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PFT’s Week Six picks

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For the Week Six picks, I’m hoping MDS makes like MRS (Matthew Rutledge Schaub) and throws a pick six.

Making that wish somewhat unrealistic is the fact that we disagree on only three games.

Last week, he was 9-5 and I was 8-6.  His lead now stands at three games:  52-25 to 49-28.

If I’m right on all three, I’ll catch him.  And, yes, he and I may be the only two people in the world who actually care.

Giants at Bears

MDS’s take: Florio has done me a big favor with his stubborn insistence on continuing to pick the Giants, and I’m hoping he keeps going with the theory that the Giants are due for a win. (The Washington Generals are due to beat the Harlem Globetrotters any game now, too.) The Bears’ defense is good at forcing turnovers, and the Giants’ offense is good at turning the ball over. That’s a good combination for Chicago.

MDS’s pick: Bears 28, Giants 13.

Florio’s take:  The Giants are due to win.  The Bears are due to not lose.  The Bears are the better team.  The Bears are playing at home.  Advantage Bears.

Florio’s pick:  Bears 24, Giants 17.

Packers at Ravens

MDS’s take: Aaron Rodgers and Joe Flacco both signed enormous contracts this offseason, but only one of them is earning his money. The struggling Ravens’ offense will have a good opportunity to put some points on the board against a Packers defense that’s missing Clay Matthews, but Rodgers will do more damage than Flacco as the Packers win a high-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Packers 31, Ravens 27.

Florio’s take:  It’s rock-scissors-paper time in Baltimore, where the Ravens defense is becoming the rock and the Packers’ offensive line is running with scissors.

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 24, Packers 20.

Bengals at Bills

MDS’s take: The Bills’ defense is playing tough, physical football, and Kiko Alonso is my early pick for rookie of the year. If EJ Manuel were playing, I’d pick the Bills. Unfortunately, I just can’t pick a team to win a game when its starting quarterback was on the practice squad a week ago, and that’s what the Bills are doing with Thad Lewis starting. So I’ve got to go with the Bengals.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 16, Bills 13.

Florio’s take:  The Bengals can beat the teams they shouldn’t, and not the teams they should.  This is the weekend they need to turn it around, or they may not be getting beat in January.

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 27, Bills 13.

Lions at Browns

MDS’s take: This is another game where a quarterback injury makes the difference. The Browns won all three games that Brian Hoyer started, and if Hoyer were still starting I’d pick Cleveland to make it four in a row. But with Brandon Weeden back under center, I think the Lions’ defensive line is going to wreak havoc against a quarterback who’s too slow to get rid of the football.

MDS’s pick: Lions 21, Browns 10.

Florio’s take:  The Browns have won three in a row, and they’re wrapping up a three-game home stand at the Factory of Gladness.  Without Calvin Johnson, the Lions aren’t the same team.  I’m guessing Johnson either won’t play or he’ll be too banged up to make a difference against a team that will come within a game of matching its 2012 win total after only six weeks.

Florio’s pick:  Browns 24, Lions 20.

Rams at Texans

MDS’s take: Houston has been playing some terrible football recently, but St. Louis is even worse. The Texans’ defense can shut down the Rams’ offense well enough that even another lousy game from Matt Schaub won’t lose it for Houston.

MDS’s pick: Texans 20, Rams 10.

Florio’s take:  Jeff Fisher returns to Houston with a team that has underachieved, to face a team that has underachieved.  Led by a quarterback who has underachieved.  (That applies to both teams.)  Even with the Texans battling against a home-field disadvantage, their defense is good enough to overcome whatever the quarterback does or doesn’t do.

Florio’s pick:  Texans 23, Rams 16.

Raiders at Chiefs

MDS’s take: Kansas City’s turnaround has been remarkable, and I’m particularly impressed with the aggressive defense the Chiefs are playing, led by the one-man wrecking crew that is Dontari Poe in the middle of the line. I like the way Terrelle Pryor is playing for the Raiders, but Poe is going to get in Pryor’s face all day and make him skittish with his passes.

MDS’s pick: Chiefs 20, Raiders 9.

Florio’s take:  It’s been a long time since both teams in this storied rivalry were relevant.  The Chiefs are very relevant.  And very hard to beat at home.  It won’t be easy, but the Chiefs will finally have the same number of wins at 2012 Pro Bowlers.

Florio’s pick:  Chiefs 20, Raiders 17.

Panthers at Vikings

MDS’s take: Both of these teams seem like they should be better than their 1-3 records. If one of them is going to turn things around, I think it’ll be the one that has Cam Newton at quarterback, not the team that has Christian Ponder or Matt Cassel or Josh Freeman at quarterback.

MDS’s pick: Panthers 17, Vikings 14.

Florio’s take:  The chase to be the Vikings’ quarterback of the future begins on Sunday, as they host a team that thought it had one, but possibly doesn’t.  Losing coach lands on an even hotter seat.  Winner gets a heat reprieve, for at least a week.

Florio’s pick:  Vikings 28, Panthers 21.

Steelers at Jets

MDS’s take: Say what you will about Rex Ryan, but the guy knows how to put together a good defense. He’s done it again this year, and coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is making strides with the offense, too. I still have a hard time seeing the Jets as a playoff contender, but they’ll be 4-2 after beating the woeful Steelers.

MDS’s pick: Jets 27, Steelers 7.

Florio’s take:  The Steelers are 0-5 and the Jets are 3-2 and many expected it to be the opposite.  The Jets have a strong front seven and the Steelers don’t have a strong offensive line and even though Pittsburgh beat the Giants last year in MetLife Stadium the Steelers are a shadow of what they were last year.

Florio’s pick:  Jets 17, Steelers 13.

Eagles at Buccaneers

MDS’s take: Even with Nick Foles in place of Michael Vick, this is a game Philadelphia should win without too much trouble. The Eagles’ schedule is getting a lot easier. They beat the winless Giants last week, they’ll beat the winless Buccaneers this week, and they get the Giants again in two weeks. An 8-8 record may be enough to win the NFC East, and when you look at their schedule it’s easy to see the Eagles getting to eight wins. They’ll get win No. 3 on Sunday.

MDS’s pick: Eagles 24, Buccaneers 13.

Florio’s take:  Chip Kelly and company continue to take advantage of a soft spot in the schedule by running circles around a team that won’t be able to keep up with the Eagles offense, regardless of whether Nick Foles or Mike Vick is running it.  If Vick doesn’t play, it’ll be the first time in league history that both starting quarterbacks in the same game are Napoleon Dynamite dopplegangers.

Florio’s pick:  Eagles 30, Buccaneers 20.

Jaguars at Broncos

MDS’s take: There’s no doubt who will win, but if I were betting this game against the spread (and I’m not), I’d pick the Jaguars to keep it closer than the 28-point margin. The Broncos are coming off an exhausting battle with the Cowboys and probably won’t be at their best. Unfortunately for the Jaguars, the Broncos don’t have to be at their best to win this one.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 35, Jaguars 21.

Florio’s take:  Does watching this game count as rooting for the underdog or rubbernecking at a train wreck?  Survey says . . . . both.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 49, Jaguars 13.

Titans at Seahawks

MDS’s take: I’ve been impressed with the Titans all year, and they’re a better team than most people realize. But there’s no way Ryan Fitzpatrick is winning at Seattle.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 34, Titans 17.

Florio’s take:  It’s a shame Jake Locker is injured.  He’s missing the chance to come back to Seattle and have his team suffocated and his ear drums ruptured.

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 24, Titans 10.

Saints at Patriots

MDS’s take: The best game of the week is in New England, where the Patriots need Rob Gronkowski to return against a surprisingly tough Saints defense. Even if Gronk is at full speed, however, I think Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham are a better pair right now than Tom Brady and Gronkowski, and I like the Saints to put up a lot of points.

MDS’s pick: Saints 31, Patriots 21.

Florio’s take:  The Saints proved that they can win away from home against a competent team like the Bears.  With an elite offense and a much-improved defense, why not a clean road sweep of the Super Bowl XX teams that played in New Orleans?

Florio’s pick:  Saints 27, Patriots 21.

Cardinals at 49ers

MDS’s take: The 49ers have put their stumbles behind them and are playing great football. The Cardinals are better than most of us expected, but there’s a clear NFC West pecking order, and the Cards are behind the Niners.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 31, Cardinals 10.

Cardinals at 49ers

Florio’s take:  Bruce Arians doesn’t “see the dominance” of the 49ers and Seahawks.  While the 49ers aren’t yet dominant this year, Arians probably won’t like what he sees.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 27, Cardinals 17.

Redskins at Cowboys

MDS’s take: Dallas’s defense is struggling, and Robert Griffin III may put up some big numbers. But Washington’s defense is struggling even more, and Tony Romo may put up some bigger numbers.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 35, Redskins 31.

Florio’s take:  Jerry Jones won’t be talking about moral victories come Monday.  He’ll have an actual victory.  You know, the kind where his team scores more points than the other.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 21, Redskins 13.

Colts at Chargers

MDS’s take: I’m amazed at the way the Colts keep shaking off injuries and finding ways to win. The Chargers are playing well on offense, but their secondary is a mess, and Andrew Luck should pick it apart.

MDS’s pick: Colts 34, Chargers 20.

Florio’s take:  The Chargers once were a thorn in Indy’s side.  The Chargers are now littered with thorns of their own, and the Colts have found a way in the post-Peyton era to blossom, no matter the amount of duress.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 24, Chargers 21.

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Rudolph gets $6.5 million to sign on deal with maximum value of $40 million

Rudolph AP

Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph has a new five-year extension, announced tonight by the team and reportedly carrying a base value of $36.5 million.  A source with knowledge of the terms has shared some additional details with PFT.

Rudolph gets a $6.5 million signing bonus.  Along with a technically non-guaranteed but as a practical matter fully guaranteed base salary of $956,343 for 2014, Rudolph definitely will earn $7.456 million in the next five months.

Per the source, the deal has another $12 million in injury-only guarantees that eventually convert to full guarantees on the third day of a given league year.  (The number of years over which the guaranteed money is spread isn’t currently known.  Until the relevant dates pass and the money becomes fully guaranteed, it’s not actually or practically guaranteed.)

On the back end, Rudolph earns an extra $750,000 for each year in which he catches 80 passes, and $500,000 for each year he makes it to the Pro Bowl.  Over five years, that’s a total of $6.25 million in available incentives, but the total he can earn through these accomplishments is capped at a total of $3.5 million.

The base new-money value of $7.3 million puts him behind only Jimmy Graham ($10 million in new money), Rob Gronkowski ($9 million), Jason Witten ($7.4 million), and Vernon Davis ($7.35 million).  A single 80-catch season will throw another $0.25 million on the annual average, vaulting Rudolph ahead of Witten and Davis.

Eighty catches won’t be a breeze, but in Norv Turner’s offense it’s a distinct possibility.

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Vikings strike five-year deal with Kyle Rudolph

Kyle Rudolph AP

The Vikings have signed one of their core offensive players to a contract extension.

The club confirmed Sunday night it had reached a new deal with 24-year-old tight end Kyle Rudolph, who was entering the final year of his contract.

According to FOX’s Jay Glazer — who first reported news of the extension — Rudolph received a five-year, $36.5 million contract from Minnesota.

NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport reports the new deal makes Rudolph the game’s fifth highest-paid tight end.

Rudolph has hauled in 109 passes for 1,055 yards and 15 touchdowns in three NFL seasons, all with Minnesota. The Vikings selected Rudolph in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft. He played collegiately at Notre Dame.

“I’m extremely excited to get this extension completed and continue my career with the Minnesota Vikings,” Rudolph said in a statement issued by the club Sunday night. “I’ve said all along I wanted to stay in Minnesota. I love the fans, the community and, most importantly, I’m excited about where this team is going. I’m looking forward to the 2014 season and helping this organization reach our ultimate goal.”

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Christine Michael bangs up shoulder

Seahawks AP

As the Marshawn Lynch holdout lingers, his leverage spikes if/when any of the team’s alternatives at tailback gets injured.

If became when on Sunday, when second-year running back Christine Michael left practice with a shoulder injury.

“He just banged his shoulder a little bit,” coach Pete Carroll told reporters after practice.  “They think he will be ready to go on Tuesday.”

The injury serves as a reminder that Plan B can quickly becomes Plan C and so on, unless and until Lynch returns to the fold.  There’s been no progress along those lines, with Lynch wanting a new contract and the Seahawks refusing to rip up the last two seasons of a four-year, $30 million deal.

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Ron Rivera: De’Quan Menzie is retiring

Arizona Cardinals v Kansas City Chiefs Getty Images

The Panthers waived defensive back De’Quan Menzie on Saturday.

And now, it appears the third-year pro could be electing to end his career.

According to Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera indicated Sunday that the 24-year-old Menzie was retiring.

Menzie’s verified Twitter account had the following post Sunday: “Officially done….”

An Alabama product, Menzie (5-11, 200) was a fifth-round selection of Kansas City in 2012. He spent his rookie season on injured reserve (hip flexor). After being waived by Kansas City in May 2013, Menzie had a brief stint with Detroit before being waived in August 2013. The Panthers signed Menzie to a futures contract in January 2014.

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LaMichael James carted off during 49ers practice

James Getty Images

Another day, another injured tailback in San Francisco.

Via Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, third-year running back LaMichael James was carted off during practice with an apparent wrist/arm injury.

James, who has appeared in only 14 regular-season games in two NFL seasons, has a chance to show that he can contribute to the base offense following the season-ending ACL injury suffered on Friday by Kendall Hunter.  While the specific nature and severity of the injury isn’t known, guys usually don’t get carted off with arm/wrist injuries.

Before practice, coach Jim Harbaugh said that the team has “complete and total confidence” in James, who along with Marcus Lattimore and Carlos Hyde will be counted on to make an impact, especially with Hunter done for the year.

In two seasons, James has only 39 regular-season rushing attempts for 184 yards.  He has caught five passes for 45 yards.  His primary contributions have come as a kickoff and punt returner, with 49 total returns in two season.

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McCoy, Cole downplay practice-field fracas

McCoy AP

On Sunday, during the second practice of camp and a day before the pads go on, Eagles running back LeSean McCoy took issue with a hit from defensive end Trent Cole, sparking the first fight of the year.  After the session ended, Cole and McCoy downplayed the exchange of pleasantries.

I don’t even know what you’re talking about,” Cole said, via Geoff Mosher of CSNPhilly.com.  “That’s my brother, man.  We were just playing around.  We’re competitors.  We’re very competitive.”

McCoy was a little less willing to let it all go.  But he seems to have moved on, too.

“The whole camp so far, it’s been touching a little too much,” McCoy said. “I’m trying to let them know, ‘It’s OK if you can’t cover me.’”

Defensive end Brandon Graham, who was in the middle of the melee but called himself a spectator, initially tried to describe the hit as a “nudge.”

“You know, it wasn’t really a nudge because it was 270 [pounds] against 200,” Graham said.  “I wasn’t taking it that seriously because it was just a regular catfight.”

But Graham admitted there’s no place for fighting or otherwise hurting teammates.

“You gotta draw the line,” Graham said.  “You gotta take care of each out out here.  Even when we get pads on you can’t just be out here trying to kill everybody, because we do got to have them for the season.  But [Monday] is gonna be a lot of aggression.”

Coach Chip Kelly isn’t a fan of aggression that results in fights — cat-style or otherwise — between guys who wear the same uniform.  Kelly may need to send a clear message to his players to keep things from getting out of control.

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Texans offensive line dedicates season to Quessenberry

Quessenberry Getty Images

As Texans offensive lineman David Quessenberry prepares to endure his third round of chemotherapy, his teammates have found a way to honor him.

“Absolutely, we have dedicated this season to him as a line,” left tackle Duane Brown told FOX 26 and the Houston Chronicle.  “He’s in the ultimate battle right now.”

Center Chris Myers intends to take it a step farther, finding ways to raise money and awareness for lymphoma.

“With everything going on with David right now this season is obviously going to be dedicated to him,” Myers said.  “He’s on our minds 24-7, and that’s not going to stop. . . . It’s going to go throughout the whole season and for us to be able to do something special this season would be huge for him.”

“Hey, every night we go to bed, we say a prayer for the man,” guard Ben Jones said. “Every day we try to reach out to him because he means a lot  to us.  We want him to know we’re behind him.”

The support from his teammates has had a major impact on Quessenberry.

“It’s hard to put into words what it means to have the support of your brothers on the team,” Quessenberry said. “It’s humbling.  Truly it’s an honor.  I want to do them proud. I want to come back stronger and come back and help these guys when I do come back eventually.  “This year I got blind-sided getting diagnosed with cancer.  Just knowing that my teammates and my brothers got my back is truly something special.”

A sixth-round pick in 2013, Quessenberry was diagnosed with lymphoma in June.  We wish him the best as he continues the battle.

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DeMarcus Ware has a lower leg injury

Ware AP

During his time with the Cowboys, defensive end/linebacker DeMarcus Ware played through plenty of injuries.  He’s already dealing with one in Denver.

Ware was held out for roughly half of Sunday’s practice due to what coach John Fox called a lower leg injury.  Fox told reporters it doesn’t appear to be serious.

Of course, “doesn’t appear” leaves the window slightly open for the possibility that it is.  And as Broncos fans learned four years ago with former Denver pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil, a season-ending injury can happen out of nowhere in the early stages of training camp.

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Patrick Peterson’s days on offense and special teams are done

patrickpeterson AP

In training camp last year, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said cornerback Patrick Peterson could be one of the Top 5 receivers in the NFL. But at training camp this year, Arians has decided to put a stop to the experiment of giving Peterson snaps on offense.

Arians told Darren Urban of the Cardinals’ website that the addition of speedy receivers Ted Ginn in free agency and John Brown in the draft means that Peterson won’t be needed to make plays on offense. That’s no surprise: Peterson didn’t do much of anything on offense last season, catching six passes for 54 yards and carrying the ball four times for 21 yards. If that’s all the Cardinals are going to get out of Peterson on offense, it’s probably not worth the time and energy it takes for Peterson to work with the offense.

Peterson added that not only will he not be a wide receiver anymore, but he won’t return punts either. That decision is a little more surprising because Peterson is an outstanding punt returner who led the league with 699 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie. But Ginn and Brown can both return punts as well, and taking Peterson off punt returns will allow him to focus on his most important job, at cornerback.

As for talk that Peterson is due for a pay raise and a long-term contract extension soon, Peterson said he’s not worrying about that.

“I’m here to play football,” Peterson said. “I have two years left on my deal and I want to do the best I can to help this team win. I haven’t been to the playoffs since I’ve been here & that’s my first goal.”

Arians thinks Peterson can do more to help the Cardinals make the playoffs if he’s doing nothing other than playing defense.

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Panthers sign running back Fozzy Whittaker

RB-Fozzy-Whittaker-AP-Photo-by-Cleveland-Browns AP

Though it sounds strange to see given their track record, the Panthers found themselves short at running back.

So they solved that problem for the moment by bringing in former Browns running back/return man Fozzy Whittaker. (Waka! Waka!).

The Panthers had an immediate need with Jonathan Stewart on the shelf with a hamstring and sixth-round pick Tyler Gaffney going on injured reserve with a knee injury.

Whittaker has some return ability, but has been looking for work since the Browns cut him in May.

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Redskins cut the cord on 2013 draft pick Brandon Jenkins

Washington Redskins v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

Players with value get chances. Players without value get made into examples.

The Redskins released 2013 fifth-round pick Brandon Jenkins Sunday, less than a week into his second training camp.

According to Tarik El-Bashir of CSNWashington.com, Jenkins “had a particularly poor effort in Sunday morning’s one-on-one battle drills,” and was released hours later.

The former Florida State linebacker had one tackle in six games last season, and barely played in the second half of the season, since he didn’t contribute on special teams.

Draft picks usually get a longer leash, especially in their first two seasons. But he might be more useful to the Redskins as an object lesson than as a player.

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Jason Pinkston absent, and neither he nor Browns will say why

Pinkston Getty Images

Hard to believe as it may seem, the Browns currently employ football players not named Johnny Manziel.  As to one of them, a question has arisen regarding his employment.

Via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, offensive lineman Jason Pinkston isn’t around.  And no one will say what’s going on.

“I can assure you I’m in no legal trouble and retiring hasn’t come up,” Pinkston said via Twitter.  “As far as my situation, I’ll leave it to them to explain.”

The only problem is that the Browns won’t explain.

“Pinkston’s unavailable to practice and due to his circumstances I cannot comment on it any further,” Pettine said.  “I want to give you more, but just given the circumstances, I can’t.  That’s where we are with Jason.”

Agent Neil Schwartz, who has a history of holding players out (including 49ers guard Alex Boone), couldn’t be reached for comment.

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Cassel, Bridgewater “pretty much splitting reps”

Cassel AP

After being called out by Peyton Manning for his smedium shirt and all-access pass to Broncos training camp, FOX’s Jay Glazer took his bus-defacing training-camp tour to Mankato State University.  He liked what he saw and heard of Vikings rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

Per Glazer, Bridgewater and veteran Matt Cassel are “pretty much splitting reps” at practice, and “[h]ugeee” (maybe the tight shirt made the button stick) optimism exists for Bridgewater’s future.

It doesn’t mean that Bridgewater will be the Week One starter.  It does mean that, the longer the rep-spitting lasts, the less prepared the Week One starter will be.

Though in different conferences, the Vikings and Browns will provide an intriguing apples-and-apples quarterback comparison in 2014 and beyond, given that both were interested in Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater.  Cleveland ultimately traded up to get Manziel before the Vikings could, and Minnesota moved back to round one to get Bridgewater.

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Chargers throw water on idea of NFL-owned stadium in L.A.

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If the Chargers stay in San Diego, the last thing they want is one or two teams headquartered 90 miles up the road in L.A.  It’s no surprise, then, that the Chargers don’t believe the NFL would ever solve the generation-old L.A. stadium problem by building its own.

It’s pie in the sky,” Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani told Nick Canepa of U-T San Diego.

It’s also nothing new, according to team president Dean Spanos.

“It’s an idea that has been floated before,” Spanos said.  “There’s nothing new to it.  For the past 20 years we’ve been hearing about it.”

Regardless of who builds and owns the stadium, the Chargers clearly aren’t interested in encouraging the arrival of franchises that will compete for the same eyeballs and $100 bills.

“[T]he league has been successful without a team there and so has L.A.,” Spanos said.  “There are a lot of issues.  And you have to sell 24 of the 32 owners that it’s a good investment.  It’s a ways down the line, and I’m not sure it has the votes.”

In contrast, Patriots owner Robert Kraft recently said he wants to see a team return to Los Angeles within two or three years.  For now, we’ll take the over.  And if Spanos has his way, the over will be never.

Unless, of course, the Chargers are the team that moves to L.A.

 

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Cowboys hope to go from 32nd to first in NFL defensive rankings

morrisclaiborne AP

The Cowboys ranked dead last in the league in total defense last season, allowing more than 415 yards a game in a year when no other defense even allowed 400. This year, the loss of linebacker Sean Lee to a knee injury and the departure of top pass rushers DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher in free agency makes it seem unlikely that the Cowboys’ defense could get much better.

But that’s not the way the Cowboys see it. According to cornerback Morris Claiborne, the guys in the Cowboys’ defensive meetings have greed that they’re shooting to be not just better than last year, but the best defense in the NFL.

“We were last in the league in defense and we’re trying to be No. 1,” he said, via the Dallas Morning News. “That’s our goal. We’re not shying away from it.”

Claiborne says the Cowboys feel terrible about the way they played last year, but that doesn’t mean they have terrible talent on defense.

“It’s definitely embarrassing,” Claiborne said, “especially when you know the type of talent you have on the team, but it’s just not showing up.”

It’s not realistic to think the Cowboys could be the No. 1 defense in the league this year. If the Cowboys could even be average on defense, that would be an enormous improvement.

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