss of possession — that’s in the rulebook. Loss of control means the ball being pulled loose,” Blandino said.

Complicating matters was that former NFL referee Mike Carey, now the rules expert for CBS, said on the live TV broadcast that replays confirmed that the call on the field was correct. When rules experts like Carey and FOX’s Mike Pereira look at the same replay as the referees — but come to a different conclusion than the referee about what the replay says — that contributes to a climate around the NFL in which it’s perceived that no one knows exactly what the complex rulebook says.

Blandino’s explanation probably won’t placate Chargers fans, who feel that the call was a huge turning point in the game: If the fumble hadn’t been overturned on replay, the Chargers probably would have scored just before halftime and gone into the half leading 10-7 or 14-7. Instead Denver kept the ball, drove down the field and scored, and it was the Broncos who led 14-7 at halftime. It was a huge call, and the NFL says it was the right call. It’s understandable if Chargers fans disagree.

Screen cap via NFL.

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Mike McCoy: Jason Verrett wouldn’t have played if he wasn’t ready

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Chargers coach Mike McCoy met the media on Friday and there were more questions about how the team handled a pair of injuries from Thursday night than there were about why they couldn’t handle the Broncos.

McCoy was asked about the decision to play cornerback Jason Verrett after he missed last Sunday’s game with an injured shoulder. Verrett left the game after aggravating the injury and reports on Friday are that Verrett stands to miss an extended period of time as a result. McCoy said the team didn’t rush Verrett back into the lineup.

“If he wasn’t ready to go, we wouldn’t have put him out there,” McCoy said, via Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego.

Whether it was too soon or not, the result will be a painful one for the Chargers if they have to go without the rookie because he’s played a big role in their 5-3 start to the season.

McCoy also faced questions about whether safety Jahleel Addae suffered a concussion in the second half when he got up from a hit and staggered for a couple of moments. Addae said he suffered a stinger and was cleared to return to the game after being evaluated on the sideline. McCoy also said Addae suffered a stinger while adding that medical evaluations were ongoing and that he hadn’t spoken to the trainer since the team returned to San Diego.

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Judge blocks New Jersey sports betting

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Well, if you’d wagered that a federal judge would block New Jersey’s plan to trot out sports wagering this weekend, it’s time to collect.

Per multiple reports, Judge Michael Shipp has granted a temporary restraining order preventing New Jersey from implementing a plan to launch sports betting this weekend at racetracks and casinos.

The order presumably will last until the litigation filed by the NFL and other sports leagues on Monday is resolved.  Which probably will result in a ruling that New Jersey’s plan cannot proceed.

The NFL long has opposed the expansion of legalized sports betting.  This is Round Two with New Jersey, which failed in a prior effort to circumvent a 1992 federal law aimed at stopping new states from adding sports wagering.

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Pats will soon get a close look at the one who got away

Sanders AP

During 2013 free agency, the Patriots signed then-restricted free agent Emmanuel Sanders to an offer sheet, willing to give up a third-round pick if it meant getting the player away from Pittsburgh on a one-year, $2.5 million deal.

The Steelers matched, but many believed that New England’s gesture would be rewarded in 2014, when Sanders hit the open market with the ability to sign with anyone.

It didn’t happen.  Sanders instead landed in Denver, and now the Patriots are nine days away from hosting Sanders, Peyton Manning, and the rest of the Broncos.

So why isn’t Sanders a Patriot?

“They were in the mix, it just didn’t get done with anyone,” agent Steve Weinberg told Tom Curran of CSN New England.  “[Sanders] went on several visits — Jacksonville, Tampa, Kansas City, and I was talking to New England the whole time.  But the process went real slow.”

Complicating matters for the Patriots was Sanders’ decision to hire Weinberg to replace Jordan Woy, who had represented Sanders when he signed the offer sheet in New England.

“If Emmanuel hadn’t switched agents, he may have ended up [with the Patriots],” Weinberg told Curran.  “New England was competitive throughout the process.  Had they been aggressive from the beginning it would have gotten done, but, in this market, nobody knew what to do with the wide receivers. New England expressed interest during the [pre-free agency] negotiation period.”

Instead, the Patriots have to figure out how to slow down a guy who scored a touchdown on Sunday night and three more on Thursday night.  And how to get the most out of a receiving corps that would have benefited from the presence of a player who generated a season-high 98 yards against New England last year with the Steelers.

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Shane Vereen questionable due to illness

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Shane Vereen wasn’t at Patriots practice on Friday, a new development after the running back had been on the field each of the first two days of the week.

The good news for the Pats is that Vereen isn’t injured. The bad news is that he’s sick enough that his status is up in the air for Sunday’s game against the Bears.

The Patriots listed Vereen as questionable for the game because of his illness, which could leave them without the player that’s moved into the lead running back role with Stevan Ridley out for the season. It would also cost Vereen a chance to play against his brother, Bears safety Brock Vereen. Brandon Bolden, Jonas Gray and James White are the other running back options for New England.

As expected, the Patriots ruled out defensive end Chandler Jones because of a hip injury. Offensive linemen Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork and Cameron Fleming and defensive lineman Dominique Easley are also questionable.

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Saints rule out two RBs; Jimmy Graham questionable

Jimmy Graham, Pierre Thomas AP

The Saints will be down two tailbacks Sunday night vs. Green Bay.

According to the injury report, the club has ruled out Khiry Robinson (forearm) and Pierre Thomas (rib/shoulder).

Mark Ingram figures to be the Saints’ featured back against the Packers, with Travaris Cadet likely the top pass-catching option out of the backfield. And with Ingram and Cadet the Saints’ only two healthy backs, it’s possible a transaction could be coming for New Orleans. The club has tailback Edwin Baker in reserve on the practice squad.

In other Saints injury news, tight end Jimmy Graham (shoulder) is officially questionable for Sunday night. He was questionable entering last Sunday’s loss to Detroit but still played. However, he was held without a catch and played less than half the snaps for the Saints (2-4).

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Brian Cushing on playing Sunday: We’ll see how it goes

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Earlier this week, Mike Florio of PFT reported that Texans linebacker Brian Cushing would miss at least one game because of issues with his surgically repaired knee.

Texans coach Bill O’Brien said there was “no accuracy to that report” on Thursday, but the linebacker was listed as questionable Friday after missing practice for the third straight day and sounded like there was a pretty good chance he winds up on the inactive side of that question come Sunday.

Cushing said “we’ll see how it goes” over the weekend while pointing out how much his knee has gone through with two surgeries in the last two offseasons and that he hasn’t been the player he wants to be so far this season.

“We’re going to make the best decision for myself (and) the team,” Cushing said, via ESPN.com. “I think we all can agree the last couple weeks I haven’t really been myself. It’s been really hard on me. Any time I go out there I want to put the best of myself out there to help the team win. If it’s to a point where I’m really not with my play and where I am with my health, that’s what we’re going to do.”

Cushing said he was feeling better after a restful week, which leads you to believe that he’d be feeling even better if he got the weekend off as well. The Texans have a game against the Eagles and then a bye in Week 10, so there’s time ahead to get Cushing rest while limiting the amount of time he’d have to miss on Sundays.

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Kyle Fuller expected to play with broken hand

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The Bears defense hasn’t had many bright spots this season, but rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller has been one of them.

That made the fact that he suffered a pair of injuries last weekend a troubling development for the unit. Fuller broke his right hand and suffered a hip pointer during the loss to the Dolphins, but he has been able to practice with a brace on the hand and the team listed him as probable for Sunday’s date with the Patriots.

The news is less positive at linebacker. Jon Bostic and Lance Briggs were both listed as doubtful for the game, leaving them both on track to miss a third straight contest.

Right tackle Jordan Mills is somewhere in the middle. He was a full participant on Wednesday, a limited participant on Thursday and out altogether at Friday’s practice as he deals with a foot injury that has left him questionable for this week. Michael Ola would start if Mills can’t go.

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