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PFT’s Week Five picks

Luck AP

The gap has been narrowed from three games to two, thanks to 10-5 showing last week.  The good news for MDS, who went a mere 9-6, was that he had his first hole in one of the year, picking the Seahawks to beat the Texans by the score of 23-20.  (I’d be really impressed if he also predicted overtime.)

For the year, MDS leads with a mark of 43-20, or 68.2 percent.  I’m closing in on him with a 41-22 mark, which equates to 65 percent.

This week, we disagree on 21.4 percent of the games.  Read on for our takes and our picks.

Bills at Browns

MDS’s take: Browns fever is sweeping the nation! OK, that’s a slight overstatement, but this team is playing very well, especially on defense, where new coordinator Ray Horton deserves an enormous amount of credit. Cleveland will beat Buffalo and improve to 3-0 since allegedly giving up on the season by trading Trent Richardson.

MDS’s pick: Browns 17, Bills 14.

Florio’s take:  The Bills are too banged up and the Browns, two weeks after they supposedly abandoned their season, are too strong on defense and sufficiently competent on offense to lose.  With two home wins only four days apart, they’ll soon have to call it the Factory of Gladness.

Florio’s pick:  Browns 20, Bills 14.

Saints at Bears

MDS’s take: The Bears’ defense is missing Henry Melton and struggled against Detroit’s offense last week. This week an even better New Orleans offense is heading to Chicago, and the Bears’ defense will struggle again.

MDS’s pick: Saints 28, Bears 24.

Florio’s take:  The Saints are much improved, but they’re still not the same team when they exit the Superdome.  The winless Bucs nearly beat them in Tampa; the much better Bears will finish the job on the choppy turf of Soldier Field.

Florio’s pick:  Bears 24, Saints 21.

Patriots at Bengals

MDS’s take: The Patriots will miss Vince Wilfork’s presence on the defensive line. Look for Bengals running back Giovani Bernard to have a big day as the Patriots suffer their first loss of the season.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 21, Patriots 20.

Florio’s take:  The Bengals are learning how to be a good team.  A week after failing to win a game they should have, the Bengals find a way to prevail in a contest many assume they’ll lose.  And down goes another of the undefeated.

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 27, Patriots 24.

Lions at Packers

MDS’s take: The Lions have lost 22 in a row in Green Bay. The last time the Lions beat the Packers on the road, it was 1991 and the starting quarterbacks in the game were Erik Kramer and Mike Tomczak. The Lions are just not very good at Lambeau Field. The streak will continue for another year.

MDS’s pick: Packers 27, Lions 20.

Florio’s take:  Earlier this year, the Lions won for the first time ever in Washington.  And now it could be time to win in Green Bay for the first time since the year before Brett Favre arrived.  But the Packers are rested and ready and healed (for the most part) after a bye week.  More importantly, they’re desperate to avoid a 1-3 start to the season.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 31, Lions 24.

Seahawks at Colts

MDS’s take: The Seahawks tend to struggle on the road, and the Colts are playing excellent football, looking even better than last year’s surprise playoff team. So my head is telling me to pick Indianapolis. But my gut is telling me Russell Wilson is going to have an easier time finding open receivers in the Colts’ secondary than Andrew Luck will have finding open receivers in the Seahawks’ secondary, and that will be the difference.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 28, Colts 27.

Florio’s take
:  Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton won’t be allowing former Stanford cornerback (and receiver) Richard Sherman to spot any tendencies or tells this week.  If the Colts can outscore the 49ers by 20 in their own building, the Colts can outscore the Seahawks by at least one at home.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 24, Seahawks 23.

Ravens at Dolphins

MDS’s take: Perhaps it’s premature, four weeks into the season, to say this about the defending Super Bowl champion. But I just don’t think the Ravens are a very good team. The Dolphins’ defense had plenty of flaws on display in Monday night’s loss to the Saints, but the Ravens’ suspect offensive line is going to make it easy for the Dolphins to get to Joe Flacco.

MDS’s pick: Dolphins 31, Ravens 17.

Florio’s take:  In 2007, the Dolphins got their only win of the season against the Ravens.  This year, it will be one of a lot more than one.  While it’s too early to write off Baltimore, it’s too late to consider them a viable candidate to knock off the improved Dolphins in Miami.

Florio’s pick:  Dolphins 27, Ravens 20.

Eagles at Giants

MDS’s take: Other than the first half of Week One, the Eagles haven’t looked particularly good this season. But the Giants have looked downright awful. The NFC East is such a bad division that even at 0-4 the Giants aren’t out of it yet, but they’ll drop to 0-5 on Sunday.

MDS’s pick: Eagles 27, Giants 17.

Florio’s take:  Forget the 0-4 record.  The Giants are only two games out of first place, and they can pull to within one with a win over Philly and a Dallas loss to the Broncos.  Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning finally find a way to a win.  (And I’ll keep saying that until they finally do.)

Florio’s pick:  Giants 27, Eagles 19.

Jaguars at Rams

MDS’s take: I’d pick anyone to beat the Jaguars. Easily. This Jacksonville team is as bad an NFL team as I’ve ever seen, and I remember the 2008 Lions well.

MDS’s pick: Rams 34, Jaguars 17.

Florio’s take:  What’s more likely, the Broncos going 16-0 or the Jaguars going 0-16?  This week, we’ll remain on track for “both.”

Florio’s pick:  Rams 27, Jaguars 10.

Chiefs at Titans

MDS’s take: In this matchup of two surprise AFC playoff contenders, I probably would have picked Tennessee if Jake Locker were healthy. But with Locker out, the Chiefs will improve to 5-0. Who saw that coming?

MDS’s pick: Chiefs 20, Titans 14.

Florio’s take:  Alex Smith gets his first crack at a Gregg Williams defense since proof emerged of Williams telling his players to hurt Smith.  The bigger problem for the Titans is that quarterback Jake Locker is hurt.  So which Ryan Fitzpatrick shows up — the one from before he got paid by the Bills, or after?

Florio’s pick
:  Chiefs 21, Titans 17.

Panthers at Cardinals

MDS’s take: The Panthers won’t catch the Saints in the NFC South, and the Cardinals won’t catch the Seahawks in the NFC West. But the winner of this game will have to feel like it’s in very good position to emerge as an NFC wild card contender. I think it’s going to be the Panthers, who have an offense that’s capable of putting a lot of points on the board. I don’t see Arizona’s offense keeping up.

MDS’s pick: Panthers 31, Cardinals 17.

Florio’s take:  For Carolina, the bye week makes many forget a dominant performance against the Giants.  Not me.  The defense is clicking and the offense is doing enough to outpace a better-than-expected Arizona team in its own building.

Florio’s pick:  Panthers 24, Cardinals 21.

Broncos at Cowboys

MDS’s take: This is the flip side of what I said earlier about the Jaguars: I’d pick the Broncos to beat anyone. (Although I’d probably have to think long and hard about it if they played at Seattle.) The Broncos are the best team in football and will improve to 5-0, while the Cowboys will fall to 2-3, which in the NFC East is still good enough for first place.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 35, Cowboys 21.

Florio’s take:  Jerry Jones wants Tony Romo to be Peyton Manning.  Tony Romo is no Peyton Manning.  Jerry Jones will get to see it up close on Sunday.  To his dismay.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 42, Cowboys 24.

Chargers at Raiders

MDS’s take: In the midnight special, Philip Rivers will put up big numbers against a suspect Raiders defense. The winners will be the Chargers and the losers will be any fans who stay up to watch the whole game and have to be at work on Monday morning.

MDS’s pick: Chargers 28, Raiders 20.

Florio’s takeTerrelle Pryor has created hope for the Raiders, but that doesn’t mean there will be wins.  The Chargers are the better team on both sides of the ball, and quarterback Philip Rivers is reminding everyone that he’s still a franchise quarterback.

Florio’s pick:  Chargers 26, Raiders 20.

Texans at 49ers

MDS’s take: This is a big one for two teams that entered the season with Super Bowl aspirations and are now looking up at better teams in their own divisions. San Francisco’s defense will miss Aldon Smith, but they’ll still be able to get enough pressure on Matt Schaub to force him into another disappointing game.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 24, Texans 20.

Florio’s take:  A pair of Super Bowl contenders that have failed to meet expectations meet in San Francisco with the expectation that the 49ers will win.  Expect that to happen, with the Niners sticking with a smash-mouth attack and the Texans sliding under .500 — and possibly two games out of first place in the AFC South.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 24, Texans 17.

Jets at Falcons

MDS’s take: Geno Smith may develop into a good quarterback eventually, but right now he’s a mess, and Monday night he’s going to have a particularly tough time when playing with a depleted receiving corps. The Jets’ defense is good enough to keep this game low scoring, but the Falcons will force multiple turnovers and control this game.

MDS’s pick: Falcons 17, Jets 6.

Florio’s take:  The surprisingly 1-3 Falcons host the surprisingly 2-2 Jets in a game with an outcome that will surprise no one.  Folks who stayed up late to watch Chargers-Raiders will get to catch up on their sleep by turning in at halftime, and in the morning they’ll find out whether the Falcons once again blew a big lead.  What has two thumbs and thinks they won’t?

Florio’s pick:  Falcons 42, Jets 17.

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Russell Okung not ruled out, Max Unger has chance to play against Cardinals

Dallas Cowboys v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said left tackle Russell Okung has yet to be ruled out for this week’s game against the Arizona Cardinals.

“He’s still in the mix,” Carroll said. “He’s going to have some stuff done tomorrow that will let us know where he sits and all that. He’s not out of the plan yet.”

Carroll said Monday that Okung would likely miss 1-2 weeks due to a bruised lung suffered against the San Francisco 49ers. Okung was replaced by Alvin Bailey for the remainder of the game after Okung was injured on the final play of the first half.

Center Max Unger did not practice on Wednesday as Carroll said Unger was struggling to recover from the workload he went through in practice last Friday.

“He had a tough recovery from last Friday’s practice so he’s gonna be not going today, so we’ll see how he is tomorrow,” Carroll said. “We’re taking it one day at a time now. It’s close enough where we have a chance [to get him back].”

Unger has missed the last four games for Seattle after suffered a sprained ankle and knee injuries against the Kansas City Chiefs. Lemuel Jeanpierre and Patrick Lewis have started in Unger’s absence the last several weeks.

With Seattle giving up seven sacks to the Cardinals the last time they placed four weeks ago, the Seahawks could use Okung and Unger healthy and in the lineup. The game will either give the Cardinals the NFC West and home field advantage throughout the playoffs or put the Seahawks in the driver’s seat to accomplish both feats heading into the final week of the regular season.

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Lions claim Josh Thomas off waivers from the Jets

New York Jets v Kansas City Chiefs Getty Images

Cornerback Josh Thomas was released by the New York Jets on Tuesday after having his playbook and passport stolen.

However, Thomas wasn’t out of work long as he was claimed off waivers by the Detroit Lions on Wednesday.

Thomas played in one game for the Jets and appeared in three games for the Seattle Seahawks earlier this season. He spent the previous three years with the Carolina Panthers. He recorded two tackles and two passes defended.

To make room on the roster, the Lions placed tackle LaAdrian Waddle on injured reserve. Waddle started 10 games for the Lions this season before suffering a knee injury last week against the Minnesota Vikings.

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Russell Wilson moves on from Bus Cook

Russell AP

As quarterback Russell Wilson closes in on the payday for which he becomes eligible the day after Week 17 ends, he’ll have a new agent to help him.

Per Adam Schefter of ESPN, Wilson has parted ways with Bus Cook, who has represented Wilson since he was drafted in 2012.  And as further proof of the carefully-manicured Russell Wilson image, the leak to Schefter came with an obvious request that the move be characterized as something other than what it really is.

“A source close to Wilson said Cook was not fired, but simply the quarterback was making a change,” Schefter wrote on Facebook.

Sure, Wilson was making a change.  He was making a change by firing Cook.

You can’t change an agent without firing the agent.  Unless Cook resigned or retired (and he didn’t), Wilson initiated the process of changing agents; Wilson fired Cook.

(Why would Schefter push something so obviously not true, you may ask?  Bookmark this page for when Schefter breaks the news that Wilson has signed a new mega-contract with a Seahawks.)

Wilson eventually will hire Mark Rodgers, a baseball-certified agent who currently has no active NFL clients, according to the NFLPA website.  Eventually, Rodgers will have a fairly big one — and his first order of business will be to negotiate a contract that cuts against the recent trend of paying young quarterbacks on a year-to-year basis.

But, hey, at least Rodgers won’t have to worry about getting fired if Wilson’s next contract is lacking.

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Bears may be protecting Cutler against injury

Cutler Getty Images

Question:  What team benches a quarterback who signed a contract that pays him $22.5 million in 2014 and another fully-guaranteed $15.5 million in 2015?

Answer:  A team that doesn’t want an injury to derail a plan to trade or cut the quarterback.

Yes, Cutler will get $2.8125 million to not play in the final two weeks of the season.  It’s an obvious effort to keep Cutler healthy, so that he can be dangled in the offseason to a team that would be willing to assume Cutler’s contract.

The cap hit for trading Cutler would be fairly small, given that his 2014 pay started as a fully-guaranteed base salary.  In March, $5 million was converted to a signing bonus, clearing $4 million in cap space that assisted with the signing of defensive end Jared Allen.  That $4 million would hit the 2015 cap if Cutler is traded, but it would clear $11.5 million in total cap space for the next season.  And it would get the Bears off the hook for $15.5 million that they owe Cutler whether he’s on the team or not.

So while the decision to bench Cutler is a message to the player and the fans that poor performances won’t be tolerated, it’s actually a message to every other team in the league.  Cutler is available.

Who would possibly trade for Cutler?  That’ll be the subject of another post.

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Michigan reportedly makes run at Jim Harbaugh

Harbaugh Getty Images

When it first became obvious Brady Hoke wouldn’t be back next year as head coach of the Michigan Wolverines, a report suggested that the folks at Ann Arbor were more interested in John Harbaugh (who didn’t go to Michigan) than Jim (who did).

Now, Michigan apparently has a keen interest in the soon-to-be-former 49ers coach.

Per multiple reports, Michigan has offered Harbaugh the job.  The package leaked to the media would pay Harbaugh $8 million per year over six years.

That’s far more than Harbaugh currently makes in San Francisco, and far more than the 49ers had offered in failed negotiations on a new deal.  The impasse arose, as one source with knowledge of the talks previously told PFT, because Harbaugh wanted to be paid like a Super Bowl-winning coach without, you know, winning a Super Bowl.

If the offer from Michigan, where it’s easy to finance a large coaching salary since the players get jack squat and free snacks, is real, he’d be paid like a Super Bowl-winning coach without winning a Super Bowl and without ever competing for one for as long as he’s at Michigan.

The leak and its origin suggest that Harbaugh’s agent hopes to use the offer as leverage in talks with interested NFL teams.  If Michigan will pay $8 million per year, how much will the Raiders, Dolphins, or other interested team fork over?  With the talent gap among teams as narrow as ever, a great coach can be the difference between mediocrity and a championship; great coaches at the NFL are worth far more than they currently get.

The possibility that Harbaugh will leave for Michigan also pressures Jed York and company to be very reasonable in any trade talks regarding Harbaugh.  If he chooses to go back to college, the 49ers get nothing.

Then again, the 49ers may prefer that outcome, since they wouldn’t have to worry about Harbaugh finishing with another franchise that which he started in San Francisco.

Meanwhile, some have suggested that Harbaugh wouldn’t use his alma mater as leverage for a better NFL job.  Why shouldn’t he?  Harbaugh played football there at a high level.  In return he got jack squat, without the free snacks.

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Bears bench Jay Cutler, start Jimmy Clausen

Jimmy Clausen, Micheal Spurlock AP

The Bears’ collapse has reached epic proportions, as Jay Cutler has lost his job as Chicago’s starting quarterback.

Cutler has been benched and Jimmy Clausen will start on Sunday against the Lions, Adam Schefter of ESPN reports.

For Cutler to get benched after playing just 14 games into the enormous contract he signed this offseason demonstrates just how big the mess in Chicago is. That contract may cost both Bears G.M. Phil Emery and Bears coach Marc Trestman their jobs.

And Cutler’s play has already cost him his job. Whether Cutler has any future in Chicago or anywhere else in the NFL remains to be seen, and the Bears owe Cutler a guaranteed salary of $15.5 million next season whether he’s on their team or not.

But at the present, Cutler is out, and Clausen is the Bears’ starting quarterback.

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Hot stove alert: Free agency begins March 10

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Dislike your favorite team’s roster? Take heart: By St. Patrick’s Day, it could be much, much different.

The 2015 NFL league year will begin Tuesday, March 10, the NFL disclosed Wednesday as it released the opening portion of its annual calendar.

With the new league year comes the start of unrestricted free agency, one of the primary ways for clubs to procure talent. Even then, at the outset, the market will be somewhat thinned; teams must declare their transition and franchise free agents by Monday, March 2. The fight for the remaining free agents will begin in earnest on Saturday, March 7, with teams allowed to begin negotiating with agents.

Then, at 4 p.m. Eastern on the 10th, the market will open, and deals will quickly be announced.

By March 17 — three months from today — things will have cooled down. Some deals will remain undone, but the big ones will be in the books. A nation of football fans will wear more green than usual and ponder which of the pre-draft chatter is legit and which is junk.

About the 2015 NFL Draft: it kicks off Thursday, April 30 in Chicago. By the time it wraps up on Saturday, May 2, we will have a very good idea of where these teams stand.

At least we’ll think we know. The good news? Rookie minicamps begin the next week. Already you will be tired of the offseason, and the sight of 7-on-7 drills will take your mind off the fact you’re wearing more pastels than usual this spring.

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Manziel says Browns were “a little off” on Sunday

Manziel AP

It’s getting fairly late in the calender for the “Understatements of the Year,” but Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel has offered up an impressive entry for belated consideration.

“I think we were just a little off on Sunday,” Manziel told reporters on Wednesday regarding the zero-point, 107-yard output at home against the Bengals on Sunday.

Manziel then offered up a little Lion King-style philosophizing.

“Last week is last week, and last week is in the past,” Manziel said.  “It’s not about anything having to do with last week.  That’s in the past.  Now, it’s just how do we come out and have a good game this week and how do we come out and be efficient. It all starts with today and starts with getting our game plan in and going out and running it well on our first day of practice.  I felt like we had a good day today. It’s a start for us this week, and now we continue to build on that and work off that throughout the week.”

Manziel also said he thought they had a good week last week, so his assessment of whether it’s going well has proven to be a bad barometer of whether the Browns can avoid being a bad team with the rookie under center on Sunday against the Panthers.  And Manziel knows he needs to do something the next two week to show he’s the answer for 2015 and beyond.

“Play better,” Manziel said.  “Plain and simple.  This position here is about results, and it’s about getting the job done.  You’ve got to do that to be on the field in this league.  For me, that was a first start, and that’s something I’ll remember forever.  Unfortunately, it leaves a sour taste in my mouth, but at the same time, I’ve had bad games in college.  I’ve had bad games in the past, and it’s part of football.  You can’t go out and play perfect every week.  That’s a proven fact.”

It’s a proven fact that Manziel was the opposite of perfect against the Bengals.  He’ll need to be better than that soon or that homeless dude who advocated Manziel being picked to the owner will be giving Jimmy Haslam far different advice in 2015.

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Mike Pettine on Bernie Kosar’s comments: They were a little dramatic

Cincinnati Bengals v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

Former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar ripped the organization this week for having a culture that is “a complete recipe for disaster” when it comes to developing the team’s first long-term answer at quarterback since Kosar was turfed by Bill Belichick more than 20 years ago.

Tim Couch, one of the fallen would-be saviors, agreed with Kosar, which all but guaranteed that questions about their comments would pop up during coach Mike Pettine’s meetings with the media this week. Pettine faced some on Wednesday and defended the organization’s commitment to building a winner the right way.

“I think that’s a little dramatic. I know I talked about this before when sometimes guys will make comments that are a little bit over the top,” Pettine said, via the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “I have a lot of respect for Bernie. He was one of my favorite guys growing up, heck of a quarterback. He’s entitled to his opinion, but being here on the inside of it and seeing what we’re building … We’re in the society of instant gratification. Everybody wants it to happen now, and as much as we want that to happen, it is a process. When you build a house you’ve got to build it from the foundation. You’ve got to build the right way and make sure it’s rock solid. We’re in the middle of that. I get people are going to have their opinions and say what they say, but a lot more of that happens when you’ve lost three in a row. I didn’t hear a lot of that when we had just gotten our seventh win.”

Clearly there’s been something wrong on the organizational level in Cleveland for the team to fail as regularly as they’ve failed since re-entering the league in 1999 and anything that goes badly at this point gets chalked up as being the same old story told in a slightly different way. That’s not fair to Pettine, Johnny Manziel or anyone else who just got to town, relatively speaking, but it’s going to be a reality of life in Cleveland until the Browns are consistent winners.

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Marc Trestman: It’s evident I haven’t gotten best from Jay Cutler

New Orleans Saints v Chicago Bears Getty Images

For the second straight week, Bears coach Marc Trestman is getting questions about benching quarterback Jay Cutler in favor of Jimmy Clausen.

Trestman resisted any temptation to make a change last week and he’s doing the same this week, although he stuck with Cutler while admitting something that’s been apparent to everyone who has watched the Bears on offense this season. Trestman said that he thinks “it’s been evident” that he’s failed to get the best out of Cutler during the 2014 season.

“I haven’t been able [to get the best from Cutler] and we haven’t been able to do the things that we want to get done,” Trestman said, via ESPNChicago.com. “We’re working towards that. But the answer to that is obvious. I’m trying to give you the most truthful answer and that is, we’ve seen moments of it, but it’s not where we need to go. It’s not where we need to be. But it’s not all about Jay. It’s about our entire offense, working together to get it done.”

The question lingering over the Bears right now is whether Trestman will get more time to work with Cutler and the entire offense or if they’ll fire him after a second season as coach that has gone wrong in a wide variety of ways. The failure to get more out of the offense is as damning as anything for Trestman because his offensive acumen is what got him the job in the first place, although it remains hard to believe that Trestman or anyone else is going to find a way to turn Cutler into a radically different quarterback than the one he’s been over the first nine years of his career.

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Painkiller lawsuit dismissed

image2 Getty Images

When a group of former players sued the NFL for the improper distribution of painkillers by team doctors, the effort got a lot more traction in the media than the concussion lawsuits received in their early stages.  Viewed as the next wave of liability for a league plagued with safety concerns, it was presumed by many that the NFL was on the ropes, from a legal perspective.

While the concussion lawsuit ended up generating significant liability for the NFL, the painkiller lawsuit apparently will create none.

U.S. Judge William Alsup has dismissed the lawsuit, explaining that it is preempted by the Collective Bargaining Agreements governing the relationship between the NFL and its players.

“In ruling against the novel claims asserted herein, this order does not minimize the underlying societal issue,” Judge Alsup wrote in a 22-page order, a copy of which PFT has obtained. “In such a rough-and-tumble sport as professional football, player injuries loom as a serious and inevitable evil. Proper care of these injuries is likewise a paramount need. The main point of this order is that the league has addressed these serious concerns in a serious way — by imposing duties on the clubs via collective bargaining and placing a long line of health-and-safety duties on the team owners themselves. These benefits may not have been perfect but they have been uniform across all clubs and not left to the vagaries of state common law. They are backed up by the enforcement power of the union itself and the players’ right to enforce these benefits. Given the regime in place after decades of collective bargaining over the scope of these duties, it would be impossible to fashion and to apply new and supplemental state common law duties on the league without taking into accountvthe adequacy and scope of the CBA duties already set in place.”

In other words, if individual teams and/or individual team doctors have been prescribing medication improperly, the players should pursue claims directly against the teams, through the arbitration procedures available under the labor deal.

The ruling doesn’t account for the period when there was no CBA, following the 1987 strike and until 1993.  Still, even without the Collective Bargaining Agreement, it seems that it would have been difficult if not impossible for former players to prove that the NFL has responsibility for the actions of its teams.

“The essence of plaintiffs’ claim for relief is that the individual clubs mistreated their players and the league was negligent in failing to intervene and stop their alleged mistreatment,” Judge Alsup wrote.  “Plaintiffs anchor this claim for relief in supposed common law duties of each of the various states whose law would apply and vaguely suggest that all such states would impose the same uniform duty on the league to oversee the clubs.

“One problem is this: no decision in any state (including California) has ever held that a professional sports league owed such a duty to intervene and stop mistreatment by the league’s independent clubs.”

Judge Alsup gave the players until December 30 to file a motion for permission to amend the complaint that states a viable legal cause of action. The players also have appeal rights. So while the case isn’t over, it’s the players who are now on the ropes, from a legal perspective.

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Andre Johnson practices as Texans weigh quarterback options

Tennessee Titans v Houston Texans Getty Images

The good news for the Texans passing game is that wide receiver Andre Johnson returned to practice on Wednesday after missing last week while recovering from a concussion.

With the Ravens shuffling another new cornerback into their injury-depleted corps this week, having Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins available would seem to give the Texans a sound route of attack come Sunday. That brings us to the bad news.

The Texans are without their top three quarterbacks, leaving them to decide between Thad Lewis and the recently reacquired Case Keenum for starting quarterback duties against Baltimore. On Wednesday, Texans coach Bill O’Brien said he’s closing in on a decision that he doesn’t plan to share with anyone outside the team.

“The team has a pretty good idea which way we are going,” O’Brien said, via the Houston Chronicle.

Whoever does get tabbed will be running an offense that’s pared down to what “the position can handle,” according to quarterbacks coach George Godsey. We’re guessing that’s not an onslaught of passes deep downfield, but we’ll have to wait until Sunday to find that out as well.

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Philip Rivers held out of practice, expected to play

Philip Rivers AP

Philip Rivers‘ tough-guy credentials are well-established. Playing with a torn ACL earns you that much.

But even Philip Rivers needs a day off.

According to Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego, Rivers was held out of practice Wednesday with chest and back injuries.

Rivers has started 128 consecutive games since winning the starting job in 2006, and has played through plenty of aches and pains.

They still hope he’s going to be able to play Saturday night against the 49ers.

“I feel good,” Rivers said Tuesday. ‘I’ll be ready to roll on Saturday evening.”

Head coach Mike McCoy took it a step further today, telling reporters “I expect him to play.”

He wasn’t the only one missing, as the Chargers were without wide receiver Keenan Allen (collarbone), running back Ryan Mathews (ankle), tight end Ladarius Green (ankle) and defensive end Corey Liuget (ankle).

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Dexter McCluster out Thursday, likely out Week 17 as well

New York Jets v Tennessee Titans Getty Images

The Titans signed Dexter McCluster as a free agent to add to their offense and special teams, but his first year in Tennessee looks like it will come to a premature end.

McCluster has been ruled out for Thursday night’s game against the Jaguars because of a knee injury and Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean reports that it sounds like he’ll be out for the season finale against the Colts as well. If that’s the case, McCluster will miss out on the chance to end a disappointing year on a high note.

McCluster ran 40 times for 131 yards and caught 26 passes for 197 yards while failing to make the same kind of impact on punt returns that he had while returning two kicks for touchdowns for the Chiefs in 2013. McCluster signed a three-year deal worth a total of $9 million with $4.5 million guaranteed and he’s set to count $3.35 million against the cap next year.

Left tackle Taylor Lewan (ankle) and quarterback Zach Mettenberger (shoulder) are both doubtful for Tennessee, which means we’re going to see Charlie Whitehurst start for the fourth time this season. Tight end Delanie Walker (knee) and wide receiver Kendall Wright (hand) are both questionable for the clash between 2-12 teams.

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49ers cut Ray McDonald amid rape investigation

San Francisco 49ers v Houston Texans Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers have released defensive lineman Ray McDonald, hours after news broke that police searched his home in connection with an investigation into a sexual assault.

General Manager Trent Baalke said the 49ers made the decision to terminate McDonald’s contract because of a pattern of behavior that the team finds unacceptable.

That represents a sharp contrast from the 49ers’ approach to McDonald early this season. When McDonald was arrested and investigated in a domestic violence case, the 49ers steadfastly stood by him, even as they faced harsh criticism from those who said he had no business on the field at a time when Ray Rice, Greg Hardy and Adrian Peterson were all banished from the league. In that case, authorities ultimately decided not to charge McDonald.

There’s no word yet on whether McDonald will be charged in the new sexual assault case, but it’s clear that the 49ers have decided that McDonald is someone they no longer want representing their franchise.

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