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Preseason Power Rankings No. 15: Pittsburgh Steelers

Ben AP

I’ve been accused of both being a Steelers fan and hating the Steelers.  Neither statement is accurate.

Here’s one that is:  After spending most of my life living in and within 100 miles of Pittsburgh, I know the Steelers as well if not better than any NFL team.

And here’s one thing I know:  When they are expected to be bad, they usually find a way to be pretty good.

In 2013, that theory could get its toughest test in years.  The roster is in transition, with a mix of aging veterans who are getting close the being kicked to the curb (including one with really long hair), a nucleus of players who are in their prime and who need to lead like it, and youngsters who’ll be relied upon to step up or step off.

For now, the consensus of the six PFT scribes placed the Steelers at No. 15.  Plenty of people think they’ll end up much worse.  Which tells me that there’s a good chance they’ll finish much better.

Strengths.

Perhaps the greatest strength of this franchise, year in and year out, comes from the franchise itself.  The Rooney family leads the team with a steady hand, never getting too high or too low in response to whatever may be happening at any given moment, month, or year.  Their patience could be tested over the next year or two, if the effort to change a flat tire on a moving car doesn’t work out very well.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger remains a strength, but he could be an even stronger presence in three ways.  First, he needs to become a real leader of the team, not just a leader in word or title.  When former teammate Hines Ward pointed earlier this year to a lack of leadership earlier this offseason, he was pointing directly at Roethlisberger.  It’s time for Ben to prove the MVP of Super Bowl XL wrong.  (Unless the MVP of Super Bowl XL is right.)

Second, Roethlisberger needs to do less.  In the two seasons the Steelers won Super Bowls with Roethlisberger at the helm, he had his two lowest full-season per-game passing-yard averages, other than his rookie season.  The Steelers have been trying to achieve greater balance between run and pass, and Roethlisberger needs to buy in to that approach completely.

Third, he needs to stay healthy.  Though Roethlisberger apparently has recovered quickly from late-offseason knee surgery, there’s a sense that his very large body will betray him sooner than later, making it very hard for him to match other franchise quarterbacks by playing deep into his 30s.

In contrast to the Patriots’ inability to find quality receivers in the upper rounds of the draft, the Steelers have mastered the art of reaching into the haystack and pulling out mid-to-late-round needles.  Even with Mike Wallace (a third-rounder) gone to the highest bidder, the Steelers have a paid of solid replacements in Antonio Brown (a sixth-rounder) and Emmanuel Sanders (a third-round pick).  This year, the Steelers reached for two more needles, picking Markus Wheaton in (where else?) round three and Justin Brown in (where else?) round six.

The offensive line has been a perennial weakness.  The fact that it isn’t this year sort of makes it a strength.  Marcus Gilbert steps in for Max Starks at left tackle, and Mike Adams will handle the right side.  Maurkice Pouncey anchors the middle, with Ramon Foster on Pouncey’s left and a fully-healed David DeCastro, a first-rounder in 2012, to the right of the apologetic Hernandez apologist.

On defense, the ongoing presence of ageless coordinator Dick LeBeau will be needed more than ever, as the team adjusts to the departure of linebacker James Harrison and the highly unlikely return of nose tackle Casey Hampton.  But the Steelers have shown over the last 20-plus years an ability to interchange parts and still have a strong defense.  Regardless of the names and faces, the end result will be a fierce, hard-hitting defense.

Weaknesses.

The Steelers desperately need leaders with the will and the ability to influence teammates, on both sides of the ball.  Last year, they simply weren’t able to adjust to the sudden departure of leaders like Hines Ward and Aaron Smith.  This year, it will be very hard to turn around the perceived status of the team without players who take the criticisms personally and motivate those around them to take it up a notch, or three.

The running back position is perhaps less of a weakness than it is unsettled.  Rashard Mendenhall has left via free agency, and the Steelers hope Le’Veon Bell can make a Franco-style impact as a rookie.  If Bell doesn’t, it’ll be up to a revolving door of journeyman to provide the balance the team needs on offense.

The tight end position could be an issue for the Steelers, if Heath Miller has trouble recovering from a torn ACL suffered late in 2012.  If he does, David Johnson (who tore an ACL last August) could get a chance to shine.

The defensive line isn’t necessarily a weakness, but it’s not as strong as it used to be, making it harder for the largely anonymous trio to tie up blockers, which allows linebackers to get to the ball.

Changes.

On offense, a quartet of big names has bolted:  Mike Wallace, Rashard Mendenhall, Max Starks, and Willie Colon.  On defense, James Harrison has hit the road after rejecting a pay cut.  Casey Hampton didn’t even get a chance to turn down an offer; his contract expired, and the Steelers moved on.  (We still wouldn’t be completely shocked if he returns.)

New faces on offense include backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, who displaced Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch.  Rookie quarterback Landry Jones has prompted Batch to suggest that, if Jones develops well, he could eventually displace Roethlisberger.  Three rookie skill-position players, led by Le’Veon Bell, will help the offense find its groove in year two under coordinator Todd Haley.

First-round linebacker Jarvis Jones, if his neck really is a non-issue, could make a huge impact from the get-go, making Steelers fans forget all about Harrison.  (Until, of course, Harrison is chasing around Roethlisberger when the Bengals face the Steelers.)

Position battles.

The Steelers want Le’Veon Bell to become the bell cow back, but he’ll have to earn it.  Other contenders include Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, Baron Batch, and diminutive-but-effective La’Rod Stephens-Howling.

Beyond Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, the spots on the receiver depth chart are up for grabs. Don’t overlook Plaxico Burress, who’ll have his first full offseason and training camp to prepare for an NFL campaign in five years, as the primary red-zone target.  The slot job could come down to Jerricho Cotchery and rookie Markus Wheaton.

Pencil in Jarvis Jones as the replacement for James Harrison, but Jones will need to fend off Jason Worilds.

Despite the return of starting corners Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen, the return of William Gay could make things interesting, especially if Allen slips.

At safety, it could be hard to keep rookie Shamarko Thomas off the field, even with Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark on the roster.  (It also could be hard for Thomas to avoid the inevitable nickname of “Sharknado.”)

At punter, incumbent Drew Butler will battle it out with Brian Moorman, who was the incumbent in Buffalo a year ago.

Prospects.

The Steelers feel like a team in transition that borders on turmoil.  They missed the playoffs in 2012, and many see them as the third-best team in a competitive AFC North.

But the Steelers have a way of finding their groove when they’re being doubted, and it should surprise no one if coach Mike Tomlin wills the team toward postseason contention.  If they get there, they’ve still got enough talent and experience to cause problems for supposedly “better” teams in the AFC and, if it comes down to it, the NFC.

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Cowboys’ Byron Jones reaction to final pass: “Really, Rodgers?”

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 18:  Byron Jones #31 of the Dallas Cowboys reacts after a touchdown scored by Adam Humphries #11 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the third quarter at AT&T Stadium on December 18, 2016 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) Getty Images

When Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers hit tight end Jared Cook on a seemingly impossible pass to set up the game-winning field goal on Sunday, all Cowboys safety Byron Jones could do was shake his head in disbelief.

Jones, who was the closest Cowboys defender to Cook but couldn’t quite get there to break up the pass, said on KRLD that

“It’s one of those plays where it’s just like, ‘Really, Rodgers?’ I mean, he threw a dime on the move,” Jones said, via the Dallas Morning News. “You don’t see stuff like that. Quarterbacks like that, they find those small holes in the zone and they can just take advantage of it, and Rodgers was able to do that.”

Jones says he defended the play the right way. There was just no stopping Rodgers.

“So we were in a zone coverage, Cover 2,” Jones said. “I’m an underneath dropper, and you know, we all understand what Rodgers is gonna do. We understand he’s gonna leave the pocket, so the play’s gonna be extended. The zone kind of gets all warped up when he holds the ball and he’s running outside the pocket. I kept my eyes on Rodgers like I’m coached to do and tried to defend my seam, and then of course you got Cook sneaking behind me and he catches it on the sideline.”

After that catch the Packers kicked the game-winning field goal, and the Cowboys’ season was over. Jones couldn’t do anything about it, and he doesn’t think there was anything anyone could have done to stop Aaron Rodgers.

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Chad Greenway not sure if he or Adrian Peterson will be back next year

GREEN BAY, WI - JANUARY 03:  Chad Greenway #52 of the Minnesota Vikings and Adrian Peterson #28 react after their game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on January 3, 2016 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Minnesota Vikings defeated the Green Bay Packers with a score of 20 to 13.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images) Getty Images

Chad Greenway has gone to work every day the last 10 years with Adrian Peterson.

And he’s not sure if either one of them will be back with the Vikings next year.

The veteran linebacker told Sid Hartman of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune he wasn’t sure about his own status (after playing out a one-year contract he presumed would be his last), but had a suspicion about the way things would go with the former MVP running back.

“That’s a question that everybody has on their mind. My opinion, and I’m guessing, is he wouldn’t be back,” Greenway said. “That’s just basing it off contract numbers. But I’m sure the folks in the organization want Adrian to retire a Viking, I’m sure they want him to finish here. But that’s going to come up to those two sides coming together and making a decision and making an agreement on something that makes sense for the club and makes sense for Adrian.

“I’m not sure if they can get that done, and that’s obviously up to Rick [Spielman] and Coach to figure that out. But obviously I think we all want him to finish as a Viking, I think that would just make sense for him and his career. Whether that makes sense for him or not, that’s yet to be determined.”

Peterson’s due to make nearly $18 million in salary and bonuses next year, obviously far too much for a 31-year-old coming off knee problems and with generally declining production. But Greenway said after having conversations with Peterson, he might be inclined to do what’s needed to hang around.

“I have had conversations with him, and he would love to be a Viking and finish his career here,” Greenway said. “And I think that’s something he’s motivated to do. I think the club is motivated to get something done. Obviously a lot of factors weigh in on that, but we’ll see what happens.”

The biggest factor is financial, because unless he’s willing to take far less than scheduled, the other stuff might not matter.

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Dennis Thurman joins list of defensive coordinator candidates in D.C.

Dennis Thurman AP

Being a Rex Ryan assistant is proving to be a helpful line on the resume when it comes to getting an interview for the Redskins’ defensive coordinator job.

Josh Reed of WIVB reported on Thursday morning that Dennis Thurman is expected to interview for the opening and Adam Caplan of ESPN followed that up with word that Thurman’s interview will take place on Thursday. Thurman was Ryan’s defensive coordinator with the Jets and Bills from 2013 until Ryan was fired in Buffalo last year and previously served as a defensive backs coach for the Jets and Ravens.

The Redskins have also interviewed Mike Pettine, who preceded Thurman as the defensive coordinator with the Jets, and Rob Ryan, who joined his brother’s staff for the 2016 season in Buffalo.

Jason Tarver, Greg Manusky and Gus Bradley are others who have spoken to the team about the opening created when they fired Joe Barry after the end of the regular season.

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Aaron Rodgers climbing up the all-time postseason rankings

ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 15:  Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers throws a pass in the first half during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on January 15, 2017 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has rewritten the NFL’s postseason record book, but he’s not the only quarterback playing on Sunday who has a particularly impressive postseason record.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is also staking a claim for being one of the best postseason passers in NFL history.

In his big game on Sunday against the Cowboys, Rodgers passed Dan Marino and is now fifth in NFL history for career postseason touchdown passes, with 33. Brady has 58 postseason touchdown passes and may put the record out of reach, but if Rodgers and the Packers keep playing well, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him pass the other three players ahead of him — Joe Montana with 45, Brett Favre with 44 and Peyton Manning with 40 — in the coming years.

And Rodgers now has a postseason passer rating of exactly 100.0, which puts him fourth all-time, behind only Bart Starr (104.8), Kurt Warner (102.8) and Drew Brees (100.7).

Rodgers is also eighth all-time in postseason completions, ninth in postseason pass attempts and eighth in postseason passing yards, right behind Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger in all three categories.

If the 33-year-old Rodgers can keep playing well into his late 30s, and if the Packers can put a good team around him, he may be remembered alongside Brady as the most productive postseason passers ever.

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Jim Irsay: Andrew Luck recovering from shoulder surgery

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 01:  Andrew Luck #12  of the Indianapolis Colts runs with the ball durling the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 1, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) Getty Images

Colts owner Jim Irsay was back on Twitter Thursday morning, but he still isn’t discussing anything having to do with coach Chuck Pagano or General Manager Ryan Grigson.

His latest post isn’t lacking for newsworthy information, however. Irsay announced on Twitter that quarterback Andrew Luck had surgery on his right shoulder.

Luck made multiple appearances on the injury report during the 2016 season as a result of his shoulder, although the only injury that caused him to miss time was a concussion. He was limited to seven games during the 2015 season and the Colts attributed his absence in two of those games to a shoulder injury. He also missed time with a lacerated kidney that year.

Those injuries speak to the pounding that Luck has taken over the last couple of years and explains the many calls that have been made for the team to improve their offensive line play. That remained a need this offseason even before Thursday’s reminder of Luck’s injury issues.

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Thursday morning one-liners

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 23:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots and Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers embrace before the game at Heinz Field on October 23, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) Getty Images

Former Bills coach Rex Ryan is selling his home in Buffalo (one can only imagine what Rob did to the guest room).

An offseason to-do list for the Dolphins.

Patriots WR Michael Floyd is still learning what QB Tom Brady likes.

The Jets aren’t carrying over much salary cap room.

A look at the future for Ravens OLB Elvis Dumervil.

Bengals LT Andrew Whitworth has a different perspective on the Pro Bowl than younger players.

The Browns might not get DeShaun Watson, but they will work with a number of talented top prospects at the Senior Bowl.

Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger says he’s not in Tom Brady’s class (and waits for someone to argue with him).

Other teams were sniffing around Mike Vrabel before the Texans promoted him to defensive coordinator.

The Colts have another banner which has nothing to do with winning.

Jaguars QB Blake Bortles will be learning his third new system in four years.

Titans QB Marcus Mariota is recovering well after surgery.

Broncos coach Vance Joseph wants his offense to lead the team, in which case they might be hustling backward.

The Chiefs staff will coach the Pro Bowl, which means more beachwear for coach Andy Reid.

The Chargers are going to stick with the same uniforms, for now.

Raiders OL coach Mike Tice is staying in Oakland with a new deal.

The Cowboys will get to host the Packers again next year.

Giants S Landon Collins said the secondary turned down an invitation to the infamous boat ride.

The Eagles added some veteran line depth with G Dallas Thomas.

Taking a look at Washington’s options with Kirk Cousins.

The Bears continue to get recognition for their rookie class.

A look at some possible free agent fits for the Lions.

Packers veteran pass-rusher Julius Peppers isn’t thinking about the future beyond this week.

Former Vikings QB Brad Johnson’s son is getting college offers, despite being in eighth grade.

Falcons S Ricardo Allen has taken a leadership role in the secondary.

Panthers C Ryan Kalil is part of the group remaking “White Men Can’t Jump.”

For all their problems, the Saints don’t have to worry about QB at the moment.

The Buccaneers found a Canadian import before the wall goes up (wait, wrong border).

A look at the Cardinals’ free agent priorities.

Rams coordinator Greg Olson is back, although in a new city and with none of the players from his first stint in that job.

The Falcons aren’t keeping the 49ers coaching news much of a secret.

Finding secondary depth will be an offseason priority for the Seahawks.

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Vance Joseph: Sexual assault claims are false

ENGLEWOOD, CO - JANUARY 12:  Vance Josepf addresses the media after being introduced as the Denver Broncos new head coach during  a press conference at the Paul D. Bowlen Memorial Broncos Centre on January 12, 2017 in Englewood, Colorado.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) Getty Images

Broncos head coach Vance Joseph responded to the publication of details from a 2004 Boulder Police Department report that included sexual assault allegations against him.

Joseph was accused of sexually assaulting two trainers at the University of Colorado, where he was working as an assistant coach, but was neither charged nor interviewed by police. One of the two women in the report did not want to press charges and the other didn’t agree to speak to police, which led to the case being closed.

On Wednesday, Joseph, who left the school shortly after the alleged incidents, told Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post that the claims “are false.”

“That was resolved a long time ago,” Joseph said. “For myself, for my family, for the Denver Broncos, I’m disappointed and embarrassed. I was a young guy and it showed to my immaturity and irresponsibility in my life when I was younger. But I’ve grown so much and that’s why I’m disappointed, because I’ve grown so much as a person, as a coach, as a father, as a husband. Everyone who knows me knows that I try to live my life the right way, and I regret that my name is even associated with this.”

Joseph said that he spoke with General Manager John Elway and team president Joe Ellis about the allegations and the Broncos released a statement last weekend saying they were aware of them while noting that Joseph was not charged.

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Jordy Nelson: I can’t be out there moving slowly

DETROIT, MI - JANUARY 1: Jordy Nelson #87 of the Green Bay Packers looks for yards against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on January 1, 2017 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) Getty Images

Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson returned to practice on a limited basis on Wednesday, marking the first time that he’s been on the field since breaking ribs against the Giants in the Wild Card round.

Nelson said after the workout that he’s breathing easier than he was right after getting hurt and that he’s feeling better in general, but acknowledged that he doesn’t know that he’ll be able to show he’s “fully functional” in time to play against the Falcons on Sunday.

“I’ve improved every day. Hopefully that continues,” Nelson said, via the Wisconsin State Journal. “I’ve got to be able to go out and perform. I just can’t be out there slowly running or just being some random person. I’ve never played receiver with broken ribs. We’ll find out, hopefully. If it happens, we’ll see how it goes. Right now, I’m just focused on getting back to full motion and doing everything and seeing if we can get that opportunity.”

Nelson said he expects to wear additional pads if he does play in Atlanta and his status isn’t the only one to watch at receiver. Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison both sat out practice and Adams isn’t expected to work all week because of an ankle injury, which could leave the Packers with a serious shortage at receiver.

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Roger Goodell confident things are going to be just fine in L.A.

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 14:  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stands on the field prior to the game between the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahwaks at the Georgia Dome on January 14, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) Getty Images

Never mind that Los Angeles doesn’t seem to want the Chargers, or that the Chargers reluctantly went there. And never mind that they’ll play in a 30,000-seat stadium for a couple of years, before becoming the sorry brother-in-law sleeping on Rams owner Stan Kroenke’s fancy new couch in Inglewood. And never mind that neither team is very good, and fewer and fewer people want to watch them.

This is going to be a huge success for everyone, declared NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

It’s a great market,” Goodell said at a rally yesterday, via Eric Williams of ESPN.com. “It’s the second largest market in the country and the entertainment capital of the world. We have millions of fans here, and we’ve had two teams in the market before, and we’re building an extraordinary stadium.”

Of course, all those extra eyeballs and dollars didn’t translate into numbers last year, as ratings declined when the locals were fed a steady diet of Rams games (and who says they have no taste there?). But Goodell said the long-view of the situation is positive, and that having both teams put down roots there will help it become something greater.

“Everyone wants their home team to win; that’s shown throughout the country,” Goodell said. “These teams will transition into this market. You see the great athletes and great players that they have. They’re going to be great off the field as well in this community, and that’s going to take some time.

“We’ll have a new stadium coming on in 2019, so we truly believe and are confident in this market. And we understand the challenges that we have to meet here. We have to set a high bar here in Los Angeles, and we’re committed to doing that.”

One of the challenges they have to overcome is apathy, as the Rams haven’t had a winning season anywhere since 2003 or in Los Angeles since 1989. And the Chargers have thus far been nothing more than a punchline, with their logo being mocked and movers refusing to move them, setting the stage for a Lakers-Clippers relationship.

Of course, the Lakers actually won occasionally, so it might be a Clippers-Clippers situation.

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Brandon Marshall: Any team should be happy to have me for $7.5 million

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 17:  Brandon Marshall #15 of the New York Jets makes a catch against Tony Lippett #36 of the Miami Dolphins during the second quarter of the game at MetLife Stadium on December 17, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Getty Images

When the regular season ended, Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall spoke to reporters in the locker room and seemed to suggest that he’d be open to taking a pay cut for the 2017 season.

Marshall said that it’s “not about the money anymore” and that he’d “play for free” because his bills are paid. In an appearance on “Boomer & Carton” on WFAN, however, Marshall revisited the issue and sent a very different message. Marshall said that “any team should be happy to have me” for the $7.5 million salary he’s set to make next season.

“What I said was, to clarify my statement, I said I love the game so much that if my bills were paid, which they are, I’ll play for free. But teams also know my value,” Marshall said, via NJ.com. “I’ve probably been underpaid the last six years, if we’re really about comparing production to receivers across the league and what I’ve been doing … Now, when you only catch 50-something balls for over 700 yards and you’re 30-something years, that’s when teams come to you like, ‘We don’t think you’re good anymore.'”

Moving on from Marshall would result in saving his entire $7.5 million salary under the cap, something that the team might prefer to an aging receiver in what’s expected to be an extensive overhaul of the roster this offseason. They might also like to keep Marshall while saving some money, but Marshall’s latest comments make that seem unlikely.

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Bills interview Ken Dorsey for offensive coordinator opening

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 8:  Quarterbacks Coach Ken Dorsey and Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers talk on the sidelines during a game against the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 8, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The Saints defeated the Panthers 31-13.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) Getty Images

Panthers coach Ron Rivera stressed the need for his offense to “evolve,” but so far, that hasn’t included any major changes.

But one may be coming.

According to Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer, the Bills interviewed Panthers quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey for their offensive coordinator opening. Former Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott obviously has a connection there, having worked together the last four years.

The 35-year-old Dorsey has enjoyed the good and the bad of the last two seasons, from being there as Cam Newton won an MVP and they went to the Super Bowl, to watching Newton regress badly this year (among other factors) as they fell to 6-10.

Dorsey worked in pro scouting for the Panthers prior to joining the coaching staff.

Coupled with receivers coach Ricky Proehl stepping away, it would give Rivera a chance to freshen up his staff.

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Tom Brady in trouble? Right

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 14:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots looks on in the first half against the Houston Texans during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Gillette Stadium on January 14, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) Getty Images

The man who shrugged at an assault from Dabo Swinney by claiming it’s better to be interesting than right has opted for neither this week when launching an assault on the greatest quarterback to ever play. Colin Cowherd believes that, with a lackluster postseason performance against the Steelers, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will be in jeopardy of being jettisoned for Jimmy Garoppolo.

While it’s entirely possible that, at some point, Brady’s desire to keep playing will outlive the team’s desire to employ him, that’s not happening if Brady loses at home to the Steelers on Sunday.

Cowherd’s primary argument is that Brady has had two straight postseason “clunkers.” And while, statistically, that’s true in comparison to, you know, his league-record 28 touchdown passes against only two picks in 12 regular-season games (good for a passer rating in excess of 112), the Patriots beat the Texans by 18 and were a two-point conversion away from forcing overtime in Denver notwithstanding Brady’s”clunkers.”

The entire premise of Cowherd’s argument is that coach Bill Belichick always gets rid of a guy one year too early in lieu of doing so one year too late. But that’s not universal. Exceptions have been made for players like Troy Brown, and an exception definitely would be made for Brady, who consistently has left money on the table when doing new deals in order to ensure that he’ll never put Belichick in a position where he has to decide whether to dump Brady for cap reasons.

Last week, Scott Zolak of the Patriots Radio Network blurted out that Brady will have the job “until he dies.” I’ll give Zolak a chance to put Cowherd’s theory to rest on Thursday’s PFT Live when Zolak makes a return visit at 8:35 a.m. ET.

Tune in at Sirius 213, XM 202, NBCSportsRadio.com, the NBC Sports Radio app, and/or NBCSN.

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Antonio Brown: Malcolm Butler “puts hands on you like no other”

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 23:  Antonio Brown #84 of the Pittsburgh Steelers is pursued by Malcolm Butler #21 of the New England Patriots after making a catch in the first half during the game at Heinz Field on October 23, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) Getty Images

Steelers receiver Antonio Brown will have his hands full with Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game. And Brown thinks Butler may have his hands full of Brown’s jersey.

Brown said Butler is a physical cornerback who gets his hands on opposing receivers as much as anyone in the NFL, and that’s what Brown will have to be ready for on Sunday.

“Butler finishes to the ball. He puts hands on you like no other. We are up for the challenge,” Brown said.

Butler has shadowed Brown in each of the last two Steelers-Patriots games, and for the most part Brown has won their individual matchups: Brown caught seven passes for 106 yards when the Steelers and Patriots played this season, and Brown caught nine passes for 133 yards when the Steelers and Patriots played last season.

If Butler can’t get his hands on Brown on Sunday, it’s going to be tough for the Patriots to stop the Steelers’ offense.

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Pete Carroll concerned with C.J. Prosise’s durability

FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 13: C.J. Prosise #22 of the Seattle Seahawks carries the ball during the third quarter of a game against the New England Patriots during a game at Gillette Stadium on November 13, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) Getty Images

Seattle’s season came to an end on Saturday before running back C.J. Prosise could return from a fractured scapula that wiped out the second half of his rookie season with the Seahawks.

The broken shoulder-blade was the fourth injury that caused Prosise to miss time since being drafted in May. A hip flexor issue kept Prosise sidelined in OTAs. A hamstring strain took away time in training camp and a broken wrist bone in Seattle’s regular season opener against Miami forced Prosise to miss four games.

“I can’t tell you that I’m not concerned about C.J,” head coach Pete Carroll said. “He had trouble through the offseason, was unavailable to us throughout, and there was a groin and a hammy and a wrist and then the scapula thing he had. He has to show it.”

Prosise had 369 total yards over the four games preceding his injury against the Philadelphia Eagles in mid-Novemeber. He rushed for 174 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries and caught 16 passes for 195 yards. However, he also missed 12 of 18 games regular and postseason games for Seattle.

“He certainly is on it when he’s right,” Carroll said. “We would have had a shot this week to try and get him out there again, we would have busted it to get it and he would have had a really good chance to make it, so he was that close to returning. But there is a concern.”

The Seahawks had 11 different running backs carry the ball at least once for them this season due to injuries to Prosise and Thomas Rawls.

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Who will win the NFC title game?

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 30:  Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers looks to pass against the Atlanta Falcons at Georgia Dome on October 30, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Getty Images

With two games to be played this weekend, the questions of the day for Thursday’s and Friday’s PFT Live are as simple as they can be. Who wins?

For Thursday, it’s the NFC. Packers at Falcons.

Vote, comment, vote again, comment again. Tune in at 6:00 a.m. ET to NBC Sports Radio and then to NBCSN at 7:00 a.m. for the simulcast. Guests include Scott Zolak of the Patriots Radio Network and MDS of PFT.

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