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PFT’s Week 15 picks

Dolphins AP

Last week was a good week.  But not as good as it could have been.

With a 14-1 mark through Sunday’s games and a 3-0 record in the disagreements with MDS, a Cowboys win would mean a 15-1 week, a four-game sweep of MDS, and a six-game deficit with three weeks to go.

But the team that once went 15-1 for a full season thumped the Cowboys, and the gap was only narrowed by two games.

Through 14 weeks, MDS now has an eight-game lead.

For the week, I was 14-2 and he was 12-4.  For the year, he’s 138-70.  I’m 130-78.

This week, we differ once again on four games.  All of our prognostications appear below.

Chargers at Broncos

MDS’s take: The Chargers can put a lot of points on the board, but Peyton Manning will carve up a weak San Diego defense, and the Chargers won’t be able to keep up. Denver takes another step toward home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 38, Chargers 28.

Florio’s take:  The sun won’t be shining on a night when critics will have another chance to stick the narrative that Peyton Manning struggles in the cold where the sun doesn’t shine.  A week after thrashing Eli Manning’s team, Philip Rivers and company will be reminded that Peyton’s squad currently is a lot better.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 42, Chargers 24.

Redskins at Falcons

MDS’s take: This terrible game is interesting to draft watchers and to friends and family of Kirk Cousins, but not to anyone else. Atlanta is bad, but they haven’t totally quit on their season like Washington has, so I’ll go with the Falcons.

MDS’s pick: Falcons 27, Redskins 17.

Florio’s take:  A pair of 2012 playoff teams currently are jockeying for the first pick in the draft.  The Rams, who hold Washington’s first-round selection, are rooting for their old NFC West rivals to wake up and take down Kirk Cousins and company.  If anyone actually shows up at the Georgia Dome, they may be pleased with the results.

Florio’s pick:  Falcons 28, Redskins 13.

Bears at Browns

MDS’s take: Jason Campbell and Josh Gordon can put up some points against this Bears defense, but I expect Jay Cutler, Alshon Jeffery, and Brandon Marshall to put up more points against Cleveland’s defense.

MDS’s pick: Bears 24, Browns 21.

Florio’s take:  Two of the best young wideouts in the NFL meet in Cleveland.  Josh Gordon will once again have a big game in a loss.  Alshon Jeffery will once again have a big game in a win.

Florio’s pick:  Bears 24, Browns 20.

Texans at Colts

MDS’s take: Injuries are killing the Colts, and I think they’re going to be one-and-done in the playoffs. But they’re still better than the Texans, who are marching toward the first overall pick in the draft.

MDS’s pick: Colts 27, Texans 20.

Florio’s take:  If it wasn’t for teams that currently are in Houston or that used to be in Houston, the Colts would be winless since beating the quarterback who used to be in Indy.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 28, Texans 17.

Bills at Jaguars

MDS’s take: Credit the Jaguars for the way they’re continuing to play hard after a lot of teams would have quit, but I think it comes to an end on Sunday, when EJ Manuel will thrive on the scaled-back offense that the Bills’ coaches are giving him.

MDS’s pick: Bills 27, Jaguars 24.

Florio’s take:  For the second straight week, the Bills visit a team that started the season 0-8.  For the second straight week, the Bills will fall victim to that team’s stunning turnaround.

Florio’s pick:  Jaguars 24, Bills 10.

Patriots at Dolphins

MDS’s take: In one of this week’s few games matching up two teams with realistic playoff hopes, the Patriots will remind the Dolphins who owns the AFC East.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 31, Dolphins 20.

Florio’s take:  A couple of teams in the AFC East get together in a game that profoundly impacts a couple of teams in the AFC North.  The Dolphins will continue an unlikely run to January, which is bad news for the Ravens — but good news for the Bengals, who are trying to catch New England for the No. 2 seed in the conference.

Florio’s pick:  Dolphins 28, Patriots 27.

Eagles at Vikings

MDS’s take: The Eagles are rolling right now, and although the Vikings have been playing competitive football, they don’t have the personnel on defense to stop Philadelphia’s offense. This should be an easy win for the Eagles.

MDS’s pick: Eagles 27, Vikings 14.

Florio’s take:  The three-win Vikings have three opportunities to play spoiler.  Spoiling the next-to-last game at the Metrodome will be an Eagles team that has won five in a row and is 5-1 on the road.

Florio’s pick:  Eagles 27, Vikings 20.

Seahawks at Giants

MDS’s take: The Giants’ defense couldn’t stop the Chargers last week and they won’t be able to stop the Seahawks this week. Throw in a couple of Eli Manning interceptions against a great Seahawks defense, and this game won’t be close.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 35, Giants 14.

Florio’s take:  The Seahawks make their first of two visits to MetLife Stadium.  Next time, they’ll be playing an AFC team there.  And it won’t be the Jets.

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 40, Giants 21.

Saints at Rams

MDS’s take: The Saints bounced back nicely from their blowout loss to the Seahawks by blowing out the Panthers. New Orleans will win another blowout on Sunday.

MDS’s pick: Saints 34, Rams 16.

Florio’s take:  Taking the Saints out of the Superdome increases the chances of beating them.  Putting them in a different dome against a so-so team decreases the chances of beating them.

Florio’s pick:  Saints 30, Rams 20.

49ers at Buccaneers

MDS’s take: Give Greg Schiano a lot of credit for the way he got his team to turn things around late in the season, but Mike Glennon is going to struggle against a tough 49ers defense, and San Francisco will win.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 28, Buccaneers 10.

Florio’s take:  What once appeared to be a cakewalk for the Niners becomes a tougher task.  Tough enough for the Niners to stumble.  If Jim Harbaugh thought last week’s win over the Seahawks was a three-and-a-half-hour root canal, he’ll think this week’s game is a three-and-a-half-hour encounter at the bottom of the pile with Steelers center Cody Wallace.

Florio’s pick:  Buccaneers 17, 49ers 16.

Cardinals at Titans

MDS’s take: Arizona’s defense will miss injured cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, but the Ryan Fitzpatrick-led Titans offense still won’t be able to do much of anything. The Cardinals will win and keep their playoff hopes alive, although they look like they’re going to be the best team to miss the playoffs.

MDS’s pick: Cardinals 20, Titans 10.

Florio’s take:  The Cardinals make only their second trip ever to Tennessee, where they lost in 2009.  This time, they get the job done.

Florio’s pick:  Cardinals 24, Titans 21.

Jets at Panthers

MDS’s take: The Jets’ offense had a surprisingly effective game last week against the Raiders, but the Panthers are not the Raiders. This will be a blowout.

MDS’s pick: Panthers 34, Jets 10.

Florio’s take:  The advice given by Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to his twin brother Rex  regarding beating the Panthers consisted of this:  Get a time machine, go back to 2006, and sign Drew Brees.

Florio’s pick:  Panthers 27, Jets 17.

Chiefs at Raiders

MDS’s take: Give Kansas City credit for consistency.  The Chiefs have been destroying bad teams all season long. They’ll do it again on on Sunday.

MDS’s pick: Chiefs 36, Raiders 17.

Florio’s take:  The Chiefs are locked in to the No. 5 seed.  The Raiders are locked in to irrelevance.  Advantage playoff team.

Florio’s pick:  Chiefs 27, Raiders 20.

Packers at Cowboys

MDS’s take: The Packers are pessimistic about Aaron Rodgers‘ chances, and that makes me pessimistic about the Packers’ chances. Although the Cowboys’ defense is bad enough that a Matt Flynn-led Packers offense can score some points on them, the Packers’ defense is every bit as bad, and a Tony Romo-led Cowboys offense will score more.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 31, Packers 28.

Florio’s take:  Jerry Jones said there’s no one he’d rather have running his defense than Monte Kiffin.  Maybe Jones meant to say he’d rather have no one running his defense than Kiffin.  Anyone could coordinate the Cowboys defense to hold down the Packers, if they again don’t have Aaron Rodgers.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 27, Packers 14.

Bengals at Steelers

MDS’s take: If Antonio Brown had kept his foot inbounds on the Steelers’ wild last play on Sunday, Pittsburgh would be right in the thick of the playoff race and this would be a very big game. Instead, the Steelers are all but eliminated, and the Bengals should cruise toward the AFC North title.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 24, Steelers 17.

Florio’s take:  The Bengals roll back into Pittsburgh with the better team and better prospects for the balance of the season and beyond.  The bigger question is whether Cincy can finally win in the postseason.

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 17, Steelers 14.

Ravens at Lions

MDS’s take: The NFC North is wide open for the Lions, and yet the Lions aren’t playing like a team that wants to take it, with losses in three of their last four games even though they had fourth-quarter leads in all three. And yet I believe the Lions are going to show up on Monday night and make a statement against a Ravens team that is also fighting for a playoff spot.

MDS’s pick: Lions 24, Ravens 21.

Florio’s take:  The Ravens know how to get the playoffs.  The Lions know how to not get to the playoffs.

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 30, Lions 27.

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A.J. Green has “made a lot of progress” from toe injury

A.J. Green AP

The Bengals could have certainly used A.J. Green last week, as they were shut out by the Colts.

But they may be closer to getting him back.

According to Coley Harvey of ESPN.com, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said Green has “made a lot of progress.”

It was a more optimistic note than last week, when Lewis said his star receiver’s return was still “up in the air.”

“He’s made significant progress and feels good about everything that he’s being told,” Lewis said. “What the prognosis is is, I guess, the most important thing. It’s been a consistent message he’s gotten. As we said earlier, the time [off] will allow things to progress and so forth that way.”

Green has been dealing with the toe injury all season, playing through it at times, but he’s missed the last two complete games. But he’s continued to work, with the team sending out a video of him jogging along the sideline.

Without him, the Bengals were held to 135 yards of total offense against the Colts.

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Bill O’Brien frustrated by Texans performance

Bill O'Brien AP

The Houston Texans have lost three straight games and four out of their last five after falling 30-23 to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night.

And Texans head coach Bill O’Brien is none too happy about it.

O’Brien was noticeably heated in his post-game press conference after watching his team allow 21 points in less than 90 seconds at the end of the first half. The Texans never recovered and were unable to rally against Pittsburgh.

“You can’t turn the ball over. You can’t field a kick, bobble the kick. We can’t give up shot plays. You can’t have 12 men on the field on third down to give them a first down. We just can’t do those things,” O’Brien said. “And with all that being said, we’re one onside kick away and these questions are like we lost 50-0. We lost by a touchdown. With all of that stuff that we did. We have to improve it. We gotta coach it better and we gotta play better.”

Houston turned the ball over twice backed up inside their own 20-yard line that led to two quick touchdowns for the Steelers.

“It’s very frustrating when you turn the ball over on your own 2-yard line,” O’Brien said. “The whole thing’s frustrating. Players are frustrated, coaches are frustrated, but again, it’s not like, again, we’re an onside kick away, which, we almost recovered. Almost only counts in horseshoes, but we’re an onside kick away from having a chance to tie the game with all of that being said that we did wrong.”

It’s the second straight week the Texans had allowed 24 points in a quarter. They fell behind Indianapolis 24-0 last week in a 33-28 loss to the Colts.

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Steelers overcome early deficit to earn 30-23 victory over Texans

Houston Texans v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers scored 21 points in the final three minutes of the second quarter to help dig out of an early 13-0 hole en route to a 30-23 victory over the Houston Texans on Monday night.

The Texans took the early lead on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Alfred Blue and a pair of field goals by Randy Bullock to take a 13-0 lead.

But it went all downhill after that for Houston.

After a 44-yard Shaun Suisham field goal put Pittsburgh on the board, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sparked the Steelers offense on their next possession.

It took just two plays for the Steelers to march 63 yards for a touchdown. Roethlisberger connected with LeVeon Bell for 28 yards and then hit rookie Martavis Bryant for a 35-yard touchdown to pull Pittsburgh within three. It was the first career catch of Bryant’s career.

Backed up inside their own 10-yard line, Arian Foster coughed up the ball as he was stripped by Jason Worilds and the fumble was recovered by Sean Spence.

On the next play, Antonio Brown came in motion and took a handoff from Roethlisberger, pivoted and rolled to the left and threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Lance Moore to give the Steelers their first lead.

The deluge continued for Houston as Fitzpatrick was intercepted by Brett Kiesel on the first play of their next possession to give possession back to the Steelers. Two plays later, Roethlisberger hit Bell for a 2-yard score to take a 24-13 lead into halftime.

The Steelers scored 21 points in less than 90 seconds to completely flip the game into their hands. It was the first time since 2002 that a team scored 21 points in that short a time span. The Seattle Seahawks scored 21 points in the span of 90 seconds against the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 29, 2002.

Two Suisham field goals extended the lead to 30-16 with three minutes to play. Fitzgerald’s 1-yard touchdown pass to Arian Foster pulled Houston within a score with 1:31 left but the ensuing onside kick was recovered by the Steelers to seal the victory.

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Saints re-sign TE Tom Crabtree

Tom Crabtree AP

Two days after releasing tight end Tom Crabtree, the Saints have brought him back.

The club re-signed Crabtree, the ex-Buccaneer and ex-Packer, on Monday, according to the NFL’s transactions.

The 28-year-old Crabtree gives the Saints a fourth tight end behind Jimmy Graham, Josh Hill and Ben Watson. Graham, who is dealing with a shoulder injury, played just 30 offensive snaps in Sunday’s loss at Detroit, catching no passes on two targets.

In another roster move Monday, the Saints waived rookie linebacker Todd Davis, whom they signed on Saturday, which necessitated Crabtree’s release. Davis played 18 snaps on special teams and two snaps on defense at Detroit.

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Pete Carroll believes there won’t be fallout from locker room on Harvin trade

Percy Harvin, Russell Wilson AP

Percy Harvin’s former teammates with the Seattle Seahawks were just as surprised as anyone when they learned the mercurial receiver had been dealt to the New York Jets for a conditional draft pick on Friday.

The players found out about the trade as the team was boarding buses to head to the airport for their flight to St. Louis on Friday afternoon. A Seahawks player said Friday night he found out about the trade on Twitter and wasn’t the only one.

While Harvin had altercations with Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin during his tenure in Seattle, he certainly wasn’t a universally disliked member of their locker room. Finding out one of the focal point pieces of the team’s offense through the first five games of the season had been traded as the end of a week of preparation had certainly stunned the rest of the team as well.

Head coach Pete Carroll said Monday he spent much of the flight to St. Louis Friday evening conversing with players and discussing the decision with the team so they understood what had happened.

“We had a really good talk about it and talked with guys from across the board on our team. I think it was pretty clear that it was accepted as the next thing that we had to do and we did the right thing and on we go,” Carroll said.

“They took it in stride. I think they trust our decision-making and they’ve stood by us throughout. I don’t think there is any fallout at all,” he added.

Receiver Doug Baldwin said after the game Sunday that the trade of Harvin had an effect on the players as they learned of the decision. Carroll said he understands that reaction but also believes the players didn’t let it affect them during their game against the Rams.

“Obviously, like (Baldwin) said, you’re human, you react and you have a response to it but I don’t think anybody had any problem and everybody was concerned about getting to business of playing football. So I think it was fine.” Carroll said.

Seattle’s offense in the second half looked the most productive its been in weeks. The Seahawks scored touchdowns on their final three possessions with each drive covering at least 80 yards. Maybe getting rid of a piece that clearly didn’t fit will jump-start the Seahawks offense. Or maybe they’ll miss one of the more dynamic athletes in the league. Only time will tell.

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Steelers ORT Marcus Gilbert out with concussion

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert has been ruled out of Monday night’s game vs. Houston with a concussion, the team announced.

Mike Adams replaced Gilbert at right tackle for Pittsburgh, which holds a 24-13 lead at halftime.

The 26-year-old Gilbert has started all six games for the Steelers this season. He signed a contract extension with the club in August.

Gilbert will have to be cleared via the NFL’s concussion protocols to return to practice and game action.

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Watt, Mercilus punish Ben, but Steelers storm back

texanssteelers AP

The Texans’ defense got off to a stellar start on Monday night in Pittsburgh, but the Steelers aren’t going away without a fight.

As expected, J.J. Watt is having a big game, with a sack and a recovery of a Ben Roethlisberger fumble. That fumble was forced by Whitney Mercilus, who’s also having a big game, with two sacks in the first half. Mercilus has also knocked down a pass, and Watt has hit Roethlisberger twice.

But Brian Cushing, the linebacker once viewed as one of the best young defensive players in the league, looks like injuries have severely limited him. Cushing just can’t keep up in coverage on Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, who already has 89 receiving yards, and as a result the Texans took Cushing off the field and went into a dime package late in the second quarter. That didn’t help, however, as Roethlisberger hit Martavis Bryant for a 35-yard touchdown pass.

That touchdown narrowed the score to 13-10, after the Texans had taken an early 13-0 lead. The Steelers are right back in it.

UPDATE: Then the Steelers scored two quick touchdowns to make it 24-13, Pittsburgh. Wow.

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Arian Foster powers Texans’ fast start

Derek Newton, Arian Foster, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Griffin AP

The Texans rode Arian Foster to a fast start in Pittsburgh.

Foster had five carries for 59 yards on Houston’s first drive as the Texans marched 94 yards in 10 plays to take an early 7-0 lead. The touchdown was scored by Foster’s backup, Alfred Blue, who took a short pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick and ran it in for an 11-yard score.

Foster and Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell are dueling for second place on the NFL rushing list, behind DeMarco Murray of the Cowboys. Bell entered the game leading Foster, 542 yards to 513. But after the Texans’ first drive, Foster had moved ahead of Bell. (Neither is close to Murray’s league-leading total of 913 yards.)

Now the Steelers need Bell to get going, as their defense is struggling to contain Foster.

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Report: Austin Pettis late for meeting on Saturday

Austin Pettis AP

The Rams made a somewhat surprising move Monday, waiving wide receiver Austin Pettis, who had caught 107 passes over the last four seasons for St. Louis.

Well, pieces of this puzzle might be starting to emerge.

According to Fox’s Mike Garafolo, Pettis was tardy to a Saturday night team meeting. The next day, Pettis was a healthy scratch for the Rams’ upset of Seattle.

The day after that, he was on waivers.

Garafolo, it should be noted, also opined that Pettis’ tardiness was certainly a contributing factor in his departure, though he didn’t believe it was the only one.

In any event, the reasoning for the release doesn’t matter. Players at Rams Park and points beyond understand being late can come at a big cost, with those outside the starting lineup most vulnerable.

We’ll know by Tuesday afternoon whether the 26-year-old Pettis has been picked up, which is quite possible. He’s making $570,000 this season, per Rotoworld data, and he is in the final year of his contract.

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Jadeveon Clowney inactive vs. Steelers

Jadeveon Clowney AP

The Texans are still waiting for No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney to get healthy.

Clowney, the pass rusher who has been sidelined since a Week One knee injury, is inactive for tonight’s game against the Steelers. The Texans had listed Clowney as questionable, and he went onto the field for pregame warmups, but he apparently still isn’t at full speed.

That’s disappointing news: When Clowney had arthroscopic knee surgery, the Texans said he’d be out 4-6 weeks. That surgery was exactly six weeks ago, and he’s still out. So the injury appears to be more serious than the Texans originally believed.

The Texans’ other inactives are OT Jeff Adams, S Josh Aubrey, CB Darryl Morris, CB Jumal Rolle, WR DeVier Posey and QB Tom Savage.

The Steelers’ inactives are QB Landry Jones, WR Justin Brown, CB Ike Taylor, SS Shamarko Thomas, ILB Ryan Shazier, G Chris Hubbard and NT Steve McLendon.

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Rams waive Austin Pettis

Bryan Mattison,  Austin Pettis,  Lionel Smith AP

Austin Pettis’s days in St. Louis are done.

The Rams waived Pettis, a wide receiver and 2011 third-round draft pick, today. Pettis was surprisingly left inactive on Sunday after having played in all five previous games this season.

The 6-foot-3, 203-pound Pettis is a good athlete who showed promise at times but never quite lived up to what the Rams thought they were getting when they drafted him. This year Pettis has 12 catches for 118 yards and one touchdown.

Pettis has contributed enough, both on offense and on special teams as a punt and kickoff returner, that it wouldn’t be surprising to see some other team claim him on waivers tomorrow. But in St. Louis, he’s finished.

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Evan Mathis cleared to practice

Jacksonville Jaguars v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

The Eagles have been without their preferred starting offensive line the entire season, but they are getting closer to having everyone healthy and available at the same time.

Geoff Mosher of CSN Philly reports that Mathis has been cleared to return to practice as he makes his way back from an injured MCL and that he will do so on Wednesday. That’s the first day that Mathis is eligible to practice after being placed on injured reserve with the designation to return. He won’t be eligible to play until Week 10 and plans to ramp things up accordingly.

“I won’t jump back into it full speed. There’s no rushing into it,” Mathis said. “I have three weeks of practice before I have to play.”

With right tackle Lane Johnson back from suspension, center Jason Kelce is the other missing starter. Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News reported Monday that Kelce hasn’t been cleared for full practice yet, but has been on track for a Week 10 return as well since having sports hernia surgery.

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Reggie Wayne, Trent Richardson having MRIs after Sunday injuries

Reggie Wayne, Terence Newman AP

The Colts didn’t have much stress during their shutout of the Bengals on Sunday, but they’ll have a bit of worrying to do as a few of their players head for MRIs after getting dinged on Sunday.

Wide receiver Reggie Wayne, running back Trent Richardson and linebacker Jerrell Freeman are all headed to the tube to have their injuries evaluated.

Wayne injured his elbow during the contest, but was able to play through it. He wound up with four catches for 15 yards, giving him eight for 50 yards over two weeks that have had him looking like he’s a 35-year-old wideout returning from a torn ACL.

Richardson shrugged off his hamstring injury as nothing serious after the game, which was one of his best as a member of the Colts. Richardson gained 77 yards on 14 carries and added 41 more yards as a receiver. Freeman hurt his hip during the game, but returned to action.

Wednesday should bring updates on all three as the Colts start preparing for their trip to Pittsburgh.

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NFL and other sports leagues file suit to stop New Jersey betting

83797196 Getty Images

With New Jersey planning to launch sports wagering this weekend, the NFL and others have filed a lawsuit hoping to block the expansion of gambling in a state that two pro football franchises technically call home.

Via ESPN.com, the NFL, NCAA, and other sports leagues initiated a legal action on Monday.  On Tuesday, a request will be made to block sports wagering while the case proceeds.

The NFL contends that the latest effort to legalize sports wagering in New Jersey attempts to circumvent federal law.  The NFL previously defeated under applicable federal law an effort by New Jersey to permit wagering on sports.

If New Jersey prevails, it’s unlikely that another Super Bowl would be hosted at MetLife Stadium.  Depending on how strongly the NFL feels about the issue, it’s also possible that the next Jets/Giants stadium would be built somewhere in New York.

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Jon Beason going to see a foot specialist again

Jon Beason AP

A frustrating season has continued for Giants linebacker Jon Beason.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin told reporters that Beason was going to see foot specialist Dr. Robert Anderson after leaving yesterday’s game against the Cowboys.

Beason’s been bothered by a toe problem all season, and may have aggravated it yesterday. He’s missed three games, and hasn’t been able to stay well this season.

If anything, there’s familiarity there, as Anderson knows Beason’s (growing thicker) medical file well since he’s the Panthers’ team doctor as well.

When Beason’s on the field, he’s a difference-maker for the Giants defense. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to this season.

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