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Talib not likely to play on Sunday

Talib AP

Strike another key defensive player from the Patriots’ lineup on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.

Most likely.

Per a league source, cornerback Aqib Talib is unlikely to play due to a hip flexor strain suffered in Week Six against the Saints.

Talib has drawn rave reviews this year for his work against players like Julio Jones and Roddy White of the Falcons, and against Saints tight end (receiver) Jimmy Graham.

Talib has yet to practice this week.  After the injury initially happened, it was not believed to be serious.  But it looks like he’ll miss at least one week.

Also absent for the New England defense on Thursday was lineman Tommy Kelly (knee).  Defensive backs Devin McCourty (shoulder) and Tavon Wilson (hamstring) were limited.

Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork (Achilles) and linebacker Jerod Mayo (pectoral) have been lost for the full season.

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Blandino: No way to say if Graham scored a touchdown

graham AP

The Saints had a crucial call go against them on Sunday when tight end Jimmy Graham thought he scored a touchdown, only to have the officials rule that he had fumbled just before the ball crossed the goal line.

A day later, NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino says he still doesn’t know whether they got that call right or wrong.

“This was very difficult,” Blandino said on NFL Network. “We really struggled with this one because it’s so close.”

Blandino said no replay angle conclusively showed whether the ball crossed the goal line before Graham lost possession.

“Where is the ball in relation to the goal line?” Blandino said. “You really can’t tell exactly where that ball is in relation to the gaol line. The ruling on the field is it did not break the plane. Do you see indisputable evidence that it did break the plane? We even had a closeup look that the network gave us and it just wasn’t clear cut, it wasn’t obvious that the ball broke the plane, so the ruling on the field stood.”

Ultimately, Blandino said, when there’s no conclusive angle, the replay just has to stick with what the officials called on the field.

“Had they ruled touchdown, there was no evidence to overturn. Basically, the ruling on the field would have stood either way,” Blandino said.

Maybe some day we’ll have microchips in footballs that can tell us the instant a ball crosses the goal line. But with the replay system we have now, there was no way to say whether Graham scored or not.

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Reggie McKenzie talks up the Raiders’ rookie class

Reggie McKenzie AP

Amid speculation that the Raiders could make sweeping changes and General Manager Reggie McKenzie could be on the chopping block, McKenzie would like to point out that he drafted some pretty good players this year.

McKenzie told the San Francisco Chronicle that first-round pick Khalil Mack and second-round pick Derek Carr have proven themselves to be the kind of players a franchise can be built around.

“Derek and Khalil stopped being rookies a little while back,” McKenzie said. “Now they are veteran players. They can carry this into next season and help build this team into winners. They’ve shown their teammates who they are as players and men off the field, and they’re definitely guys everybody can count on.”

McKenzie believes he has done the heavy lifting to get the Raiders into the right place, and they’re heading in the right direction.

“The foundation has been built,” McKenzie said. “That’s what it’s all about. The more young guys play, the more comfortable they get . . . and now they’re making plays. And we continue to grow that.”

McKenzie has every right to be proud of the players he’s drafted. But that doesn’t necessarily mean his job is safe. If a new coach (like, say, Jim Harbaugh) is willing to come to Oakland only on the condition that he gets final say over the roster, owner Mark Davis might push McKenzie aside. But McKenzie has made a good case for himself with this year’s draft.

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Lovie Smith on high draft pick: If you’re down here, you have to get something from it

Green Bay Packers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

The Buccaneers are closing in on the top pick in the draft for the fifth time in franchise history, which gives the team something to look forward to as they put the finishing touches on an abysmal season.

Coach Lovie Smith said Monday that adding a good player at the top of the draft next year is something to be excited about, especially since he likes what he’s seen from this year’s rookie class.

“From a 2-13 record right now, I think that we’ve found out our draft class, we’ve played them and we like some things we’ve seen from the draft class,” Smith said, via the Tampa Bay Times. “Of course, Mike Evans, it goes without saying, Charles Sims, we’re seeing flashes from him, Austin Seferian-Jenkins — you know, our top three picks, amongst others. So that part is good. And if you have to be down here, you need to get something from it. We are going to get from our position — wherever it might be — we are going to get to add some more, we have a full allotment of draft picks, we have an excellent staff that evaluates guys. We are going to add some more players to the mix. We need some more players added to the mix. I am excited about that part. And again, if you have to be down where we are, why not get your choice of a few of the best players in the draft.”

If the Buccaneers were to find a quarterback with that top pick, it would probably help others join Smith in getting excited about what’s to come for the Bucs. That won’t fix things on its own as the Bucs need to sort out their offensive line and offensive coordinator as well, but Smith’s right about the need to make your pick count if you’re handing it in during the first hour of the draft.

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Report: Aldon Smith was drinking at scene of alleged assault

San Francisco 49ers v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

The 49ers have already dealt with Ray McDonald for his part in a new sexual assault investigation.

But now they may have a bigger problem to deal with.

Part of an affidavit outlining allegations against McDonald includes a section in which the victim said she spent the day drinking with McDonald and outside linebacker Aldon Smith.

That’s only a problem as it pertains to Smith’s suspension for a 2013 DUI, for which he’s still on probation.

According to Tracey Kaplan of the San Jose Mercury News, the woman claimed McDonald sexually assaulted her at his home after she passed out by his pool. But she them claimed to have stayed at the house, drinking with Smith and McDonald.

Police have also seized home surveillance cameras and McDonald’s cell phone as part of their investigation.

While the 49ers finally had a moment of clarity and cut McDonald (shortly after being eliminated from the playoffs), they’ve stood firm by Smith throughout a series of transgressions.

There was some dispute at the time of Smith’s reinstatement that he hadn’t fulfilled his counseling requirements.

But if police place him at the scene of a crime drinking, it will put the 49ers in the uncomfortable position of making more excuses for a star after making an example of McDonald.

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Brandon Marshall on Dominic Raiola: Dirty player, worse person

Chicago Bears Brandon Marshall Addresses The Media After Accusations Of Domestic Violence In His Past Getty Images

Bears receiver Brandon Marshall and Lions center Dominic Raiola will not be exchanging Christmas cards this year.

Marshall said after Raiola was suspended for stomping on the leg of Bears defensive lineman Ego Ferguson that cheap shots are par for the course from Raiola.

“This guy is a dirty player, and he’s a worse human being. He has no respect for himself,” Marshall said, via Michael C. Wright of ESPN.

Marshall said his issues with Raiola go far beyond just one incident. According to Marshall, who has long been open about seeking treatment for mental illness, Raiola has approached Marshall on the field to insult him about his mental health issues. Marshall says that before a game two years ago, Raiola walked up to Marshall and made jokes about Marshall taking medication.

“I’m just warming up, just standing there. He’s like, ‘Go take your medicine. You freaking weirdo, you freaking crazy guy,’” Marshall said of an encounter with Raiola.

Raiola has a laundry list of incidents that have gotten him in hot water over the course of his NFL career, and the NFL noted in announcing his suspension that stepping on Ferguson was far from his first offense. Marshall thinks it’s past time that the NFL does something about Raiola.

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Johnny Manziel ruled out for Week 17

Cleveland Browns v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

Johnny Manziel’s rookie season is officially over.

Browns coach Mike Pettine announced Monday that the quarterback has been ruled out of the team’s season finale against the Ravens because of the hamstring injury he suffered against the Panthers on Sunday. Pettine called it a “pretty significant” injury that would have kept Manziel out for several weeks if the Browns season had several weeks left in it.

Pettine also said that Brian Hoyer’s shoulder injury would continue to be evaluated over the course of the week and that Connor Shaw would get first-team reps to prepare him for the possible start.

“If he does [play], I wouldn’t be surprised he plays well,” Pettine said, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Pettine added that the team was considering other quarterback options in the event they need to add another player to the roster before Week 17.

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Jim Harbaugh works hard to keep it on the high road

San Diego Chargers v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

Jim Harbaugh seemed to the heading for the curb, but managed to steer back onto the high road.

The soon-to-be-former 49ers coach seemed to come close to talking about his own status with the team, something he’s avoided so far.

Via Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee, Harbaugh was asked if it was hard to resist responding to the anonymous reports about him.

“Yeah, that’s a good question,” Harbaugh said, before laughing. “That’s a good question. . . .

The high road’s the only road I know. I’ll keep on that.”

When reporters tried to follow up, Harbaugh replied: “I think we’ve covered the ground pretty well.”

Sadly, we have not.

Harbaugh also declined to elaborate on a report from Jay Glazer of FOX Sports, who said Harbaugh’s status would be known within 48 hours of the end of the season.

“Well, as you know, I’ve not participated in any of these speculations and unnamed sources, the rumors, I would ask you to have Jay Glazer go back and ask his sources for more clarification,” Harbaugh said. … “I haven’t participated and I don’t intend to now. And this has been a good 12 months of this kind of thing. No reason to start now.”

Oh, there’s plenty of reason, Jim. The truth shall set you free. It’ll be cathartic for you.

You do get the feeling (or maybe it’s hope for a Festivus miracle) that at some point the tightly wound Harbaugh is going to snap, and a stream of truth so torrential will be unleashed, that we’ll all be drenched.

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Cowboys won’t rest starters this week

Tony Romo, Jason Garrett AP

The Cowboys have clinched the NFC East and they still have a shot at grabbing a first-round bye.

They’ll need to get some help from the 49ers and Rams (or a Lions-Packers tie) to make that happen, but even getting those results in the NFC West won’t help if they don’t beat Washington. If they were to win and get all three games to break their way, they’d wind up as the top seed in the conference.

On Monday, coach Jason Garrett said that the Cowboys will do their best to take care of what they control. With all three other games with bearing on their possible slot in the playoffs kicking off later in the day, the Cowboys won’t have the option of altering their lineup based on scoreboard watching and Garrett said, via Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News, that the Cowboys would play their starters their usual amount in Week 17.

We’ll see if that holds come Sunday for running back DeMarco Murray and other players with current injury concerns, but the Cowboys have every reason to play anyone without such worries because of the benefits that would come with getting the bye.

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NFL to suspend Raiola for one game

Raiola Getty Images

Lions center Dominic Raiola said his stomp on the leg of Bears defensive tackle Ego Ferguson was inadvertent. There will be nothing inadvertent about the NFL’s reaction.

Per a league source, Raiola will indeed be suspended one game for the infraction. Raiola will get the official word later this afternoon.

Raiola was fined $10,000 last month for striking Patriots defensive tackle Zach Moore in the back of the head. In that same game, Raiola escaped punishment for deliberately diving at Moore’s legs during a kneel-down play.

Raiola will have immediate appeal rights, with the hearing held quickly and a ruling coming as soon as Wednesday.

If the suspension is upheld, the Lions won’t have their starting center for Sunday’s NFC North championship game against the Packers. But they will have him for the first game of the postseason.

Three years ago, Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was suspended two games for a post-play stomp on the arm of former Packers offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith.

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Steven Jackson undergoing further testing on quad

Pittsburgh Steelers v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

The Falcons didn’t need much from running back Steven Jackson to knock off the Saints on Sunday and it’s not clear yet whether they’ll have him in the lineup at all when they try to do the same to the Panthers in Week 17.

Jackson left the win over the Saints in the first half with a quad injury and didn’t return, finishing the day with four carries and one reception. Coach Mike Smith said Monday that Jackson was having further tests done to evaluate the injury, which means we’ll be waiting until later in the week for an idea about whether or not he’ll play against Carolina.

Devonta Freeman was the most effective back in New Orleans, running five times for 36 yards and a touchdown and catching three passes for 48 more yards.

Smith said Safety William Moore is also having tests done on his injured shoulder after leaving Sunday’s game. Moore was on injured reserve with the designation to return for an injury to the same shoulder earlier this season.

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Hoyer, Manziel are both hurt, so Connor Shaw may start

Cleveland Browns v Washington Redskins Getty Images

All season we’ve been asking whether the Browns would start Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel. At the end of the season, the answer may be neither.

Undrafted rookie quarterback Connor Shaw, a member of the practice squad, may be called up to the active roster and forced to start Sunday’s season finale against the Ravens. Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com reports that Manziel’s hamstring injury, which forced him out of Sunday’s game, and an injury to Hoyer’s shoulder suffered after Manziel went out, could leave Shaw as the only option.

A three-year starter at South Carolina, Shaw was signed by the Browns in May and had some good performances in the preseason this year. Perhaps he can have another good performance in the season finale, and add a new element to the Browns’ inevitable quarterback controversy in 2015.

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Jay Cutler will start season finale for the Bears

Detroit Lions v Chicago Bears Getty Images

Meet the new Bears starting quarterback, same as the old Bears starting quarterback.

Jimmy Clausen suffered a concussion in Sunday’s loss to the Lions and the Bears ruled him out for Week 17 on Monday, leaving the team in need of someone to lead their offense against the Vikings. Coach Marc Trestman’s options were Jay Cutler, benched a week ago after a string of poor games that have led to plenty of questions about the future of the coach, quarterback and General Manager Phil Emery, and rookie David Fales.

Trestman has opted to go with the devil he knows.

“Jay gives us the best chance this week. So that’s why he’ll be out there,” Trestman said, via ESPNChicago.com. “Jay said ‘I’ll be ready to go.’ He empathizes with what Jimmy had gone through last night. He’s ready to go. He’ll be in this afternoon to get started.”

Going with Fales would have given the Bears a chance to see the sixth-rounder in action while also protecting Cutler from the possibility of an injury that could hamper attempts to trade him this offseason, although no one’s really sure at this point if that’s the route the Bears will go or who will be making the decisions about such moves. They went the other way, though, and the season will end with the same starting quarterback that took the field in Week One.

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Chip Kelly not miffed about playoff structure

Kelly Getty Images

The Eagles will finish with a winning record, but they won’t make it to the playoffs. The Panthers or Falcons will secure a spot with a losing record. That doesn’t bother Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly.

“Should we move to the [NFC South] so we can get in a different division?” Kelly said to reporters on Monday when asked about the situation. “No, that’s just the rules. People that complain about rules that are already in existence. . . .
We didn’t do enough. We didn’t win enough games against the right opponents to put ourselves in the playoffs. We knew the rules of engagement before the season started. To sit here after it is over and say, ‘Let’s change the rules so this can happen,’ that’s just the way it is. There may be a year where we’re in a situation where we’re not in great shape and we win our division and we get a chance to go. People said it about Seattle a couple years ago, and then Seattle won their wild-card game.

“It’s still about winning each week and doing what you’re supposed to do. We already knew the rules before the season started. That’s the way it expressed itself. We didn’t do enough to win to get ourselves in the playoffs. That’s on us. That’s not on anybody else, or what the structure of setup is.”

It’s the right attitude. The rules are the rules, and the Eagles knew the rules. Everyone knew the rules. Until they change, one team from each of the eight divisions will host a playoff game, whether they “deserve” it or not.

The Eagles may deserve it in relation to Carolina or Atlanta. But that doesn’t matter, because one of those teams will become the best in its division, regardless of the final won-loss record.

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Panthers add Frank Alexander to 53-man roster

Frank Alexander AP

The Panthers have one game to extend their season, and they’re adding a pass-rusher who might be able to help them.

The team announced that defensive end Frank Alexander had been added to the 53-man roster. He takes the place of wide receiver De’Andre Presley, who was placed on injured reserve after suffering a concussion last week.

Alexander spent the first 14 weeks suspended for a pair of substance abuse policy violations, which he said were triggered by his poor handling of grief over the illnesses of family members.

The former fourth-round pick had shown some promise as a pass-rusher, and getting after Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan will be critical in Sunday’s win-and-in NFC South title game.

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Report: Dominic Raiola expecting one-game suspension

Detroit Lions v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

The NFL is considering discipline for Lions center Dominic Raiola after he stepped on Bears defensive tackle Ego Ferguson during Sunday’s 20-14 Detroit win and the team reportedly expects the league to hand down a one-game suspension.

Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports reports that the Lions have told Raiola to expect the one-game ban, which would leave him on the sideline as the face the Packers for the NFC North title in Week 17. Raiola could appeal any suspension and that appeal would likely be expedited so it happened before that game.

Lions coach Jim Caldwell said Monday that the team was prepared for the possibility that Raiola would be suspended while adding that he believes the center’s claim that he inadvertently stepped on Ferguson.

“Obviously I took a good look at [the play],” Caldwell said, via the Detroit Free Press. “Looked at both the coach’s copy and also the television copy as well, and I believe what Dom told me, that it was inadvertent. But I can also see why it obviously is being reviewed by the league and everybody’s taking a real good look at it because you can also see the other side of that as well. There’s a league protocol to it. It’ll be reviewed, taken a look at and we’ll deal with the issues after there’s been some determination there.”

Rookie Travis Swanson would likely start in Raiola’s place if he’s out on Sunday.

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