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Conflicting reports about Rob Chudzinski talking to Browns candidates

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On Sunday morning, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported that former Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski has been sharing his thoughts about his experiences dealing with owner Jimmy Haslam, CEO Joe Banner and General Manager Mike Lombardi in Cleveland with the team’s candidates to replace him.

“Part of the problem here is — from what I’m told — candidates have been calling Rob Chudzinski, who went one-and-out with the Browns,” Rapaport said. “The reviews have not been favorable; he’s an honest guy. He’s been honest with them and when you talk to people involved in these interviews, it doesn’t sound like Banner, Lombardi and Haslam have all been on the same page.”

That’s not the only place where people appear to be on different pages. Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports, via a league source, that Chudzinski has not spoken to any of the candidates for the job.

Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo and Chargers coordinator Ken Whisenhunt have all reportedly interviewed for the job, with McDaniels taking himself out of the running last week. Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase and Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott may interview in the future.

Whether Chudzinski has spoken to candidates or not, the quick hook he got after signing a four-year deal to coach a Browns team that had no quarterback and made moves that suggested they were building toward better days in the future can likely speak for itself if candidates are wary of the triumvirate making the decisions in Cleveland.

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Dolphins bring back cornerback R.J. Stanford

Cincinnati Bengals v Arizona Cardinals Getty Images

The Dolphins are short-handed in the secondary at the moment, so they brought back a familiar face.

According to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, the Dolphins have signed cornerback R.J. Stanford.

He was with the Dolphins in 2012 and 2013, and has also spent time with the Panthers and Bengals.

The Dolphins are short there, with Cortland Finnegan struggling with an ankle injury and Jamar Taylor expected to miss some time with a shoulder injury.

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Bills make it official: They’ll play in Buffalo on Sunday

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Before they played the Jets in Detroit on Monday night, Bills president Russ Brandon said there were “no red flags” standing in the way of the team returning to Ralph Wilson Stadium for their Week 13 game against the Browns.

On Tuesday, Brandon made it official.

“We will play the Browns at Ralph Wilson Stadium,” Brandon said, via WGR550.com. “There’s been an enormous amount of progress over the last few days. While we had a difficult hand from Mother Nature last week, Mother Nature certainly assisted this week and with the heat wave that we somewhat had here in Buffalo, and the great efforts by [vice president of operations and guest experience] Andy Major and his staff over the last few days.”

There is some damage to the stadium, but Major said none of it is structural and that fans would not be restricted from any of the normally accessible areas of the stadium. There will be a bit less parking because of the need to pile up snow removed from the stadium and seating bowl, but it seems like it will otherwise be business as usual in Buffalo this weekend.

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Kaepernick thinks Harbaugh will be back in 2015

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It’s become almost a given that 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh won’t be back next year.  Many believe anything short of a Super Bowl win means he’ll be gone.  Several weeks ago, Jay Glazer of FOX Sports reported that Harbaugh won’t be back, regardless of the outcome to the season.

That perception/reality has yet to permeate the locker room.  Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose press conferences have become an exercise in saying as little as possible, was asked on Tuesday whether for a gut feeling on whether his only NFL coach will return for a fifth season.

“I think he’ll be back,” Kaepernick told reporters.

So why does Kaepernick believe that about Harbaugh?

“His resume,” Kaepernick said.

Actually, Harbaugh’s history suggests he doesn’t stay in one place for very long.  Three years at San Diego University.  Four at Stanford.  Now, four with the 49ers.

This, based on Harbaugh’s track record, should be his last season on the job.  Both he and the organization have done a nice job of putting that issue behind the question of whether the team can get back to the Super Bowl and win it, but the reality is that, as soon as the last second of the last game ticks off the clock, the clock will start ticking on what many believe will be an inevitable divorce.

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Report: Michael Vick the choice to start if he’s healthy

Michael Vick AP

After the Jets were crushed by the Bills in Detroit on Monday night, Rex Ryan said he didn’t know whether Michael Vick or Geno Smith would be the team’s starting quarterback against the Dolphins in Week 13.

A pair of reports from Jets beat writers point to Vick being the choice. Both Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News and Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com report that Vick will be Ryan’s choice if his calf is OK after injuring it on Monday. Vick did not think the injury was serious after the game.

Mehta adds the caveat that Vick will be the choice if he’s healthy and if Ryan is the one making the call about the starting quarterback. That suggests that General Manager John Idzik and/or others in the organization might want to see Smith play out the string in hopes of seeing something that Smith didn’t show in 24 consecutive starts over the last two seasons.

That might be an unlikely outcome, but so is meaningful improvement from the offense with either player at quarterback.

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Buccaneers add two tight ends

Josh Hull, D.J. Williams AP

The Buccaneers are heading toward Week 13 with injury concerns about three of their tight ends, so they decided to add some insurance in the event any or all of them are unable to play against the Bengals.

Tampa announced that they have signed D.J. Williams and promoted Cameron Brate from their practice squad to fill out the depth chart at tight end. Fullback Jorvorskie Lane was placed on injured reserve with a broken leg and kick returner Marcus Thigpen was released.

Williams was a fifth-round pick of the Packers in 2011 and caught nine passes in two seasons there before splitting last season with the Jaguars and Patriots. Brate spent the preseason with Tampa after finishing his collegiate career at Harvard and has been on the practice squad all year. Brandon Myers, Luke Stocker and Austin Seferian-Jenkins all missed time with injuries last Sunday.

Thigpen’s departure means that there’s another change coming on special teams for the Buccaneers, who have also used Solomon Patton and Trindon Holliday as their returner this season.

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Week 12 power rankings

Brady AP

1. New England Patriots (No. 2; 9-2):  Gronk like cheese.

2. Green Bay Packers (No. 3; 8-3):  Lambeau Field will never host a Super Bowl, but this weekend it could be hosting a Super Bowl preview.

3. Arizona Cardinals (last week No. 1; 9-2):  There’s a little space on the bandwagon.  It won’t last long.

4. Dallas Cowboys (No. 4; 8-3):  If Jerry Jones gets the bigger piece of the wishbone, we know what he’ll be asking for.

5. Philadelphia Eagles (No. 5; 8-3):  With Cowboys, Seahawks, Cowboys on the immediate horizon, we’ll know plenty about this team soon.

6. Denver Broncos (No. 6; 8-3):  The scoreboard operator was almost the least of the team’s concerns on Sunday.

7. Cincinnati Bengals (No. 11; 7-3-1):  But for that tie against Carolina, the Bengals would be caught in a four-way tie atop the AFC North.

8. Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 9; 7-4):  Tied for second sounds a lot better than tied for last.

9. Indianapolis Colts (No. 10; 7-4):  Luck vs. Griffin I finally arrives, with a lot less sizzle than expected in 2012.

10. Seattle Seahawks (No. 13; 7-4):  Like the last time the Seahawks met the 49ers, this one could be an elimination game.

11. Baltimore Ravens (No. 12; 7-4):  Justin Forsett keeps piling up yards — and votes for comeback player of the year.

12. Detroit Lions (No. 7; 7-4):  Four days before eating turkey, Dominic Raiola acted like a turd.

13. Kansas City Chiefs (No. 8; 7-4):  A franchise that has fought through plenty of adversity in recent years has another challenge in Eric Berry’s illness.

14. San Francisco 49ers (No. 14; 7-4):  Colin Kaepernick is great with a capital “G”, he really did get screwed with a capital “S” on his latest contract.

15. Cleveland Browns (No. 18; 7-4):  If Johnny Manziel ever throws a touchdown pass, it would be wise for his teammates to not ask for a hug.

16. Miami Dolphins (No. 15; 6-5):  If Joe Philbin keeps losing games he could have won, he’ll be losing a job he could’ve kept.

17. San Diego Chargers (No. 16; 7-4):  The win over the Rams felt — and looked — like a loss.

18. Buffalo Bills (No. 19; 6-5):  If the Lions don’t make it to the playoff’s maybe Detroit’s other team will.

19. Houston Texans (No. 17; 5-6):  “Ryan Fitzpatrick can save our season,” said no one ever.

20.  Chicago Bears (No. 21; 5-6):  Barely beating bad teams isn’t the way to convince anyone the Bears aren’t bad news.

21. New Orleans Saints (No. 20; 4-7):  Rob Ryan won’t be back, and it has nothing to do with someone finally deciding to make him a head coach.

22. Minnesota Vikings (No. 22; 4-7):  If they lost to the Packers by only three without Adrian Peterson, how would the Vikings have performed with him?

23. St. Louis Rams (No. 23; 4-7):  They’d be a playoff team if they only played playoff teams.

24. Atlanta Falcons (No. 24; 4-7):  Mike Smith should try to call a time out just before his postseason meeting with the owner.

25. New York Giants (No. 25; 3-8):  “We’re still the best team in New York!”

26.  Carolina Panthers (No. 26; 3-7-1):  “Can we get more bye weeks?”

27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 27; 2-9):  “We’re still only two games out of first place!”

28. New York Jets (No. 28; 2-9):  Maybe they should have tried to be a zillion ways plus one better.

29. Tennessee Titans (No. 29; 2-9):  Forget the Titans.  Wait, everyone already has.

30. Washington (No. 30; 3-8):  Jay Gruden has “every intent” to get into broadcasting.

31. Oakland Raiders (No. 32; 1-10):  Sio Moore apparently thinks the Raiders were relegated to the CFL.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 31; 1-10):  As they prepare to welcome Tom Coughlin back to Jacksonville, some fans may be wondering whether it makes sense to lure him back for a longer visit.

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Jay Gruden really has faith in RG3, unless he doesn’t

The Washington Redskins play the Minnesota Vikings Getty Images

Jay Gruden’s a football coach. But when he’s been talking about the future of quarterback Robert Griffin III lately, he’s parsing words as carefully as a lawyer, making sure to leave himself plenty of wiggle room.

From saying he had “every intent” to keep RG3 on his as starter, the Washington coach has continued to leave a trail of bread crumbs that seem to be pointing out the door.

During an interview with Chick Hernandez of CSN Washington, Gruden was asked how much time he can allow Griffin to get comfortable.

“Well, we want to beat Indianapolis,” Gruden said, via Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post. “We want to win every game. And I have to put the people in there who [are] gonna help us win those games. And we’re gonna seriously go down and look at this film, look at last week’s film, look at Minnesota’s film, look at Houston’s film, and try to put a plan together that will help him succeed. Or we’ll have to find out if somebody else is there that can help us beat Indianapolis instead.”

Oh.

Sort of like, I guess I’ll play him, if I have to, unless something better comes up?

Gruden continued to talk about the many facets of offensive problems, working hard to make it not about one player. But it just doesn’t sound very convincing.

Asked if he planned on making a change, Gruden replied: “At this time, right now, Robert’s my guy, right now.”

Oh.

The fact of the matter is, Griffin’s not playing particularly well right now, but Washington’s stuck with him. And until they can have an offseason to get him right or get him gone, these last five weeks are an exercise in treading water until they can find an answer Gruden’s more comfortable with.

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NFC East teams tried to hire ex-Oregon defensive coordinator in effort to slow down Chip Kelly

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Nick Aliotti retired as the University of Oregon’s defensive coordinator after the team completed its 2013 season and has remained retired despite some interest from NFL teams in bringing him on board as a consultant.

Their interest isn’t based on the 30-plus years that Aliotti has spent on the sideline, however. It has to do with the fact that he worked for Eagles coach Chip Kelly before Kelly jumped to the Eagles and the desire for Eagles opponents to do whatever they can to slow down Kelly’s offense. According to Aliotti, the teams that play the Eagles twice every year have all made inquiries.

“I have been asked by everybody in the NFC East …” Aliotti said, via the Oregonian. “The Giants asked me to come back when Chip got the first job. I didn’t feel right doing that. Some teams have called when they’re getting ready to play the Eagles and they call and have certain questions on the thing. Unless I know the guy and he’s a good friend, I don’t get involved with that.”

The Eagles ranked 4th in the league in points scored and 2nd in yards last year and they are currently 3rd in points and 4th in yards this year, so you can understand why teams would be looking for any edge they can find when tasked with stopping the Philly offense. As long as Aliotti decides to stay retired, they’ll have to look elsewhere.

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Lions promote Rodney Austin from practice squad

Detroit Lions Training Camp Getty Images

Lions guard Rodney Austin has something extra to be thankful for on Thursday.

The Lions announced Tuesday that Austin has been promoted from the practice squad to the active roster ahead of the Thanksgiving Day game against the Bears. The Lions released tight end Kellen Davis to make room for Austin.

Austin’s arrival comes at a moment when the Lions have a pair of starting offensive linemen dealing with injuries. Right guard Larry Warford has missed the last two games with a knee injury and isn’t expected back this week. Left tackle Riley Reiff hurt his knee on the first play of the loss to the Patriots and has missed the first two days of practice this week.

Rookie Travis Swanson has been filling in for Warford and Cornelius Lucas took over for Reiff last Sunday, leaving the Lions in need of the depth that Austin will provide.

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Report: Titans to release Shaun Phillips

Houston Texans v Tennessee Titans Getty Images

Over in the NFC South, the Buccaneers aren’t ready to start taking a look at young players currently holding down reserve roles because they still have a chance to win the division.

Even though they have the same 2-9 record as the Bucs, there’s no such opportunity available to the Titans and they are handling things a bit differently. Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean reports that the Titans will release veteran linebacker Shaun Phillips so they can take a look at some less experienced players while they play out the string.

Phillips signed a two-year deal with the Titans this offseason and he’s played in all 11 games this season. Phillips, who has made one start, has 19 tackles and two sacks.

Phillips will go through waivers and his 81.5 career sacks may look appealing to a team trying to bolster their pass rush down the stretch even if his play this year wasn’t up to his previous efforts. Ten of those sacks came with the Broncos last season, although the return of Von Miller and addition of DeMarcus Ware make for a different scenario in Denver this time around.

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Patriots rookie Zach Moore stayed calm despite cheap shots

Stephen Gostkowski, Zach Moore, Danny Amendola AP

Lions center Dominic Raiola has been in the league 14 years.

Yet it was the rookie he took repeated cheap shots at last week who displayed the poise of a veteran.

Patriots defensive lineman Zach Moore didn’t retaliate when Raiola punched him in the head, and didn’t respond when Raiola dove at his knees near the end of last week’s 34-9 win over the Lions.

Just being professional, keeping my composure,” Moore said, via Phil Perry of CSNNE.com. “Something I’ve had my entire football career. Just don’t play into the craziness that’s happening. Just keep on playing football. Just praying for good health all the way through the game.”

And like coach Bill Belichick, he was able to get a dig in at Raiola after the fact, saying: “When you look at the score, I would probably be mad too.”

Moore said he was just thankful to get through the game healthy, and never raised a hand in Raiola’s direction, despite the provocation.

“I just gotta eat those punches,” Moore said. “It’s a tough game. It’s a physical game. You gotta roll with the punches . . . Literally.”

That’s something Raiola hasn’t learned yet.

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Colts’ practice squad adds Griff Whalen, sprinter Jeff Demps

London Olympics Athletics Men AP

Griff Whalen wasn’t gone from the Colts for long.

Whalen, the return man who was cut to make room for the signing of Josh Cribbs, has remained in Indianapolis and signed to the practice squad.

The Colts also announced that they will bring Jeff Demps back to their practice squad. Demps previously spent a week on the Colts’ practice squad last month and played in two regular-season games for the Buccaneers last year. Demps is an intriguing prospect because, as an Olympic sprinter who won a silver medal on the U.S. 4×100-meter relay team in 2012, he is the fastest player in the NFL. But so far he hasn’t been able to translate his pure speed into effective play on the field.

The Colts also announced that running back Michael Hill has been released from the practice squad.

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Fred Smoot arrested for domestic assault

Smoot Getty Images

Former NFL cornerback Fred Smoot, a loquacious player who has been trying to launch a media career, will now have that media career derailed.  Along with, potentially, his freedom.

Via CBS DC, Smoot was arrested Sunday for domestic assault.

A nine-year veteran who played for Washington, Minnesota (he was the honorary captain of the S.S. Love Boat), and Washington again, Smoot has contributed at CSN Washington, WTTG-FOX 5, CBS Sports Network, and WJFK-FM.

WJFK has suspended Smoot indefinitely.  It’s safe to say every other media company with which he has been working will do the same.

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UCLA QB Brett Hundley plans to enter the 2015 NFL draft

bretthundley AP

College players usually wait until January to decide whether they’ll forgo their remaining NCAA eligibility to enter the NFL draft. UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley, however, appears to have his mind made up.

Hundley told Jim Rome that there’s a “really high” chance that he will leave UCLA and enter the 2015 NFL draft.

“The conversation keeps coming up,” Hundley said. “I’ve got my degree. I’ve done everything I wanted to do here. I’ve left something really, truly great, and I feel good.”

The 21-year-old Hundley, who redshirted in 2011 and has now been UCLA’s starter for three seasons, has a great deal of talent and might have been a first-round draft pick if he had entered the draft last year. At 6-foot-3 and 227 pounds, he has NFL size, he’s a good athlete and he has a strong arm.

There are, however, questions about Hundley’s accuracy and decision making, and he is probably at best the third quarterback prospect in next year’s draft, behind Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Florida State’s Jameis Winston. Those questions aside, however, this seems like the right move. When the choice is between making millions in the NFL next year or risking injury while spending another year as an amateur, the decision is easy.

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AFC North sets new mark with all teams three games over .500

Baltimore Ravens v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

The NFL has one of the least accomplished divisions in history this year in the NFC South, where even the 2-9 Buccaneers harbor hopes of winning a division title.

A big reason for the division’s futility has been their general inability to win games against teams from other divisions, including the AFC North. Monday night’s Ravens victory over the Saints leaves the AFC division with a 10-1-1 edge over their NFC counterparts this season, a mark that has helped the AFC North make a little history.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Baltimore’s move to a 7-4 record makes the AFC North the first division in NFL history to have all of its teams at least three games over .500 at the same time. Ravens coach John Harbaugh referenced that collective success after Monday night’s win.

“It’s big. You’re going to have to win a lot of games to win the division,” Harbaugh said in his postgame press conference. “You’re going to have win a lot of games to make the playoffs in our conference. It’s just a fact. You’re going to need every win you can get. To get this win was very big. Next week’s going to be even bigger.”

With no intra-division games on tap in Week 13 (and two games against the NFC South), everyone in the division could be four games over .500 heading into the final four weeks. That would guarantee the year would end without a losing record among the four teams, but at least one of them won’t be going to the playoffs regardless of how good everyone is when Week 17 comes to an end.

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