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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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Report: Washington to start Colt McCoy on Sunday

Washington Redskins v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

Robert Griffin III’s return to the starting lineup lasted all of three games.

Griffin is being benched in favor of Colt McCoy for Sunday’s game at Indianapolis, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Tuesday night.

Since returning from an ankle injury in Week Nine, Griffin has been sacked 17 times in three games, and he completed just 11-of-19 passes for 106 yards with a lost fumble in Sunday’s loss at San Francisco.

According to Schefter, a club source indicated Griffin is still regarded as a key part of the club’s future. Nevertheless, this is no small setback for Griffin, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. And it will invite further speculation that Griffin faces an uncertain future in Washington. The club must decide in the offseason whether to exercise an option to extend his contract through 2016 — a proposition that seems more and more unlikely.

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Rams promote TE Justice Cunningham from practice squad

St. Louis Rams v Miami Dolphins Getty Images

The Rams added yet another tight end to their roster Tuesday, signing Justice Cunningham from the practice squad. The transaction was disclosed in the NFL’s personnel notice.

Perhaps best known for being the final pick of the 2013 NFL Draft, the 23-year-old Cunningham spent the 2014 offseason and preseason with St. Louis before being placed on injured reserve on September 1. The Rams re-signed him to the practice squad in late October.

Cunningham (6-3, 258) appeared in one 2013 regular season game for the Colts, his original team.

Cunningham’s addition gives the Rams five tight ends on the roster. Two tight ends — Jared Cook (back) and Cory Harkey (quadriceps) — were on the Week 12 injury report, but both played in the loss at San Diego. The Rams had all four tight ends active vs. the Chargers.

With Cunningham arriving, the Rams waived wide receiver Damian Williams, who appeared in two games as a reserve with St. Louis this season. He was inactive vs. the Chargers.

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Kyle Fuller, Lance Briggs could be game-time calls

Miami Dolphins v Chicago Bears Getty Images

Two of the Bears’ key defensive starters were listed as non-participants in Tuesday’s  practice.

Outside linebacker Lance Briggs (groin) and cornerback Kyle Fuller (knee) didn’t take part in today’s workout, according to the injury report. However, the Bears held just a walk-through, according to Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune.

Briggs and Fuller both departed Chicago’s 21-13 win vs. Tampa Bay on Sunday with injuries, leaving them less than four days to heal before Thursday’s matchup with the Lions in Detroit.

Bears coach Mark Trestman indicated the availability of Briggs and Fuller might not be determined until Thursday morning, according to the Tribune.

Five other Bears didn’t practice on Tuesday: offensive lineman Brian De La Puente (ankle), defensive tackle Jay Ratliff (knee), defensive end Trevor Scott (knee), linebacker Darryl Sharpton (hamstring) and wide receiver Chris Williams (hamstring).

Wide receiver Brandon Marshall (ankle) was limited, with right tackle Jordan Mills (ribs) a full participant for Chicago (5-6).

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Hernandez double-murder trial delayed

Hernandez AP

The second of former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez’s two murder trials has been postponed.

Originally set for May 28, the case regarding the July 2012 shooting deaths of Daniel Abreu and Safiro Furtado had been scheduled for May 28.  It has been delayed indefinitely.

Hernandez faces trial in January 2015 for the June 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd.  Hernandez has been jailed without bond on all charges since his late June 2013 arrest for killing Lloyd.

Jury selection in the Lloyd murder case is due to begin on January 9.

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NFL indeed does not fine Raiola

Raiola Getty Images

Sunday’s game against the Patriots included a pair of incidents involving Lions center Dominic Raiola.  He leveled Patriots defensive tackle Zach Moore with a blow to the head during a play, and then Raiola took out Moore’s knees on the final snap of the game, because Raiola was unhappy about New England’s decision to score a garbage-time touchdown.

Raiola said on Tuesday that he wasn’t fined.  Per a league source, he won’t be.

It’s unclear why the league has opted to look the other way in both instances, especially in light of the safety-conscious nature of today’s NFL.  And in light of the league’s fine-happy nature on issues that have little to do with safety.  Or, as some would argue, common sense.

Raiola punched Moore in the head and then dove at Moore’s knees on a play when the Lions were taking a knee.  If failing to talk to the media or wearing the wrong kind of headphones or selecting shoes that don’t reflect the proper color scheme justify the withholding of a portion of a player’s paycheck, how do neither of Raiola’s infractions trigger punishment?

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Reggie Bush limited in practice with ankle, back injuries

Bush Getty Images

Lions running back Reggie Bush intends to play on Thursday against the Bears.  To do so, he’ll need to overcome another injury.

Already dealing with an ankle problem, Bush was limited in Tuesday’s practice with a back injury, too.

He also would have been a limited participant on Monday with both injuries, if the Lions had actually practiced.

Several other Lions were limited in practice on Tuesday as well, including receiver Calvin Johnson (ankle), defensive end Ziggy Ansah (elbow), safety James Ihedigbo (knee), and safety Glover Quin (back).

Tackle Riley Reiff (knee), guard Larry Warford (knee), and defensive tackle Nick Fairley (knee) did not practice.

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Dominic Raiola says he has no fine and no regrets

Dominic Raiola AP

Lions center Dominic Raiola took a cheap shot at Patriots defensive tackle Zach Moore on Sunday, but Raiola says he hasn’t been fined and doesn’t have any regrets.

There’s no fine,” Raiola said, via Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News. “It’s during the game. I don’t know about regrets, I don’t live life with regrets. I didn’t intentionally try to hurt anybody. I didn’t try to do anything out of the ordinary. I would’ve gotten a FedEx letter [from the league office regarding a fine]. So, just play the game. I didn’t make it a big deal, everybody else did.”

Patriots coach Bill Belichick ripped Raiola the day after the cheap shot, pointing out that Raiola was probably sore at the Patriots because he’s been in the NFL for 14 years and has never beaten the Patriots. Raiola declined to get into a war of words with Belichick.

“I don’t really care what he said,” Raiola said. “Not a lot of people beat those guys. I didn’t make it an issue. I just finished the game.”

Raiola may say he was just finishing the game, but he was also taking a cheap shot at an opponent. Just because the NFL says he didn’t technically break the rules, that doesn’t change the fact that what he did was dirty.

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Vikings look at Webb, Winston

Seattle Seahawks v Denver Broncos Getty Images

With right tackle Phil Loadholt done for the season due to a torn pec, the Vikings need help at tackle.

They explored getting that help by bringing in veterans J’Marcus Webb and Eric Winston for tryouts on Tuesday, per a league source.

Webb appeared in eight games for the Vikings last year, with one start.  He’s perhaps best known for getting bumped by Bears quarterback Jay Cutler on national television when Webb was Cutler’s left tackle.

Winston, the current NFLPA president, started 16 regular-season games from 2007 through 2013 with the Texans, Chiefs, and Cardinals.  He spent some of training camp with the Seahawks, and he has gotten periodic look-sees throughout the season.

Neither Webb nor Winston have been signed by the Vikings, yet.

Loadholt will be replaced in the starting lineup by Mike Harris, who arrived to the NFL undrafted in 2012 and spent two years with the Chargers.  Harris has 27 regular-season appearances and 12 starts.  Sunday will be his first as a Viking.

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“Without question” Marshawn Lynch plays Thursday night

Lynch Getty Images

Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch has been dealing with a back injury.  But that back injury won’t keep the 49ers from having to deal with Lynch on Thursday night.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Lynch “without question” will play in Santa Clara on Thanksgiving night.

If Lynch can get through the short-week game, he’ll have a chance to get some extra rest before the Seahawks head to Philly for a showdown with the 8-3 Eagles.

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Titans release Shaun Phillips, place Brian Schwenke on injured reserve

Brian Schwenke AP

Reports on Tuesday morning indicated that the Titans were going to part ways with veteran linebacker Shaun Phillips and they came to fruition in the afternoon.

Phillips has been waived, which makes him available to any of the league’s 31 other teams if they choose to make a claim. Phillips wasn’t overly productive in Tennessee this year, but he had 10 sacks for the Broncos in 2013 and there’s not a lot of available players with Phillips’s history as a pass rusher at this point in the season.

The Titans also announced that they have placed center Brian Schwenke on injured reserve. Schwenke hurt his knee during last Sunday’s loss to the Eagles, which also saw him catch a deflected pass and then fumble it as his career as a center didn’t set him up well for the role of ballcarrier.

Tennessee signed offensive lineman Eric Olsen to help fill the void left by Schwenke. Left tackle Taylor Lewan also suffered a sprained ankle against Philly, so there might be multiple starters missing when the Titans face the Texans this week.

Linebacker Dontay Moch was promoted from the practice squad to round out the set of moves for the day.

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Matt Ryan on Mike Smith: We’ve got to make him right

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

Falcons coach Mike Smith said Monday that he felt he didn’t give his team the best chance to win based on the way he handled the clock during the team’s final offensive drive in a 26-24 loss to the Browns, echoing criticism from many corners that didn’t do anything to help Smith’s job security.

Quarterback Matt Ryan said Tuesday that he thought Falcons players were angry at themselves in the wake of the loss, but that their anger didn’t extend to Smith. He also said that the players’ job is to make Smith’s decisions the right ones on the field.

“There’s nobody that takes more responsibility than Mike,” Ryan said on 680 The Fan, via ESPN.com. “And that’s one of the reasons, as a player, you love him. He is the first to say, ‘Listen, I wish we would have done that one differently.’ So from a player’s perspective, we’ve got to make him right. We can’t worry about anything else other than we’ve got to convert that third down, we’ve got to get a first, we’ve got to be able to make them burn their timeouts and then kick it in the uprights and win that game. I feel for [Smith] because he’s ‘the man’ when it comes to that. He will stick his neck out there for us and take the brunt of the responsibility. But, from a player’s standpoint, we’ve got to make him right.”

Ryan’s loyalty to his coach is clear, but it’s less clear how much loyalty owner Arthur Blank will show Smith once the season comes to a close. Finding a way to finish atop the NFC South would help and Ryan correctly points out that the Falcons control their own destiny in that regard. So would Ryan finding a way to cut down on interceptions against the Cardinals, who visit Atlanta this week, after throwing nine of them in two games against Arizona the last two years.

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Aaron Rodgers swears he wasn’t squeezing Vikings with grape soda

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In these cynical and sarcastic times we live in, many folks saw Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers drinking a Grape Crush soda after beating the Vikings and thought there was a message.

As it turns out, he just really likes grape soda.

Rodgers cleared up the social media-generated flap during his weekly radio show with Jason Wilde of ESPNWisconsin.com, insisting he wasn’t trolling the Vikings.

He apparently eats a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and drinks the same soda after every game, which makes seem like he’s a 9-year-old even if he’s not going for juvenile humor.

Seven years. To all the idiot trolls out there, seven years,” Rodgers said. “PBJ and Grape or Orange Crush. It’s been grape for the last five, the first couple years it was orange or grape. Seven years.”

While it’s hardly a controversial topic, he seemed offended at the perceived lack of respect for opponents.

“Anybody who knows, any of the local media or anybody who’s seen me after a game, I’m always carrying that around with me. That’s probably the only soda that I ever drink – right after the game, when you’ve got to get those nutrients back with you,” Rodgers said. “So that’s my post-game [snack] – PBJ and the Grape Crush. I do like it, contrary to anybody who thinks I was trolling anything. It’s absolutely ridiculous. It’s comical.

“I don’t do those kind of things.”

Now, if he beats the Patriots this week and walks to the podium with a Sam Adams, we will be able to call shenanigans on him.

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D.C. dysfunction looks to be continuing

Griffin AP

Jay Gruden has said he has “every intention” to start Robert Griffin III at quarterback this weekend, for what would have been one of the best games of the year.  In the year 2012.

It’s Washington and Indy.  Griffin and Luck.  The top two picks in the 2012 draft.  Now, Griffin could be having a hard time keeping one of the top two spots on his team’s depth chart.

Diana Russini of NBC 4 in Washington reported earlier today that the quarterbacks will meet at the team’s facility on Tuesday “to find out who is starting.”  And that hardly represents a clear indication Griffin remains entrenched as the starter.

In an organization seemingly bereft of strong leadership, the man who served for years as one of the true leaders in the locker room has addressed the situation in blunt, candid terms.

“It’s not an environment that’s really conducive to winning for a sustained period of time, from top to bottom,” former linebacker London Fletcher said Monday on 106.7 The Fan in D.C.  “You have to have a plan in place and say, ‘You know what?  This is what we’re gonna do, this is a winning formula,’ and then stick to the formula.  From my seven years, prior to [when] I got there, even now — and I count myself as being a part of it because I didn’t help get it as good as I wanted it to be once I left — you have to have a plan, that, ‘You know what?  This is going to be a winning plan, let’s stick to this plan, let’s stick to the script,’ so to speak, and do it the right way.  And that hasn’t been done before I got there, while I was there, since I’ve left, and I don’t know if they know what they’re doing, in terms of saying, ‘Hey, this is what we’re gonna do to be a winning franchise for the next decade.’ I like Jay Gruden as a head coach.  I think from a play-calling standpoint, I like some of the things he’s done. Maybe he can be that guy, but there needs to be some more changes that take place.”

It’s a strong indictment of the entire organization, from a guy who was in the middle of it for seven years.  And Fletcher has the perspective that comes from being with winning teams; he won a Super Bowl with the Rams.

Whatever Washington is doing, it’s clear that, currently, the plan is there is no plan.  The next five weeks could be more about figuring out who’ll be there to put a plan (or to not put a plan) in place in 2015 and less about laying the foundation for sustained success.

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Broncos cut kicker Brandon McManus, sign Connor Barth

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The Broncos have made a change at kicker.

Brandon McManus, who was acquired in a trade before the season, has been released. Connor Barth, a free agent who spent the last four years in Tampa Bay, has signed.

The Broncos had high enough hopes for McManus this season that they cut Matt Prater, a Pro Bowler last year, to hand McManus the job. But McManus has struggled and made Broncos fans miss Prater, who has since returned from a drug suspension and signed with the Lions.

McManus missed a 33-yard field goal attempt on Sunday against the Dolphins. That turned out to be his last chance in Denver.

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Michael Bush signs with Cardinals

Michael Bush AP

The Cardinals have added a veteran running back to their roster for the final five weeks of the season.

The team announced on Tuesday afternoon that they have signed former Raiders and Bears tailback Michael Bush. They released Kerwynn Williams to open up a spot on the roster.

Bush has not played for anyone since the Bears released him in March after two years with the team. He ran for 608 yards and eight touchdowns on 177 carries during his time in Chicago. His best season came in 2011 with the Raiders, who drafted him in the fourth round of the 2007 draft, when he ran for 977 yards and seven touchdowns.

The Cardinals haven’t found a reliable No. 2 back behind Andre Ellington this season and Ellington’s production has sharply declined over the last few weeks. He’s run 47 times for 89 yards in the last three weeks to go with 14 receptions, which makes the interest in a productive backup an easy one to understand. Bush’s work the last two years wasn’t overly impressive, but it wasn’t any worse than what Arizona’s gotten this season.

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