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One church shuns Leroy Butler, another church welcomes him

Leroy butler Getty Images

Last week we noted that former Packers safety Leroy Butler had been told not to come to a Wisconsin church where he had been scheduled to give a speech, because the church was upset Butler wrote a message on Twitter in support of openly gay NBA player Jason Collins. But this week Butler has found a church where he’s welcome.

St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church in Madison will have Butler in next month to talk to young people about bullying, which was the same message he was scheduled to give at the church appearance that was canceled.

“We are a religion that is about standing up next to those who are struggling, who are excluded, who are marginalized,” St. Dunstan’s Rector Miranda Hassett told NBC 15 in Madison.

Butler, who delivers speeches to schools and church youth groups several times a year, is in the process of raising money to make a documentary about his anti-bullying efforts.

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Brock Osweiler says he’s ready for a “must win” game vs. Colts

GREEN BAY, WI - DECEMBER 04:  Brock Osweiler #17 of the Houston Texans drops back to pass during the first half of a game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on December 4, 2016 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) Getty Images

Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler knows just how important Sunday’s game against the Colts is, with the two teams at 6-6 and part of a three-way tie atop the AFC South.

“This game Sunday afternoon in Indianapolis, this is the biggest game of our season,” Osweiler said. “I’m viewing our season right now as a one-game season and it’s a one game that we must win. I think our entire football team understands that. There’s great urgency in this building right now and it reflected at today’s practice. No doubt about it, we understand as a team how important Sunday is and you can expect our best effort come Sunday.”

Osweiler stands by his claim that the Texans’ offense is close to exploding, although he acknowledges he has to get better.

“I always believe that I can play better,” he said. “I’m striving for perfection every single week and so there’s nobody that’s ever going to judge themselves harder than my own self.”

If Osweiler can’t help the Texans win on Sunday, plenty of people will be judging him harshly. The AFC South is ripe for the taking, and if the Texans don’t take it, it’s because Osweiler hasn’t performed up to expectations.

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Richard Sherman can’t resist backing Ron Rivera on Cam Newton benching

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 21:  Head coach Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks high fives cornerback Richard Sherman #25 prior to the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium on December 21, 2014 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) Getty Images

It wasn’t karma that got Cam Newton last week, it was the dress code.

And Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman obviously couldn’t resist getting in one last dig at the Panthers quarterback, saying he thought coach Ron Rivera did the right thing benching him for the first series (which lasted one play) for not wearing a tie on the team flight to Seattle.

“You’ve got accountability,” Sherman said, via Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times. “You’ve got to hold everybody accountable the same. When you start treating guys different it’s a slippery slope.”

That’s effectively the message Rivera was sending, trying to bury it yesterday by saying he didn’t want to create “chaos” by not applying the rules equitably.

Of course, it’s easier for Sherman to have a more relaxed take on it, since Seahawks coach Pete Carroll apparently has a more relaxed set of rules about fashion.

“There’s not a ton of them,” Sherman said of Carroll’s rules. “For one-day trips, it’s more formal. You wear polo shirts or jeans or something nicer. Very ambiguous but nicer. But put your shoes on — he doesn’t like me wearing my Uggs. For two-day trips it’s more casual because it’s obviously going to be a time change and a longer flight, so he allows us to wear kind of whatever you put on.”

Sherman also said Carroll “doesn’t go back there and check” to see what guys are wearing.

“If you are asking have we ever run into anything like that? We haven’t,” Sherman said. “Pete is a pretty cool guy. Don’t be disrespectful and most guys respect the things he says and are pretty good about that.”

That may be the biggest issue some have with Rivera’s rules. The application of the rule is fine and just and fair, but the rule itself seems dated considering Newton’s travel day outfit was about the most conservative thing he’s worn all season.

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Nick Mangold getting second opinion on ankle

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 15:  Nick Mangold of New York Jets talks to the media during the NFL Launch of the Play 60 scheme at the Black Prince Community Hub on July 15, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images) Getty Images

Nick Mangold finally got back on the field Monday, but he didn’t last long. So he’s going to find out why.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, Jets center Nick Mangold is flying to Charlotte today to see noted foot and ankle specialist Dr. Robert Anderson.

Mangold had been out since Week Seven with a right ankle injury (the longest stretch of injury absence in his career) but came back to start Monday against the Colts.

The Jets might decide to shut him down, depending on what Anderson tells him today. If so, Wesley Johnson will likely fill in for him again.

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Vic Fangio calls report he could be out “irresponsible reporting”

Vic Fangio AP

The Bears have had a bad season and that leads to speculation about offseason changes as the year winds down, including a report from Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Tribune this week that defensive coordinator Vic Fangio could be on his way out as part of “a massive overhaul” that wouldn’t include the departure of head coach John Fox.

Fox said on Wednesday that he is “very, very pleased with our staff” and that he and Fangio get along well, something that the defensive coordinator echoed as well. Fox has a defensive background, but Fangio said they “pretty much do what I see fit to do 98 percent of the time” while taking a steam shovel to Mulligan’s overall report.

“It gives you guys a bad name,” Fangio said, via the Chicago Sun-Times. “He’s one of your colleagues, and irresponsible reporting doesn’t shine well for all of you, and that’s too bad because … I enjoy talking to you guys.”

The Bears are allowing fewer points and yards per game than they were last season, which hasn’t been enough for the Bears to avoid a 3-9 record. Even with that record, it is hard to look at the team and say the defense is the area most in need of a new approach come the 2017 season.

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Bucs planning bigger role for Jacquizz Rodgers

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 04:  Jacquizz Rodgers #32 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers runs between Jahleel Addae (L) #37 and Korey Toomer #56 of the San Diego Chargers in the fourth quarter at Qualcomm Stadium on December 4, 2016 in San Diego, California. The Buccaneers defeated the Chargers 28-21.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images) Getty Images

Buccaneers running back Doug Martin was limited in last Sunday’s win over the Chargers after getting “bent back” in the second half of the game, but all seems to be well physically now as Martin does not make an appearance on the team’s injury report for Wednesday’s practice.

His role in the offense may still be curtailed this week, however. Jacquizz Rodgers returned to action in San Diego after missing four games with a foot injury and made plays on the ground and as a receiver down the stretch. Offensive coordinator Todd Monken suggested that he’ll get more opportunities against the Saints as the team looks for better results out of the backfield.

“It was good to get him back,” Monken said, via ESPN.com. “I would assume he’ll only be better this week in a little more of an expanded role. … We have been getting healthier at running back, which is a good sign. We’ve just got to do it better. We’ve got to do a better job on the perimeter blocking. We’ve got to do a better job up front, a better job seeing the holes.”

The Bucs are also expected to get Charles Sims back into the lineup this week after his stay on injured reserve, expanding the options available to Monken as he tries to get the ground game churning in Tampa.

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Thursday morning one-liners

Oakland Raiders outside linebacker Bruce Irvin (51) is congratulated by defensive end Khalil Mack (52) after sacking Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton during the first half of an NFL football game in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) AP

Bills RB Mike Gillislee is among the league’s best in short-yardage.

Dolphins LB Mike Hull is preparing to start if Kiko Alonso cannot.

Patriots QB Tom Brady has heard from lots of people regarding his wins record, but not the league office.

Jets WR Brandon Marshall has coach Todd Bowles’ back.

Ravens WR Steve Smith makes fun of Dolphins for complaining about grass.

A look at how the Bengals get their plays in from the sideline.

Browns QB Robert Griffin III is moved by coach Hue Jackson’s emotions.

Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell and Bills counterpart LeSean McCoy are doing the mutual respect thing.

Texans WR Jaelen Strong has performed well against the Colts in the past.

Colts LB D’Qwell Jackson’s suspension creates multiple problems.

Uh-oh, the Jaguars are having meetings to figure out what’s wrong with their offense.

Titans QB Marcus Mariota doesn’t want to be near  Von Miller (Nothing personal, Von).

Broncos OLB Von Miller even gets sacks on his day off.

The Chiefs are rotating their defensive linemen in shifts like a hockey team.

Raiders pass-rushers Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin feed off each other.

The Chargers might be a lot of things, but they aren’t quitters under Mike McCoy.

A Cowboys Super Bowl tattoo. What could possibly go wrong?

The Giants have to wonder about the return of DE Jason Pierre-Paul, in the short term and the long.

Eagles players are having a hard time knowing what to make of coach Doug Pederson’s questions of effort.

Washington’s practice was complicated by the fact the injury list was a long one.

Bears QB Matt Barkley earned points with his coach, primarily by not turning the ball over.

The pendulum on Lions coach Jim Caldwell’s future swings pretty regularly.

The Packers may try to exploit the Seahawks’ sudden issue in the middle.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer didn’t want to talk much about his eyes.

The Falcons aren’t ready to rule out WR Julio Jones.

Panthers TE Greg Olsen said any talk of a divide in their locker room is “utter nonsense.”

The Saints are showing new things on defense — like actually playing defense.

The Buccaneers could lighten RB Doug Martin’s workload this weekend.

The Cardinals are looking to end their road woes in Miami.

Rams QB Jared Goff could become a Matt Ryan-type.

49ers DL Quinton Dial sat out of practice with an elbow injury.

Seahawks WR Tyler Lockett is back to playing a big role.

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Brian Cushing playing with two fractures in his back

HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 11:  Brian Cushing #56 of the Houston Texans warms up before playing against the Chicago Bears at NRG Stadium on September 11, 2016 in Houston, Texas. Cushing wears a special pair of shoes in honor of 911 anniversary.  (Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Texans practiced without six members of the 53-man roster on Wednesday, but linebacker Brian Cushing wasn’t on that list.

Cushing was listed as limited with back and ankle injuries, although it sounds like the back issue is the more significant of the two problems. Cushing shared the extent of the injury on Wednesday while discussing “the physicality of the sport.”

“There’s two fractures in my back, but those are things you have to push through,” Cushing said, via the Houston Chronicle. “Obviously, it’s painful, and I’m not able to get as many reps as I want in practice right now, but I’ll be out there Sunday with my team. I want the guys to know they can count on me, and that means the world to me. I’ve missed a number of games with season-ending injuries, and I don’t want to miss any more time, so as long as I can walk, I’ll be out there.”

The Texans have lost defensive end J.J. Watt and cornerback Kevin Johnson for the season and had defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and cornerback Johnathan Joseph out of practice on Wednesday with injuries that could sideline them for Sunday’s game against the Colts. That doesn’t make them unique in the NFL, but it does sap the strongest part of the team and makes the presence of Cushing and the rest of their front-line defenders significant as they try to take the AFC South crown.

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Kaepernick’s anthem protest comes up during Pearl Harbor 75th anniversary event

GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 13: Free safety Eric Reid #35 of the San Francisco 49ers and quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 kneel during the national anthem before the start of the NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium on November 13, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images) Getty Images

Wednesday marked the 75th anniversary of the day that continues to live in infamy: The surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Japan.

Speaking there at an event to commemorate the occasion, Admiral Harry Harris, the Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, made a reference to the ongoing national anthem protest from 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

“You can bet that the men and women we honor today — and those who died that fateful morning 75 years ago — never took a knee and never failed to stand whenever they heard our national anthem being played,” Harris said, via the Associated Press.

According to the account of the remarks and the reaction to them, the words “generated a lengthy standing ovation from the crowd, with people whistling and hooting.”

Although Kaepernick was never mentioned by name, the issue has received sufficient national attention (including an image of Kaepernick kneeling on the cover of Time magazine) to make it clear that the reference was to him.

The moment underscores the challenges Kaepernick will face in his search for a new team, if the 49ers don’t re-sign him before he becomes a free agent. Multiple owners surely will be concerned about the reaction that fans will have if/when Kaepernick joins their team, which necessarily will limit Kaepernick’s options — especially with plenty of other options likely available to teams in 2017.

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Giants player’s home burglarized, vandalized with swastika, racial epithets

nikita-whitlock-new-york-giants Getty Images

The worst thing to happen to Giants fullback Nikita Whitlock wasn’t a season-ending foot injury or being hit with a 10-game PED suspension.

Whitlock’s New Jersey home was broken into Tuesday night, and the burglars left behind some frightening reminders — including a graffiti swastika, the letters KKK and the message “Go back to Africa.”

“It just re-establishes that no matter where you are, no matter who you are, this can happen to you,” Whitlock told WCBS. “It’s about to be 2017. Oppression, violence, racism, hatred, violence, there’s no need for that.”

Whitlock said some jewelry and video game systems were stolen, but the messages left behind were as frightening as the loss of security that comes with knowing someone has invaded your home. It’s the second time they’ve been broken into, and they were already planning to move before the first incident, which happened over Thanksgiving weekend.

Whitlock’s a fullback by trade, but the Giants have also used him as a special teamer and interior pass-rusher on defense, at least before his injury and suspension.

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Hue Jackson’s not letting Joe Thomas go, as long as he’s coaching Browns

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 3: Tackle Joe Thomas #73 and center Alex Mack #55 of the Cleveland Browns celebrate after defeating the Buffalo Bills during the first half at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 3, 2013 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Browns defeated the Bills 37-24. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) Getty Images

For the last two trade deadlines and last offseason, many have wondered if the Browns were finally going to mercy-trade left tackle Joe Thomas to a contender.

But Browns coach Hue Jackson wants to stop that talk before it starts this offseason, promising that he’d protect Thomas as long as he was the coach there.

That’s not happening or I’m going with him, okay?” Jackson said, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “I guarantee you that. I’m going with him. No, Joe Thomas means too much to this organization and to this football team. As I said to everybody, I want us to do right by him. Right by that is let’s go get this man some wins. He deserves that.

“He deserves to be on a winning football team and have a chance to chase playoffs and championships. That’s why you’re here. . . . We have to get this thing right for those guys because it’s truly what it is about — our fans, our organization — but those players, they give a lot and we have to give it back to them.”

That’s the kind if impassioned plea that makes players love Jackson, but it also doesn’t make sense if you boil it down to the facts. Thomas is one of the best players in the league at his position on a team that’s years from contending. He’s borderline expensive ($8.8 million the next two years) and getting older (32), and the Browns cleared out guys with smaller numbers on both those scales this offseason.

When asked about Jackson’s vow to leave if he did, Thomas joked: “Oh, that’s nice of him. Where we going, the Bahamas? I’m in.”

But he also said he wants the same thing Jackson wants, in the same place.

“From the moment that Hue got here, him and I have had a close relationship and it’s built on trust and honesty and we both like how the other person operates and how they do their business,” Thomas said. “I’ve been an admirer of Hue since his days in Oakland even and then when we’d play them twice a year with Cincinnati, I always really respected him as a coach and I enjoyed talking with him after games.

“Since he’s been here I have really even had another level of respect for the way he has handled this difficult season and kind of the difficult cards that he’s been dealt. I don’t think there’s many coaches in the NFL — in all of NFL history — that would have been able to handle this situation as well as he has. . . . He means so much to this team and to these players right now and I think we all feel very fortunate that he’s our head coach.”

Of course, when you’re 0-12, it’s hard to imagine how many are truly safe, and whether Jackson and Thomas get to fulfill their wish in Cleveland depends on getting more players, and quickly.

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LeGarrette Blount says turning 30 is no big deal

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 04:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots hands the ball off to LeGarrette Blount #29 during the game against the Los Angeles Rams at Gillette Stadium on December 4, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) Getty Images

Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount is on pace to finish this season with a career-high 1,267 yards, and he has already scored a career-high 13 touchdowns. Not bad for guy who just turned 30.

But while running backs typically decline at age 30, Blount doesn’t think there’s any reason to be concerned about his health or durability.

“Nothing’s changed. I turned 30. No big deal. It still feels the same. It’s not like I’ve aged 10 years. I’m not fragile yet,” Blount said, via the Boston Herald. “It’s not too much of a difference to me. Right now, I’m feeling really good.”

In past years Patriots coach Bill Belichick has liked to split the workload running the ball, but this year it’s all Blount: The Patriots’ No. 2 rusher this season, James White, is primarily a receiver and has just 31 carries for 129 yards. Blount is the bell cow for the Patriots, and turning 30 doesn’t change that.

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Steven Terrell expects to be tested often as Earl Thomas replacement

SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 04:  Safety Steven Terrell #23 of the Seattle Seahawks rushes against the Carolina Panthers at CenturyLink Field on December 4, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) Getty Images

For the first time in Pete Carroll’s tenure as head coach, the Seahawks will have to play a significant stretch of games without Earl Thomas at free safety.

Steven Terrell will be the replacement for Thomas in the back-end of Seattle’s defense. The fourth-year safety – undrafted out of Texas A&M in 2013 – has been the primary backup to Thomas over the last two seasons. His first start in place of Thomas came two weeks ago in Tampa Bay as Thomas was sidelined with a hamstring strain. Now the job is his with Thomas out for the season with a broken leg.

“It was pretty tough hearing the news but for me, it was like, I need to step up, come in and do my job, do my part in this team and do the best I can to fill in for him,” Terrell said.

Terrell expects to be tested early and often as he takes over for Thomas.

“I’m prepared for that, you always think teams are going to take shots deep,” Terrell said Wednesday. “Teams are going to do what they do. Especially the Packers, Aaron Rodgers takes shots down the field and he’s done that against us in years past with Earl back there. You always have to expect that.

“You got to prepare for that. I would assume they would. This defense, it’s kind of hard to single one person out and try to attack them. We have so many weapons and the way our style of play is, but I assume they will come after me. I don’t really know.”

He’s played in 26 games for Seattle over the last three seasons. After a rookie season spent bouncing between Jacksonville and Houston, Terrell signed with the Seahawks early in training camp in 2014. He’d established a role as a key special teams contributor for Seattle and had played sparingly in relief roles at both safety and nickel cornerback.

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Who’ll win the biggest game of the year so far?

KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 20: Outside linebacker Justin Houston #50 of the Kansas City Chiefs enters the field for his first game of the season against the Tampa Bay Buccaneersat Arrowhead Stadium during the game on November 20, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images) Getty Images

Thursday night. 10-2 Raiders at 9-3 Chiefs. The winner, by virtue of Kansas City’s win in Oakland earlier this year, takes control of the division with three games to play.

So Thursday’s PFT Live question of the day is a simple one: Who wins?

Answer the question, comment on it, and then tune in at 6:00 a.m. ET at NBC Sports Radio and/or 7:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN for the three-hour show, which features visits from Hall of Famer (and former Raider and Chief) Marcus Allen, Hall of Famer (and former Chiefs assistant) Tony Dungy, and Vikings defensive end Brian Robison.

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T.J. Lang back to practice for Packers following broken foot

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 13:  T.J. Lang #70 of the Green Bay Packers is carted off the field during the first half of a game against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium on November 13, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images) Getty Images

Green Bay Packers guard T.J.Lang returned to the practice field Wednesday for the first time since breaking his foot in a game against the Tennessee Titans last month.

According to Michael Cohen of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Lang was limited in his first practice on Wednesday. He’s missed the last three games for Green Bay due to the injury.

“I think we’re still kind of in the process of feeling things out, testing it,” Lang said. “Did some running last week, did a little bit more Monday, was able to get on the practice field today and run a little bit, although it was in a limited fashion. Everything I’m doing right now is just kind of feeling my way through and just kind of testing the water a little bit to see where the progress is.”

The injury was initially referred to as a sprain before Lang said it was actually a broken foot.

Lang admitted it’s unlikely he’ll be able to play this week against the Seattle Seahawks. Don Barclay replaced Lang for one game with Jason Spriggs started the last two in his place at right guard.

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Titans cautious, hopeful about Casey’s status

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, left, passes as he is pressured by Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, center, and outside linebacker Brian Orakpo (98) in the first half of an NFL football game Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/James Kenney) AP

Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey did not practice Wednesday, but Titans coach Mike Mularkey told reporters he’s hopeful that Casey will be in the starting lineup Sunday vs. the Broncos.

Casey is dealing with a sprained foot, and Mularkey called giving him an extra day of rest “a smart decision” as the Titans prepare for Sunday and the stretch run. At 6-6, they’re in a three-way tie atop the AFC South with the Colts and Texans.

“I know Jurrell pretty well. I know he’s going to play if he can play,” Mularkey said. “We’ve got lots of time before [Sunday]. I think we’re handling it the right way the way we’re treating it and holding him out of some of the stuff. Again, it’s early in the week.”

Casey was named to his first Pro Bowl last season. He’s missed only one game in his six-year career.

The Titans are as healthy as they could hope to be coming off a Week 13 bye. Casey was the only player listed on their Wednesday injury and participation report. Running back DeMarco Murray has been getting maintenance days off over the last several weeks but was a full practice participant.

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