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Dominic Raiola: Ndamukong Suh isn’t too aggressive in practice

Green Bay Packers v Detroit Lions Getty Images

It didn’t take long for Ndamukong Suh to develop a reputation as one of the most physical – if not dirtiest – players in the league. In fact, a report over the weekend claimed that Suh’s eccentricities carries over into practice with the same conduct he shows in games coming through on the Detroit Lions’ practice fields.

Head coach Jim Schwartz said Suh’s practice habits weren’t any issue for the team on Monday. Now center Dominic Raiola is also coming to the defense of Suh.

That never happened,” Raiola said, via Mike O’Hara of the team’s official website. “It’s completely false.  You have to look no further than his teammates voting him captain. He doesn’t do that in practice. It’s totally false.”

Raiola has to deal with Suh daily in practice for the past four seasons. He’s in a position to know whether Suh is going overboard on the practice field and treating his teammates poorly. He’s not buying it.

“He practices hard,” Raiola said. “That’s how you should practice — like a professional. That how he gets himself ready to play. I don’t know exactly what the words were but he’s not stomping on teammates, hitting people in the faces.”

The fact that Suh has been named a team captain seems to backup Raiola’s assertions. If Suh was injuring teammates or going over the line with his conduct in practice, he probably wouldn’t earn enough respect from his peers to be named a captain. There’s plenty of reasons to question Suh’s conduct during games and his instances of unnecessary roughness against opponents, but the thought that he’s treating his teammates the same way seems a little far-fetched.

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Falcons go up 13-7 on Saints just before halftime

Atlanta Falcons v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

Once upon a time, opponents worried about going to the Superdome.

That hasn’t been the case this year, and the Falcons are the latest to make themselves at home there.

Matt Ryan hit Eric Weems for a short touchdown just before halftime to give the visitors a 13-7 lead at the break.

The Falcons have played an alarming amount of defense, limiting the Saints to 78 yards and sacking Drew Brees three times along with picking him off once.

There have also been several fights over the course of the game, as both sides are desperate to hang onto playoff chances.

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Johnny Manziel leaves game with hamstring, questionable

Cleveland Browns v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

The Browns might start looking at quarterback options sooner than anticipated.

Rookie Johnny Manziel had to leave the game after taking a hard shot just before halftime, and Brian Hoyer replaced him.

He was driven into the ground by Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly and safety Colin Jones as he ran for the sideline. Trainers took him to the locker room, as he draped a towel over his head.

They announced his injury as a hamstring, and he’s questionable to return.

Manziel has had a largely ineffective first half, though the playoff-hopeful Panthers have something to do with that. He’s still 3-of-8 for 32 yards passing, with two rushes for 3 yards.

Brian Hoyer didn’t exactly light it up in relief, as the Browns still trail 10-3.

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Packers starting to assert themselves vs. Tampa Bay

Eddie Lacy, Mason Foster AP

Heavy favorites over the Buccaneers, the Packers have generally looked as much in the early stages of Sunday’s game at Tampa Bay.

Tailback Eddie Lacy’s 47-yard TD run put the Packers on the board first, and they have added to their edge since, taking a 10-0 second-quarter lead over the Buccaneers.

Tampa Bay’s offense has struggled mightily, gaining a grand total of zero yards on 15 plays. Meanwhile, the Packers have the passing and ground games going. After something of a slow start, quarterback Aaron Rodgers has settled in, completing 13-of-17 passes for 121 yards. According to the Fox telecast, Rodgers is dealing with a cold.

Lacy, for his part, has added 84 yards on 10 carries for 10-4 Green Bay, which is tied for the NFC North lead.

Buccaneers quarterback Josh McCown has a tough go of it thus far, completing just 1-of-8 passes for five yards.

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Nick Mangold carted off, Jets tie game

Nick Mangold AP

Jets center Nick Mangold has had a lot of good battles with Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork over the years, but Sunday’s looks like it will be an abbreviated one.

Mangold was carted off the field in the second quarter at MetLife Stadium after suffering a left leg injury during a Bilal Powell run. Mangold remained down on the field for several minutes surrounded by members of both teams and Wilfork shared a few words with his longtime rival before Mangold was taken to the back.

The Jets announced Mangold, who sported an NYPD hat during pregame a day after two New York police officers were murdered in their patrol car, has an ankle injury and called him questionable to return.

The Jets were driving when Mangold went down and continued their march after the injury. Geno Smith hit Jeff Cumberland for a 25-yard pass over a frozen Patrick Chung to tie the score at 7 with six minutes to go in the first half.

The Patriots broke a scoreless tie with a touchdown catch by Rob Gronkowski earlier in the second quarter. Danny Amendola helped set it up with a big punt return as he fills in for Julian Edelman on both offense and special teams this Sunday.

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Panthers and Browns locked in a real thriller

Cleveland Browns v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

Johnny Manziel hasn’t been a disaster today.

But he hasn’t been much of anything, really.

The Browns and Panthers are locked in a 3-3 pillow fight, as neither Heisman-winning quarterback has gotten much going.

Manziel hit Andrew Hawkins for a 28-yard pass earlier, but has otherwise struggled, but has 4 yards on his other seven pass attempts.

The Panthers have dominated time of possession, but don’t have much to show for it.

As they have all year, they can put together long drives occasionally, but stall in the red zone.

Despite outgaining the Browns 119-40 in the first quarter, they’re sitting on a field goal.

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Chiefs pull off fake field goal, but wind up settling for field goal anyway

Kansas City Chiefs v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

The Chiefs are now more than a quarter into their 15th game of the 2014 season and the search for their first touchdown pass to a wide receiver continues.

They came close in the second quarter at Pittsburgh. Dwayne Bowe had a pass from Alex Smith in his hands, but Steelers corner Antwon Blake knocked it away for an incompletion. Smith would scramble out of bounds for a loss on third down and the Chiefs settled for a Cairo Santos field goal to give them a 6-3 lead.

Santos had been on the field a few plays earlier, but the Chiefs pulled a bit of trickery to set up Bowe’s near-miss in the end zone. Holder Dustin Colquitt threw a pass to tight end Travis Kelce to convert on 4th-and-5 from the Steelers’ 12-yard line for a first down that the Chiefs weren’t able to turn into six points.

The Steelers got off to a fast start with a 44-yard pass to Martavis Bryant, but their opening drive also stalled close to the end zone. The Chiefs have driven well twice for field goals since then and have a leg up with halftime approaching.

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Texans take early lead vs. slow-starting Ravens

Case Keenum

Case Keenum’s return to Houston has gone well-enough thus far.

Keenum, whom the Texans re-signed just this week because of injuries at quarterback, has helped Houston take a 6-0 second-quarter lead over visiting Baltimore on Sunday.

Though Keenum has been picked once, he has generally done the job, completing 8-of-13 passes for 120 yards.

By contrast, the Ravens’ offense has sputtered, gaining just 22 yards on its first 11 plays.

The Ravens (9-5) currently hold one of the two wild-card spots in the AFC, while Houston (7-7) is on the fringes of playoff contention.

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Report: Browns to “explore all options” at quarterback

Manziel Getty Images

That homeless guy apparently has given Jimmy Haslam some new advice.

According to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Browns intend to “explore all options” at quarterback this season.

Those options include a possible trade up to get Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, a player with whom G.M. Ray Farmer reportedly is smitten.

The Browns will enter the draft with a pair of first-round picks that could be packaged in an effort to get Mariota, if the Browns decide to make a move up.  It would mean making a move out with current starter Johnny Manziel, whose wage-scaled contract would allow the Browns to keep both guys around, if they wanted to.

The willingness of the Browns to explore their options shows that they’re far from sold on Manziel, the 22nd overall pick in this year’s draft.  If they decide they were wrong about Manziel, it makes much more sense to admit the mistake and move on than to try to justify it by sticking with a guy who can’t get it done.

Besides, if Haslam won’t be firing his coach or G.M. after the season, he needs to fire someone, and the homeless guy who suggested that Manziel be drafted already is unemployed.

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Jets and Patriots defenses shine in first quarter

New England Patriots v New York Jets Getty Images

Jets coach Rex Ryan said this week that he’s not dead yet in reference to the presumed end of his tenure with the team and the same is true of his defense’s pass rush.

They sacked Tom Brady three times in the first half of Sunday’s home game against the Patriots, helping to force three Patriots punts on three possessions in the first quarter. The Patriots had just 20 total yards through the first 15 minutes as the Jets have done their best to spoil New England’s hopes of running out to a big lead on their way to potentially clinching home field through the AFC playoffs.

The Jets Offense hasn’t done any better however. Just as the pass rush has turned in a familiar performance, so has the offense. They’ve managed just 40 yards of their own and the game is scoreless with one quarter in the books.

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Jimmy Clausen unimpressive early in Chicago

clausencutler AP

Early on in Chicago, Bears quarterback Jimmy Clausen is looking about the way you’d expect a backup to look against a good defense like Detroit’s.

The Bears have gone three-and-out on each of their first two offensive drives. Coach Marc Trestman is playing it very safe on the play-calling, not asking Clausen to do anything fancy and not accomplishing much. The Bears even ran the ball on third-and-9 on their first possession, suggesting that they don’t have a lot of faith in Clausen’s ability to make plays.

The good news is that Clausen doesn’t have any turnovers, and the Bears’ defense forced the Lions to punt on their first drive. Perhaps the Bears can at least keep this close with Clausen at the helm.

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Saints grab quick lead on Falcons in NFC South slugfest

Carolina Panthers v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

The Saints didn’t need long to grab the lead.

Twenty seconds in, they’re already up 7-0 on the Falcons, in a game crucial to their playoff hopes.

A 99-yard kickoff return by Jalen Saunders set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Mark Ingram, putting them up in a hurry on Atlanta.

Saunders, replacing an injured Travaris Cadet, joined the Saints on waivers earlier this year after the Jets cut the fourth-round pick.

The Falcons answered with a field goal, though the way the NFC South has gone this year, you fully expect futility to the finish.

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Menelik Watson donates game check to four-year-old fan

Watson AP

From our buddy Jay Glazer of FOX Sports comes a great story for the holidays.

Glazer arranged through his Touchdown Dreams program for Ava Urrea, a four-year-old fan with hypoplastic left heart syndrome to visit the Raiders this week.  The team pulled out all the stops for Ava, who was born with half a heart and has had 14 surgeries.  (It’s the same condition that TJ Olsen, the son of Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, has been dealing with since birth.)

Ava received a signed helmet, signed footballs, and making her the captain for the day.  Then came the unexpected twist.  Raiders offensive lineman Menelik Watson donated his game check for the week to Ava’s family.

According to NFLPA records, Watson’s base salary for 2014 is $622,948.  That makes his weekly gross salary $36,944.

With federal and California taxes consuming roughly half of that amount, the net check would have been in the range of $18,000.

It’s a great gesture by Watson, coming at the end of a season that has been focused all too often on all the bad things a small handful of NFL players do.

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Oddsmakers set season’s lowest total on Seahawks-Cardinals

Arizona Cardinals v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

Expecting Sunday night’s Seahawks-Cardinals matchup to be a grinder?

You aren’t alone.

Oddsmakers have set the lowest Over-Under of the season on Seattle-Arizona (8:30 p.m Eastern, NBC), with some sports books setting the number as low as 35.5 points.

The Over-Under is a proposition setting a combined point total for both clubs in a given game. If bettors believe the game will exceed the total, they take the OVER. If they believe the game won’t reach the total, they bet UNDER.

If the consensus total for Seahawks-Cardinals closes at 37 or less, it will be the first time since 2012 the Over-Under has reached such depths. According to data from Spreadapedia.com, every regular-season or postseason game in 2013 and 2014 has had a total of at least 37.5 points.

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Will Revis have “something special” for the Jets this time around?

Revis Getty Images

Before the Patriots hosted the Jets back in October, former Jets and current Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis reportedly planned “something special” for his old team.

That “something special” ended up being “something nothing.”

Lost in the likely last game between the two franchises featuring Bill Belichick and Rex Ryan as the respective head coaches is the possibility that the “something special” will happen today.

Ryan could have something special for the Pats.  With nothing to lose and the ability to derail home-field advantage of the Patriots to gain, Rex could be doing all sorts of crazy things in the hopes of forcing the Pats to go on the road for the AFC title game.

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Jay Cutler active vs. Lions, will back up Jimmy Clausen

Jay Cutler AP

While Jay Cutler has lost his starting job for at least the time being, he hasn’t lost his spot on the Bears’ game day roster.

As expected, Cutler is active and will back up Jimmy Clausen on Sunday against Detroit.

The Bears’ other quarterback, David Fales, is among the club’s seven inactives, leaving Cutler as the only quarterback behind Clausen.

The 31-year-old Cutler was removed as the Bears’ starter on Wednesday. He has not been a clear-cut backup since serving as Jake Plummer’s understudy for the first 11 games of 2006.

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