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Alfonzo Dennard due in court two days before Patriots’ opener

Dennard Getty Images

On Friday, September 6, while the Patriots are making their final preparations to face the Bills two days later, New England cornerback Alfonzo Dennard will be in a Nebraska courtroom.

Dennard, who was originally scheduled to appear in court this week on a probation violation hearing, had his court date moved to September 6, according to Lori Pilger ‏of the Lincoln Journal Star.

In April, Dennard was placed on probation and sentenced to 30 days in jail after he was convicted of assaulting a police officer. At the time, the judge agreed to put off the 30-day jail sentence until after the upcoming NFL season, and said that if Dennard kept his nose clean he would get the opportunity to avoid jail at all. But in July, Dennard was arrested on suspicion of DUI.

The worst-case scenario for Dennard and the Patriots would be that the judge finds that Dennard violated his probation with the DUI arrest and orders him to serve the 30-day jail stint immediately. Going to jail for 30 days starting on September 6 would keep Dennard out for at least the first five games of the regular season.

However, it’s also possible that Dennard’s court date could get pushed back again, and that he won’t even have to miss any practice. So far, Dennard has managed to avoid having his off-field incidents affect his availability to the Patriots.

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Dan Rooney: Pittsburgh Super Bowl “should happen”

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The NFL returned to Glendale for this year’s Super Bowl, but they’ll be taking the game to Santa Clara for the first time next year and Commissioner Roger Goodell has talked about his desire to get the game “to as many communities as possible” in the future.

Steelers president Art Rooney II said last year that he wanted Pittsburgh to be in the mix for the game in the future. Rooney’s father feels the same way. Team chairman Dan Rooney said he hasn’t spoken to Goodell directly, but that people from the team have spoken to the league to relay his message.

“Yeah, I think it should happen,” Rooney said, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “As of last year, the (New York) Giants have had one. There have been games in Minnesota and Detroit, places like that. So now you think about it. Of course, you’ll have a lot of teams in the Northeast that will want one, but I think Pittsburgh would be a good place for the next one in the North.”

The size of Heinz Field, which is being expanded to 67,440 seats, and number of hotel rooms in Pittsburgh are potential stumbling blocks, although the league picked Minneapolis for the 2018 game despite the city pledging less than the 30,000 hotel rooms the league has said they look for in a host city.

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Eric Decker wants to play with Demaryius Thomas again

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Last offseason, wide receiver Eric Decker made the move from the Broncos to the Jets as a free agent.

The move led to fewer victories and a drop in production with Geno Smith and Michael Vick throwing the passes instead of Peyton Manning. The Jets don’t have a surer bet at quarterback for 2015, but Decker’s hoping he can convince his former Denver receiving mate Demaryius Thomas to make the same move he made.

“I’ve been pushing for the entire year now,” Decker said, via the New York Post. “It was just another opportunity to talk to him about it. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens. I think it would be tough for Denver to let him go. So whether they franchise-tag him here in the next month or give him a long-term deal, he’s just one of those premier players in this league. If he happens to make it to free agency, I would love to sign him because playing alongside him for four years and especially the last two years made it a lot of fun and made it a lot easier. He’s just one of the great players in this league.”

Decker’s probably going to have to use his marketing skills on other players because the Broncos letting Thomas walk is hard to see whether or not Peyton Manning returns for another season. The Jets have the cap space and the mindset to make a big play for Thomas should things go the other way, but it does look like this round of free agency will play out differently than Decker’s did.

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Jed York: We’ve got to put Colin Kaepernick in position to make plays

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Some 49ers fans may not be confident that the team is headed in the right direction based on the changes to the coaching staff that they’ve made since the end of the regular season, but CEO Jed York thinks that they’re going to be pleasantly surprised by the results on offense in 2015.

During an interview with NFL Network, York said that he doesn’t believe that quarterback Colin Kaepernick needs to be fixed. Instead, it’s a matter of putting him in the right position to make plays that take advantage of his particular set of skills and York’s confident that offensive coordinator Geep Chryst and quarterbacks coach Steve Logan are the right men to do it.

“But with Kap you got a guy in Geep Chryst who knows him better than anybody else,” York said. “You have a great guy in Steve Logan that’s coming in that’s going to work with him on fundamentals and to put a system that’s going to put Kap in the best position to make plays. How many quarterbacks in this league can run 90 yards for a touchdown? I can’t think of many, but you have to put Kap in position where he can make those plays and put Kap in position where we can run the ball. We can throw the ball in ways that allows him to be successful and let him be the absolute stud that he can be on the field, and that’s what you’re going to see from us next year. Defenses are not going to want to play against us because you’re not going to know where we’re going to hit you.”

Kaepernick ran for 639 yards during the regular season, but designed runs made up less than half of his carries. York suggests that will be different the next time around and that’s not likely to be the only change for the 49ers after the shakeup at the top of their coaching staff. Few of the other ones are likely to have as much to do with the success or failure of that shakeup, however.

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Report: Bernard Pollard asked Titans to release him

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The Titans parted ways with vice president of player personnel Lake Dawson on Friday and the move wasn’t popular with one member of the roster.

Safety Bernard Pollard tweeted “talk about the wrong guy getting fired” and said he could name a lot of players and other people in the organization that should have been let go before Dawson. According to Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean, Pollard wanted to be one of them.

Wyatt reports that Pollard requested his release from the Titans at the end of the 2014 season. Pollard is set to make $3.1 million on his deal with the Titans for 2015 and the team could drop him without incurring a lot of dead money on their cap.

Pollard’s season came to an early end when he ruptured his Achilles five games into the season. Wyatt reports he’s progressing in rehab and asking out of a contract suggests that he’s pretty confident he’ll be able to sell himself to another team well ahead of next season.

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Goodell says NFL’s progress in London is better than expected

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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says putting American football in London has worked out better than expected.

At his “State of the League” press conference, Goodell talked up London as a market where the NFL has already experienced tremendous growth, with more to come.

“London has done not only everything that we expected, but more than we expected,” Goodell said. “They’re responding to the game better than we ever dreamed, with more enthusiasm, more passion. You see it every year. When I was back last fall, you could see the passion and the understanding of the game. Every event that we have explodes with interest. We are continuing to advance our interests over there from the same point of playing more games. The more media coverage that we have, obviously leads to better understanding of the game on a national basis. We are working with sponsors, we are working with the fans directly, but already the three games that we have here, the report I had yesterday was just a couple thousand tickets left. That may be sold out by now. That’s three games in an incredibly short period of time. So, their passion is obvious. We want to continue to respond to that fan interest and if we do, we don’t know where it will go, but I think there is great potential in London for the NFL.”

Whether continued growth in London means a franchise based there or more teams giving up home games to play there, it’s clear that the NFL’s experiment with London won’t end any time soon. The league is committed to London for the long term.

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Prop Challenge, Day IX — Will we finally have overtime in a Super Bowl?

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Welcome to PFT’s Prop Challenge, our daily look at a Super Bowl proposition bet.

Here’s the idea: we present a prop, do some light analysis, then let you decide which side to take — hypothetically, of course. (Previous examples are at the bottom of this post.)

When the Super Bowl wraps up, we’ll tally the votes and see how well PFT Planet did.

Now, let’s get to today’s prop, which is courtesy of the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook:

Will there be overtime in the Super Bowl?

Yes: +550. No: -800.

The next Super Bowl to go to overtime will be the first. And undoubtedly, there will be bettors happily taking 11-2 odds with the idea that we’re due for a fifth quarter in pro football’s biggest game.

Also, there’s no denying the “Yes” side of props like this are more fun. What a nice story to have, cashing a ticket on the first-ever Super Bowl overtime. Win a bet like that and you dance to the seafood buffet.

However, history suggests “No” has a lot going for it — and not just because the first 48 Super Bowls have ended in regulation.

According to Pro Football Reference data, only 28-of-413 non-Super Bowl postseason games have gone to overtime since 1967. That’s about one in in every 16 games.

Viewed that way, 5.5-to-1 on the Super Bowl going to OT might seem a touch . . . short.

That said, Super Bowl XLIX is widely regarded as a closely matched competition. The point spread is pick ‘em at the majority of Nevada sports books.

Again, we turn to you. What’s the better bet — no overtime or the first-ever Super Bowl OT?

Aside: could you imagine Super Bowl overtime? The pressure would leave a nation pacing and push every Super Bowl party deeper into the night.

And it would be glorious.

Anyways, cast thy votes and leave thy comments.

Previous props studied:

Day I: Over-Under on Brandon LaFell’s receiving yards.

Day II: Over-Under on Doug Baldwin’s catches.

Day III: Will Rob Gronkowski score a touchdown?

Day IV: Will there be a one-yard TD in the Super Bowl?

Day V: Over-Under on Tim Wright’s receiving yards.

Day VI: Over-Under on LeGarrette Blount’s carries.

Day VII: Will there be a safety in the Super Bowl?

Day VIII: Over-Under on Russell Wilson’s rushing yards.

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Aaron Rodgers wins NFL Most Valuable Player

Aaron Rodgers AP

For the second time, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is the Most Valuable Player of the National Football League.

Rodgers was announced as 2014 league MVP as the culmination of tonight’s NFL Honors event in Phoenix. Rodgers had previously won the award for the 2011 season.

It’s no surprise that the award went to Rodgers, who had a phenomenal statistical season: Rodgers completed 341 of 520 passes for 4,381 yards, with an incredible touchdown-interception ratio: He finished the year with 38 touchdown passes and just five interceptions.

Rodgers got 31 MVP votes. J.J. Watt was second with 13 MVP votes. DeMarco Murray and Tony Romo each had two votes, while Tom Brady and (in a major surprise) Bobby Wagner each had one.

The postseason ended in disappointment for Rodgers, who saw his Packers blow a big lead in the NFC Championship Game and lose to the Seahawks. But in the regular season, Rodgers was the best player in football. He was recognized for that tonight.

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Gronk wins comeback player of the year award

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After shaking off a major knee injury to establish himself as the best tight end in the NFL, New England’s Rob Gronkowski has been named the comeback player of the year.

Gronk, who was a unanimous All-Pro, was given the award at tonight’s NFL Honors event in Phoenix. Members of the Gronkowski family picked up the award for Rob, the most successful of the many athletes in the family, as Rob is at the Patriots’ team hotel getting ready for the Super Bowl.

Of the 50 voters for the NFL awards, 27 picked Gronkowski. In second place were Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin and Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain with seven votes each, followed by Broncos cornerback Chris Harris with three votes, Ravens running back Justin Forsett and Texans running back Arian Foster with two votes, and Cardinals linebacker Larry Foote and Bills quarterback Kyle Orton with one vote each.

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Thomas Davis named NFL Man of the Year

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Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, whose foundation helps underprivileged children, has been named the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year — the only award that recognizes players for their community service as well as their playing ability.

Davis received the award at tonight’s NFL Honors event in Phoenix.

“I am honored to be selected as the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year,” Davis said. “This award means a great deal to me, as it symbolizes the valued work that the NFL, its players, and its 32 teams do in the community. I am blessed to have such a strong support system in my family, the Carolina Panthers and the NFL, which allows me to make an impact in the communities we serve.”

Davis, who had 129 tackles for the Panthers last season, will get a $50,000 donation made to the charity of his choice.

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Larry Fitzgerald wins NFL’s inaugural sportsmanship award

Larry Fitzgerald AP

Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has garnered the NFL’s inaugural Art Rooney Award for sportsmanship, the club announced Saturday night.

The award was voted upon by Fitzgerald’s fellow players. It is named for the founder of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

One example of Fitzgerald’s respect for those he competes against came last season, when he delivered a textbook block on unsuspecting Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. While Fitzgerald knocked down Sherman, he did not hit him as hard as he could have. As the players ran back to their huddles, Sherman patted Fitzgerald on the helmet.

Afterwards, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll publicly praised Fitzgerald for the physical-but-clean way he plays the game.

The 31-year-old Fitzgerald is entering his 12th NFL season.

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Aaron Donald wins defensive rookie of the year

New Orleans Saints v St. Louis Rams Getty Images

Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald is the NFL’s defensive rookie of the year.

Donald got the award at tonight’s NFL Honors, capping a season in which he recorded nine sacks, including one sack in eight of the Rams’ last 11 games.

Of the 50 media members who vote on the NFL’s awards, 25 chose Donald as the defensive rookie of the year. Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley was next with 18 votes, followed by Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack with six votes and 49ers linebacker Chris Borland with one vote.

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J.J. Watt named defensive player of the year

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In the least surprising news to come out of tonight’s NFL Honors event, Texans defensive end J.J. Watt has been named the defensive player of the year.

It was obvious that Watt would win the award because it’s obvious that Watt is the NFL’s best defensive player. There’s plenty of debate about who the second-best defensive player in the NFL is, but there’s no debate about who’s first.

Watt was selected unanimously by the 50 media members who vote on the NFL’s awards.

The biggest question about Watt now is whether he can continue to play at the dominant level he has shown off for the last three seasons. If he does, he’ll be not just the best defensive player in the NFL at the moment, but perhaps the greatest defensive player ever to play the game.

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Junior Seau leads a strong eight-man class into the Hall of Fame

Junior Seau AP

The Pro Football Hall of Fame cleared the decks of a number of finalists who had been debated for years, as they ushered in an eight-man class to Canton Saturday night.

First-year eligible linebacker Junior Seau was elected to the Hall of Fame, along with running back Jerome Bettis, defensive end Charles Haley, guard Will Shields and wide receiver Tim Brown.

They’ll be joined this summer by seniors nominee Mick Tingelhoff and contributor candidates Bill Polian and Ron Wolf, who were chosen in separate up-down votes which required at least 80 percent to be elected.

Brown, the longtime Raiders receiver/return man, was in his sixth year as a finalist, as he was stuck in previous years behind Hall of Famers Cris Carter and Andre Reed.

Likewise, Haley was in his sixth trip as a finalist, as he was finally recognized his contributions to five Super Bowl Champions in San Francisco and Dallas.

Bettis was in his fifth year in the final 15, and Shields was making his fourth trip that far.

Seau, however, didn’t need that much time, as the late Chargers, Dolphins and Patriots linebacker needed the shortest discussion of any of the 18 candidates discussed.

Those five modern era finalists emerged from a strong group of finalists, which were debated in a nearly nine-hour meeting Saturday.

The players who filled slots six through 10, and stand a solid shot at the Hall next year include linebacker Kevin Greene, quarterback Kurt Warner, tackle Orlando Pace, wide receiver Marvin Harrison and coach Tony Dungy.

The first five players eliminated from the original list of 15 modern era finalists were coaches Don Coryell and Jimmy Johnson, kicker Morten Andersen, running back Terrell Davis and safety John Lynch.

Those remaining players will be eligible again next year, along with a crop of first-year eligible players which includes quarterback Brett Favre, wide receiver Terrell Owens, guard Alan Faneca and safety Darren Sharper.

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Bruce Arians is the NFL’s coach of the year

Bruce Arians AP

After leading the injury-plagued Cardinals to the playoffs, Bruce Arians has been named the NFL’s coach of the year.

Arians, who kept the Cardinals together after they lost both starting quarterback Carson Palmer and backup quarterback Drew Stanton, was named the recipient of the coach of the year award at NFL Honors. A panel of 50 members of the media voted on the award.

This is the second time Arians has been named the NFL’s coach of the year; he also won the award after the 2012 season, when he took over the Colts after Chuck Pagano was stricken with leukemia and led the Colts to the playoffs.

To earn two coach of the year awards in his first three seasons as a head coach is an extraordinary accomplishment, for an extraordinary coach.

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DeMarco Murray named offensive player of the year

DeMarco Murray AP

Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray was named the NFL’s offensive player of the year for the 2014 season.

Murray finished the regular season with 392 carries for 1,845 yards and 13 touchdowns, plus another 57 catches for 416 yards. His production was a big part of the Cowboys snapping their string of 8-8 seasons and making the playoffs.

Going forward, it remains to be seen whether Murray will keep helping the Cowboys win. Murray becomes a free agent in March, and the Cowboys may not have the cap space to afford to keep him.

But for now, Murray’s award is a tribute not just to his own season but to that of a great Cowboys offensive line, and to a year when Dallas finally turned the corner and returned to the postseason.

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