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NFL morning after: Andy Reid’s amazing turnaround

Kansas City Chiefs v Tennessee Titans Getty Images

Peyton Manning is on pace for a zillion touchdowns, and Jimmy Graham is playing tight end as well as anyone has ever played the position, and Robert Mathis is on pace to break the single-season sack record. But if I had to pick one person who has done his job the best so far this season, it wouldn’t be any of those players — or any player. It would be Chiefs coach Andy Reid.

The job Reid has done, taking over a 2-14 team and getting off to a 5-0 start, is nothing short of remarkable. Last year’s Chiefs were a mess on offense, defense and special teams. This year’s Chiefs are playing outstanding football in all three phases of the game. If it wasn’t already clear before Sunday’s 26-17 win over a good Titans team in Tennessee, it’s clear now: The Chiefs are for real.

That’s a huge surprise, but maybe it shouldn’t be. After all, Reid — despite the way it ended for him in Philadelphia — has already shown with the Eagles that he’s one of the best coaches in the NFL.

There were fair criticisms of Reid during his Eagles tenure, and given the way things went south in Philadelphia last season, letting him go might have been the right move for the Eagles. But let’s not pretend Reid isn’t an outstanding coach. In 1999, the Eagles team Reid took over was terrible. A year later he had them in the playoffs, and Reid led the Eagles to the playoffs nine times from 2000 to 2010.

Yes, there are areas of coaching where Reid struggles, like managing the clock late in game. But the areas of coaching where Reid excels, like developing players, implementing an offensive system and devising weekly game plans, are the bulk of the work a coach does. That work might not be as visible as a clock-management miscue in crunch time, but it’s more important to building a good football team.

And building a good football team is exactly what Reid is doing in Kansas City. Reid’s offense is a good system for Alex Smith to do his usual unspectacular-but-efficient thing at quarterback, and for Jamaal Charles to show that he’s one of the best running backs in the NFL. But what I really like is what Reid did on defense, hiring Bob Sutton — a longtime college and pro coach who had never worked with Reid before — as his defensive coordinator. Reid took some criticism in Philadelphia for hiring and promoting his buddies (most notably former Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo) as assistant coaches. He wisely looked beyond his inner circle for his defensive staff, and it has worked. The Chiefs’ defense has been great against the pass all season, and on Sunday they also held Titans running back Chris Johnson to just 17 yards on 10 carries.

I don’t think the Chiefs are going to beat out the Broncos in the AFC West. But I do think they’re going to be a wild card team, and a tough team to beat in January. Andy Reid will have another Coach of the Year award to put on his mantel at the end of this season.

Reid’s coaching impressed me the most about Sunday’s games. Here are my other thoughts:

Seattle’s Jon Ryan may be the NFL’s fastest punter and worst tackler. Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka had a field goal blocked on Sunday in Indianapolis, and Colts defensive back Delano Howell picked up the ball and raced toward the end zone. Amazingly, Ryan, the Seahawks’ punter and holder, gave chase and actually caught Howell — yes, a punter ran down a defensive back. Unfortunately, Ryan totally whiffed on the tackle, and Howell went the rest of the way to the end zone, completing a 61-yard return for a touchdown. Ryan will probably take some ribbing from teammates this week for his pathetic excuse for a tackle, but no one expects kickers to be able to tackle. Howell will take more ribbing for letting a punter catch him from behind.

Lance Briggs, what are you thinking? On fourth-and-1 late in the game, the Saints lined up to go for it in one of those situations where everyone watching is saying the same thing: “The Saints are just trying to draw the Bears offside.” So what happens? Saints quarterback Drew Brees uses a hard count, Briggs jumps offside, and the Saints are gifted a first down. Briggs is supposed to be the veteran leader of the Bears’ defense, but he committed one of the bonehead plays of the day. You just can’t jump offside on fourth-and-short.

The Broncos are ridiculous. No team in NFL history has ever scored even 600 points in a season. The all-time record is 589, by the 16-0 Patriots of 2007. The Broncos scored 51 points in Sunday’s win over the Cowboys to improve their total on the season to 230, putting them on pace to score 736 this season. The Broncos’ 230 points are the most for any team through five games in NFL history. If the Broncos average 33 points a game the rest of the way, they’ll break the Patriots’ record.

Maybe Trent Richardson just isn’t very good. When the Browns traded Richardson to the Colts for a first-round draft pick, most people thought it was a bold move by the Colts and a wave of the white flag by the Browns. Instead, Cleveland has gone 3-0 since allegedly giving up on the season by shipping Richardson to Indianapolis, and Richardson hasn’t done much of anything for the Colts. Yes, the Colts are 3-0 with Richardson, but his impact on their offense has been negligible. On Sunday, Richardson carried 18 times for 56 yards, and 11 of his 16 carries gained two yards or less. As a rookie in Cleveland Richardson averaged 3.6 yards a carry, and in five games this season, Richardson has averaged 3.6, 3.2, 2.7, 3.0 and 3.1 yards a carry. Despite the talent he showed at Alabama, maybe Richardson just isn’t a good enough runner to consistently make plays at the professional level.

Johnny Unitas was amazing. Why was I thinking about Johnny Unitas on Sunday? Because Tom Brady’s streak of consecutive games with a touchdown pass ended at 52, and that got me to thinking about the all-time record for consecutive touchdown games with a touchdown pass, which Johnny Unitas owned from 1960 (when he set the old record of 47) until both Brady and Drew Brees passed Unitas last year. Just think how different the NFL passing environment was when Johnny Unitas was playing in the 1950s and 1960s. The officials weren’t protecting quarterbacks and receivers from hits on defenseless players, and defenders had far more leeway to rough up receivers downfield. In those days, you could lead the league with only 20 touchdown passes. And yet Unitas set a passing record that didn’t get broken until 2012. Amazing.

If the Jaguars didn’t have bad luck, they’d have no luck at all. When Jacksonville traded offensive tackle Eugene Monroe last week, I thought it made sense: The Jaguars aren’t going anywhere this season, and they might as well pick up a fourth-round pick and a fifth-round pick for Monroe now, rather than let Monroe leave in free agency for nothing after the season. But then came Sunday, when rookie left tackle Luke Joeckel was carted off the field with a leg injury. Losing Joeckel and not having Monroe anymore means the offensive line that will protect quarterback Blaine Gabbert the rest of this season will be brutally bad. I don’t know if the Jaguars will match the 0-16 Lions of 2008, but it’s hard for me to figure out when the Jaguars are going to win a game.

We may be witnessing the end of Tom Coughlin. I have a lot of respect for what Coughlin has done in his NFL coaching career, both his two Super Bowls with the Giants and the way he built the expansion Jaguars into contenders in the 1990s. But sometimes a coach just reaches a point where he can’t take his team any further, and Coughlin looks like he has reached that point with the Giants. Coughlin made some weird game management decisions in Sunday’s loss to the Eagles, including a bizarre decision not to decline a penalty after the Giants made a stop on third down (the Eagles converted on the ensuing play) and burning two timeouts in a row, first by calling one and then by getting a challenge wrong during that timeout. I’m not going to say the Giants should fire Coughlin and I’m not going to say he needs to retire. But I do think he looks like he could use a fresh start. Kind of like Andy Reid.

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Washington Post stops using Washington team name

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It’s not easy to cover an NFL team without ever mentioning its nickname.  But that’s precisely what the Washington Post will do, from this point forward.

The Post has announced that it will stop using the team’s name, most of the time.

“While we wait for the NFL to catch up with public opinion and common decency we have decided not to use the slur ourselves except when it is essential for clarity or effect,” the newspaper said.

While it’s unclear why or how the Post would need to use the name for clarity or effect, it’s smart to leave a loophole, since the newspaper is in, you know, Washington.

The Washington NFL team, through spokesman Tony Wyllie, called the move “no surprise.”

“The editorial board has been opposed to the Washington Redskins name for more than 30 years,” Wyllie said, inadvertently gutting one of the knee-jerk argument from the name truthers, who insist that opposition has arisen only recently. “We just wish they would have had taken us up on our offer to visit several reservations to see how much Native Americans embrace and value the name and use it as their own logo and mascots across this country.”

That position ignores the reality that the National Congress of American Indians actively opposes the name. Which is no surprise, since the franchise generally continues to ignore the fact that the NCAI actively opposes the name.  If the franchise had simply ignored the debate in 2013 instead of attempting to engage or debunk it, the franchise probably wouldn’t be dealing with an issue that has now grown to the point where the biggest newspaper in the team’s market now refuses to use the name.

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Brandon Graham: I may not be a good fit, but I can get to the QB

brandongraham AP

Brandon Graham was the Eagles’ first-round pick under a different regime in 2010, but he has never looked like the right fit in the 3-4 defense preferred by head coach Chip Kelly and defensive coordinator Bill Davis. Graham understands that, but he also understands this: There’s always room on an NFL roster for a guy who can get to the quarterback.

So Graham, who got his second sack of the preseason on Thursday night, feels confident that he’ll play and play well for the Eagles this season. And if the Eagles cut him, Graham thinks he’ll play well for someone else.

It’s just a tricky situation,” Graham said, via CSNPhilly.com. “Hopefully, I’m here. If not, hopefully I can show somebody else that I can definitely get the job done, and that’s all I’m trying to do. I know I’m not the ideal size and I don’t play as good in space as I would like. I’m getting better at it, but it’s just one of those things where I know I can go get that quarterback, and I know I can play the run good. It’s just in space, I’m trying to get a lot better at that.”

Graham said he hopes the Eagles’ coaches will keep him on the roster because he believes the Eagles are ready for big things this year.

“I come in, practice every day, work hard and I just try to put it on film to show them that I can help this team win,” Graham said. “I’m just trying to secure a spot because I know how great we can be. I know I can get better, and that’s the thing. Man, if I’m here, I know I’m going to get better each week, because my attitude and focus is all about the team. I know we can take it to the next level, and I want to be here to see us win the championship. I want to be a part of it.”

If Graham isn’t a part of it in Philadelphia, he’ll catch on somewhere. Perhaps on a team with a defense that’s a better fit for his skills.

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Jim Harbaugh: “Very good chance” Glenn Dorsey returns this season

Glenn Dorsey AP

Immediately after defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey had biceps surgery, the 49ers were unsure whether or not he’d miss the entire season.

It’s been a few weeks since the operation and the team is optimistic that they haven’t seen the last of Dorsey in 2014. Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com reports that coach Jim Harbaugh said Friday that there is a “very good chance” that Dorsey is able to return to the team before the end of the year.

Harbaugh pegged the timetable for Dorsey’s return at three-and-a-half months, which would keep him out of the lineup until the final weeks of the regular season. If the 49ers season unfolds the way the last few have, the team should be in the hunt for the playoffs and/or the NFC West at that point and a healthy return would likely be welcomed given the way injuries can pile up over the course of the season.

If that time frame is accurate, the 49ers will have to either keep Dorsey on the roster as an inactive player or place him on injured reserve with the designation to return after at least eight weeks out of the lineup.

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Stephenson blames suspension on unspecified prescription medication

Stephenson AP

The NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy continues to ensnare anyone but cheaters.

The latest player to be suspended, Chiefs tackle Donald Stephenson, has become the latest to offer up an excuse unrelated to the intentional ingestion of a substance aimed at enhancing performance.

“”I’’m extremely sorry that I failed to check with the NFL, NFLPA, or Chiefs medical team before I took a medication that requires a therapeutic use exemption,” Stephenson said in a statement issued by the NFLPA.  “The rules are strict, and without at TUE, the consequence is a four game suspension.  I apologize to the Hunt family, John Dorsey, Coach Reid and his staff, my teammates, and our awesome Chiefs fans.  It is not a mistake I will ever make again.  I will train extremely hard during my time away from the team, and I will be ready to contribute to my team’s effort to win a Super Bowl as soon as I return.””

Stephenson doesn’t say that he had a prescription for the medication that he took.  He also doesn’t specify whether the medication is a stimulant or something that would help build muscle mass or speed recovery from injury.

For the Chiefs, it doesn’t matter.  For the second straight Friday, they’ve lost an offensive starter to a suspension.  (Last week, it was receiver Dwayne Bowe for one game under the substance-abuse policy.)  They’ll also be required, by league policy, to pay a share of Stephenson’s lost salary to the league in the form of a fine, since he becomes the second Chiefs player to be suspended this year.

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Dolphins cut bait on draft bust Michael Egnew

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Whenever a General Manager gets fired, his pet projects are living on borrowed time.

So when 2012 third-rounder Michael Egnew failed to progress, he was an easy mark for the Dolphins now that Jeff Ireland is gone.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, the Dolphins are waiving Egnew today.

Criticism of Egnew was common during Hard Knocks in his rookie season, and with the guy who picked him no longer in charge, it became easier to admit a draft mistake.

He caught seven passes for 69 yards last year, after appearing in just two games as a rookie.

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Jimmy Graham fined $30,000 for dunks over crossbar

Jimmy Graham AP

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham said that he’s done dunking balls over the crossbar, which will save his team penalty yards and save him money.

PFT has confirmed that Graham has been fined $30,000 for a pair of dunks following touchdowns during last week’s preseason game against the Titans. That’s a lot of money to spend for celebrating a touchdown even if Graham had been labeled a wide receiver during his franchise tag grievance earlier this offseason.

In addition to the fine, those dunks led to 15-yard penalties that prompted Saints coach Sean Payton to say he was “very upset” with Graham after the game. Ultimately, Graham, who predicted he’d lead the league in penalties after the rule was changed, promise not to do it anymore.

Should Graham go back on his word, the fines will go up now that he’s racked up a pair of offenses. Given how avoidable and damaging these penalties are, Payton might have to use stronger words than “very upset” to describe his feelings about Graham.

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AFL continues its rock-star affiliation

Neil Getty Images

Maybe Bon Jovi should have stuck with the AFL.

As the Arena Football League tries to become a rock-star outfit, more and more outfits are becoming owned by rock stars.

Last year, Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons of KISS purchased an expansion franchise in L.A.  This year, Vince Neil of Motley Crüe will own a new team that will be placed in Las Vegas.  The team will be known as the Outlaws.

“The opportunity came up to bring a franchise to Las Vegas and that’s where I’m from,” Neil said in a press release.  “Every guy wants to be an ‘outlaw’, so why not give them the Outlaws?”

Two other AFL franchises have played in Las Vegas, including the Gladiators, which moved from New Jersey before moving to Cleveland before qualifying for this year’s Arena Bowl.

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Chiefs tackle Donald Stephenson suspended four games for PEDs

Donald Stephenson AP

The Chiefs were already worried about rebuilding an offensive line, now they’re minus a big part of what was left.

The league announced that right tackle Donald Stephenson was suspended the first four games of the season for violating the performance enhancing substances policy.

Obviously losing Donald is disappointing, but we are in full compliance with the league’s policy,” the Chiefs said in a statement, via Terez Paylor of the Kansas City Star.

Stephenson issued a statement through his agent citing the now-common line that he took a medication without a “therapeutic use exemption,” which is the new version of the Adderall defense.

Coupled with the losses in free agency of Branden Albert, Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah, and the uneven play of 2013 No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher, the Chiefs didn’t need one more problem on the line.

But now they’ve got a big one, for the first quarter of the season.

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Report: Some Jets coaches disappointed Vick wasn’t more hell-bent on winning starting job

Indianapolis Colts v New York Jets Getty Images

Jets quarterback Michael Vick said that there’s pressure on Geno Smith to win and win now because there’s “really no patience” for quarterbacks in the NFL these days.

Although the Jets haven’t officially named Smith their starter to open the regular season, Vick makes it clear that’s where things are heading. It’s something he’s done all offseason, even as some members of the Jets staff and brass have insisted that there’s a more spirited competition than anyone has actually seen unfold. Vick’s said all the right things about Smith and his own backup role, so it would seem that all’s well with the team’s plan to have the veteran ready and waiting if Smith can’t handle the job.

That may not be the case, though. Jenny Vrentas of MMQB.com reports that some Jets coaches “have privately expressed disappointment that Vick didn’t show up more hell-bent on winning the starting job.” One would have to guess that those coaches weren’t the same ones involved with making decisions about the quarterbacks since that has always felt more like it was Smith’s job to lose than Vick’s to win.

“The last five years I spent in Philly, I had some great years and played in some great games and went through a lot. Now it’s an opportunity for me to refresh myself and take a step back away from the game. I’m kind of relishing the moment that I’m in right now,” Vick said. “I am not required to have to do a lot. Preserving my body right now is very important to me, and making sure I can make a strong push late in my career in case I am needed.”

There’s some resignation in his words, but would it really be better for the Jets if Vick was causing problems about not being the starter? He’s said multiple times that he still wants to start and his willingness to accept being Smith’s backup likely had something to do with the likelihood that he’ll be called on at some point this season and the way the Jets presented the situation to him. If there’s a problem with that answer, someone with the Jets should have asked different questions earlier in the process.

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Report: Delano Howell’s neck injury isn’t career ending

Indianapolis Colts v New York Giants Getty Images

Colts General Manager Ryan Grigson didn’t sound too many optimistic notes about safety Delano Howell’s neck injury earlier this week when he said that Howell would need to form an “opinion with his wife and his agent” about next steps.

Whatever those conversations might be, it doesn’t sound like they’ll involve bringing an end to his career. Mike Wells of ESPN.com reports that the injury is not going to force him to stop playing football.

Howell met with doctors this week to discuss the best course of action and, per Wells, the Colts are expected to speak with them on Friday about where things go from here. At that point the timetable for a return to the field will presumably start to take shape.

The injury knocks Howell out his presumed spot alongside LaRon Landry in the Colts defense. Mike Adams is the next man up in that spot.

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Geno Atkins to make preseason debut on Sunday night

Geno Atkins AP

One of the NFL most disruptive defensive tackles will reportedly return to the playing field on Sunday night.

Bengals lineman Geno Atkins, who hasn’t appeared in a game since suffering an ACL tear on October 31, is slated to play in Cincinnati’s exhibition at Arizona, coach Marvin Lewis said Friday, according to Paul Dehner Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer.

“He’s had a great couple weeks of practice. He looks like Geno. I’ve been impressed,” Lewis said Friday, according to the Enquirer.

The 26-year-old Atkins has recorded 29 sacks in four NFL seasons, including a career-best 12.5 in 2012. The Bengals signed him to a five-year, $55 million contract last September.

Sunday’s Bengals-Cardinals game will air at 8 p.m. Eastern on NBC’s Sunday Night Football.

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Bishop Sankey: I don’t plan on fumbling being a problem

Bishop Sankey, Daimion Stafford AP

Titans rookie running back Bishop Sankey has a shot to move ahead of veteran Shonn Greene into the top spot on the depth chart this summer as Greene dealt with knee problems, but he is at risk of fumbling it away.

Sankey has fumbled in each of the first two preseason games and displayed problems holding onto the ball in practice as well. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said Sankey needs to show more attention to details like footwork and exchanges with the quarterback because they are the root cause of the fumbles. Sankey appears to have taken the coach’s words to heart.

“You definitely can’t put the ball on the ground. I want to do everything right assignment-wise, execution-wise. That’s really my main focus each and every game, to help the team win,” Sankey said, via 247Sports.com. “It seems like a small detail, but it’s something you’ve got to do right each and every time. It wasn’t an issue for me in college, and I don’t plan on it being an issue for me now.”

It’s hard to think of a running back who made a fumbling problem part of their plan for an upcoming season, but, as Sankey pointed out, holding onto the ball wasn’t an issue for him at Washington. That doesn’t mean the demands of the professional game won’t be and Sankey’s expected rise to a prominent offensive role will take some time if the little things continue to trip him up.

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Snoop Dogg wants Steelers to fire Todd Haley

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Snoop Dogg has become over the years the ultimate football frontrunner, gliding onto the bandwagon of any team that achieves any real success.  He’s apparently anxious to get back on the black and gold party bus.

But he thinks the team needs a little help first.

“Man, the Pittsburgh Steelers need a new f–king offensive coordinator,” Snoop Dogg says in a video posted online.  “This guy sucks.  Coach Tomlin, this is Snoop Dogg, man.  Fire that mutherf–ker and get us a real offensive coordinator.  We ain’t won a playoff game since we had that mutherf–ker.  Sh-t.”

Snoop Dogg is talking about Todd Haley.  And Snoop’s facts are a little off.  The Steelers haven’t even been to the playoffs since Haley arrived.

In an Instagram post accompanying the video, he asks, “Bruce Arians where r u?”  Actually, Arians is coaching one of the other teams for whom Snoop Dogg has shown support in the past.

Last year, it seemed that Haley would become the scapegoat for the Steelers’ struggles.  Instead, the team changed offensive line coaches.

For now, it’s way too early to panic.  The offense has been improving under Haley, and there’s reason to believe it will be even better this year.  Besides, it’s still the preseason, and last night’s game was marred by the misadventures of a couple of guys who engaged in an activity that fits far more neatly into Snoop’s wheelhouse.

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Doug Martin to be Tampa’s “bell cow” after injuries to Sims, James

Doug Martin AP

Over the course of the offseason, Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith and offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford each said that the team wanted to use a variety of running backs this season in order to keep Doug Martin fresh and healthy after his 2013 season came to an early end with a shoulder injury.

As the old saying goes, though, man plans and the injury rate for running backs in the NFL laughs. The Bucs have lost rookie Charles Sims for much of the season to an ankle injury and Mike James is sidelined by a shoulder injury, cutting what was once a deep backfield down to Martin and Bobby Rainey. According to Smith, the result will be a familiar role for Martin.

“With Mike James going down with an injury and with Charles going down, [Martin and Rainey] need to play at a certain level,” Smith said, via the Associated Press. “They’re both good players, but Doug is our bell cow. He likes that role. He’s had a good camp, hasn’t missed a beat.”

If that’s going to work out, the Bucs are going to need to sort out their issues at guard sooner rather than later because there’s only so many times you can send a back into a swarm of defenders before he doesn’t get back up.

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PFT Live: Packers talk with Tyler Dunne, PFT Planet calls and tweets

Green Bay Packers v St Louis Rams Getty Images

The Packers will welcome back an old friend on Friday night when Charles Woodson and the Raiders come calling for a preseason matchup.

We could all probably predict a warm reception for a player who had his best years in a Packers uniform, but for more insight into what’s going on in Green Bay these days we’ll ask Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to share his thoughts on Friday’s edition of PFT Live. Dunne and Mike Florio will talk about what to watch for on the Packers side of the ball in the traditional dress rehearsal for the regular season.

Then we’ll close out the week by finding out what PFT Planet wants to know. Florio will be taking your questions on the Packers, the Raiders and everybody else in the league so send them in on Twitter — @ProFootballTalk — or call 888-237-5269 during the show.

It all gets started at 1 p.m. ET and you can watch it all live by clicking right here.

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