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Pats likely will fight Hernandez for bonus money, guaranteed salary

Hernandez AP

The Patriots’ decision to cut tight end Aaron Hernandez makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the team to recover any of the signing bonus paid to Hernandez last year and, in part, earlier this year.   Indeed, the Falcons held Mike Vick’s right through his prosecution, incarceration, and beyond in order to recover bonus money.

The Patriots ultimately chose making a strong and clear statement instead of maneuvering to protect their legal rights.  But the story isn’t over yet.

Based on everything we’ve heard and been told in the past five hours, we fully expect the Patriots to do whatever they can to try to recover money that has been paid to Hernandez, and to block the flow of any future payments.

The future payments are the key.  Under his contract, a copy of which PFT has obtained, Hernandez is due to receive $3.25 million on March 31, 2014, which completes his $12.5 million signing bonus.  We currently believe the Patriots will refuse to pay it, forcing Hernandez to take even more hits in the court of public opinion by fighting — possibly from a jail cell — the team’s decision to cut him off.

Separately, Hernandez and the Patriots could be fighting over more than $2.5 million in future guaranteed base salary.  As Ian Rapoport of NFL Network has pointed out, and as we’ve confirmed, the Hernandez contract mysteriously omits language that would forfeit the guarantee in the event of a default by Hernandez.  In English, this means he’s arguably entitled to the money even if he’s suspended, in jail, or both.

Again, look for the Patriots to not pay the money, and to force Hernandez to fight for it.

If it comes to that, look for the Patriots to apply heavy public pressure to Hernandez and his representatives to “do the right thing” and abandon the effort to get money that Hernandez, as the Pats surely will put it, didn’t earn and doesn’t deserve.  Hernandez’s counter should, and likely will, be that he is contractually entitled to the money, and that the Patriots could have done things differently if the goal was to recover money or to block future payments of it.

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Patriots extend running back Dion Lewis for two years

Dion Lewis AP

Dion Lewis went from out of the league to starting the opener for the defending Super Bowl champions.

And now he has a measure of stability to go with it.

According to Field Yates of ESPN, the Patriots have given Lewis a two-year contract extension, which keep him with the team through the 2017 season. He got a $600,000 signing bonus, and can earn up to $1.8 million in incentives in 2016 and 2017.

Lewis has remained productive after presumptive starter LeGarrette Blount returned from his one-game suspension. He has the kind of versatility the Patriots always seem to find, averaging 4.9 yards per carry and showing ability as a receiver out of the backfield. He has fumbled, so he could always fall back in the doghouse, but for now he’s been a find for them.

And to think, last season he was deemed unworthy to be a Brown or a Colt.

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NFL set to test boundary cameras at MetLife Stadium this year

Belichick Getty Images

As much as it would certainly pain the NFL to admit it, Patriots coach Bill Belichick probably has a point with his “challenge everything” theory.

But they’re about to try out another one of his ideas.

According to Tom Pelissero of USA Today, the league is about to test his idea of cameras along the boundaries of the playing field to assist with replay, trying it out at Jets and Giants games this year.

“It will be tested at MetLife Stadium a bit later this season, providing us with 10-12 games worth of data on viability, impact, and feasibility,” NFL spokesman Michael Signora said.

That’s a significant step considering the previous excuse was that it was too expensive and could potentially interfere with sight lines. And while pylon cameras may be of little use, goal-line technology in soccer and the hawkeye system used in tennis has made officiating in those sports more accurate, so any step in that direction for the NFL would be worthwhile.


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Lions sign Ishmaa’ily Kitchen

Ishmaa'ily Kitchen AP

The Lions signed defensive tackle Andre Fluellen on Wednesday and they added another veteran at the position on Thursday.

The team announced that they have signed former Brown Ishmaa’ily Kitchen to their 53-man roster. Defensive end Phillip Hunt was released to make room for the new arrival.

Both moves come after the team placed Tyrunn Walker on injured reserve with a broken leg suffered in Monday night’s loss to the Seahawks. Doubling down on the additions suggests that the team is less than sure of Haloti Ngata’s status. Ngata injured his calf against Seattle and missed practice on Wednesday.

Kitchen spent the last three seasons with Cleveland and saw action in 40 games for the Browns. He had 78 tackles in those appearances. In addition to the newcomers, the Lions have rookie Gabe Wright, Caraun Reid and Jermelle Cudjo on the depth chart.

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PFT Live: Coaching hot seat, Week Five picks

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We had our first coaching casualty of the 2015 season this week when the Dolphins fired Joe Philbin four games into his fourth season on the job.

There may not be any other firings during the season, but there will almost certainly be other coaches losing their jobs once the season comes to an end. On Thursday’s PFT Live, Mike Florio will take a look at which coaches are in danger of being on that list when he takes the temperature on hot seats around the league.

Thursday also brings the start of Week Five, which means it is time for Florio and Michael David Smith to reveal their picks for all of this week’s games.

As always, we also want to hear what PFT Planet thinks. Email questions at any time or get in touch on Twitter at @ProFootballTalk to let us know what’s on your mind.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can listen to all three hours live via the various NBC Sports Radio affiliates, through the links at PFT, or with the NBC Sports Radio app. You can also watch a simulcast of the first hour through the links at PFT.

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Marvin Jones: Andy Dalton trusts us to go and get deep balls

Andy Dalton AP

Through the first four weeks of the season, no quarterback in the NFL has averaged more yards per attempt than Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton.

As you’d probably guess, the biggest reason for that has been Dalton’s sharp improvement on deep balls from where he was last season. Dalton has already connected on 20 passes over 20 yards and five passes over 40 yards after having 33 and seven in those two categories over the entire 2014 season, something that wide receiver Marvin Jones believes is a result of his trust in the receiving corps.

“We’re at a point right now where Andy really trusts us to be there, even if we haven’t separated from the corner, he knows we’re gonna get the separation,” Jones said, via the Cincinnati Enquirer. “That’s what it’s all about — just run and homie go get it. That’s what it is. That’s pretty much all everything is. And that comes with trust, the trust that we’re gonna run and we know he’s going to put it out there for us and he knows when he puts it out there we’re gonna get it.”

Eight different Bengals receivers have gained over 20 yards on receptions already this season, adding a big play element to the Bengals offense that hasn’t been a big enough part of their attack in recent years.

They’ll be trying to keep it going against a very good Seahawks defense this weekend, which makes for this weekend’s most appealing matchup.

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Could Pagano be the next in-season firing?

Chuck Pagano AP

Now that the Dolphins have fired coach Joe Philbin, the football-following world is trying to figure out who may be next. And much of the chatter has centered on the men who will coach Thursday night’s game between the Colts and Texans.

Appearing earlier this week on PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio, John McClain of the Houston Chronicle said there’s no way Texans coach Bill O’Brien is even close to being on the hot seat, despite a 1-3 start punctuated by an embarrassing loss at Atlanta. Also appearing on PFT Live, Bob Kravitz of WTHR in Indianpolis said that the same can’t be said for Colts coach Chuck Pagano.

Kravitz said he feared Pagano may have been fired by the oft-impulsive Jim Irsay if Indy had lost its Week Three game at Tennessee. Looking at the schedule over the next five weeks, consecutive wins over the Titans and Jaguars give Pagano no reason to exhale.

After traveling to Houston (where the Colts erased a huge deficit last year to win on a Thursday night), the Colts host the Patriots and the Saints before heading to Carolina for a Monday night game. Then, Peyton Manning returns to Indianapolis, perhaps for the final time.

Win one or none of the next five and lose in ugly fashion to Peyton’s Broncos, with the bye week coming immediate afterward, it could be the end of the road for Pagano.

So how much of the noise regarding the coach’s job security is being heard by the players?

“Very little I’d say,” tight end Coby Fleener told PFT Live on Monday. “I think at least from my perspective I do the best I can to not read any of the news. And so regardless of whether we’re playing well or playing poorly it ultimately leads to an emotional roller coaster.”

Over the next month, that roller coaster could be going mainly downhill.

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Hasselbeck goes from emergency room to starting lineup

Matt Hasselbeck AP

Colts quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is going from the emergency room to the starting lineup.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that Hasselbeck will start tonight, as Andrew Luck’s injured shoulder is still not sufficiently healed for him to play. Schefter also reports that Hassebleck was in the emergency room until 2 a.m. on Tuesday, dealing with a virus.

The Colts listed Hasselbeck as questionable with an illness on this week’s official injury report, and he didn’t practice this week because he was sick. If he’s too sick to make it through tonight’s game, the Colts are down to third-string quarterback Josh Johnson, who has spent only a few days on the team.

The 40-year-old Hasselbeck, the NFL’s oldest non-kicker, has played OK this year, completing 30 of 47 passes for 282 yards, with one touchdown and no interceptions. The Colts will hope Hasselbeck is feeling well enough that he can continue to avoid mistakes in tonight’s game against the Texans.

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Rex: Mariota won’t have his way with our defense

Marcus Mariota AP

The Titans and quarterback Marcus Mariota return from their bye week to face the Bills on Sunday, which gives Mariota a chance to build off his strong first month as an NFL player.

Mariota was the offensive rookie of the month for September after throwing eight touchdown passes and posting the second-highest passer rating of any quarterback in the first three games of his career. To keep it going, Mariota will have to solve the Buffalo defense, something Bills coach Rex Ryan doesn’t see happening.

Ryan said Mariota “looks impressive” and called him a “real talent,” but is confident he’ll have the right answers for the second overall pick of the 2015 draft.

“I don’t think the kid will have his way against us,” Ryan said, via the Tennessean. “I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

When Ryan was with the Jets, his defenses did very well while facing quarterbacks in their rookie seasons and it’s not hard to see why a unit using a variety of coverages, blitzes and alignments would cause problems for an inexperienced signal caller. If Mariota can prove Ryan wrong on Sunday, he’ll buck that trend and continue to make his case as the franchise quarterback for the present and future in Tennessee.

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Goodell: Networks struggling in prime time, NFL bucks the trend

Roger Goodell AP

As the NFL weighs its options with the Thursday Night Football television contract, Commissioner Roger Goodell wants to remind everyone that there’s no more valuable programming on American television than pro football.

Goodell pointed out at Wednesday’s league meeting that the NFL continues to have outstanding television ratings, and that this year’s Thursday night package is off to a particularly strong start, with much higher ratings than last year.

“Ratings are incredibly healthy right now. We’re seeing increases, particularly on Thursday night, double-digit increases. This in light of the fact that obviously networks continue to struggle in prime time and we’re bucking the trend,” Goodell said.

CBS currently has the Thursday Night package, but the NFL has the option to open it up to bidding from other networks for 2016 and beyond. All of the broadcast networks would be interested, as would several cable outlets, and the NFL will be able to command hundreds of millions of dollars to the rights to the games.

The increase in viewership is probably more a reflection of better games this year than anything else: This year’s three CBS Thursday Night games have featured one game that went to overtime, one game decided on a last-minute touchdown, and one game that was competitive late into the fourth quarter, whereas last year’s first three CBS Thursday night games were decided by 20, 42 and 31 points. But Goodell is right that NFL ratings remain very strong, and it’s hardly a surprise that he wants to remind everyone of that as the league shops around its Thursday night package.

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NFL says it didn’t concede field-goal error to the Browns

SAN DIEGO, CA- OCTOBER 4:  Josh Lambo #2 of the San Diego Chargers kicks the game-winning field goal against the Cleveland Browns during their NFL Game on October 4, 2015 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images) Getty Images

Browns cornerback Tramon Williams says the league office told the team that officials erroneously called Williams offside on a late-game missed field goal try by the Chargers, giving kicker Josh Lambo another shot at winning the game. And he did.

The league office says otherwise.

No, it is not true,” NFL spokesman Michael Signora said in response, via Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon-Journal. “The video we have is inconclusive because we do not have a shot from the line of scrimmage. The person with the best view was the line judge who made the call on the field.”

The All-22 footage available the the NFL’s Game Rewind feature has two angles that suggest that the flag shouldn’t have been thrown. In one angle, it’s clear that Williams is lined up alongside his teammates. In the other angle, it’s clear that he times the snap perfectly, moving at the same instant the ball is lifted off the ground by the snapper.

This isn’t about whether Williams was offside (he apparently wasn’t) but whether the league admitted to the Browns an officiating error. The Browns, through Tramon Williams, claim the league did. The league insists that it didn’t.

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Goodell explains why NFL has no issues with daily fantasy

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The NFL consistently fights any effort to expand gambling on its games. The NFL has no qualms whatsoever about gambling on its players.

The easy explanation is that it’s not gambling, because Congress decided in 2006 that it’s not gambling. But since most people realize that, regardless of the name, it really is gambling, the NFL has now tried to cobble together an explanation more nuanced than, “Congress says it’s not gambling.”

“[I]t’s hard to see the influence that it could have on the outcome of a game because individual players are picking different players from different teams, mashing them up, you might call it,” Goodell told reporters on Wednesday. “[I]t’s not based on the outcome of a game, which is what our biggest concern is with sports betting.”

So, basically, when the thing that is the subject of the wager is sufficiently blended and absorbed within the structure of the league’s games so as not to hinge on the outcome of a given game, wagering is fine.

Which means that the NFL should now have no problem with any of the various prop bets that are unrelated to the outcome of a game — including the very popular betting on the total points scored in a game, also known as the “over-under.” If the individual points scored by a given player don’t matter to the outcome, the total points scored by both teams don’t matter, either. All that matters is who wins the game and by how many points.

The broader point here is that the NFL has opened Pandora’s Box by embracing daily fantasy. With one seemingly innocuous response from Goodell on Wednesday, the league’s arguments against most other forms of wagering based on football games instantly have been gutted. The only legitimate barrier that remains is wagering on the winner of the game, with application of the point spread.

But even that argument isn’t very legitimate, since betting against the spread is as much as a game of skill as playing daily fantasy.

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Anonymous AFC owner: DeflateGate “mountain out of a mole hill”


As expected, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell didn’t really expound on the league’s appeal of the overturned DeflateGate suspension of Tom Brady.

But it sounds like his bosses are as tired of the story as many others.

According to Ben Volin of the Boston Globe, “one AFC owner,” said the entire PSI:New England drama had long ago run its course.

“Could we have handled it better? Yes,” the owner said. “We sort of made a mountain out of a mole hill.”

Running with the assumption that said owner wasn’t Robert Kraft (who’d probably say something stronger if offered the chance at anonymity by his hometown paper), it speaks to the frustration of the seven-month probe, the only beneficiary of which seems to be “independent” investigator Ted Wells’ retirement fund.

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Andrew Luck to test arm, but Colts prepping Matt Hasselbeck to start

Matt Hasselbeck, Andrew Luck AP

The Colts have a pair of questionable quarterbacks tonight, and they’re still not sure which one they’re playing tonight against the Texans.

But according to Adam Schefter of ESPN, it “would not be a surprise,” if it were veteran backup Matt Hasselbeck.

Colts coach Chuck Pagano said only that he’d “do the right thing,” and that might mean another week of rest for starter Andrew Luck, who is nursing a shoulder injury.

The plan is for Luck to test his arm today to gauge whether he can play tonight, but they’re prepared to start Hasselbeck again if they have to.

Of course, Hasselbeck isn’t 100 percent, as he’s dealing with a virus that kept him out of all the practice time he’d need. That forced them to bring back emergency third quarterback Josh Johnson after cutting him earlier in the week.

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Willie Young: I’ll do whatever coaches ask

Teddy Bridgewater, Jared Allen, Willie Young AP

The Bears traded two linebackers last week and the departure of Jared Allen seemed to point to a larger role on defense for Willie Young.

Young made the same defensive end to outside linebacker transition as Allen this year, but appeared to be just as thrilled about making it when Mike Florio reported that he asked for a trade following Allen’s departure. On Wednesday, Young didn’t want to discuss that report and said he would do anything Chicago’s coaches asked him to do.

“Really just no comment on it, for real,” Young said, via the Chicago Sun-Times. “I’m just here to be a player, man, and do whatever my coaches ask. It’s all good. I’m just here to do what my coach is asking me and to be a professional.”

The Bears asked Young to play 18 snaps against the Raiders last week and he provided a couple of hurries as a pass rusher. With Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith taking sacks at a furious pace, Young should have an opportunity to improve on that output this Sunday.

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Eagles could be looking at more shuffling up front

Jason Peters AP

The last thing the Eagles need right now is more change up front, but that’s likely what they’re looking at for another week.

With left tackle Jason Peters‘ status up in the air because of a quadriceps injury, the Eagles may be forced to again shuffle a line which has been a glaring weakness during a 1-3 start.

Eagles coach Chip Kelly mentioned that right tackle Lane Johnson could swap sides if Peters can’t play, but also indicated that he didn’t want to be caught short like last week, when both Peters and linebacker Mychal Kendricks (hamstring) had to leave the game early after aggravating injuries.

“You can’t re-sub and say, ‘Hey, we need to activate somebody else [during the game].’ You have to live with it, so we’ll have to make some determinations as we get to Sunday,” Kelly said, via Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News.

Kelly praised Peters’ toughness, but said “he’s a guy we’ve really got to take a real good look at this week in terms of what he can give us.”

At least left guard Allen Barbre (groin) practiced fully, while Johnson (knee, ankle) was limited, and vowed to take team reps in practice today, though it’s unclear if he’s had enough work to switch sides so easily.


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Jameis Winston: You’ve got to take the simple play

Jared Allen, Jameis Winston, Star Lotulelei AP

When Jameis Winston was on his way to becoming the first overall pick of the 2015 draft, one of the negatives that analysts picked up from his college days was his habit of throwing interceptions.

Winston threw one every 26 times he put the ball in the air while at Florida State last year and things haven’t improved upon his entry into the NFL. Winston has thrown seven interceptions this season, which works out to one in 19 passes and is obviously too many for any quarterback to succeed over the long term.

Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said it wasn’t a “news flash” to see a rookie quarterback struggle with turnovers and said that you can’t “base the whole rest of Jameis’ career on that.” Both are true, but there are changes that Winston needs to make and he identified one of them while meeting with the media on Wednesday.

“We’ve got some great players around me on this team that can make plays,” Winston said, via the Tampa Bay Times. “I’ve just got to protect the football. It really is that simple. You’ve just got to take the simple play. Give it to your back and let him make a big. You can’t put everything on yourself. Sometimes, they make good plays. … There are only so many ways you can sum up an interception, but at the same time, you’ve got to limit those.”

The Bucs play the Jaguars this weekend and Jags quarterback Blake Bortles said that not putting everything on his own shoulders was an important lesson he learned as a rookie last year. There will be others, but the Bucs may not have the ball often enough for Winston to learn them if he can’t get the interceptions under control over the rest of his first professional campaign.

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PFT’s Week Five picks

Andrew Luck, Matt Hasselbeck AP

Last week’s picks contest wasn’t much fun, because MDS and I agreed on every game. This week, it will be a little more fun, because we disagree on two games.

And it will be even more fun if I retain my one-game lead. For the year, I’m at 41-22 (65.1 percent) and MDS has a record of 40-23 (63.5 percent).

For all picks on this weekend’s slate of 14 games, scroll and read, read and scroll.

Colts at Texans

MDS’s take: Andrew Luck and Ryan Mallett have the two lowest passer ratings of all starting quarterbacks in the NFL. Luck, however, has a much better chance of turning things around. This will be an ugly game, but the Colts will play well enough on the road to strengthen their hold on the AFC South.

MDS’s pick: Colts 17, Texans 14.

Florio’s take: Who’s the quarterback going to be? Who knows? And who cares? Texans have their backs against the wall, and they’re good enough to win this game at home.

Florio’s pick: Texans 24, Colts 16.

Washington at Falcons

MDS’s take: Washington’s defense is better than people realize, but the weakness of that defense is in the secondary, and that’s just the weakness for the Falcons to exploit with Matt Ryan throwing to Julio Jones. Atlanta will put a lot of points on the board and Kirk Cousins will throw a couple interceptions as the Falcons cruise.

MDS’s pick: Falcons 31, Washington 14.

Florio’s take: Week Five often becomes Correction Sunday, or what I’ve now decided to call Pothole Sunday, the day when a team that has been rolling through the early portion of the schedule drives unexpectedly into a large chunk of missing asphalt. With Washington better than most (including me) would admit, the 4-0 Falcons could find themselves 4-1 by the time 4:30 p.m. ET rolls around on Sunday. If this one were being played in Washington, I’d perhaps have the guts to call for the upset.

Florio’s pick: Falcons 30, Washington 24.

Browns at Ravens

MDS’s take: The Ravens have a lot of issues and look to me like a team destined to miss the playoffs for just the second time in John Harbaugh’s tenure as head coach. But they’ll get a reprieve on Sunday with a bad Browns team coming to town.

MDS’s pick: Ravens 23, Browns 16.

Florio’s take: The Ravens have extra rest and even more motivation to get their first home win of the season and scratch back toward .500. The Browns simply aren’t good enough to do in Baltimore what the other Ohio team did there.

Florio’s pick: Ravens 24, Browns 14.

Seahawks at Bengals

MDS’s take: This is the most intriguing game of the week for me because I’m still not sure what to make of the Seahawks. They seem to be turning things around since the return of Kam Chancellor, but they’re also a bad call away from a likely 1-3 record. At Cincinnati, one of the best teams in the league, I think Seattle will lose its third game of the season.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 24, Seahawks 21.

Florio’s take: Arguably the game of the day, it’s a chance for the Bengals to quiet those who think they can’t win in January. The Seahawks need to get on the right side of .500, but their early-season road schedule continues to work against them. The Bengals currently are the better team on both sides of the ball.

Florio’s pick: Bengals 22, Seahawks 17.

Rams at Packers

MDS’s take: The Rams have a knack for playing their best football against their toughest opponents. But a trip to Lambeau Field against Aaron Rodgers will be too tough a test even for the Rams’ impressive defense, and the Packers will take this one.

MDS’s pick: Packers 28, Rams 20.

Florio’s take: The up-and-down Rams are good enough to beat most teams. They’re not yet good enough to beat the Packers in Green Bay, even though the Rams can give them a run for their money.

Florio’s pick: Packers 27, Rams 24.

Bears at Chiefs

MDS’s take: Jay Cutler has played better this season than people are giving him credit for, and when he’s healthy the Bears aren’t as bad a team as people think. So I’m tempted to pick the Bears here. But I’m expecting Andy Reid to get his offense back on track on Sunday and the Chiefs to pull out a close one.

MDS’s pick: Chiefs 24, Bears 21.

Florio’s take: The Bears don’t have to worry about going winless. Which will make it easier for them to stomach Sunday’s trip to Arrowhead Stadium. Meanwhile, it the Chiefs can’t win this one and land at 1-4, they’re done.

Florio’s pick: Chiefs 30, Bears 20.

Saints at Eagles

MDS’s take: The Eagles’ offense has been a mess this season, but the Saints’ defense has been a mess, too. I like the Eagles to move the ball a lot against New Orleans.

MDS’s pick: Eagles 31, Saints 21.

Florio’s take: Two years ago, the Saints ended Philly’s season with the first road playoff win in franchise history. This time, the Saints could end Philly’s season as a practical matter. I can’t imagine that happening; if just a handful of plays had gone the other way in Washington, the Eagles would have won easily.

Florio’s pick: Eagles 27, Saints 20.

Jaguars at Buccaneers

MDS’s take: The NFL teams in Florida are all pretty terrible this year, but if there’s one showing some signs of life, it’s Jacksonville. Jameis Winston will be forced into multiple turnovers as the Jags win a close one.

MDS’s pick: Jaguars 13, Buccaneers 10.

Florio’s take: The Bucs haven’t won a home game in a long, long time. If they don’t win this one against Jacksonville, they may never win another home game again. Ever.

Florio’s pick: Buccaneers 20, Jaguars 17.

Bills at Titans

MDS’s take: Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota has exceeded expectations in the first three games of his NFL career, but the Bills’ defense is going to make life rough for him. This will be a difficult day for the rookie.

MDS’s pick: Bills 20, Titans 7.

Florio’s take: If the Bills can’t get this one done, they’re done. And even though they looked done against the Giants, I don’t think they’re done. And now I think I’m done.

Florio’s pick: Bills 27, Titans 17.

Cardinals at Lions

MDS’s take: The Lions may be a better team than their 0-4 record suggests, but they’re still not good enough to beat the Cardinals, whose deep passing game is going to be too much for Detroit’s secondary to handle.

MDS’s pick: Cardinals 28, Lions 17.

Florio’s take: Can the Lions forget about the screwing they took in Seattle and focus on a Cardinals team that can’t afford to lose two in a row? It’s not likely, especially since the offense can’t do much of anything.

Florio’s pick: Cardinals 24, Lions 13.

Patriots at Cowboys

MDS’s take: Brandon Weeden isn’t playing badly at all in relief of Tony Romo, but the Cowboys haven’t been able to win with him at quarterback. And they won’t win Sunday, with the best team in the NFL coming to town. This one could get ugly for Big D.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 38, Cowboys 14.

Florio’s take: It was supposed to be Tony Romo vs. Jimmy Garappolo. Instead, it’s Brandon Weeden vs. Tom Brady. They’re gonna need a bigger scoreboard.

Florio’s pick: Patriots 44, Cowboys 20.

Broncos at Raiders

MDS’s take: The Broncos’ defense is so relentless that Derek Carr is going to struggle all day long at getting the ball out before the rush arrives. Denver will improve to 5-0 and strengthen its grip on the AFC West.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 20, Raiders 10.

Florio’s take: Last week, the Raiders stepped into a trap in Chicago. This week, they step into a buzzsaw in their own backyard.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 34, Raiders 21.

49ers at Giants

MDS’s take: The 49ers’ offense has been an absolute mess, and it’s hard to see an end in sight. The Giants will jump out to an early lead and shut down the 49ers.

MDS’s pick: Giants 16, 49ers 7.

Florio’s take: 49ers coach Jim Tomsula wants a “confident man” at quarterback. He’ll have to settle for Colin Kaepernick.

Florio’s pick: Giants 26, 49ers 14.

Steelers at Chargers

MDS’s take: If Ben Roethlisberger were playing, I’d pick the Steelers. With Michael Vick at the helm, I’m expecting Pittsburgh’s offense to struggle to move the ball. The Chargers haven’t been great this year in any phase of the game, but they’ll get enough out of their offense to beat the Steelers in a low-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Chargers 14, Steelers 10.

Florio’s take: Flip a coin. Throw a dart. Light a match. The Steelers have extra rest and Martavis Bryant back. The Chargers are at home and have Antonio Gates back. The Chargers also have Philip Rivers and Steelers don’t have Ben Roethlisberger.

Florio’s pick: Chargers 28, Steelers 24.

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Browns cornerback Tramon Williams says NFL admitted error on game-winning field goal

Tramon Williams, Steve Johnson AP

The NFL recently instructed coaches not to disclose information about private communications with the league office regarding officiating errors. And on Wednesday a Browns player disclosed information about private communications with the league office regarding officiating errors.

Via Mary Kay Cabot of, Browns cornerback Tramon Williams said Wednesday that the NFL admitted officials incorrectly flagged him for being offside on a 39-yard field goal try by Chargers kicker Josh Lambo. The attempt went wide right, the Chargers got another chance from five yards closer, and Lambo made the kick.

“The coaches sent in the tape questioning it, because it was close and I thought I got a good jump,” Williams said. “It was time to do or die at the end of the game. I had gathered all the information throughout the game, and I was like, ‘This is my time.’ And sure enough, I got a good jump on it.”

He definitely did. One of the two All-22 film angles from the NFL’s Game Rewind feature shows Williams getting a perfect jump on the snap — a jump so perfect that from the other angle he appeared to be offside.

Even though the blunder gave the Chargers another chance to win the game, Williams doesn’t seem to be all that upset.

“I just move so much faster than everybody else,” Williams said. “I can see where the referees would miss that. . . . Guys make mistakes. At the end of the day you just hope that we can get judgment at the end of the game, maybe review or whatever it may be.”

The real question (apart from whether rulings of this nature will be added to the replay review rules) is whether the league will be upset with the Browns. Although the memo sent last month to teams regarding the disclosure of private communications with the league office was directed at coaches, executives, and owners, the league office likely won’t react well to coaches giving that information to players and players then sharing it publicly.

Regardless, the Browns claim that the same kind of mistake that caused the Lions to lose to the Seahawks caused the Browns to lose to the Chargers. And the Browns seem to be accurate. And it would have been a much bigger deal if the game had been played in prime time.

UPDATE 10:34 a.m. ET: The NFL has denied making that concession to the Browns. The NFL contends that the video evidence is inconclusive.

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Thursday morning one-liners

Josh Norman AP

New Bills K Billy Cundiff says he’s there to kick off.

Dolphins CB Brent Grimes was held out of practice with a knee sprain.

Patriots LT Nate Solder knows he’ll have his hands full this week.

Finding a long-term solution for Jets DE Muhammad Wilkerson is a priority.

New Ravens WR Chris Givens hopes to get on the same page with QB Joe Flacco sooner rather than later.

Bengals QB Andy Dalton’s throwing a good deep ball lately.

Browns CB K’Waun Williams cleared after concussion.

Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell is fine with the play-calling.

Texans K Nick Novak is focused on the next one.

The Colts won’t lack for storylines tonight.

The Jaguars are  their young kicker for now.

Titans WR Dorial Green-Beckham says arrests was a misunderstanding.

Broncos TE Owen Daniels is establishing himself as a red zone threat.

There’s more pressure on Chiefs veterans to step up as leaders now.

Raiders DB T.J. Carrie downplayed his injury as “just bruised up.”

The Chargers could be changing up their return duties.

Cowboys LB Rolando McClain is ready to get back in the mix.

Giants players were briefed on the danger of MRSA.

Eagles RT Lane Johnson did his best Micheal Ray Richardson impression.

Washington could be in the mix for international games next year.

The Bears made a handful of roster moves which could suggest more than on the surface.

Lions LB DeAndre Levy was back on the practice field.

Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers is trying to simplify things.

The new Vikings stadium is 75 percent complete.

Falcons fans are hard to find.

Panthers CB Josh Norman is thriving in his newfound on- and off-field spotlight.

Getting Saints G Jahri Evans back on the field was a boost.

Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston is focused on cutting down turnovers.

The Cardinals have choices to make at RB now.

Rams WR Stedman Bailey is appealing his fine.

49ers return man Jarryd Hayne is still getting the hang of what to do and when to do it.

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson isn’t playing as cleanly as he needs to.

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Mathieu: Lions look like they don’t understand offensive system

DeMarcus Ware, Matthew Stafford AP

After the Cardinals routed the 49ers in Week Three, Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu shared some of the things that the team picked up on tape that helped them intercept Colin Kaepernick four times.

Mathieu and the Cardinals have moved on to watching film of the Lions ahead of this weekend’s trip to Detroit. The safety isn’t sharing anything specific that he’s picked up in those sessions, but he has picked up on a general problem that does a lot to explain why the Lions haven’t managed to win a game yet this season.

“For me, they just look like they don’t quite understand the system yet, so to say, because you think about it, those guys, they could easily put up 30 points a game,” Mathieu said, via the Detroit News. “I’m very, very, very surprised. You look at those guys’ personnel on offense along with Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. I think those two guys alone have you raising your eyebrows as to wondering why they haven’t been putting up a lot of points this season. It’s one of those teams, man, that they look out of sync right now, but they’ll find their rhythm at some point during the season.”

Understanding the system might not make much of a difference when the offensive line can’t protect Matthew Stafford or help the running game get on track, but Mathieu’s making the same observation that plenty of others have made after watching the Lions through four weeks this season. The talent doesn’t match up with the results, which tends to be a bad sign for a team’s coaching staff when it comes time to make decisions about who gets to return for another season.

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