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Miller case once again raises questions about sample collection

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Apart from the numerous and ongoing breaches of confidentiality plaguing the Von Miller case (unless Von Miller’s camp is confidentially leaking details regarding the case), the NFL has a problem with its substance-abuse policy.

Per a league source, the NFL is nervous about potential flaws with the manner in which Miller’s sample was collected.  The anxiety and/or uncertainty possibly has contributed to the delay in taking the case to a hearing.  Currently, Miller and the league reportedly are negotiating a resolution that could drop the proposed six-game suspension down to four games.

The proposed six-game suspension reportedly is fueled by a spilled sample and, separately, a diluted sample.  While samples can be diluted via pre-test ingestion of certain substances, it also can be diluted by adding substances to the sample cup.  Spilled samples in theory can happen under even the strictest adherence to the testing protocol; however, it’s impossible to assess Miller’s case without considering other recent situations involving the collection process.

Last year, former Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams and defensive end Ryan McBean filed a lawsuit challenging their six-game suspensions.  They pointed to “fatal issues concerning the collection process,” noting that the specimen collector eventually was fired by the NFL for failure “to fulfill his duties and obligations as a specimen collector in material manners.”

Later in 2012, Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman secured a reversal of a suspension because the sample collector allowed Sherman to transfer the contents of a leaking cup to a second cup, which the collector failed to mention in his official report.

“Insuring that the sample is collected properly is the cornerstone of the program and when an event occurs that does not happen routinely or that the collector has never experienced while collecting the sample it is incumbent on the collector to note what happened,” hearing officer Bob Wallace wrote in his decision regarding Sherman’s case.

In Miller’s case, no specific wrongdoing or failure has been alleged or reported regarding the sample collector.  Still, the situation is shining a light once again on the process of physically collecting urine specimens and properly transferring them to the lab for testing.

The persons who collect the samples operate largely in anonymity.  After the Onterrio Smith Whizzinator debacle, the process changed to require direct observation of the providing of the sample.  Over the years, however, we’ve heard from time to time accounts of sample collectors who don’t insist on actually watching the cup get filled.  (Indeed, how did D.J. Williams allegedly provided a “non-human urine” sample if the collector was actually watching the urine flow from a human?)

With multiple cases in the past year or so pointing to problems with the collection process, fair questions should be raised about the qualifications and the integrity of the persons charged with harvesting urine samples.  What are their qualifications?  How are they trained?  How are they supervised?  How much are they compensated?

In theory, abuses could be rampant.  Considering the financial stakes of a positive test, who’s to say a sample collector hasn’t been offered an envelope containing something other than a birthday card in order to ensure that the sample sent to the lab will be deemed clean?

We’re speculating on that point, but with little known about the collection process and with multiple instances of alleged irregularities, the NFL should be worried not only about the accuracy of the program but also the possibility of affirmative corruption.

With the HGH testing issue still not resolved and with all other issues regarding the league’s drug-testing policies still open because of it, this would be a perfect time for the NFLPA to ensure that steps are taken to protect players against negligent and/or intentional misconduct from the so-called piss men.  Given the consequences and stigma of a failed test, the league and the union should apply the same rigid standards to the collection process that are applied to the men who are giving the samples.

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NFL wary of putting Seahawks home games in prime-time due to recent blowouts

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The Seattle Seahawks will host the Green Bay Packers on Thursday, Sept. 4 for the kickoff of the 2014 NFL season. However, it’s the only time this year the defending Super Bowl champions will be at home for a nationally televised prime-time game.

The Seahawks have four prime-time games on their schedule this season. But after the season opener against the Packers, Seattle has to play on the road for their remaining three nationally televised games. The Washington Redskins host the Seahawks on Monday Night Football in Week 5. The Seahawks play in San Francisco against the 49ers on Thanksgiving night in Week 13, and will travel to face the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday Night Football in Week 16. The latter two games will be televised on NBC.

According to a league source, the NFL was wary of putting Seahawks home games on in prime-time due to their track record of blowouts in nationally televised games played in Seattle the last several seasons.

The last three times Seattle has hosted a prime-time match-up, the games have been extremely uncompetitive. The Seahawks hammered the divisional-rival 49ers 42-13 and 29-3 in Sunday night games the last two seasons. They also beat the New Orleans Saints 34-7 on Monday night in December.

In addition, Seattle beat the Philadelphia Eagles 31-14 at home on Thursday night in 2011. The only close game played against the Seahawks in prime-time in Seattle the last three seasons was the 14-12 loss by the Packers in September 2012 that ended on a somewhat memorable play.

While Seattle fans surely enjoyed those outcomes, games that appeared to be highly competitive prior to kickoff quickly turned into duds to a national audience.

The Denver Broncos, Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles all host three prime-time games in 2014. Fifteen more teams host two prime-time games. The defending champion Seahawks only get one at home.

The Seahawks will still get plenty of national exposure as defending champions should with four scheduled nationally televised games. However, beyond the first game of the entire 2014 NFL schedule, they won’t get a chance to host one inside the friendly confines of CenturyLink Field.

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No grand prize winner in Rams schedule contest

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The St. Louis Rams were willing to pay a cold, hard $100,000 in cash if someone could correctly guess every aspect of their 2014 schedule before the lineup was officially released on Wednesday evening.

Much like Warren Buffett’s $1 billion contest to correctly predict the outcome of every NCAA Tournament game, the Rams contest also went by the wayside without a grand prize winner.

However, not everyone will walk away empty-handed.

Per a team release, two fans from Jefferson City, Mo. tied for second place and will be offered season tickets for the entirety of the 2014 season.

The contest required fans to pick all 16 games and the bye week in order. It also stipulated that entrants needed to correctly pick the day on which all games will be played.

Four entries had streaks of four consecutive weeks correctly predicted. Only one entry was able to correctly guess as many eight games correct in the week those games will actually be played.

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Seahawks executive Scot McCloughan resigning to tend to personal matters

San Francisco 49ers 2009 Headshots

The Seattle Seahawks are losing a key member of their front office staff.

A source confirmed to PFT that Seahawks’ senior personnel executive Scot McCloughan is resigning from his position in order to tend to personal matters that require his attention. The move was first reported by Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com.

McCloughan joined the Seahawks in 2010 in a supporting role to general manager John Schneider. McCloughan had previously been the general manager of the San Francisco 49ers before stepping down following the 2009 season. McCloughan’s departure from San Francisco was also to tend to a “private personal matter.”

McCloughan has been a key figure in building the rosters of both of the NFC West’s powerhouse teams.

McCloughan drafted Dashon Goldson, Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, Joe Staley and Patrick Willis during his time with the 49ers as GM and VP of football operations. He then helped identify key players for Seattle such as Richard Sherman, Russell Wilson, K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner that allowed Seattle to win their first Super Bowl in February.

It’s a big blow to the Seahawks personnel department. McCloughan intends to build his own independent scouting service to work from home so he can be around his family.

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Nevada sports book makes Eagles biggest favorites of Week One

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About an hour after the regular season schedule was released Wednesday night, the LVH Las Vegas Hotel and Casino had already installed favorites and underdogs for the opening week games.

Jacksonville is the biggest Week One underdog on the LVH SuperBook board. The Eagles are 11-point favorites over the visiting Jaguars in the season opener for both clubs.

No other club is favored by more than a touchdown, and only the Broncos and Bears are favored by more than six points. Denver is a seven-point favorite vs. Indianapolis, while Chicago is a 6.5-point favorite vs. Buffalo.

All but three home teams are favored in Week One. The only home underdogs are the Cowboys (vs. the 49ers), the Buccaneers (vs. the Panthers) and the Dolphins (vs. the Patriots).

Finally, the Seahawks are five-point favorites vs. Green Bay in the opening game of the regular season.

Here are the LVH’s Week One lines:

Thursday, September 4

Green Bay at Seattle (-5)

Sunday, September 7

New Orleans at Atlanta (-2)

Cincinnati at Baltimore (-2.5)

Buffalo at Chicago (-6.5)

Washington at Houston (-2.5)

Tennessee at Kansas City (-5.5)

New England (-3.5) at Miami

Oakland at N.Y. Jets (-4.5)

Jacksonville at Philadelphia (-11)

Cleveland at Pittsburgh (-5)

Minnesota at St. Louis (-5)

San Francisco (-3.5) at Dallas

Carolina (-2.5) at Tampa Bay

Indianapolis at Denver (-7)

Monday, September 8

N.Y. Giants at Detroit (-4)

San Diego at Arizona (-3.5)

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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

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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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