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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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Michael Irvin’s team wins the Pro Bowl

michaelirvin AP

The team chosen by Michael Irvin has defeated the team chosen by Cris Carter.

The Pro Bowl, in its second year of the new format with team captains picking the teams, went down to the final minute, with Team Irvin beating Team Carter 32-28. Team Carter’s last, best chance ended when an Andy Dalton pass fell incomplete; on a day when offenses dominated, Dalton was an exception, completing just nine of his 20 passes for 69 yards.

Does it matter who wins the Pro Bowl? Not really. There’s $27,000 on the line (players and coaches on the winning team get $55,000 while those on the losing team get $28,000), but that’s not enough to make the players play particularly hard.

But what does matter is whether the Pro Bowl is a compelling enough product for the fans to keep watching. The fans at University of Phoenix Stadium seemed to be enjoying themselves, although thousands left early, and there were many empty seats late in the fourth quarter, even though the game was close. The Pro Bowl needs to be well played enough that the fans don’t turn away.

So far, the fans aren’t turning away. And that alone makes it a success, from the NFL’s perspective.

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Pro Bowl still attracts thousands at the stadium, millions on TV

emmanuelsanders

Plenty of people think the Pro Bowl is such a lousy exhibition game that the NFL ought to scrap it. Here’s why the NFL will do no such thing: Plenty of fans still enjoy it.

Here at University of Phoenix Stadium, there are very few empty seats and tens of thousands of fans who seem to be having a good time. Cardinals fans dominate (the three most common jerseys I’ve seen are Larry Fitzgerald, Patrick Peterson and Pat Tillman), but a quick look at the crowd reveals jerseys representing just about every team in the NFL. And they seem to be enjoying themselves. A great Odell Beckham catch drew a loud ovation, and even during the commercial breaks fans are laughing and cheering as mascots from a dozen or so teams engage in their usual mascot buffoonery. (There were loud cheers while mascots played musical chairs during a commercial break, then even louder cheers when some mascot-on-mascot violence broke out and the Patriots’ mascot took the brunt of it.)

The fans also enjoyed the opportunity to do some booing: When the Seahawks’ Pro Bowlers (who aren’t playing in the game because they’re preparing for the Super Bowl) were shown on the big screen, the crowd booed loudly. Putting Richard Sherman’s face on the screen seemed to draw particular ire from the fans.

And, of course, the TV ratings will be strong, as they always are. In fact, the Pro Bowl frequently draws bigger television audiences than the baseball, basketball and hockey All-Star games.

So while the NFL may continue to tinker with the format, make no mistake: The Pro Bowl is here to stay.

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Richard Sherman thinks Goodell-Kraft relationship will protect Patriots

Sherman AP

The Seahawks had done a good job last week of dancing around #DeflateGate, with perhaps the strongest comment from cornerback Richard Sherman when he compared the potential handling of underinflated footballs to the league’s reported threat to prevent Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch from playing with gold cleats.

Sherman went all in on Sunday after arriving in Arizona, suggesting that the friendship between Commissioner Roger Goodell and Patriots owner Robert Kraft ultimately will lead to the exoneration of the Patriots.

Will they be punished?  Probably not,” Sherman told reporters, via Don Banks of SI.com.  “Not as long as Robert Kraft and Goodell are still taking pictures [together] at their respective homes.  I think he was just at Kraft’s house last week for the AFC Championship.  Talk about conflict of interest.  You know, as long as that happens, it won’t affect them at all.  Nothing will.”

Sherman’s point is undermined by the fact that Goodell hammered the Patriots for Spygate in 2007, despite the fact that the team will still owned at the time by Kraft.  Still, if the Patriots aren’t punished for the latest controversy, some will point to the strong support Kraft provided Goodell during the Ray Rice situation as proof of preferential treatment, even if the truth is that the league tried to catch the Pats in the act of underinflating footballs and ultimately failed to do so.

From the sideline of the Pro Bowl, Sherman had a chance to elaborate during an interview with ESPN’s Lisa Salters, who asked about his belief that the Pats won’t face consequences.

“I don’t because how that’s gonna be,” Sherman said.  “It’s the world we live in.  It’s the league we play in.”

Sherman also addressed the substance of the NFL’s suspicion of deliberate underinflation, stopping short of poking a bear that already will be poised to prove to the world that the Patriots deserve to be in the Super Bowl.

“I think the perception is the reality,” Sherman said.  “It is what it is.  Their resume speaks for itself.  You talk about getting close to the line. . . .  I don’t really have a comment about that, but their past is what their past is, their present is what their present is.”

Still, we don’t know what their past or present is regarding ball inflation, because the NFL has never dealt with this type of situation before — and because the NFL apparently was woefully unprepared to link proof of underinflated balls to proof of foul play.  Absent a clear plan to make that connection, the NFL never should have pulled the pin on this specific grenade.

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Jim Irsay compliments Patriots, says he’s “confident” in NFL’s investigation

Jim Irsay AP

While complimenting the Patriots on their rout of his club in last week’s AFC title game, Colts owner Jim Irsay expressed support Sunday night for the league’s investigation of the Pats’ alleged under-inflation of footballs.

Via his verified Twitter account, Irsay said his franchise is “confident the NFL and Commissioner [Roger Goodell] will address the concerns that arouse from our [championship game].”

Wrote Irsay: “The integrity of the game is critical.”

The footballs used by New England in the first half of its 45-7 victory vs. Indianapolis were tested by the NFL, which said Friday that “the evidence thus far supports” the Pats used under-inflated game balls in the first 30 minutes of regulation. The NFL’s investigation remains ongoing.

On Saturday, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick defended his club, saying the team didn’t break any rules and offering evidence to support his contention.

Before directly addressing the inflation controversy, Irsay published three Patriots-related tweets, at one point calling New England “a team with championship lineage.”

Here were Irsay’s remarks:

“We congratulate The Patriots as AFC Champions. We knew the difficulties of going to New England and did not overcome the obstacles we faced.

“Our rivalry with The Pats is something we treasure in the depths of our competitive soul,where the fire burns hot. We look forward to 2015.

“Seahawks/Pats will be a great Super Bowl. It’s a great matchup between defending Champions and a team with championship lineage.”

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Browns blew it with Josh Gordon

Gordon Getty Images

With Browns receiver Josh Gordon facing a one-year suspension that he’s not expected to be able to defeat via the appeal process, his time with the team probably is over.  After not having him for 10 games to start 2014 due to a marijuana violation and suspending him for the regular-season finale after missing a walk-through practice, the Browns now won’t have Gordon for all of 2015.

Her arrived in 2012 via the second-round of the supplemental draft.  Despite plenty of warning signs regarding marijuana use in college, the Browns under former CEO Mike Holmgren, G.M. Tom Heckert, and coach Pat Shurmur rolled the dice, likely knowing that with Jimmy Haslam poised to purchase the team from Randy Lerner, a strong season would be a key to remaining employed.  So why not use the 2013 second-round pick in July 2012, if there’s a chance they won’t be there to use the pick in April 2013?

A negotiated two-game suspension to start the 2013 season showed that concerns about Gordon were well founded.  But the Browns could have traded Gordon before the October deadline, and ultimately Haslam prevented president Joe Banner, G.M. Mike Lombardi, and coach Rob Chudzinski from doing so.  After the season, Gordon had outlasted a pair of team presidents, a pair of General Managers, and a pair of head coaches.

Then came the news at draft time that Gordon was facing a one-year suspension.  The Browns didn’t draft a single receiver to replace him, even though they could have had Sammy Watkins with the fourth pick or Odell Beckham after trading down with Buffalo to No. 9.

Now, Gordon has once again let the Browns down, and it becomes very hard for the Browns to trust him again.  If he’s reinstated in a year, the Browns would be wise to trade him.  This time around, they surely won’t get anything close to what they could have gotten in 2013.

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Narrow goal posts at the Pro Bowl look a little goofy

unnamed

With the Pro Bowl about to kick off, PFT is coming to you live from University of Phoenix Stadium, and our first reaction to surveying the scene is this: The narrower goal posts look a little goofy.

One of the NFL’s many experiments with different rules at this year’s Pro Bowl is the narrowing of the goal posts from 18 feet across to 14 feet across, which the league hopes will make field goals and extra points more difficult, and therefore more interesting for the fans. On first glance, those posts look strange.

Two people who don’t like it are the two Pro Bowl kickers, Adam Vinatieri of the Colts and Cody Parkey of the Eagles.

Other people might enjoy that,” Vinatieri said. ”For me, I’m a traditionalist. Don’t change it unless it needs to be changed. The league has never been more successful. The fan base has never been greater. But the deciding powers are way above me.”

Added Parkey, “I don’t prefer it but it is what it is,. It’s going to be way harder. It’s the kind of situation where there are so many good kickers in the league that I guess made it look easy. They’ve got to find other ways to make it harder. No matter what it is, we’ll accept the challenge.”

There has been talk in the NFL of moving extra points farther back to make them more difficult, and there was an experiment with that last preseason. This year, perhaps the Pro Bowl experiment will be the first step toward making field goals and extra points harder by making the goal posts narrower. Even if the sight of those narrower posts takes some getting used to.

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Rob Gronkowski favored to score a touchdown in Super Bowl 49

New England Patriots Practice Getty Images

We’ve entered the third day of PFT’s Prop Challenge, our daily look at a Super Bowl proposition bet.

The first two props studied were Over-Unders — bets that require choosing whether a given statistic will finish above or below a given number.

On Day One, we pondered Patriots wide receiver Brandon LaFell’s chances at exceeding 50.5 receiving yards in the Super Bowl.

On Day Two, we looked at the Over-Under on catches by Seahawks wideout Doug Baldwin (four).

In both cases, PFT Planet preferred the OVER by a roughly 55-to-45 margin.

Now, on Day Three, we look at a “Yes” or “No” prop made by the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.

Here’s the prop: Will Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski score a touchdown in Super Bowl 49?

“Yes” is favored at -130, meaning a bettor have to lay $13 to win $10.

“No” is +110, with a successful $10 resulting in $11 of profit.

Gronkowski has 14 touchdown catches in 17 games this season, with one TD catch in five consecutive games.

On the other hand, the Seahawks have surrendered 11 TDs to tight ends in 18 games, per ESPN statistics.

So here we go. Does Rob Gronkowski score a touchdown next Sunday, or does Seattle hold him out of the endzone? Let us know via the poll and in the comments. Remember: after the Super Bowl, we’ll tally the votes and see just how well PFT Planet handicaps in this hypothetical, just-for-fun exercise.

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Raiders continue filling out coaching staff

Buffalo Bills v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

The Raiders have continued putting together head coach Jack Del Rio’s first Oakland staff by adding a pair of former NFL players.

Jerry McDonald of Bay Area News Group reports that the team has added Rob Moore as their new wide receivers coach and Bernie Parmalee as the new running backs coach.

Moore spent his first year as an NFL coach working with the wide receivers in Buffalo after spending several years on the staff at his alma mater Syracuse, where he worked for former Bills coach Doug Marrone as well. Moore played 10 seasons for the Jets and Cardinals, making the Pro Bowl twice and the All-Pro team once.

Parmalee played nine years for the Dolphins and Jets and moved into coaching after his playing career came to an end following the 2000 season. He worked for the Dolphins and then spent time working under Charlie Weis when he was a head coach at Notre Dame and Kansas as well as during his time with the Chiefs.

The Raiders have filled out the majority of their offensive staff and hired a few defensive assistants, but they’re still looking for a defensive coordinator.

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Browns not yet notified of positive test for Josh Gordon

Josh Gordon AP

While noting they were “very disappointed” to learn of news of Josh Gordon’s positive test for alcohol, the Browns say they have not yet been notified of the wide receiver running afoul of league policy.

“At this point, due to the confidential nature of the NFL’s substance abuse policy, we have not been made aware by the league of a failed test,” the club said in a team-issued statement Sunday. “We are in the process of gathering more information and will provide further comment at the appropriate time.”

Gordon was subject to alcohol testing because of his 2014 DWI arrest, PFT’s Mike Florio reported Sunday. Gordon now faces a one-year ban.

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Report: Chris Polian interviews with Eagles for second time

Philadelphia Eagles v New York Giants Getty Images

The Eagles have opened the offseason by making a change to the structure of their organization with Howie Roseman’s title changing from General Manager to executive vice president of football operations and coach Chip Kelly taking on a bigger role in player personnel matters.

The team has been looking for another personnel executive to take on some of the General Manager duties while working under Kelly and that search reportedly took a step forward recently. Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Jaguars director of pro personnel Chris Polian interviewed with the Eagles for a second time.

Polian appears to be the first candidate to get a second opportunity to talk to the Eagles, who have seen other candidates blocked by their current teams or other ambitions as they try to find the right person to slot into their reworked front office.

Polian has spent the last two years working with the Jaguars and was the Colts’ General Manager from 2009-2011, although the presence of his father Bill at the top of the organization made that job look similar to the one he’d fill with the Eagles if he winds up in Philly.

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Dick LeBeau won’t be joining Cardinals staff after all

Dick LeBeau AP

The Cardinals still don’t have a defensive coordinator, and they apparently won’t be adding one of the best at that job of all time.

According to Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic, longtime Steelers coordinator Dick LeBeau won’t be taking a job on Bruce Arians’ staff.

Arians was expected to fill the coordinator job vacated by Todd Bowles from within his current staff, but he was hoping to add LeBeau as a senior assistant to lend some gravity to the group.

They’ve also shown some interest in Falcons coordinator Mike Nolan, and he’d fit the general criteria established by their pursuit of LeBeau, if not to the same degree.

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Josh Gordon tests positive for alcohol, faces one-year ban

Cleveland Browns v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon faces yet another NFL suspension.

PFT’s Mike Florio has confirmed Gordon is in line for a one-year ban for a violation of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.

A source tells Florio that Gordon tested positive for alcohol. Moreover, a source tells Florio that Gordon’s suspension looks to be a “done deal,” with a reversal of the ban not expected. As Florio notes, Gordon is subject to alcohol testing because of his July 2014 DWI arrest.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter first reported Gordon was set to draw a one-year ban from the league.

If Gordon’s suspension sticks, it’s a major setback for a wonderfully talented player who has already lost 13 games to league- and team-levied suspensions in his NFL career.

Furthermore, the news of Gordon’s potential ban throws his future with the Browns into doubt. At season’s end, coach Mike Pettine said the receiver was “squarely at a crossroads with us.”

The 23-year-old Gordon was suspended for the first 10 games of the 2014 regular season for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. After returning to the lineup, he did not recapture his best form, catching just 24 passes for 303 yards in five games. Making matters worse, Gordon was suspended for the Browns’ season finale at Baltimore for a violation of team rules.

Fifty-two Sundays ago, Gordon was playing the Pro Bowl, the coda to a spectacular second NFL season, one that saw him catch 87 passes for 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns in just 14 games.

One year later, it’s fair to wonder whether Gordon’s Cleveland career will soon be over. What’s more, his NFL future is in some question, as he will have to gain reinstatement if banished by the league.

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NFL bears plenty of blame for #DeflateGate

2011 NFC Championship: Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears Getty Images

At this point, it’s unclear whether the NFL will find any evidence to support the suspicion that someone from the Patriots deliberately caused footballs to lose air pressure.  If the NFL fails to find a proverbial smoking gun, that alone could become a different kind of smoking gun.

Even if (and at this point it could be a big if) the league finds proof of foul play, was it really worth it?  The NFL has tarnished its own shield by painting a Super Bowl participant as a cheater without clear evidence of cheating.  As noted on Friday, some believe that former Commissioners (such as Paul Tagliabue) would have addressed complaints coming from teams like the Colts regarding underinflated footballs not by trying to lay a trap for the Patriots, but by letting the Patriots know that the league office is paying attention to the situation, and that if there’s any funny business happening it needs to stop, now.  Instead, the league office opted to try to catch the Patriots red handed.

But what has the NFL really found?  As one league source has explained it to PFT, the football intercepted by Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson was roughly two pounds under the 12.5 PSI minimum.  The other 10 balls that reportedly were two pounds under may have been, as the source explained it, closer to one pound below 12.5 PSI.

The NFL has yet to share specific information regarding the PSI measurements of the balls that were confiscated and measured at halftime.  Which has allowed the perception of cheating to linger, fueled by the confirmation from Friday that the NFL found underinflated balls, but that the NFL still doesn’t know how they came to be that way.

“The goals of the investigation will be to determine the explanation for why footballs used in the game were not in compliance with the playing rules and specifically whether any noncompliance was the result of deliberate action,” the league said. “We have not made any judgments on these points and will not do so until we have concluded our investigation and considered all of the relevant evidence.”

Regardless of how hard or easy it could be or should be to get to the truth, the NFL owes it to the Patriots and the league to get there, quickly.  Instead, the premier American sporting event apparently will be played under a dark cloud, and anything other than an eventual finding of cheating will seem anticlimactic and contrived.  Even if the conclusion is regarded as legitimate, it won’t undo the damage that the Patriots and the NFL will have suffered during this bizarre period of pending allegations that have not yet been proven.

So at a time when the league office is still reeling from an insufficient investigation in the Ray Rice case, the league office now faces even more criticism for a clumsy sting operation that possibly will end up being a swing and a miss.  Surely, much of that criticism will be directed privately at the league office from the Patriots.

Complicating matters for the NFL is that the bat initially was swung by Mike Kensil, a former employee of the Jets with a reputation among the Patriots for being an agitator. (Kensil’s father, Jim, served as president of the Jets for 10 years from the late 1970s to the late 1980s.)  And so on the same day that the tampering charges filed by the Patriots against the Jets over Darrelle Revis became the latest chapter in a longstanding feud between the franchises, the tentacles of acrimony between the two franchises found a way to erupt into a brouhaha unlike many the NFL ever has seen.

The NFL never should have let this specific situation get to that point.  Even if the league deemed it proper to lay a trap, they should have realized the challenges of actually making a trap work.  In this case, it appears that they didn’t.

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Akeem Ayers: Titans did me a favor trading me to Patriots

Rob Ninkovich, Akeem Ayers AP

Akeem Ayers is in the Super Bowl because he was traded from the Titans to the Patriots during the 2014 season. He’s thankful for that.

Ayers said he appreciates the Titans for getting rid of him and getting him to a place where he could succeed.

“They made a decision that they felt like they needed to make,” Ayers said, via the Providence Journal. “I don’t have any hard feelings. I just took it as motivation and especially being here on this team, I feel like they did me a favor, honestly. I really don’t have any hard feelings for them. I have a lot of close friends on the team and I still talk to them. It’s nothing personal. I came here and I did a good job here and we’re going to the Super Bowl.”

Ayers barely got on the field for the Titans during the first half of the season, but he was a key contributor to the Patriots’ defense during the second half of the season. The Titans didn’t just do Ayers a favor. They did the Patriots a favor as well.

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Report: Raheem Morris expected to be Falcons defensive coordinator

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

The Falcons are believed to be waiting for the Seahawks to finish the Super Bowl so that they can go ahead and hire Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn as their next head coach, but that hasn’t stopped them from moving forward with other coaching moves.

They’ve decided on Kyle Shanahan as their next offensive coordinator and they may be moving forward with his defensive counterpart as well. Mike Jones of the Washington Post reports that the Falcons have set up an interview with Redskins defensive backs coach Raheem Morris and that the expectation is that Morris will take the position.

Morris interviewed for the coordinator job in Washington as well as the one with the Giants, but both teams went in other directions with their ultimate hire. Morris has never been a coordinator at the pro level, although working under Quinn wouldn’t be quite a full coordinator role because Quinn is expected to still call the defensive plays.

Morris played for Hofstra when Quinn was an assistant and then joined him on the coaching staff at the Long Island school before both men moved on for other jobs. Morris and Shanahan were both on the same Washington staff in 2012 and 2013.

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