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Three-week preseason, 14-team playoffs could be coming

Houston Texans AP

While the NFL would prefer to expand the regular season from 16 games to 18, the league’s health and safety concerns come off as hollow if the NFL adds 32 games to the current workload of 256.

The fallback, then, unless and until the NFLPA decides to pursue expansion of the regular season on its own, will be to shrink the preseason and replace the revenue with more playoff games.

Commissioner Roger Goodell recently hinted at it, and Chris Mortensen of ESPN reports that the end result could be a three-week preseason and two more playoff teams.

The expansion to 14 would add two more playoff games, with the No. 2 seed in each conference playing the No. 7 seed.  Under that scenario, only the No. 1 seed in each conference would have a bye, and wild-card weekend would have six games instead of four.

While the NFL has full discretion to cut the preseason in half under the labor deal, the NFLPA would have to agree to any increase in the regular season or postseason.  Though the union’s position on expanded playoffs isn’t known, the players would be far more likely to embrace two extra playoff games than two extra weeks of games.

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Mike McCoy: Jason Verrett wouldn’t have played if he wasn’t ready

San Diego at Denver Getty Images

Chargers coach Mike McCoy met the media on Friday and there were more questions about how the team handled a pair of injuries from Thursday night than there were about why they couldn’t handle the Broncos.

McCoy was asked about the decision to play cornerback Jason Verrett after he missed last Sunday’s game with an injured shoulder. Verrett left the game after aggravating the injury and reports on Friday are that Verrett stands to miss an extended period of time as a result. McCoy said the team didn’t rush Verrett back into the lineup.

“If he wasn’t ready to go, we wouldn’t have put him out there,” McCoy said, via Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego.

Whether it was too soon or not, the result will be a painful one for the Chargers if they have to go without the rookie because he’s played a big role in their 5-3 start to the season.

McCoy also faced questions about whether safety Jahleel Addae suffered a concussion in the second half when he got up from a hit and staggered for a couple of moments. Addae said he suffered a stinger and was cleared to return to the game after being evaluated on the sideline. McCoy also said Addae suffered a stinger while adding that medical evaluations were ongoing and that he hadn’t spoken to the trainer since the team returned to San Diego.

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Judge blocks New Jersey sports betting

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Well, if you’d wagered that a federal judge would block New Jersey’s plan to trot out sports wagering this weekend, it’s time to collect.

Per multiple reports, Judge Michael Shipp has granted a temporary restraining order preventing New Jersey from implementing a plan to launch sports betting this weekend at racetracks and casinos.

The order presumably will last until the litigation filed by the NFL and other sports leagues on Monday is resolved.  Which probably will result in a ruling that New Jersey’s plan cannot proceed.

The NFL long has opposed the expansion of legalized sports betting.  This is Round Two with New Jersey, which failed in a prior effort to circumvent a 1992 federal law aimed at stopping new states from adding sports wagering.

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Pats will soon get a close look at the one who got away

Sanders AP

During 2013 free agency, the Patriots signed then-restricted free agent Emmanuel Sanders to an offer sheet, willing to give up a third-round pick if it meant getting the player away from Pittsburgh on a one-year, $2.5 million deal.

The Steelers matched, but many believed that New England’s gesture would be rewarded in 2014, when Sanders hit the open market with the ability to sign with anyone.

It didn’t happen.  Sanders instead landed in Denver, and now the Patriots are nine days away from hosting Sanders, Peyton Manning, and the rest of the Broncos.

So why isn’t Sanders a Patriot?

“They were in the mix, it just didn’t get done with anyone,” agent Steve Weinberg told Tom Curran of CSN New England.  “[Sanders] went on several visits — Jacksonville, Tampa, Kansas City, and I was talking to New England the whole time.  But the process went real slow.”

Complicating matters for the Patriots was Sanders’ decision to hire Weinberg to replace Jordan Woy, who had represented Sanders when he signed the offer sheet in New England.

“If Emmanuel hadn’t switched agents, he may have ended up [with the Patriots],” Weinberg told Curran.  “New England was competitive throughout the process.  Had they been aggressive from the beginning it would have gotten done, but, in this market, nobody knew what to do with the wide receivers. New England expressed interest during the [pre-free agency] negotiation period.”

Instead, the Patriots have to figure out how to slow down a guy who scored a touchdown on Sunday night and three more on Thursday night.  And how to get the most out of a receiving corps that would have benefited from the presence of a player who generated a season-high 98 yards against New England last year with the Steelers.

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Shane Vereen questionable due to illness

New York Jets Vs. New England Patriots At Gillette Stadium Getty Images

Shane Vereen wasn’t at Patriots practice on Friday, a new development after the running back had been on the field each of the first two days of the week.

The good news for the Pats is that Vereen isn’t injured. The bad news is that he’s sick enough that his status is up in the air for Sunday’s game against the Bears.

The Patriots listed Vereen as questionable for the game because of his illness, which could leave them without the player that’s moved into the lead running back role with Stevan Ridley out for the season. It would also cost Vereen a chance to play against his brother, Bears safety Brock Vereen. Brandon Bolden, Jonas Gray and James White are the other running back options for New England.

As expected, the Patriots ruled out defensive end Chandler Jones because of a hip injury. Offensive linemen Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork and Cameron Fleming and defensive lineman Dominique Easley are also questionable.

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Saints rule out two RBs; Jimmy Graham questionable

Jimmy Graham, Pierre Thomas AP

The Saints will be down two tailbacks Sunday night vs. Green Bay.

According to the injury report, the club has ruled out Khiry Robinson (forearm) and Pierre Thomas (rib/shoulder).

Mark Ingram figures to be the Saints’ featured back against the Packers, with Travaris Cadet likely the top pass-catching option out of the backfield. And with Ingram and Cadet the Saints’ only two healthy backs, it’s possible a transaction could be coming for New Orleans. The club has tailback Edwin Baker in reserve on the practice squad.

In other Saints injury news, tight end Jimmy Graham (shoulder) is officially questionable for Sunday night. He was questionable entering last Sunday’s loss to Detroit but still played. However, he was held without a catch and played less than half the snaps for the Saints (2-4).

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Brian Cushing on playing Sunday: We’ll see how it goes

Buffalo Bills v Houston Texans Getty Images

Earlier this week, Mike Florio of PFT reported that Texans linebacker Brian Cushing would miss at least one game because of issues with his surgically repaired knee.

Texans coach Bill O’Brien said there was “no accuracy to that report” on Thursday, but the linebacker was listed as questionable Friday after missing practice for the third straight day and sounded like there was a pretty good chance he winds up on the inactive side of that question come Sunday.

Cushing said “we’ll see how it goes” over the weekend while pointing out how much his knee has gone through with two surgeries in the last two offseasons and that he hasn’t been the player he wants to be so far this season.

“We’re going to make the best decision for myself (and) the team,” Cushing said, via ESPN.com. “I think we all can agree the last couple weeks I haven’t really been myself. It’s been really hard on me. Any time I go out there I want to put the best of myself out there to help the team win. If it’s to a point where I’m really not with my play and where I am with my health, that’s what we’re going to do.”

Cushing said he was feeling better after a restful week, which leads you to believe that he’d be feeling even better if he got the weekend off as well. The Texans have a game against the Eagles and then a bye in Week 10, so there’s time ahead to get Cushing rest while limiting the amount of time he’d have to miss on Sundays.

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Kyle Fuller expected to play with broken hand

Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears Getty Images

The Bears defense hasn’t had many bright spots this season, but rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller has been one of them.

That made the fact that he suffered a pair of injuries last weekend a troubling development for the unit. Fuller broke his right hand and suffered a hip pointer during the loss to the Dolphins, but he has been able to practice with a brace on the hand and the team listed him as probable for Sunday’s date with the Patriots.

The news is less positive at linebacker. Jon Bostic and Lance Briggs were both listed as doubtful for the game, leaving them both on track to miss a third straight contest.

Right tackle Jordan Mills is somewhere in the middle. He was a full participant on Wednesday, a limited participant on Thursday and out altogether at Friday’s practice as he deals with a foot injury that has left him questionable for this week. Michael Ola would start if Mills can’t go.

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Fox not too concerned about Broncos’ scoreboard operator

foxrivers AP

Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning made a point of calling out the scoreboard operator in Denver last night, noting that messages on the scoreboard were encouraging the fans to make noise while Manning was trying to audible. But Broncos coach John Fox doesn’t sound too concerned about that.

“There is a lot of stuff that goes on at one of these games,” Fox said, via ESPN. “There are a lot of people that work really hard to make sure that our great fans are entertained. Obviously people like when you win. There are a lot of people that have a lot of responsibilities for each one of these things. And look, you’re never perfect. I’m never perfect. Our product sometimes comes under attack, and rightfully so. But all in all, it’s about the fans – [that] they have a great experience. Sometimes it’s not perfect. You’re going to make mistakes and that happens. We’ve moved on. We had a real big win, a nice big spotlight, and now we’re on to New England.”

The scoreboard operator used pictures of Manning and Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers to get fans to alternate between cheering and booing, which Manning didn’t find funny. Fox was asked if he felt that’s a serious problem.

“I think you take everything seriously, but at the end of the day, it’s not going to be perfect,” Fox said. “There are people working really hard. We’re all trying to do what’s best for the organization and sometimes it’s not perfect. That’s the way of life.”

Manning may want to have a word with the scoreboard operator, but Fox isn’t going to lose any sleep over it.

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O’Brien: Clowney has “a good shot” at suiting up Sunday

Jadeveon Clowney AP

After a six-game absence, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft could be back in the lineup Sunday for Houston.

Texans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney (knee) “has a good shot to play on Sunday,” head coach Bill O’Brien said Friday, according to Drew Dougherty of Texans TV.

The 21-year-old Clowney suffered a meniscus tear in Houston’s season-opening win vs. Washington and has not played since. He’s listed as one of the starters at outside linebacker in the Texans’ base 3-4 scheme.

The Texans (3-4) are two games behind Indianapolis in the NFC South. The Texans are favored at 2-5 Tennessee on Sunday. The Titans have changed starting quarterbacks, with rookie Zach Mettenberger given the top job.

The Texans’ final injury report will be released Friday afternoon.

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Jerry Jones may try to skirt new London rule in Super Bowl bid

Jones AP

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones hopes to host another Super Bowl.  (The next one preferably will come without a midweek ice storm — and with enough seats to match the tickets sold.)  But Jones may refrain from making a bid if it means losing a home game to London.

Or, more accurately, Jones possibly will make a bid that specifically excludes the new requirement to give up a future home game.

“That will put a difficult caveat to our bid,” Jones said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas/Ft. Worth on Friday, via Calvin Watkins of ESPN.com.  “We probably will make a bid.  They tell you what they want in a bid, but you can make a bid without what they want in a bid.  So when you say, ‘They’re not going to give it to you.’  The owners still get to vote.  That’s pretty much limiting, and our home games are so important to us.  At this time, I’m not for sure how we’ll handle a bid; we’ll make a bid for a Super Bowl in the future. But that’s a head-scratcher if I would do it at a cost of a home game.”

Earlier this month, NFL owners voted to adopt a rule requiring any team that hosts a Super Bowl to give up a home game for London.  It took 24 owners to adopt that rule, and it presumably would take 24 owners to undo it.

Jones seems to think that a lower number could secure him an exception, if more than half of the owners eventually select his bid over one that commits to playing a home game in London.  This assumes that Jones’ bid would even make it to a formal vote, if his bid attempts to foist onto the process a mandatory term that the league intends to apply to all Super Bowl host cities.

If that works for Jones, then the solution for all other host cities will be simple — add the same caveat to your bid, and no one will ever have to lose a home game in order to win the right to host a Super Bowl.

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Raiders want to get Maurice Jones-Drew more work

San Diego Chargers v Oakland Raiders Getty Images

The Raiders signed several veteran free agents this offseason, but haven’t got much return from those investments so far this year.

Coach Tony Sparano would like that to change for one member of that crew. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew has 18 carries for 48 yards so far this season and Sparano would like to see both numbers rise in the near future, although he also noted that the team needs the offense to be on the field longer if they are going to make that happen.

“We need to get Maurice more snaps,” Sparano said, via ESPN.com. “I think the plan is to try to get him involved a little bit more if we can do that now. One of the things we have to do is in order to get people more snaps, we have to play more snaps. In the ballgame the other day, really the ball was snapped 49 times and one of them was a kneel-down at the end of the half. So the ball was snapped 49 times, you’re not getting an awful lot of plays out there and that hurts you a little bit. But we need to get him involved more and try to do that, and that takes a little bit off of Darren in some of those situations. It keeps both of those guys fresher. We need to be able to do that.”

The Browns have allowed 155.5 yards per game on the ground, so this could be a good week for them to try to both extend drives and find more work for Jones-Drew. Of course, the Raiders are giving up 145.3 yards each week when they’re on defense so the Browns could be having similar thoughts about how to approach the contest.

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Harvin says he won’t be changing

Harvin AP

Jets receiver Percy Harvin has had rocky times at the University of Florida, at Minnesota, and ultimately at Seattle.  So will his experiences change his behavior/approach in New York?

No, not at all,” Harvin told Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post on Friday.

This meshes with Harvin’s prior explanation that the Jets have told him to be himself.  Although that’s what sort of created the mess that allowed him to be available to be traded.

Coach Rex Ryan made it clear that Harvin’s history won’t be held against him in New York.”What’s in the past is in the past,” Ryan said.

He’s right, but those who forget the past are damned to repeat it.  So Harvin won’t change and the Jets don’t care and, eventually, we’ll be hearing about all the things that happened with Harvin, and no one will be surprised.

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Sam Shields doubtful for Sunday night

Alshon Jeffery, Sam Shields AP

The Packers are expected to be without one of their starting cornerbacks for a second consecutive game.

Sam Shields (knee) is doubtful for Sunday’s matchup against the Saints in New Orleans, according to the Packers’ website.

If Shields is again out, Davon House will get the start at right cornerback for the Packers, who have won four games in a row.

The 26-year-old Shields played and started in each of the Packers’ first six games, intercepting two passes and notching 14 tackles.

House, Tramon Williams and Casey Hayward figure to play the bulk of the snaps at cornerback for Green Bay, with Jarrett Bush the fourth corner against the Saints’ strong passing game.

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A.J. Green unlikely to play this week

A.J. Green AP

Any lingering hopes that wide receiver A.J. Green would return to the Bengals lineup this Sunday are on life support at this point.

Green missed practice again on Friday, making it a clean sweep of the three workouts this week, and the team has listed him as doubtful. While coach Marvin Lewis wouldn’t rule Green out and said that players have played without practicing in the past, he also said that the team wanted to be sure that Green could hold up once he does dress for a game.

“We’re trying to get over the hump and find the solution other than totally shutting him down for the rest of the season. [A solution] that gets him as much of the season we can get him,” Green said, via the team’s website. “I don’t want him to be frustrated by it. I want him to feel good about it. When he tells me he’s ready to go. Guys deal all the time with different circumstances. In his mind, when he’s 100 percent ready to deal with that.”

One imagines that the ability to get through an entire practice would be a prerequisite to convincing the team that he’s fit enough to play all 60 minutes in a game, although it’s certainly understandable that the Bengals are hopeful of finding a way to get Green back in the lineup after going three weeks without a victory.

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Jay Gruden: Call on RG3 playing will be made on Monday

Tennessee Titans v Washington Redskins Getty Images

Earlier this week, Redskins coach Jay Gruden pointed to Week 11 as a likely date for quarterback Robert Griffin III to make his return from a dislocated ankle when he said that the team would have “a couple weeks to make sure it’s ready” thanks to the team’s bye in Week 10.

It’s not time to rule Griffin out of Monday night’s game against the Cowboys, though. Gruden said Friday that a decision about Griffin, who took some first-team reps on Friday, playing on Monday night would not be made until Monday.

For his part, Griffin said, via Mike Jones of the Washington Post, that they weren’t going to rush the ankle but followed Gruden’s lead by adding that there wasn’t a decision about what that meant for Monday night.

The two thoughts that come to mind are that Gruden would like to keep Dallas guessing about who will be the team’s quarterback or that Griffin is showing Gruden more as the week progresses than the coach thought he was capable of doing. When Colt McCoy is the other choice, the first option is likely to be of limited value but it still seems the likelier choice given all the other signals coming from Washington’s camp.

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