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PFT Preseason Power Rankings No. 13: New York Giants

New York Giants v Dallas Cowboys Getty Images

If the NFL seeded every team one through 32 last January and had a playoff tourney, the Giants would have been a chic sleeper pick to win it all. Everyone knows New York is a serious threat no matter its seed.

Of course, there is no such 32-team tournament. Only six teams per conference make the playoffs. And in three of the last four seasons, the postseason has begun with the Giants at home.

The NFL isn’t about to open the postseason to everyone and thus devalue the regular season in the process, so it’s up to the Giants to rack up the wins necessary to get a playoff bid.

The question is, are the up to the task?

Here’s a look at the Giants as training camp approaches:

Strengths.

In Eli Manning, the Giants have a skilled, experienced, playoff-tested, durable quarterback. Think of all the teams that don’t have such stability at this key position. The Giants do, and it’s a primary reason they can’t be discounted.

Manning is surrounded by talented skill-position players. Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz are an elite wide receiving tandem. The depth beyond Nicks and Cruz is strong, too, with Rueben Randle, Louis Murphy and Ramses Barden also useful players.

The Giants also appear in good shape at running back, where David Wilson and Andre Brown comprise a capable tandem. New York also did well to add pass-catching tight end Brandon Myers (ex-Oakland) to replace Martellus Bennett, who signed with Chicago.

The strength of the defense is a deep defensive line led by ends Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul, though the latter is recovering from back surgery.

Finally, the bulk of this club’s core has at least one Super Bowl ring. The Giants have won big, and they have thrived in one of the world’s biggest media markets for close to a decade under coach Tom Coughlin. GM Jerry Reese also deserves credit — the Giants annually have a deep, talented roster.

Weaknesses.

Whether the Giants make the postseason could well come down to the play of their defense, which has been below-par of late. The Giants have ranked in the bottom half of the league in yards per game and yards per play in each of the last two seasons. In 2012, only New Orleans was worse in both categories. The Giants struggled against the run (28th in yards per carry allowed) and pass (31st in opponents’ yards per pass play) a season ago.

While the Giants are strong in the front four, their back seven isn’t as imposing. Their linebacking corps lacks a standout, and the depth is questionable, too. The Giants have a similar situation at cornerback, where Prince Amukamara and Corey Webster are the starters with Aaron Ross (back after a forgettable one-year stint in Jacksonville), Jayron Hosley and Terrell Thomas other options. Thomas is coming off his third right ACL tear, and his ability to contribute remains to be seen.

Changes.

The Giants bid adieu to the tough tailback Ahmad Bradshaw, a key part of two Super Bowl teams, leaving Wilson (5-9, 205) and Brown (6-0, 227) to carry the load in the backfield.

Wilson, the club’s 2012 first-round pick, has exceptional speed. If he continues to round out his game, he could give an already potent offense yet another boost.

“He still makes mistakes, but there has certainly been . . . some significant growth,” offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said of Wilson in June, according to the club. “Now until you get the pads on — and he has to show that he, as a smaller guy, can do the things necessary that other small backs in this league have done — you are still kind of holding your breath when you see him.”

Brown, who scored eight TDs in just 73 carries in 2012, would figure to be the Giants’ short-yardage, red-zone and between-the-tackles specialist.

Two notable additions on offense are Myers, who caught 79 passes for 806 yards and four TDs for Oakland in 2012; and rookie right tackle Justin Pugh, who will compete to start right off the bat.

There are numerous changes on defense. Defensive Osi Umenyiora departed for Atlanta. Mathias Kiwanuka, who started six games at strong-side linebacker for New York in 2012, could see more time at end with Umenyiora gone and Pierre-Paul coming off back surgery. The Giants also added rookie pass-rush prospect Damontre Moore in Round Three.

Two former Eagles — Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson — were added to bolster New York’s defensive tackle ranks. The Giants also added Ohio State tackle Johnathan Hankins in Round Two.

Middle linebacker Dan Connor (ex-Dallas) was added in March, effectively replacing Chase Blackburn, who signed with Carolina. The Giants also parted ways with Michael Boley, who logged multiple starts at strong- and weak-side linebacker in 2012.

Talented-but-injury-prone safety Kenny Phillips signed with the Eagles. Ryan Mundy (ex-Pittsburgh) figures to be the third safety behind starters Antrel Rolle and Stevie Brown.

The Giants replaced longtime kicker Lawrence Tynes with Josh Brown, who connected on 11-of-12 field goals for Cincinnati in the 2012 regular season. In his prime, the 34-year-old Brown was regarded as one of the NFL’s best kickers, and he was sharp in his stint with the Bengals a season ago.

Position battles.

With Blackburn departing in free agency, the Giants will have a new starter at middle linebacker. Mark Herzlich, primarily a reserve in his first two NFL seasons, held the job in offseason workouts.

“He’s taken a leadership role out there and I think he has some good respect from his teammates in some of the things he’s done in the OTAs,” defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said in June, according to a transcript from the team. “Obviously, we want to find out what happens when the pads come on.”

Connor, who has 27 starts, is another option in the middle.

There may be greater uncertainty at outside linebacker, with Keith Rivers, Jacquian Williams and Spencer Paysinger among the competitors for playing time. Per ESPNNewYork.com, Rivers and Paysinger were the starters outside in the offseason, though Williams was dealing with a knee injury. For the record, Rivers made three starts on the strong side and three on the weak side in 2012, with Williams starting two games on the strong side and one on the weak side. All three of Paysinger’s 2012 starts came at weak-side linebacker.

On offense, Pugh and veteran David Diehl will compete at right tackle. Both could potentially play guard, too. Also, how the Giants divide carries between Wilson and Brown will be closely watched by fans and fantasy-football players alike.

Prospects

The Giants lost their final four road games of 2012. Similar struggles away from home to begin this season would be very problematic for New York, which starts the 2013 campaign with three-of-four on the road, including the season-opener at Dallas. Overall, five of the Giants’ first eight contests before their Week Nine bye are away from MetLife Stadium.

After the bye, the Giants have three straight home games, with the Nov. 17 prime-time meeting vs. Green Bay perhaps the biggest challenge.

Nevertheless, all of that home cooking presents a big opportunity for Coughlin’s club. The Giants — like every other team in the competitive East — need to get their wins when they can. The division hasn’t produced multiple playoff teams since 2009.

Should the Giants get back to the postseason, there will be no doubting their readiness for the rigors of January. The NFC East is tough. And it will also take its toll, too, as the Giants, 9-9 in division play the last three seasons, too well know. To get to January, New York needs to slog through the schedule that encompasses the kids going back to school, the leaves turning colors and all of that holiday music on the radio.

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Dion Jordan returns to work with Dolphins

Dion Jordan AP

The Dolphins had to wait a little longer than they originally expected to get Dion Jordan back at work, but the day finally arrived on Tuesday.

Jordan took part in the team’s practice after being suspended for the first six games of the season. Jordan was originally suspended four games in the offseason for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, but had that suspension wiped out when the league and NFLPA agreed on a new policy two weeks into the season.

Jordan was suspended for four more games at that point for a separate violation, however, and the Dolphins have had to go without the third overall pick of the 2013 season for the entire season as a result.

Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald reports that the defensive end was working with the kickoff coverage team during special teams drills in his first day back with the team. He could play that role this week, but the Dolphins don’t need to immediately clear a roster spot for him because they have a one-week exemption before they’re forced to put him on the roster.

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Report: Jets to sign wide receiver Jeremy Kerley to extension

New York Jets v New England Patriots Getty Images

The Jets aren’t finished spending money on wide receivers.

This one seems to be a more stable investment, however.

According to Adam Caplan of ESPN, the Jets are expected to announce a four-year contract extension for wide receiver Jeremy Kerley today.

The former fifth-rounder is in the final year of his rookie contract.

He has 22 catches for 201 yards and a touchdown this year (though just seven catches the last four games), and would be a viable third option if things work out with Eric Decker and Percy Harvin. He caught 99 balls the previous two seasons.

 

 

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Bills place Spiller on IR, with designation to return

Spiller Getty Images

As expected, Bills running back C.J. Spiller has been placed on injured reserve after surgery to repair a broken collarbone.  As not expected, he has been given the one-per-team-per-year designation for return.

With Week Eight approach, it means Spiller can return to game action in Week 16.  Which means he’d be available, in theory, for games at Oakland and New England, along with any playoff games.

It’s unclear whether Spiller will be healed by Week 16.  A source with direct knowledge of the situation told PFT on Sunday that Spiller was done for the year.

Then again, with a shrinking window for using the designation for return, the Bills needed to use it on someone, or they quite possibly would have used it on no one.

To replace Spiller on the roster, the Bills have signed running back Phillip Tanner.

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With three home games in 12 days, Bengals are facing blackouts

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The Bengals, who have qualified for the playoffs in three straight years, have had trouble selling tickets this year.  In the midst of an 0-2-1 slump, the Bengals face arguably their biggest box-office test of the season; they’ve got three home games in a 12-day span.

“We still have tickets available for each of the three games and are working hard to sell as many as we can and get the games on TV,” Bengals ticket sales manager Andrew Brown said.

On Sunday, the Bengals host the Ravens.  The following Sunday, the Bengals host the Jaguars.  Four days later, the Browns come to town for a Thursday night game.

The Bengals decided before the season to reduce their non-premium ticket threshold to 85 percent to ensure that the games will be televised locally, but they’re still facing the possibility of one or more blackouts.

No NFL games have been blacked out on local TV yet this year.  Last month, the FCC voted to end government support for the blackout rule.  The league and the broadcast networks still have the ability to privately agree not to televise the games, if they aren’t sold out within 72 hours before kickoff.

If/when the NFL continues to black out games, Congress could intensify efforts to force the NFL to permit all games to be televised in the local market, regardless of the amount of tickets sold.

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League won’t fine Kuechly

Kuechly Getty Images

Yes. Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly was ejected from Sunday’s game for making contact with an official.  No, he won’t be fined.

Yes (or no?), that’s not inconsistent.

Per a league source, Kuechly won’t be fined for that which got him ejected.  The decision not to fine Kuechly was first reported by Ed Werder of ESPN.

Kuechly won’t be fined because he didn’t know he was making contact with an official.  But while inadvertence and the absence of intent won’t get Kuechly fined, the league believes the right call was made to kick Kuechly out.

It’s a delicate balance.  If a strict liability standard applies when it comes to contact with officials, a player who makes inadvertent, unintentional contact with an official should be both ejected and fined.

Maybe an ejection but no fine is the right balance to strike where the contact wasn’t intended.  Still, it’s hard to reconcile the rules as written with their application.

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League introduces NFL Sportsmanship Award

2012 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Getty Images

The NFL has announced that a new annual Sportsmanship Award, to be determined by a player vote, will be given out on the day before the Super Bowl.

The announcement comes at a time when the league is eager to promote its high-character players while ugly cases of off-field misconduct have cast the NFL in a negative light. The Sportsmanship Award will join the league’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, which recognizes good works off the field, in putting a spotlight on those players who conduct themselves the right way.

Other leagues including the NBA and the NHL already have awards for sportsmanship, but this will be the first season in which the NFL gives such an award.

Each team will nominate one player from its own team for the Sportsmanship Award. The league has appointed a panel of former players — Warrick Dunn, Curtis Martin, Karl Mecklenburg and Leonard Wheeler — to take the list of 32 nominees and come up with a list of eight finalists. Then the active players will vote among the eight finalists at the same time that they vote on the Pro Bowl rosters.

The recipient of the Sportsmanship Award will get a $25,000 donation to the charity of his choice from the NFL Foundation.

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Eagles getting some bodies back in practice, including Darren Sproles

New York Giants v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

The Eagles got some needed rest over the bye week, and they got some guys back on the practice field today.

According to Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly.com, the Eagles got center Jason Kelce, running back Darren Sproles and linebacker Mychal Kendricks back on the practice field today.

While that’s no guarantee they’ll play this week against the Cardinals this week, it’s still a good sign for a team that has played well through injuries this season.

Sproles sprained his MCL two weeks ago against the Giants, and the thought was he might miss some time but that it wasn’t that serious.

Kelce’s been out after sports hernia surgery, and was originally targeting a Week 10 return.

Kendricks has been out since Week Two with a calf injury, so today’s work might be the beginning of easing him back into the lineup.

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Bears fan beaten, critically injured while tailgating

Seahawks Bears Football AP

Another NFL fan has been the victim in an ugly incident of apparent violence before a game.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that a 57-year-old man is in critical condition after he was beaten up in a parking lot near Soldier Field while tailgating on Sunday morning.

Police say the man got into “an argument that turned physical” and was found near his SUV with trauma to the head and face. The victim was found to be “heavily intoxicated.”

The man is currently at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. No arrests have been made.

As the NFL continues to say it wants to make attending games a better experience for the fans, making the stadiums safer should be a high priority. This is the second case this month of a fan being seriously injured in an altercation before a game even started; a 49ers fan who was beaten up before a game at Levi’s Stadium was left partially paralyzed.

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A Week Eight look at the state of the playoff race

Indianapolis Colts v Denver Broncos Getty Images

Is Week Eight too early to talk about the NFL playoff race? Probably. But we’ll do it anyway.

AFC West: First place in the division is on the line Thursday night, when the 5-2 Chargers visit the 5-1 Broncos. The Broncos are currently the favorites in the division, but the Chargers could change that with a road win. Denver also owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Indianapolis, which may turn out to make a difference in home-field advantage in the playoffs.

AFC South: The 5-2 Colts already have a two-game lead and a head-to-head tiebreaker edge over the second-place 3-4 Texans. It will be a big surprise if Indianapolis doesn’t win this division.

AFC East: The 5-2 Patriots have a one-game lead over the second-place Bills, and have beaten the Bills head to head. New England will likely win this division for the 12th time in the 14 seasons since Tom Brady took over for Drew Bledsoe in 2001.

AFC North: The 5-2 Ravens lead the 3-2-1 Bengals and 4-3 Steelers in a division that could turn out to be a three-way race. (Any thoughts that the 3-3 Browns could make it a four-way race probably went out the window with Sunday’s loss to the Jaguars.)

AFC wild card: The second-place teams in the AFC West and AFC North (currently the Chargers and Bengals) would appear to be the most likely wild-card contenders, and the third-place teams in those divisions (Chiefs and Steelers) may be contenders as well. The Bills and Dolphins are also in the mix, while the Texans may be contenders solely because they still get four games against their terrible division rivals, the Titans and Jaguars.

Best guess seeds: 1. Denver, 2. Indianapolis, 3. Patriots, 4. Ravens, 5. Chargers, 6. Bengals.

NFC West: The 5-1 Cardinals have a game and a half lead over the 4-3 49ers and a two-game lead over the 3-3 Seahawks, and the Cardinals are also the only team in the division that hasn’t lost a game within the division yet. It sounds crazy to say, but the Cardinals may now be the division favorites.

NFC East: At 6-1, the Cowboys have the best record in the NFL. Dallas meets 5-1 Philadelphia twice late in the season (on Thanksgiving in Dallas and December 14 in Philadelphia), and those look like the games that will decide the NFC East, with the team that doesn’t win the division having a good chance at a wild card.

NFC North: The 5-2 Lions and 5-2 Packers are tied atop the division, with the Lions currently owning the head-to-head tiebreaker thanks to a win at Ford Field. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see the Week 17 rematch in Green Bay decide the division winner, with the second-place team having a good chance at a wild card.

NFC South: Well, someone has to win this division. It might turn out to be a team with a losing record, maybe the Panthers at 7-8-1 or the Saints at 7-9, but someone will win it.

NFC wild card: You’d think that if the Cardinals end up winning the West that the Seahawks and 49ers would be wild card favorites, but the schedules for the NFC North second-place team and the NFC East second-place team may turn out to be more favorable. It wouldn’t be surprising to see both of last year’s NFC Championship Game participants on the outside looking in come playoff time.

Best guess seeds: 1. Dallas, 2. Arizona, 3. Green Bay, 4. Carolina, 5. Philadelphia, 6. Detroit.

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Week Seven power rankings

Jerry Getty Images

1. Dallas Cowboys (No. 2 last week; 6-1):  “Glory days, well they’ll pass you by.”  Maybe sooner than later.  But not yet.

2. Denver Broncos (No. 3; 5-1):  The Broncos are proving that they can play with the best the NFC West has to offer during the regular season, which bodes well for their ability to face the best the NFC has to offer come February.

3. Arizona Cardinals (No. 4; 5-1):  The next five games (Eagles, Cowboys, Rams, Lions, Seahawks) will tell us plenty about whether the Cardinals are viable Super Bowl contenders.

4. Philadelphia Eagles (No. 5; 5-1):  Philly returns to Arizona for perhaps the biggest game there since the Cardinals beat the Eagles in the 2008 NFC title game.

5. San Diego Chargers (No. 1; 5-2):  Well, at least Peyton Manning won’t set the passing touchdown record against them.

6. Green Bay Packers (No. 7; 5-2):  Either defenses still aren’t taking Jordy Nelson seriously, or they are and it doesn’t matter.

7. Indianapolis Colts (No. 8; 5-2):  Nineteen years after they nearly secured a Super Bowl berth in Pittsburgh, the Colts return with a chance to prove that they’re legitimate Super bowl contenders.

8. Baltimore Ravens (No. 10; 5-2):  It’ll be four more years until the next Flacco vs. Ryan debate.  Hopefully.

9. New England Patriots (No. 12; 5-2):  As Jason Taylor noted on last night’s PFT on NBCSN, Tom Brady apparently honed his flopping skills while attending World Cup matches in Brazil.  (Or maybe while playing Madden.)

10. Detroit Lions (No. 14; 5-2):  On that long touchdown play, Golden Tate was running like Percy Harvin was chasing him.

11. Seattle Seahawks (No. 6; 3-3):  In the same week the Vikings were faced with the 25th anniversary of the Herschel Walker trade, the Seahawks admitted that they were on the wrong end of its modern-day equivalent.

12. Cincinnati Bengals (No. 9; 3-2-1):  With three home games in 11 days, plenty of people won’t be witnessing whether the Bengals can turn things around.

13. San Francisco 49ers (No. 11; 4-3):  Good news, Colin Kaepernick outplayed Denver’s quarterback.  Bad news, the one he outplayed was Brock Osweiler.

14. Buffalo Bills (No. 16; 4-3):  The Bills will face Percy Harvin at the worst possible time — when he’s on his best behavior and without any idea how he’ll be used.

15. Carolina Panthers (No. 13; 3-3-1):  They’re up, they’re down, and somehow they’re still in first place in the NFC South.

16. Kansas City Chiefs (No. 20; 3-3):  In 16 games after the bye week, Andy Reid has broken down the wall 14 times.

17. Cleveland Browns (No. 15; 3-3):  The Browns hobble with one less appendage toward Trap Game No. 2.

18. Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 19; 4-3):  There’s nothing like three straight home games to commence the process of turning around a struggling Steelers team.

19. Miami Dolphins (No. 23; 3-3):  Here’s what really unacceptable — The Bears made Ryan Tannehill look like a combination of Dan Marino and Larry Csonka.

20. New Orleans Saints (No. 17; 2-4):  How do “decoy” snaps get characterized for the purposes of the franchise tag?

21. Chicago Bears (No. 18; 3-4):  Apparently, Brandon Marshall going berserk in the locker room after a home loss to the Dolphins isn’t unacceptable to the head coach.

22. Houston Texans (No. 21; 3-4):  Can Jadeveon Clowney play quarterback?

23. New York Giants (No. 22; 3-4):  Two straight losses, three straight wins, two straight losses . . . three straight wins?  With the Colts, Seahawks, and 49ers up next, bet the under.

24. St. Louis Rams (No. 28; 2-4):  All those empty seats at the Edward Jones Dome will have a great story to tell their grandkids about the day the Rams beat the defending champs.

25. Atlanta Falcons (No. 24; 2-5):  Maybe Matt Ryan won’t have to use the silent count for their “home” game in London.

26. New York Jets (No. 25; 1-6):  Percy Harvin wasn’t traded.  He was exiled.

27. Washington (No. 30; 2-5):  Maybe they can get a first-round pick for Colt McCoy.

28. Tennessee Titans (No. 26; 2-5):  Charlie Whitehurst’s passer rating is in the 90s.  Which finally has convinced me of the worthlessness of that statistic.

29. Minnesota Vikings (No. 27; 2-5):  Isn’t it better to just get blown out than to lose a winnable game late?

30. Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 31; 1-6):  Could this be the best 1-6 team in NFL history?

31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 29; 1-5):  If the Bucs can win a couple of games, they could still become contenders in a watered-down NFC South.

32.  Oakland Raiders (No. 32; 0-6):  Raiders fans no longer need to check the newspaper to see the team’s won-loss record.  Just ask Darnell Dockett.

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PFT Live: Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times, Redskins talk with Rich Tandler

Tennessee Titans v Washington Redskins Getty Images

The Redskins are preparing to start their third quarterback of the season this weekend with Colt McCoy in line to get the nod unless Robert Griffin III is deemed healthy enough to make his return.

Rich Tandler of CSN Washington will join Mike Florio on Tuesday’s edition of PFT Live to discuss the revolving door at quarterback and when Griffin will be able to walk back through it. They’ll also discuss whether the team should start their preferred quarterback or keep him on the bench until the second quarter given the fact that the Redskins have only won games this season when they’ve replaced their starting quarterback.

Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times will also be on the show to talk with Florio about the latest developments regarding a team finding its way to the City of Angels.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can watch it all live by clicking right here.

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Ahtyba Rubin may need ankle surgery

Cleveland Browns v Tennessee Titans Getty Images

The Browns have had a hard time stopping the run all season, including last Sunday when former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson went over 100 yards while helping the Jaguars to their first win of the season.

It hasn’t helped that they’ve been missing nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin for the last couple of weeks and their chances of getting him back for this week’s game aren’t looking great. Rubin is headed for another opinion on his injured ankle and coach Mike Pettine suggested that Rubin might need surgery before he can return to the lineup.

“We did get another opinion,” Pettine said, via the Akron Beacon Journal. “We’re just awaiting word back on it. I haven’t heard [surgery] brought up yet, but I’m assuming that could be the case.”

The Browns are also playing without defensive end Phil Taylor, who is recovering from knee surgery and is expected to miss a third straight game this week. The Browns are down two starters with Rubin and Taylor out of the lineup, although Oakland’s past performances this season suggest that they might not be able to take full advantage of the missing pieces.

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Reggie Bush says he’s good to go this week

Rafael Bush, Reggie Bush AP

The Lions have had two key offensive players dealing with ankle injuries recently and they got little help from either of them as they came back to beat the Saints in the second half last Sunday.

Wide receiver Calvin Johnson never suited up for the game and running back Reggie Bush was mostly relegated to the sideline after returning to the lineup from a week off against the Vikings. Bush played in the first half, but Joique Bell got most of the work down the stretch because Bush’s ankle was bothering him. Bush is adamant that he’ll be back in the lineup for Sunday’s matchup with the Falcons in London.

“I’m fine,” Bush said, via MLive.com. “I mean, I’m not 100 percent. But I haven’t been 100 percent since high school. Got rolled up on a few times and injured in the game. But I felt fine after the game, though. Didn’t have any setbacks, and that’s the most important thing. Looking to just continue to progress every week. I’ll be on the field Sunday.”

Bush had nine touches totaling 32 yards against the Saints and it has been several weeks since he’s given much of a boost to the Lions’ offensive attack. If the Falcons put up the kind of effort we’ve seen from them the last few weeks, Detroit might not need much from Bush to get a win and go on a bye that will give him and Johnson some extra time to get right before the second half of the season.

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Titans to promote running back Antonio Andrews

Titans AP

The Titans had an extra roster spot, created when tight end Brett Brackett was cut on Monday.

So they’ve apparently decided to fill it by promoting one of their own.
According to Jim Wyatt of the Tennesseean, the Titans plan to sign running back Antonio Andrews off their practice squad.
Another team had shown interest in signing him, but he sent out word on Twitter this morning that he was “activated.”
The Titans are carrying five running backs at the moment, but Shonn Greene has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury.
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ESPN confirms that Aldon Smith could be back early

Smith AP

More than a few eyebrows were raised on Sunday night when PFT reported that 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith could be back one or two games early on his nine-game suspension.

G.M. Trent Baalke quickly said he didn’t know anything about it.  On Monday, coach Jim Harbaugh said the same thing.  (Hey, at least Baalke and Harbaugh agree on something.)

On Monday night, Chris Mortensen of ESPN confirmed the PFT report.

Mortensen points out that the move wouldn’t be unprecedented, citing the reduction in Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s six-game suspension to four games in 2010.  But there’s a big difference in Smith’s case.  Roethlisberger — and the rest of the world — knew that his suspension could be reduced.  When Smith was suspended, the NFL said nothing publicly about a possible reduction.

With the 49ers currently on a bye, the NFL doesn’t need to say anything immediately.  Next Monday or Tuesday, the league could say that Smith will be back for the November 2 game against the Rams.  Or the following Monday or Tuesday, the league could say that Smith will be back for the November 9 game against the Saints.

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