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Bengals reassert control of AFC North with rout of Cleveland

Vontaze Burfict AP

The Bengals enter their upcoming bye week all alone — and multiple games clear of the field — in the AFC North.

Cincinnati took a significant step toward a division title with a 41-20 victory against Cleveland on Sunday in Cincinnati. The win improved the Bengals to 7-4 and moved them 2.5 games ahead of the Browns, Ravens and Steelers.

The Browns had a chance to cut the Bengals’ lead to just a half-game in the division and earn the head-to-head tiebreaker against Cincinnati. Instead, the Bengals took care of business, overcoming a slow start and a tough day from their offense to prevail.

The Bengals came up big on defense and special teams. They intercepted Browns quarterback Jason Campbell three times, and linebacker Vontaze Burfict returned a fumble for a touchdown. The Bengals were superior in the kicking game, too, blocking two punts, one of which was brought back for a touchdown.

For the Browns, Sunday’s loss was one big missed opportunity. The Browns scored the game’s first 13 points, with cornerback Joe Haden picking Dalton twice in the first quarter. However, they simply made too many miscues to win, even with Cincinnati gaining just 224 yards and converting just 1-of-14 third downs.

The Bengals’ offense has had better days. And it will need to be better for Cincinnati to have a shot when the stakes get higher. But on this day, the Bengals’ other units picked up the offense — and carried the team.

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Philip Rivers named September’s best offensive player in AFC

Philip Rivers AP

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers rebounded in 2013 after a couple of off years and he’s climbed even higher in the first four weeks of this season.

Rivers has thrown for 1,155 yards and nine touchdowns while completing 70.1 percent of his passes as the Chargers have followed a season-opening loss with three straight victories.

His play has drawn some early MVP discussion, but he’ll have to settle with being the AFC’s top offensive player in September for now. Rivers was named the winner of the monthy honor on Thursday in a choice that’s pretty difficult to argue with given Rivers’s level of play.

“It’s always appreciated and an honor, but like always, I think it’s more of a reflection of the team this month,” Rivers said, via the team. “It’s an honor collectively because as a unit and a team we’ve put together three really good weeks. From a passing game standpoint, it takes every guy to make it go. The guys up front, the running backs and all the guys getting open in a hurry making tough catches have done that over the last month.”

Rivers will try to extend his franchise record with a touchdown pass in a 25th straight game against the Jets this weekend.

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Report: Signs pointing to Bridgewater not playing

Bridgewater Getty Images

Officially, Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is questionable for Thursday night’s game at Lambeau Field with a sprained ankle.  Unofficially, it’s not looking good.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter says the signs are pointing to Bridgewater not playing.

The question the Vikings ultimately must ask themselves is whether an impaired and unprepared Bridgewater presents a better chance of victory than a healthy Christian Ponder.  Throw in the risk of aggravation of the ankle injury, and perhaps the right decision is to protect Bridgewater.

Indeed, the smart play for Bridgewater would be to take the night off.  But he surely wants to play.

Either way, it’s likely that the Vikings at some point today will elevate McLeod Bethel-Thompson or Chandler Harnish to the active roster, unless the Vikings plan to use a former quarterback like receiver Jarius Wright, in the event that Bridgewater doesn’t dress and Ponder gets injured.

With 12 games left and the Vikings not likely to win at Lambeau Field even if Bridgewater were 100 percent, maybe it makes sense to see what offensive coordinator Norv Turner can do with Ponder.  Bridgewater may suffer another injury at some point later in the season, and a team with needs at quarterback may decide to make an offer for Ponder at the trade deadline approaches.

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DeMarco Murray runs off with NFC offensive player of the month

Junior Galette, DeMarco Murray AP

There have been many calls in recent years for the Cowboys to make more of a commitment to the running game, but they have gone largely unheeded until this year.

The Cowboys ran the ball early and often with DeMarco Murray over the first month of the season. It has paid off for the team, which has gone 3-1 to confound some predictions of doom, and it has paid off for Murray.

Murray has run for 534 yards on 99 carries, which leaves him more than 100 yards ahead of the next best rusher in the first four weeks of the season. Murray added 68 receiving yards and scored five touchdowns, all of which was enough to make him the NFC offensive player of the month for September.

With his contract expiring after the season, Murray has found the right time to kick his game up to another level. If he can avoid the injury issues that have cost him time in each of the last two seasons, he could run away with the rushing title on his way to free agency.

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McAfee named AFC special-teams player of month

McAfee Getty Images

On Sunday, Colts punter Pat McAfee took a bow after executing a perfect onside kick against the Titans.  He can now take another bow.

McAfee has been named the AFC special-teams player of the month.

As a punter, the former West Virginia kicker-punter leads the league in net punt average at 45.6 yards, and he’s third in gross average, with 49.6.  As Indy’s kickoff specialist, McAfee has a league-high 24 touchbacks and a pair of successful onside kicks, the only two successful onside kicks of the season.

McAfee also holds for the team’s field goals and extra points, where kicker Adam Vinatieri has converted all 24 of his attempts.

Speaking of field goals and extra points, McAfee has said he’d like to inherit that job after Vinatieri retires.  If McAfee does — and if he does it as well as he’s done the rest of his duties — he could be the special-teams player of the month for every month of every season.

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Marqise Lee will miss third straight game

Jacksonville Jaguars v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

The Jaguars have been shorthanded at wide receiver all season and that’s not going to change against Pittsburgh in Week Five.

Cecil Shorts aggravated the hamstring injury that kept him out earlier this season against the Chargers last weekend and is expected to be out of the lineup for at least this week’s game as he tries to get things healed up once and for all. If he is on the sideline, he’ll have company from Marqise Lee.

The second-round pick has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury of his own and the team ruled him out for this week on Wednesday. As with Shorts, there’s not much point in playing Lee if there’s a chance of further aggravation to the injury but all the missed time is going to make it hard for Lee to get much out of his rookie year. He missed time during the summer as well and all the injury issues are likely to slow down his transition to the professional game.

Allen Hurns, Allen Robinson and Mike Brown will be joined at receiver by Ace Sanders, whose suspension has come to an end, when they face the Steelers this Sunday.

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Kelvin Benjamin named NFL offensive rookie of month

Pittsburgh Steelers v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

The Panthers are minus one short, angry, bridge-napalming wide receiver.

But they have a young, tall, happy one who is off to a good start.

The NFL announced that Kelvin Benjamin was the league’s offensive rookie of the month for September.

He has 21 catches for 329 yards and three touchdowns, with at least 75 receiving yards in three of his games.

He’s the first Panther to win the award since Cam Newton in 2011, and it’s no accident those two have formed a quick bond.

Benjamin still struggles with routine catches sometimes, but has shown a knack for making big plays.

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Jason Garrett: Any Cowboys charged with domestic violence won’t play

Jason Garrett AP

The Panthers and Vikings are shielding star players awaiting trial on the commissioner’s exempt list. The Ravens cut Ray Rice after video of him punching out his wife became public. The 49ers, on the other hand, are leaving Ray McDonald on the field while he’s investigated for domestic violence.

But the Cowboys have made it clear to their players what will happen to them.

According to Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News, coach Jason Garrett said he told his players they won’t be allowed to play in games upon charges, regardless any due process.

“Part of what our jobs are as coaches is to create the right environment for our players to function both on and off the field,” Garrett said. “So we need to be clear about where we are. We need to be clear that we have a structure in place to help anybody who has any off-the-field issues.

“Me as a coach, position coaches, player programs, departments, we have a lot of resources here to help guys. So that was the first message, if you’re dealing with anything off the field and we can help with, we’re here for you. Having said that, there are standards that we have about all off-the-field behavior and certainly domestic violence applies to that. We’re just very clear with how we’re going to handle things.”

He may get an immediate chance to put that theory in play, with the accusations of sexual assault against defensive back C.J. Spillman.

Of course, Spillman doesn’t benefit from being central to the team’s fortunes, so it might be easier to make an example of him.


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Reggie Wayne joins Peyton, Unitas with 200 games as a Colt

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Colts receiver Reggie Wayne played his 200th regular-season game on Sunday, all with the Colts, putting him in some very elite company.

The only players who have appeared in more games in a Colts uniform are Johnny Unitas (206) and Peyton Manning (208). Wayne said he’s excited about the prospect of passing his old teammate for the team record late this season.

We all know what Peyton has done for this franchise, for this city. It’s kind of hard to believe that I could pass him up,” Wayne said. “He was here a long time. He won a lot of games for this organization, so just for me to be in the same breath, the same category as Peyton, is obviously an honor.”

Of course, if you’ve played 200 games that means you’re old. And Wayne, who will turn 36 next month, acknowledges that he’s never going to be the fastest guy on the field, especially less than a year removed from a torn ACL. That’s why Wayne said he’s working harder than ever on the mental side of the game, as he goes into the natural physical decline that comes with being an athlete in his mid-30s.

“I know I’m not going to just Usain Bolt run past everybody,” Wayne said. “I’ve got to be that much more in-tune to film watching, watching my opponent to try and find an advantage the best way I can. I probably watch more film now than I’ve watched the past couple of years than I’ve ever watched. It’s worked. It’s helped me. That’s how you get that edge and hopefully I can continue to get that.”

Wayne’s approach to the game may allow him to play a few more years and become the first Colt to play 225 games, or maybe even 250. It’s not realistic to think any receiver could catch former Lions kicker Jason Hanson for the all-time record of 327 games played with one team. Wayne also probably won’t last as long as his teammate kicker Adam Vinatieri, the active leader in games played with 278 (160 with the Patriots and 118 with the Colts). And Jerry Rice’s record of 303 games, the most ever for a non-kicker, is probably safe.

But Wayne looks like he’s in good enough shape to last a long time in Indianapolis.

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Roethlisberger: Blake Bortles is “a young me”

Blake Bortles AP

Heading into the draft, there were plenty of people comparing Blake Bortles to Ben Roethlisberger and the similarities haven’t been lost on the Steelers quarterback.

Both players are tall, big quarterbacks who have shown an ability to use their feet to avoid pass rushers and salvage plays. Roethlisberger calls Bortles, who will be on the opposite sideline this Sunday, “a young me.”

“I liked him coming out,” Roethlisberger said, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I thought he was the most ready and a guy that I thought could be the best, just because I think the things he does: He can extend plays, he can stay in, he can throw the ball, he can throw on the run. He is an impressive-type young player. He makes some rookie mistakes but he also makes some plays that you don’t expect rookies to make in a good way.”

Bortles, who shares an agent with Roethlisberger, said he’s modeled some things in his game after Roethlisberger, but points out that there’s a long way to go from being a rookie to winning two Super Bowls.

The similarities extend beyond their playing styles and builds. Both players were expected to spend most, if not all, of their rookie seasons on the bench before winding up in the starting lineup before the first month of the season was out. Bortles made his first start last week in the Jaguars’ fourth game of the season, which was a game longer than it took for Roethlisberger to take over for Tommy Maddox in Pittsburgh during the 2004 season.

The biggest difference in the two situations is the team around the quarterback. Roethlisberger benefitted from playing on a veteran club with talent while Bortles is on an 0-4 Jaguars team that’s still finding its shape under the stewardship of coach Gus Bradley and General Manager Dave Caldwell. Those differences are significant, but things should be looking up in Jacksonville as long as Bortles continues to progress despite the weaknesses just about everywhere else on the roster.

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PFT’s Week Five picks

Brady Getty Images

Last week, MDS was getting cocky, again.  After sweeping the three early games on which we disagreed, he’d clinched the weekly win.  But two disagreements remained — and both of them (Vikings and Chiefs) went my way.

Net result?  MDS added a game to his lead.  He’s now up by two games through four weeks.

For the full week, MDS went 7-6.  I went 6-7, a far cry from a 13-3 performance in Week Three.

For the year, MDS leads at 35-26.  I’m at 33-28.  For both of us, that’s sort of pathetic.

Vikings at Packers

MDS’s take: The Packers already trail the Lions in the NFC North and with a loss would also trail the Vikings, while having lost head-to-head games with both. If that happens some Green Bay fans might panic. But Green Bay fans can R-E-L-A-X, because it won’t happen.

MDS’s pick: Packers 28, Vikings 14.

Florio’s takeTeddy Bridgewater will play.  Unless he doesn’t.  Aaron Rodgers will, and that’s all that matters.  Despite the struggles against Mike Zimmer in the past.  After all, Tom Brady struggled against Zimmer last year, too.  And the Vikings are perhaps the only team that have allowed Brady to look like Brady this year.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 27, Vikings 17.

Bears at Panthers

MDS’s take: This may be the toughest game of the week to pick. Are the Panthers the team that gave the Lions their only loss and shut down a good Detroit offense? Or are the Panthers the team that got blown out by the Steelers and Ravens in the two games since that win over Detroit? I think it’s the latter, and Jay Cutler will have a big day against a defense that misses Greg Hardy’s presence as a pass rusher.

MDS’s pick: Bears 31, Panthers 17.

Florio’s take:  The Bears would rather face Cam Newton than Derek Anderson.  They’ll get their wish, as long as they don’t injure Newton.

Florio’s pick:  Bears 30, Panthers 17.

Browns at Titans

MDS’s take: Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt admitted this week that he may have overestimated how good the team he inherited was. The Browns, on the other hand, have been underestimated this season. They’ve got talent on both sides of the ball, and they’ll earn a big win in Tennessee.

MDS’s pick: Browns 34, Titans 20.

Florio’s take:  The Titans are “piss poor horrible,” according to safety Bernard Pollard.  Browns owner Jimmy Haslam probably will say something a lot stronger than that if Cleveland loses in his home state of Tennessee.

Florio’s pick:  Browns 20, Titans 13.

Rams at Eagles

MDS’s take: The Eagles have been missing a lot of opportunities offensively, with Nick Foles failing to connect on his deep balls. I think the Rams’ defense, which is struggling to rush the passer, is going to give Foles plenty of time to find receivers downfield, and this should be a big win for Philadelphia.

MDS’s pick: Eagles 35, Rams 21.

Florio’s take:  Philly’s offensive line is struggling, but so is the supposedly dominant St. Louis defensive line.  Look for Chip Kelly to draw up a game plan that gets the most out of a quintet of blockers that welcomes back Lane Johnson.  And that shuts down an offense that Austin Davis has wrested from Shaun Hill.

Florio’s pick:  Eagles 34, Rams 17.

Falcons at Giants

MDS’s take: After a slow start, the Giants are looking like a better team than most people expected. The Falcons are are a threat to score a lot of points against anyone as long as they have Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White, but the injuries on the offensive line are going to catch up to Atlanta. The Falcons’ pass defense is also going to struggle against Eli Manning and Co.

MDS’s pick: Giants 27, Falcons 20.

Florio’s take:  The home team has won the last two games in this series by the combined score of 58-2.  While a blowout may not be in the offing, the Giants have shown that they’re not the team that stumbled out of the games.

Florio’s pick:  Giants 24, Falcons 17.

Buccaneers at Saints

MDS’s take: The Saints are clearly not as good a team as most of us expected, and their defense is a mess. But the Bucs’ offense has its own problems, and the Bucs’ defense is going to allow Drew Brees to put up some big passing numbers.

MDS’s pick: Saints 24, Buccaneers 21.

Florio’s take:  The 1-3 Saints have had only one game at home.  Not coincidentally, it’s the one game they’ve won.  They’ll likely win another one on Sunday.

Florio’s pick:  Saints 40, Buccaneers 21.

Texans at Cowboys

MDS’s take: The battle for Texas is a battle of two teams that are playing better than most people expected. The Texans have an efficient offense and a strong defensive front led by MVP candidate J.J. Watt, but the Cowboys may have the best offensive line in the league, and they’ll control the game on the ground to win a close one.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 23, Texans 20.

Florio’s take:  Did anyone expect either of these teams to be 3-1?  They both are, and barring a tie one will be 4-1.  Advantage home team.  As long as DeMarco Murray and Tony Romo stay healthy.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 24, Texans 17.

Bills at Lions

MDS’s take: Benching EJ Manuel for Kyle Orton may have been the right move in the short term, as Manuel just isn’t playing well enough right now. Orton will probably have a solid game passing against the Lions, and I’m tempted to pick the Bills in the upset, but I’ll count on Calvin Johnson to get healthier and have a big game in a Lions win.

MDS’s pick: Lions 27, Bills 24.

Florio’s take:  Jim Schwartz is back, and the Lions have a chance to show him how good they are without him.  Given that Schwartz’s defense will be offset by an offense led by Kyle Orton, that should be easy to do.

Florio’s pick:  Lions 31, Bills 20.

Ravens at Colts

MDS’s take: Andrew Luck and Joe Flacco both put up big numbers last week, and I think they can both have big numbers this week as well. Look for Luck’s numbers to be a big bigger and the Colts to win a high-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Colts 31, Ravens 28.

Florio’s take:  Thirty years after the Colts bolted from Baltimore, Baltimore’s current team looks to settle the score.  And Indy’s coach used to work for the Ravens.  And Baltimore’s defense could have a hard time against some decisive, quick-strike passing from Andrew Luck.  And the Indy crowd will be extra loud, thanks to John Harbaugh’s joke that they pipe in crowd noise.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 24, Ravens 21.

Steelers at Jaguars

MDS’s take: The Steelers lost to one of the worst teams in the league last week. Will they do it again this week? No.

MDS’s pick: Steelers 27, Jaguars 7.

Florio’s take:  Once one of the best rivalries in the AFC Central, the Jaguars actually lead the regular-season series 11-10.  If Pittsburgh doesn’t run its current winning streak over Jacksonville to three, it could be time for folks in Pittsburgh to start watching the Penguins.

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 24, Jaguars 10.

Cardinals at Broncos

MDS’s take: The undefeated Cardinals probably aren’t getting as much credit as they deserve for the way they’ve played through three games, but they’ll get all the credit in the world if they can win in Denver. But I don’t see it happening. Arizona’s offense won’t put many points on the board against a good Denver D.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 24, Cardinals 10.

Florio’s take:  The last time both Peyton Manning and his opponent had two weeks to prepare for a game, it wasn’t pretty for Peyton.  But the Broncos likely will be facing Drew Stanton, and Denver has every reason to hold serve at home against the upstarts from the place the Broncos hope to play in February.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 30, Cardinals 17.

Chiefs at 49ers

MDS’s take: Alex Smith would love to win in San Francisco and make the case that the 49ers were wrong to trade him away. But the 49ers weren’t wrong, and Colin Kaepernick will out-play his former teammate in a San Francisco win.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 21, Chiefs 14.

Florio’s take:  Alex Smith returns to San Francisco, nearly two years after a concussion gave Colin Kaepernick an opening to take the job.  Smith will be motivated to prove the 49ers screwed up.  Kaepernick will be motivated to prove they didn’t.  The 49ers still have the better supporting cast, and they’re playing at home.  While the 49ers may have chosen the wrong guy, the 49ers know how to defend Smith far better than the Chiefs know how to defend Kaepernick.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 24, Chiefs 21.

Jets at Chargers

MDS’s take: The Jets’ offense is a mess, and the defense isn’t playing very well, either. The Chargers are better on both sides of the ball and will win an easy one.

MDS’s pick: Chargers 28, Jets 10.

Florio’s takeGeno Smith or Mike Vick, these Jets aren’t good enough to beat these Chargers.  Philip Rivers continues to make a case for MVP, and San Diego continues to look like a team that could topple the Broncos when it counts.

Florio’s pick:  Chargers 31, Jets 20.

Bengals at Patriots

MDS’s take: The Bengals’ pass defense is excellent, and the Patriots’ pass offense is lousy. (It sounds strange to say about a Tom Brady-led team, but it’s true.) The Patriots won’t be able to move the ball and the Bengals will win a defensive struggle.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 20, Patriots 10.

Florio’s take:  For the Patriots, it’s the last, best chance to show that they remain viable contenders.  For the Bengals, it’s the first, best chance to put the rest of the league on notice that they are ready not just to get back to the playoffs but to win a postseason game.  While New England’s flaws remain significant and potentially fatal to a playoff berth, if they can’t get it together for a nationally-televised prime-time game against a team trying to become what the Pats have been, they never will.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 30, Bengals 27.

Seahawks at Washington

MDS’s take: Kirk Cousins had a miserable night last week. He’s going to have an even more miserable night when the Seahawks’ defense comes to town. This looks like a Monday night game that will have fans going to bed early.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 40, Washington 14.

Florio’s takeTrent Williams thinks Washington can beat Seattle.  We think Trent Williams needs to take a closer look at the film of his team’s most recent home game.

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 34, Washington 13.

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Antrel Rolle: Losing virginity helping Prince Amukamara on the field

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Over the years, some have espoused the belief that athletes shouldn’t have sex in the days before competition because it will sap them of strength that they will need on the field.

Giants safety Antrel Rolle doesn’t seem to be a believer in that notion. Rolle was asked about cornerback Prince Amukamara’s strong start (two interceptions and 25 tackles thus far) to the season and said that he thinks Amukamara’s offseason marriage is the reason for his improved play. Amukamara is a devout Christian who said he abstained from sex before marriage — perhaps his teammates were just doing a variation on the cold shower when they dumped Amukamara in an ice-filled tub a couple of years ago — and Rolle believes the change in the bedroom has carried over to the field.

“There are a lot of things different about Prince. For one, he’s married, so he’s [enjoying some things that he wasn't experiencing before he's married]. For a man, that could definitely help him out. For a man … I’m just being honest … it’s helping him out. He walks around with a little more swagger, which is something that we need, which is something that we love,” Rolle said, via

If Tim Tebow still harbors any hope of an NFL career, it might be time to dust off his former touchdown celebration and put a ring on it.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin has also pointed out the improvement in Amukamara’s play, although he unsurprisingly failed to join Rolle in attributing it to Amukamara’s embrace of carnal knowledge. There’s a pretty good chance that Amukamara’s play has improved because he’s more experienced on the field and because the Giants have improved the cornerback group as a whole, but that’s not nearly as interesting a rationale for the upturn in play from the fourth-year cornerback.

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Former Bears G.M. regrets trading Greg Olsen

Carolina Panthers v Baltimore Ravens Getty Images

The Bears don’t lack for weapons in the passing game now, but they could have had even more.

The Panthers are thankful they don’t.

Former Bears General Manager Jerry Angelo admitted that trading Greg Olsen to the Panthers in 2011 was a mistake, during a conversation with the Kap and Haugh Show on 87.7 FM The Game.

Olsen wasn’t a fit for what then-coach Mike Martz wanted to do, but has developed into one of the most reliable pass-catchers in the league.

It was a mistake to trade him,” Angelo said, via, “I understand he wasn’t the ideal fit in the scheme, but we let our best receiver go. Obviously, it was [Jay] Cutler’s favorite receiver at the time, and we let him out the door.

“That’s on me. I understand what the coaches were saying, but you don’t let your best player — one of your better players — out the door. Everything he’s doing hasn’t surprised me. He’s an excellent player, particularly in the passing game. He’s Newton’s favorite target. I’m happy for Greg; he’s not only a great player, but a great kid. Like Matt Forte, [he has] an insatiable work ethic.”

Olsen’s tied for the team lead in catches for the Panthers this season, giving them a proven option alongside rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin and a bunch of question marks.

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Kaepernick, Smith get together again

Smith Getty Images

A storyline that should be getting far more hype as Week Five approaches (and I’ll do my best to hype it up right now) will unfold in San Frantaclara, where the 49ers will host the Chiefs.  It marks the first reunion between the 49ers and the first overall pick in the 2005 draft, quarterback Alex Smith.

Smith made it through eight seasons with the 49ers, despite a revolving door of coaches and offensive coordinators.  His best year came in 2011, when coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Colin Kaepernick were in their first seasons with the franchise.  In the midst of another great performance in 2012, Smith suffered a concussion.  It opened the door for Kaepernick, who took the job and never looked back.

Sunday’s game gives all parties concerned an opportunity to look back, especially since Kaepernick has at times looked average in the two years since he claimed the job.  Smith has looked better than average during his time in Kansas City, with arguably a career performance in the postseason overshadowed by the defense’s squandering of a 38-10 third-quarter lead.

Harbaugh, who never seems to be in the mood to talk about much of anything, wasn’t in the mood to reflect on the Smith-versus-Kaepernick choice on Wednesday.

“I think we thoroughly discussed that as it was happening and now it’s the ballgame this week, the competitiveness of this week,” Harbaugh told reporters.  “And I’m sure it does add to it, adds to the competitiveness, the fact that Alex played here.”

Harbaugh was even in less of a mood to talk about how the two quarterbacks compare.

“Never been a big fan of comparisons,” Harbaugh said.  “Colin’s play has spoken for itself.”

Kaepernick, who likewise never seems to be in the mood to talk about much of anything, didn’t want to talk about whether the 49ers made the right choice.

“I’m not going to say that publicly because you are all going to try to make it sound like something else,” Kaepernick told reporters.  “But I do feel like I’m a good player, yes.”

So, yes, Kaepernick surely thinks the 49ers made the right choice.  And, yes, Smith surely thinks the 49ers made the wrong choice.

Both players will find a way to draw motivation from that.  As much as Harbaugh isn’t a big fan of comparisons, Kaepernick and Smith will be compared directly for three hours on Sunday.

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Billick bashes Falcons defensive talent

Billick Getty Images

On the surface, recent remarks from coach-turned-commentator Brian Billick about the quality of the Falcons’ defensive talent will raise no eyebrows.  Billick was doing what commentators do, commentating with commentary about topics worthy of comment.

But Billick and Falcons coach Mike Smith are family, in the Walter White/Uncle Hank sense.  Married to sisters, that relationship has in the past ruffled feathers at other franchises when Billick was working Falcons games for FOX.  Now, the feathers could be ruffled within Falconland.

“I can’t think of another team in the league that has less quantifiable talent on it defensively,” Billick told 92.9 The Game in Atlanta, via D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  Billick added that Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has been working with “smoke and mirrors” for awhile, and that he’s now merely dealing with “smoke.”

Given the relationship between Billick and Smith and, separately, the relationship between Billick and Nolan (who spent four years with Billick in Baltimore), Billick’s words easily could be viewed not as his own thoughts but as a recitation of complaints he has heard from either or both men.  Which could be interpreted as evidence of a growing disconnect between the coaching staff and the front office.

Which perhaps cries out for some sort of joint effort by the coaching staff and the front office to demonstrate that they’re on the same page, and that they’re not not pointing fingers at each other in the event that the season unfolds more like Week Two and Week Four and less like Week One and Week Three.

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Derek Carr thinks he’ll be ready to play after bye week

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The Raiders fired coach Dennis Allen this week and named Tony Sparano as their interim coach, a decision that has overshadowed everything else going on with the Raiders this season.

Sparano will coach his first game when Oakland returns from their bye for a Week Six game against the Chargers and one of the things he’ll have to figure out is who will be starting at quarterback. Derek Carr suffered a high ankle sprain and an MCL sprain in last Sunday’s loss to the Dolphins, injuries that would suggest at least a little bit of time out of the lineup.

That’s not what Carr is thinking. The quarterback said Wednesday that he is “doing a lot better” and that he doesn’t think he’ll be forced to miss the game against San Diego.

“We’re taking it [a] day at a time,” Carr said, via “But knowing myself, I’ll be ready — that’s my answer, that’s my goal. I’ve just got to continue to work hard to get ready.”

Matt Schaub returned to practice on Wednesday after missing the last two games and the trip to London while dealing with a family matter. He and Matt McGloin would be Sparano’s options if Carr can’t go, but they won’t be needed if the rookie is correct about how quickly he’s healing.

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