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PFT Preseason Power Rankings No. 2: Denver Broncos

Seattle Seahawks v Denver Broncos Getty Images

Let the games begin.

You couldn’t blame the Broncos for being eager to start the 2013 season. They are heavy division favorites, strong conference contenders and legitimate Super Bowl challengers, and they have one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks.

Hey, it’s good to be the Broncos, even with the news of a potential four-game suspension for Pro Bowl outside linebacker Von Miller surfacing earlier this week.

The Broncos would be weakened without Miller, but they would still be dangerous. After all, they have Manning, still sharp at 37 years old.

But it won’t always be like this for the Broncos and their quarterback.

So forgive the Broncos if they feel a little urgency as they try to better last season’s disappointing one-and-done postseason experience.

Strengths.

Manning added to his already vast legacy with his remarkable comeback season of 2012. In his first year in Denver – with mostly new skill-position players around him, no less – Manning threw for 4,659 yards with 37 TDs and just 11 picks. Moreover, he set a career-high in completion percentage (68.6).

Now, the focus to turns to what Manning and the offense are capable of in Year Two.

The addition of slot receiver Wes Welker further strengthens an already potent passing game. He caught more than two-thirds of the passes thrown his way in each of his six seasons in New England. Opposing secondaries also have the difficult task of matching up with wideout Demaryius Thomas, who hauled in 94 receptions for 1,434 yards and 10 scores in 2012. The Broncos’ other outside receiver, Eric Decker, is quite skilled, too. He comes off an 85-catch, 13-TD campaign.

Manning, a master at dealing with the pass rush and defensive-pressure looks over the years, operates behind a solid Denver line. Left tackle Ryan Clady is one of the game’s best at his position. New right guard Louis Vasquez (ex-San Diego) bolsters the interior.

Indeed, this is an outstanding offense.

And Denver’s defense pulls its weight, too.

Should the Broncos sputter in a key spot, their defense is capable of keeping them in the game.  Such flexibility can take a team a long way. The Broncos excelled vs. the run and the pass in 2012 and allowed fewer yards per play than any other team.

Miller, who recorded 18.5 sacks last year, is the standout of this stout defense – already one of the game’s top pass rushers. If Miller is suspended, the Broncos will likely turn to ex-Chargers outside linebacker Shaun Phillips, still a capable rusher in his own right (team-high 9.5 sacks for San Diego in 2012). The April signing of Phillips could prove a very valuable investment for Denver whether Miller misses any time or not; the more pass rushers a club has, the better.

The same can be said for cornerbacks, and the Broncos have four capable ones in Champ Bailey, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Chris Harris and Tony Carter.

To review, the Broncos have a Hall of Fame quarterback, a top-caliber passing game, a blue-chip pass rusher and deep, skilled cornerback corps.

There are worse ways to enter a season.

Weaknesses.

The Broncos’ tailback position could prove a strength if rookie Montee Ball or second-year pro Ronnie Hillman emerges as a dependable and playmaking featured runner. However, until that happens, this is an area of concern. Denver was just 25th in yards per rush last season.

Center, where Dan Koppen again gets the call with J.D. Walton out with a persistent ankle injury, is another position to monitor. So is linebacker, where the overall depth has been thinned after the release of veteran middle linebacker Joe Mays.

The Broncos’ defensive end play also needs to be watched. While left end Derek Wolfe showed promise as a rookie, notching a half-dozen sacks, new right end Robert Ayers has never had more than three sacks in an NFL season.

All things considered, though, the Broncos have considerably less to worry about than any other club in the AFC West.

Changes.

In 2012, the Broncos got 16 games apiece and 29.5 combined sacks from Miller and Dumervil. Now, Miller could miss a quarter of the Broncos’ regular-season games, and Dumervil is in Baltimore after “Faxgate.” Make no mistake: the Broncos’ pass rush is still to be respected, especially when Miller is in the lineup. But if Miller misses any games and the rush suffers, it could have a trickle-down effect on the defense, with the pass defense suffering most.

And if the Broncos don’t muster the pass rush they did in 2012, when Dumervil and Miller combined for more than half of the club’s sacks, the inability to keep Dumervil will look all the worse.

The Dumervil episode aside, however, the Broncos had a very good offseason from a roster-building standpoint. Adding Welker was a coup, and Rodgers-Cromartie has the ability to prove a home-run signing, too, especially on a one-year deal. Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton (ex-Jacksonville) was a nice under-the-radar pickup.

In addition to bringing in Phillips, Denver did well to bring in ex-Chargers cornerback Quentin Jammer late in the offseason. Jammer will be tried at safety, a position where the Broncos perhaps needed another option.

Other than Dumervil and Mays, notable Denver departures included tailback Willis McGahee, linebacker D.J. Williams and cornerback Tracy Porter. McGahee’s release signaled the Broncos would be going young at running back.

Finally, the club begins training camp short-handed in the front office – not an ideal situation, given all the roster movement late in the summer — after the suspensions of director of player personnel Matt Russell and director of pro personnel Tom Heckert due to offseason DUI arrests. Heckert’s suspension is a month, while Russell’s suspension is indefinite.

Position battles.

Hillman and Ball would each figure to have roles in the Broncos’ backfield, with fifth-year pro Knowshon Moreno also in the mix. A second-round pick in April, Ball’s draft status would suggest the Broncos believe he can play right off the bat. That said, Hillman has a year in the offense to his credit, which cannot hurt his cause. No matter who wins the job, the Broncos need some stability to develop at this position for the stretch run, when passing can become trickier in the elements.

Other positions where there could be competition are defensive tackle, where Knighton, first-round pick Sylvester Williams and veteran Kevin Vickerson are the top options; and safety, where Mike Adams (strong) and Rahim Moore (free) are the incumbents.

Prospects.

The Broncos face five 2012 playoff teams (Baltimore, Indianapolis, Washington, New England, Houston) in a schedule not without its potential challenges. For instance, five of Denver’s final eight games are on the road. Moreover, any stretch without Miller would add to the degree of difficulty.

However, let’s be clear: This is one of the NFL’s most talented teams. They should win the West and host at least one playoff game.

The goals are bigger for Denver, of course, and they are within reach.  If it were Denver’s year to win a third Super Bowl title, it would hardly be a surprise.

It would also be the sort of thing celebrated by anyone who’s ever faced a tough deadline with a lot at stake and gotten the job done. That’s what the Broncos are staring at entering 2013. They have the pieces to win, but they aren’t all going to be assembled this way for all that long.

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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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Reggie Wayne expected to miss a game or two with elbow

Reggie Wayne, Jayson DiManche AP

Apparently, the “adult beverage” wasn’t enough to take the edge off Reggie Wayne’s elbow.

According to Mike Chappell of RTV6 in Indianapolis, the Colts wide receiver is expected to miss a game or two because of an elbow injury suffered early in Sunday’s win over the Bengals.

He fell after a play, bracing himself with his left arm as he fell. He had an MRI yesterday, but no results were announced.

Wayne suggested he wasn’t that concerned after the game.

“I’m good now,” he said. “I just kind of fell on it, fell on my arm. Go home, have an adult beverage and see how it feels in the morning.”

The veteran receiver’s numbers have been down in recent weeks (eight catches for 50 yards the last two games), but he was playing well prior to that (14 for 196 against the Titans and Ravens), an impressive comeback for a 35-year-old who tore his ACL last year.

But if he’s not back for Sunday’s game at Pittsburgh, Hakeem Nicks will have to take on a bigger role.

 

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Broncos elevate Kapri Bibbs from practice squad

Kapri Bibbs, Caesar Rayford AP

The Broncos won’t have running back Montee Ball back for Thursday’s game against the Chargers and their backfield will have a different look than it has in the past two games without Ball.

Denver signed running back Kapri Bibbs off of their practice squad and he’ll join Ronnie Hillman, Juwan Thompson and C.J. Anderson at the position. Linebacker Shaquil Barrett was waived to make room for Bibbs on the active roster.

Bibbs signed with the Broncos as an undrafted free agent in the offseason and ran for 84 yards and three touchdowns on 19 preseason carries. Bibbs played his college ball at nearby Colorado State, where he ran for 30 touchdowns in 2013. Ball and Barry Sanders are the only other players to pull off that feat at the highest level of NCAA football.

That scoring touch may have caught the eye of other teams and led the Broncos to promote Bibbs before someone could sign him away. Mike Klis of the Denver Post reports that other teams had expressed interest in doing just that.

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Kyle Long says he shouldn’t blame fans, blames media instead

Matt Forte, Kyle Long AP

Given some time to stretch, Bears guard Kyle Long was able to reach all the way up to take the foot out of his mouth.

After blaming Bears fans (Yep, it was their fault) in the aftermath of Sunday’s loss to the Dolphins, Long came back Monday and told WXRT-FM that “it was wrong for me to point fingers at the fans.”

“I just think [reporters] had asked everybody in the locker room how they felt about [fans booing], and a lot of the guys didn’t take the bait,” Long said, via Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune. “Obviously emotions are running high after a game. Obviously if we were giving them something to cheer about there would be a lot more cheers coming off the field at halftime. Hopefully the score would be a little bit closer as well.

That falls on our shoulders. It’s unfair to put it on the fans. There was a lot of frustration after the game. You work hard all week. You’re trying to string some wins together. You’re at home. You feel like you’re riding some momentum, and to be down 14-0 going into the half, it’s tough. It’s tough on everybody.”

So it’s not solely the fans’ fault. The media is partly to blame too. They must get tired, what with making concussion symptoms linger and now this.

At least Long realized that antagonizing the paying customers wasn’t the right call for a 3-4 team that’s slipping out of contention for the NFC North title.

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Bucs expected to sign Trindon Holliday

Trindon Holliday AP

The Buccaneers worked out kick returner Trindon Holliday on Monday and things appear to have gone well.

Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times reports that the team plans to sign the veteran returner to their 53-man roster. Holliday signed with the Giants in the offseason, but he came down with a hamstring injury in the summer and landed on injured reserve. The Giants released Holliday from injured reserve earlier this month, leaving him free to sign anywhere.

Holliday scored four times for the Broncos over the last two seasons — twice on kickoff returns and twice on punt returns — but also fumbled 10 times, which makes him pretty much the definition of a boom or bust return option. The Bucs will naturally be hoping for more boom, especially with Holliday offering nothing but return work to his team.

There’s no word on a corresponding move, but it’s probably not great news for current Bucs returner Solomon Patton that the team is looking for a new player at his position.

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NFL begins to take temperature of L.A. market

LA AP

Amid plenty of reports and rumors and speculation about the looming relocation of the Rams, Raiders, or Chargers to Los Angeles, the NFL has begun actively exploring what folks in L.A. want from a new stadium.

According to Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times, the NFL will launch a formal assessment of the market.  Specifically, questionnaires will be sent via email to roughly 2,000 potential customers.  The goal will be to gauge the overall demand for an NFL team, along with the expectations regarding stadium, seating, and stadium amenities.

While the potential return of the NFL has been discussed ever since the Raiders and Rams left 20 years ago, Farmer reports that this is the first time since the 1990s that the NFL has comprehensively surveyed citizens in the L.A. market.

Farmer explains that the survey targets folks likely to buy luxury suites, club seats, and season tickets.  One of the best arguments in favor of a return to L.A. comes from the size of the market.  The more people there are, the more likely it is that enough people will buy all of the tickets and club seats and suites on a regular basis.

It makes sense to do some work to confirm that, since it would be embarrassing, to say the least, if the NFL’s return is met with fans disguised as plastic chairs sans butts in them.

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Jason Pierre-Paul: Don’t count us out yet

Atlanta Falcons v New York Giants Getty Images

The Giants have lost their last two games in fairly convincing fashion, but that’s not shaking defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul’s confidence in what the team can achieve this season.

Pierre-Paul has looked at the Giants’ schedule — they host the Colts, travel to Seattle and then return home for the 49ers and Cowboys — when they return from this week’s bye and thinks the team can handle whatever those teams and the others still to come will throw their way.

“Let’s win all nine games. I think we can do it,” Pierre-Paul said, via the New York Daily News. “We just have to believe. There’s a lot of football to be played. Don’t count us out yet.”

A nine-game winning streak probably isn’t in the cards, even with Pierre-Paul playing at a level similar to his 2011 breakout season, but it is hard to know just what the Giants will do over the second half. They were abysmal to open the year, but then looked like they were rounding into form during a three-game winning streak before taking backward steps the last two weeks. If they can iron some things out during the bye week and get back to the way they were playing during the winning streak, being in contention down the stretch doesn’t feel like a major stretch.

Those next four games are tough, though, and it’s not any more of a stretch to think they’ll remain a work in progress until it’s too late to find a path into the playoffs.

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A.J. Green says his status is still “up in the air”

Carolina Panthers v Cincinnati Bengals Getty Images

Last week, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis described the status of A.J. Green as “up in the air.”  While Lewis expressed more optimism on Monday, Green has repeated the same assessment provided previously by Lewis.

“It’s still up in the air,” Green told NFL Network on Tuesday morning, “but it definitely feels better.  We’ll see about this week.”

One thing we won’t see is a fully healthy A.J. Green until 2015, at the earliest.

“It’s probably not gonna be 100 percent, but I hope it’s just manageable,” Green said.  “I can get through the season and play at a high level.”

So what about this weekend, against the Ravens?

“I hope so, man.  It’s still up in the air, and we’ll see,” Green said.

The Bengals need him.  After starting 3-0, the Bengals are 0-2-1.

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