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PFT’s Week 11 picks

McCown AP

The good news?  I picked up two games on MDS last weekend.  The bad news?  I’m still behind by five.

The worst news?  Since we only disagree on two games this week, I don’t have much of a chance of narrowing the gap.

For the week, I was a measly 8-6.  Which means MDS was a pathetic 6-8.  (Almost as pathetic as my 5-8 from Week Nine.)

For the year, he’s 95-52 on the season, and I’m 90-57.

For all our picks — and based on our recent performances we suggest doing the opposite, for amusement purposes only — read on.

Colts at Titans

MDS’s take: The Colts and Titans had the two worst performances in the NFL on Sunday. Losing to the Rams by 30 is humiliating, and losing to the Jaguars by any amount is even worse. Now they have to shake it off on a short work week. The 4-5 Titans can pull to within a game of the Colts in the AFC South with a win, but I trust Indianapolis to rebound from last week more than I trust Tennessee.

MDS’s pick: Colts 24, Titans 20.

Florio’s take:  But for Gary Kubiak collapsing at halftime and the Texans plummeting into disarray with a 24-6 lead, the Colts would be 1-3 over the last four weeks.  Even worse, they lost by 30 at home to the Rams.  While that’s a lot to recover from on a short week, the Titans lost to the Jaguars — and they’ve lost their starting quarterback.  Again.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 20, Titans 17.

Jets at Bills

MDS’s take: I haven’t been able to figure out the Jets all season, so why should now be any different? On paper they look to me like a better team than the Bills, and yet I think the Buffalo defense can give Geno Smith fits and lead the Bills to a low-scoring win.

MDS’s pick: Bills 9, Jets 6.

Florio’s take:  The Jets break their win-one-lose-one trend by facing a team that has lost plenty, along with the interest of its fans.  Geno Smith moves to 2-0 against the only quarterback drafted in front of him.

Florio’s pick:  Jets 24, Bills 16.

Ravens at Bears

MDS’s take: The Bears’ playoff hopes took a huge hit with last week’s loss to the Lions, while the Ravens’ playoff hopes stayed alive with last week’s win over the Bengals. This week things will go in the other direction. The way to beat the Bears is to run the football, and the Ravens are terrible at running the football. The Bears will take this one.

MDS’s pick: Bears 27, Ravens 17.

Florio’s take:  No more excuses for Joe Flacco.  While his weapons are diminished, so is the Chicago defense.  And the Bears have once again resorted to Josh McCown.

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 23, Bears 17.

Browns at Bengals

MDS’s take: This is a big game in the AFC North. If the Browns win they’ll be just half a game behind the Bengals, and they’ll own the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Browns are playing good football recently and the Bengals are struggling, and this has all the makings of a huge win for Cleveland and yet . . . I just can’t pick the Browns. A.J. Green will make enough big plays to win this one.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 28, Browns 20.

Florio’s take:  The Bengals are unbeaten at home.  But they haven’t played at home since losing Geno Atkins for the year.  And the Browns finally have found a quarterback.  A Cleveland sweep would throw the AFC North into complete disarray, but it’s time for the Bengals to reverse the slide.

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 27, Browns 20.

Raiders at Texans

MDS’s take: This should be Sunday’s ugliest game, as neither team is particularly good in any phase. The one compelling aspect of this matchup is that both teams have young quarterbacks who have shown flashes of talent. I’ll trust a healthy Case Keenum to make a few more big plays than Terrelle Pryor on a bum knee, and that will be the difference.

MDS’s pick: Texans 27, Raiders 20.

Florio’s take:  It’s the Sam Rosen-Bill Maas game of the week.  And if the Texans can’t find a way to break a seven-game slide against a slumping team that is getting close to the point where Matt McGloin should get a tryout, the Texans may not win another game this year.

Florio’s pick:  Texans 24, Raiders 14.

Cardinals at Jaguars

MDS’s take: The Jaguars turned in one good game against the Titans, but they won’t make it two in a row. The Cardinals’ defense is too good and the Jaguars’ offense is too bad for this game to be close.

MDS’s pick: Cardinals 21, Jaguars 6.

Florio’s take:  The Jaguars surprised the Titans.  The Jaguars won’t be surprising anyone else this year.  Especially not the playoff contenders with great defenses.

Florio’s pick:  Cardinals 24, Jaguars 9.

Chargers at Dolphins

MDS’s take: The locker-room distractions are an issue for the Dolphins, but a bigger issue on Sunday is that the Dolphins just don’t have the kind of defense that matches up well with the Chargers’ passing attack. San Diego will put a lot of points on the board in Miami.

MDS’s pick: Chargers 34, Dolphins 24.

Florio’s take:  The up-and-down Chargers face the down-and-out Dolphins.  If Miami can’t beat the Bucs, it’s hard to see them beating the Chargers.  Or pretty much anyone.

Florio’s pick:  Chargers 28, Dolphins 20.

Redskins at Eagles

MDS’s take: Philadelphia is rolling with Nick Foles right now, and he should put up more big numbers against a bad Washington secondary. When these teams played in the Monday night opener Philadelphia jumped out to an early lead and Washington couldn’t catch up, and I see this game going the same way.

MDS’s pick: Eagles 30, Redskins 23.

Florio’s take:  The Eagles haven’t won at home since September 30, 2012.  And yet they’re 5-5.  The Redskins are 3-6 for the second straight year.  And yet they think they can once again turn things around.  More importantly, the third-round pick from 2012 is currently looking a lot better than the second overall selection from last year.

Florio’s pick:  Eagles 30, Redskins 20.

Lions at Steelers

MDS’s take: This could be a trap game for Detroit, which is celebrating being in first place this late in the season for the first time since the pre-Matt Millen era. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, an old and slow defense can’t keep up with the Lions’ offense for four quarters. Look for the Lions to get off to a sluggish start but put the Steelers away late.

MDS’s pick: Lions 31, Steelers 20.

Florio’s take:  The Lions haven’t won in Pittsburgh since Bobby Layne was the quarterback.  Of the Lions.  A full 58 years and four days later, the Lions are good and the Steelers are bad and yes it’s that simple.

Florio’s pick:  Lions 27, Steelers 21.

Falcons at Buccaneers

MDS’s take: The Bucs are a bad team, but they’re not as bad as people think. There’s a lot of talent on that defense, and Mike Glennon is playing solid football as a rookie quarterback. The Falcons are on a path from first to worst in the NFC South, and a loss in Tampa Bay will show just how far Atlanta has fallen.

MDS’s pick: Buccaneers 21, Falcons 20.

Florio’s take:  It’s the Battle for the Basement, Part II.  The Falcons have done nothing to show that they’ll be able to beat the Bucs, or anyone, on the road.

Florio’s pick:  Buccaneers 21, Falcons 13.

49ers at Saints

MDS’s take: The 49ers’ offense is struggling mightily, while the Saints’ offense is exploding. Hard for me to see the 49ers going to New Orleans and winning.

MDS’s pick: Saints 31, 49ers 17.

Florio’s take:  Last year, Colin Kaepernick cemented his grip on the starting quarterback job by beating the Saints in New Orleans.  This year, the questions regarding whether the Niners kept the wrong guy will intensify.

Florio’s pick:  Saints 34, 49ers 24.

Vikings at Seahawks

MDS’s take: This will be an easy win for the Seahawks, who continue their march to the No. 1 seed in the NFC. I’ll be surprised if the Vikings keep it close.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 41, Vikings 10.

Florio’s take:  Regardless of whether Percy Harvin plays (or doesn’t) for the Seahawks or whether he was playing for the Vikings, it won’t matter.  The Seahawks are far superior, and they’re playing where they never lose.

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 27, Vikings 10.

Packers at Giants

MDS’s take: A couple weeks ago this looked like an easy win for the Packers. Now Aaron Rodgers is hurt, and Seneca Wallace is hurt too, and the Giants are playing better, and all of a sudden it looks like an easy win for the Giants.

MDS’s pick: Giants 24, Packers 13.

Florio’s take:  Scott Tolzein vs. non-Eli Eli Manning.  Is there anything else on TV then?

Florio’s pick:  Giants 24, Packers 17.

Chiefs at Broncos

MDS’s take: The pressure in this game is on the Broncos.  If the Chiefs, who already have a one-game lead in the division, were to win on the road at Denver, they’d establish themselves as the clear favorites to win the AFC West. But I expect the Broncos to turn in one of their best games of the season and win this one handily.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 35, Chiefs 20.

Florio’s take:  The Colts provided the blueprint . . . for holding the Broncos to 33 points.  The Chiefs have the defense to do the same thing.  As long as they can score 34.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 33, Chiefs 27.

Patriots at Panthers

MDS’s take: The Patriots’ offense is getting better after a rough start to the season, but they’re running into a buzz saw in Carolina, where the Panthers’ defense has been outstanding. Carolina will win a tough, physical game.

MDS’s pick: Panthers 24, Patriots 10.

Florio’s take:  The Panthers have the ability to do to Tom Brady what the Giants did to Tom Brady in Super Bowl XLII and Super Bowl XLVI.  And they will.  Repeatedly.

Florio’s pick:  Panthers 20, Patriots 13.

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Washington puts Brian Orakpo on IR, brings back Everette Brown

Cleveland Browns v Washington Redskins 8-18-2014 Getty Images

Washington knew it was going to need another pass-rusher on short notice, so a familiar face made sense.

After putting Brian Orakpo on season-ending injured reserve, they signed Everette Brown.

Orakpo was lost to a torn pectoral muscle last week.

Brown, a former second-round pick, was in camp with them this summer, but didn’t make it through final cuts.

He’s also spent time with the Panthers, Chargers, Lions, Eagles and Cowboys. He has some ability as a 3-4 rusher.

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Plans for Favre’s Lambeau return in November on hold due to Bart Starr’s health

FAVRE AP

The Packers will be retiring Brett Favre’s No. 4 and putting him in the team’s Hall of Fame next year, but Favre was planning an earlier return to Lambeau Field that now looks unlikely to happen.

Favre was planning to join Bart Starr on the field for the team’s November 9 game against the Bears, but told Ed Werder of ESPN that Starr’s recent health troubles make it unlikely to happen. Starr recently had a heart attack and two strokes and Favre said that he’s averse to taking part if Starr is unable to participate.

“I’m sure they could, but it was my idea to do it, and now that Bart can’t, I just don’t think I will,” Favre said.

Had the appearance taken place, all three Packer quarterbacks to win a Super Bowl would have been at Lambeau. Aaron Rodgers said Tuesday that Starr’s health should be the focus rather than any delay in Favre’s return.

“I think the key here is Bart and his health. That’s the most important thing,” Rodgers said, via Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

There were no concrete plans for what the appearance would entail, although Werder reports there were discussions about the two quarterback serving as honorary captains and participating in the pre-game coin toss.

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Rice appeal hearing set for November 5-6

Rice

Last week, the Ray Rice appeal hearing tentatively was set for early November.  The tentative has now become more definite.

Albert Breer of NFL Media reports that the hearing will occur on November 5 and 6.

Like every other legal proceeding that’s ever been scheduled, the dates could be changed.  And the days could be expanded, with a third day or more eventually set aside for testimony and argument.

Appeal officer Barbara S. Jones previously worked as a federal judge, which means she possibly selected the dates based on information from the lawyers regarding the number of witnesses to be called and the estimated duration of the testimony.

Far bigger than the “when” is the “who”; Judge Jones is expected to rule this week on the question of whether Commissioner Roger Goodell will be required to testify.  The NFL Players Association believes his testimony is critical to the process.  The NFL is resisting the effort to force him to answer questions under oath.

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Amobi Okoye expected to practice on Thursday

Chicago Bears v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

Over the summer, we learned the details of the illness that caused defensive lineman Amobi Okoye to miss all of last season.

Okoye was diagnosed with anti-NMDA encephalitis, a condition that led doctors to put him in a medically-induced coma. Okoye lost 78 pounds while recovering and signed with Dallas in May. He was able to get cleared for contact by the Cowboys at the end of the summer, but remained on the non-football illness list so he could continue his rehab.

Players on NFI are eligible to return to practice and Okoye’s attorney told Adam Caplan of ESPN that Okoye is expected to do just that on Thursday. If he does, it will open up a three-week window for the team to decide whether to put Okoye on the 53-man roster or place him on injured reserve for the rest of the season. Okoye said recently that he’s eager to find out what he’s able to do.

“I’m just letting it freewheel,” Okoye said. “I’m excited. I’m anxious. At the same time I’m curious.”

The Cowboys defensive line has already welcomed defensive end Anthony Spencer back from a long absence and plan to get rookie DeMarcus Lawrence back in Week Nine when he’s eligible to return from injured reserve. If Okoye is able to join them, it would only help a good Dallas defense weather the long season. The fact that it’s a possibility is remarkable by itself, though.

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Buccaneers DE Da’Quan Bowers suspended for PED violation

San Francisco 49ers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

The Buccaneers have a number of problems this year, and now they have another one.

The league announced that defensive end Da’Quan Bowers had been suspended two games for violating the league’s performance enhancing substance policy.

Bowers, a former second-round pick, has been a disappointment in the NFL. Knee injuries kept him from showing the kind of pass-rush skills he had at Clemson, and he was no lock to make the Bucs roster this year during camp.

He has 6.5 career sacks, one of them this year.

He’ll be eligible to return on Monday, November 3 following the team’s game against the Cleveland Browns.

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Cowboys release Michael Sam from practice squad

Sam AP

A lot has happened since the Rams cut defensive end Michael Sam, he languished for a few days, and then he landed on the Cowboys’ practice squad.  Out of sight and largely out of mind, Sam is once again out of an NFL job.

Per multiple reports, the Cowboys have released Sam from the practice squad.  The first openly gay player in NFL history is now free to sign with any other team’s practice squad.

Throughout the past seven weeks, he also has been available to sign with any team’s 53-man roster.  But there has been no chatter or interest in anyone doing that.

The NFL reportedly had made a couple of phone calls aimed at persuading someone to give Sam a spot on the practice squad, before the Cowboys did.  With domestic violence lingering on the NFL’s front burner, however, the league may no longer be concerned about avoiding the perception that Sam was rejected based on his sexual orientation.

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Seahawks didn’t contact Patriots about Harvin trade

Percy AP

Nearly four days removed from the trade that sent receiver Percy Harvin from Seattle to the Jets, several confusing issues remain.

For example, if the Seahawks had become sufficiently fed up with Harvin that they would have cut him if they couldn’t have traded him, why didn’t they try to maximize their otherwise minimal return on the investment?  The easy answer is that they wanted to steer Harvin to a non-contender, a team that the Seahawks would be unlikely to face down the road, especially in the postseason.  And with the Jets at 1-6, there’s little risk that the Seahawks would encounter Harvin on February 1 in Arizona.  (Especially since Seattle will now have a hard time getting there.)

But the Seahawks reportedly called the Broncos about a deal that would have sent Harvin to Denver for tight end Julius Thomas.  So contending teams weren’t out of the question.

As AFC contenders go, the Patriots would have been the most intriguing choice.  Given Bill Belichick’s friendship with former Florida coach Urban Meyer, Belichick’s history of taking chances on receivers like Chad Ochocinco and Randy Moss, and the team’s clear need for playmakers on offense, the Patriots could have been drawn into a bidding war with the Jets for the kind of versatile weapon Belichick would love to have.  Which could have gotten the Jets more than a sixth-round pick that only becomes a fourth-round pick if Harvin remains on the Jets’ roster in 2015.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the Seahawks didn’t talk to the Patriots about a possible Harvin trade.  It’s not known what the Patriots would have said, or whether they at a minimum would have feigned interest to get the Jets to give up more.  Regardless, it looks like the Seahawks were so intent to get rid of Harvin before the possibility of trading him leaked that they ended up doing a deal that wasn’t as good as it maybe could have been.

That’s not a knock on the Seahawks.  It merely demonstrates that, once they knew they were moving on, they moved quickly and decisively, possibly to avoid the distractions that would come from a week of two of rumors and reports regarding the possibility that Harvin would be traded.  It also shows that, for whatever reason, they decided not to do business with the Patriots.

Maybe the best explanation is that coach Pete Carroll, the last coach fired by owner Bob Kraft before Bill Belichick was hired, didn’t want to do anything to help the Patriots get better.

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Panthers release defensive back Charles Godfrey

Carolina Panthers v Buffalo Bills Getty Images

The Panthers tried to make Charles Godfrey something he wasn’t.

So now, they made him unemployed.

Godfrey’s agent just tweeted out word that the Panthers were releasing the veteran defensive back today.

Godfrey, a former third-round pick, was moved from safety to nickel cornerback this year, after the Panthers cut his pay and signed NFC South cast-offs Thomas DeCoud and Roman Harper.

It’s debatable that either was better than Godfrey, even as he was coming back from a torn Achilles last year.

Godfrey did struggle, particularly against the Packers last week.

He also represents another move by General Manager Dave Gettleman to cull the herd of players who were given contract extensions by former G.M. Marty Hurney immediately after the lockout.

They filled his roster spot by signing offensive lineman Chris Scott, who was started for them last year but was cut after training camp this season.

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Cullen Jenkins expected to miss some time with calf injury

New York Giants v Dallas Cowboys Getty Images

The center of the Giants defense is hurting at the moment.

Linebacker Jon Beason is headed for a meeting with foot specialist Dr. Robert Anderson after leaving last Sunday’s loss to the Cowboys with a problem in the same foot that he originally injured in the offseason and then re-injured earlier this season. That sounds like a scenario that could cause Beason to miss some time and it would come with defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins out of the lineup as well.

Jenkins injured his calf in Dallas and is expected to be out once the Giants return from their bye. Mike Patterson will start in his place and defensive line coach Robert Nunn said that Damontre Moore will also see more time as the Giants try to replace Jenkins as a pass rusher.

“With the absence of Cullen inside, [Moore's] going to be more and more involved and get more at-bats,” Nunn said, via NJ.com. “He has to produce when he’s out there. And his production will determine how much playing time he gets.”

Moore has two sacks this season while playing in a limited role. With a tough schedule awaiting them after the bye, adding to that total would be a big boost to the team.

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Dion Jordan returns to work with Dolphins

Dion Jordan AP

The Dolphins had to wait a little longer than they originally expected to get Dion Jordan back at work, but the day finally arrived on Tuesday.

Jordan took part in the team’s practice after being suspended for the first six games of the season. Jordan was originally suspended four games in the offseason for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, but had that suspension wiped out when the league and NFLPA agreed on a new policy two weeks into the season.

Jordan was suspended for four more games at that point for a separate violation, however, and the Dolphins have had to go without the third overall pick of the 2013 season for the entire season as a result.

Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald reports that the defensive end was working with the kickoff coverage team during special teams drills in his first day back with the team. He could play that role this week, but the Dolphins don’t need to immediately clear a roster spot for him because they have a one-week exemption before they’re forced to put him on the roster.

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Report: Jets to sign wide receiver Jeremy Kerley to extension

New York Jets v New England Patriots Getty Images

The Jets aren’t finished spending money on wide receivers.

This one seems to be a more stable investment, however.

According to Adam Caplan of ESPN, the Jets are expected to announce a four-year contract extension for wide receiver Jeremy Kerley today.

The former fifth-rounder is in the final year of his rookie contract.

He has 22 catches for 201 yards and a touchdown this year (though just seven catches the last four games), and would be a viable third option if things work out with Eric Decker and Percy Harvin. He caught 99 balls the previous two seasons.

 

 

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Bills place Spiller on IR, with designation to return

Spiller Getty Images

As expected, Bills running back C.J. Spiller has been placed on injured reserve after surgery to repair a broken collarbone.  As not expected, he has been given the one-per-team-per-year designation for return.

With Week Eight approach, it means Spiller can return to game action in Week 16.  Which means he’d be available, in theory, for games at Oakland and New England, along with any playoff games.

It’s unclear whether Spiller will be healed by Week 16.  A source with direct knowledge of the situation told PFT on Sunday that Spiller was done for the year.

Then again, with a shrinking window for using the designation for return, the Bills needed to use it on someone, or they quite possibly would have used it on no one.

To replace Spiller on the roster, the Bills have signed running back Phillip Tanner.

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With three home games in 12 days, Bengals are facing blackouts

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The Bengals, who have qualified for the playoffs in three straight years, have had trouble selling tickets this year.  In the midst of an 0-2-1 slump, the Bengals face arguably their biggest box-office test of the season; they’ve got three home games in a 12-day span.

“We still have tickets available for each of the three games and are working hard to sell as many as we can and get the games on TV,” Bengals ticket sales manager Andrew Brown said.

On Sunday, the Bengals host the Ravens.  The following Sunday, the Bengals host the Jaguars.  Four days later, the Browns come to town for a Thursday night game.

The Bengals decided before the season to reduce their non-premium ticket threshold to 85 percent to ensure that the games will be televised locally, but they’re still facing the possibility of one or more blackouts.

No NFL games have been blacked out on local TV yet this year.  Last month, the FCC voted to end government support for the blackout rule.  The league and the broadcast networks still have the ability to privately agree not to televise the games, if they aren’t sold out within 72 hours before kickoff.

If/when the NFL continues to black out games, Congress could intensify efforts to force the NFL to permit all games to be televised in the local market, regardless of the amount of tickets sold.

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League won’t fine Kuechly

Kuechly Getty Images

Yes. Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly was ejected from Sunday’s game for making contact with an official.  No, he won’t be fined.

Yes (or no?), that’s not inconsistent.

Per a league source, Kuechly won’t be fined for that which got him ejected.  The decision not to fine Kuechly was first reported by Ed Werder of ESPN.

Kuechly won’t be fined because he didn’t know he was making contact with an official.  But while inadvertence and the absence of intent won’t get Kuechly fined, the league believes the right call was made to kick Kuechly out.

It’s a delicate balance.  If a strict liability standard applies when it comes to contact with officials, a player who makes inadvertent, unintentional contact with an official should be both ejected and fined.

Maybe an ejection but no fine is the right balance to strike where the contact wasn’t intended.  Still, it’s hard to reconcile the rules as written with their application.

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League introduces NFL Sportsmanship Award

2012 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Getty Images

The NFL has announced that a new annual Sportsmanship Award, to be determined by a player vote, will be given out on the day before the Super Bowl.

The announcement comes at a time when the league is eager to promote its high-character players while ugly cases of off-field misconduct have cast the NFL in a negative light. The Sportsmanship Award will join the league’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, which recognizes good works off the field, in putting a spotlight on those players who conduct themselves the right way.

Other leagues including the NBA and the NHL already have awards for sportsmanship, but this will be the first season in which the NFL gives such an award.

Each team will nominate one player from its own team for the Sportsmanship Award. The league has appointed a panel of former players — Warrick Dunn, Curtis Martin, Karl Mecklenburg and Leonard Wheeler — to take the list of 32 nominees and come up with a list of eight finalists. Then the active players will vote among the eight finalists at the same time that they vote on the Pro Bowl rosters.

The recipient of the Sportsmanship Award will get a $25,000 donation to the charity of his choice from the NFL Foundation.

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