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PFT’s Week 17 picks

Charles Tillman, Eddie Lacy AP

After a pathetic, season-worst 6-10 showing by yours truly and a four-game sweep by MDS, I was tempted to try to guess which team he’d pick for each of the 16 games to end the regular season, and then hope for the best.

But the spirit of this game is to try to get as many games right as possible, even if my outcome from last week would suggest that the better approach for me would be to select a winner — and then to do the opposite.

This week, we disagree on three games, which means MDS will win the regular-season competition by at least nine games.

For the year, MDS has generated a record of 157-83.  I’m 145-95.

The only good news is that it all resets to 0-0 for the postseason picks competition.

Panthers at Falcons

MDS’s take: Give the Falcons credit for playing competitive football against good teams, as they did on Monday night against the 49ers. This Atlanta team hasn’t quit. But the Panthers’ defense should shut down the Falcons’ offense as the Panthers clinch the NFC South.

MDS’s pick: Panthers 20, Falcons 10.

Florio’s take:  The Panthers need a win to nail down the No. 2 seed.  An immature, undisciplined team would stumble in this spot.  If nothing else, the 2013 Panthers have proven that they are both mature and disciplined.

Florio’s pick:  Panthers 27, Falcons 20.

Packers at Bears

MDS’s take: As of the time I’m making this pick I don’t know if Aaron Rodgers is playing, so this is a tough one. But I’ll go with the Bears to clinch the NFC North in a high-scoring affair.

MDS’s pick: Bears 31, Packers 27.

Florio’s take:  If Aaron Rodgers can play, the Packers have a chance to peak in January.  If they can get to January.  If Rodgers plays on Sunday, the Packers will get to January.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 34, Bears 30.

Ravens at Bengals

MDS’s take: The Ravens suffered a huge letdown last week against the Patriots, and I see the defending champions’ season ending on Sunday in Cincinnati.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 24, Ravens 14.

Florio’s take:  The Bengals need a win and some help in order to secure the No. 2 seed.  The Ravens need a win and some help to extend their streak of playoff appearances to six.  While the Bengals are unbeaten at home, the Ravens have the greater incentive and enough talent to capitalize.

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 20, Bengals 17.

Jaguars at Colts

MDS’s take: The Jaguars aren’t going down without a fight, but the Colts showed last week against the Chiefs that they’re real contenders. Indianapolis will win this one and head into the playoffs with a full head of steam for a likely rematch with Kansas City.

MDS’s pick: Colts 34, Jaguars 20.

Florio’s take:  Indy is building some momentum in the hopes of advancing beyond the wild-card round.  The Jaguars have shown enough progress to create plausible hope for 2014 — if they can find a decent quarterback.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 30, Jaguars 20.

Jets at Dolphins

MDS’s take: Last week the Dolphins laid an egg, while the Jets kept fighting despite having no shot at the playoffs. This week, however, I think the Dolphins’ pass rush will get to Geno Smith and Miami will win a low-scoring game and the right to play in the first round of the playoffs, probably at Cincinnati.

MDS’s pick: Dolphins 20, Jets 10.

Florio’s take:  After his first season as Jets coach, Rex Ryan gave the finger to a Miami MMA crowd.  On Sunday, in perhaps his final act as Jets coach, he can give a figurative finger to Fins fans by knocking the home team out of the playoffs.  Rex will pull out all the stops, and the Dolphins will follow two wins in games they should have lost with two losses in games they should have won.

Florio’s pick:  Jets 23, Dolphins 20.

Lions at Vikings

MDS’s take: After appearing to be in control of the NFC North for much of the season, the Lions have gone into free fall. The fall will continue in Minnesota.

MDS’s pick: Vikings 24, Lions 17.

Florio’s take:  The final game at the Metrodome coincides with what likely will be the final game of Jim Schwartz’s tenure and Lions coach.  Adrian Peterson won’t let his team exit its 31-year home with anything other than a victory to cap a lost season.

Florio’s pick:  Vikings 31, Lions 23.

Bills at Patriots

MDS’s take: Buffalo isn’t going anywhere, but the Bills’ defense is a lot better than most people realize, as the Dolphins found out the hard way last week. It wouldn’t shock me to see the Bills pull off the upset, but I expect the Patriots’ defense to shut down the Bills’ offense to win a close, low-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 14, Bills 10.

Florio’s take:  The Pats still have a shot at securing the No. 1 seed — and also at having to play in the wild-card round.  Either way, a home loss wouldn’t be the best way to embark on a playoff run in a wide-open AFC.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 38, Bills 20.

Buccaneers at Saints

MDS’s take: The Saints are a bad road team but a good home team. That’s a bad thing to be if you’re going to the playoffs as a wild card, but in New Orleans on Sunday, the Saints will clinch a playoff berth.

MDS’s pick: Saints 27, Buccaneers 17.

Florio’s take:  The Saints could end the day as the No. 2 seed.  The Saints also could end the day out of the playoffs.  If Carolina wins earlier, forcing the Saints to leave the Superdome in the wild-card round, they may be tempted to not delay the inevitable.  Coach Sean Payton won’t let that happen.

Florio’s pick:  Saints 27, Buccaneers 13.

Redskins at Giants

MDS’s take: Both of these teams stink, but Washington is a much lower level of stink. This game will be ugly, and the Giants will win.

MDS’s pick: Giants 23, Redskins 16.

Florio’s take:  The Giants hoped to finish their season with a win at MetLife Stadium in February.  They’ll have to settle for finishing their season with a win at MetLife Stadium in late December.

Florio’s pick:  Giants 28, Redskins 17.

Browns at Steelers

MDS’s take: The Steelers dug a deep hole for themselves with their lousy start to the season, but they’re playing good football now. They probably won’t get all the help they need to make the playoffs, but the Steelers will take care of business against the Browns.

MDS’s pick: Steelers 34, Browns 13.

Florio’s take:  If the Steelers get to the playoffs, they’ll be tough to beat.  But not as tough as they’ll be to beat in the game that can help get them to the playoffs.

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 34, Browns 17.

Texans at Titans

MDS’s take: The Texans will clinch the first overall pick in the draft by losing to the Titans. And draft order is the only reason to pay any attention to this game.

MDS’s pick: Titans 20, Texans 13.

Florio’s take:  New Houston meets old Houston at a time when both Houstons have a problem too big for one meaningless game to fix.  If Mike Munchak is leaving after more than 30 years with the Oilers/Titans franchise, he’s going out with a win.

Florio’s pick:  Titans 24, Texans 17.

49ers at Cardinals

MDS’s take: The Cardinals have had an impressive season, and there’s a good team being assembled in Arizona. I think the Cardinals will make a big statement by defeating the playoff-bound 49ers, although Arizona won’t get the help it needs to make the playoffs.

MDS’s pick: Cardinals 20, 49ers 17.

Florio’s take:  Arizona finishes laying the foundation for a run at the top of the division in 2014.  The 49ers will be happy to get out of Arizona healthy enough to function the following weekend.

Florio’s pick:  Cardinals 20, 49ers 17.

Broncos at Raiders

MDS’s take: With home-field advantage throughout the playoffs on the line, Denver will cruise to an easy win in Oakland.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 38, Raiders 14.

Florio’s take:  With 265 yards passing on Sunday, Peyton Manning emerges from the 2013 season with the record for passing touchdowns and passing yards.  With more points than the Raiders on Sunday, the Broncos emerge from the 2013 season with the No. 1 seed, again.  What they do with it remains to be seen.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 41, Raiders 20.

Chiefs at Chargers

MDS’s take: The Chiefs are locked into the No. 5 seed in the AFC and are therefore the only playoff team with nothing to play for. As a result, I think they’ll take it easy on Sunday and the Chargers will cruise to a win.

MDS’s pick: Chargers 30, Chiefs 20.

Florio’s take:  By the time this one starts, the Chargers will know whether a win gets them in the playoffs.  Chances are they’ll be done.  But with the Chiefs likely resting starters, the Chargers will finish on the right side of .500.

Florio’s pick:  Chargers 31, Chiefs 21.

Rams at Seahawks

MDS’s take: The Rams are playing competitively and this won’t be easy for the Seahawks, but Seattle will be highly motivated to win this one and clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 31, Rams 20.

Florio’s take:  Last Sunday’s loss to the Cardinals gave the Seahawks a much-needed wake-up call.  They’ll answer the bell by roughing up the Rams and locking up the No. 1 seed.

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 27, Rams 10.

Eagles at Cowboys

MDS’s take: Even with Tony Romo I’d lean toward the Eagles to take this one, but with Romo’s back injury this looks to me like a game the Eagles take to clinch the NFC East.

MDS’s pick: Eagles 31, Cowboys 17.

Florio’s take:  With or without Tony Romo, the Cowboys don’t have the defense to once again hold Philly to three points — especially without Sean Lee available.  Another year, another 8-8 finish, another loss in the de facto NFC East championship game.

Florio’s pick:  Eagles 27, Cowboys 23.

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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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Ravens sign a new long snapper after Morgan Cox tears ACL

San Francisco 49ers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

It’s good that a player the caliber of Haloti Ngata is versatile, but the Ravens didn’t want to make him their full-time long-snapper.

So they found a new one today.

According to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun, the Ravens are signing veteran long snapper Kevin McDermott, after Morgan Cox tore his ACL in yesterday’s win over the Falcons.

McDermott has played with the 49ers and Broncos in the past.

When Cox left yesterday’s game, Ngata came in to snap for a late extra point. There seemed to be some confusion on the Ravens sideline about going for two given the injury to the snapper, but the veteran defensive tackle did the job capably.

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Kyle Fuller doesn’t need surgery on broken hand

Miami Dolphins v Chicago Bears Getty Images

The Bears are trying to combat reports of a broken locker room after frustrations spilled over after Sunday’s loss to the Dolphins, something that a win next week would surely help.

Their chances of getting that win would be improved if cornerback Kyle Fuller is able to play when they take on the Patriots, but he has a break of his own to contend with this week. Coach Marc Trestman confirmed Monday that Fuller broke his right hand during the game.

Fuller’s injury might not keep him out of the game, however. Trestman said that Fuller doesn’t need to have surgery to repair the injury and could play this week, although the condition of the hip pointer he also picked up on Sunday will have a lot to do with his chances of playing.

“He went out of the game because of his hip more than his hand,” Trestman said, via CBS Chicago. “So we’ll see where he’s at. He said he felt good today. He’ll be day-to-day. I don’t know that the hand will deter him. Up to this point today, I’ve heard it to be a non-surgical issue.”

Fuller, who was the NFL’s defensive rookie of the month for September, is tied for the league lead with three interceptions and three forced fumbles. Sherrick McManis replaced him against Miami.

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Dr. Marvin Lewis says Vontaze Burfict is “fine”

Ahmad Bradshaw, Vontaze Burfict AP

A week ago, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis was asked about linebacker Vontaze Burfict’s string of concussions, and he effectively blamed the media for making them linger.

So maybe we shouldn’t jump to too many conclusions about his latest diagnosis.

According to Coley Harvey of ESPN.com, Lewis said Burfict was “fine” after leaving yesterday’s game with a cervical strain.

While the problems may not be connected, Burfict clearly has issues with leading with his head. It’s caused fines in the past, but sticking the crown of his helmet into Andrew Luck left him with that sore neck.

Between the concussions and lingering effects, Burfict has finished exactly one game this season, and that’s the Panthers game in which he was fined for twisting legs.

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Josh McCown returns to practice

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

The Buccaneers held a workout on Monday to get back in the swing of things after their bye week and one player returned to work after a much longer absence.

Quarterback Josh McCown practiced for the first time since injuring his right thumb in Week Three. Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times reports that McCown wore a wrap on his thumb, but didn’t seem to have any problem making throws during the part of practice open to the media.

Bucs coach Lovie Smith has resisted making any pronouncements about who will start at quarterback over the rest of the season since McCown has been out, but has moved closer to shifting Mike Glennon from the quarterback of the future to the quarterback of the present based on his performances over the last three games.

Smith won’t have anything to say about the plans for this week’s game against the Vikings until Wednesday, but Glennon has played better than McCown and his youth gives him the potential for greater growth than the veteran McCown provides. That should matter to a 1-5 team, although we’ll see how Tampa decides to play things.

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Kirk Cousins benched, Colt McCoy will start until RG3 is cleared

grudenmccoy AP

The Kirk Cousins era is over in Washington.

Coach Jay Gruden announced today that Colt McCoy is his new starting quarterback until Robert Griffin III is cleared to return from his ankle injury. Gruden said he doesn’t know when Griffin will be cleared, but if he’s not cleared for next Monday night’s game against Dallas, then McCoy will start.

On one level, that doesn’t come as a big surprise: Cousins has been lousy, and McCoy provided the team with a spark when he came in after Cousins was benched on Sunday. It only makes sense to keep McCoy on the job.

But on another level, it’s a stunner: As recently as a couple weeks ago there was talk that Cousins was the best fit for Gruden’s offense and might keep the job over Griffin. Instead, Cousins is now Washington’s third-string quarterback.

Washington is going nowhere this season, and the most important priority is to get Griffin healthy and see if he can flourish in Gruden’s offense. All Cousins has done is show that not only is he not a threat to unseat Griffin as the No. 1 quarterback, but he’s not even good enough to be a No. 2 quarterback.

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