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PFT’s Week 17 picks

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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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Cowboys working out running backs before camp

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The Cowboys are still waiting to hear what will happen to Ezekiel Elliott, and they’re looking at some other running backs before the open training camp.

According to Field Yates of ESPN, the Cowboys worked out former Jaguars “offensive weapon” Denard Robinson and former Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman.

While any potential suspension of Elliott isn’t really a factor here, the Cowboys would like to check out some options.

They lost Lance Dunbar to the Rams this offseason, and have Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris in reserve.

Robinson has gotten some sniffs but no jobs since the Jaguars let him walk. While they hoped he’d become a versatile offensive piece, he never did much to justify the attention.

Hillman spent part of last season with the Chargers, but averaged 3.2 yards per carry and hasn’t had much interest.

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Cleveland’s chief building official says Browns stadium not a fire hazard

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Cleveland’s chief building official assures Browns fans that they have no need to worry about FirstEnergy Stadium being a fire hazard. The Associated Press reported that the stadium uses some of the same types of panels being investigated as a possible contributor to the deadly apartment fire in London last month.

There is zero risk to the fans,” Thomas Vanover said at a news conference at the stadium, via the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “There is no risk of a tragedy like what occurred at Grenfell [in London].” 

The panels used on the London building, where 80 people died in the June 14 fire, cover some 100,000 square feet of the exterior of Cleveland’s stadium. The panels are Reynobond composite material manufactured by Arconic Inc.

The panels were backed with synthetic material that helped to insulate the apartment tower. The stadium has the panels mounted on non-combustible concrete as a trim covering the structure.

“The panels are not what caused the tragedy,” Vanover said. “The panels were part of a system that caused a tragedy.”
 

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Anquan Boldin to visit the Bills next week

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Veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin still wants to play, and he’s taking a visit next week.

According to Dan Graizano of ESPN, Boldin will visit the Bills next Monday.

The Bills have little in the way of depth behind perpetually hurt Sammy Watkins (though Watkins is, at the moment, OK), and used a second-round pick on East Carolina’s Zay Jones.

The 36-year-old Boldin caught 67 passes for 584 yards and eight touchdowns last year for the Lions, proving he can still be productive. The Bills could use all the help they could get, and Boldin would represent an upgrade over what’s on hand.

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Marcus Mariota to play lighter, despite team’s instructions

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Titans coaches had suggested to Marcus Mariota in the past that they wanted him to weigh between 225 and 230 pounds, in order to protect himself from hits.

But he’s coming to camp well under that goal, in hopes of avoiding them.

According to Paul Kuharsky of The Midday 180 in Nashville, Mariota’s personal trainer said he’s going to report around 215 pounds in hopes of being more mobile this season. He has been listed at 222 the last two years.

“I have always told Marcus that I thought he should play at 215 pounds because I felt like he was the fastest at that weight,” said Ryan Flaherty, the senior director of performance at Nike. “The No. 1 injury QBs suffer in the NFL is AC sprain and that’s from getting hit.

“I told him that they can’t hit what they can’t catch so he should think about playing at a weight where he is his fastest. However the Titans coaches always told him they wanted him heavier and to play around 225-230 pounds to be able to absorb hits. Finally this year Marcus agrees with me and will play at 215 and I think you’ll notice a huge difference even though it’s only a difference of 10 pounds. He will be much quicker and faster this year and the goal with that will be to take less hits which will in turn keep him healthy. Unfortunately the first 2 years he’s missed games because of contact injuries so I think with him being leaner and lighter he will reduce the number of hits and thus reduce the risk of injury.”

Of course, the Titans might not be wild about their suggestions being ignored, but they’d obviously rather have Mariota available. Their playoff chances and his season ended with a broken ankle on Dec. 24, and with their additions this offseason have them positioned to improve.

Flaherty has worked with Mariota since prior to the 2015 Combine, and concentrated on preventing injuries after knee problems cost Mariota four games in 2015. And for what it’s worth, he said Mariota will be ready to participate fully when camp opens next week, after they took a cautious approach with him this offseason.

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NFL is wrapping up the Ezekiel Elliott investigation

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Nearly a year after Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott allegedly engaged in domestic violence, the NFL is closing in on ending its investigation.

According to NFL Media (i.e., the NFL), the investigatory phase of the process is nearing completion, and the NFL has shared its findings with the NFL Players Association. Also, the NFLPA has provided to the league a “final response” aimed at answering “any lingering question” about the probe into whether Elliott violated the personal conduct policy.

It’s unknown whether Elliott will be disciplined or suspended. Although he was never arrested or charged, the league applies a lower standard of proof in these matters, with the question of whether Elliott violated the policy essentially coming down to whether the league believes Elliott or his accuser.

Broader business considerations necessarily will influence that assessment, including pressure from Cowboys owner Jerry Jones (who is believed to have made it clear that he won’t be as compliant as the Patriots were about the Tom Brady suspension), pressure from other owners who want Elliott to be punished, and the ever-critical P.R. component, which is the primary reason for the league’s decision to conduct its own investigations and impose its own discipline.

If the league doesn’t find a violation, the alleged victim can file a lawsuit or otherwise tell her story. And, necessarily, there will be people who automatically believe it and people who automatically reject it. Those who believe it will criticize the league for not taking action against Elliott, creating a potential Ray Rice-style embarrassment for the league.

Last week, ESPN reported that Elliott is bracing for a short suspension, which possibly would be the result of a compromise aimed at placating all of the various constituencies, and minimizing the potential P.R. fallout.

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Frank Gore closing in on the Top 5 for all-time rushing yards

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Frank Gore is a rare running back who’s still able to play at a high level into his 30s, rushing for 1,025 yards last season at the age of 33. If he can do that again at age 34, he’ll join some truly elite company.

Gore is already the active rushing leader, with 13,065 career yards, and the only players ahead of him in NFL history are Hall of Famers. If Gore equals his 2016 production this year, he’ll move ahead of three of those Hall of Famers — Eric Dickerson, Jerome Bettis and LaDainian Tomlinson — and into the Top 5 in NFL history. He’d also then be just behind No. 4 Curtis Martin, who retired with 14,101 yards.

Another 1,000-yard season would be the 10th of Gore’s career, tying him with Martin, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders for the second most 1,000-yard seasons in NFL history. Only Emmitt Smith, with 11 1,000-yard seasons, has more.

It’s probably a long shot to think Gore will last long enough to pass Sanders (15,269 career yards), Payton (16,726) and Smith (18,355) on the all-time rushing list. But it’s easy to see Gore moving into fourth place all-time, and making a strong case for himself as a Hall of Famer.

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Adam Jones suspended one game by NFL

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Apparently emboldened by the Sean Spicer news, the NFL is firing up the Friday news dump machine a little early today.

Bengals cornerback Adam Jones has been suspended one game by the league for violating the personal conduct policy, and has three days to appeal the decision.

Jones pleaded guilty to obstructing official business, after a January incident in which he spat on a jailhouse nurse (which sounds like a euphemism but isn’t in this case). This came after he blew up at reporters who had the nerve to ask him about the most interesting thing to happen to him this offseason.

In the league’s letter to Jones, they said the “extensive video documentation of the tone, tenor and nature of your interactions with law enforcement at the site of your arrest, during transportation to the jail, and during the booking process. As you acknowledged, your post-arrest words and actions reflected poorly on you and your family, the Cincinnati Bengals football club, and the NFL. While it is our understanding that appropriate apologies have been publicly extended, they do not completely negate your behavior and admission of culpability for the underlying conduct.”

The Bengals have consistently stood by Jones for years, primarily because he’s good at football. And they’re deep enough in former first-rounders at the position to survive the opener against the Ravens without him.

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Tony Romo says he still has a ways to go as an announcer

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When CBS made Tony Romo its No. 1 color commentator, it was surprising because he has no experience in broadcasting. And Romo himself acknowledges it’s a job he still has to learn.

Romo said on 105.3 The Fan that he’s working with Jim Nantz, calling practice games and getting better, but he’s also trying to figure things out.

“I’ve started to do the practice games,” Romo said, via the Dallas Morning News. “I do these little daily things in Dallas — just little run-throughs and practice sessions, how to feel [and] look, how to think. It’s been good. I feel a lot more comfortable now than when I started. But I still got a ways to go.”

Romo is an articulate guy who knows the game, but that’s no guarantee that he’ll be good at making short, quick observations between plays that add value to the viewers at home. It’s a good sign that he knows he still has work to do.

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Mike Zimmer disagrees with the perception of his team entering 2017

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A year ago, the Vikings seemed ready to contend for a Super Bowl appearance. Now? Not.

The team’s head coach understandably disagrees with external perceptions.

“Contrary to what everybody else believes, I still believe we’re the 11-5 team that went into the ’16 season,” Zimmer told Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press in an extended (and excellent) interview. “We’ve added more things offensively than we had. I think we’re going to be a lot better offensively.”

As Murphy interjected at that point, the Vikings almost have to be better on offense; they can’t be much worse.

“In the three years I’ve been here, we’ve been 27th in the league offensively,” Zimmer said. “If we can improve to 15th and score when we have the opportunities. . . . One of the things I always preach is don’t beat yourself. Last year, we had so many pre-snap penalties that actually killed us. Trying to get that part fixed, I think we’ll be better. I think the running game will improve with [left tackle Riley] Reiff and [right tackle Mike] Remmers and [center Pat] Eflein and our backs, now. This [rookie running back Dalvin] Cook looks like he’s going to be pretty special.”

The term “pretty special” hasn’t been applied much to the Vikings since their last Super Bowl appearance in 1976. The 1987 team shocked superior franchises from New Orleans and San Francisco in the postseason, and the 1998 team was one of the best of all time to not make it to the title game. Then there was the 2009 team, that outplayed — but didn’t outscore — the Saints in the NFC championship game.

The best news for Zimmer is that the bar is low. But it’s low for a reason, and it’s up to Zimmer to ensure that the performance surpasses the justifiably low expectations for the team.

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Parole board member wore his Chiefs tie on purpose to O.J. hearing

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No, your eyes were not deceiving you. Yes, a member of the Nevada parole board was wearing a Chiefs tie during O.J. Simpson’s hearing yesterday.

And yes, he did it on purpose, knowing he’d be on television.

Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star caught up with board member Adam Endel, and he admitted he was playing for the cameras.

“Yeah, that’s safe to say,” Endel said. “It was one of those little things I figured someone might spot from Kansas City, but I didn’t realize it was going to blow up that much. It’s crazy now.”

Endel grew up about an hour east of Kansas City, and said he doesn’t hide his fandom since he moved to Nevada (which he did after college).

“If you saw my office, it’s covered in Royals and Chiefs stuff,” Endel said.

He’s been on the board since 2009, but never drew this kind of attention. And because of that, his only nerves were about clashing, so he chose the black shirt which made the Chiefs gear stand out in even sharper relief.

“I can’t match things very well,” Endel said. “So I have to wear solid colors most of the time. My wife’s not around always.”

Somehow, we feel like Andy Reid can totally identify with that.

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Emmitt Smith on all-time ranking: My stats speak for themselves

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Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith took notice recently when a couple of rankings of the greatest running backs in NFL history put him lower than he thought he deserved.

When former Cowboys personnel man Gil Brandt ranked the top running backs, he listed Smith 10th. When Peter King assembled a panel of experts to draft their own all-time teams, Smith was the 16th back taken.

But Smith says that his legacy is secure, thanks to two all-time records: Smith ran for 18,355 yards and 164 touchdowns, both the best in NFL history.

“You always have to go back to, ‘What is the criteria for the greatest running back of all-time?’ ” Smith told the Dallas Morning News. “And if you really want to have a legitimate conversation about the best running back in National Football League history, or the best player in NFL history, then you have to create the criteria. And if you create the criteria, then anybody who’s chiming in can give you their true opinion. Because now you have something you can actually gauge it against. Everything else is so arbitrary. So I think they are just doing it to create a conversation in the marketplace. I’m not going to overly concern myself with it. Because at the end of the day, eighteen three fifty-five speaks for itself. One hundred sixty-four speaks for itself.”

Smith is obviously right that his career numbers stack up with anyone, although he also put together his numbers running behind a great offensive line that some of the other top backs in NFL history could only dream of. He also kept compiling yards and touchdowns when he was well past his prime, which put his totals out of the reach of players who retired earlier. And Smith’s yards per carry average of 4.2 is a full yard behind Jim Brown’s 5.2.

Smith is justified if he considers himself the best of them all, as are others who look at the totality of NFL history and don’t put Smith in the company of the 10 best running backs ever.

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Wes Welker praises Deshaun Watson’s work ethic, demeanor

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New Texans assistant Wes Welker had the unique experience of catching passes from both Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. During a recent visit to PFT Live, I asked Welker for one thing he’s noticed about Texans rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson that reminds him of either guy.

“I think he has a great work ethic,” Welker said. “I think that’s one of the key things that I’ve noticed from him is just the way that he handles his business. Kind of the demeanor that he has. He has a winning attitude which was showed on the field there at Clemson. I think the work that he’s going to put in that you have to have and the repetitions that you gotta go through. Not only physically on the field but mentally in your head of studying and being on top of everything day in and day out. I’ve been impressed with how he’s kinda handled himself and the way he’s gone about his business.”

Welker’s assessment meshes with plenty of other opinions and observations regarding the rookie, who currently isn’t the starter but inevitably will be. The only question is when.

For more from Welker, including a story about Welker pulling a great prank on Brady and some details about the challenges of playing slot receiver, check out the full interview.

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PFT preseason power rankings No. 10: Tennessee Titans

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The Titans lost both their quarterback and their playoff chances on Christmas Eve when Marcus Mariota went down with a broken ankle.

The fact they were that close underscores how solidly they’re built, and how close they are to making their turnaround real.

After solidifying both lines (their offensive line doesn’t get the publicity of others, but is among the best in the league starting with tackles Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin), this offseason was spent adding skill position talent for Mariota.

While they might have surprised some by taking wide receiver Corey Davis fifth overall, they think he can be the kind of lead dog that group needs. Third-rounder Taywan Taylor also has some promise for a group that’s suddenly deep. Being able to pick up a solid veteran like Eric Decker late in the offseason was a gift, and should help Mariota balance things out offensively.

They’re not a particularly flashy team, such that a Mike Mularkey-coached team ever would be. But they’re nothing if not stable, and suddenly making people realize it.

Biggest positive change: The Titans were forced into too many shootouts last year, primarily because they were 30th in the league in pass defense.
So they made it a priority to add to the secondary, spending heavily on cornerback Logan Ryan and bringing safety Johnathan Cyprien in in free agency, and then using their second first-rounder on cornerback Adoree Jackson, who was one of the best athletes in this year’s draft.

They needed to make big changes there, and if they work out, it’s going to be harder to find weaknesses.

Biggest negative change: It’s hard to find one. Sure, they lost veteran tight end Anthony Fasano, but that’s not a deal-breaker.

If anything, they’ve lost the ability to surprise people, as they’re suddenly a trendy pick and getting more attention than they have in years.

Coaching thermometer: It ought to be absolutely frozen.

Mularkey might not inspire deep feelings among the fanbase, but his old-school methods have stabilized things there and are working.

Whether it works long-term remains to be seen, as his reputation with players is of a guy who can wear guys out (physically and mentally). But at the moment, it’s hard to argue with the job he’s done.

We’d like to crack a beer with . . . Mariota has everything you’d want in an NFL star quarterback except perhaps personality. It would be curious to know if there’s one lurking deep inside there.

Not every quarterback has to be Brett Favre (on or off the field), and perhaps his stoic demeanor is a thing to be applauded in an age where everything is hype.

How they can prove us wrong: If the grind of being a physical team wears on them more than their opponents, they could easily fade.

The AFC South, long a punchline, is deeper and more talented than it’s been, so it’s actually going to take some work to win the division this year. But if the secondary improves, if Davis fulfills his promise, and Mariota gets used to having more to work with, the Titans could become a threat for years to come.

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Dwayne Harris: Cowboys “probably” look better on paper than Giants

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Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott said his team will repeat as NFC East champions, which is the sort of comment that might rile up members of a rival team but at least one Giants player is taking a more relaxed look at the state of affairs in the division.

Giants wide receiver Dwayne Harris, who broke into the NFL with the Cowboys, was asked about how the two teams stack up during a Friday appearance on NFL Network. Harris’ answer was complimentary to Prescott’s team while also making sure to drop in a reference to the Giants’ two wins over Dallas last season.

“You know, I let people think what they want to think. They, on paper, they probably look better than us right now,” Harris said. “But we always match up good with them, so we’ll see.”

Opinions will likely vary about how the two teams match up on paper, but the Giants certainly aren’t conceding anything in July. They made the playoffs last year, addressed some offensive shortcomings this offseason and Harris’ teammate Jason Pierre-Paul was willing to call the team a Super Bowl contender.

We’ll begin to find out if that’s the case on September 10 when the Giants and Cowboys open the season with a Sunday night clash on NBC.

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Nicole Brown’s sister takes issue with O.J. Simpson’s “conflict-free life” claim

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One of the more bizarre moments during Thursday’s O.J. Simpson parole hearing happened when Simpson at one point blurted out that he’s led a “conflict-free life.” The moment was particularly significant to the families members of the people that, according to the California civil justice system, he killed.

“Really? You beat my sister,” Nicole Brown’s sister, Tanya, told TMZ. “Regardless of . . . murdering her and Ron [Goldman] the fact is that my sister has diary entries dating back to 1978 about abuse that was inflicted, and also there was that infamous 911 call that he mentioned.”

Regardless of whether you believe Simpson did or didn’t kill his ex-wife and a man who was in the worst possible place at the worst possible time, a jury found Simpson responsible for the deaths under the much lower burden of proof than the criminal “beyond a reasonable doubt” bar.

If you personally have doubts, reasonable or otherwise, about whether Simpson did it, read this assessment of the documentary from 2016.

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