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PFT’s conference championship game picks

Peyton AP

It was another 2-2 week for yours truly in the divisional round, picking correctly the Seahawks and Broncos and incorrectly the Colts and Panthers.  MDS swapped out the Pats for the Colts, and he’s picked up a one-game lead with three games left.

But there’s still hope.  A week after picking the Pats, MDS has shunned them.  I haven’t.

As to our pick in the NFC title game, we both agree.  Which could be bad news for MDS.  And for the team we both picked.

Patriots at Broncos

MDS’s take: There are a lot of reasons to think the Patriots can put a lot of points up on the Broncos. Key Denver defenders including Chris Harris, Von Miller, Derek Wolfe and Kevin Vickerson are injured and out. LeGarrette Blount’s emergence gives the Patriots a running threat that the Broncos will have a very tough time stopping. Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are a good pair of targets for Tom Brady. I fully expect the Patriots to score four touchdowns. And yet I’m picking the Broncos because Peyton Manning has played the quarterback position better this season than anyone has ever played it before, and I expect him to have a very big game against New England’s defense. In a high-scoring game, the Broncos punch their ticket to the Super Bowl.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 37, Patriots 35.

Florio’s take:  The easy narrative for this one, based on recent and more extended history, is that the Broncos will find a way to lose and the Patriots will find a way to win.  Sometimes, the smart move is to stick with the easy narrative.  (I otherwise don’t know much about smart moves.)  Throw in the fact that Tom Brady believes no one will pick the Patriots, I’ll also partially pick them out of spite to win a game that could end up being an all-time epic.  (Yes, I know I predicted a Broncos-Pats AFC title game in early September and at the time picked the Broncos to win.  So basically I’m covered either way.)

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 30, Broncos 27 (OT).

49ers at Seahawks

MDS’s take: The 49ers are playing better football now than they were back in Week Two, when the Seahawks blew them out in Seattle, and the 49ers beat the Seahawks in Week 14. And yet I can’t get past the fact that the 49ers have looked absolutely terrible in Seattle, losing there 29-3 in 2013 and 42-13 in 2012. The combination of a great Seahawks pass defense and a loud crowd in Seattle is going to make life miserable for Colin Kaepernick, which means San Francisco’s best chance is to win a low-scoring game. The 49ers’ defense is tough and physical, and they may be able to keep the score down. But not down far enough. With Marshawn Lynch leading the way, the Seahawks’ running game will sustain a couple of long drives, and that will be enough to secure a trip to the Super Bowl.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 14, 49ers 6.

Florio’s take:  Destiny awaits one of these teams.  And I’m destined to get make the wrong pick.  Family members know it; my kid suggested last night that I pick the 49ers, because he wants the Seahawks to win.  Even though the Seahawks have blown out, sir the Niners during their last two games in Seattle, the 49ers have the feel of a team that understands the difference between the regular season and the postseason — and that can rise to the occasion.  So I’m very, very, very tempted to pick San Francisco to return to the Super Bowl, and possibly to become the first team since the 1972 Dolphins to win the Super Bowl a year after losing it.

But the Seahawks have the offense and the defense and the motivation to qualify for a cross-country trip for a shot at their first-ever NFL title.  Marshawn Lynch moves the chains, the 12th Man moves the earth, and Russell Wilson’s steady hand doesn’t move at all no matter the pressure or attention.  Throw in a defense that can neutralize the 49ers’ weapons, and I’m picking the home team to hold serve.

Which should be good news for 49ers fans.

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 27, 49ers 17.

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Patriots officially add veteran WR, another to practice squad

Damaris Johnson AP

The Patriots addressed their shortage of healthy pass catchers Tuesday with a host of roster moves.

The team signed veteran wide receiver Damaris Johnson to the active roster and wide receiver Austin Hill to the practice squad. The Patriots also claimed running back Trey Williams off waivers from the Cowboys and placed rookie defensive lineman Trey Flowers on injured-reserve.

Earlier Tuesday, the Patriots and tight end Rob Gronkowski released a statement regarding Gronkowski’s knee injury. It said he suffered no structural damage and will be evaluated on a week-to-week basis.

Wide receiver Chris Harper was cut Monday, a day after he misplayed a punt in a loss to the Broncos. The Patriots played that game without wide receiver Danny Amendola and will be without Julian Edelman for an indefinite period of time.

The addition of Johnson should fill the punt return role. Johnson previously played for the Eagles and Texans.

Williams is an undrafted rookie who was with the Redskins prior to spending a month with the Cowboys. The 6’3 Hill is an undrafted rookie who’s bounced around rosters and gives the Patriots a healthy receiver on the practice squad to play on the scout team.

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Panthers, Patriots, Bengals can clinch playoff spots this week

Jamie Collins, Andy Dalton AP

No NFL team has clinched a playoff berth yet, but three teams can punch their playoff tickets on Sunday.

The Panthers have the clearest path to the playoffs: If they beat the Saints on Sunday, they win the NFC South. The Panthers can also win the NFC South even if they lose, as long as the Falcons lose to the Buccaneers. And the Panthers can clinch a playoff spot even if they lose and the Falcons win, as long as the Seahawks lose or both the Cardinals and Packers lose.

The Patriots also have a fairly clear path to the playoffs: If the Patriots win and the Jets lose, the Patriots win the AFC East. The Patriots can also clinch a playoff berth even if the Jets win, as long as the Patriots win and either the Chiefs or Steelers lose.

The Bengals need more help: Cincinnati can’t clinch the AFC North this week, but the Bengals can clinch a playoff berth with a win, a Texans loss, a Colts loss and either a Jets loss or both a Broncos win and a Chiefs loss.

Bottom line: The Panthers will probably get their playoff ticket punched this weekend, the Patriots need a little help and the Bengals need a lot of help.

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Seahawks sign Chase Coffman, drop Drew Nowak

ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 23:  Chase Coffman #86 of the Tennessee Titans leaps over Kemal Ishmael #36 of the Atlanta Falcons in the second half of a preseason game at the Georgia Dome on August 23, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images) Getty Images

Jimmy Graham is done for the season after tearing the patellar tendon in his knee, leaving the Seahawks in need of some more depth at tight end for the final five weeks of the regular season and what they hope will be more football in the postseason.

They acquired that depth on Tuesday by signing Chase Coffman as a free agent. Coffman entered the NFL as a third-round pick of the Bengals in 2009 and has also spent time with the Buccaneers, Falcons and Titans over the course of his career. He had four catches for 42 yards in one appearance for the Titans this season, but has been out of the league since being released at the end of October.

Luke Willson tops the depth chart at tight end with Graham out of the lineup and the Seahawks also have Cooper Helfet on the roster.

To make room for Coffman, the Seahawks released center Drew Nowak. Nowak opened the season as the team’s starter at center and made seven starts up front before giving way to Patrick Lewis. Nowak’s standing dropped to the point that he was inactive the last three weeks and the Seahawks will continue to use Lemuel Jeanpierre as Lewis’s backup.

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Chip Kelly to Eagles players: I’m here as long as they’ll have me

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 08:  Head coach Chip Kelly of the Philadelphia Eagles talks with players during warm-ups prior to the game against the Dallas Cowboys on November 8, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) Getty Images

While addressing rumors linking him to a departure from the Eagles, Chip Kelly said Monday that he was “totally committed” to remaining the coach in Philadelphia.

Kelly also said that he didn’t feel a need to directly address the chatter with the team’s players because “a lot of times we just chuckle and laugh” about them. Kelly reversed course on that Tuesday, however.

Running back Kenjon Barner said that Kelly told the team “as long as they have me here, I’m here” during a morning meeting. Barner added that he thought it was a good thing for Kelly to put any worries in the locker room at ease.

“I think giving the younger players some confidence and some reassurance is good,” Barner said, via “I’m sure there were some young players [that were wondering about Kelly leaving]. It’s only human nature. You hear certain things, of course, you’re going to question certain things. Chip did kind of put that all to rest today during the meeting just by reassuring everybody.”

As plenty of other people have mentioned in the last few days, coaches have been known to say one thing and then do something different when it comes to speculation linking them to other jobs. For now, though, Kelly remains adamant that the only place he sees himself in 2016 is the City of Brotherly Love.

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Pats, Gronk say he has bone bruise, is “week-to-week”

Rob Gronkowski AP

The Patriots and tight end Rob Gronkowski issued a joint statement Tuesday afternoon regarding the knee injury Gronkowski suffered during the Patriots’ first loss of the season last Sunday in Denver.

The statement said Gronkowski has a bone bruise/sprain in his right knee and will be evaluated on a week-to-week basis. No timetable for his return was offered, and the statement said any timetable reported “prior to that final determination would be speculative.”

So, Bill Belichick really doesn’t want a bunch of questions about Gronkowski’s knee.

With Julian Edelman out indefinitely and Danny Amendola having missed last week’s game, Tom Brady and the Patriots clearly need Gronkowski in the lineup. The 10-1 Patriots host the reeling Eagles this week before playing at the Texans Dec. 13.

Gronkowski has 57 catches for 931 yards and 9 touchdowns this season.

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Cardinals give Chris Johnson IR/return designation

Chris Johnson, NaVorro Bowman AP

The Cardinals placed running back Chris Johnson on injured-reserve/designated for return Tuesday, two days after Johnson suffered a fractured tibia.

The IR/return designation means Johnson must miss a minimum of eight weeks. He’d be eligible to return only if the Cardinals make the Super Bowl.

Johnson would be eligible to return to practice in six weeks, so if he’s progressing and the Cardinals are still playing the team could try to have him ready for the Super Bowl.

His loss is a significant one. Johnson is fourth in the NFL with 814 rushing yards this season and has been a big part of the 9-2 Cardinals’ offense.

The injury is also a potentially expensive one for Johnson, 30, who signed with the Cardinals during training camp. He had a $2 million incentive that would have been reached had he run for 1,300 yards and made the Pro Bowl.

With Andre Ellington dealing with a toe injury, rookie David Johnson is likely the No. 1 back, at least for now. Stepfan Taylor was already on the active roster, and Kerwynn Williams was promoted from the practice squad after Johnson was moved off the active roster Tuesday.

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Broncos bring back Josh Bush

KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 17:   Josh Bush #20 of the Denver Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium on September 17, 2015 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Broncos saw safety T.J. Ward go down with an ankle sprain in their victory over the Patriots and he’s expected to miss some time, which likely led to a roster move they announced on Tuesday afternoon.

Denver signed safety Josh Bush to the 53-man roster and released tight end Richard Gordon. If Bush does play in place of Ward this week, it wouldn’t be the first time.

Bush opened the season with the Broncos and played 17 defensive snaps in the season opener when Ward was serving a one-game suspension. He spent two more weeks with the team before getting released and spent a week on the Bills’ roster a bit later in the year. Bush also played two games for the Broncos in 2014 and played in 35 games for the Jets from 2012-2014.

Gordon saw action in one game for the Broncos this year and has been inactive the last four weeks as Owen Daniels, Vernon Davis and Virgil Green have gotten the playing time at tight end.

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Dolphins cut C.J. Mosley, sign Patriots practice squader

C.J.Mosley, Earl Mitchell, A.J. Francis AP

The Dolphins were running out of healthy defensive tackles, so they cut one of the injured ones.

Via Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, the Dolphins waived defensive tackle C.J. Mosley, who was dealing with a calf injury. To fill his roster spot, they signed defensive tackle Robert Thomas off the Patriots’ practice squad.

Mosley signed a one-year deal with the Dolphins in June, reuniting with his former Lions teammate Ndamukong Suh.

Prior to bringing in Thomas, Suh was their only healthy defensive tackle, since Jordan Phillips (shoulder) and Earl Mitchell (calf) are ailing.


The Dolphins also brought back center Jacques McClendon, giving them some depth there after Mike Pouncey’s foot injury. They released linebacker James Michael Johnson for that roster spot.


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Report: Morelli’s crew reassigned to Eagles-Patriots game

ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 04:  Referee Pete Morelli shields his eyes from the sun during the first half of the NFC Wild Card Playoff game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Detroit Lions at AT&T Stadium on January 4, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

Patriots fans are getting upset. Or, as the case may be, more upset.

In confirming the PFT report that referee Pete Morelli’s crew has been removed from Sunday night’s game between the Colts and Steelers, the Associated Press also reports that Morelli and crew have been reassigned to the game between the Eagles and Patriots.

The move comes at a time when plenty of Patriots fans have become convinced that the NFL and/or the referees are out to get the Patriots, presumably for #DeflateGate. Fueling the theory is, among other things, a regional Sports Illustrated cover featuring Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler throwing a pass in the foreground — and Patriots defensive lineman Dominique Easley being blatantly held in the background.

Then there’s Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski agreeing with the assessment that he’s being targeted for offensive pass interference penalties.

The burgeoning belief overlooks the fact that the Patriots won 10 games to start the season. But maybe that’s the genius of it.

Regardless, if the reaction will be that dramatic after the team’s first loss in 11 games, it’ll be a lot worse if they lose in the postseason.

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Cam Newton: We won’t be “lured in” by talk of undefeated season

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 26:  Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers reacts after a play against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on November 26, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Panthers are the last team with a chance to go undefeated this season, but a 16-0 record was a topic that coach Ron Rivera didn’t feel much like discussing after they improved to 11-0 on Thanksgiving.

Rivera said last week that thinking about going 16-0 means “you are not focusing on the details” that have contributed to Carolina’s strong start to the season. That message seems to be resonating with his quarterback.

Cam Newton said Tuesday, via Steve Reed of the Associated Press, that the team won’t be “lured in” by talk of an undefeated season, calling it “ink for the media” that isn’t of concern to Panthers players.

We don’t use any ink in these parts, but we’re willing to take a look at Carolina’s chances of running the table all the same. They play at New Orleans, face Atlanta twice, take a trip to Jersey to face the Giants and close with a home game against Tampa in Week 17. It’s neither an underwhelming schedule nor one larded with creampuffs, leaving the Panthers with a decent chance at getting through unscathed if they keep playing at the level they’ve been at through the first three months of the year.

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Patriots signing Damaris Johnson to fill return job

New York Jets v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

The Patriots showed no patience with the last returner to make a mistake, so the new guy better know where the bar is set.

According to Mike Reiss of, the Patriots are signing receiver/return man Damaris Johnson.

He’ll replace Chris Harper, whose muffed punt Sunday night turned the tide against the Broncos and cost him his job Monday.

Johnson, who entered the league as an undrafted rookie from Tulsa, spent two seasons with the Eagles and last year with the Texans. He hasn’t been able to find work this year, but has averaged 25.1 yards per kickoff return and 9.5 yards per punt return.

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Giants sign Adam Gettis, place Geoff Schwartz on IR

LANDOVER, MD - AUGUST 29: Offensive lineman  Adam Gettis #73 of the Washington Redskins blocks against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at FedExField on August 29, 2012 in Landover, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) Getty Images

With injuries riddling their offensive line, the Giants have added a healthy player from the Raiders practice squad.

The Giants announced Tuesday that they have signed Adam Gettis and placed Geoff Schwartz on injured reserve. Schwartz fractured his leg in last Sunday’s loss, which means he’s seen his season come to an early end for the second year in a row.

Gettis is familiar to the Giants after spending the last few weeks of last season and all of the offseason with the team. He spent some time on their practice squad earlier this year before being released and signing with Oakland. Gettis was a fifth-round pick of the Redskins in 2012 and saw action in 13 games for them in 2013, but has never made any starts at the NFL level.

Schwartz’s injury came in a game that the Giants played without left guard Justin Pugh and center Weston Richburg. Coach Tom Coughlin said he hoped to have at least one back for this week, although the nature of their injuries — Pugh is in the concussion protocol and Richburg has a high ankle sprain — makes that far from a sure thing.

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Browns confirm Josh McCown is out for the season

Josh McCown AP

Browns quarterback Josh McCown’s season is over.

McCown suffered a season-ending broken collarbone on Monday night against the Ravens, coach Mike Pettine announced today.

That means the Browns are down to two quarterbacks on the roster: Austin Davis, who stepped in for McCown after the injury last night, and Johnny Manziel, who was demoted to third string after a video of him partying emerged last week.

Will the Browns stand by their decision to make Manziel ride the bench because of his off-field problems? Or will they decide that they simply have no choice but to put Manziel on the field and see what he can do, even if they’re not pleased with the way he conducts himself off the field?

That’s the question Pettine will continue to face for as long as he refuses to anoint Manziel as the starter. As much as the Browns are disappointed with the way Manziel has conducted himself, the fact remains that they spent a first-round draft pick on him. If they’re not going to play him now, maybe they should just acknowledge that he’s never going to play in Cleveland.

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Mike Mularkey wants to see more from Titans receivers

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 29: Dorial Green-Beckham #17 of the Tennessee Titans catches a touchdown pass over Neiko Thorpe #31 of the Oakland Raiders at Nissan Stadium on November 29, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) Getty Images

At 2-9, the Titans are going to spend the next five weeks playing out the string in hopes of taking some steps toward better days in 2016 and beyond.

One way to do that would be to continue building the offense around quarterback Marcus Mariota, who hasn’t done anything to make the team regret selecting him with the second overall pick in this year’s draft. To that end, interim coach Mike Mularkey thinks that wide receivers Kendall Wright and Dorial Green-Beckham need to start making more plays when the ball comes their way.

Mularkey added that he is looking for normal catches not “Odell Beckham catches” from the two wideouts, who have 46 catches between them this season.

“We had chances, Marcus is giving these guys chances,” Mularkey said, via the team’s website. “But we’re not making the plays … It’s the go routes outside that it just feels like we’re getting hit on them, and we’re not hitting ‘em. We have to make a play on those plays, because [Marcus] is giving us a chance to make them. They’re getting called, and they’re getting called to the right guys. We’re giving DGB a chance, and I’d like to see him with his size to go up and pluck that thing out of the air … I’d like to see [Wright] do the same thing.”

Wright, who missed three games with a knee injury before returning against the Raiders last Sunday, said earlier this season that he was “beyond frustrated” by the opportunities he was getting on offense. Mularkey’s comments show that there’s some frustration on both sides when it comes to the wideouts this season, although there’s a pretty good chance that changing the results will fall on a different coach in 2016.

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Report: Jamie Collins plans to play this week

FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 29:  Chandler Jones #95 and Jamie Collins #91 of the New England Patriots react during the second quarter against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on October 29, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Patriots had a hard time stopping the run last Sunday night after Dont’a Hightower was forced out of the game with a knee injury.

Jamie Collins was already sidelined with the illness that’s kept him from playing the last four weeks and the Broncos took advantage to the tune of 136 yards on 17 carries once Hightower joined him on the shelf. Hightower reportedly has a sprained MCL, so he may not be able to go against the Eagles this week but Collins’s health is moving in the right direction.

Collins returned to practice last Friday for the first time since becoming ill and Ben Volin of the Boston Globe reports that the linebacker plans to play this week.

Collins has been a major part of the Patriots’ defense against both the run and pass this season, making 51 tackles and sacking quarterbacks 4.5 times while also forcing three fumbles. New England would welcome that kind of production back under any circumstances, but they’ll be especially happy to see him if Hightower isn’t given a green light.

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