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Patriots’ Brandon Bolden recovering from sprained ankle

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Patriots running back Brandon Bolden is recovering from a sprained ankle that has prevented him from running at all this offseason.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that Bolden sprained his ankle in the winter while working out on his own and didn’t run at all during any offseason work.

Bolden hopes and expects to be ready for the start of training camp on July 25.

As an undrafted rookie last year, Bolden showed flashes of potential, gaining 274 yards on 56 carries. He missed four games when he was suspended in November for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

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Bears extend Roberto Garza through 2015

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The Bears found something to like about the 2014 season.

The team announced Friday that they have signed center Roberto Garza to a one-year contract extension. Garza signed a one-year deal to return to the Bears before the start of the season and the team’s obviously been pleased with the work he’s done on the field this season.

Next year will be Garza’s 15th in the NFL and his 11th with the Bears. He has started all but five of the team’s games since the start of the 2006 season and will join kicker Robbie Gould as the longest-tenured members of the organization if linebacker Lance Briggs and cornerback Charles Tillman both leave the team.

Garza will be turning 36 next year, so the Bears should probably have an eye out this offseason for a player who can follow Garza in the middle of the line.

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Robert Griffin III practices, expected to play against Cowboys

Robert Griffin III AP

Washington won’t be adding to the list of backups or backup-to-the-backup quarterbacks starting this weekend.

According to Mike Jones of the Washington Post, Griffin was able to practice Friday with no soreness in his right shoulder, per coach Jay Gruden.

Griffin was limited Wednesday, but is now expected to be ready to start in Sunday’s finale against the Cowboys.

“The big thing was we wanted to make sure he didn’t have a lot of pain when he threw and he didn’t today, so that’s the great thing,” Gruden said. “He looked good, made all the throws today. I think everything’s all systems go with him.”

He should also have protection, as left tackle Trent Williams practiced in a limited role after missing the previous two practices with a shoulder injury. He’s listed as questionable, but said he expects to play as well.

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Mike McCarthy: No concerns about Aaron Rodgers

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Backup quarterbacks are going to be starting in several games with playoff implications this weekend, but the matchup between the Lions and Packers won’t be one of them.

Matthew Stafford has no injury issues for the Lions and any worries about Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers’s calf have disappeared along with the cookies left for Santa Claus. Rodgers practiced again for the Packers on Friday and drew a probable listing on the injury report that sounded like a definite when coach Mike McCarthy addressed the quarterback’s status.

“I don’t have any concerns today based on conversations with Aaron and how he’s feeling,” McCarthy said, via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Tomorrow a big indicator, just watching him move around and do different things. I don’t have high concern.”

There aren’t any real injury concerns for the Packers headed into their NFC North title game with the Lions. Cornerback Davon House is out with a shoulder injury for the third straight game and the team’s been targeting the postseason for his return to the lineup. Everyone else is probable or not listed on the injury report at all.

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Given his history, Stanton infection creates heightened concern

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The news that Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton has an infection in his injured knee creates serious short-term problems for the team — and long-term problems for Stanton.

NBC Sports Medicine Analyst Mike Ryan points out that, given Stanton’s history, the infection could become a significant problem.  The infection, per Ryan, could damage an ACL graft Stanton received a decade ago.  Combined with a potential impact on the articular cartilage, the infection could lead to joint instability and accelerated joint arthritis.

Then there’s the possibility that the infection could spread, creating a potentially serious health situation for Stanton.

Regardless of what happens going forward, it would be a surprise if Stanton plays again this season.  Making it a major surprise if the Cardinals get beyond the wild-card round.

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Browns name Connor Shaw their Week 17 starter

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Connor Shaw is a roster move away from his first NFL start.

Browns coach Mike Pettine announced Friday that Shaw will start the season finale against the Ravens on Sunday. That decision is the expected one with Brian Hoyer out of practice all week with shoulder and bicep issues and Johnny Manziel on injured reserve, but the Browns still have to formally add Shaw to their 53-man roster from the practice squad to put him in the lineup.

Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that a deal with Shaw is in place to make that happen, so the Browns can concentrate on getting Shaw ready for Sunday. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said that he thinks Shaw will do well, although he allows that no one was expecting the rookie to play this soon.

“Connor’s going to get some experience that we really weren’t counting on,” Shanahan said.

The Ravens stand to benefit if Shaw doesn’t do as well as Shanahan thinks he will, although a win isn’t enough to get them into the postseason. They need the Chiefs to beat the Chargers and Kansas City will also be going with a backup in Week 17.

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Julio Jones, Steven Jackson questionable for Sunday

Bradley McDougald, Steven Jackson AP

Two of the Falcons’ key skill-position players will be officially listed as questionable for Sunday’s NFC South title game at Carolina.

Wide receiver Julio Jones (hip) and tailback Steven Jackson (quadriceps) are both technically 50-50 shots to play against the Panthers, per the club’s official Twitter feed.

Jones was practicing on Friday, per Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com. However, Jackson was not working out for a third straight day. Still, Jackson has yet to be ruled out despite not practicing all week.

The Falcons (6-9) will capture the NFC South for the first time since 2012 with a victory against the Panthers (6-8-1).

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Brian Hoyer not practicing, looks unlikely to go Sunday

Hoyer AP

It looks like the cavalcade of backup quarterbacks starting in Week 17 is going to include Connor Shaw.

According to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer still isn’t practicing because of shoulder and biceps injuries.

That makes it appear extremely unlikely that he’d be able to go in Sunday’s finale.

That would leave Shaw backed up by Tyler Thigpen, who was signed this week when Rex Grossman said no thanks.

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It’s too late for a Kurt Warner comeback

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With the Super Bowl Hosting Curse finally destroying the Cardinals’ chance of becoming the first team to play in a Roman-numeralized (probably not a word) football game in their own stadium, there’s even more bad news for a team that apparently will have to enter the postseason with Ryan Lindley and Logan Thomas at quarterback:  Kurt Warner is not an option.

Warner isn’t an option, even if he wants to be.  By league rule, the deadline for reinstatement of players on the reserve/retired list came expired on November 28.

Darren Urban of the Cardinals’ official website recently reported that Warner remains on Arizona’s reserve/retired list.  Which means that he can’t in 2015.

Warner admitted that he considered unretiring to join the Cardinals after Drew Stanton suffered a knee injury during a December 11 win over the Rams.

“It amazed me I thought about it as much as I actually thought about it,” Warner said on December 14.

There’s a possible path through the maze, if Warner would decide to try to put a cherry atop one of the most memorable stories in NFL history by riding back in from the sunset to save the season.  The theory has been posed to the league office; for now, it can’t happen, even if Warner would want it to.

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Alex Smith out Sunday due to lacerated spleen

Alex Smith AP

The Chargers need a win at Arrowhead Stadium in order to return to the playoffs for the second straight season and they learned Friday that they won’t have to beat a Chiefs team quarterbacked by Alex Smith.

Chiefs trainer Rick Burkholder announced that Smith has a lacerated spleen and will not play in Week 17, leaving the Chiefs with Chase Daniel as their starting quarterback. Burkholder said that Smith, who was able to practice earlier this week, doesn’t need surgery to repair the injury, which occurred in last weekend’s loss to the Steelers, but that the injury could get worse if he were to take a shot in the wrong place against San Diego this weekend.

“It wasn’t until after I dressed and adrenaline wore off that I noticed anything. I didn’t relate it to a hit,” Smith said.

It’s the second straight year that Daniel will start against the Chargers in Week 17, although last year’s start came with Smith resting in advance of the playoff opener. Daniel was 21-of-30 for 200 yards and a touchdown in that game, but the Chiefs lost 27-24 in overtime and the Chargers moved on to the postseason.

San Diego would certainly like the same outcome this time, while the Chiefs need a win to keep their faint playoff hopes alive. If they were to win and get the help they need elsewhere, Daniel would likely be the playoff starter as Burkholder said Smith’s injury typically takes six weeks to heal.

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Calvin Johnson, Joique Bell present at practice

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The Lions had nearly perfect on-field attendance for their third major practice in preparation for Sunday’s NFC North title game at Green Bay.

According to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, defensive tackle Nick Fairley (knee) was the only Lions player not present at Friday’s workout. Fairley has missed the last seven games with his injury and seems all but certain to miss the season finale as well.

However, while Fairley is likely out, taiback Joique Bell (Achilles) and wide receiver Calvin Johnson (ankle) look set to play Sunday with their ailments. Bell went through a full practice Thursday, while Johnson was limited.

The Lions’ final injury report will be released later Friday.

The Lions will win the NFC North with a victory or a tie vs. the Packers. Both clubs have 11-4 records. For the moment, Detroit holds the head-to-head tiebreaker on account of its Week Three win vs. Green Bay.

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Julio Jones practices on Friday

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The Falcons have been without wide receiver Julio Jones at practice since he strained an oblique muscle during the team’s December 8 loss to the Packers, but Jones was able to play last Sunday and he’s continued to progress this week.

Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com reports that Jones took part in Friday’s final practice of the regular season, leaving him on track to play against the Panthers this Sunday. If the Falcons lose that game, it will be the last time that Jones or anyone else on the Falcons practices for a long time but a win would put them in the playoffs and give Jones a chances to practice more next week.

Returning to practice could be a sign that he’s healthier than he was for the game against the Saints, but Jones still probably won’t be 100 percent come Sunday. Jones had seven catches for 107 yards, though, and his presence alone is enough to occupy the attention of the Carolina defense.

Running back Steven Jackson remained a non-participant in practice Friday and isn’t expected to play as the Falcons and Panthers square off for the NFC South title.

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Drew Stanton’s infection believed to be from outside treatment

Drew Stanton AP

The infection that could derail Drew Stanton’s potential return for the playoffs may have created a problem beyond the immediate.

A league source explained to PFT that the infection he was treated for this week is believed to be the result of treatment he was getting for his knee injury outside the team facility.

When Stanton suffered a grade two MCL sprain on Dec. 11, he didn’t need surgery, and was recovering with treatment and rest. The hope was that he’d be able to return for the postseason.

But this week, his knee began to swell, and team doctors diagnosed him with an infection. However, the fact he didn’t have surgery or any treatment from the team that would lead to such an infection has them believing it stemmed from a treatment they didn’t perform.

He underwent an arthroscopic procedure Wednesday, and is being treated with antibiotics now.

What isn’t known is the nature of the outside treatment, or whether he’ll be able to make it back for the playoffs.

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A.J. Green present at Cincinnati’s Friday practice

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As the Bengals embarked on their final on-field work of the week, their go-to receiver was among those dressed to work out.

Wide receiver A.J. Green (biceps) was seen at the club’s Friday practice in uniform, Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com reported.

Green suffered the arm injury in the Bengals’ Monday night win vs. Denver. He did not practice on Wednesday, but he was able to go through a limited workout on Thursday.

The Bengals (10-4-1) will capture the AFC North with a win or tie at Pittsburgh on Sunday night (8:30 p.m. ET, NBC).

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Report: Drew Stanton being treated for infection

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The Arizona Cardinals, who seemed to have perfected the art of “next man up,” suddenly can’t catch a break.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, quarterback Drew Stanton had to have an arthroscopic procedure to fight an infection, and may be done for the year.

That’s bad news for the Cardinals hopes for anything beyond simply making the postseason, such that Stanton himself was the answer.

They were planning to bench Ryan Lindley in favor of rookie Logan Thomas, but Thomas got the quick hook this week in practice.

Of course, it’s worse news for Stanton, who suffered a knee injury and then an infection.

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Antrel Rolle knows finishing well no guarantee 2015 will be any better for Giants

Odell Beckham AP

The Giants have found a winning formula over the last three weeks, bumping their record to 6-9 and raising hopes that they can ride a strong finish into a better 2015 season.

With rookies and young players like Odell Beckham, Jonathan Hankins and Devon Kennard stepping up in the second half of the year, it’s easy to understand why the Giants would feel like better things await in the new year. As Paul Schwartz of the New York Post points out, however, the Giants have now played four straight games in which neither team had any hope of making the playoffs and will close out the year with another one against the Eagles.

Winning those games is certainly better than losing them, but they aren’t any more predictive of future success than closing out last season 7-3 turned out to be. Safety Antrel Rolle has been around for a long time and knows that each season tends to be independent of the one that came before.

“Each and every year presents its own different year and own different set of challenges,” Rolle said, via the New York Post. “I would love to say yes, but knowing how this game is and knowing how things shake out, that’s not a guarantee. I think the future for this team is very promising. I think all the injuries and allowing all the younger guys to step in and play and to get their feet wet and understand what it takes to actually produce in this league, I think it’s definitely helped them out a lot, helped our team out a lot.”

Rolle’s view on the promise of the future is on target, but history is littered with teams that showed promise in December before failing to make good on it the next time around. It is a long time between games and the Giants need to spend a good portion of it improving on the areas that led them to start the year with nine losses in their first 12 games.

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