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PFT’s Week Nine picks

Chiefs Getty Images

Alas, I failed to gain any ground on MDS in Week Eight.  I didn’t lose any either.  We each went 10-3, splitting the two games on which we differed.

This week, we disagree on three games.  Which means I can cut his four-game lead down to one.  (I was always good at math.  Speling not so mutch.)

For the year, he’s 81-39, and I’m 77-43.

For a complete look at this week’s picks, just keep on reading.

Actually, I don’t care if you keep reading.  The click already has been registered.

Bengals at Dolphins

MDS’s take: The Bengals are surging and the Dolphins are falling. I see Cincinnati winning big and NFL Network televising another Thursday night game that many fans will turn off at halftime. Also, never bet against a team that wears black and orange on Halloween.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 30, Dolphins 10.

Florio’s take:  This is precisely the kind of game that the Bengals can lose.  Road game against an overmatched opponent with four straight losses and general disarray.  But a skeptical nation will be watching this one while discreetly bogarting its children’s Halloween candy.  One of the best teams in the AFC will step up, or risk not being perceived as one of the best teams in the AFC.

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 31, Dolphins 20.

Chiefs at Bills

MDS’s take: The Bills’ defense is good enough to hold the Chiefs’ offense in check, so this game should be close into the fourth quarter — certainly closer than you’d think for an 8-0 team facing a 3-5 team. I have a funny feeling a big play on special teams late in the game will give this one to the Chiefs.

MDS’s pick: Chiefs 17, Bills 14.

Florio’s take:  It’s time.  The Chiefs have flirted with disaster the last two Sundays at home, narrowly beating the Texans and the Browns.  This week, the Chiefs go on the road, where they really haven’t been tested this year.  The Bills have easily beaten the Chiefs each of the last two years.  While this one won’t be a blowout, it’s time for someone to score more points than the last undefeated team in the NFL.

Florio’s pick:  Bills 23, Chiefs 20.

Falcons at Panthers

MDS’s take: The Falcons are finished. The Panthers are playing great football right now. Carolina has won three straight games by more than two touchdowns, and Sunday will make it four in a row.

MDS’s pick: Panthers 35, Falcons 17.

Florio’s take:  It’ll be interesting to see if the Panthers can recover from a 10-point deficit.  With the defense playing as well as it is, that may not happen any time soon.  With some tough games looming, the Panthers could get a tough test from a team fighting for its playoff life.  Based on how the Falcons played in Arizona last week, it won’t matter.

Florio’s pick:  Panthers 24, Falcons 17.

Vikings at Cowboys

MDS’s take: The Cowboys’ defense may be shellshocked after what Calvin Johnson did to them on Sunday, but there’s no way the Vikings’ terrible passing game is going to make big plays in Dallas. The Cowboys will probably only need to win eight games to win the NFC East, and they’ll earn their fifth win on Sunday.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 27, Vikings 13.

Florio’s takeAdrian Peterson returns home to Texas to face a team that could really use him.  Even without him, they have enough firepower to defeat a Vikings team that could be worse than the 3-13 edition from 2011.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 35, Vikings 17.

Saints at Jets

MDS’s take: I expect Rex Ryan’s defense to rebound from last week’s disaster in Cincinnati and play well against the Saints’ offense, but I don’t expect Geno Smith to play much better than he did last week. As a result, the Saints win a low-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Saints 20, Jets 14.

Florio’s take:  It’s a Ryan twins reunion in New York.  Even though the Jets are doing better than expected, they aren’t good enough to close a major gap in talent one week after being blown out by the Bengals.

Florio’s pick:  Saints 30, Jets 17.

Titans at Rams

MDS’s take: The Rams were more competitive than I expected them to be in Monday night’s loss to the Seahawks, but the Kellen Clemens-led offense is going to be in a lot of low-scoring losses the rest of the season. That’s what I expect to happen when Jeff Fisher’s old team comes to town.

MDS’s pick: Titans 14, Rams 13.

Florio’s take:  The Titans play their first game ever without owner Bud Adams — and against long-time coach Jeff Fisher.  With Tennessee having two weeks to get ready and the Rams operating only six days after a physically and emotionally draining loss to the Seahawks, this could be the ugly result everyone expected on Monday night.

Florio’s pick:  Titans 27, Rams 13.

Chargers at Redskins

MDS’s take: Washington is just not a good team in any phase of the game: The offense still looks like it needs last year’s Robert Griffin III, the defense allows too many big plays in the passing game and the special teams are an absolute disaster. San Diego will put a lot of points on the board and win an easy one.

MDS’s pick: Chargers 31, Redskins 17.

Florio’s takePhilip Rivers owns a 5-1 record against Mike Shanahan.  The Chargers are rested and the Redskins are reeling after suffering a 38-point second-half barrage against the Broncos.

Florio’s pick:  Chargers 24, Redskins 14.

Eagles at Raiders

MDS’s take: Everyone has spent so much time in the last couple weeks asking what’s wrong with Chip Kelly’s offense that a lot of people are overlooking all the problems with the Eagles’ defense. When you can’t even force a turnover against the Giants’ offense — and the Eagles’ defense couldn’t last week — you know something is wrong. Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor makes his share of mistakes, but the Eagles don’t have the defense to take advantage of those mistakes. Pryor will make enough big plays with his feet to win this one and make Kelly wish he had a quarterback like Pryor.

MDS’s pick: Raiders 20, Eagles 10.

Florio’s take:  The Raiders complete a rare two-game sweep of Pennsylvania’s pro football teams without ever having to leave the Bay Area.  All four NFC West teams will be at or above .500 come Sunday, thanks to their ability to pulverize the teams of the NFC East.

Florio’s pick:  Raiders 17, Eagles 9.

Buccaneers at Seahawks

MDS’s take: The Buccaneers are playing as badly as any team in the NFL right now. Seattle is the toughest place to play in the league. The Seahawks can name their score.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 41, Buccaneers 13.

Florio’s take:  Two teams that entered the NFL together in 1976 couldn’t be more different in 2013.  While the Bucs still have the bragging rights that come from winning a Super Bowl, the Seahawks could be on course to match that achievement this year.  Tampa will be a minor speed bump along the path to New York

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 31, Buccaneers 10.

Ravens at Browns

MDS’s take: Browns quarterback Jason Campbell actually played well against the tough Chiefs’ defense, and the Ravens haven’t been playing well recently. Call me crazy, but I think the defending Super Bowl champions are going down in Cleveland.

MDS’s pick: Browns 20, Ravens 14.

Florio’s take:  The team that used to be the Browns has beaten the Browns 11 straight times.  If the Ravens can’t run that streak to 12, their five-year run of playoff berths could be ending, too.  Rested and re-focused, the Ravens will find a way, as they always seem to do when they need it most.

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 20, Browns 10.

Steelers at Patriots

MDS’s take: The Patriots have had so many injuries that they feel like they’re going to fall apart at any moment, but there they are in their customary spot atop the AFC East. They’ll keep it going against the Steelers.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 27, Steelers 21.

Florio’s take:  The Steelers can win if they commit fully to the run, and if they can find a way to slow down a good-not-great New England offense.  Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger seems to be too determined to prove he’s still a franchise quarterback to buy in to a run-based attack, even if the team’s use of the Wildcat means that the Steelers no longer view him as a true game changer.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 24, Steelers 21.

Colts at Texans

MDS’s take: Case Keenum may provide the Texans a spark, and the Colts may be due for a letdown. I’m tempted to pick Houston to pull off an upset and snap their five-game losing streak, but I just can’t pull the trigger on it.

MDS’s pick: Colts 21, Texans 20.

Florio’s take:  Two weeks after Peyton Manning returned to his adopted home of Indianapolis, Andrew Luck returns to his real home of Houston.  The question is which Colts team will come with him — and whether Case Keenum can build on his near miss against the Chiefs from Week Seven.  I’ll say the one that lost to the Chargers, and yes.

Florio’s pick:  Texans 27, Colts 20.

Bears at Packers

MDS’s take: In this week’s only matchup of teams with winning records, the Packers will strengthen their grip on the NFC North race with a win over the Bears. Both teams are banged up, but the Bears’ loss of Jay Cutler and Lance Briggs makes it tough for them to win anywhere. I certainly don’t see them winning in Green Bay.

MDS’s pick: Packers 34, Bears 17.

Florio’s takeJosh McCown, Luke McCown, Cade McNown.  Either way, it’s a McLoss, McDog.  Green Bay keeps rolling toward another division title, as long as the quarterback doesn’t join the injured list.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 35, Bears 21.

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Raiders waive Kenbrell Thompkins

Kenbrell Thompkins, Tyrann Mathieu AP

Two years ago, receiver Kenbrell Thompkins became a pleasant surprise from the Patriots, catching 32 passes for 466 yards in 12 games as an undrafted rookie.

Last year, the Patriots decided to move on from Thompkins after only two appearances. He landed with the Raiders, and he finished the year with 12 appearances and six starts.

This year, there will be no starts with the Raiders; per a league source, Thompkins has been waived.

He’ll now be available on waivers to any interested team. If he clears waivers, he’ll become a free agent.

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Raiders cut Trent Richardson

Trent Richardson AP

One of the biggest draft busts in recent memory may have reached the end of the line.

Trent Richardson, the running back selected third overall in the 2012 draft, has been released by the Raiders, according to ESPN.

Richardson had a disappointing rookie season with the Browns after going third overall, and was then traded to the Colts for a first-round pick. A complete disaster in Indianapolis, Richardson was cut this offseason. The Raiders picked him up, but he did not impress in the preseason.

Realistically, it’s hard to see any other team giving Richardson a chance after he was such a dismal failure in all three of his stops. At age 25, this once-promising running back has probably played his last snap in the NFL.

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If Cousins can’t cut his interceptions, Gruden can’t stick with him

Jacksonville Jaguars v Washington Redskins Getty Images

Washington coach Jay Gruden insists that Kirk Cousins is his quarterback for the 2015 season. Don’t be surprised if Gruden changes his mind.

Gruden has already changed his mind before: He changed his mind about Robert Griffin III when he proclaimed Cousins the starter today, and Gruden changed his mind about Cousins last year when he benched Cousins for Colt McCoy. So we know Gruden isn’t a man to stick to his guns at the quarterback position.

And we also know that Cousins is a quarterback who gives his coaches ample reason to bench him. In his three-year NFL career, Cousins has thrown 19 interceptions out of 407 passes. That’s a terrible rate of 4.7 percent of all of his passes being intercepted — nearly double the league-wide rate of 2.5 percent of passes being intercepted. According to ESPN, Cousins is the only quarterback in the NFL to average more than one turnover for every 30 snaps over the last two years.

For all the criticism Griffin receives, he doesn’t throw interceptions anywhere near as often as Cousins. Griffin has thrown interceptions on just 2.2 percent of his passes in his NFL career, meaning Cousins gets picked off more than twice as often as Griffin.

That’s an area where Cousins simply has to improve. If not, Gruden is going to change his mind again.

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Josh Boyce among Patriots’ cuts

Josh Boyce AP

When the Patriots selected TCU wide receiver Josh Boyce in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL draft, they thought he had the potential to be a big-play player both on their offense and on special teams. It hasn’t worked out that way.

The Patriots announced today that Boyce has been released after two years with the team.

As a rookie the Patriots gave Boyce plenty of opportunities, but he ended the season with just nine catches for 121 yards, plus nine kickoff returns for 214 yards. In 2014 Boyce was largely phased out, playing only in the meaningless Week 17 game and never touching the ball.

Also cut by the Patriots today were receiver Jonathan Krause, tight end Jimmay Mundine, defensive lineman Joe Vellano and linebacker Dekoda Watson.

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Where will RGIII be in three years?

Detroit Lions v Washington Redskins Getty Images

Three years ago, Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III was preparing to take the league by storm. A lot has happened since then.

Three years from now, where will Griffin be?

That’s the subject of the poll question for Monday’s Pro Football Talk on NBCSN. Answer below, then tune in at 6:00 p.m. ET for the show.

During the show, Rodney Harrison, Paul Burmeister, and yours truly will talk about the Griffin situation, along with plenty of other stuff. Enough stuff to fill up an entire half hour.

See you then. Which is a subtle way of persuading you to watch, by presuming that you will.

It probably would have been more effective if I’d simply stopped at, “See you then.”

So, see you then.

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Julius Thomas seeking second opinion, may miss four weeks

Julius Thomas AP

Julius Thomas’s tenure in Jacksonville is not off to a great start.

Thomas, the tight end who landed with the Jaguars in a big free-agent signing, has missed the last two preseason games with a hand injury. And now he may miss another month.

Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell said today that Thomas is getting a second opinion and may need surgery on his hand. If Thomas does need surgery, the recovery time would be four weeks. Which means Thomas could miss the first few games of the regular season.

A few games is not a big deal in the grand scheme of the five-year, $46 million contract Thomas signed with the Jaguars. But this is not the way the Jaguars were hoping Thomas would begin his tenure when he signed that deal.

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Rex announces Tyrod Taylor after “change of heart” on secrecy

Rex Ryan AP

Bills coach Rex Ryan has said for weeks that he would not announce the winner of his team’s quarterback competition. And then today he made the announcement.

Ryan confirmed today that Tyrod Taylor will start Week One against the Colts. Previously, Ryan said he wouldn’t announce the Bills’ Week One starter because he didn’t want to give the Colts any edge. But today Ryan said he had a “change of heart” about that and thought it made more sense to proclaim publicly that the franchise is behind Taylor as its quarterback.

The decision to start Taylor suggests that the Bills think the way they can win this year is by playing good defense and keeping the ball on the ground on offense. Taylor is unproven as a passer, but he may be the fastest quarterback in the NFL, and his running threat will make the Bills — who are already deep at running back — one of the NFL’s best running teams.

In fact, the Bills may even play offense a bit like Ryan’s Jets did in last year’s Monday night game against the Dolphins. On that night, the Jets ran the ball 49 times and threw the ball only 13 times, and they almost pulled off an upset of Miami. Ryan’s Bills may very well lead the league in rushing attempts.

But there will be times when the Bills need a quarterback who can throw the ball. And if Taylor can’t deliver, it won’t be a surprise if Ryan has another “change of heart” and switches to Matt Cassel.

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NFL changes auction procedures after AFC title game mishap

images Getty Images

The AFC Championship Game between the Patriots and Colts remains best known for #DeflateGate, which has prompted the NFL to change the way it handles footballs. A lesser-known glitch from that same game also has prompted the league to make a change.

In a memo sent last week to all teams, the NFL informed all teams that it has changed the way it harvests game-used footballs for auction. Basically, the league office no longer will be doing the harvesting.

“NFL Auction employees will no longer carry jerseys and other game-used items with them from games,” the memo from Jeff Pash, Troy Vincent, and Anna Isaacson to all teams said in a memo that PFT has obtained. “Instead, when Auction employees are onsite, they will coordinate prior to the game with the club’s equipment manager and meet them postgame to photograph items to be provided for sale on NFL Auction. This will enable the items to be posted quickly on the Auction website to capitalize on timing and interest. In all cases, however, shipping will go directly from the club to The Hibbert Group.”

In January, former NFL employee Scott Miller removed a kicking ball from play in the first half of the AFC title game, sparking a chain of events that resulted in an erroneous ESPN report that the Patriots had tried to introduce an unapproved kicking ball into the game. Miller later was fired, as PFT reported in February.

The specific events, as chronicled in the Ted Wells report, remain unclear, but the Patriots were exonerated of any wrongdoing as to that specific portion of the investigation. Moving forward, there will be no room for confusion in matters of this nature, since NFL employees will not remove footballs or other game-used items from the game site, either during or after the contests. Instead, the teams will be sending the materials directly to the auction house that sells the items.

NFL employees will be responsible for taking photographs of items to be auctioned after the game, and then to compare the photos from the game site to photos taken by the auction house to ensure authenticity.

It still seems that the best way to ensure authenticity is to have an NFL employee physically remove the item and deliver it to the auction house. Apparently, however, there was a flaw in that process sufficiently fatal to prompt the NFL to completely abandon it.

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Seahawks make their moves, including cutting projected center

Seattle Seahawks v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

In addition to pawning off unwanted wide receiver Kevin Norwood to the Panthers in a pre-deadline trade, the Seahawks have announced the rest of the moves they’ll need to get to the 75-man roster limit.

The team announced 14 other moves, as they did the work they need to do a day ahead of time.

The biggest name among those cut was Lemuel Jeanpierre. While perhaps not a household name, he did head into camp as their projected starting center, after dealing Max Unger to the Saints in the Jimmy Graham trade.

The Seahawks line is in a reasonable degree of flux anyway, and this cut leaves the job to Drew Nowak for the moment.

They also released defensive tackle D’Anthony Smith, and waived tackle Jesse Davis, cornerback George Farmer, wide receivers Deshon Foxx and Deontay Greenberry, cornerback Keelan Johnson, linebacker Quayshawn Nealy, defensive end Greg Scruggs and safety Ty Zimmerman.

They also waived/injured fullback Brandon Cottom and cornerback Triston Wade, and placed cornerback Jeremy Lane and wide receiver Paul Richardson on reserve/PUP, meaning Lane and Richardson will miss at least the first six weeks of the season.

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Report: Seahawks trading Norwood to Panthers

Kevin Norwood AP

The Seahawks will trade wide receiver Kevin Norwood to the Panthers, according to a report from Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle.

A fourth-round pick in 2014, Norwood caught nine passes in games as a rookie. Earlier Monday, Wilson reported that the Seahawks were going to waive Norwood.

The Panthers didn’t have a stellar receiving corps even before the loss of Kelvin Benjamin for the season to a torn ACL, so this move makes sense. Per Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports, the compensation is an undisclosed draft pick. This is the the kind of trade that happens often at this stage of the preseason and often involves a conditional draft pick — and generally a seventh-rounder — based on how much Norwood eventually contributes to the Panthers.

The emergence of rookie Tyler Lockett and presence of young receivers Kevin Smith and Kasen Williams made Norwood expendable in Seattle.

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Martavis Bryant suspension becomes official

Martavis Bryant AP

We still don’t know whether the Patriots will have quarterback Tom Brady for the regular-season opener. But we now know that the Steelers won’t have two key offensive weapons due to suspension.

Running back Le’Veon Bell previously was suspended two games for violating the substance-abuse policy. Receiver Martavis Bryant has now been suspended four games for violating the substance-abuse policy.

“We are disappointed in Martavis’ actions that has led to his four-game suspension,” Steelers G.M. Kevin Colbert said in a team-issued release. “It is a disappointment to our entire organization as well as our fans, but we will continue to support Martavis during his suspension. It is very unfortunate his actions have put our team in this situation to begin the year, but we are confident he will learn from his mistake and return in excellent shape in Week Five.”

It was more than a mistake; it was a series of violations of the substance-abuse policy that culminated in the four-game suspension, with Bryant consistently choosing a banned substance over football. Now, he’ll have to unequivocally choose football, or he’ll eventually face a 10-game suspension and, in time, a full-year banishment.

The Steelers apparently have chosen to stick with Bryant. Five years ago, they abruptly dumped receiver Santonio Holmes onto the Jets after Holmes was suspended four games under the substance-abuse policy.

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49ers to put center Daniel Kilgore on reserve/PUP

Daniel Kilgore AP

The 49ers hope to get center Daniel Kilgore back on the field this season, but it won’t be for at least the first six weeks.

According to Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, the 49ers informed Kilgore he’d be placed on the reserve/physically unable to perform list, which will be part of their roster moves to get to the 75-man limit by Tuesday’s deadline.

The move makes Kilgore ineligible for at least the first six weeks of the season. There’s then a five-week window for him to begin practicing, and from the day he starts, the team has three weeks to make a roster decision.

Kilgore suffered a broken leg last season, but needed follow-up surgery in June, and is still wearing a walking boot, so he doesn’t appear to be close to a return.

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Fred Jackson would have “done anything” to retire with Bills

Fred Jackson AP

We’ve heard from Bills G.M. Doug Whaley regarding the decision to part ways with running back Fred Jackson after 10 years with franchise. We’ve yet to hear from Jackson.

But here’s what PFT has heard, given that Whaley didn’t really say much regarding the decision to move on from Jackson.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Jackson would have “done anything” to retire with the Bills. Jackson, however, wasn’t given that chance.

In meeting with the media, Whaley answered questions but said nothing, citing “competitive reasons” for not elaborating on the decision to move on from Jackson.

Whaley declined to say whether the Bills tried to trade Jackson, but he acknowledged that the salary cap was part of the decision. If so, the cap number could have been reduced. Again, Jackson wasn’t given that chance.

The question now becomes whether Jackson will get that chance elsewhere. The Browns make plenty of sense, given the fact that coach Mike Pettine spent time in Buffalo as defensive coordinator. Other teams with needs in the top two spots of the depth chart make sense, too.

Still, Jackson would have more options if the decision had come earlier. While Whaley tried to paint the timing of the decision as a favor to Jackson in his effort to find a new team, the real favor would have been to let Jackson go in March, so that he could land on a team has already made other plans based on the players who were available in March.

And April. And May. And June. And July. And August 1 through August 30.

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Dave Zastudil, Lorenzo Alexander part of early cuts in Arizona

Dave Zastudil AP

Punter Dave Zastudil missed 14 games last season after suffering a groin injury in September and it looks like the two games he did play with the Cardinals will be his last with the team.

The Cardinals announced that they have released Zastudil on Monday, leaving Drew Butler as the only punter on the roster heading into the 2015 season. Zastudil spent four years with the Cardinals and has also played for the Ravens and Browns during a 12-year NFL career.

Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander was also cut loose on Monday. Alexander spent the last two seasons in the desert and appeared in all 16 games for the team last year. He was listed as a second-teamer during the preseason, but his departure is a good reminder of how unofficial those charts are at this time of the year.

Linebacker Glenn Carson, guard Nate Isles, linebacker Edwin Jackson, linebacker Andrae Kirk, cornerback Shaq Richardson, tight end Gannon Sinclair, cornerback Darren Woodard, wide receiver Ryan Spadola and wide receiver Travis Harvey have also been dispatched, leaving the Cardinals with one move to make to get to 75 players.

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Cowboys waive five players

Divisional Playoffs - Dallas Cowboys v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

None of the first five cuts the Cowboys made were especially notable or surprising.

Waived Monday were wide receiver Phil Bates, cornerback Robert Steeples, defensive tackle Carlif Taylor, punter Tom Hornsey and long snapper Casey Kreiter. The team still has to make more moves to meet Tuesday’s deadline for cutting the roster to 75.

All 32 teams close the preseason Thursday and must trim their rosters to the regular-season size of 53 by Saturday.

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