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Leonhard notices “scary” similarities between Ryan twins

New York Jets v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

His time with Jets coach Rex Ryan over, safety Jim Leonhard opted last month to join the team that includes Rob Ryan on the coaching staff.  Leonhard quickly learned that these fraternal twins don’t simply look like they’re identical.

Personality-wise, they’re very similar,” Leonhard said recently, via the Baton Rouge Advocate.  “It’s scary.”

The coaches, who can be fiery and combative, both preach to players that football should be enjoyed.

“It’s a lot of fun playing for them because they keep things interesting,” Leonhard said.  “They make football fun; that’s their biggest thing.  Rex always said that it’s a game for kids, and Rob uses the same kind of [motivational] stuff.

“They say that you’re very fortunate to be playing, so you should have fun doing it.”

But it’s not always fun listening to Rob Ryan.

“[H]e knows what we have to do, and he’s been very blunt and very in your face about it,” Leonhard said.  “There are going to be expectations of the defense, so he laid it out there on Day One.”

The good news for the Saints flows from the bulk of last year’s bad news.  With an historically bad defense in 2012, it won’t take much improvement to propel the Saints back to the postseason.

“There’s a bunch of guys in here with a bad taste in their mouth,” Leonhard said.  “They know what winning feels like, and they want to get back to that.”

With Rob Ryan there and coach Sean Payton back and quarterback Drew Brees still in place, we’ve got a feeling that they will.

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John Harbaugh says he had no role in #DeflateGate

John Harbaugh AP

One of the more intriguing aspects of #DeflateGate comes from reports that Ravens coach John Harbaugh instigated the complaints about the alleged underinflation of Patriots footballs by putting the idea into the head of Colts coach (and former Ravens assistant coach) Chuck Pagano prior to the AFC championship game.

Harbaugh, appearing on NBC’s Super Bowl pregame as a guest analyst, rejected the notion that he had any role in the process.

“I heard all that, I couldn’t believe it when I heard it,” Harbaugh told Bob Costas.  “It’s ridiculous, it never happened, I’ve been, I never made any call, nobody in our organization made any call.  As a matter of fact, just to make sure I had all the facts, I called up Chuck Pagano and asked him, ‘Did anybody else in our organization tip you off about deflated footballs?’ and he said, ‘No way.'”

Harbaugh also said he never even considered ball inflation until it became an issue in the Colts-Patriots game.

“It never came up, it never crossed my mind, it wasn’t even an issue in the [Colts-Patriots] game,” Harbaugh said.  “I didn’t even think about it until I read about it later.”

That likely won’t do much to change the suspicion within the Patriots organization that Harbaugh had something to do with the current controversy.  Still, Harbaugh insists he didn’t stir the pot, which is consistent with the NFL’s insistence that the issue didn’t come up until Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson intercepted a Tom Brady pass in the first half and took the ball to the sidelines.

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Tom Lewand thinks Lions have “very, very good chance” of deal with Suh in next few weeks

Wild Card Playoffs - Detroit Lions v Dallas Cowboys Getty Images

The Lions have some time to negotiate with defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh before the start of free agency and team president Tom Lewand is optimistic that they’ll put it to good use.

During an appearance on WDIV on Sunday, Lewand said that he thought the team had “a very, very good chance” of reaching agreement on a deal with Suh in the next few weeks. The Lions already have a lot of money committed to quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson and any Suh deal would push a lot of their money to three players, but Lewand said it was something the Lions could do.

“Matthew, Calvin and Ndamukong have all and very lucrative contracts under the old rookie system and even as Matthew and Calvin have done their extensions,” Lewand said. “So we’ve done that, we’ve lived in that environment. There’s no reason we can’t continue to live in that environment. We plan really well looking out into the future and where our salary goes. I think we can do that, I have no doubt we can do that with Ndamukong and make him a continuing part of the core of our football team. There’s no doubt that there are trade-outs that have to happen along the way. You can’t keep everybody because it’s a hard cap, but if you have a good nucleus of guys then the draft every year comes through and you can keep adding good players to the mix.”

Lewand says that his impression is that Suh wants to play in Detroit, although Suh said near the end of the season that his agent would be making the decision. That suggests it will come down to money, which would be at odds with the decision to re-sign with the Lions before hearing from any of the league’s other 31 teams.

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Prop Challenge, Day X: Will Richard Sherman intercept a pass?

Richard Sherman, Tom Brady AP

Welcome to PFT’s Prop Challenge, our daily look at a Super Bowl proposition bet.

Here’s the idea: we present a prop, do some light analysis, then let you decide which side to take — hypothetically, of course. (Previous examples are at the bottom of this post.)

When the Super Bowl wraps up, we’ll tally the votes and see how well PFT Planet did.

Now, let’s get to our final prop, which is courtesy of oddsmaker William Hill U.S.:

Will Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman intercept a pass in the Super Bowl?

Yes: +200 / No: -240.

Let’s consider both sides of the prop.

Pros: A former collegiate wide receiver turned All-Pro cornerback, Sherman has exceptional ball skills, as evidenced by his 26 interceptions in 71 NFL games (excluding preseason but excluding postseason). In his lone career matchup with the Patriots, Sherman picked off New England’s Tom Brady, who is far from easy to intercept. Finally, Sherman has one pick in each of Seattle’s first two playoff games of 2014.

Cons: For his career, Sherman has intercepted one pass per every 2.7 NFL games, which could make taking 2-1 on a Super Bowl pick a hard-to-swallow proposition for some. Also, Sherman is dealing with an elbow injury, which could compromise his ability to catch the ball. There’s also the matter of Brady just not throwing many picks. He’s been intercepted once per every 60.6 passes this season.

Now, it’s up to you to pick a side. Will Richard Sherman intercept a pass in Super Bowl XLIX, thus surely creating an Internet meme in the process? The poll will be open until 6 p.m. Eastern or so, as will the other nine props below.

Then, we’ll see how you handicapped the Super Bowl.

Enjoy the game.

Previous props studied:

Day I: Over-Under on Brandon LaFell’s receiving yards.

Day II: Over-Under on Doug Baldwin’s catches.

Day III: Will Rob Gronkowski score a touchdown?

Day IV: Will there be a one-yard TD in the Super Bowl?

Day V: Over-Under on Tim Wright’s receiving yards.

Day VI: Over-Under on LeGarrette Blount’s carries.

Day VII: Will there be a safety in the Super Bowl?

Day VIII: Over-Under on Russell Wilson’s rushing yards.

Day IX: Will there be overtime in the Super Bowl?

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Report: Many of Patriots footballs “a few ticks” under proper pressure

deflated-football Getty Images

Back when the story of under-inflated footballs in the AFC Championship game was fresh and new, Chris Mortensen of ESPN reported that 11 of the 12 footballs the Patriots used in the first half of the game were two pounds per square inch under the NFL’s prescribed pressure for balls used in games.

That report became a centerpiece of much discussion about the situation and the Patriots’ possible role in deflating the balls, even after PFT  reported last week that only the ball intercepted by Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson came in two pounds under the 12.5 PSI threshold. The rest of the balls were closer to the line by about one pound.

Now Ian Rapoport of NFL Media is reporting something similar. Rapoport reports that many of the other 11 footballs were “just a few ticks” under the minimum, although those ticks aren’t quantified, perhaps because, as NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino confirmed, the league doesn’t log the PSI of each ball before the game.

While the word on the level of deflation was already out there, the fact that a league-owned concern is reporting it is a notable development as we wait for the league to say something definitive on the issue.

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NFL insists there was no sting operation against Patriots

TheSting

The #DeflateGate controversy leaves little room for middle ground on many issues.  Either the Patriots tampered with the footballs or they didn’t, and pretty much everyone has an opinion on the issue — regardless of what the facts eventually may reveal.

One key fact that is unrelated to the issue of cheating but nevertheless critical to the broader context is whether the NFL entered the AFC title game intending to try to catch the Patriots in the act, or whether the issue came up during the game itself.

Bob Glauber of Newsday has reported (and reiterated) that the question first emerged during the game, after an interception by Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson sparked a chain of events that culminated in the league office deciding to test the footballs at halftime.  Jay Glazer of FOX Sports has reported that the NFL intended to test the footballs at halftime even before the game began.

The latter report speaks to the existence of a sting operation, with the NFL setting a trap for the Patriots and springing it unexpectedly at intermission of the AFC title game.  It also means that the NFL would have allowed the Patriots to potentially undermine the integrity of the AFC title game, allowing them to use balls that may have been underinflated.

As mentioned within the last hour during the Super Bowl pregame show on NBC, the NFL privately insists that there was no sting operation, and that the incident first arose during the Colts-Patriots game.  While some would call that a predictable denial, the failure of the officials to log the air pressure inside the footballs before the game began suggests that there was no plan — or if there was a plan it was a bad one — to catch New England in the act.

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Belichick, Brady haven’t been interviewed by NFL yet

Brady AP

Two weeks ago, the NFL began its investigation regarding whether the Patriots deliberately underinflated footballs prior to or during the AFC title game.  In the past 14 days, the NFL has not yet interviewed Patriots coach Bill Belichick or Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

Per a league source, neither man has yet to be questioned.  Presumably, both will be, eventually.

Ten days ago, Brady told reporters he had not yet spoken to the league about the situation.  Belichick has not yet been asked that question publicly.

On one hand, it’s a surprise that Belichick and Brady weren’t the immediate focus of the investigation.  On the other hand, investigations of this nature don’t start at the top and work their way down — they start at the bottom and work their way up.

Of course, it’s also possible to start at the top, lock in the stories of the key participants, and then continue from the bottom up.  Given that Belichick and Brady have both spoken publicly (Brady also was interviewed by NBC’s Bob Costas, in an item that will air during Sunday’s pregame show), their stories already are locked in, to a certain extent.

At some point after the Super Bowl, their stories will be locked in even more thoroughly by independent investigator Ted Wells.

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NFL has retained experts to conduct air pressure experiments

Simpsons

In the aftermath of last Saturday’s My Cousin Vinny press conference from Patriots coach Bill Belichick, scientists throughout America have chimed in on whether Belichick’s Mother Nature-based explanation of reduced football air pressure makes sense.

Ultimately, the NFL will decide whether the theory offered by Belichick holds water.

Per a league source, the NFL has retained multiple experts to conduct experiments regarding the effects of temperature and other atmospheric conditions on internal football air pressure.  The experts also will work directly with the Patriots to simulate all football preparation procedures, including the “rubbing” to which Belichick referred last Saturday, and on which he blamed a change in air pressure.

The involvement of outside experts partially contributes to the anticipated duration of the investigation, which Ted Wells has said will last several weeks.  And while some will claim that the NFL is merely looking for a way to exonerate the Patriots, the league has entered uncharted waters on this one, which makes it critical to fully rule out all possible explanations other than tampering before punishing the Patriots in any way.

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Consensus Super Bowl line moves to pick ‘em as Seattle money shows up

Super Bowl Betting AP

For most of the two weeks of Super Bowl XLIX betting, the Patriots were slight point spread favorites.

But that has changed.

Numerous Nevada sports books now make Sunday’s Super Bowl between New England and Seattle a pick ‘em, according to multiple websites monitoring line movement.

A pair of oddsmakers told PFT that weekend money on defending Super Bowl-champion Seattle has pushed them to move the point spread.

“We had a good amount of volume on the Seahawks last night,” said Jay Rood, the vice president of race and sports at MGM Resorts International, in an email message Sunday. MGM had listed New England as a one-point favorite for the previous 11 days before moving to pick ‘em Saturday night, per VegasInsider.com line movement charting.

Jay Kornegay, who oversees the lines at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, described the weekend betting on Seattle as “consistent.”

“It’s not an overflow of Seattle money but it certainly has balanced the game compared to last weekend,” Kornegay told PFT in an email Sunday. “Speaking with a few other [sports book] directors, it’s going to be a very balanced game.”

The SuperBook now lists Seattle as a one-point favorite, as do the CG Technology books in Nevada, per VegasInsider.com.

However, not all sports books have gone to pick ‘em or Seattle -1. Wynn Las Vegas continues to deal New England -1.

No Super Bowl has ever closed as a consensus pick ‘em, per VegasInsider.com records.

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Bruce Arians: We’ll be dressing in 49ers locker room this time next year

Bruce Arians AP

The Cardinals lost to the Panthers in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, leaving them a couple of steps short of becoming the first team to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium.

Coach Bruce Arians has already set a new goal for next season and shared it after he was named the NFL’s top coach for the second time in the last three seasons. It involves playing in the home of another NFC team when the 49ers host the Super Bowl at Levi’s Stadium this time next year.

“We’re dressing in their locker room,” Arians said, via the team’s website. “We can write it down today.”

Confidence is nothing new from Arians, who never wavered in his belief that the Cardinals could win the Super Bowl this year even as they lost several key players to season-ending injuries. Predictions for next season are a fool’s errand at this point, but getting some of those players back and the continued presence of Arians on the sideline are good reasons to think the Cardinals can be a winning team again next year.

And if they do make good on Arians’ prediction, they may just permanently etch his name on that coaching trophy. To hear more about what Arians thinks needs to happen for the Cardinals to play in Santa Clara a year after the Seahawks dress in their lockers, check out his appearance on PFT Live from Arizona last week.

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Marvin Harrison happy Tim Brown made Hall, but T.O. up next

Jerome Bettis, Tim Brown AP

There’s a measure of disappointment for every Hall of Fame finalist who doesn’t make it to Canton.

But for former Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison, there was at least the relief that another prolific wideout made it.

Harrison told Mike Chappell of WRTV 6 in Indianapolis that he was happy for former Raiders receiver/return man Tim Brown finally making it.

I’m ecstatic that Tim Brown got in,” Harrison said. “I’m glad he doesn’t have to wait and go through this another year. Tim Brown is the man. Tim Brown, in my opinion, should have been in there five years ago. That’s just my opinion.

“Now my night is made. I’m cool. I’m a happy camper. Tim Brown is in the Hall of Fame. That’s more important than anything going on right now. I like Tim Brown as a person. I love Tim Brown as a player. At least he got in.”

The reality is, with 15 finalists and five spots each year, roughly 10 deserving guys get left out this year.

The next issue for Harrison is whether he gets leapfrogged by another modern wideout with eye-popping stats.

When wide receiver Terrell Owens joins the list of eligible receivers next year, Harrison may have a harder time getting in that he did this this.

Consider, Owens has 1,078 receptions (sixth all-time) for 15,934 yards (second) and 153 touchdowns (third).

Harrison has 1,102 receptions (third all-time) for 14,580 yards (seventh) and 128 touchdowns (fifth).

That could make next year’s meeting another long wait for Harrison, who survived the cut from 15 to 10 this year but failed to make the final five.

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Geno Smith ready for a “very, very vital offseason”

New York Jets v Miami Dolphins Getty Images

The new Jets coaching staff will start holding meetings to plan for the offseason next week and the quarterback position is sure to be a topic for discussion.

Geno Smith said Saturday that he’s expecting to have competition in the form of a high draft pick or other acquisition in what’s a “very, very vital offseason” in terms of establishing himself as an NFL starter. One edge that Smith has on that competition is that he knows he’s going to be on the Jets in 2015. Smith said he’s started watching tapes of offensive coordinator Chan Gailey’s past offenses, some of which have used spread looks familiar to Smith from his college days.

“The familiarity with it will help,” Smith said, via the New York Post. “I don’t know what the ins-and-outs of his offense is, but I can’t wait to get back into it and learn it and develop timing with the guys. I’ll try and learn as much as I can without actually having the playbook.”

Smith said he doesn’t think this is his “last chance,” but there’s a good chance that three strikes will mean the same for Smith in football as they would in baseball.

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Pete Carroll to Seahawks: Have fun with the opportunity

Pete Carroll AP

During a joint Friday press conference, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll differed from Patriots coach Bill Belichick when he said that the Super Bowl experiences over the last two years have “been nothing but fun.”

It’s the same message that Carroll sent to his team on Saturday night in Arizona.

A member of the Seahawks told Albert Breer of NFL Media that Carroll was the “same ole Pete” while addressing the team the night before their attempt to repeat as Super Bowl champions. The coach told his players that they should have fun with the opportunity that sits in front of them on Sunday and play loose in pursuit of a second straight title.

Those have been big parts of the consistent message Carroll’s sent since he returned to the NFL with the Seahawks and they’ve worked out awfully well for him thus far. If it works out again on Sunday night, there probably won’t be any reminders needed to have fun with the moment.

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Report: Falcons alleged to have piped in crowd noise, NFL discipline “expected”

Pittsburgh Steelers v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

Did the Falcons use canned crowd noise to make the Georgia Dome louder as opposing teams were on offense?

According to a broadcast report, the Falcons are alleged to have done so — and now could face NFL discipline.

On ESPN’s Postseason NFL Countdown, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the Falcons are alleged to have played “artificial” crowd noise as the opposition had the ball in 2013 and 2014. It’s unclear what specific games the allegations span.

According to Schefter, the Falcons’ alleged actions are “expected” to result in NFL discipline, including a fine and even the potential loss of a draft pick for the practice.

The Falcons have cooperated with the NFL’s investigation, the team told ESPN.

According to the report, the Falcons’ game operations department is alleged to have “originated” the noise plan.

The focus now turns to the league’s findings. If the crowd noise allegations are proven and considered a violation of game integrity by the NFL, the Falcons would not figure to get off easily or quietly, given the climate.

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Report: Seahawks offer Marshawn Lynch sizable extension

Marshawn Lynch AP

Seahawks General Manager John Schneider said this week that he “kind of” loves running back Marshawn Lynch’s act and the team is reportedly looking to make sure the act keeps running in Seattle.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that the Seahawks have offered Lynch a big contract extension that would keep him with the team for “years to come.” Lynch would reportedly stand to make more than $10 million in 2015 under the extension, a big raise from the current $5 million salary on the books in the final year of his four-year deal.

Lynch held himself out of team work briefly in the offseason and returned to work after getting a slight salary bump, which helped fuel speculation about 2014 being his final year with the team. Lynch had another huge season with 1,306 rushing yards and 17 total touchdowns, though, and added a great NFC Championship game performance that makes thoughts of parting ways with him anytime soon harder to fathom.

Talks have been going on for a few weeks according to Rapoport and the Seahawks are also expected to have talks about an extension for quarterback Russell Wilson as they work to keep a very successful band together.

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Calvin Johnson: I’ll do whatever I can to keep Suh in Detroit

Wild Card Playoffs - Detroit Lions v Dallas Cowboys Getty Images

Once the final seconds ticked off of their playoff loss to the Cowboys and kicked off their offseason, the Lions’ thoughts turned to defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

Suh is set to become a free agent next month if the Lions don’t sign him to a long-term contract or franchise tag him at a potential cost of $26.9 million. Wide receiver Calvin Johnson would like to avoid that possibility and pledged to help the team out in their attempt to hold onto one of the league’s best defensive players.

“I’ll do whatever I got to do,” Johnson said, via the Detroit Free Press.

That could take the form of direct appeals to Suh or a contract restructuring that frees up more money in the short term with Johnson set to account for a little more than $20 million of the team’s 2015 cap space. However things play out with Johnson, the Lions’ decisions with Suh will be a big part of setting the course for the offseason in Detroit and elsewhere since Suh’s address for 2015 is one of the biggest dominoes to fall on the way to next season.

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