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Good news (bad news?): Gabbert should be fine despite ankle sprain

Gabbert AP

The Jaguars lost quarterback Blaine Gabbert on Monday with a sprained ankle.  Jaguars fans likely aren’t quite sure how to feel about that.

Gabbert, a league source tells PFT, has a mild sprain and he’s expected to be fine.  Jaguars fans likely aren’t quite sure how to feel about that.

The third-year player, a top-10 pick in 2011, was carted off as a precaution.  Per multiple reports, Gabbert was walking in the locker room without a boot.

Gabbert and Chad Henne are battling for the quarterback job.

Jaguars fans likely aren’t quite sure how to feel about that.

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Marcus Trufant set to retire after signing deal with Seahawks

St. Louis Rams v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

Cornerback Marcus Trufant is set to retire as a member of the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday after spending the entirety of his 10-year career with his hometown franchise.

The team announced Wednesday that Trufant had re-signed with the team with the intention of announcing his retirement at an 11 a.m. PT press conference on Thursday.

Trufant grew up in nearby Tacoma, Wash. and attended Washington State University. He was selected by the Seahawks with the 11th overall pick of the 2003 NFL Draft and played the next 10 seasons with the Seahawks. Trufant was selected to the Pro Bowl and was named a first-team All-Pro in 2007. He racked up 85 tackles and seven interceptions that season for Seattle in his best season as a professional.

The Seahawks made the playoffs seven of Trufant’s 10 seasons on the roster and won the NFC West five times with an appearance in Super Bowl XL in 2005.

Trufant spent time in training camp with the Jacksonville Jaguars last season before being released. He finishes his career with 644 tackles, 21 interceptions, five forced fumbles and two touchdowns.

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Packers-Saints provide this year’s World Series alternative

2011-world-series

Before 2010, the NFL avoided scheduling Sunday night games on the days reserved for the World Series.  That year, the league decided to challenge baseball directly.

In every year since then, the NFL has scheduled a Sunday night game against the World Series.  This year, the Packers visit the Saints for the Sunday night of Week Eight, against what likely will be Game Four of the World Series.

Then, the next night, the Redskins face the Cowboys in Dallas on Monday Night Football.  The game will be played against what likely will be Game Five of the Fall Classic, which has in recent years taken a back seat to the Boys of Fall.

It’s too bad Mark Cuban never bought a baseball team.

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Rams have a shot at a good start

Tavon Austin AP

In our Week 17 analysis, we mentioned the need for the Rams and Cardinals to stand up to the NFC West’s power duo of Seattle and San Francisco if they are to compete for playoff spots.

Moreover, it would behoove the Rams and Cardinals to start well, too.

For the Rams, a 3-0 record headed into their Week Four bye isn’t an impossible dream. To begin their season, the Rams have home games against Minnesota (Week One) and Dallas (Week Three) and a road trip to Tampa Bay (Week Two). These opponents aren’t pushovers, but they are teams the Rams can defeat on their best. With games at Philadelphia (Week Five) and vs. Seattle and San Francisco (Weeks Six and Seven) right after the bye, St. Louis needs to sock away some early victories.

The Cardinals, like the Rams, get their bye in Week Four. And like St. Louis, Arizona has two home games before the break. The bad news? One of those home games is against San Francisco in Week Three. The Monday-night Week One opener vs. San Diego could be tricky. So could the trip to face the Giants in New Jersey six days later. Then, after the bye, the Cardinals travel to Denver in Week Five.

Many teams’ preseason plans have been ruined by less-than-ideal starts. It’s no different than a bad break in the Kentucky Derby. Sure, talented closers can win after early stumbles, but getting good position right off the bat is preferable.

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Week 16 features Saturday doubleheader

Saturday

Officially, Week 16 launches with a Thursday night game in Jacksonville, where the Jaguars will host the Titans.  But the real action gets rolling on Saturday, when the league brings back the concept of the late-season Saturday doubleheader.

One game starts in the late afternoon, and the other kicks off on Saturday night.

The broadcast antitrust exemption prevents the NFL from broadcasting Friday and Saturday games from early September through early December.  By late December, Fridays and Saturdays are fair game.

On December 20, the 49ers host the Chargers and the Redskins host the Eagles.  Kickoff times are 4:30 p.m. ET on NFL Network and 8:15 p.m. ET on CBS, with an NFLN simulcast.

It’s a mini-flex concept; the league will select the better of the two games for the national broadcast audience.  Ultimately, the decision will hinge on how well the teams are doing after 15 regular-season weekends.

For now, the showdown between DeSean Jackson’s new team and his old team appears to be the more intriguing game.  That could change by late December.

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Week Nine brings 16th Brady-Manning matchup

Peyton Manning, Tom Brady AP

Death, taxes and Peyton Manning facing off against Tom Brady.

Whether Manning has been with the Colts or the Broncos, annual games against Patriots teams quarterbacked by Tom Brady have been all but certainties since 2001 and, assuming everyone’s healthy, 2014 won’t be any different. The Broncos will travel to New England in Week Nine for a late afternoon matchup at Gillette Stadium.

The Broncos won the last game between the two teams last January in the AFC Championship Game as Manning threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns to send the Broncos. Denver wasn’t so lucky in the regular season meeting with New England when they blew a 24-0 halftime lead and lost 34-31 on a Stephen Gostkowski field goal in overtime.

Brady’s teams have won 10 of the 15 previous meetings with Manning’s clubs and most have been entertaining matchups. With Darrelle Revis, DeMarcus Ware added to the rivalry and Aqib Talib switching sides, this year’s has a good chance of measuring up.

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Collin Klein heads to Canada

Klein Getty Images

Vince Young may not want to go to Canada to continue his football career.  Ditto for Tim Tebow.

Collin Klein has no such qualms.

The former Kansas State star, who was undrafted and overlooked by the NFL last season, has signed a two-year deal with the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes.

He joins former NFL receiver Chad Johnson, who signed with the Alouettes last week.

Klein was invited last year to the Texans’ rookie minicamp on a tryout basis, the Texans liked Klein — but not enough to sign him to the 90-man offseason roster.  He has refused to consider playing other positions.  The CFL will give him a chance to show that he can play quarterback at the professional level.

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Raiders have a tough road in 2014

RaidersFans Getty Images

Now that the Raiders’ official schedule has been released, maybe fans and players will temper expectations that were increased by a run on veteran free agents.

Regardless of the dates and times for the games, it was known that the Raiders would play three games against the Super Bowl XLVIII teams, five games against conference finalists from 2013, nine games against 2013 playoff teams, and 12 against teams with non-losing records from a year ago.

The specific configuration of games makes it even worse.  If that’s possible.

Three of the first four games will involve 10:00 a.m. local time kickoffs, with a Week One game at the Jets, a Week Three game at the Patriots, and a Week Four “home” game against the Dolphins in London.  Week Two features a visit from the Texans, who were 2-14 last year but who are expected to be considerably better in 2014.

Then comes the bye.  And then comes the boom.

Chargers.  Cardinals.  At Browns.  At Seahawks.  Broncos.  At Chargers.  Chiefs.  At Rams.  49ers.  At Chiefs.  Bills.  At Broncos.

For a team with a coach and G.M. widely believed to be on the hot seat, maybe owner Mark Davis should consider how difficult this season will be before making a final assessment.

Given this slate of games, anything better than 5-11 should be regarded as a major accomplishment.

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Chris Johnson returns to Tennessee in Week 15

Chris Johnson AP

Wednesday night’s schedule release told us the dates and times of games during the 2014 regular season, but we already knew which games would be road contests because of the system the NFL uses to decide opponents from year to year.

Because of that, we knew that running back Chris Johnson would face his former teammates at some point this season. And now we know that the game will come in Week 15 when the Jets travel to Nashville for a 4:05 date with the Titans.

By that point in the year, we’ll have a pretty good idea if the Jets’ decision to sign Johnson paid off handsomely or not. If it did, there’s a pretty good chance that the meeting will have playoff implications for the Jets and the Titans could also find themselves in the mix for a playoff spot if things break right in Ken Whisenhunt’s first year as head coach,

The Titans beat the Jets 38-13 at LP Field in Week Four last season. It wasn’t that game that convinced the Jets to sign Johnson as he was held to 21 yards on 15 carries while Jake Locker threw three touchdown passes before leaving with an injury.

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Bears, Cowboys play on back to back Thursdays

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When the NFL decided to expand the post-Week One Thursday night package to 14 games and to play three games on Thanksgiving, a potential competitive disadvantage was created.  With 17 total short-week games, two teams potentially would be playing twice on a Sunday and then on a Thursday.

The NFL avoided that problem by scheduling two of the teams that will play on Thanksgiving to play on the following Thursday.

The Cowboys, who host the Eagles on Thanksgiving, and the Bears, who travel to Detroit on Thanksgiving, will play in Chicago on the following Thursday.

Some players complain about playing Thursday games after playing on Sunday.  Others like it, citing a less intense week of work before the Thursday game and a mini-bye on the back end.  For the Cowboys and Bears, their mini-bye will be delayed by a week, which is more fair than expecting two of the NFL teams to twice play a pair of games with only three days of rest.

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Week 17 matchups: Raiders hoping to be in on the drama this time

Dallas Cowboys v Washington Redskins Getty Images

As per recent custom, the NFL has scheduled 16 divisional games for the final Sunday of the 2014 regular season.

Here is the entire slate of Week 17 games to be played on December 28, with a quick initial take on each of the contests. The NFL will “flex” one of these games to be televised on NBC on the final Sunday of 2014:

1 p.m. Eastern games

Carolina at Atlanta — The Panthers swept this series a season ago.

Cleveland at Baltimore — The Browns haven’t won a season finale since 2009.

Dallas at Washington — The Cowboys have played for the NFC East title in regular season game No. 256 in each of the last three seasons.

Indianapolis at Tennessee — The Titans hope to play beyond the final regular season game for the first time since 2008.

Detroit at Green Bay — The teams haven’t met in Green Bay in a season finale since 2011. Does the term “The Matt Flynn Game” mean anything to you?

Jacksonville at Houston — The Jaguars have lost their last seven Week 17 road games dating back to 2005.

San Diego at Kansas City — These teams played two competitive, enjoyable games a season ago.

N.Y. Jets at Miami —  Both teams are clearly under pressure to pick it up in 2014. This seems like it will be an interesting matchup no matter the circumstances.

Chicago at Minnesota — Don’t forget — the Metrodome is gone, and these teams are meeting outdoors in Minneapolis on the last Sunday in December. Snow game? Yes — yes, please.

Buffalo at New England — The Patriots have been quite skilled at taking care of business before Week 17 commences.

Philadelphia at N.Y. Giants — The Giants finish at home for the fourth straight year. They are 3-0 in those season finales.

Cincinnati at Pittsburgh — This figures to be a bear of a game for the Bengals no matter the circumstances. Cincinnati faltered in its trip to Heinz Field a season ago.

New Orleans at Tampa Bay — The Buccaneers have lost six straight to New Orleans.

4:25 p.m. Eastern games

Oakland at Denver — If the Raiders are in striking range of a playoff spot, their offseason plan will have been a success. But if they are playing out the string once again . . .

Arizona at San Francisco — This is the kind of game the Cardinals will need to win to break through in the ultratough NFC West.

St. Louis at Seattle — This is the kind of game the Rams will need to win to break through in the ultratough NFC West.

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The boos might be brrrrrrs when Jared Allen returns to Minnesota

Bears Allen Football AP

Bears defensive end Jared Allen expects to get booed when he goes back to Minnesota.

Of course, the fans there will have to be extra loud to be heard through all the layers of clothing.

The Bears close the regular season at Minnesota on Dec. 28, which ought to be fairly chilly considering the Vikings are playing outdoors at the University of Minnesota this year.

The two teams play in Chicago on November 16.

Ordinarily with a player of Allen’s age (32), you’d worry about him wearing down late in seasons. But he’s played a remarkable number of snaps and remained productive, so odds are he’ll have something in store for his old team.

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Sunday night is still football night

SNF

Yes, the NFL plays prime-time games three nights per week.  Yes, there is no football night like Sunday night.

This year’s schedule on NBC starts with the Packers at the Seahawks on Thursday, September 4, in a rematch of the 2012 “Fail Mary” game.  Week One continues on Sunday night, as Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning hosts the team with which he spent 14 seasons, the Colts.

In Week Two, the Field of Jeans gets properly christened on Sunday night, with the Bears visiting the 49ers for the first game in their new stadium.

In Week Three, the Steelers travel to Carolina for a once-every-four-years game against the Panthers, a surprise playoff team in 2013.

In Week Four, the Saints return to Dallas for a game against the Cowboys.

In Week Five, the Bengals visit the Patriots, as Cincinnati tries to pile up enough wins to get to the playoffs for a fourth straight season.

For Week Six, the Giants travel to Philadelphia for one of the league’s most underrated rivalries.

Week Eight?  Jim Harbaugh gets a chance to “evaluate” Peyton Manning in person as the 49ers travel to Denver.

In Week Nine, the Packers visit the Saints.  Which means that Packers will twice play in prime time in stadiums where it’s virtually impossible to hear — and to win.

Week 10 has the Ravens at Pittsburgh for a rematch of perhaps the most intense rivalry in football.

In Week 11, the Patriots travel to Indianapolis, where Andrew Luck has replaced Peyton Manning in the regular matchups with Tom Brady.

For Week 12, the Cowboys face the Giants in New Jersey.

Week 13 takes Peyton Manning back to Arrowhead Stadium to face the Chiefs, three days after the Seahawks square off against the 49ers on NBC for Thanksgiving night.

In Week 14, the Patriots travel to the Chargers

Week 15 has the Cowboys at the Eagles, and Week 16 sees the Seahawks at Arizona.

The Week 17 game won’t be determined until after Week 16 ends.

Flexible scheduling applies from Week 11 through Week 16, with a new twist this year.  From Week Five through Week 10, two total games can be flexed by the league, if an unexpected injury or other development results in a game becoming far less compelling.

For now, it all looks very compelling.  And I’m not just saying that because of our NBC connection.  But that helps.

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Super Bowl rematch set for September 21

Super Bowl XLVIII - Seattle Seahawks v Denver Broncos Getty Images

The Broncos were aggressive about overhauling their defense this offseason after getting routed 43-8 in the Super Bowl by the Seahawks and they won’t have to wait too many weeks before getting a chance to see how the unit measures up to Seattle this time.

Denver will travel to Seattle on September 21 for a Week Three date against the Seahawks. The 4:25 p.m. ET start will be broadcast by CBS and shares the stage that week with DeSean Jackson’s early Sunday return to Philadelphia.

It has been a long time since two Super Bowl participants squared off the next season. The last rematch between conference champions came all the way back in October 1997 when the Packers beat the Patriots to repeat the result of their Super Bowl matchup earlier that year.

The Seahawks will also visit the Broncos to kick off their preseason schedule on August 7, which means we’ll be seeing the two teams meet under three different circumstances in a little less than eight months.

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MNF opens with Giants-Lions, Chargers-Cardinals doubleheader

14-jon-gruden Getty Images

The first week of Monday Night Football on ESPN will open with a pair of last year’s most disappointing teams, followed by two of the pleasant surprises.

As has become tradition, MNF will open with a doubleheader, with the Giants at the Lions in the early game, followed by the Chargers at the Cardinals in the West Coast nightcap.

The Super Bowl champion Seahawks will only show up once on MNF, though the Giants, Eagles, Colts, Bears, Jets, Redskins, Steelers and Saints will get two turns each.

The Bills, Browns, Buccaneers, Jaguars, Raiders and Vikings won’t appear on the ESPN broadcast this year.

Here’s a look at the full Monday Night Football schedule:

Week 1: N.Y. Giants at Detroit
San Diego at Arizona
Week 2: Philadelphia at Indianapolis
Week 3: Chicago at N.Y. Jets
Week 4: New England at Kansas City
Week 5: Seattle at Washington
Week 6: San Francisco at St. Louis
Week 7: Houston at Pittsburgh
Week 8: Washington at Dallas
Week 9: Indianapolis at N.Y. Giants
Week 10: Carolina at Philadelphia
Week 11: Pittsburgh at Tennessee
Week 12: Baltimore at New Orleans
Week 13: Miami at N.Y. Jets
Week 14: Atlanta at Green Bay
Week 15: New Orleans at Chicago
Week 16: Denver at Cincinnati

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Steelers-Ravens kicks off the CBS-NFLN Thursday night slate

Tomlin AP

The NFL has two reasons to assign great games to the Thursday night package to be simulcast on CBS and NFL Network.  First, great games deliver major audiences on broadcast TV.  Second, the package lasts only one year; great games will create great ratings and in turn more money for the games in 2015 and beyond.

The games may not all be great on paper, but the seven-game CBS-NFLN Thursday night slate features divisional games exclusively.

The new venture launches with a renewal of one of the NFL’s best rivalries:  Steelers at Ravens.  Multiple cameras surely will be trained to Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin, who may want to consider coaching that game from the press box after last year’s walkabout into the field of play.

For Week Three, the new-look Buccaneers visit the suddenly desperate Falcons in a key early-season NFC South game.  This one could be an unexpectedly good game.

For Week Four, the Giants travel to D.C.  With a pair of major markets, the ratings should be very strong, even if the game isn’t.

In Week Five, the divisional trend continues, as the Vikings visit the Packers.  Again, not a sizzler but a potentially potent contest, especially if the Vikings get off to a strong start it could be intriguing.

In Week Six, it’s the Colts at the Texans.  Yes, the 2-14 Texans.  But they can’t be as bad this year, can they?

In Week Seven, it’s Jets-Patriots.  We’ll see how much the gap has closed between the two teams.

And for the last of the CBS-NFLN Thursday night games, the Chargers visit the Broncos.  San Diego won in Denver on a Thursday night last year.

Every division is covered by the seven-week package with the exception of the best one:  The NFC West.  So while the slate of games is solid, it’s hard to call all of them marquee games.

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