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Bears hire martial arts expert as skill development coach

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The Bears saw a lot of improvement on their offensive line last season and they’re trying to get even better this offseason with the help of a renowned Taekwondo instructor.

Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com reports that Joe Kim will work with the team’s blockers to enhance their hand techniques in hopes of becoming more effective blockers. Kim will also be working with defensive players on skills they can use to escape blocks, something he’s done for other NFL teams in the past.

Most recently, Kim worked as a pass rush consultant for the Chiefs from 2010-2012. Bears General Manager Phil Emery worked for the Chiefs for the first two of those seasons, which helps explain how Kim found his way to Chicago.

Kim’s website lists consulting gigs with several other teams and features a testimonial from Patriots coach Bill Belichick that says Kim’s combo of martial arts and football knowledge “makes him one of the best” trainers. Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali has also been a vocal promoter of Kim’s methods, which the Bears hope will help them improve in multiple areas next season.

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Calvin Johnson, Joique Bell present at practice

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The Lions had nearly perfect on-field attendance for their third major practice in preparation for Sunday’s NFC North title game at Green Bay.

According to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, defensive tackle Nick Fairley (knee) was the only Lions player not present at Friday’s workout. Fairley has missed the last seven games with his injury and seems all but certain to miss the season finale as well.

However, while Fairley is likely out, taiback Joique Bell (Achilles) and wide receiver Calvin Johnson (ankle) look set to play Sunday with their ailments. Bell went through a full practice Thursday, while Johnson was limited.

The Lions’ final injury report will be released later Friday.

The Lions will win the NFC North with a victory or a tie vs. the Packers. Both clubs have 11-4 records. For the moment, Detroit holds the head-to-head tiebreaker on account of its Week Three win vs. Green Bay.

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Julio Jones practices on Friday

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The Falcons have been without wide receiver Julio Jones at practice since he strained an oblique muscle during the team’s December 8 loss to the Packers, but Jones was able to play last Sunday and he’s continued to progress this week.

Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com reports that Jones took part in Friday’s final practice of the regular season, leaving him on track to play against the Panthers this Sunday. If the Falcons lose that game, it will be the last time that Jones or anyone else on the Falcons practices for a long time but a win would put them in the playoffs and give Jones a chances to practice more next week.

Returning to practice could be a sign that he’s healthier than he was for the game against the Saints, but Jones still probably won’t be 100 percent come Sunday. Jones had seven catches for 107 yards, though, and his presence alone is enough to occupy the attention of the Carolina defense.

Running back Steven Johnson remained a non-participant in practice Friday and isn’t expected to play as the Falcons and Panthers square off for the NFC South title.

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Drew Stanton’s infection believed to be from outside treatment

Drew Stanton AP

The infection that could derail Drew Stanton’s potential return for the playoffs may have created a problem beyond the immediate.

A league source explained to PFT that the infection he was treated for this week is believed to be the result of treatment he was getting for his knee injury outside the team facility.

When Stanton suffered a grade two MCL sprain on Dec. 11, he didn’t need surgery, and was recovering with treatment and rest. The hope was that he’d be able to return for the postseason.

But this week, his knee began to swell, and team doctors diagnosed him with an infection. However, the fact he didn’t have surgery or any treatment from the team that would lead to such an infection has them believing it stemmed from a treatment they didn’t perform.

He underwent an arthroscopic procedure Wednesday, and is being treated with antibiotics now.

What isn’t known is the nature of the outside treatment, or whether he’ll be able to make it back for the playoffs.

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A.J. Green present at Cincinnati’s Friday practice

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As the Bengals embarked on their final on-field work of the week, their go-to receiver was among those dressed to work out.

Wide receiver A.J. Green (biceps) was seen at the club’s Friday practice in uniform, Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com reported.

Green suffered the arm injury in the Bengals’ Monday night win vs. Denver. He did not practice on Wednesday, but he was able to go through a limited workout on Thursday.

The Bengals (10-4-1) will capture the AFC North with a win or tie at Pittsburgh on Sunday night (8:30 p.m. ET, NBC).

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Report: Drew Stanton being treated for infection

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The Arizona Cardinals, who seemed to have perfected the art of “next man up,” suddenly can’t catch a break.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, quarterback Drew Stanton had to have an arthroscopic procedure to fight an infection, and may be done for the year.

That’s bad news for the Cardinals hopes for anything beyond simply making the postseason, such that Stanton himself was the answer.

They were planning to bench Ryan Lindley in favor of rookie Logan Thomas, but Thomas got the quick hook this week in practice.

Of course, it’s worse news for Stanton, who suffered a knee injury and then an infection.

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Antrel Rolle knows finishing well no guarantee 2015 will be any better for Giants

Odell Beckham AP

The Giants have found a winning formula over the last three weeks, bumping their record to 6-9 and raising hopes that they can ride a strong finish into a better 2015 season.

With rookies and young players like Odell Beckham, Jonathan Hankins and Devon Kennard stepping up in the second half of the year, it’s easy to understand why the Giants would feel like better things await in the new year. As Paul Schwartz of the New York Post points out, however, the Giants have now played four straight games in which neither team had any hope of making the playoffs and will close out the year with another one against the Eagles.

Winning those games is certainly better than losing them, but they aren’t any more predictive of future success than closing out last season 7-3 turned out to be. Safety Antrel Rolle has been around for a long time and knows that each season tends to be independent of the one that came before.

“Each and every year presents its own different year and own different set of challenges,” Rolle said, via the New York Post. “I would love to say yes, but knowing how this game is and knowing how things shake out, that’s not a guarantee. I think the future for this team is very promising. I think all the injuries and allowing all the younger guys to step in and play and to get their feet wet and understand what it takes to actually produce in this league, I think it’s definitely helped them out a lot, helped our team out a lot.”

Rolle’s view on the promise of the future is on target, but history is littered with teams that showed promise in December before failing to make good on it the next time around. It is a long time between games and the Giants need to spend a good portion of it improving on the areas that led them to start the year with nine losses in their first 12 games.

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Torrey Smith: “Horrible feeling” that this could be last game with Ravens

Kareem Jackson, Torrey Smith, Whitney Mercilus AP

The Ravens need a win and some help to make the playoffs, which means that Sunday’s game against the Browns could wind up being their final game of the 2014 season.

If that’s the case, it will be time to start making plans for the offseason. One of the decisions that the team will have to make concerns wide receiver Torrey Smith, whose contract expires after the end of the season. Smith said this week that he would like to remain with the Ravens.

“As bad as it is not going to the playoffs, that’s a horrible feeling knowing that it’s a possibility that I might not be here next year,” Smith said, via ESPN.com. “But I’m not really worried about that. I’m trying to win this game and see what happens.”

Smith lamented how inconsistent he’s been this season on the way to 45 catches, 684 yards and 10 touchdowns and vowed that next year will be different whether he’s in Baltimore or on another team. That inconsistency won’t help him a top-tier contract, but it might wind up helping his chances of staying with the Ravens if the team also wants to continue the relationship.

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Louis Murphy gets three-year extension from Bucs

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There’s not much to look back fondly on for the Buccaneers this year. But they found another part they want to keep around.

The Buccaneers announced they signed wide receiver Louis Murphy to a three-year contract extension.

The journeyman wideout caught 31 passes for 380 yards and two touchdowns in 11 games, before they put him injured reserve with an ankle injury.

He’s always teased teams with his deep speed, and this was his most productive season since 2010, when he caught 41 balls for the Raiders.

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Mark Ingram pleased he showed he can handle big workload this season

Mark Ingram AP

Drew Brees remains confident in the direction that the Saints are taking as a franchise despite a disappointing 2014 season and he’s not the only member of the team looking ahead to better days.

Running back Mark Ingram is wrapping up the final year of his contract with the team and preparing to head into free agency after his best NFL season. Ingram missed three games early in the season, but has since held up well under a heavy workload caused by injuries other backs. Ingram has set career highs in attempts, yards, receptions and touchdowns and thinks he’s sold himself well in the process.

“Yeah, I think that’s a good thing, seeing that I could carry the ball and be out there doing whatever they ask me to do for a stretch of time and be healthy,” Ingram said, via the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Running backs have not found a friendly market in free agency in recent years, so Ingram will have to buck that trend to land a big contract. That will be tough in a year when DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews, C.J. Spiller and Frank Gore are also set to make up a crowded free agent market at the position, but coming off his best pro season shouldn’t hurt when it comes time for Ingram to talk contract.

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40 days and no NFL arrests

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In early 2007, at a time when more and more players seemed to be getting arrested more and more frequently (which would result in the April 2007 unveiling of a new personal conduct policy), PFT decided to start keeping track of the arrests — and to adopt a twist on a device commonly used in workplaces to track the numbers of days without an injury.

At first, I was concerned that the “days without an arrest” tracker didn’t allow for three digits.  For a while, however, it rarely needed a second digit.

Today, for the first time since its debut, the tracker has hit 40.  (Former 49ers defensive lineman Ray McDonald, cut last week after his home was searched reportedly in connection with a rape accusation, has not yet been arrested, and currently is not in the NFL.)  Whether that’s cause for celebration (you did it!) or a golf clap is a matter of debate.  As a matter of fact, the tracker is now less than two months away from finally needing that previously unneeded triple digit.

Maybe it’s a fluke.  Maybe I just jinxed it by pointing it out.  Or maybe players have realized through the experiences of Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy and others that real consequences arise when misbehavior happens.

The chances of misbehavior increase as of Monday, when the offseason begins for 20 teams — and when all players are left to their own devices into April.  Here’s hoping that the few who make the many look bad will take advantage of the various resources available to NFL players in order to avoid trouble for as long as possible into 2015.

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Jim Caldwell: No concerns about starting a rookie center

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The Lions will take another shot at ending their long Lambeau Field losing streak on Sunday afternoon without starting center Dominic Raiola.

Raiola has been suspended one game after stepping on Bears defensive lineman Ego Ferguson in last weekend’s game, leaving the Lions to start Travis Swanson at center for the first time in his NFL career. Swanson said that he’s been getting help from Raiola and other veterans on the offensive line as he prepares to face the Packers and coach Jim Caldwell said Thursday that he has no concerns about how Swanson will handle his responsibilities.

“I have none,” Caldwell said, via the Detroit Free Press. “I have none at all. I’ve been different places where, you know, I’m always drawing up on old experiences, where we’ve had guys in the first part of the season that were young players, rookies that stepped in and played for us on some very good teams. I think for the most part, we expect him to be good, we expect him to get his job done just like we did when [rookie tackle Cornelius] Lucas stepped in there very early. … We’re expecting the same thing from Swanny. He’s got a great work habit. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be perfect by any stretch of the imagination. You can’t be perfect in this league.”

Swanson isn’t totally without experience after making three starts at guard earlier this year, but there are still adjustments that will have to be made as he moves into the lineup at center. Making them as painless as possible will be important to the Lions’ chances of becoming the first team this year and the first Lions team in decades to earn a win in Green Bay.

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Roethlisberger’s knee apparently is fine

Ben AP

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethsliberger gave Pittsburgh fans a scare on Sunday when a leg whip from a Chiefs lineman resulted in the oversized quarterback crumpling to the ground and heading to the locker room — after delivering a touchdown pass.

Roethsliberger eventually didn’t miss any time, but the question of whether he’d emerge from the game with a possible problem as Week 17 approached hovered over a team that otherwise would be entrusting the position to Bruce Gradkowski.

Wednesday’s initial injury report from the Steelers didn’t contain Roethlisberger’s name, which means he fully participated in practice with no injuries or ailments or problems.

The Steelers host the Bengals on Sunday night; the winner captures the AFC North, and the loser goes on the road in wild-card weekend.

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Christian Ponder looks back on “roller coaster” career

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There once was a time when Christian Ponder was the future of the Vikings.

Now that he’s been replaced by the next future of the Vikings, he’s coming to terms with his four years in Minnesota.

I didn’t take full advantage of the opportunity I was given,” Ponder said, via Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

The Vikings didn’t bother picking up the option on the 2011 first-rounder’s contract, meaning he’ll be a free agent in March. But with Teddy Bridgewater showing well down the stretch, Ponder is realistic about what’s next, though he hasn’t ruled out coming back.

Ponder has seen it from every angle in Minnesota, from getting drilled as a rookie to leading his team to the playoffs, only to miss that game with an injury.

“One of my fondest memories was beating Green Bay to get into the playoffs,” he said. “Such a fun night. Beating Green Bay at home to get into the playoffs. Of course I couldn’t play the next week.

Last year was such a weird season. Bringing Josh {Freeman] in, not starting well. Starting Matt [Cassel]. Starting Josh. Concussion against Chicago and then Matt started rest of the year.

One way to describe is up and down. It’s really been a roller coaster.”

The severe lack of quality quarterbacks in the NFL probably means Ponder will get another shot somewhere else. Whether he ever has a better chance than the one he had remains to be seen.

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Friday morning one-liners

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Running the ball has not gone well for the Bills.

The Dolphins like what they’ve seen from Dion Jordan at linebacker.

Contract notes about QB Tom Brady, WR Julian Edelman and other Patriots with bonuses, guarantees and incentives on the horizon.

Jets QB Matt Simms hasn’t played much, but feels he’s still made progress this season.

Ravens DT Timmy Jernigan tries to never play mad.

The Bengals Defense will get a second chance to slow down Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell.

QB Connor Shaw hopes to get thrown into the fire by the Browns this weekend.

Steelers LB Lawrence Timmons reflects on his first Pro Bowl selection.

J.J. Watt took some time away from the Texans to ring in Christmas with former First Lady Barbara Bush.

The Colts have nothing to gain in the standings, but they say that won’t change their approach to Week 17.

Jaguars QB Blake Bortles has cut down on his interceptions.

Who is going to be the Titans quarterback next year?

Broncos players aren’t worried about QB Peyton Manning.

The Chiefs website wants you to know a bit more about LB Joe Mays.

Will RB Latavius Murray have a long run as the top Raiders back?

Chargers coach Mike McCoy is looking for the best outing of the season from his team.

They didn’t have any Pro Bowl selections, but the Cowboys Defense is looking good at the right time.

Rookie WR Corey Washington thought he’d do more for the Giants this season.

Eagles RB LeSean McCoy incorrectly “thought this was the team” to make a playoff run.

Five storylines for the Redskins in their season finale.

Tracing where things went wrong for the Bears this season.

The Lions will be trying for a rare interception of Aaron Rodgers this weekend.

Members of the 1991 Packers remember the last time the Lions won at Lambeau Field.

Vikings CB Captain Munnerlyn is trying to finish strong.

The Falcons can’t afford another injury in the secondary.

Panthers K Graham Gano doesn’t doubt himself after missed kicks.

RB Charles Sims has gained confidence at the end of his rookie season with the Buccaneers.

What do the Saints need to do to end their season with a win?

Said Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, “Week to week, different quarterback, do you like it? No. But it is what it is.”

Rams DB Lamarcus Joyner has had a humbling rookie season.

A look at the unraveling of the Jim Harbaugh era with the 49ers.

Seahawks S Kam Chancellor wore a microphone during last week’s win.

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Frank Gore excited about future of 49ers, and his own

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For an aging running back on a team full of uncertainty, Frank Gore is confident.

In his own future, as well as the future of his quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Gore told Mindi Bach of CSNBayArea.com that after a conversation with 49ers General Manager Trent Baalke, that he had a clearer picture of his role with the team in 2015.

“We were just talking about football, and basically, he was saying, ‘Next year we gotta do this, we gotta do that.’” Gore said. “So I said, ‘Well, I’m going to be here next year then?” He said, ‘Yeah, I want you back here next year.’”

That’s some degree of news in an of itself, given that the 31-year-old is entering the final game of his contract with the team, and they have younger options available.

But even with the coaching uncertainty, Gore thinks the team will rebound next year.

“I know there will be changes, but I think the guys at the key positions, that’s what matters,” he said. “Next year, I think Kap will get back to himself. Anquan Boldin will come back. Stevie Johnson is still under contract. Vernon Davis is still under contract. Joe Staley, Anthony Davis. I look at Patrick Willis will be back, Navorro Bowman, Aldon Smith, for the season. So I think the guys at the key spots are good enough for me to say, ‘Yeah, I want to be back.’”

Injuries have derailed the 49ers this season, among other problems. But getting Kaepernick back on track will be critical for whomever ends up coaching them.

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