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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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Greg Robinson not in Week One starting lineup

Robinson Getty Images

The second overall pick in the draft will start the season on the second string.

Rams guard Greg Robinson, a tackle whom the team has moved inside, has moved behind Rodger Saffold on the depth chart at left guard, via Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-DispatchDavin Joseph will start at right guard.

Joseph, who joined the team in May, makes it easier for the Rams to take it slowly with Robinson, who’s still adjusting to life in the NFL, where the playbook and the protections is far more complicated than the offense at Auburn.

Still, it’s a disappointment for the second player off the board to not be starting.  If the Rams were able to capture a Mulligan, they’d surely take the quarterback who won’t be starting in Jacksonville.

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Wes Welker suspended four games for violating PED policy

Denver Broncos Super Bowl XLVIII Media Availability Getty Images

Broncos receiver Wes Welker has been suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the NFL’s policy against performance-enhancing drugs.

According to multiple reports, Welker tested positive for a banned amphetamine.

Welker becomes one of the highest-profile NFL players to be busted for a PED violation. Welker led the league in receptions three times while with the Patriots, and he was a component of the best offense in the NFL last year with the Broncos.

There’s been much talk in recent days about whether Welker would be healthy enough to play in Week One after suffering a preseason concussion, but now that talk is moot: Welker will miss four games regardless of whether he is cleared by the league’s concussion protocol.

The Broncos should be in OK shape at receiver even without Welker, thanks to the signing of free agent receiver Emmanuel Sanders and the drafting of rookie receiver Cody Latimer.

Welker will not be permitted to practice with the team during the suspension. He will be eligible to return in Week Five.

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NFL says Josh Brent can return starting Week 11

Dallas Cowboys v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

The NFL has will allow Josh Brent, the Cowboys defensive lineman who killed teammate Jerry Brown while driving drunk, to return to the Cowboys this year. But Brent isn’t eligible just yet.

Brent cannot play until Week 11. He is suspended for the first 10 games of the season and not allowed to participate in any team activities for the first six weeks of the season. He can begin practicing in Week Nine. He will not be permitted to return if he is involved in any prohibited alcohol-related incidents.

If Brent believes he deserves to re-join the Cowboys sooner than that, he has five days to appeal the decision. Brent has already missed the end of the 2012 season after his car crash in December of that year, and the entire 2013 season as well. In all, he’ll have missed 30 games by the time he’s eligible to play in Week 11.

The Cowboys have indicated that they will bring Brent back once the NFL gives it the OK. So as long as Brent stays out of trouble, expect him to be with the Cowboys late this season.

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Steelers’ defense preparing to face both Manziel and Hoyer

Mike Tomlin AP

Brian Hoyer will start at quarterback for the Browns against the Steelers on Sunday, but he’s not the only quarterback the Steelers’ defense is preparing to face.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin says he thinks Johnny Manziel will play on Sunday, and the Steelers have to be ready for that.

We anticipate them using both in some capacity, and I think that’s the appropriate approach for us to take,” Tomlin said.

Tomlin coached Hoyer briefly when Hoyer spent some time on the Steelers’ roster in 2012, and Tomlin said he has always thought highly of Hoyer as a smart, well-prepared quarterback. But the Steelers also have to be ready for the threat Manziel brings, particularly as a runner.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all that [Hoyer] is the guy they’ve chosen to go with,” said Tomlin, “but that being said, we have a great deal of respect for Johnny Manziel and his talents and what he did to get to this point in his career. We fully expect them to utilize him in some capacity in this football game. They didn’t draft him in the first round to watch, and we understand that.”

The possibility of a two-quarterback system makes the Browns one of the NFL’s more unpredictable offenses heading into Week One. Tomlin doesn’t know exactly what to expect against Cleveland, but he does expect to see Johnny Football, and not just Johnny Clipboard.

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Bears place Marquess Wilson on injured reserve/recall

Marquess Wilson AP

If Marquess Wilson is to return to the Bears’ lineup, it will have to be after midseason.

The club has placed Wilson, the second-year wide receiver from Washington State, on injured reserve with a designation to be recalled, the club announced.

The 21-year-old Wilson suffered a broken collarbone early in training camp. He was expected to compete for the club’s No. 3 receiver role.

With Wilson’s roster spot open for the time being, the Bears re-signed cornerback Kelvin Hayden, who was released on Saturday. The 31-year-old Hayden missed the 2013 season with a torn hamstring, but he appeared in 16 games (two starts) for Chicago two seasons ago.

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Cowboys plan to add Michael Sam to practice squad

michaelsam AP

Michael Sam is about to find an NFL home.

The Cowboys plan to bring in Sam for a physical and sign him to the practice squad if he passes, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports that the Cowboys spent time today calling players to gauge their reaction to signing Sam. Apparently the reaction was what it should have been: If he can help the team, he should be signed. The Cowboys think having Sam on the practice squad could help.

There’s been much talk since the Rams cut Sam that teams are avoiding him because they don’t want the attention of having the NFL’s first openly gay player on their roster. But in the case of the Cowboys — where owner Jerry Jones thinks there’s no such thing as bad publicity — if anything Sam’s status as the NFL’s highest-profile practice-squad player may be a bonus.

A seventh-round draft pick out of Missouri who was the SEC’s defensive player of the year last year, Sam had a good preseason but wasn’t able to crack the 53-man roster in St. Louis. In Dallas, where the Cowboys are in desperate need of help on defense, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him eventually get added to the active roster. Dallas looks like a good fit for Sam.

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Lions put LB Kyle Van Noy on injured reserve with designation to return

Kyle Van Noy, MarQueis Gray AP

The Lions will be without their second-round pick for at least eight games.

The club is placing rookie outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy on injured reserve/designated for return, Tim Twentyman of DetroitLions.com reported Tuesday. The 24-year-old Van Noy is recovering from sports hernia surgery.

In a corresponding roster move, the club re-signed defensive end Darryl Tapp, whom it released on Saturday, Twentyman said.

A BYU product, Van Noy was the No. 40 selection in the 2014 NFL Draft. He’s currently listed as a backup to Tahir Whitehead in Detroit’s 4-3 scheme.

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Tune in to PFT on NBCSN for Paul Burmeister’s debut

Burmeister

It’s a big day for NBCSN’s Pro Football Talk.  Today’s edition marks the debut of Paul Burmeister.

A former Iowa quarterback and one of the original on-air employees at NFL Network, Burmeister joins NBC as the show’s co-host, and his first appearance happens today.

Joining him at the big desk in the last week in the current studio (swanky new digs are coming next week) will be Jason Taylor and Ross Tucker.  I’ll be at the road desk in Seattle.  Jointly (I’m in one of the weed-legal states, after all), we’ll get you up to date on the news of the day, with reaction to and analysis of the most important topics.

The Five Questions series continues with a look at the AFC East and the AFC West, and we’ll consider where Michael Sam’s best fit would be for 2014.

So tune in at 5:30 p.m. ET.  Until then, give Paul a welcome in the comments.

Then again, given the content of many of the comments, maybe that’s not a good idea.

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Browns signing Vinston Painter off Broncos practice squad

Kenneth Boatright, Brock Osweiler, Will Montgomery, Vinston Painter AP

The Browns are continuing to shuffle their roster ahead of the start of the regular season.

Mike Klis of the Denver Post reports that Cleveland is signing offensive lineman Vinston Painter off of Denver’s practice squad and adding him to their 53-man roster. The move will be guaranteed three weeks of pay at the active roster level even if the team should decide to move in a different direction.

Painter has not played in a regular season game since the Broncos made him the 173rd pick in last year’s draft, but has seen time at tackle and guard in practices and the preseason. He’s the third offensive lineman added to the roster since the team set their initial 53-man roster, joining waiver acquisitions Ryan Seymour and Caylin Hauptmann as new members of the Browns.

The Broncos have signed long snapper Kevin McDermott to the practice squad to take Painter’s place.

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Jackson Jeffcoat lands on Redskins practice squad

Jackson Jeffcoat, Andrew McDonald, Germi Morris AP

Jim Jeffcoat played in a lot of Cowboys-Redskins games during his career in Dallas, but his son might find himself on the opposite side of those games in the future.

The Redskins announced that they have added linebacker Jackson Jeffcoat to their practice squad. The younger Jeffcoat spent training camp with the Seahawks after signing with Seattle as one of the highest profile undrafted free agents in May.

Jeffcoat wasn’t able to make Seattle’s 53-man roster, but he did win the Big 12 defensive player of the year and Ted Hendricks Award for the top collegiate defensive end during his final year at Texas. Brian Orakpo won the same award in 2008 and he’s set to be a free agent after the season, so Jeffcoat could work his way into Washington’s future plans if he does well in practice this season.

The Redskins also signed offensive lineman Braxton Cave to the practice squad and dropped linebacker Chaz Sutton and offensive lineman Tevita Stevens.

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No word yet on Josh Brent

Josh Brent AP

With Josh Gordon, Aldon Smith, and Jim Irsay now suspended, there’s only one name left on the league’s suspension docket.

But it’s not really a suspension; for unretired Cowboys defensive lineman Josh Brent, the Commissioner has not yet ruled on his request for reinstatement.

So what is he waiting for?  Practice begins in earnest (and in Valley Ranch) on Wednesday for Week One.  Not reinstating Brent before then operates as a de facto suspension of at least one week.

Unlike a suspension, for which Brent would have appeal rights, there’s nothing Brent can do about it, other than wait for the Commissioner to decide that Brent should return.

Regardless of whether Brent deserves to be kept away from making a living in the NFL for longer than the 20 games he has missed since causing the death of teammate and close friend Jerry Brown while driving drunk, the failure to render a decision removes a portion of the incentive for future players to choose to retire in the face of a potentially awkward showdown for the NFL.  Brent could have insisted on coming to work in 2013 while awaiting trial, citing the presumption of innocence and the absence of CBA language that would have allowed the NFL to ensure that his appeal would be resolved before the start of the regular season.  If his appeal had moved like Josh Gordon’s, Brent could have played most if not all of the season, especially since his trial didn’t start until January.

He could have played all of 2013 under the cloud of a suspension, absorbed a one-year suspension after his conviction, and returned to football in 2015.  As it now stands, he’ll miss more games than if he’d held firm and played in 2013.

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Irsay is “firmly committed” to staying healthy

Irsay Getty Images

In response to his six-game suspension and $500,000 fine, Colts owner Jim Irsay has issued a statement in which he admits his error and reiterates his hope that the disease of addiction will be taken more seriously moving forward.

“I acknowledge the mistake I made last March and stand responsible for the consequences of that mistake, for which I sincerely apologize to our community and to Colts fans everywhere,” Irsay said regarding his guilty plea to DUI on Tuesday.  “Even more importantly, though, I am committed to do everything in my power to turn this whole experience into a positive event for myself, my family, and the community.

“In retrospect, I now know that the incident opened my eyes to issues in my life that needed addressing and helped put me on the path to regain my health.  I truly hope and pray that my episode will help in some small measure to diminish the stigma surrounding our country’s terrible and deadly problem of addiction.  It is a disease like other progressive, terminal diseases — one that can only be successfully treated by understanding, committed hard work, and spiritual growth.  I am deeply grateful for the tremendous outpouring of love and support during these past few months from my family, friends, care-givers, and our great community.  Please know I am firmly committed to staying on my path to good health and I look forward to a great season.”

We wish Irsay the best as he continues to attempt to regain his health.  And we hope the NFL takes Irsay’s words to heart as it relates not only to persons with addictions who create public-safety hazards, but also to persons with addictions who don’t.

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Five questions: Seattle Seahawks

San Diego Chargers v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

The defending Super Bowl champions are quickly closing in on the start of their 2014 season Thursday night against the Green Bay Packers.

The Seahawks were able to keep most of their young core in place this offseason and were able to sign Michael Bennett, Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and Doug Baldwin to contract extensions as well. While they did lose some key contributors off their championship team, an inevitability for any team in the salary cap age, Seattle has kept a roster together every bit as a talented as the one the won the title last year.

There aren’t many areas that remain in doubt for the Seahawks as the season gets set to begin. However, we take a look at five questions that could determine if Seattle is able to repeat as champion this season.

1. Could the Seahawks be even better than last season?

If the offense can translate its production from this preseason over to the regular season, they almost certainly will be better.

In 13 offensive drives led by Russell Wilson this preseason, Seattle scored on 11 of them with nine touchdowns, two field goals, a missed field goal and just a single punt. Richard Sherman said Monday that Wilson is being more decisive this season. Head coach Pete Carroll said Wilson has had a near-perfect offseason. With Percy Harvin fully healthy, the Seahawks offense looks much more explosive.

With a defense that looks to still be a force and a special teams unit that is strong as well, if Seattle’s offense can take several steps forward they could be tremendously difficult to beat this year.

2. Will Seattle’s offensive line hold them back?

The Seahawks offensive line was the one area of the team that underperformed consistently last season. Tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini missed a combined 15 games. Center Max Unger missed three more and the depleted unit struggled mightily in their absence.

This year, Seattle is going to start a rookie at right tackle in second-round pick Justin Britt and Okung is still working into game shape after missing most of the offseason following foot surgery.

On the positive side, left guard James Carpenter has lost a considerable amount of weight and looks more capable of moving adequately this year. Right guard J.R. Sweezy has appeared to take his game up another level as well.

The unit is much more adept at run blocking, which is still going to be the main focus of the team with Marshawn Lynch in the backfield and Percy Harvin potentially being used as a rusher at times as well. If they can adequately provide protection for Russell Wilson in the passing game, the offense should be able to accomplish much more this season.

3. Can the Seahawks get 16 games out of Percy Harvin?

Percy Harvin is noticeably exhausted about answering questions about his health. However, when you miss most of the last two seasons due to injury, it’s one of the only things to ask about.

Harvin has missed 22 regular season games over the last two years due to ankle and hip injuries. He’s only played all 16 games of an NFL season once in his career in 2011 with the Minnesota Vikings. But it’s already evident this preseason that the dynamic athlete that was firmly in the MVP conversation in 2012 is back.

Harvin says he’s as healthy now as he’s been since even before he got to college at the University of Florida. His presence on the field expands the field both horizontally and vertically for Seattle’s offense. The Seahawks are counting on Harvin being a big part of their offense. It’s now on Harvin to see if he can put all those questions about his health in the past.

4. Will the Seahawks run defense take a step back?

The Seahawks cut defensive ends Red Bryant and Chris Clemons this offseason for salary cap reasons. However, both players had been important pieces of Seattle’s run defense the last few seasons.

In their absence, Seattle has toyed with moving tackle Tony McDaniel to end in rushing situations with Kevin Williams replacing McDaniel along the line. There are also some new young cogs in their defensive line rotation as well that will be called upon for increased roles.

The Seahawks allowed Tampa Bay and St. Louis to rush for 200 yards against them in consecutive weeks last season before making an adjustment and getting the run defense righted. With key pieces such as Bryant and Clemons gone, it remains to be seen if they can find similar performance up front against opposing rushing games.

5. How does Seattle handle being the team on top?

It’s a position the franchise has never been in before. Several key players got big paydays this offseason as well.

But Russell Wilson and Earl Thomas swear they will be able to keep the focus in the right direction this season. The two talk about how they are competing on a daily basis to see which one of them is the last player to leave the team’s facility each day. Both players obsess over every minute detail they can find on tape in hopes of being completely prepared for games.

That focus trickles down to the rest of the team and the players and coaches are convinced they have turned the page on last season. The only way to truly know now is to play the games.

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Steven Jackson “extremely excited” to face Saints

Steven Jackson AP

Running back Steven Jackson was a spectator for most of Falcons training camp and all of their preseason games as a result of a hamstring injury, but he was able to get on the practice field as things drew to a close in August.

That put Jackson on track to play against the Saints in the regular season opener and nothing has knocked him off of it in the interim. Jackson said Tuesday that he’s ready for his first game action of the year.

“I’m extremely excited for Week 1,” Jackson said, via the team’s website. “It’s been a training camp that I missed the majority of the time, but I’ve been working hard physically and mentally to prepare for this coming Sunday; I feel good about it.”

Jackson missed four games last season and posted a career-low average per carry, something that was at least partially caused by the team’s poor offensive line play. The Falcons have worked to upgrade that area over the offseason and they’ll get their first chance to show they’ve turned the page against the New Orleans front seven on Sunday.

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Jim Irsay suspended six games, fined $500,000

Jim-Irsay-Getty Getty Images

It’s not Friday, and it’s not 5 p.m., but the NFL has tied up the one messy piece of business it had to do before games start this week.

The league announced that Colts owner Jim Irsay had been suspended for the team’s first six games and fined $500,000 after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor account of driving while impaired.

The suspension begins tomorrow at 5 p.m., and Irsay “may not be present at the club’s facility, may not attend any practices or games, may not represent the club at league or league committee meetings or at any other team or league event, and may not conduct media interviews or engage in social media regarding any team or league matters.”

The Twitter ban is going to sting, more than the half-million fine, which is the most allowed under the league’s constitution and by-laws.

The league also noted that “Mr. Irsay will be subject to ongoing treatment, counseling, and testing as determined by medical professionals and the Indiana court.”

Drug testing is a condition of his probation, which he was sentenced to as part of the deal.

“I have stated on numerous occasions that owners, management personnel and coaches must be held to a higher standard than players,” Goodell said in his letter to Irsay. “We discussed this during our meeting and you expressed your support for that view, volunteering that owners should be held to the highest standard.”

There will be no draft choice forfeiture for the Colts, since his conduct had nothing to do with the competitive balance of the league.

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