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Sean Lee agrees to six-year extension with Cowboys

Sean Lee AP

The Cowboys have been dealing with a slew of injuries to their offensive and defensive lines this summer, but linebacker Sean Lee has managed to stay healthy after missing 10 games last season with a toe injury.

That’s not the only reason why the Cowboys were trying to sign Lee to a contract extension, but it probably didn’t hurt when it came time to hammer out the final details. Lee’s agent Mike McCartney announced that his client, whose contract had been set to expire after the 2013 season, has agreed to a six-year extension that will put him under contract to the Cowboys through the 2019 season. The Cowboys have confirmed that Lee is signing the deal right now.

Alex Marvez of FOX Sports reports that it is worth $7 million a year and can rise to $8.5 million a year through incentives. There’s no word on guarantees or signing bonus, however.

The Cowboys said during the offseason that they would likely look at giving Lee an extension, which is no surprise given how quickly he became an important part of the defense after joining the team as a second-round pick in 2010. Lee’s shown a facility for all aspects of life as an inside linebacker and his brief preseason appearances have shown that those abilities translate to the middle linebacker spot in a 4-3 defense as well.

As long as Lee is healthy, he’ll be a linchpin for new coordinator Monte Kiffin and, given the length of his contract and Kiffin’s age, probably the next Cowboys coordinator as well.

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Ice Bowl rematch looms, 47 years later

IceBowl AP

Forty-seven years ago Wednesday, the Cowboys visited the Packers at Lambeau Field for the NFL Championship game.  Ultra-frigid temperature and wind chill gave the contest the unofficial label of “The Ice Bowl.”

The Packers won a thriller and would later emerge as the victors in Super Bowl II, over Oakland.  Since then, the Cowboys have never returned to Green Bay for a postseason game.  If Dallas beats Detroit next weekend, that’ll happen the following weekend, with the third-seeded Cowboys facing the second-seeded Packers.

It’ll also be the first time ever, according to our friends at Elias, that a team that went 8-0 at home will host a team that went 8-0 on the road in the playoffs.

Teams undefeated on the road and at home have faced each other twice before in a something’s-gotta-give format.  In 1972, the 7-0-at-home Steelers hosted the 7-0-on-the-road Dolphins.  (Miami won, 21-17.)  In 1948, the 6-0-at-home Eagles hosted the 6-0-away Bears, with the Eagles winning, 7-0.

Before the Cowboys will get a chance to put their 8-0 road record on the line at Lambeau, they’ll need to hold serve against the Lions.

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Antonio Brown gives the Steelers an early lead

Antonio Brown AP

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looks like he needs a minute.

So Antonio Brown just gave him one.

After Roethlisberger retreated to the locker room, presumably to deal with his upset stomach, Brown gave the Steelers a 7-0 lead with a 71-yard touchdown return.

Brown’s return ability is impressive enough, considering he also happens to lead the league in receptions.

The fact he bought his quarterback some time will be appreciated as well.

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McCarthy calls Suh step on Rodgers “ridiculous”

Suh Getty Images

As Peter King of TheMMQB.com said on Football Night in America, the league will review on Monday the leg-step committed by Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh against Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy needs no time for contemplation or deliberation.

During his post-game press conference, McCarthy called the maneuver “ridiculous.”  McCarthy also said “there’s no place for that.”  Rodgers predicted that Suh will call it an accident.

The move wasn’t nearly as egregious as last Sunday’s blatant stomp by Lions center Dominic Raiola on the lower leg of Bears defensive lineman Ego Ferguson.  But Suh’s history could prompt the league to take a closer look at whether intent existed.  It also could make the NFL less inclined to give Suh the benefit of the doubt.

History or not, it would take a lot for Suh to be suspended for next weekend’s wild-card game at Dallas.

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49ers, Harbaugh mutually agree to part ways

Harbaugh Getty Images

As expected, the Jim Harbaugh era has ended in San Francisco.

The team has announced that Harbaugh and the franchise have mutually agreed to part ways after four years together.

“Jim and I have come to the conclusion that it is in our mutual best interest to move in different directions,” CEO Jed York said.  “We thank Jim for bringing a tremendous competitive nature and a great passion for the game to the 49ers.  He and his staff restored a winning culture that has been the standard for our franchise throughout its history.  Their commitment and hard work resulted in a period of success that should be looked back on proudly by our organization and our fans.  We wish Jim and his family all the best.”

Per a league source, the mutual parting makes Harbaugh free and clear to take any other job, including another NFL job, with no compensation to the 49ers.  So despite multiple, persistent reports that Harbaugh would be traded, the two sides ultimately decided to walk away, with no strings attached and no further obligation.  Basically, they’ve wiped out the final year of his five-year contract.

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Jim Harbaugh on 49ers tenure: It’s been the time of my life

Arizona Cardinals v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

There’s been no official statement yet, but Jim Harbaugh all but admitted that he’s not going to be the 49ers coach in 2015.

After the 49ers beat the Cardinals 20-17 in their season finale, Harbaugh met the media and offered no specifics about where he’s going — “Is the NFL going somewhere?” was his response when asked if he’d miss the NFL, presumably after taking the job at the University of Michigan that he’s reportedly going to take — and said that the team would release a statement about his future soon. He left little doubt that his time with the 49ers is done, though.

“It’s been the time of my life,” Harbaugh said.

Harbaugh’s time with the 49ers comes to an end with a 44-19-1 record in the regular season and a 5-3 playoff record compiled while going to the Super Bowl once and the NFC Championship game three straight years. That makes for a fitting 49 wins for Harbaugh in four years with the 49ers, leaving the team in much better shape than when he found it and leaving a high bar for the next coach to reach.

UPDATE 8:09 p.m. ET: The statement from the 49ers has been released and, as Mike Florio of PFT reported on Sunday Night Football, it is a mutual parting of the ways that leaves Harbaugh clear to take any job.

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Ben Roethlisberger has upset stomach, hasn’t warmed up

Roethlisberger Getty Images

The Steelers are going to the playoffs regardless.

But there’s a reason for Steelers fans to worry.

According to NBC’s Michele Tafoya, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is struggling with an upset stomach, and hasn’t been on the field to warm up for tonight’s game against the Bengals yet.

Backup Bruce Gradkowski has taken all the snaps in the pregame. But the week after Marshawn Lynch went crazy on Sunday Night Football with a stomachache, it might just be a new motivational ploy.

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Broncos defeat Raiders, clinch first-round bye

C.J. Anderson, Cody Latimer AP

The Broncos are getting a well-deserved and much-needed week of rest.

Led by three TD runs by tailback C.J. Anderson, the Broncos powered away to a 47-14 victory vs. the Raiders on Sunday afternoon in Denver. With the win, the Broncos clinched the No. 2 seed in the AFC and get a bye into the divisional playoffs.

The Broncos never trailed against the Raiders, who finished their season at 3-13. Denver led by at least 10 points for the final 43 minutes of regulation.

Anderson racked up 87 yards on 13 carries for Denver (12-4), scoring on rushes of 25, 1 and 11 yards. Ronnie Hillman added 56 yards on 15 carries.

Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, meanwhile, connected on 21-of-37 passes for 273 yards with no TDs and no picks. Receivers Demaryius Thomas (eight catches, 115 yards) and Emmanuel Sanders (6-73) had productive days.

Manning’s counterpart, Oakland rookie Derek Carr, connected on 18-of-36 passes for 158 yards with one TD (a two-yard third-quarter toss to Jamize Olawale) and two turnovers, including a fumble returned for a score by the Broncos’ Tony Carter late in the fourth quarter. By then, though, the game was just about out of Oakland’s reach.

Now, the Broncos and Raiders will go their separate ways. The Raiders, for their part, have a decision to make at head coach. Tony Sparano finished the season in the role after the firing of Dennis Allen, leading Oakland to its only three wins of the campaign.

The Broncos? They will look ahead to the divisional round. And they will surely appreciate the weekend off. They had a long injury list entering Week 17, and they lost left guard Orlando Franklin and safety David Bruton to concussions against Oakland.

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Marrone has a three-day out clause, but is expected to stay with Bills

Marrone AP

With the Bills ending the season on a 9-7 note, the current thinking is that new ownership will keep coach Doug Marrone for 2015.  For a change, however, it’s a two-way street.

Per multiple league sources, Marrone has a clause in his contract that gives him a three-day window upon the conclusion of the season to terminate his contract with the Bills.  However, it’s not believed that Marrone will take advantage of his ability to leave.

One factor will be whether a market exists for his services elsewhere as a head coach.  Though he’s done well enough in two years to stay for a third, he probably hasn’t done well enough to spark a land rush for his services.

But it’s nevertheless an unusual clause that shows Marrone and his agent planned for the possible sale of the franchise upon the demise of founder Ralph Wilson, who passed away in March.

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Hobbled Aaron Rodgers leads Packers to NFC North title

rodgers AP

Shaking off a calf injury to deliver an MVP performance, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers led his team to a win over the Lions, an NFC North title, and a first-round playoff bye today at Lambeau Field.

Rodgers, who has been nursing the injury for a week, briefly had to leave the game and struggled even to walk. But after returning in the third quarter, Rodgers took control and took the Packers to a 30-20 victory.

The performance made Rodgers the favorite to win the league’s Most Valuable Player award, and made the Packers the division champs once again. Green Bay has earned a first-round playoff bye, which will be some extra time for Rodgers to rest that calf and get ready for a playoff game at Lambeau.

For the Lions, the disappointing showing continues a decades-long losing streak at Lambeau and means they’ll start the playoffs on the road at Dallas next weekend. It’s been a good season for the Lions, but a season in which they’ll now be expected to get bounced out of the playoffs in the first round.

The Packers, however, have a real shot at being a Super Bowl team. With Rodgers at the helm, the Packers have to like their chances.

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49ers send Jim Harbaugh out with a win

Bruce Miller, Jim Harbaugh, Alfonso Smith AP

By all accounts, Jim Harbaugh is done as the head coach with the 49ers but he got a Gatorade shower and a game ball before he left.

Harbaugh’s players drenched him at the end of a 20-17 win over the Cardinals and defensive back Craig Dahl gave the coach the ball after he picked off Cardinals quarterback Ryan Lindley to ice the victory in a moment that looked like the 49ers players were well aware that their coach was moving on to another job. There’s been a lot of talk that the University of Michigan will be hiring Harbaugh, but word on that will have to wait for at least a little while.

For now, the 49ers can savor a return to the victory formation after four straight losses that sank their season. Frank Gore ran for 144 yards in what might have been his final game with the 49ers, moving him past the 1,000-yard mark for the fourth straight year and eighth time overall in his career. Colin Kaepernick threw two touchdowns and ran for 63 yards of his own, but the offensive work probably wouldn’t have been enough without the work of the defense.

The 49ers intercepted Lindley three times and the Cardinals quarterback couldn’t replicate his production from a successful first half. He did finish with 313 yards, but just 53 came after the break and the Cardinals Offense didn’t put any points on the board in the final 30 minutes. That’s obviously a concern for the team as they head toward next weekend’s date with the Panthers, but they may not have a choice other than rolling with Lindley thanks to Drew Stanton’s knee and Logan Thomas’s lack of readiness to step into a starting role as a rookie.

That doesn’t set up well for Arizona, but at least they have a shot. The 49ers just have the memories of Harbaugh’s first three seasons and the hope that the next coach can win at the same rate come 2015.

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Seahawks force three second half turnovers on way to top seed in the NFC playoffs

Kam Chancellor, K.J. Wright AP

The Seahawks went to the Super Bowl last season behind an overwhelming defense that played at home during the postseason.

A repeat performance is hardly out of the question in 2014. The Seahawks scored all 20 of their points in the second half and forced three turnovers after giving the ball away twice in the first half of a 20-6 victory over the Rams. The win clinches the NFC West and the top seed in the NFC playoffs for the defending champs and their defense looks primed to make the most of that defense.

Seattle allowed 39 points over the final six games of the season, all of which were victories, and the defense helped provide 14 of the points in Week 17. A Jordan Hill interception set up a Marshawn Lynch touchdown run and Bruce Irvin returned a pass he yanked away from Rams tight end Lance Kendricks 49 yards for another score that all but sealed the deal on another division title. The Rams made one last effort to get back in the game in the fourth quarter, but safety Earl Thomas knocked the ball from Benny Cunningham’s hands and the ball bounced through the end zone for a touchback.

The Seahawks Offense never caught fire, but they didn’t turn it over in the second half and strung together a pair of drives in the third quarter for field goals that tied the game. Russell Wilson was 17-of-25 for 239 yards and Lynch had 99 total yards of offense, which is the kind of effort (absent each man’s first half giveaway) that they want to have their defense lead to victory.

There will be stiffer offensive tests ahead than the Rams, but the Seahawks haven’t had much trouble with any level of offensive competition of late. That’s trouble for the NFC, which will go through Seattle for the second straight year.

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Panthers blast Falcons to earn NFC South title at 7-8-1

Panthers Falcons Football AP

Sure, the Panthers went eight weeks without winning a game earlier this season.

But they went the last four without losing one, and now they’re headed to the playoffs.

With no apologies for their 7-8-1 record, the Panthers are headed to the postseason after a dominating 34-3 win over the Falcons.

They outgained the Falcons 306-288, with Cam Newton only throwing 16 passes all day. They outrushed the Falcons 194-63, and played dominant defense all afternoon.

The Panthers closed the season by sweeping through the division (with an ugly win over the Browns mixed in). But like their 41-10 win over the Saints which started this run, the beating they put on the Falcons was thorough.

The Panthers sacked Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan six times, and goaded him into a pair of pick-sixes (by safeties Roman Harper and Tre Boston). They did it with a simple game plan, getting the pressure with their front four and not having to rely on blitzing. It should also be noted they did it without franchise-tagged defensive end Greg Hardy, who made $13.1 million this year for one sack before going on the commissioner’s exempt list because of a domestic violence arrest.

The Falcons had played well down the stretch themselves, but had no answer for the Panthers pressure all day.

While people are going to mock them for the next week and say they have no chance in the postseason (and maybe they don’t), it’s hard to argue with the job Panthers coach Ron Rivera has done with this mishmash of a roster.

His teams are 15-3 in December during his stint as head coach. Even though the first two years of his career those were meaningless December games, he’s now gotten the Panthers to the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time in franchise history.

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Brandon, Whaley have no meetings scheduled with ownership

Brandon Getty Images

Amid rumors that CEO Russ Brandon, G.M. Doug Whaley, and Senior V.P. of Football Administration will soon be former employees of the Bills, Brandon and Whaley told reporters after Sunday’s season-ending win over the Patriots that no meetings have been scheduled with ownership regarding their respective futures.

“I’m sure at some point we’ll get into some more in-depth meetings,” Brandon told reporters, via Mike Rodak of ESPN.com.  “There’s nothing scheduled at this point.  I talk to Terry [Pegula] all the time, and I have nothing on the books right now for any meetings.”

Brandon also seemed to be annoyed by the chatter that his long-time tenure with the team could be ending.

“I don’t know where all this speculation comes from,”  Brandon said.  “It’s agent-on-agent crime, basically, listening to all the nonsense that’s out there.  It’s hard in our business not to get caught up in the noise, but it’s just that:  It’s noise.”

If it’s noise, then the Pegulas need to say so, quickly.  The longer they wait, the louder the noise will be.

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Broncos holding Raiders at bay

C.J. Anderson AP

The Broncos’ final postseason tune-up has largely gone smoothly.

Though the visiting Raiders have been persistent, the Broncos have been in control throughout Sunday’s matchup, and Denver holds a 33-14 lead with 10:18 left in regulation.

Tailback C.J. Anderson has tallied the Broncos’ first three TDs, with kicker Connor Barth’s four field goals producing Denver’s other points.

The Raiders drew within 27-14 midway through the third quarter on quarterback Derek Carr’s one-yard TD pass to running back Jamize Olawale. But Denver (11-4) has padded its lead since, with two Barth field goals pushing its edge to 19 points.

The Broncos will clinch a first-round bye with a victory.

Denver has lost one starter to injury on Sunday, with left guard Orlando Franklin (concussion) ruled out for the rest of the game.

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Seahawks take lead after intercepting Shaun Hill

Marshawn Lynch, Alec Ogletree, Lamarcus Joyner AP

The Seahawks Defense kept the team alive while the offense was turning the ball over and scoring no points in the first half against the Rams and they turned in a play that led to the first touchdown of the afternoon in the second half.

Rams quarterback Shaun Hill tried to throw away a pass on a screen gone awry, but his toss toward the turf never made it. Seahawks defensive tackle Jordan Hill continued his strong second half by making a quick play to pick the ball off and give the Seahawks possession near midfield.

Quarterback Russell Wilson, who has looked better in the second half, hit Kevin Norwood for 31 yards and Marshawn Lynch sprinted nine yards for a touchdown on the next play to give Seattle a 13-6 lead with just over 12 minutes left in the game. Lynch didn’t punctuate this score with a reprise of last Sunday’s crotch grab, so he should avoid a fine on that front this week.

The Seahawks are the top seed in the NFC if they can close out the Rams from here. With just 119 yards allowed, it’s hard not to like their chances.

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