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PFT’s Week 13 picks

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All I wanted was a chance to catch MDS.  And I suddenly have it.

After going 3-1 in our head-to-head disagreements last week, I’m now five games back.  And we disagree on five games this week.  If I can pull off the unlikely-but-not-unpossible five-game sweep, we’ll be tied with four weeks left.

For all our picks for Thanksgiving weekend, scroll baby, scroll.

I was 8-6 last week, MDS was 6-8, and for the year he still leads at 113-63.  I’m 108-68.

Packers at Lions

MDS’s take: Does anyone want to win the NFC North? None of the contenders are playing like it. Two weeks ago, the Lions were in great shape to run away with the division, and now they’ve lost back-to-back games to teams with losing records. Still, I don’t trust the Packers’ defense to rein in a Lions offense with Calvin Johnson (who missed the previous Lions-Packers game with a knee injury) and I don’t trust the Packers’ offense to score much without Aaron Rodgers.

MDS’s pick: Lions 24, Packers 14.

Florio’s take:  Detroit needs to end its recent free fall.  So do the Packers.  With Aaron Rodgers most likely out, the Lions have more talent and more incentive to win.  They’ll still have four games after that to screw things up and miss the playoffs.

Florio’s pick:  Lions 27, Packers 20.

Raiders at Cowboys

MDS’s take: Dallas is neck-and-neck in an NFC East race that seems destined to be determined in Week 17. The Cowboys know they can’t afford any slip-ups, and they’ll avoid one against an overmatched Raiders team.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 27, Raiders 13.

Florio’s take:  A letdown is entirely possible for the home team, with the erratic and underachieving Raiders coming to town only four days after the Cowboys scored an emotional and physical win over the Giants.  And I’m tempted to pick the upset, because losing in this spot would be the ultimate Cowboys maneuver.  But this could be the year that chances perceptions in Dallas — at least until the Panthers or Cardinals roll into town for the wild-card round of the playoffs.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 34, Raiders 21.

Steelers at Ravens

MDS’s take: It says something about how bad the AFC is that the winner of this game will (for at least three days) take the lead for the sixth and final playoff spot. If one of these teams has a playoff run in them, I think it’s Baltimore.

MDS’s pick: Ravens 17, Steelers 14.

Florio’s takeBen Roethlisberger has a 7-2 record against Joe Flacco, and a 3-1 mark in Baltimore since Flacco and John Harbaugh arrived.  More importantly, the Steelers have become the Steelers again.

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 13, Ravens 10.

Buccaneers at Panthers

MDS’s take: The Bucs are playing surprisingly good football on their current three-game winning streak (and in an overtime loss at Seattle before that). But Tampa Bay isn’t on the same level as Carolina, which is playing far too well to get tripped up at home.

MDS’s pick: Panthers 28, Buccaneers 21.

Florio’s take:  It’s another potential letdown for a Panthers team poised to challenge the Saints for the division title.  The Bucs will give Carolina a tough fight and possibly win the game — but these Panthers know how to overcome adversity with a potent defense and a maturing quarterback who soon will be in the MVP discussion.

Florio’s pick:  Panthers 27, Buccaneers 23.

Jaguars at Browns

MDS’s take: This is a tough one. Can I pick a Brandon Weeden-led Browns team to win a game? I don’t feel like I can. But can I pick the Jaguars to win their third consecutive road game? I don’t feel like I can. I suppose I could pick this game to end in a tie, but I’ll say the Browns find a way to win.

MDS’s pick: Browns 12, Jaguars 10.

Florio’s take:   The Factory of Sadness hosts a perpetually sad team that has been a little less sad lately.  I feel sad for anyone who bought tickets for this one.

Florio’s pick:  Browns 24, Jaguars 13.

Titans at Colts

MDS’s take: If the Titans win this one, they can make the AFC South race interesting. But I have a feeling Andrew Luck is going to put the Colts on his back over the final month of the season and drag them to the playoffs.

MDS’s pick: Colts 33, Titans 21.

Florio’s take:  Outscored 93-12 in the first halves of the last four games, the Colts can essentially nail down the AFC South with a win over Tennessee.  It won’t be easy — and they may not go far in the playoffs — but the Colts reclaim the division, even if by default.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 30, Titans 24.

Broncos at Chiefs

MDS’s take: After giving up a 24-0 halftime lead in New England, the pressure is on the Broncos. Lose in Kansas City, and there’s a good chance that they’ll be on the road throughout the playoffs. But I think Peyton Manning will turn things around and win a big one against the Chiefs.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 28, Chiefs 20.

Florio’s take:  The stakes are high for this one, with the winner on track to secure the top seed and the loser relegated at best to No. 5.  Lost in Kansas City’s defensive collapse is that the Chiefs had their best offensive output of the year against the Chargers.

Florio’s pick:  Chiefs 30, Broncos 27.

Bears at Vikings

MDS’s take: Minnesota is a bad matchup for Chicago.  The thing the Bears do worst is stop the run, and the thing the Vikings do best is hand the ball off to Adrian Peterson. The Bears will hurt their own playoff hopes and drop a game in the division.

MDS’s pick: Vikings 24, Bears 23.

Florio’s takeJosh McCown gets another crack at the Vikings, nearly a decade after he knocked Minnesota out of the playoffs in a Week 17 thriller at Arizona.  At least McCown can’t impact the Vikings’ playoff position this time around.

Florio’s pick:  Bears 24, Vikings 21.

Dolphins at Jets

MDS’s take: The Jets had a nice run, but they look like they’re on the verge of collapse. Miami is still playing competitive football.

MDS’s pick: Dolphins 20, Jets 10.

Florio’s take:  It’s an elimination game, as a practical matter, between a pair of AFC East teams that seem to be trying to get eliminated.  The Dolphins get eliminated on Sunday.

Florio’s pick:  Jets 24, Dolphins 16.

Cardinals at Eagles

MDS’s take: This is a surprisingly great game.  The Cardinals’ defense is playing tough, physical football, while Nick Foles and Chip Kelly have the Eagles’ offense rolling. In a close game with playoff implications for both teams, I’ll take the Eagles at home.

MDS’s pick: Eagles 28, Cardinals 24.

Florio’s take:  Former Eagles defensive coordinator Todd Bowles comes home with a much better defense, and one of the hottest teams in the league.  Chip Kelly never saw an Arizona team like this when he was at Oregon.

Florio’s pick:  Cardinals 27, Eagles 20.

Falcons at Bills

MDS’s take: The CFL season is over, and now the Canadian fans get to see two of the NFL’s worst teams square off in Toronto. I’m not sure if I’d pick the Falcons to beat anyone right now.

MDS’s pick: Bills 17, Falcons 14.

Florio’s take:  It’s fitting that the Falcons will be playing in Toronto.  They’ve imploded almost as quickly and completely as the mayor.  The implosion continues.

Florio’s pick:  Bills 20, Falcons 17.

Rams at 49ers

MDS’s take: I love the way the Rams are playing tough, physical football, and I also love the way they’re finally making use of Tavon Austin’s game-changing speed. Unfortunately, they’re catching a 49ers team that looks like it’s getting all the pieces in place for a late-season run.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 31, Rams 17.

Florio’s take:   Before Niners fans get too giddy about Monday night, keep in mind that the victory came against the Redskins.  This next one will be a lot harder.  Throw in the short week and the cross-country flight, and it could be time for an upset.  And I was going to take the upset  And then I remembered that Kellen Clemens is the St. Louis quarterback, and that the 49ers can actually defend against the run.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 20, Rams 10.

Patriots at Texans

MDS’s take: New England beat Houston easily last year, when the Texans were good. The Patriots will surely beat the Texans easily now that they’re bad.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 38, Texans 14.

Florio’s take:   It was nearly a year ago that the Patriots brought the 11-1 Texans back to reality with a 42-14 drubbing in New England.  Since then, the Texans are 4-13.  The letterman jackets are in mothballs, and the coaching staff is about to get exterminated.

Florio’s pick:   Patriots 42, Texans 13.

Bengals at Chargers

MDS’s take: With Geno Atkins and Leon Hall out for the seaosn, I think the Bengals’ defense is going to be a major liability down the stretch. Look for the Chargers’ offense to put a lot of points on the board as San Diego keeps up its run toward the final AFC wild-card berth.

MDS’s pick: Chargers 34, Bengals 28.

Florio’s take:  The Bengals aren’t the same team on the road as they are at home.  The Chargers weren’t the same team at Kansas City that they’ve been most of the year.  Give the advantage to the home team.

Florio’s pick:  Chargers 30, Bengals 21.

Giants at Redskins

MDS’s take: In the race for last place in the NFC East, I think Washington will get to the bottom with another poor showing from Robert Griffin III, who turns the ball over far too often and will do so a couple times against the Giants.

MDS’s pick: Giants 21, Redskins 10.

Florio’s take:  The spotlight of the national stage remains in D.C., and things are getting more and more dysfunctional.  From winning their final seven after starting 3-6 last year, these Redskins could do the opposite, starting at 3-6 and ending at 3-13.

Florio’s pick:  Giants 24, Redsins 13.

Saints at Seahawks

MDS’s take: The best game of the week, between the two best teams in the NFC, will come down to home-field advantage and will all but clinch home field throughout the playoffs for the Seahawks. Seattle is such a tough place to play that it’s hard for me to see the Saints winning there — and hard for me to see the Seahawks losing at home in the playoffs.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 27, Saints 20.

Florio’s take:  The race for the No. 1 seed ends Monday night, if the Seahawks win.  It becomes a bigger “if” without Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond.  But the 12th Man can fill the avoid, and the 13th Man (i.e., the weatherman) could be the difference, with freezing temperatures and the possibility of rain/snow in the extended forecast.

Florio’s pick:   Seahawks 24, Saints 17.

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Cutler says he was “shocked” and “disappointed” to lose job

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Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said he was “shocked at first, then disappointed” to lose his job, but he didn’t lose his sense of humor.

The local media descended to today’s press conference about his benching, after most of them missed his post-game remarks Monday.

“I’m glad you guys could make it,” Cutler said as he took the podium. “I missed you after the game.”

Jokes aside, Cutler made it clear he wasn’t expecting being benched for Jimmy Clausen, but said he thought he did have a future in Chicago.

Asked directly if he could play for coach Marc Trestman again next year, Cutler replied: “Yes, . . . I think I could. I definitely could.”

A moment later, he said “I think we’d have to figure some things out in the offseason.”

He went on to call Trestman “a heck of a quarterback coach.”

But he also acknowledged that the contract he received last season made that complicated.

“There’s a lot of money in my contract,” he said. “And that comes with a lot of expectations.”

None of which he’s met this year, which is why he’s holding court in an unusual press conference. He admitted he might not have handled things well yesterday upon hearing the news, but he’s handling this press conference better than many in his career.

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Seahawks extend K.J. Wright

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The Seahawks have locked up a young starter on their stellar defense for the next four years.

K.J. Wright, the 25-year-old linebacker who has started all 14 games this season, has signed a four-year extension.

“In the offseason, we identified K.J. as one of our core players moving forward and aimed to keep him as a part of the Seahawks family for a long time,” G.M. John Schneider said in a statement. “The timing of this signing gives us the ability to keep as many of our core players together as we possibly can. Since Day One, K.J. has been a true professional in his daily approach and we are excited for K.J., his family and the 12s to keep him in the organization.”

The Seahawks drafted Wright with the 99th overall pick in 2011 and he became a starter as a rookie. He’s a big part of the Seahawks’ defensive success and would have been a big target of other teams in free agency next year, but now he’s in Seattle for the long haul.

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Murray returns to practice field

Murray AP

Unofficially, Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray practiced on Wednesday, two days after having surgery to repair a broken hand.  Officially, Murray didn’t practice.

On Thursday, Murray was back on the practice field.  It’s unclear whether that means he officially practiced.

Via ESPN.com, Murray engaged in warm-ups, caught passes, and took handoffs.  Which sounds like what he was doing Wednesday, before the Cowboys declared he did not practice.

On Friday, the Cowboys will apply a label to Murray’s availability.  The team has been optimistic, and Murray wants to show he can suit up for all 16 regular-season games — that’s something he hasn’t done in his NFL career.

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Marc Trestman thinks Jay Cutler can benefit from benching

Trestman AP

Bears coach Marc Trestman took to the podium for the first time since benching quarterback Jay Cutler, and said he discussed the switch with the players involved before going upstairs.

Trestman told reporters that he met with Cutler and Jimmy Clausen before discussing it with General Manager Phil Emery, making it clear that it was his decision.

Trestman trotted out the old “best interest of the football team,” line in discussing the swtich, and said he thinks Cutler will be better for it in the long term.

“I’ve seen careers revived from moments like this,” Trestman said. “And I really feel like Jay will do that.”

Of course, all the early speculation is that Cutler’s next start will come for another team, and that they’re protecting him to trade.

Trestman said he “changed my mind,” when asked about previous support of Cutler.

Clausen took the first reps in practice today, and Trestman said this decision only pertained to this week. He said that Cutler would be active and be Clausen’s backup.

“I think we need a lift at quarterback, we need a spark,” Trestman said. “The weight of the world should not be on Jimmy Clausen.”

Nor should the burden of a collapsing franchise.

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Ron Rivera: Cam Newton “probably” starts on Sunday

Cam Newton AP

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton increased his workload in practice on Thursday and seemed fine on the field as he works toward a full return to action after suffering two transverse process fractures in his back in a car accident last week.

That’s left the Panthers feeling pretty good about Newton’s chances of starting against the Browns. Coach Ron Rivera said, via Steve Reed of the Associated Press, after Thursday’s practice that the team isn’t naming a starter yet because they are “trying to make sure we go through the process” but answered “probably” when asked if he expected Newton would ultimately be the choice.

For his part, Newton said he is not experiencing any pain and that he wants to play if he’s able to play. He added that he doesn’t want to be a “distraction” and that he won’t try to be tough while playing through an injury if it would hurt the team, but it doesn’t seem like that’s the case with no signs that Newton’s presence would be a negative for the Panthers before or on Sunday.

Given all of that, it looks like it would be a surprise if anyone other than Newton starts as Carolina tries to win another game and stay alive in the hunt for the NFC South division title heading into the final weekend of the regular season.

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Philip Rivers back at practice

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Adam Schefter of ESPN reported Thursday that Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has a “more severe” back injury than the team has let on, which created some worry about his status for Saturday’s game.

Rivers, who is also listed as having a chest injury, didn’t practice on Tuesday or Wednesday, although neither he nor coach Mike McCoy expressed much concern about his ability to play against the 49ers. That position got some support on Thursday when he returned to the practice field.

Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego reports that Rivers “didn’t do cartwheels” during the session, but that he stood in the pocket and made throws without difficulty. Since his job calls for him to do the latter and not the former, it would seem that he’s on track to play this week regardless of the condition of his back.

Defensive end Corey Liuget and tight end Lardarius Green also returned to practice for the Chargers, while running back Ryan Mathews remained sidelined by the ankle injury that kept him out of last week’s game.

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LeSean McCoy OK with ceding goal-line work to Chris Polk

Chris Polk AP

The Eagles scored three rushing touchdowns in short yardage against the Cowboys last Sunday night, but none of them were scored by LeSean McCoy.

Chris Polk scored twice and Darren Sproles scored once, leaving McCoy with four rushing touchdowns in 2014 after scoring nine times on the ground last season. The decision to go with other backs didn’t get the Eagles a win, but it did help boost their lagging red zone production and McCoy says he’s fine handing off those carries to Polk if it helps the club.

Some of the short-yardage stuff, Polk’s obviously a little bit more powerful back, so they’ve been giving him some of the runs in short-yardage in a couple games, especially last game,” McCoy said, via CSNPhilly.com. “He’s not getting all of them, but if it helps the team, that’s what I’m going to do. There’s just some plays on 3rd-and-1 type of situations where I probably wouldn’t have gotten it, where I see him kind of hit a guy, drag a guy and get in there. It’s hard to be selfish with a player like Polk to use him to do those type of things.”

McCoy was careful to say that he feels capable of handling the role and he’s scored on 3-of-10 carries from inside the 5-yard-line this season, but the Eagles feel Polk is a better fit for the job right now. That trumps anything else when vying for a playoff spot in the final weeks, something McCoy seems to understand well.

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Weatherspoon predicts a sweep of the “Aints”

Weatherspoon Getty Images

A torn Achilles tendon has kept Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon from making an impact on the field this season.  On Thursday, Weatherspoon made some waves away from it.  Thanks to (what else?) Twitter.

“The Aints are way too sorry to have our names in their mouth!” Weatherspoon posted on Twitter.  “Our team will be bringing a broom to the bayou!

He wasn’t finished.  In his next twist of the Saints’ tail, Weatherspoon also tweaked his own team.

“They won’t let me talk to the media but they don’t know my Twitter password!” Weatherspoon said.  “Been apart of this division for 5 yrs, won the division twice!”

And then Weatherspoon clarified the motivation for his missive.

“That last tweet was for you Aints fans that act like they have just kicked our ass since 2010!” Weatherspoon said.  “GOMD!”

I didn’t instantly realize what “GOMD” means.  And then I had an idea what it means.  And then I went to UrbanDictionary.com to confirm it.

The Saints and Falcons play Sunday in New Orleans.  The winner takes a major step toward winning the NFC South, even though both teams are under .500.

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Peyton Manning ducks out of practice for treatment

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The Broncos have downplayed it, but Peyton Manning’s injury is at least significant enough to keep him off the practice field.

According to Mike Klis of the Denver Post, Manning went through stretching with his teammates before practice, then went indoors to get treatment on his injured thigh.

It’s likely no cause for panic (Who are we kidding, PANIC EVERYBODY!!!), but it’s worth noting that the normally meticulous Manning has had his routine changed.

If nothing else, it’s worth giving more reps to backup Brock Osweiler, but it keeps the Broncos even with Philip Rivers, who didn’t practice yesterday with a back problem.

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Cam Newton takes first-team reps, throws 65-yard pass

Cam Newton AP

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton appears good to go.

Newton, who missed last week’s game after suffering a back injury in a car crash, took the first-team reps at practice today. Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer reports that Newton threw a 65-yard pass, and it would be a shock if Newton doesn’t start Sunday.

The Panthers are still in the hunt for the division title in the terrible NFC South, and although they can credit backup quarterback Derek Anderson for playing well in his two starts, they’d much prefer to have Newton on the field with the season on the line.

It appears that the Panthers will have Newton on the field against the Browns. If Carolina wins, it improves to 6-8-1 and remains in contention for the NFC South.

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Unnamed Bears “confused and uncomfortable” with benching Cutler

Jay Cutler AP

Because it’s the Bears — and because it’s rapidly turning into a tire fire — it was inevitable that some unnamed sources checked in.

And they’re not necessarily thrilled with the benching of quarterback Jay Cutler.

According to Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com, a pair of unnamed players said that part of the locker room was “confused and uncomfortable” over the way Cutler was benched.

Dickerson referred to them as “a pair of accomplished and respected Chicago Bears players,” which shortens the lists of suspects considerably.

But after offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer ripped Cutler anonymously, then outed himself by virtue of apology with no evident repercussions, the players seem conflicted.

Neither player had performance-based objections (since Cutler has been really bad this year), but didn’t like the disparity in punishment (since there was none for Kromer).

The Bears are rapidly descending chaos, and players and coaches are all beginning to act in ways to cover their own backsides for the future.

So it’s no wonder that Trestman doesn’t have a mandate in the locker room, after making an odd decision to start Jimmy Clausen this week.

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Case Keenum looks like the Texans’ starter, by default

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The Texans have no good options at quarterback this week, as injuries have already cost them their original starter Ryan Fitzpatrick, their second starter Ryan Lindley, and their third starter Tom Savage. So who will their fourth starter be?

It looks like Case Keenum, by default. Although Texans coach Bill O’Brien may not announce whether it’s Keenum or Thad Lewis until Sunday, Jason La Canfora of CBS reports that there’s every expectation Keenum will be the guy.

The difference between Keenum and Lewis is that Keenum, who initially signed with the Texans as an undrafted free agent in 2012, has been with the Texans and spent the whole offseason learning coach Bill O’Brien’s offense. Lewis arrived in Houston less than a month ago and doesn’t have as much time in the system.

Either way, the Texans will struggle against a good Baltimore defense. They’ll just hope Keenum is the better option of the two not-so-good options they have.

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Derek Anderson tries to rebuild bridge he napalmed

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At a time when former Cleveland quarterbacks seem to be lining up to rip the Browns, one of them is trying to be polite.

At least, now.

Panthers backup Derek Anderson — who might have to start Sunday if Cam Newton can’t — did his best to backpedal from previous inflammatory words about his stint with the Browns.

I’ve moved on from it,’’ Anderson said, via David Newton of ESPN.com. “I’m focused on us.’’

Of course, that’s a far cry from his parting words for the Browns after he was released, when he said the city “didn’t deserve a winner.’’

“I will never forget getting cheered when I was injured,’’ Anderson said then. “I know at times I wasn’t great. I hope and pray I’m playing when my team comes to town and [we] roll them.’’

Of course, since he might have to play them this week, he stepped back from the napalm he was dropping on bridges then.

“The whole situation and how the whole thing went down in the last few months wasn’t great,” Anderson said yesterday. “I said some things I regret saying when I left.

“But it’s over with, I’ve moved on. I’m happy. I wasn’t in a great place when I left. I’m in a lot better place now.”

Anderson went to the Pro Bowl as a Brown in 2007, going 10-5 as a starter. They haven’t sniffed that kind of production since, and are now floundering about with Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel.

Longing for the days of Derek Anderson might speak to the futility that is being a Browns fan, especially considering he might not even start against them this weekend.

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PFT Live: Bears talk with John Mullin, Week 16 picks

Chicago Bears v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

The Bears are making a big change to their offense this weekend.

Jay Cutler is out at quarterback less than a full season after signing a fat new extension with the team and former Panther Jimmy Clausen will start for the team against the Lions on Sunday. John Mullin of CSN Chicago will join Mike Florio on Thursday’s edition of PFT Live to discuss the reasons for the move, what the expectations for Clausen should be and what it all means for the future of coach Marc Trestman and the organization as a whole.

The Bears will be in Detroit for that matchup with the Lions and we’ll see what Florio and MDS think will happen in that game during their weekly meeting to pick the winners of every game on the schedule.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can watch it all live by clicking right here.

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Antrel Rolle wants to play three more years with Giants

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Safety Antrel Rolle is coming to the end of the five-year contract that he signed with the Giants as a free agent in 2010 and he’s hoping that it isn’t the end of the line for his run with the organization.

Rolle wants to return to the Giants in 2015 and would like to play three more seasons before ending his career as a member of the team. Rolle, who turned 32 this week, said that he thinks the 2015 season is “going to be wonderful” for the Giants and doesn’t think that his age would stop him from contributing to their rebound effort.

“I have never worried about age. You can put me up against any 32-year-old,” Rolle said, via NJ.com. “Age has never been a factor to me. These coaches will tell you I don’t take days off, even in practice. Other players can take age and use it as whatever they want to use it as, but I know myself.”

There aren’t a lot of starting safeties in the league older that Rolle, which makes for a limited number of comps to test him against. Even with some slippage this year, Rolle has been a solid player for the Giants over the life of the contract and the team may opt to look for an upgrade at the other safety spot while bringing Rolle back.

Forecasting how things will play out is difficult at this point, though. The Giants have issues to sort out with their coaching staff, including defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, and money always plays a role in where a free agent winds up playing so there’s a lot to sort out before we find out if Rolle will return for a sixth season in New Jersey.

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